Friday, May 31, 2002

As promised we saw The Sum of All Fears. The movie was not so much a story as something slapped together haphazardly with various elements, some from the excellent Tom Clancy book, others from the imagination of creative development execs in Hollywood. What was resulted was less that satisfying, but not altogether so aweful that it caused pain.

Yes Ben Affleck is miscast as Jack Ryan, Clancy's crack CIA analyst and world saver. It's not his fault. In ten years, with a little seasoning and a few more lines about the face, Affleck might have made a great Ryan. But in the movie he's a kid playing "stop nuclear terrorism" in an adult world. And it's Affleck's misfortune to share the screen with Morgan Freidman, an actor of supreme gifts and experience.

And of course the PC tendencies of Hollywood hurt the movie. The original story had Hamas-type terrorists behind the nuclear attack. But Hollywood decided (before 9/11) that Arab terrorists were passe and that, besides, Arabs have an effective lobby dedicated to preventing any film being made from depicting an Arab in a bad light. At first American, right wing militia types were going to be the bad guys. But the idea of red neck, inbred crackers smuggling nukes was too silly, even for Hollywood. So they settled on Eurotrash NeoNazis, who have no lobby that I know of. Of course for plausibility it created they might as well have chosen Perotistas or aliens from the X Files.

It's rather too bad. A lot of Clancy novels beg to be made into movies and I'm afraid that Sum of All Fears have made that less likely. My personal favorite is Rainbow Six. The bad guys in that story are environmentalist wackos who create a genetically enhanced virus to kill 99 percent of the human race. What a cool, original movie that would make.
Earlier this year the Texas National Resources Conservation Commission rolled back the speed limit on most Texas highways to 55 miles per hour. This was done to comply with the Clean Act Act based on a computer model which suggested that the edict would cut back on nitrogen oxide emmissions. The rollback has been very unpopular and has been widely ignored. But the last straw came when a new computer model indicated that rolling back the speed limit to 55 would produce no reduction in nitrogen oxide emmissions. So now the TNRCC will likely reserve it's decision and move the speed limit back up to 70.
Vietnam's regime has officially accused former Senator Bob Kerrey of commiting war crimes while he was a Navy SEAL. This is, of course, rich coming from a regime which engineered the Hue Massacre and other mass atrocities, but it does illustrate a danger and the wisdom of President Bush for avoiding it. Bob Kerrey might have found himself headed for that UN court, accused by one of the biggest human rights violators in history, had Bush not "unsigned" the treaty his predecessor incautiously entered into.
A very silly bureaucrat in the Houston Indepedent School District named Angela Miller wants to rid the phrase "Remember the Alamo!" from textbooks. She thinks that teaching the idea that the Texan rebles who died to the last man at the Alamo were "good" and that the Mexican soldiers who, under Santa Anna, slaughtered them, as well as other Texans at the Goliad, were "bad" will offend Hispanic students.

Never mind that Tejanos were among those who were martyred at the Alamo and Goliad and fought at San Jacinto. This sort of silly thinking is, of course, the leading edge of the wedge. Soon we will be rewriting the history of World War II to avoid offending Germans and Japanese. If you don't beleiev me, just you wait.

Thursday, May 30, 2002

Jonathon Last has sadly concluded that The Sum of All Fears, the movie, is the worse in memory, done in by a combination of bad acting by Ben Affleck and politically correct screen writing. More about the film anon when we have seen it.

Wednesday, May 29, 2002

Meanwhile the Washington Times is reporting another victory over the politically correct busy bodies who think American Indian names for sports teams is offensive:
Washington public relations mogul Hugh C. Newton is back in town after spending a week in scenic Monument Valley, which slices through the Navajo Indian Reservation in Arizona.
No sooner did Mr. Newton get home and pick up a copy of The Washington Times that he read about one Maryland public school system that was asked to ban Indian-inspired team names.
Richard Regan, a Lumbee-Cheraw Indian, unsuccessfully demanded that the Washington County school system change the names of the Boonsboro High School Warriors and the Conococheague Elementary School Indians.
Mr. Regan argued in a complaint that such names demean American Indians, promote poor race relations and destroy the self-esteem of American Indian schoolchildren.
Fresh from his journey West, and having camped in one of the largest Indian reservations in the country, Mr. Newton isn't so sure.
"And I have visual proof," he tells Inside the Beltway, forwarding the photograph that appears today of a large sign erected outside Red Mesa High School. It reads: "Red Mesa Redskins."
"I heard it was true and went looking for the high school," explains Mr. Newton, a longtime fan of the Washington Redskins. "Several Indians I talked to said they were proud of the name "
As for Mr. Regan, who doesn't even live in Washington County (he's a suburban Washington resident), acting schools Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan ruled that he had no standing to make such demands because nicknames like "Indians" and "Warriors" are used respectfully to honor the dignity and courage of American Indians.

That makes two in a row. Amazing.
The Washington Times is reporting that weapons bans in schools are having an unintended effect on the abbility of students to learn a thing or two about ancient history:

Weapons bans put in place in our nation's schools — albeit for good reason — are having a negative effect on cultural and historical education.
Consider this letter sent home to D.C. families of Latin III students at St. Anselm's Abbey School, regarding a "Roman Military Re-enactor Event."
"Dear Parents of Form III Latin Students: I tried but was unable due to D.C. school-weapons law to have an historic re-enactor who heads a local Roman Legion, Quints of Legion X, come to school to demonstrate his equipment on Field Day.
"However, Quints recently reminded me that his legion will encamp for a weekend at Marietta Mansion in Prince George's County June 8-9. I will copy below his description of the details in case you and your [child] would like to attend. It should be fascinating."
The fifth annual Roman Days, as the event is called, is a display of ancient military and domestic living history, hosted by the 20th Legion. Representatives from the Gaelic provinces will be on hand, Bean the Barbarian, "plus any Greeks, Siberians, Ice Men, etc., that turn up, but naturally, the emphasis will be on Rome. Not just military re-enactors, but civilians, teachers, war gamers — if you have any interest in ancient history, please come."

In what surely must be the result of some big mistake, the California State Assembly voted not to require California schools todrop Indian mascots and Indian team names. So if you're a High School jock in California, you can still call yourself an Apache or a Cherokee, no matter what the politically correct busy bodies think.
Professor Reynolds writes about the reasons we should settle Mars. He even suggests challenging China to a space race. Heavens, I wonder if he's been listening to the BBC? Proof one supposes that great minds think alike. Except Glenn wants to race to Mars and I think-despite some contradictory statements by Chinese officials-that the Chinese have already thrown down the gauntlet for a race to the Moon.

Tuesday, May 28, 2002

According to Rollcall, Houston's irrepresiable, Imperial Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee is at it again:
No matter how hard she tries, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee. (D-Texas) just can't seem to shake her car troubles.

Jackson Lee took a beating in the media a few months back for having a staffer wait outside her front door each morning in a government-financed car to shuttle her the whole two blocks from her apartment to the Rayburn Building. HOH. later reported that she had started slipping out the back door to have her chief of staff drive her to work, though her office insisted that the boss wasn't trying to evade scrutiny.

Then, during a House vote Wednesday night, an interesting scene played out on the east side of the Capitol. The Capitol Police cleared Rep. John Dingell's (D-Mich.) car. to go through the security barriers, which only let through one vehicle at a time.

But suddenly a Mercedes with dark windows sped up. and tried to sneak through the barriers on Dingell's tail. According to HOH's spy, police officers rushed over and ordered the car to stop, as the tinted windows slowly started rolling down. "Who should be in the passenger seat but Sheila Jackson Lee.," said the source.

The police did a close check of the vehicle, and then the Congresswoman was waved in.

I wonder what would have happened if the officers had decided it was a car bomb and opened fire? That would have been a very embaressing development.

NASA's James Garvin had some interesting things to say about Mars exploration.
"That's a vision not a program, but I ask what is the difference between what we are doing on Mars now and the preparation we would have to do for a manned Mars mission. The answer is nothing.

"Our unmanned exploration of Mars is just the homework we need to be doing for any eventual manned mission. This programme is the right antecedent for man on Mars."

Dr Garvin points out that other areas of Nasa will be looking into the technologies needed to propel humans across interplanetary space, keep them alive in space and bring them back home.

In other words, NASA has in fact decided that it will send humans to Mars. Just as soon as those people in the White House and the Congress decide to see it their way and fund the program.

Experts are running the numbers of what the butcher's bill for a nuclear war between India and Pakistan would be. The death toll could exceed that of both world wars and could happen in a day or so.

Considering this, can anyone now doubt that a space based missile defense system is vital?
The politics of rebuilding Ground Zero is already starting to sound like something from an Ayn Rand novel. Too bad Howard Roark was a fictional charecter. One wonders what he would come up with.

Monday, May 27, 2002

The British media is now backing away from reports that a commitment to send people to Mars will happen this week. The referenced article also advances an interesting, albeit PC idea of including among the first crew to go to Mars someone from "the poorest country on Earth" and allow him or her to be the first person to walk on Mars. What the purpose of such a thing is, I'm not sure. Part of the glory of Neil Armstrong being the first man to walk on the Moon is that he represented the efforts of hundreds of thousands of Americans and the commitment of the American nation to send him there. Carrying someone from-saw-Zimbabwe as an affirmative action case seems to me to be slightly insulting.

Sunday, May 26, 2002

Meanwhile, stories about a Chinese lunar effort persist despite the voices of complacency coming from some space policy analysts in the West.
This story claims that NASA is going to announce a manned mission to Mars to take place "within twenty years." I would be surprised if a mid level NASA official would make such an announcement. That's the sort of thing that a President of the United States would do.

In any case, twenty years is hardly a neck or nothing Apollo-style effort, in my opinion. In the near term it means very little, except perhaps for some more technology research and development spending.
It looks like that an underground ocean of ice has been found on Mars. This has, understandably, sparked some renewed interest in sending humans to Mars. Rand Simberg reviews most of the disadvantages of doing an all out, Apollo-style mission to Mars. In any event, despite the wishes of some folks at NASA, I don't think it's immediately in the cards anyway. Sean O'Keefe, the current NASA Administrator, has publicly stated that there are a number of problems which need to be solved before we send humans to Mars. The first is the problem of the effect of cosmic background radiation on humans. The second is the problem of trip times and distance. With current, chemical rocket technologies, trip times to Mars could last anywhere from six months to a year, with a complete mission time of up to three years. Worse, the windows for such voyages only occure every 26 months. The nuclear propulsion and power initiative O'Keefe has started will address that problem. Once we get the trip times to Mars down to a couple of months or even weeks, we'll send humans to Mars. And the ice ocean means that very shortly after that, the first settlers will go there to stay.

Saturday, May 25, 2002

I'm not certain it was the result of the BBC interview, but Amazon.CO.UK is reporting a jump of sales of Children of Apollo in Great Britain. To those discerning readers in Great Britain, and everywhere else, thank you very much.

Friday, May 24, 2002

It is a certain sign that subjects like the commercial development of the Moon have entered the mainstream when environmental extremists want to forbid it. Arthur C. Clarke predicted just this kind of folly decades ago.

In my humble opinion, the proposal to make the Earth's Moon into some kind of preserve is plain nuts. Commercial development and human settlement would surely improve the ascetic beauty of the Moon. And it wouldn't ruin the ecology because, strickly speaking, the Moon doesn't have any.
Looks like the real opinions Democrats hold about social security have been found out in a memo about an opinion piece mistakenly sent to a Republican Congressional staffer.
But another Kaptur staff member responded that the information in the opinion piece was "not entirely factually accurate," adding: "Talk about scaring seniors — this may be a little over the top. But it is sooo fun to bash Republicans." She included an e-mail "smiley face" — :) — after her comment.

Well, of course.

Thursday, May 23, 2002

So far NASA seems to be ignoring an unexpected capability for the International Space Station to be a platform for real time Earth observation.

Wednesday, May 22, 2002

After a hot, exhausting day of chanting anti-American slogans, where does the discriminating German, greenie, leftist radical go to refresh himself? Why, to a place which serves Tex-Mex of course.
Fox News and other media outlets just announced that the human remains found in that Washington DC park is indeed Chandra Levy. Now the story enters a new, more interesting phase.
Jonah Goldberg praises Attack of the Clones (sort of) and reveals where every Star Wars fan with the means to do so will want to spend their next romantic get away.
NASA has started to get serious about high speed propulsion technologies. That's proof that a change of administrations (and administrators) matter.

Tuesday, May 21, 2002

Joe Lieberman has decided to drink the Koolaid and call for delaying the Bush tax cuts, in effect raising taxes.
The Chief Scientist of China's lunar program is denying that China is planning a man on the Moon by 2010. He suggests that China will place a robotic probe on the lunar surface first, which only makes sense.
Rand Simberg responds to my points on the Chinese space effort.

My response to his response:

I was addressing your suggestion that Zheng He was shut down because his voyages ultimately lost money. That's not entirely true, since the major reason seems to be a fear by the Mandarians of China being "contaminated" by foreign ideas.

But even given that supposition, one can point to plenty of European voyages of exploration which lost money, and even ended in disaster. But unlike the Chinese, the Europeans persisted and as a result they (and the United States, which is heir to European Civilization) took ownership of the future.

I think that the Chinese have taken note of that lesson of history and will proceed accordingly. The fact that their initial efforts are government sponsered is illrelevent. Columbus was government sponsered. So were Lewis and Clark. The Chinese understand entrepeneurial capitalism and I strongly predict that will be an element in their space effort.

Posted by Mark R. Whittington at May 21, 2002 01:22 PM
Dick Morris warns Democrats about tossing boulders in glass houses.
Attack of the Clones is biased against Mexicans. Yes, seriously.

Monday, May 20, 2002

I think the interview went well. I was not able to make all the points I would have wished, since time was limited and I have yet to master the art of answering the question one wanted to be asked rather than the actual question.

I told the BBC audience that China is very serious about what they say they intend to do, seeing space technology as their way to become a super power. Also, in answer to a question by the news presenter, I said that unless the United States moves out to the high frontier as well, China will do whatever it wants without regard to the opinions of the international community.

Rand Simberg doesn't think the Chinese have much of a chance of landing people on the Moon. While certainly their disadvantage in technology and the fact that their program is purely government operated might be show stoppers, I wouldn't bet on it. I also think Rand is mistaken about his analysis of the Chinese mariner Zheng He. The Chinese missed a big opportunity to became a world wide imperial power. They not only shut down Zheng's operation, but forbid all deepwater sailing, even those privately financed and run. It was a blunder of enormous consequence and I don't think that the current Chinese leadership will repeat it.

Reader Mark Reiff, on the other hand, agrees with Rand:
China will make it to the Moon, when they climb one upon each others
shoulders to reach there. :) Another example of British gullibility and
Chinese propaganda (and American opportunism )
I'm afraid I'm not disposed to be that complacent.

Mark R. Whittington will be interviewed on BBC Channel 5 at about 12:30 AM (7:30 PM Eastern Time/6:30 Central Time) on the subject of the Chinese space program and why China should be challenged to a new space race.

Here's the address of the Space Policy Digest article which inspired the interview:
Following the sound princible that when hearing a suggestion from Jimmy Carter, do the opposite, President Bush will tighten the economic embargo against Cuba and demand free elections. He is also taking a variety of interesting initiatives to get around Castro and connect directly with the Cuba people.

Saturday, May 18, 2002

Of course we saw Attack of the Clones last night. One of the interesting aspects of the film not covered by most reviewers is that the middle of all of the light saber combat, space battles, surface battles, and love scenes involving the beauteous Natalie Portman is an actual meditation on the subject of corruption. The theme (as your History of Cinema Professor would say) of the movie is the dangers of the totalitarian temptation. Democracies are by design the most unwieldy of systems. So when they seem to fail to address problems, the temptation is to turn to the man on the white horse. For Rome it was Julius Caesar. For Germany, Adolph Hitler. And for George Lucas's Galactic Republic, it is Chancellor Palpetaine, who seems to be manipulating events behind the scenes with a design to bring down the Republic and make himself the ultimate power in the Galaxy.

Parallel to this theme is the theme of personal corruption. Anakin Skywalker is rebellious, cocky, and arrogant. He bickers constantly with his master, Obi Wan, and chafes at the rules and discipline of a Jedi. His first step down the road to becoming Darth Vader is to fall in love-and to act on it-with Padme, the former Queen and now Senator from Naboo. Personally I think it would take a sterner will than Anakin's not to have tender feelings toward the lovely and talented stateswoman.

We see another hint of Darth when, during a discussion of the problems facing the Republic, Anakin suggests that one person ought to be selected to force people to do the right thing.

"Sounds like a Dictatorship to me," replies the perceptive Padme.

Later, Anakin performs an act which, while many would find understandable under the circumstances, does not seem to me to be the sort of thing a Jedi does. And no, I'm not referring to his kissing Padme.

Unlike Episode One, Attack of the Clones made me hungry to see what will happen in the next installment.
Bill Kristol would like to see a blue ribbon panel formed to investigate intelligence failures prior to 9/11. This is probibly inevitable and even desirable, considering the full partisan attacks going on over "what did the President know and when did he know it?" One suspects that if Congressional Democrats tried to launch their own investigation, they would soon back off as it became clear that many of these failure occured during the Clinton Administration.

Thursday, May 16, 2002

Thomas Holsinger suggests a rather harsh way to further the Middle East peace process.
Rand Simberg offeres a detailed analysis of Nick Lampson's Space Exploration Act of 2002.
Liberal Denocrats are very often enormous in their own silliness. The "furor" over what President Bush knew or did not know about terrorist plans is an illustration of this tendancy. Bush's enemies seem to think that based upon vague indications and analysis, President Bush should have psychicly said, "Aha! 19 Muslim fanatics are going to hijack airliners and turn them into flying bombs. Tell the FBI to go get 'em."

That's absurd and shows a willfill ignorence about the craft of intelligence. It's very rare that the specific plans for an enemy attack falls into one's hands. The one example I can think of was when the Union Army came upon General Lee's orders for the movements of the Army of Northern Virginia wrapped around some cigars.

More commonly, intelligence comprises a bit of data here, a rumor there, a whispered conversation somewhere else. It is the job of a skilled analyst (like Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan) to piece all of those bits together and, using his or her experience and intutition to come up with some vague idea of what's going on. Apparently, in this case, there just wasn't enough there to suggest a specific threat.

Wednesday, May 15, 2002

Jonathon Last makes the case for the Galactic Empire, which he thinks is falsely painted as evil in Lucas's Star Wars series.
Congressman Nick Lampson (D) Texas wants humans to start exploring space beyond Low Earth Orbit and for that purpose has offered the Space Exploration Act of 2002.

The act has some interesting ideas, including the reestablishment of an Office of Exploration within NASA. And it does not suffer from the "Mars or Bust" syndrome which other proposals have, because it also focuses on the Moon, the Libration Points, and Earth approaching asteroids. But it does suffer from a tendancy toward political micromanagement, as it is real specific about destinations, space vehicles, and time tables without, in my humble opinion, sufficient justifcation as to why the destinations and times were chosen:
(1) Within 8 years after the date of enactment of this Act, the development and flight demonstration of a reusable space vehicle capable of carrying humans from low Earth orbit to the L 1 and L 2 Earth-Sun libration points and back for the purposes of assembling large-scale space structures such as would be required for scientific observatories, to the Earth-Moon libration points and back, and to lunar orbit and back.

(2) Within 10 years after the date of enactment of this Act, the development and flight demonstration of a reusable space vehicle capable of carrying humans from low Earth orbit to and from an Earth-orbit crossing asteroid and rendezvousing with it.

(3) Within 15 years after the date of enactment of this Act, the development and flight demonstration of a reusable space vehicle capable of carrying humans from lunar orbit to the surface of the Moon and back, as well as the development and deployment of a human-tended habitation and research facility on the lunar surface.

(4) Within 20 years after the date of enactment of this Act, the development and flight demonstration of a reusable space vehicle capable of carrying humans from low Earth orbit to and from Martian orbit, the development and deployment of a human-tended habitation and research facility on the surface of one of the moons of Mars, and the development and flight demonstration of a reusable space vehicle capable of carrying humans from Martian orbit to the surface of Mars and back.

Why not go directly from the Earth to the Moon, or from Earth orbit to the Moon, or Earth to Mars? And what exactly does Rep Lampson propose to do at all of these places when we get people there? You and I might have some ideas, but Lampson doesn't really tip his hand.

Much more about this subject anon.

Lucy Liu is in talks to be both Executive Producer and to star in a modern version of Charlie Chan. That'll be a pretty neat trick, considering that the role usually calls for a middle aged Chinese gentleman. Now who will play "Number One Son?"

Tuesday, May 14, 2002

Democrats are mad as Hell that the Republicans are campaigning partly on the premise that Republican President George W. Bush is a great war leader. I must admit, I do find it shocking that politicians would stoop to making political hay out of their own accomplishments. What next, I wonder? "Vote for us and we'll win more victories against terrorists and tyrants?"

Democrats are just jealous because they have no accomplishments to boast of.
It's not yet Germany in the 30s,but perhaps like France today. John Podhoretz suggests. The center of leftist tolerance, that utopia of liberalism, San Francisco is a center of anti-semitic hate.

A message to my Jewish brothers and sisters in Northern California. Move to Texas. You will be made welcome. We believe in law and order. Things like arson and assault are pursued and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, whether the victim(s) are part of a poltically correct group or not.
Jimmy Carter is doing what Jimmy Carter does best, which is sucking up to third world tyrants. Proving that minor slights like the Mariel Boatlift are all forgiven, the odious, grinning parody of a former President supported Fidel Castro against his own country on the charges of biowar shennanigans. Carter is so much better at building houses for poor people, the Curmudgeon wishes he would stick to that and leave foreign policy to the adults who know something about it.

Monday, May 13, 2002

If all goes well, the era of solar sailing will begin this fall.
Metal Storm is a promising military technology being developed by an Australian company which will make vaunted weapons plantforms, like the Crusader, obsolete.
John Wheeler of an organization called Right to Hear would like every baby born deaf to have a cochlear implant. (Just like Rush Limbaugh! he says.)

It's a worthy goal, even though one is a bit leary of yet another government entitlement. (Though a question arises: What is the cost/benefit equation between giving infants implants vrs life long social services for the deaf? Wheeler says it is considerable.)

Wheeler also inveighs against a curious and insidious kind of identity politics called "deaf culture." Advocates of "deaf culture" literally oppose any effort to medically treat deafness, even in infants who have no choice in the matter.
From Congress to newborn wards, parents and policy-makers face deaf activists who extol the virtues of living deaf. Meanwhile, implant surgeons are labeled "profiteers" and anti-deaf "bigots," and accused of genocide. Some are so besieged they dare not even offer patients the option of an implant. Meanwhile, we swallow the myth that keeping a baby deaf is morally and medically equivalent to letting the baby hear.

To my mind, deliberately denying treatment to deaf children because their parents adhere to some kind of weird identity politics based, after all, on a disability, smacks of nothing less than child abuse. People who deny their children treatment for deafness should be dealt with just like any other parent who denies their children needed medical treatment.

The lust of Governor Gray Davis for campaign cash seems to be insatiable and unsullied by such things as ethics or even legality.
It looks like that the Israelis are not the only ones happy to see the "heroes of Palestinian Resistance" depart from Bethlehem. One also wonders how hard a Palestinian State would be for Palestinian Christians.

Saturday, May 11, 2002

The Space Transportation Association wants the Bush Administration to set a major new space goal tied to the International Space Station. The STA doesn't say what the goal might be, but here's a healthy suggestion, one which will also address some of the problems of the Space Launch Initiative which Rand Simberg and others have been pointing out.

Award a cash prize of one billion dollars to the first person or other entity to successfully deliver a cargo to the International Space Station with a private, resusable launch vehicle and return safely. Award another billion to the first person or other entity to deliver a person or persons (presumably space tourists) to ISS and return safely using a resusable launch vehicle. One might perhaps sweeten the deal with a five year resupply contract.
Dennis Tito and Mark Shuttleworth may just be the leading edge of a huge wedge of well heeled millionaires willing to shell out 20 million to become cosmonauts for a week or so. And thus the space tourism industry is born.

Friday, May 10, 2002

NASA Administrator O'Keefe's testimony on NASA'sbudget before the Senate produced this interesting exchange:
Sen. Nelson began his questions by noting that he had visited JSC last Fall and that he had dinner with his former crewmate Astronaut Franklin Chang-Diaz. "I asked him about his plasma rocket that he has been developing and asked for a tour. He took me to the building adjacent to Ellington Field to see it. His VASIMR (Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket) rocket had already been recognized in the November 200 issue of Scientific American. I was pleased to see NASAƕs FY 2003 budget contain $1 billion for it Nuclear Systems Initiative. You used a mission to Pluto [as an example] and how much [nuclear technology] would speed it up."
Nelson then moved on to the topic of Mars " Plasma rockets would get there [Mars] in 39 days. It would accelerate half way and then decelerate the other half. Therefore there would be no zero G problems - as opposed to a mission that could take 10 months. I asked Diaz how long it would be before he could build the engine. Diaz said 'this is it'. From this test model we could actually develop a capability to use this plasma rocket to keep reboosting the ISS so hat can save a Shuttle mission. I have not spoken to him directly about this, but my staff tells me that this little program keeps hanging on by its fingernails. If you are requesting $1 billion for nuclear systems, does it include VASIMR?"

O'Keefe replied that he was not sure if it is included. Nelson replied that Chang-Diaz has been working on this since the mid-1980s. Is there anyone your staff who can give you an update?"

Deputy Associate Administrator for Space Flight Bill Readdy sat down next to O'Keefe and replied "Franklin is preparing for a flight. His lab is a concept demonstration. He has a number of students that are being supported. [This engine effort] is still in its infancy and is a technology demonstration that come under the SLI banner - orbit to orbit propulsion. We are looking to partner with DoD on some of these issues. That engine requires a substantial electrical power source and is only enabled by some sort of nuclear reactor."

Nelson asked : Is it funded in the FY 2003 budget?" Readdy replied that he'd have to get back to Nelson (after checking). Nelson replied" if this isn't funded I need to know this soon. I want to see that this funding continues."

The Curmudgeon has very few opportunities to actually praise members of Congress, so he will do so in this case. Senator Nelson is doing what a Senator ought to do, which is to exercise oversight. The VASIMR is a very interesting and protentially benefical bit of technology which needs to be pushed.

Here are a couple of movie ideas which have actually been optioned, courtesy of the Done Deal website:
Title: Snow and the Seven
Log Line: "Snow White"-inspired story in which a young aristocratic Englishwoman flees her home in Hong Kong after her stepmother threatens her life. The girl takes refuge at a Shaolin temple, where seven Shaolin monks keep her safe from the supernatural forces that seek her.
Writer: Josh Harmon and Scott Elder
Agent: CAA
Buyer: Walt Disney Company
Price: n/a
Genre: Action-Adventure
Logged: 5/10/02
More: Spec script. Andrew Gunn to produce.

Title: Picasso at the Lapin Agile
Log Line: Set in a bar in 1904 Paris, twentysomethings Pablo Picasso and Albert Einstein, both on the verge of greatness, argue about life, art, science and lust. Rupturing the space/time continuum, young Elvis joins them and the three experience the magic of forever altering the future.
Writer: Fred Schepisi
Agent: n/a
Buyer: (Independently financed)
Price: n/a
Genre: Comedy
Logged: 5/9/02
More: Based on Steve Martin's play of the same name. Ryan Phillippe, Kevin Kline, Steve Martin and Juliette Binoche will co-star in. Fred Schepisi to direct.

Proof that movies are not all car chases, gun battles, and costumed super heroes.

Thursday, May 09, 2002

Senator Ron Wyden wants NASA to send people to Mars.
"I want to recapture the vision of John F. Kennedy's commitment to putting a man on the moon by 1970. Today, it is not enough to endlessly circle the Earth in low orbit. NASA should set the goal of putting a person on Mars and work with Congress to set a date to do it. But the aim must be to reach Mars both safely and cost-effectively, or not at all.

"Mars is nearly 50 million miles away, and the dangerous journey there could take months. A mission to Mars is not an idea for the faint of heart or for the frivolous. Getting there will take daring, it will take courage, and it will take discipline - and the discipline must begin before the first plan is drawn. The discipline must begin today.

This is, of course, Apollo Nostalgia. Now I'm not going to run down Apollo. It was the most magnificent feat in the history of civilization. Indeed, I even wrote a book based on the supposition that Apollo ended prematurely.

However, basing policy in 2002 based on the supposition that a program started 40 years ago and finished 30 years ago was pretty cool doesn't appear to me to be rational. Going to Mars certainly would be cool. But I guaruntee that should that become the focus of the US space program right now, we will at best land a handfull of people there, collect some rocks, do some science, and take a lot of neat pictures. Then the political winds will change and we'll go do something else.

It's not that I'm unsympathetic to the idea that our human space program is just going in circles and we need to do something better. But there is a project that would be cheaper, more managable, and would garner more benefits in the short term. That in my opinion would be a series of expeditions to prospect for natural resources around the lunar poles and to test technologies that would later support a lunar settlement. NASA did a study in 1996 which suggested such a program could be accomplished for about 2.5 billion US dollars. About 4 years later, Paul Spudis refined the plan to include more US off the shelf hardware and to focus on the lunar south pole.

Now some folks will argue with me that the government ought not to do such things. While I think that the government does a lot it should not do, this kind of cutting edge exploration is in it's perview. Columbus was government funded. So were Lewis and Clarke. Assertaining what kind of resources are available and testing technology would buttress a commercially (or partly commercially) funded and operated lunar settlement.

The other arguement against this is that NASA, having messed up quite a few other projects in it's recent history, will just mess this one up too. My answer is that should O'Keefe succeed in getting NASA's budgetary and management house in order, that kind of disaster would be less likely. If not, then there is nothing written in stone that NASA has to run the program. The military ran Clementine; perhaps it could run a return to the Moon program too. Or we could create what some have called a "Lewis and Clarke" organization. The idea is that the one single goal of the organization is to conduct the series of lunar expeditions, write a report, and then sunset out of existence. Lewis and Clarke's expedition was run much along those line. It did not result in a National Westward Expansion Agency.

Something to consider.

John Derbyshire doesn't think a Palestinian state is a good idea. All things considered, I have to agree with them. To have a state, people need to prove they can exist without adult supervision.
My thanks to Rand Simberg for pointing out the following contest to write one's own amendment to the US Constitution.

I have decided to offer three:

The Income Tax Reform Amendment.

Section 1: Congress shall pass no law laying or collecting taxes on income except at a single, flat rate for all sources of income subject to such a tax.
Section 2: Congress shall pass no law laying or collecting taxes on income from capital gains.

Affirmative Action Amendment.

Congress shall pass no law which grants privledges or advantages, monetary or not, on the basis of race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex, or sexual preference.

Regulatory Takings Amendment

Should Congress pass a law or should a department, agency, or other body of the federal government impose a regulation which decreases the value of property, the owner of that property has the right to demand recompense equal to the amount of value decreased from the federal treasury.

Wednesday, May 08, 2002

More proof that we live in an age of wonders, when the blind can be made to see.
The Italian Defense Minister has stirred some controversy by advocating the right to private gun ownership. He has also stirred hope for the advancement of a basic human right in Europe-that to keep and bear arms.

Tuesday, May 07, 2002

Looks like the Palestinians have failed to heed my warning. (See below)

Sharon has cut short his visit and is on his way back to Israel. With luck, Arafat can count his reign in days.
Children of Apollo is now available at
Rush Limbaugh wants to offer the mail box bomber the state of Nebraska in a land for peace deal.
The collapse of CNN as a viable news organization continues apace.
Palestinians on the West Bank are starting to get just a little stressed out. This can happen when one constantly provokes the wrath of one of the mightiest military forces in the world.

My advice? Stop doing that.
Dick Morris believes that the truest friend Jews have is the Religious Right in America. Who would have thought it?

Monday, May 06, 2002

The superb Professor Reynolds answers the question of why big government liberals (he doesn't use the term but they are, I think, what he means) hate space exploration and the idea of settling the high frontier of space.

Glenn addresses a theme I tried to do in fiction form in Children of Apollo. A charector in my novel, first a Congressional aid then later a Congressman, represents the liberal opposition to space exploration. He opposes the space program first through the political process, and then by other means.

My analysis differs from Glenn's at one point:
Among the nonscientists, the opposition is a bit more abstract, becaue they’re not really fighting over the same dollars. What they are fighting for is attention, and if you’ve got a frontier opening up new opportunities and producing societal excitement there will be far fewer people interested in the latest reinterpretation of Sartre.

Actually, money has very often been the issue for opponents of space exploration. Whether your pet project is a robotic probe to Uranus, a new food program for needy children, or a highway project in your district, the tendency has been to regard money spent on-say-landing a man on the Moon as money which would better be spent on what you like. This is especially true if you're a big government liberal. Being a big government liberal, your main motivation is "compassion." And the way you measure compassion is how much money is spent feeding the poor, cleaning the environment, and so on.

You will notice that I didn't say that the measurement was how many people who were poor have become well off or how much environment is actually cleaned. The money is all that is important because intentions are all that are important. That mindset is at odds with the mindset of a frontier, as Glenn explains in his essay so well. One either lands a man on the Moon by the end of the decade or not. There are no points for intending to but failing. This is anathema to the big government liberal. For such a person the process is all that counts, not the goal except as a means of selling his programs to the credible.

In a strange way the modern US space program has become afflicted by this attitude of big government,liberalism. Flying the space shuttle and building the space station are goals in and of themselves. What they do and how they benefit people are beside the point. The great task of our time, and I hope Mr. O'Keefe is up to it, is to turn NASA back to the can do attitude of the frontier in which goals are set which benefit the nation which pays for those goals and then they are met.

Newsmax is reporting that the Bush Administration will announce a three nation secondary axis of evil. Those nations are Syria, Libya, and Cuba. Cuba not only supports terrorism, says Newsmax, but seems to have a biowar research and development program.

Sunday, May 05, 2002

Children of Apollo is now available through Amazon.Com.
Dennis Wingo has an interesting article about the current state of the US space program. I don't agree with everything he writes. (For one thing, replicating the space station in GEO and then at L2 seems to me to be pointless and boring.) But his idea of changing NASA from a science centered organization to a commercial centered organization is a compelling one.
Sensiably, the United States has decided not to participate after all in a treaty establishing a permenent war crimes tribunal. The treaty was signed by Bill Clinton in one of the many gag gifts he bequeethed the current administration. It would have allowed third world and other anti-American zealots to put American servicemen on trial for trumped up charges of "war crimes."
Looks like the French have overwelmingly declined to exchange the melencholy malaise of socialism for the dark nightmare of fascism.
Looks like the bill in the California State Assembly to ban ethnic names, especially American Indian, for sports teams and mascots in California schools is rolling along without opposition. However, there's a problem:
However, a recent Sports Illustrated poll revealed that a majority of Indians support Indian-themed names and mascots. Asked whether high school and college teams should stop using Indian nicknames, 81 percent of Indian respondents said no. With regard to professional sports, 83 percent of them said teams should not stop using Indian nicknames, mascots, characters and symbols.

In other words, the only people who seem to be offended are a bunch of radical liberal busy bodies with nothing better to do. The bill, at least in my opinion, is blatantly unconstitutional and descends into PC silliness.

Saturday, May 04, 2002

Hawaii is about to repeat a silly experiment from the 1970s. Starting in 2004, the state will cap gas prices. Just as in the 1970s, this action will lead to shortages and economic malaise.
Bush would beat Gore in California by seven points if there were an election today. To my liberal friends: feel the horror.
Someone asked me the other day an interesting question. If Children of Apollo were made into a movie, who would I choose to star in it? An interesting question. (Incidentally, in the alternate history depicted in the book, a movie is made in the early 80s about the flight of Apollo 23 staring Robert Redford, Billy Dee Williams, and Blair Brown.)

But who in the history we live in now? Let me take a crack:

Ray McPherson: Nicolas Cage
Wendy Pendleton: Ashley Judd
Desmond Thomas: Denzel Washington
Paul Kawaski: Robin Williams (Yes, a serious role, but he's proven he can do it.
Lewis Jacobson: Matthew McConaughey
Sally Clemens: Hallie Berry
Cal Lauren: Edward Norton

As more people read the book (and thank you very much for taking a chance on an unknown author), I'd be interested in that kind of feedback.
Spiderman, the latest big screen adaptation of a comic book super hero, proves one thing. One can be an awesome super hero, kick butt of evil doers, demonstrate fantastic powers, but still be a tongue tied wussy when confronted with the girl one has worshiped since the 4th grade. Still, a film worth watching. And keep an eye out for a certain warrior princess in punk rock regalia.

Friday, May 03, 2002

Hasan Abdel Rahman, the official Palestinian rep to the United States, is pretty sure that the only reason the US Congress passed resolutions in support of Israel is because the Jews bribed them to do it. He also says that there's no such thing as Palestinian terrorism.
NASA is officially stopping work on the X-38 derived lifeboat for the International Space Station. Buried in the linked story is an account of NASA's plans to replace the lifeboat project with a new vehicle which could not only serve as a lifeboat, but as an alternate way to send people to Low Earth Orbit if launched atop a Delta IV or Atlas V. Also, I believe, such a vehicle-with certain modifications-could serve as a kind of "command module" for a quick and dirty return to the Moon.
We just finished seeing a pair of plays by Alan Ayckbourn entitled House and Garden. The plays, which are biting comedies about dysfunctional relationships in an English country estate, take place simultainiously on two stages with the actors rushing from one to the other. It's a clever idea and to our knowledge has never been done before. We had an excellent time seeing both productions, while piecing together events which happened in both. We highly recommend seeing them.

House and Garden, which has only been seen twice in England and now in Houston, will be premiring Off Broadway next month.
Every Palestinian who carried a gun into the Church of the Nativity is a war criminal. Not that the racists and antisemites in Europe or at the UN care.

Thursday, May 02, 2002

The California State Assembly is about to plunge into the depths of PC silliness. It is about to pass a bill to ban ethnic names for mascots and spots teams. It will do this under the mistaken assumption that-for example-actual American Indians (as oppossed to busy body liberals) are offended by names like the Indians or the Apaches or the Cherokee.

Actually I'm offended that there are not enough sports teams that celebrate the martial qualities of non Indians. My ancestors came from Normandy, but no one I know has thought to name a team the Fighting Normans, despite William the Conqueror and Hastings. Sure we got the Vikings and the Fighting Irish (apparently also to be banned by California), but what about the Visigoths, or the Romans, or the Spartens, or-well, you get the picture.
Peggy Noonan offers an excellent reason why Bill Clinton will never be a TV talk show host. Hillary won't let him.
Looks like Congress is preparing to agree to disagree with the Bush Administration and fully fund the Pluto Probe to launch by 2006. Congress may also be prepared to actually provide enough money to cover the 5 or so billion dollar shortfall in the International Space Station even before Administrator O'Keefe gets NASA's financial house in order.

Increadible. A Congress which actually wants to increase NASA's budget, despite what a White House believes is prudent. I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, the Pluto Probe is important and it would be a good idea to get it there before Pluto's atmosphere freezes. Most experts say that can't be done if we wait for a nuclear-electric propulsion system as O'Keefe wants to do. On the other hand, simply shoveling more money at ISS is a bad idea. What incentive would NASA have to control costs if it knows that Congress will just cover every shortfall?

But on the third hand, will Congress be as generous if and when the administration proposes something like-say-a return to the Moon? Senator Mikulski, who's now calling for massive increases in NASA's budget, went through the current President's father's Space Exploration Initiative like the Goths through Rome. Has she changed her mind. We'll see.
He claims he wants to be the next Oprah, but that is as usual a lie. No doubt with the desire to give Jerry Springer some competition, Bill Clinton is in talks with NBC to get his own talk show.

Women and the politicians who abuse them, anyone?

Wednesday, May 01, 2002

So far the California media is proving to be a more formidable opponent to Bill Simon's run for Governor of California that is Gray Davis.