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Welcome to Transterrestrial Musings. For those who've never been here before, it's not all space stuff, as you'll see if you scroll down a ways. Anyway, pull up a chair, relax, have an adult beverage, and come back often.

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Warning To Commenters


Categories: Administrative
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I have finally had enough, and am moving to Wordpress. This means that recent (in the last couple hours comments won't be picked up in the import/export (and none forward, until I get the new site up). I will try to pick up the stragglers after I deal with the upgrade in general, but will make no guarantees. I'm a little frustrated, because MT 4 decided that any comments issued before I upgraded to it are unworthy of being exported, so older posts won't see the older comments, unless you find them via the older URLs. And of course, you won't be able to comment on them, because they're static web pages.

I'd pay something to someone who has software to merge old with new, but not a lot. On the other hand, there may be a lot of folks in my situation, given the Movable Type disaster...

A Golden Oldie Thanksgiving Recipe


Categories: General, Popular Culture
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Since I've been recycling lately, here's a post from three years ago on my unique turkey dressing recipe. That one got spammed up, but I'll repeat it here, if anyone wants to comment.

I don't know if there's a Carnival of the Recipes for Thanksgiving, but in response to popular demand [cue sounds of crickets chirping], here's my unique recipe for corn-bread and wild-rice stuffing. It's higher protein than most.
  • A couple pounds of sausage (I prefer some kind of fancy chicken or turkey sausage--this year I found some chicken/brocolli)
  • wild rice (maybe half a cup)
  • pine nuts (maybe half a cup)
  • a pound or so of exotic mushrooms (oyster, chanterelle, shiitake, etc.)
  • one onion, chopped
  • a few cloves of garlic, diced
  • a few cups of corn bread crumbs, either home made or store-bought stuffing
  • a few stalks of celery (if desired--I don't like it that much, but some people think it's not
  • stuffing without it), chopped
  • pomegranate seeds (this is the secret ingredient)
  • a couple cups of chicken broth (from bouillion is fine, unless you want to be fancy)
  • salt, pepper, sage, thyme to taste
  • olive oil

Soak the rice overnight in about twice as much water as it needs to cover. Another good thing to do ahead, while watching teevee, is to divest the pomegranate from its seeds (persnickety work).

In the morning, cut up the sausage into bite-size chunks, and saute in the olive oil (amount depending on the stickiness of your saute pan). Chop the rest of the ingredients and boil the rice for fifteen minutes or so (if you overdo it, it won't have the crunchiness). Set the meat aside and saute the onions, celery and garlic in the same pan.

Put all the non-liquid ingredients in a big bowl and stir well. Add in the broth and mix thoroughly. If it seems too dry, feel free to add as much water...or booze...as you want. It should be moist throughout, but not soaked. You can also add melted butter to taste and texture if you like that sort of thing, and your arteries can take it. Another option, to be more heart healthy, is to fatten it up with olive or canola oil.

Use it like any other stuffing--either inside the bird, or under the skin, or just bake it in its own dish, or all of the above.

Eat, and enjoy.

Oh, and on this Thanksgiving Eve, let us all bow our heads and give remembrance to the woman who invented Stove Top Stuffing™, who has stuffed her last stove top.

If anyone tries it, or variations, feedback will be appreciated.

Progress


Categories: Administrative
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After I got fed up and went to bed last night, I got up this morning and fixed my individual archive template. The RSS feed seems to be publishing reliably now, and the pages are updating reliably as well. But I still haven't gotten rid of the timeouts, and still don't know what the problem is. I've essentially replaced all of the code in the index template (and its modules) with code from known working sites, but the problem persists.

I still have some fixing to do, to get categories to show up.

[Update]

Dang. The RSS has quit again.

They Must Be Doing It Wrong


Categories: Humor, Political Commentary, Weird
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The head of the UK "Lap Dancer's Association" says that lap dances are not s3xually stimulating. Well, all right then.

The POR Recession


Categories: Business, Economics, Media Criticism, Political Commentary
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The unending (and infuriating) irony of this election will be that the Democrats won this election by first tanking the economy and then (with the aid of the MSM) blaming the hapless Republicans for it. Tom Blumer explains:

The recession, once it becomes official, will thus richly deserve designation as the POR (Pelosi-Obama-Reid) recession. Further, Obama's and the Democratic Party's performance on the economy must be benchmarked from June 1, 2008 -- not Election Day, not Inauguration Day, and not, as traditionally has been the case, from October 1 of the new president's first year in office.


Evidence of the POR triumvirate's virtually unilateral damage to the economy began appearing as early as the fourth quarter of 2007, the first quarter of negative growth in six years. The POR recession itself began in June. The historically steep downward revision in second-quarter gross domestic product (GDP) growth from an annualized 3.3% to 2.8% in the government's final September announcement was more than likely due to deterioration that occurred in the final month of the quarter.It's not at all a coincidence that June was the month in which it became crystal clear that despite sky-high oil prices, Pelosi, Obama, and Reid were hostile to the idea of drilling for more oil -- offshore or anywhere else. Pelosi insisted that "we can't drill our way out of our problems." In the speaker's world, this means that you don't drill at all. Reid declared that we have to stop using oil and coal because "it's making us sick." Obama seemed pleased that gas prices were so high, saying only that "I think that I would have preferred a gradual adjustment" instead of the sharp spike. What a guy.

As would be expected, the country's businesses, investors, and consumers, never having witnessed a political party dedicate itself so completely to starving its own national economy, reacted very negatively to all of this. I said at the time that "businesses and investors are responding to their total lack of seriousness by battening down the hatches and preparing for the worst." Subsequent events have validated that observation.

As commenter Carl Pham pointed out recently, the American people bought fire insurance from an arsonist.

The Coming Health-Care Bailout


Categories: Business, Economics, Political Commentary
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Paul Hsieh (M.D.) has some thoughts on the inevitable issues with "universal health care."

We Know What We Like


Categories: Political Commentary, Popular Culture, Social Commentary
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Lileks has a meditation on modern art:

It's not the humanism that ruined art, it was humanism that divorced itself from the possibility of transcendence. Which would be bad enough if it hadn't decided to splash around in the gutters as well.


Ah, but why was it influential? It recontextualized the commonplace and made us see it as Art, a process that continues to this day every time you see a book with a title like "The Art of Bread" or "The Art of Toad Sexing" or whatever else has to be elevated to the status of marble sculpture to make the user feel they're living a rarified life. It played a joke on the Stuffy Academics, which is something the adolescent temperament never tires of doing. This is not encouraged any more, since the Academics are on the side of Truth and Modernity, however defined today. Although I once knew an architecture student who took perverse and boundless glee in shocking his teacher by putting a pointy roof on the house each student had to design. A pointed roof. In other words, a useful roof, a functional roof that didn't collect rain water. Everyone else had a flat roof, of course. Machine for Living and all that. This was just around the time Post-Modernism made it okay to quote history, as long as everyone saw you wink, or could understand that your overscaled grotesque excretions were meant ironically.

An instructor might not know what to make of a house with a point roof, but if you called it "House In The Time of Reagan" he'd understand.

Read all.

Another Test Post


Categories: Administrative
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I think I may have made a breakthrough in finding the problem with the timeouts.

[Update]

Nope. Or at least not as big a one as I thought...

Still timing out.

[Update]

Seeing what happens now...

[Update, infuriated]

OK, now I've blown it. I screwed up my comments and individual entry templates, and I didn't back it up. I've had it.

It's looking like Gates is going to stay at the Pentagon. I think that's good news from a space perspective, because I've heard that he's been trying to light a fire under the Operationally Responsive Space folks. It would be a shame to replace him with an unknown in that regard. There should (at least in theory) be a lot of synergy between military and civil space transport needs, in both orbital and suborbital. I hope that the new administration will be able to do better coordination on that than the Bush administration did.

How To Get To The Moon


Categories: Space
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...without heavy lift. Jon Goff lays out a potential lunar architecture. I don't think that a lunar orbit is practical for the depot, though, if you want to have any-time access from the lunar surface. I think that, even with the time and velocity penalty, EML1 is a better location.

Space Policy Advice to the Obama Transition Team


Categories: Humor
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Block grants.

It's time for the Federal Government to pass the baton. California's current GDP is approaching the GDP of the US in 1958 of a bit more than $2 trillion in current dollars. All NASA money should be distributed to States according to Congress's favorite formula for use "To provide for research into problems of flight within and outside the [E]arth's atmosphere, and for other purposes." The States would then have a chance to further freedom as a laboratory of aeronautics and space policy just as they have been a laboratory of democracy.

Slow Posting


Categories: History, Political Commentary, War Commentary
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I got up early today and had an eye exam (still have two functional ones). They were dilated in the process, so it will be a while before I spend much time on the computer. Meanwhile, here's an interesting discussion on arming ships against pirates in modern times. We seem to have managed to deal with this a lot better in the past. I think that we should bring back letters of marque, for not just pirates, but lawless terrorists in general.

[Early afternoon update]

A related question: why don't we hang pirates any more?

...the number of attacks keeps rising.


Why? The view of senior U.S. military officials seems to be, in effect, that there is no controlling legal authority. Title 18, Chapter 81 of the United States Code establishes a sentence of life in prison for foreigners captured in the act of piracy. But, crucially, the law is only enforceable against pirates who attack U.S.-flagged vessels, of which today there are few.

What about international law? Article 110 of the U.N.'s Law of the Sea Convention -- ratified by most nations, but not by the U.S. -- enjoins naval ships from simply firing on suspected pirates. Instead, they are required first to send over a boarding party to inquire of the pirates whether they are, in fact, pirates. A recent U.N. Security Council resolution allows foreign navies to pursue pirates into Somali waters -- provided Somalia's tottering government agrees -- but the resolution expires next week. As for the idea of laying waste, Stephen Decatur-like, to the pirate's prospering capital port city of Eyl, this too would require U.N. authorization. Yesterday, a shippers' organization asked NATO to blockade the Somali coast. NATO promptly declined.

As I noted, there seems to be a problem with the modern approach.

As one can surmise from the previous test posts, I've been trying (after three quarters of a year) to fix the problems with my Movable Type installation.

I went to one of the providers listed at MT as consultants, to try to get some help (unnamed, to protect the guilty). They have been somewhat helpful, in that they have eliminated possibilities of what the problem might be, but they haven't actually determined what the problem is ($150 later, and asking for more).

But that's not the point. The point is the (to me) user hostility of their system.

When I get an email from them, it comes in the following form:

====== WHEN REPLYING DELETE THIS LINE AND EVERYTHING BELOW IT ======


[message from unnamed service...]

In my first response, I ignored it, and just replied below (as I always do, since as a long-time emailer, I bottom post to response).

The response was:

====== WHEN REPLYING DELETE THIS LINE AND EVERYTHING BELOW IT ======


Hi

Your reply was blank. I'm assuming this is because you were trying to quote
me instead of deleting everything and then replying. Please give it a try
again by deleting all the original text.

Oh. OK.

They were serious.

They were determined to allow nothing that they emailed me to be quoted in my response. And moreover, even if I top posted, they didn't want to see their response in my response.

Is it just me, or are they nuts?

Here was my second email in response to this absurd and deliberate policy (the first was minimal, and unreplied to):

One other point. Do you realize how annoying it is to:


1) not include my response in your response and

2) make me jump through hoops to include your response in mine?

Not to mention top posting (though in this case, it's almost meaningless to distinguish between top and bottom posting).

WHY DO YOU DO THIS?

Do you think that it enhances the customer relationship?

This alone is almost enough to make me want to write off my current investment in you as a bad one, and find someone who can help me without being such an email PITA.

The response?

Please help us understand why you feel like you should always include our response with ours? Our web based desk records everything, including our responses so we don't need to see it multiple times. This creates duplicate records.


We work with thousands of customers and didn't see this as a problem before.

Here is my response:

Please help us understand why you feel like you should always include our response with ours? Our web based desk records everything, including our responses so we don't need to see it multiple times. This creates duplicate records. ==========================================================

Yes, because bandwidth for a few lines of text is so expensive...

It is important because I would like to have some context for what I'm responding to, and you should have some context for what you're responding to, in the email to which you're responding. If I want to find out what we're talking about, I have to go back and dig into my outbox, to figure out WTF we're talking about. If you don't find this annoying, I don't frankly understand why. If you don't want excessive repetition, just delete the older stuff. That's how it worked on Usenet for years.

===========================================================

We work with thousands of customers and didn't see this as a problem before.
===========================================================

Then you must have worked with thousands of top-posting morons raised on Outlook and AOL, and who only know how to upload to blogs with FTP, thus opening themselves to attack. It drives old-timers like me, familiar with old-school email and Usenet, NUTS.
I have never before run into a system that MADE IT DIFFICULT (AND ATTEMPTED TO MAKE IT IMPOSSIBLE, EVEN WARNED RESPONDENTS NOT TO DO IT) TO QUOTE AN EMAIL IN RESPONSE. This is a new, and infuriating system to me.

Can you point me to anyone else who has deliberately and maliciously set up their email responses this way, because it is a novel and off-putting approach, that has been making me angry with each exchange? I've been sort of happy with you, in that you seem to be attempting to help, even though you have made no progress whatsoever in solving my problem, other than telling me what it isn't, but you can't imagine how frustrating this is. Deliberately attempting (in futility, obviously) to make it impossible to include context of email responses is, to me, insane.

That's where it stands at this point. Who is nuts?

Another Test...


Categories: Administrative
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Trying to debug Movable Type...

Testing


Categories: Administrative
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Just want to see how this test post goes...

Can Hillary! Be SECSTATE?


Categories: History, Political Commentary
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She may be Constitutionally ineligible. Sometimes commenter Jane Bernstein notes via email that Article 1, Section 6 clearly states that:

No Senator or Representative shall, during the time for which he was elected, be appointed to any civil office under the authority of the United States, which shall have been created, or the emoluments whereof shall have been increased during such time: and no person holding any office under the United States, shall be a member of either House during his continuance in office.

Emphasis mine. Federal salaries, including the schedule for a Level 1 Cabinet officer (such as Secretary of State) were increased at the beginning of the year, by executive order. IANAL, but by the letter of the law, it would seem that she cannot be appointed to that position.

There are two potential outs.

One is trivial--she isn't a "he," she's a "she," so she could amusingly argue that the section doesn't apply to her. I suspect that this would probably fail on Fourteenth Amendment (and perhaps other) grounds, though, as well as common sense.

The other would be to argue that the intent was to keep Congress from creating or increasing salaries of a position in order to provide a new or better job for one of its members, and to eliminate this potential conflict of interest. Since the increase was done by Executive Order under a previously passed law, she could argue that Congress didn't increase the pay in this instance. However, the letter of the law wouldn't allow this interpretation--it doesn't say anything about the emoluments increasing by act of Congress--it just says that if they increase (for whatever reason) she cannot have the position.

If true, the good news is that it would also apply to John Kerry. And it doesn't apply to Barack Obama, since he wasn't appointed--he was elected.

[Update a few minutes later]

Also, if the logic is correct, it would apply to Rahm Emmanuel, as well as any other potential congressperson or Senator angling for an appointment.

[Update on Monday afternoon]

More thoughts from Eugene Volokh.

[Bumped to the stop]

It's Alan Stern Day


Categories: Political Commentary, Space
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First, over at the Gray Lady, he has an editorial on NASA's cost-overrun culture:

...the Mars Science Laboratory is only the latest symptom of a NASA culture that has lost control of spending. The cost of the James Webb Space Telescope, successor to the storied Hubble, has increased from initial estimates near $1 billion to almost $5 billion. NASA's next two weather satellites, built for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, have now inflated to over $3.5 billion each! The list goes on: N.P.P., S.D.O., LISA Pathfinder, Constellation and more. You don't have to know what the abbreviations and acronyms mean to get it: Our space program is running inefficiently, and without sufficient regard to cost performance. In NASA's science directorate alone, an internal accounting in 2007 found over $5 billion in increases since 2003.

As Allen Thompson points out in comments over at Space Politics, one could simply substitute names and nyms of (black) programs here, and write exactly the same piece about NRO. But I'm not sure that I'd agree with Dr. Stern's characterization that it is a NASA culture that has "lost control of spending." Was there ever any golden age in which the NASA culture had control of spending? After all, the agency was born in the panic of the Cold War, and developed a cost-(plus)-is-no-object mentality from its very beginning. The operative saying during Apollo was "waste anything but time." Sure, there have been occasional instances of programs coming in under schedule and within budget, but as Dr. Stern points out, the managers of those programs are often punished by having their programs slashed to cover overruns.

No, there is not now, and never has been a cost-conscious culture at NASA, for all the reasons that he describes. And this is the biggest one:

Congress should turn from the self-serving protection of local NASA jobs to an ethic of responsible government that delivers results.

Yes, it should. Well said. And with all the hope and change in the air, I'm sure that this will be the year that it finally happens.

OK, you can all stop laughing now. My sides hurt, too.

Unfortunately, that is not going to happen until space accomplishments become much more nationally important than they currently are, from a political standpoint. For most on the Hill, the NASA budget is first and foremost a jobs program for their states or districts. We can't even control this kind of pork barrelery on the Defense budget (including NRO), which is actually a real federal responsibility, with lives at stake if we fail. Why should we think that we can fix it for civil space? Only when we are no longer reliant on federal budgets will we start to make serious progress, and get more efficiency in the program.

Speaking of which, Dr. Stern also has a piece in The Space Review on how NASA can make itself more relevant to the populace and its representatives in DC:

The coming new year presents an opportunity to reemphasize the immediate societal and economic returns NASA generates, so that no one asks, "How do space efforts make a tangible difference in my life?"


The new administration could accomplish this by combining NASA's space exploration portfolio with new and innovative initiatives that address hazards to society, make new applications of space, and foster new industries.

Such new initiatives should include dramatically amplifying our capability to monitor the changing Earth in every form, from climate change to land use to the mitigation of natural disasters. Such an effort should also accelerate much needed innovation in aircraft and airspace system technologies that would save fuel, save travelers time, and regain American leadership in the commercial aerospace sector. And it should take greater responsibility for mitigating the potential hazards associated with solar storms and asteroid impacts.

So, too, a more relevant NASA should be charged to ignite the entrepreneurial human suborbital and orbital spaceflight industry. This nascent commercial enterprise promises to revolutionize how humans use spaceflight and how spaceflight benefits the private sector economy as fundamentally as the advent of satellites affected the communications industry.

As he notes, this needn't mean a larger NASA budget--just a better-spent one. I particularly like the last graf above, obviously. I don't agree, though, that it is NASA's job to monitor the earth. It's an important job, but it's not really in NASA's existing charter, and I fear that if it takes on this responsibility, it will further dilute the efforts on where its focus should be, which is looking outward, not down. It should be left to the agency that is actually responsible for such things (or at least part of them, and expanding its purview wouldn't be as much of a stretch)--NOAA. If, for administrative reasons, NOAA is viewed as incapable of developing earth-sensing birds (though they couldn't do much worse than NASA and NRO have recently), NASA could still manage this activity as a "contractor," but it shouldn't come out of their budget--it should be funded by Commerce.

Anyway, I think that we could do a lot worse than Dr. Stern as the next NASA administrator. We certainly done a lot worse.

[Early afternoon update]

The NYT piece is being discussed at NASAWatch, where John Mankins has a useful comment.

A New New Deal?


Categories: Business, Economics, History, Political Commentary
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Tyler Cowen has some history:

The good New Deal policies, like constructing a basic social safety net, made sense on their own terms and would have been desirable in the boom years of the 1920s as well. The bad policies made things worse. Today, that means we should restrict extraordinary measures to the financial sector as much as possible and resist the temptation to "do something" for its own sake.


In short, expansionary monetary policy and wartime orders from Europe, not the well-known policies of the New Deal, did the most to make the American economy climb out of the Depression. Our current downturn will end as well someday, and, as in the '30s, the recovery will probably come for reasons that have little to do with most policy initiatives.

There was also this little item that caught my eye:

A study of the 1930s by Christina D. Romer, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley ("What Ended the Great Depression?," Journal of Economic History, 1992), confirmed that expansionary monetary policy was the key to the partial recovery of the 1930s. The worst years of the New Deal were 1937 and 1938, right after the Fed increased reserve requirements for banks, thereby curbing lending and moving the economy back to dangerous deflationary pressures.

Why?

Because of this news:

ABC News has learned that President-elect Obama had tapped University of California -Berkeley economics professor Christina Romer to be the chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, an office within the Executive Office of the President.

It seems like a much better pick than those of us concerned about an FDRophilic president could have expected. Maybe we won't replay the thirties.

The Worst And The Dumbest


Categories: Economics, Education, History, Political Commentary
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Remember that civics test? Well, this should inspire confidence in our political "leadership":

US elected officials scored abysmally on a test measuring their civic knowledge, with an average grade of just 44 percent, the group that organized the exam said Thursday.

Ordinary citizens did not fare much better, scoring just 49 percent correct on the 33 exam questions compiled by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI).

But they did fare better. What does this say about our so-called "elites"? Forget about a literacy test for voters. How about one for candidates?

Continuing Fantasies


Categories: Space, Weird
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Mark Whittington continues (embarrassingly) to do self-therapy on line about his imaginary "Internet Rocketeers Club."

I guess it's cheaper than a real therapist. Though it doesn't seem to be working, as the uncited delusions about this non-existent and nebulous organization persist.

A Sneak Preview


Categories: Humor, Political Commentary
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Iowahawk has discovered the most exciting new car model to be premiered by Congressional Motors. Behold, the Pelosi:

Sporty mag-style hubcaps and an all-new aggressive wedge shape designed by CM's Chief Stylist Ted Kennedy slices through the wind like an omnibus spending bill. It even features an airtight undercarriage to keep you and a passenger afloat up to 15 minutes -- even in the choppy waters of a Cape Cod inlet. Available a rainbow of color choices to match any wardrobe, from Harvest Avocado to French Mustard.


Inside, a luxurious all-velour interior designed by Barney Frank features thoughtful appointments like in-dash condom dispenser and detachable vibrating shift knob. A special high capacity hatchback holds up to 300 aluminum cans, meaning fewer trips to the redemption center. And the standard 3 speaker Fairness ActoPhonic FM low-band sound system means you'll never miss a segment of NPR again.

I'm sure there will be a long waiting list.

I'm A Man, Baby


Categories: Administrative, Social Commentary, Weird
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At least according to this site, where this blog scored 84% male. I don't know if it goes by writing style, content, or both.

[Via that 54% nancy boy over at Gateway Pundit]

The Great Turkey Massacre


Categories: Media Criticism, Political Commentary
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Mark Steyn has the best take yet on the supposed Palin "gaffe":

...that's Sarah Palin's real stroke of genius in these difficult times for the global economy. For, in an age when the government picks which banks to nationalize and which banks to fail, and guarantees mortgages that should never have been issued, and prepares to demand that those taxpayers with responsible and affordable pension plans prop up the lavish and unsustainable pension programs of Detroit, Governor Palin has given us a great teaching moment and a perfect snapshot of what my Brit reader would recognize as pre-Thatcher "industrial policy":


When the government decides it can "pick winners" and spare them from the realities of the market, everyone else gets bled to death.

Thank you, Sarah. It's the first election ad of Campaign '12.

It's a shame we can't do something about the turkeys at MSNBC and the Huffpo.

This Was Inevitable


Categories: Political Commentary, Space
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Talk at NASA about "human rating" an Ares V?

The decision to undertake the study reverses a major decision NASA took after the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster and subsequent accident investigation, that crew and cargo would be launched on separate vehicles. The Ares I, with its solid rocket booster first-stage and the new upper stage powered by the J-2X engine, was selected to orbit the Orion crew exploration vehicle.

That decision never made as much sense as everyone thought it did. It was one of the false lessons "learned" from Shuttle. And, as always, it raises the issue of what "human rating" really means. Generally, given the way the requirements often end up getting waived for NASA's own vehicles, but not for other players, like the "Visiting Vehicle" rules for ISS, it's simply an arbitrary barrier to entry for commercial providers.

[Monday morning update]

I should clarify that this discussion is about launch only. For in-space operations, it does make sense to separate passengers from cargo, and it probably makes sense to have robotic freighters as well, due to the long trip times and lack of need to handle emergencies with crew.

Ominous


Categories: Political Commentary, Space, Technology and Society, War Commentary
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As Clark notes, this isn't directly related to space transportation regulation, but you can see it coming:

The proposed regulation, titled the Large Aircraft Security Program, would require owners of those aircraft to obtain permission from TSA to operate their own personal aircraft every time they carry passengers. Additionally, all flight crews would be required to undergo fingerprinting and a background check, all passengers would have to be vetted against the government's terrorist watch lists, and numerous security requirements would be imposed on airports serving these "large" aircraft. EAA adamantly opposes this regulation and urges all members to respond to TSA...


"...We thank the TSA for agreeing with the many industry group and EAA members' requests for an extension, providing an additional two months to study and react to the proposal," said Doug Macnair, EAA vice president of government relations. "This proposal would be an unprecedented restriction on the freedom of movement for private U.S. citizens. It would also, for the first time, require governmental review and authority before a person could operate his/her own personal transportation conveyance.

First they came after the private aircraft pilots, and I said nothing, because I wasn't a private aircraft pilot.

Talking To Mike


Categories: Media Criticism, Political Commentary, Space
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Irene Klotz has an interview with the (hopefully) outgoing NASA administrator:

I would be willing to continue on as administrator under the right circumstances. The circumstances include a recognition of the fact that two successive Congresses -- one Republician and one Democrat -- have strongly endorsed, hugely endorsed, the path NASA is on: Finish the station, retire the shuttle, return to the moon, establish a base on the moon, look outward to the near-Earth asteroids and on to Mars. That's the path we're on. I think it's the right path.


I think for 35 years since the Nixon administration we've been on the wrong path. It took the loss of Columbia and Admiral Gehman's (Columbia Accident Investigation Board) report highlighting the strategic issues to get us on the right path. We're there. I personally will not be party to taking us off that path. Someone else may wish to, but I do not.

What Dr. Griffin doesn't understand is that, in his disastrous architecture choices, and decision to waste money developing a new unneeded launch system, it is he himself who has taken us off that path.

I also have to say that I think that this particular criticism by Keith Cowing is (as is often the case) over the top and ridiculous. It's perfectly clear what he meant--that with all of the other problems facing the country right now, Shuttle retirement per se isn't going to be a top priority. But it is an issue that will no doubt be dealt with by the transition team.

I Only Missed One


Categories: Economics, Education, Media Criticism, Political Commentary
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I scored 32 out of 33 on this test (I missed the last one--Doh!). Unfortunately, most people don't do that well.

I really think that we should bring back literacy tests for voting. They shouldn't have gotten rid of them because they were being used to racially discriminate--they should have just ended the racial discrimination.

[Friday evening update]

I have to say that readers of my blog, even the non-USians (or at least the ones commenting), are way ahead of the curve. Nice to know.

Well, As Long As They're "Reasonable"


Categories: Political Commentary
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Who could be against "reasonable" restrictions on web speech?

Not Eric Holder.

And here's more on his antipathy to the Second Amendment:

After the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the D.C. handgun ban and self-defense ban were unconstitutional in 2007, Holder complained that the decision "opens the door to more people having more access to guns and putting guns on the streets."


Holder played a key role in the gunpoint, night-time kidnapping of Elian Gonzalez. The pretext for the paramilitary invasion of the six-year-old's home was that someone in his family might have been licensed to carry a handgun under Florida law. Although a Pulitzer Prize-winning photo showed a federal agent dressed like a soldier and pointing a machine gun at the man who was holding the terrified child, Holder claimed that Gonzalez "was not taken at the point of a gun" and that the federal agents whom Holder had sent to capture Gonzalez had acted "very sensitively." If Mr. Holder believes that breaking down a door with a battering ram, pointing guns at children (not just Elian), and yelling "Get down, get down, we'll shoot" is example of acting "very sensitively," his judgment about the responsible use of firearms is not as acute as would be desirable for a cabinet officer who would be in charge of thousands and thousands of armed federal agents, many of them paramilitary agents with machine guns.

Fighting the confirmation of this man should be the Republicans' first battle against the Obama administration. The last thing we need is the second coming of Janet "Burn Baby Burn" Reno.

Who Would Have Thought?


Categories: Media Criticism, Political Commentary
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Put this one in the "dog bites man" file:

An interesting piece on changes to police tactics. The traditional response was bring up the SWAT team, plan it out carefully, then go in. As the matter was better understood, this switched to whoever gets there first goes in immediately -- seconds passing means people dying. To my mind, this is a powerful argument for allowing teachers to be armed. The article ends:


"The other statistic that emerged from a study of active killers is that they almost exclusively seek out "gun free" zones for their attacks.

Now why would that possibly be?

They may select schools and shopping malls because of the large number of defenseless victims and the virtual guarantee no on the scene one is armed.


As soon as they're confronted by any armed resistance, the shooters typically turn the gun on themselves."

Unfortunately, too many in the media and the gun-control community are too stupid to recognize it as obvious. You might think that this startling result could be the basis for a more sensible policy, but judging by the election results, I fear not. Particularly if someone like Eric Holder becomes Attorney General.

The Case Against Eric Holder


Categories: Political Commentary
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Geraghty is on the job (several posts--just keep scrolling). He'd be a disaster on guns, drugs (that one is Jacob Sullum), civil liberties, and basic integrity. And here's Larry Tribe's critique on his thuggish behavior and legal opportunism in the Elian Gonzales affair.

[Update late afternoon]

Jim now has all the permalinks in one post.

Propellant Depot Dreams


Categories: Space
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Rob Coppinger says that they are in fact, a fantasy (though he doesn't explain why they require "unobtainium").

Clark Lindsey ably responds. I think that there are several problems with Rob's thesis, but don't have the time to get into it right now. I will agree with him that there is no current market for them. I hope, though, that (by the same standard) he would agree that there was no market for launch vehicles in 1956. So I fail to see the point.

[Late morning update]

Jon Goff dissects Rob's piece more thoroughly.

As for Jon's question about when he started thinking about depots, it may have been at Space Access in (I think) 2005, when I gave an impromptu talk on the subject, as a result of my work with Dallas and Boeing on CE&R (work that was completely ignored/rejected when Mike Griffin came in and canned Craig Steidle).

Still Giving Them Hell


Categories: Political Commentary, Science And Society
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Freeman Dyson continues to refuse to be part of the "consensus":

Wearing an effusively-colored tie that set off his gray suit, Mr. Dyson began his talk at the Nassau Club by encouraging the audience to interrupt him as he spoke, since, he declared, "it's much more fun to have an argument than do a monologue."


In the absence of audience interruptions, Mr. Dyson had an argument anyway with the scores of people (like Al Gore) who weren't present to defend their belief in the dire consequences of global warming. ("There's no accounting for human folly," Mr. Dyson said when asked about Mr. Gore's Nobel Prize.) Saying that on a recent trip he and his wife found Greenlanders to be delighted with their warmer climate and increased tourism, Mr. Dyson suggested that representing "local warming by a global average is misleading." In his comments at both the Nassau Club and Labyrinth, he decried the use of computer modeling to make "tremendously dogmatic" predictions about worldwide trends, without acknowledging the "messy, muddy real world" and the non-climatic effects of increased carbon dioxide. "There is no substitute for widely-conducted field operations over a long time," he told the Nassau Club audience, citing the "enormous gaps in knowledge and sparseness of observation" that characterize the work of global warming experts.

Why can't some people get with the program? Thankfully, though, mz will be along any minute to call Professor Dyson "stupid."

More Thoughts On Destinations


Categories: Political Commentary, Space
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From Henry Spencer:

In its early years, the only form of manned space exploration it favoured was an (international) Mars expedition. All other ideas that involved humans in space were counterproductive and undesirable, to hear the Planetary Society tell it.


This obsession with Mars was a bad idea then, and it's a bad idea now. However, some of the reasons advanced against it strike me as poor - sufficiently poor that they weaken attempts to argue for a more systematic and balanced space effort.

An exclusive focus on Mars does have one thing going for it. If you believe that any resumption of manned space exploration will inevitably end the way Apollo did, with follow-on programmes cancelled and flight-ready hardware consigned to museums as soon as the programme's first objective is met, then choosing the most interesting single destination makes sense.

However . . . haven't we learned anything from doing that once? To me, it makes far more sense to try to build a programme that won't crash and burn as soon as it scores its first goal. That means systematically building capabilities and infrastructure, and doing first things first even if they aren't the most exciting parts.

Unfortunately, we don't seem to have the societal patience necessary to do the unexciting parts, at least if the government is paying for it. Which is why we have to get private industry going ASAP.

[Early afternoon update]

I mentioned yesterday that Paul Spudis wasn't impressed with Lou Friedman's thoughts. He's similarly unimpressed with The Planetary Society's new roadmap.

[Another update a few minutes later]

Jeff Plescia has been leaving this message in comments at various places (I've seen it at NASA Watch and Space Politics]

As a participant in the workshop sponsored by the Planetary Society at Stanford University in February, 2008, I feel obliged to make some comments with respect to what is said in portions of the Planetary Society document "Beyond the Moon A New Roadmap for Human Space Exploration."


Page 5 contains the statement:
"Among the conclusions of this group is that 'the purpose of sustained human exploration is to go to Mars and beyond,' and that a series of intermediate destinations, each with its own intrinsic value, should be established as steps toward that goal. The consensus statements and viewpoints expressed by this group of experts form the basis for the principles and recommendations contained in this document."

This statement is a blatant and intentionally dishonest misrepresentation of the recommendations and sentiments of the group.

We had extensive discussions about what the conclusion of the workshop might be. While the conclusion reported in the Roadmap was clearly the predisposition of several members of the group, particularly the organizers, it was definitively and clearly not the consensus of the group as a whole. In fact, when these words (or words to the same effect) were suggested, the group clearly indicated to the organizers that they should not be used because they were inaccurate. However, the organizers chose to ignore the group's wishes at the end of the workshop, at the International Astronautical Congress and in the Roadmap in portraying the results of the workshop. This has occurred despite the fact that members of the group pointed out after the workshop press release that such statements were inappropriate and incorrect.

For what it's worth. Thanks, Lou.

Maybe it's like the climate change "consensus," from which many scientists are now running.

"Bold Experimentation"


Categories: Business, Economics, Political Commentary
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Jonah Goldberg explains why we should fear that Barack Obama will emulate Franklin Roosevelt:

there can be a chasm between being right and merely appearing to be right. Why anyone stakes greater value on the appearance than reality is a mystery to me.


But as Obama clearly recognizes, that was a big part of the FDR magic. FDR came into office promising "bold, persistent experimentation" -- and delivered. Raymond Moley, an early member of FDR's "brain trust," saw the New Deal for what it was. "To look upon these programs as the result of a unified plan was to believe that the accumulation of stuffed snakes, baseball pictures, school flags, old tennis shoes, carpenter's tools, geometry books and chemistry sets in a boy's bedroom could have been put there by an interior decorator," Moley wrote later.

Yet Americans thought it was all part of a plan, even though experimentation and planning are in fact near opposites. Why? Because FDR always projected such confidence, even as he made things worse. But this isn't another column about how FDR prolonged the Depression. Been there, done that. I'd rather be forward-looking.

In fact, I want to be experimental, too. So here's my idea: Just stop.

Stop talking about bailouts and stimuli. Stop pondering ever more drastic action. Give it a rest. Let it be.

One of the main reasons there's all of this "money on the sidelines" out there among private investors is that Wall Street doesn't know what the government will do next. Will it bail out the auto industry? The insurance companies? Which taxes will go up? How far will interest rates go down? How long will the federal government own stakes in the banks? Will more stimulus checks go out? If so, how big will the deficit get?

Don't just do something--stand there!

One of his readers says that this also explains the current market volatility:

Free market economics involves the application of immutable laws, and it's those laws that allow us to forecast the effect of current events on various companies and the stocks and bonds they've issued. But investors will only play the game if they believe the rules aren't going to change in the middle. When government begins 'experimenting', it makes it harder for investors to generate a long term forecast. This drives long term investors away from the market, or converts them into short term traders. The result is a massive increase in volatility as investors shorten their investment outlook because they can't predict what's going to happen far enough into the future.


Volatility is an indication of instability. It's not a sign of a healthy economy but of an economy which has lost its way. High volatility isn't what you expect from the worlds largest market, but from the emerging economy of a third world country. As you can see from the attached chart, when Roosevelt began his 'bold persistent experimentation' it drove away long term investors and that caused volatility to dramatically increase. It will almost certainly have the same effect when Obama does it.

Since he's so determined not to learn from the mistakes of the past, I would expect him to repeat them. I'm betting that his poking and prodding will add to unemployment, reduce economic growth, and wreak havoc with the federal deficit. There is little doubt that he's the wrong man at the wrong time. I'm just hoping that he is as devoid of principles as the Clintons, and that he finds a way to break his campaign promises or we're in for a long painful recession, and maybe worse.

We can only hope, since we lost an opportunity to do any more than that a couple weeks ago.

What Really Happened?


Categories: General Science, Science And Society
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Alan Boyle has a piece on what looks to be an interesting PBS series on biblical archaeology. I agree that it is not the archaeologist's job to either prove, or disprove creation myths. His job is to, as best as can be done, utilize the scientific method to figure out what the past really was.

Failure To Tether


Categories: Space
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One of the astronauts lost a toolbag during EVA servicing:

Piper noticed that one of the two grease guns in her bag had exploded, spreading the dark, dry grease all over her camera and gloves. The grease, called Braycote, is a durable, non-flamable lubricant tough enough to handle the extreme temperatures and vacuum of space. It is needed to lubricate the cranky joint which has been grinding for more than a year.


In the midst of trying to clean up the mess, the bag of tools floated away from her. Views from a camera mounted on her helmet show it drifting slowly off towards the back of the station, some 200 miles above the earth.

"Oh, great," she exclaimed in frustration.

I assume that by "exploded" they just mean "escaped under pressure," and not literally a supersonic combustion.

A truly spacefaring nation would have a routine means of going and retrieving something like this. Instead, it becomes one more piece of space junk to track until it eventually enters the atmosphere, probably months or years from now.

Administrative Note


Categories: Administrative
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For the first time, I've started deleting some comments without comment (I should say, for the first time other than spam). They come in the form: "...blah blah Simberg blah blah sh*thead blah blah blah f**k you blah blah blah idiot blah blah blah..." They are also anonymous.

Just so the cowardly anonymous moron(s) know, and perhaps won't waste their and my time on such mindless incivility in the future.

...to the charlatans like Jim Hansen. Here are two useful books. First, Cool It, by Bjorn Lomborg who, while he doesn't deny the science behind global warming, he doesn't need to, because he has actually prioritized useful government policy actions based on cost and benefit (something that the warm-mongers refuse to do, e.g., Kyoto). Second, from Chris Horner, Red Hot Lies, which is well described by its subtitle: "How Global Warming Alarmists Use Threats, Fraud, and Deception to Keep You Misinformed.

Yup. As many reviewers note, "climate change" isn't really about science--it's just the latest ideology to come along for the collectivists to use in their latest attempt to bend us to their will.

In response to my previous post on the subject, from Eric Scheie:

If we see the two anti-freedom strains as "your money or your sex," it becomes quite obvious that it's easier -- a hell of a lot easier -- for the government to grab your money than your genitalia.


Yet even though the anti-sex people are by no means a majority in the GOP and cannot possibly implement their schemes, more people fear the Republicans.

A great con job, if you ask me.

Yup. And it continues on.

What Would We Do Without Lou Friedman...


Categories: Political Commentary, Space
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...to be the public's representative for space exploration?

As Paul Spudis (who I recently discovered has a blog or two) notes in comments over there, it's a deadly combination of insufferable arrogance and unsurpassed ignorance. Though I think he gives Lou too much credit when he calls it an accomplishment. It comes naturally to him.

One In Thirty?


Categories: Political Commentary, Space
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Is that really the loss-of-crew probability for an ISS trip with Ares/Orion?

I could buy that number for a lunar mission, but if that's just for a crew changeout, they seem to be managing to spend billions on a new launch vehicle that is less safe than Shuttle.

How could it be? As one of the commenters speculates over there, they may have pulled a lot of redundancy out to save weight when they ran out of margin on both the launcher and the capsule. Also, as I think I've mentioned before, it may be that they've figured out that the Launch Abort System actually adds more risk than it removes, given the dozens of hazards it introduces, over half of which can happen on an otherwise nominal mission.

Anyway, if true, it's just one more reason to abort this monstrosity now, before it wastes any more time or money.

Rob Coppinger has some suggestions to the Obama administration for NASA policy. I agree that Ares I should be mercy killed ASAP, but I disagree that we need an Ares anything else. We need to stop focusing on heavy lift and start developing the capability to store propellant on orbit, which will allow us to launch escape missions of arbitrarily large mass.

Kay Hymowitz writes about the chaos of Darwinist dating.

No Bail Out


Categories: Business, Economics, Political Commentary
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Here's a fellow Flintite (Flintian) explaining why her former employer shouldn't be bailed out:

The strength of the union and the weakness of management made it impossible to conduct business properly at any level. For instance, I had an employee who punched in his time card and then disappeared. The rules were such that I had to spend hours documenting that this man was not in his three foot by three foot work area. I needed witnesses, timed reports, calls over the intercom and a plant wide search all documented in detail. After this absurdity I decided to go my own route; I called the corner bar and paged him and he came to the phone. I gave him a 30 day unpaid disciplinary lay off because he was a "repeat offender". When he returned he thanked me for the PAID vacation. I scoffed, until he explained: (1) He had tried to get the lay off because it was fishing season; (2) The UAW negotiated with GM Labor Relations Department to give him the time WITH PAY.


I supervised a loading dock and 21 UAW workers who worked approximately five hours per day for eight hours pay. They could easily load one third more rail cars and still maintain their union negotiated break times, but when I tried to make them increase production ever so slightly they sabotaged my ability to make even the current production levels by hiding stock, calling in sick, feigning equipment problems, and even once, as a show of force, used a fork lift truck and pallets and racks to create a car part prison where they trapped me while I was conducting inventory. The reaction of upper management to my request to boost production was that I should "not be naïve".

Another employee in the plant urinated on the feet of his supervisor as a protest to discipline. He was, of course, fired...that is until the union negotiated and got his job back.

Eventually I was promoted to a management position where I supervised salaried employees at HQ. As I left the plant I gave management a blunt message. I told them that I expected the union to act like the union, but I was disappointed that management didn't act like management.

I saw a lot of this in the 1970s when I worked summer jobs in the shop, and my relatives who are still there tell me it goes on to this day. Of course, it's hard to put all the blame on management, when the Wagner Act made it impossible for them to do much about it, because it allowed the UAW to credibly threaten their company with bankruptcy if they didn't knuckle under. This crisis was caused by government, and bailing out the UAW will not solve it.

Also, Jim Manzi explains why we (the taxpayers) can't just buy the three auto companies for their current market value (only seven billion) and save ourselves the many more billions that a bailout would cost. It's kind of amazing that the stock has any value at all (GM's in fact doesn't). Equity in these companies currently has negative value because running them requires putting more cash into them, with no certainty, or even likelihood of return, at least with their current union contracts and cost structure. They are the proverbial white elephants.

This, by the way, is the reason that the notion of selling the Shuttle or the ISS to anyone else is a non-starter. No one could afford them, even if you gave them away.

Which in fact I'll probably be offering in the next days and weeks, since I actually know several of them quite well.

If you want to know how to get the VSE back on track, you could do a lot worse than to simply go back and reread the Aldridge Commission Report. Mike Griffin doesn't seem to have done so, or if he did, he largely ignored its recommendations, with the one exception being developing a heavy lifter (which was the one main thing that the commission got wrong).

...Soylent green. The miracle food of high-energy plankton gathered from the oceans of the world.

Soylent Green, 1973

The New York Times predicts that "if current fishing practices continue, the world's major commercial stocks will collapse by 2048." Their solution: lower energy content by eating sardines instead of feeding them to farm-raised salmon.

Mistaking energy content for price is a common mistake. Chew on this: organic lettuce is more expensive than a hamburger.

Wild fish will be eclipsed by farm-raised fish just as farm-raised beef has eclipsed free-range beef. Get used to it, perhaps by preparing to pay an extreme premium for free-range fish. Don't expect the Chinese middle class to prefer wild cod once a year to farm-raised salmon once a month. Expect the coastal waters to be fenced into fish farms just as the Great Plains was fenced in during the 19th century.

It's time to manage the pollution and reserve the wild fish parks upcurrent. This tide isn't going to be turned back by pondering how the old days were until we're eaten up.

Apostasy


Categories: Political Commentary, Space
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Jack Schmitt has resigned from The Planetary Society over their destinational dispute. As I noted the other day, to argue about destinations at all is to miss the point.

I agree with most of his points, other than the need for heavy lift. And I absolutely agree that making it an international venture would be the kiss of death, at least in terms of meeting schedules or making it affordable, other than setting up propellant depots that can take deliveries from a wide range of sources, including international and commercial. But the Mars hardware and expeditions should be national in nature. We need competition, not "cooperation."

The Latest Scientific Fraud


Categories: Political Commentary, Science And Society
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...from the global warm-mongers.

I have nothing to say, other than that James Hansen gets entirely too much respect. And by "too much," I mean more than none.

I have thoughts on "Change!" and free markets this morning, over at PJM.

Alan Boyle has a good roundup of the current state of play, with lots of links. As I've noted before, people who merely argue about destinations are missing the point.

Republican Religiophobia


Categories: Media Criticism, Political Commentary
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As long as I'm dredging up golden oldies on space, I might as well do one on politics as well. I've talked to and emailed (and Usenetted) a few "moderate" Republicans who were turned off by McCain's choice of Sarah Palin, because they thought the choice was simply pandering to the religious right, and they bought the caricature of her sold by the MSM. I don't agree with that (I think that there was a confluence of factors, including the desire to pick off some of Hillary! supporters), but I really do think that a) he thought that she would be a reformer like him based on her record and b) he did and does have a high regard for her intelligence and capabilities, because most people who meet her, Democrats and "liberals" included, seem to.

Anyway, I really don't understand this fear of the religious right, though I am neither religious, or "right" (in the social conservative sense). I explained why in a post about six and a half years ago. I think that it's relevant today, and in fact wish that I'd reposted it before the election (not that the fate of the nation hinges in any way on my posts).

Instantman, in reference to an article about women and the sexual revolution, says:
This kind of stuff, by the way, is the reason why a lot of Democrats who are basically in agreement with the Republican party are still afraid to vote for Republicans.

This seems to be a common attitude among many libertarians (and to the degree that labels apply, I think that one fits Glenn about as well as any), particularly the ones who approached that philosophy from the left (i.e., former Democrats). I once had an extended email discussion (back during the election) with another libertarian friend (who's also a blogger, but shall remain nameless) about how as much as he disliked the socialism of the Democrats, he felt more culturally comfortable with them. Again, this is a prevalent attitude of products of the sixties. You know, Republicans were uptight fascists, and Democrats were idealistic, free-living, and hip.

While I'm not a conservative, my own sexual and drug-taking values (and life style) tend to be. I just don't think that the government should be involved in either of these areas. But my voting pattern is that I'll occasionally vote Republican (I voted for Dole over Clinton, the only time I've ever voted for a Republican for President), but I never vote for a Democrat for any office. The last time I did so was in 1976, and I'd like that one back.

There are at least two reasons for this.

First, I've found many Republicans who are sympathetic to libertarian arguments, and in fact are often libertarians at heart, but see the Republican Party as the most practical means of achieving the goals. There may be some Democrats out there like that, but I've never run into them. That's the least important reason (partly because I may be mistaken, and have simply suffered from a limited sample space). But fundamentally, the Democratic Party, at least in its current form, seems to me to be utterly antithetical to free markets.

But the most important reason is this--while I find the anti-freedom strains of both parties equally dismaying, the Democrats are a lot better at implementing their big-government intrusions, and there's good reason to think that this will be the case even if the Republicans get full control of the government.

This is because many of the Democratic Party positions are superficially appealing, if you're ignorant of economics and have never been taught critical thinking.

Who can be against a "living wage"? What's so bad about making sure that everyone, of every skin hue, gets a fair chance at a job? Why shouldn't rich people pay a larger percentage of their income in taxes?--they can afford it. Are you opposed to clean air and water? What's wrong with you? How can you be against social security--do you want old folks to live on Kibbles and Bits?

To fight these kinds of encroachments on liberty requires a lot of effort and argument and, in the end, it often loses anyway. Consider for example, the latest assault on the First Amendment that passed the Senate today, sixty to forty. Many Republicans voted against it. I don't think any Democrats did.

[Thursday morning update: Best of the Web notes that two Democrats did vote against it--John Breaux and Ben Nelson. Good for them. They also have a hall of shame for the Republicans who voted for it.]

On the other hand, the things that libertarians like Glenn and Nameless fear that conservatives will do (e.g., in matters sexual), are so repugnant to most Americans that they'll never get made into law, and if they do, the legislators who do so will quickly get turned out of office. So, you have to ask yourself, even if you dislike the attitude of people who are uncomfortable with the sexual revolution, just what is it, realistically, that you think they'd actually do about it if you voted for them?

The bottom line for me is that Democrats have been slow-boiling the frog for decades now, and they're very good at it. I tend to favor Republicans, not because I necessarily agree with their views on morality, but because I see them as the only force that can turn down the heat on the kettle, and that they're very unlikely to get some of the more extreme policies that they may want, because the public, by and large, views them as extreme.

Nothing has happened in the interim to change my views in this regard. The real disappointment was that the Republicans gave us the worst of all worlds this election--a Democrat (in terms of his populist economic thinking and his own antipathy to the free market, despite his Joe-the-Plumber noises about "spreading the wealth") at the top of their ticket, with a running mate who was perceived (falsely, in my opinion) as being a warrior for the religious right. But that's what happens when you stupidly have open primaries, and allow the media to pick your nominee.

Shuttle Launch


Categories: Space
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I was thinking about driving up to watch it (who knows how many night launches are remaining?) but couldn't work up the gumption for it. Patricia was up in Orlando yesterday, and could have stayed later, but I would have had to drive up and meet her somewhere, and then we'd have come back separately, and gotten in late. But I did see it from the house (first time I've ever done that). Now I know where the trajectory is, and where to look the next time, if it's clear. But I doubt if I'd see anything past SRB burnout in the daytime. Even at night, the main engines were pretty dim from 150 miles away. Though, of course, it was also heading northeast, away from us.

Jonathan Gewirtz took a shot of it from downtown Miami (which is actually a couple hundred miles away, being fifty miles or so south of me). The Hubble flight should be a better view, since it will launch due east.

Words Mean Things


Categories: Political Commentary
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In retrospect, you could tell that the American experiment was over back in the eighties, when it became a bi-partisan notion to appoint czars of things. If the Republicans are serious about showing that they're for small government, they'll start opposing this on principle, whether it's for energy or drugs.

Exploding the myths of Clintonomics:

The bull market took off precisely when then-Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan took his foot off the brakes and hit the gas in 1995. It was also then that Republicans took control of Congress -- further blunting the effects of the Clinton tax torpedo that had taken effect the previous year.


Clinton also benefitted from innovations long in the making, including the Pentium chip released in March 1993 and Microsoft's Windows program released in August 1995. These together made the Internet boom possible.

As for the budget surpluses, they came as a complete surprise to Clinton economic forecasters, whose static models only predicted their tax hikes on the rich would narrow the budget gap, not get it into the black.

Their "deficit-reduction plan" didn't create the surpluses at all. They were a direct result of a tidal wave of capital-gains revenues generated by the GOP-led stock boom.

Relieved that Washington would no longer threaten to take over 14% of the economy by socializing medicine or raise taxes even higher, the market took off like a shot at that point. And capital gains tax receipts exploded, flooding federal coffers.

Clinton's own long-term budgets predicted no surpluses of any kind during his administration and beyond.

Bill Clinton never had a plan to end deficits. The Republicans and economic circumstances did it for him. But I'm sure that this myth that Bill Clinton balanced the budget will prevail in the minds of the media and Democrats, just as the false myth that Roosevelt, and not the war, got us out of the Depression continues to prevail many decades later. They have to rewrite history to justify their continued plunder. And of course, the near-term danger is that President-Elect Obama and the Congressional majority will use this mistaken history as a justification for tax hikes in a recession, which could be economically ruinous.

Mike Griffin:

"...I know how to fail. Just pick the wrong people, and you are doomed."

Yes, at this point, I'd say you're a poster boy for that bit of acquired wisdom.

This Historical Analogy Is Always Dangerous


Categories: History, Space
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...but...the Moon is to Mars as the Canary Islands were to the Americas.

Discuss.

Why Blogging Has Been Light


Categories: Space
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Not for me, but for Jon Goff (though John Hare has been picking up the slack with a lot of out-of-the-box technical posts). Two words: shock diamonds.

Katherine Mangu-Ward, in an essay on Tor Books, says that the link remains strong.

Failing At Milton Friedman's Challenge


Categories: Economics, Political Commentary
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Peter Robinson explains

Item: Since my dinner with Milton Friedman, a Republican president and Republicans in Congress--I repeat, Republicans--enacted a prescription drug benefit that represents the biggest expansion of the welfare state since the Great Society. They also indulged in a massive increase in discretionary domestic spending and passed the biggest farm bill in history, a massive transfer of resources to the 2% of the population still engaged in agriculture.


Item: In the campaign that just concluded, the GOP--again, I repeat, the GOP--nominated a man whose proudest legislative achievement was a campaign finance reform, the McCain-Feingold bill, that represented a direct assault on freedom of speech.

Item: During the campaign, the Republican nominee--again, the Republican--told voters that the federal government should "give you a mortgage you can afford" while attacking businesspeople as "greedy."

This reminds me of the story of the woman who came up to Franklin after the Constitutional Convention, and asked him what he had given us. His response: "A Republic, madame. If you can keep it."

It would have worked just as well to say "A free-market economy, if you can keep it." We haven't been able to, partly because we have slowly transitioned from a Republic to a democracy, and one in which the people have figured out that they can use their votes to transfer wealth from the productive to themselves.

I'll have more on this topic next week at PJM.

A Vision, Not A Destination


Categories: Political Commentary, Space, Space and Campaign 2008
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With a new administration coming in, there's a lot of speculation about potential shifts in civil space policy, ranging from whether or not Mike Griffin will stay on as administrator, and if so, who will replace him, to whether or not we have the right architecture to achieve the outgoing president's Vision for Space Exploration, or even whether the VSE itself is still valid. Yesterday, the Planetary Society seemed to convert itself to the Mars Society, with its statement that we should bypass the moon, so now we can't even decide what the goal is.

I'm having a sense of deja vu, because we're rerunning the debate we have every few years over space policy, and as always, we are arguing from a set of assumptions that are assumed to be shared, but in many cases are not. I find that the longer I blog, the harder it is for me to come up with new things to say, particularly about space policy. Almost five years ago (jeez, how the time flies--was it really that long ago that we celebrated the Wright Centenary?), I wrote a piece in frustration on this subject. Sadly, nothing has really changed. A vision isn't a destination. I'll replay the golden oldie, because I think that it might be useful to guide the current debate, assuming anyone of consequence reads it.

Jason Bates has an article on the current state of space policy development. As usual, it shows a space policy establishment mired in old Cold-War myths, blinkered in its view of the possibilities.
NASA needs a vision that includes a specific destination. That much a panel of space advocates who gathered in Washington today to celebrate the 100th anniversary of powered flight could agree on. There is less consensus about what that destination should be.

Well, if I'd been on that panel, the agreement would have been less than unanimous. I agree that NASA needs a vision, but I think that the focus on destination is distracting us from developing one, if for no other reason than it's probably not going to be possible to get agreement on it.

As the article clearly shows, some, like Paul Spudis, think we should go back to the moon, and others, like Bub Zubrin, will settle for no less than Mars, and consider our sister orb a useless distraction from the true (in his mind) goal. We are never going to resolve this fundamental, irreconciliable difference, as long as the argument is about destinations.

In addition, we need to change the language in which we discuss such things. Dr. Spudis is quoted as saying:

"For the first time in the agency's history there is no new human spaceflight mission in the pipeline. There is nothing beyond" the international space station."

Fred Singer of NOAA says:

The effort will prepare humans for more ambitious missions in the future, Singer said. "We need an overarching goal," he said. "We need something with unique science content, not a publicity stunt."

Gary Martin, NASA's space architect declares:

NASA's new strategy would use Mars, for example, as the first step to future missions rather than as a destination in itself, Martin said. Robotic explorers will be trailblazers that can lay the groundwork for deeper space exploration, he said.

"...human spaceflight mission..."

"...unique science..."

"...space exploration..."

This is the language of yesteryear. This debate could have occurred, and in fact did occur, in the early 1970s, as Apollo wound down. There's nothing new here, and no reason to think that the output from it will result in affordable or sustainable space activities.

They say that we need a vision with a destination, but it's clear from this window into the process that, to them, the destination is the vision. It's not about why are we doing it (that's taken as a given--for "science" and "exploration"), nor is it about how we're doing it (e.g., giving NASA multi-gigabucks for a "mission" versus putting incentives into place for other agencies or private entities to do whatever "it" is)--it's all seemingly about the narrow topic of where we'll send NASA next with our billions of taxpayer dollars, as the scientists gather data while we sit at home and watch on teevee.

On the other hand, unlike the people quoted in the article, the science writer Timothy Ferris is starting to get it, as is Sir Martin Rees, the British Astronomer Royal, though both individuals are motivated foremost by space science.

At first glance, the Ferris op-ed seems just another plea for a return to the moon, but it goes beyond "missions" and science, and discusses the possibility of practical returns from such a venture. Moreover, this little paragraph indicates a little more "vision," than the one from the usual suspects above:

As such sugarplum visions of potential profits suggest, the long-term success of a lunar habitation will depend on the involvement of private enterprise, or what Harrison H. Schmitt, an Apollo astronaut, calls "a business-and-investor-based approach to a return to the Moon to stay." The important thing about involving entrepreneurs and oil-rig-grade roughnecks is that they can take personal and financial risks that are unacceptable, as a matter of national pride, when all the explorers are astronauts wearing national flags on their sleeves.


One reason aviation progressed so rapidly, going from the Wright brothers to supersonic jets in only 44 years, is that individuals got involved ? it wasn't just governments. Charles A. Lindbergh didn't risk his neck in 1927 purely for personal gratification: he was after the $25,000 Orteig Prize, offered by Raymond Orteig, a New York hotelier, for the first nonstop flight between New York and Paris. Had Lindbergh failed, his demise, though tragic, would have been viewed as a daredevil's acknowledged jeopardy, not a national catastrophe. Settling the Moon or Mars may at times mean taking greater risks than the 2 percent fatality rate that shuttle astronauts now face.

Sir Martin's comments are similar:

The American public's reaction to the shuttle's safety record - two disasters in 113 flights - suggests that it is unacceptable for tax-funded projects to expose civilians even to a 2% risk. The first explorers venturing towards Mars would confront, and would surely willingly accept, far higher risks than this. But they will never get the chance to go until costs come down to the level when the enterprise could be bankrolled by private consortia.


Future expeditions to the moon and beyond will only be politically and financially feasible if they are cut-price ventures, spearheaded by individuals who accept that they may never return. The Columbia disaster should motivate Nasa to set new goals for manned space flight - to collaborate with private groups to develop a more cost-effective and inspiring programme than we've had for the past 30 years.

Yes, somehow we've got to break out of this national mentality that the loss of astronauts is always unacceptable, or we'll never make any progress in space. The handwringing and inappropriate mourning of the Columbia astronauts, almost eleven months ago, showed that the nation hasn't yet grown up when it comes to space. Had we taken such an attitude with aviation, or seafaring, we wouldn't have an aviation industry today, and in fact, we'd not even have settled the Americas. To venture is to risk, and the first step of a new vision for our nation is the acceptance of that fact. But I think that Mr. Ferris is right--it won't be possible as long as we continue to send national astronauts on a voyeuristic program of "exploration"--it will have to await the emergence of the private sector, and I don't see anything in the "vision" discussions that either recognizes this, or is developing policy to help enable and implement it.

There's really only one way to resolve this disparity of visions, and that's to come up with a vision that can encompass all of them, and more, because the people who are interested in uses of space beside and beyond "science," and "exploration," and "missions," are apparently still being forced to sit on the sidelines, at least to judge by the Space.com article.

Here's my vision.

I have a vision of hundreds of flights of privately-operated vehicles going to and from low earth orbit every year, reducing the costs of doing so to tens of dollars per pound. Much of their cargo is people who are visiting orbital resorts, or even cruise ships around the moon, but the important things is that it will be people paying to deliver cargo, or themselves, to space, for their own purposes, regardless of what NASA's "vision" is.

At that price, the Mars Society can raise the money (perhaps jointly with the National Geographic Society and the Planetary Society) to send their own expedition off to Mars. Dr. Spudis and others of like mind can raise the funds to establish lunar bases, or even hotels, and start to learn how to operate there and start tapping its resources. Still others may decide to go off and visit an asteroid, perhaps even take a contract from the government to divert its path, should it be a dangerous one for earthly inhabitants.

My vision for space is a vast array of people doing things there, for a variety of reasons far beyond science and "exploration." The barrier to this is the cost of access, and the barrier to bringing down the cost of access is not, despite pronouncements to the contrary by government officials, a lack of technology. It's a lack of activity. When we come up with a space policy that addresses that, I'll consider it visionary. Until then, it's just more of the same myopia that got us into the current mess, and sending a few astronauts off to the Moon, or Mars, for billions of dollars, isn't going to get us out of it any more than does three astronauts circling the earth in a multi-decabillion space station.

There's no lack of destinations. What we continue to lack is true vision.

All that is old is new again.

That's the word from Michael Yon, reporting from Baghdad.

No thanks to the Democrats, including Barack Obama and Joe Biden, who tried to keep it from happening. I see that they still can't bring themselves to utter the word "win" with respect to the war. They continue to talk about "ending" it. Well, it looks like George Bush did that for them, and he won it as well. But winning wars is bad, you see, because it just encourages the warmongers.

Be Very Afraid


Categories: Political Commentary, War Commentary
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Vice-President-Elect Hairplugs wants to be a hands-on VP:

Biden has said he'd like to use his 36 years of experience in the Senate, including leadership of the Judiciary and Foreign Relations committees, to help push Obama's agenda in Congress. It's longtime insider's experience that Obama lacks and a role that has not been Cheney's focus.

I'm having trouble thinking of a single foreign policy issue in his career on which Joe Biden has been right.

It's also kind of frightening to think of him as responsible for space policy, as veeps have traditionally been. Particularly milspace.

Ominous


Categories: Media Criticism, Political Commentary
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Stephen Green says that President-Elect Obama isn't off to a very good start.

And Brian Doherty is concerned about the cult of personality. Really? He just noticed?

The Big Chill?


Categories: General Science, Science And Society
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So, are we heading for rising sea levels, or a return of the glaciers? A roundup of the debate.

Invading Albion


Categories: Humor, Political Commentary
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Iowahawk has become Internationalhawk, perturbing Anglo-American relations with a new column on a British web site:

In the matter of politics you have "Tories" and "Labour" where we have "Republicans" and "Democrats"; just as our "lawyers" must pass the "bar exam," I'm sure your "barristers" must pass some sort of "pub quiz." In America we call our stupid white racists "crackers," where I believe you refer to them as "scones" or "crisps" or something. But these minor language quirks are nothing compared to the many things we have in common. For example, did you know we also have a new Stalinist dictator, and he also turns out to be Brown?

Politically incorrect, as always.

Rich Lowry has been talking to Rick Davis:

The split over Palin, of course, poisoned everything at the end. One of the dividing lines was between her communications team and the policy advisers. The communications team seemed to consider her a dolt, while the policy people--like Steve Biegun and Randy Scheunemann--were impressed with her and her potential. As one McCain aide told me, "It's the difference between considering her someone who lacks knowledge and someone who is incompetent, and they [the communications aides] treated her as the latter."

By many accounts, the relationship between Palin and the staff assigned by the campaign to travel with her on her plane was dysfunctional and even hostile from the beginning. "She would have been better served if she had asked a couple of people to be removed from her traveling staff," says one McCain aide.

Some McCain loyalists think the Bushies assigned to Palin let her down and then turned on her. This is a representative quote from someone from McCain world holding that view: "Look, she wasn't ready for this, obviously. Their job was to make her ready for this and they failed. So they unloaded on her. If they had an iota of loyalty to John McCain, they wouldn't have done it."

It was a mistake to bring "Bushies" into the campaign, given the competence level of "Bushies" as a general rule (unfortunately, the president seemed to value loyalty over competence, though there were notable exceptions). Yes, they won a couple previous campaigns, but only barely. Of course, there was something dysfunctional about a McCain campaign that didn't see this happening and do something about it. And then there's this:

On putting Palin out in big, hostile network interviews at the beginning: "Our assumption was people would not let us release her on Fox or local TV."


On the Couric interview, which Davis says Palin thought would be softer because she was being interviewed by a woman: "She was under the impression the Couric thing was going to be easier than it was. Everyone's guard was down for the Couric interview."

On the clothes fiasco: "We flew her out from Alaska to Arizona to Ohio to introduce her to the world and take control of her life. She didn't think 'dress for the convention', because it might have just been a nice day trip to Arizona if she didn't click with John. Very little prep had been done and if it had, we might have gotten picked off by the press. We were under incredible scrutiny. We got her a gal from New York and we thought, 'Let's get some clothes for her and the family.' It was a failure of management not to get better control and track of that. The right hand didn't know what the left hand was doing, what it was worth or where it was going. No one knew how much that stuff was worth. It was more our responsibility than hers."

What does that first graf mean? What "people" did they think wouldn't let them release her on Fox or local television? And as to the second, all I can say is...WHERE DID THEY FIND THESE IDIOTS?! They thought that hyperliberal hyperNOWist hyperidiot Katie Couric was going to be "soft" on her? In a taped, easily edited interview that could be dribbled out over days? On what planet have they been living? These are people who are supposed to understand media relations?

They deserved to lose, and as I've said before, I'm not unhappy that they did. But I'm quite unhappy that Senator Obama didn't.

Deferring The Moon?


Categories: Space
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That's the recommendation of the Planetary Society.

I don't necessarily have a problem with deferring the Moon, since NASA seems determined to go to the moon in the most cost-ineffective and unsustainable manner possible. What chaps my drawers is deferring the development of critical infrastructure essential to affordable access to LEO and beyond.

Here's a cure for that. Let's hope he's wrong. Part of the problem is that, because panics like this are to some degree psychological, pieces like this don't help, even if they're valid. It's sort of like the Heisenberg principle--the very act of diagnosing the problem can exacerbate it.

Never before have so many been so proud of so little:

The findings, published in the November issue of Psychological Science, support the idea that the "self-esteem" movement popular among today's parents and teachers may have gone too far, the study's co-author said.


"What this shows is that confidence has crossed over into overconfidence," said Jean Twenge, an associate professor of psychology at San Diego State University.

She believes that decades of relentless, uncritical boosterism by parents and school systems may be producing a generation of kids with expectations that are out of sync with the challenges of the real world.

"High school students' responses have crossed over into a really unrealistic realm, with three-fourths of them expecting performance that's effectively in the top 20 percent," Twenge said.

Don't they realize that half of them are below median intelligence? Probably not, because they got an "A" in math, even though they didn't understand it.

One of the perverse and tragic problems with incompetence is that it generally includes an inability to recognize it.

Household Safety Tip


Categories: Humor, Weird
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Don't hang curtains while nude, with an upright potato sitting on the kitchen table:

The vicar had to undergo a delicate operation to extract the vegetable, one of a range of odd items medics in Sheffield have had to remove from people's backsides or genitals.


Others include a can of deodorant, a cucumber, a Russian doll - and a carnation.

I really hate it when you accidentally fall bare-assed on a carnation.

[Update a while later]

This raised my eyebrows:

A hospital trust spokeswoman in Sheffield said: "Like all busy hospitals we do see some unusual accidents.


"But our staff deal with them in a discreet, professional and kind way."

Yes, because there's nothing more discreet than talking to a reporter for the Telegraph, and making it national (and on the web, therefore international) news.

America The Illiterate


Categories: Education, Media Criticism, Political Commentary
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I don't generally think much of Chris Hedges, and the comments are nutty, but I largely agree with this piece:

The illiterate and semi-literate, once the campaigns are over, remain powerless. They still cannot protect their children from dysfunctional public schools. They still cannot understand predatory loan deals, the intricacies of mortgage papers, credit card agreements and equity lines of credit that drive them into foreclosures and bankruptcies. They still struggle with the most basic chores of daily life from reading instructions on medicine bottles to filling out bank forms, car loan documents and unemployment benefit and insurance papers. They watch helplessly and without comprehension as hundreds of thousands of jobs are shed. They are hostages to brands. Brands come with images and slogans. Images and slogans are all they understand. Many eat at fast food restaurants not only because it is cheap but because they can order from pictures rather than menus. And those who serve them, also semi-literate or illiterate, punch in orders on cash registers whose keys are marked with symbols and pictures. This is our brave new world.

Can democracy survive for long, with such an electorate? Of course, he doesn't finger the primary culprit--our fascist public school system which manufactures exactly the sort of people who will keep it in power.

[Late afternoon update]

Are individualists losing the IQ war with the left?

A Frightening Thought


Categories: Political Commentary, Space, Space and Campaign 2008
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George Abbey as NASA administrator? If that were to happen, it would be one of the worst effects of the Obama win, at least for those who care about our future in space.

[Update early afternoon]

Here was my take on the Abbey/Lane paper at the time it was first published, over three years ago:

I'm reading the space policy paper by (former JSC Director George) Abbey and (former Clinton Science Advisor Neal) Lane.

It gets off on the wrong foot, in my opinion, right in the preface:

Space exploration on the scale envisioned in the president's plan is by necessity a cooperative international venture.

I know that this is an article of faith with many, but simply stating it doesn't make it an incontrovertible fact. In reality, this is a political decision. If it became important to the nation to become spacefaring, and seriously move out into space, there's no reason that we couldn't afford to do it ourselves. The amount of money that we spend on space is a trivially small part of the discretionary budget, and even smaller part of the total federal budget, and a drop in the bucket when looking at the GDP. Even ignoring the fact that we could be getting much more for our money if relieved of political constraints, we could easily double the current budget.

The statement also ignores the fact that international cooperation in fact tends to increase costs, and there's little good evidence that it even saves money. It's something that we tend to do simply for the sake of international cooperation, and we actually pay a price for it.

Neither the president's plan nor the prevailing thrust of existing U.S. space policies encourages the type of international partnerships that are needed. Indeed there is much about U.S. space policy and plans--particularly those pertaining to the possible deployment of weapons in space--that even our closest allies find objectionable.

While I don't favor doing things just because other countries find them objectionable (with the exception of France), this issue should not be driving our space policy, as I pointed out almost exactly three years ago. What the authors think is a bug, I consider a feature.

In the introduction itself, I found this an interesting misdiagnosis:

In January 2004, President George W. Bush announced a plan to return humans to the Moon by 2020, suggesting that this time U.S. astronauts would make the journey as a part of an international partnership. However, the recent history of the U.S. space program--the tragic Columbia accident, a squeezing of the NASA budget over many years, the cancellation of the Hubble Space Telescope upgrade mission, a go-it-alone approach to space activities, the near demise of the U.S. satellite industry due to U.S. policy on export controls, and international concern about U.S. intentions regarding the military use of space--points to serious obstacles that stand in the way of moving forward.

Again, they state this as though it was obviously true (and perhaps it is, to them). But they don't actually explain how any of these things present obstacles to returning to the moon. The loss of Columbia was actually, despite the tragedy to the friends and families of the lost astronauts, a blessing, to the degree that it forced the nation to take a realistic reassessment of the Shuttle program. We aren't going to use Shuttle to go back to the moon, so how can they argue that its loss is an obstacle to that goal?

Similarly, how does squeezing of past NASA budgets prevent future intelligent spending in furtherance of the president's goal? While lamentable if it doesn't occur, repairing Hubble was not going to make any contribution to the Vision for Space Exploration. And while the state of the satellite industry is troubling, again, there's no direct connection between this and human exploration. I've already dealt with the spuriousness of the complaints about international cooperation. In short, this statement is simply a lot of unsubstantiated air, but it probably sounds good to policy makers who haven't given it much thought.

They sum it up here:

U.S. policy makers must confront four looming barriers that threaten continued U.S. leadership in space: export regulations that stifle the growth of the commercial space industry, the projected shortfall in the U.S. science and engineering workforce, inadequate planning for robust scientific advancement in NASA, and an erosion of international cooperation in space.

There are some barriers to carrying out the president's vision, but so far, with the exception of the export-control issue, these aren't them, and they don't seem to have identified any of the other actual ones.

From there, they go on to give a brief history of the space program, with its supposed benefits to the nation. They then go on to laud the international nature of it. When I got to this sentence, I was struck by the irony:

The International Space Station best portrays the international character of space today.

If that's true, it should be taken as a loud and clear warning that we should be running as far, and and as fast, from "international cooperation" as we possibly can.

The largest cooperative scientific and technological program in history, the space station draws on the resources and technical capabilities of nations around the world. It has brought the two Cold War adversaries together to work for a common cause, and arguably has done more to further understanding and cooperation between the two nations than many comparable programs.

What they don't note is that it is years behind schedule, billions over budget, and still accomplishes little of value to actually advancing us in space, other than continuing to keep many people employed at Mr. Abbey's former center, and other places. But, hey...it promotes international cooperation, so that's all right. Right?

The piece goes on to describe the four "barriers," of which only one (export control) really is. While it's troubling that not as many native-born are getting advanced science and engineering degrees as there used to be, there will be no shortage of engineers, since the foreign born will more than pick up the slack. It's perhaps a relevant public policy issue, but it's not a "barrier" to our sending people back to the moon.

The most tendentious "barrier" is what the authors claim is inadequate planning and budgets for the vision:

President George W. Bush's NASA Plan, which echoed that of President George H. W. Bush over a decade before, is bold by any measure. It is also incomplete and unrealistic. It is incomplete, in part, because it raises serious questions about the future commitment of the United States to astronomy and to planetary, earth, and space science. It is unrealistic from the perspectives of cost, timetable, and technological capability. It raises expectations that are not matched by the Administration's commitments. Indeed, pursuit of the NASA Plan, as formulated, is likely to result in substantial harm to the U.S. space program.

Even if one buys their premise--that expectations don't match commitments, that all depends on what means by the "U.S. space program," doesn't it? They seem (like many space policy analysts) to be hung up on science, as though that's the raison d'être of the program. Leaving that aside, they (disingenuously, in my opinion) attempt to back up this statement:

The first part of the NASA Plan, as proposed, was to be funded by adding $1 billion to the NASA budget over five years, and reallocating $11 billion from within the NASA budget during the same time frame. These amounts were within the annual 5 percent increase the current Administration planned to add to the NASA base budget (approximately $15 billion) starting in fiscal year 2005. This budget, however, was very small in comparison to the cost of going to the Moon with the Apollo program. The cost of the Apollo program was approximately $25 billion in 1960 dollars or $125 billion in 2004 dollars, and the objectives of the NASA Plan are, in many ways, no less challenging.

This is a very misleading comparison, for two reasons.

First, as the president himself said, this is not a race, but a vision. Apollo was a race. Money was essentially no object, as long as we beat the Soviets to the moon. The vision will be budget constrained. NASA's (and Mike Griffin's) challenge is to accomplish those few milestones that were laid out in the president's plan within those constraints. It will cost that much, and no more, by definition.

Second, simply stating that the goals of the plan are no less challenging than Apollo doesn't make it so. While the goal of establishing a permanent lunar presence is more of a challenge, it's not that much more of one, and we know much more about the moon now than we did in 1961, and we have much more technology in hand, and experience in development than we did then. In short, any comparison between what Apollo cost and what the vision will cost is utterly spurious. The only way to get an estimate for the latter is to define how it will be done, and then do parametric costing, using 21st-century cost-estimating relationships, on the systems so defined (a process which is occurring, and is one not informed in any way by Apollo budgets).

The U.S. Congress has made clear with its NASA appropriation for fiscal year 2005 that it has serious questions about the NASA Plan.

No surprise there. But that's merely a reflection of specific items (i.e., pork for their districts) that were cut, and says nothing in particular about the overall ability of NASA to achieve the plan with the budget. In fact, an annual appropriation is just that--it provides no insight whatsoever into what Congress might think is required in the out years, when the real budgetary issues would emerge, if they do at all.

Overall, this section strikes me as less a serious policy discussion than a political slap at the administration, by one of the first high-level NASA officials to be canned by it, and by a disgruntled physicist (and science advisor from the previous administration) unhappy that science is not the be-all of the program.

I've glanced through the rest of the thing, but I think I've covered the major flaws in it already. What's actually most notable to me is that they completely ignore the potential for private passenger flight, and commercial space in general (other than bemoaning the impact to the satellite industry of export restrictions). Given how badly they've misdiagnosed the problems, their prescriptions have little value. In terms of providing a basis for administration policy, my own recommendation is that it be simply filed away--in a circular receptacle.

I see little reason to revise that review today. George Abbey shouldn't be allowed anywhere near space policy (though perhaps, at seventy six years of age, it's not something that he wants, or could handle at this point). It certainly wouldn't be change we can believe in. Or change at all.

Shameful


Categories: Media Criticism, Political Commentary
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That's how Beldar describes John McCain's post-election behavior:

John McCain has failed this test of his own character.


The would-be commander-in-chief surely still had the clout to summon the top twenty-five or so campaign aides into a room for a "Come to Jesus" meeting, a "we aren't any of us leaving this room until I know who leaked those comments" meeting, a "you aren't any of you ever going to work in politics again until we find out who's to blame for this" meeting.

Instead, he goes on Lenno and shrugs his shoulders, minimizing the whole episode. That didn't make anyone famous. That affirmatively encouraged this crap to continue, not just in this campaign but in future ones.

I practice a profession in which secrets are important. I understand the concept of fiduciary duty. I've employed people, professionals and staff alike, who -- simply by virtue of working for me -- have been made subject to the same bright-line, absolute standards that I'm subject to. Very, very rarely, someone in my employment has breached that trust -- and my reaction has been ruthless and thorough and instantaneous. Yes, there have been a few times when I've enjoyed firing someone, and have gone out of my way to make sure that anyone who cared to make future inquiries about hiring that person would find out exactly why they were fired.

McCain's background as a military officer ought to have acquainted him with high ethical standards and the need for their consistent and vigorous enforcement. He almost flunked out of the Naval Academy at the end of every year he spent there, based on conduct demerits, but he never once had an Honor Code violation.

Senator, this was an Honor Code violation by someone on your staff. And you just blew it off. There was no shame in losing the election. But there is definitely shame in this.

Also, thoughts on the willful gullibility of people who believe the idiotic lies about Sarah Palin:

People joked about "Bush Derangement Syndrome," and about "Palin Derangement Syndrome" as its successor. But at some point this kind of thing stops being a joke and becomes a genuine cognative disability -- an inability to process and deal in a rational fashion with objective data because of a bias that is so intense that it blocks out reality.


I can't explain it. I just hope it's a temporary, acute problem rather than something long-term or possibly organic, like the sort of brain tumors or lesions of which Dr. Oliver Sachs writes in his book, "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat." I'm not being at all snarky here. Rather, I'm entirely serious, because I have considered Dr. Joyner a friend, and I am genuinely concerned for his mental health. He, Andrew Sullivan, and others in their camp are completely persuaded that they can see a degree of ignorance in Gov. Palin which is utterly inconsistent with anyone's ability to function as the governor of any state, but to which hundreds of thousands of Alaskans were absolutely blind for many years despite a much better opportunity to assess Gov. Palin first-hand. That kind of thinking represents a break with reality, one that's not funny at all, but genuinely sad.

[Via David Blue, who has a number of other reasons to be glad that John McCain didn't win the election. But they don't, unfortunately, constitute reasons to be happy that Barack Obama did. We were screwed either way, primarily because the media selected both candidates.]

[Update a few minutes later]

I wonder how many people actually voted for John McCain (that is, voted for him because they liked him, and thought he would be a good president)? I suspect that the vast majority of McCain voters were either voting against Obama, or for Palin, or both, but they weren't voting for McCain. It seems to me that those people who actually like McCain, either personally, or on his eclectic policies, probably like Obama even more (e.g., many in the media). So hardly anyone voted for him. And this is also the reason that the Republican turnout was relatively low. The candidate had no attraction to them.

Why Libertarianism Matters


Categories: Media Criticism, Political Commentary
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Now, more than ever. Self-styled "progressives" seem to continue to be unaware of their own shameful intellectual history.