Curmudgeons Corner

Random thoughts on politics, current events, popular culture, and whatever else interests me.

Mark R. Whittington is a writer residing in Houston, Texas. He is the author of numerous works of fiction and nonfiction, including the novel of suspense Nocturne which he coauthored with his wife, Chantal, The Children of Apollo trilogy, The Last Moonwalker and Other Stories, Gabriella’s War, The Man from Mars: The Asteroid Mining Caper, and Why is it So Hard to Go Back to the Moon?

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Thursday, June 30, 2005
 
Molly Ivins gets all huffy about Karl Rove "impuning" her patriotism. Then she proceeds to claim that American soldiers "killed more Iraqis than Saddam Hussein ever did." A strange kind of patriotism that accuses American soldiers of being more genocidal than Saddam. I guess Ms. Molly gets her talking points from the same place as Dick Durbin, though at least she didn't use the word "Nazi."


 
Latest in a series of travel pieces, A History Lovers Guide to Bologna.


Wednesday, June 29, 2005
 
Ward Churchill advocates the murder of American military officers. Mrs. Curmudgeon is very displeased.

I think it's time for a good tarring and feathering.


 
Dr. Walter Williams explains the relationship between the Kelo Ruling and the far left's jihad against Bush's judicial nominees.


 
Latest in a series of travel pieces, A History Lovers Guide to Istanbul.


 
Latest in a series of travel pieces, A History Lovers Guide to Athens.


 
President Ronald Reagan has been voted the greatest American, edging out Lincoln, Washington, and Martin Luther King. Worse, from the point of view of the far left, President George W. Bush made number six and his career is not even over yet.

Of course Clinton came out ahead of Elvis and that's just wrong.


 
Yet another wild eyed lefty finds Hillary unacceptable.


Tuesday, June 28, 2005
 
It is nice to know that in a political culture that seems to value dissembling and compromise that there is at least one leader of principle and certitude.


 
Would it not be the sweetest of ironies if Justice David Souter could be the first victim of that horrible ruling that the government can take your house for essentially any reason?


 
Shelby Foote, the great civil war historian who so graced Ken Burns' Civil War minseries, has died at the age of 88.


 
Latest in a series of travel pieces, A History Lovers Guide to Dublin.


 
A sequel to Master and Commander? Perhaps even two? I'm certainly all for it. But that means Russell Crowe has to stay out of jail.


 
There are some very interesting things in the House version of the NASA Authorization Bill. First, it actually orders NASA to return people to the Moon before 2020. That means that Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert, who has had a kind of passive/aggressive stance against the Vision for Space Exploration, seems to have finally concluded that it's going to happen. Second, there's a pretty good provision for prizes in the bill. It doesn't limit the amount of money NASA can spend for a prize (albeit with reporting provisions for prizes over 10 million dollars) and allows NASA to solicit funds from the private sector and other agencies to finance prizes. Finally, the bill is going to include some legislation about Earth approaching objects. This is important for two reasons. One such object took out the dinosaurs and another could do the same for us. Second, a lot of those objects have great value. A nickel-iron asteroid could have trillions in usable minerals.


Monday, June 27, 2005
 
Looks like Michael Griffin is serious about contracting out resupply and crew rotation services for the space station to the private sector. That is, if the private sector can deliver.


 
Alan Wasser has uncovered Johnson Administration documents revealing for the first time the true purpose of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty. Essentially the treaty was designed to curtail spending on space exploration after the Apollo Moon landing in order to divert that spending to social programs (i.e. the Great Society) and foreign aid. Considering the history of the past thirty years, it is a damning indictment of LBJ's space policy.


Saturday, June 25, 2005
 
More reviews of Serenity, based on Thurday night's screening.


Friday, June 24, 2005
 
A new poem by Sappho, one of the greatest poets of the ancient world, has been uncovered.


 
Now that the Supreme Court says governments can take your house or business for private development, there is a proposal to add an amendment to the Texas Constitution to make sure that can't happen in Texas. As well there should be. Indeed, there needs to be something of the life added to the US Constitution.


 
Last night we saw a sneak preview of the film Serenity. It's the movie spinoff of Firefly, the splendid science fiction series that was mishandled by the Fox Network and then cast aside into cancellation oblivion. Without revealing any details, the movie does tie up some plot lines in the series, and opens some new ones that could be handled in sequels. And Ms. Curmudgeon and myself were blown away by the sheer splendor of this epic SF western. It had a heart and soul that has been conspicuously lacking in certain other (ahem!) genre offerings in recent weeks. I urge everyone who reads this to see Serenity when in opens in late September.

M. E. Russell has some more thoughts.

And, oh yes, go and buy the DVD of the series you likely missed:

Addendum: More from Ms. Curmudgeon.


 
Yet another travel piece, A History Lovers Guide to Lisbon.


Thursday, June 23, 2005
 
George Abbey, the former Dark Lord of the Johnson Space Center, and Neal Lane, former science advisor to Bill Clinton, came out with a space policy paper. Rand Simberg pretty much nukes it.


 
Latest in the series of travel pieces, A History Lovers Guide to Paris.


 
The Supreme Court just ruled that governments can take your property, including your house, in behalf of big developers just in order to bump up tax revenues. Now, please tell me again that we don't have an our of control court system, running rough shod over our rights.


 
Looks like there are more people who are disinclined to accept Dick Durbin's "apology."


Wednesday, June 22, 2005
 
Next month the space shuttle will return to flight and will start its swan song. I disuss this in The Passing of NASA's Space Shuttle Age. Meanwhile I have a suggestion how to Make Space Flight More Affordable.


 
What we do every night. Try to take over the Empire!


 
Your Humble Servant offers another take on the Moon as a source of energy in The Moon: The Persian Gulf of the 21st Century. Consider it next time someone asks you why we're spending "all that money" to go back to the Moon.


 
Andrei Kislyakov responds to Jim Oberg's commentary on space weapons.


 
Mike Griffin presents his approach to space commercialism. It is a rather hard nosed approach that actually demands that entrepreneurial space companies deliver on their promises. This may annoy some people who, on the one hand, preach libertarian cant and, on the other hand, demand government pay money up front, before the promised hardware is even built, not to mention delivered. But it may well be the right way to go.

And, as a bonus, that space station may at last be turned from a lemon into lemonade.

Addendum: Rand Simberg and others object to my characterization of people with libertarian cant. Now, I'm not applying the broad brush to all of the alt.space community. Quite a few companies (Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin come to mind) aren't relying on Big Brother to finance their space ships, instead preferring to rely on the space tourism market. Even t/Space has backed off on relying solely on NASA and I suspect will shortly be looking for private capital.

Nor has NASA been entire commercial friendly in the past. Its sins in that regard are too numerous to mention. Hopefully, Michael Griffin is serious about changing that.

Addendum 2: Alan Boyle has some thoughts.


 
Looks like that the launch of the solar sail space craft has failed.

Addendum: On the other hand, it looks like the craft's signal has been detected so it may be alive after all.


 
Neither Michelle Malkin nor Rand Simberg are very impressed by Dick Durbin's apology. After all, Trent Lott had to lose his leadership post just for suggesting some old Dixicrat should have been President. But Michelle, Rand, and others forget. Trent is a Republican and is therefore held to different standards. To suggest that Dick Durbin, a liberal Democrat, should be held accountable for comparing our soldiers to Nazis is just--well--so judgmental. Best to move on to the great work of bashing the President and obstructing his agenda.


Tuesday, June 21, 2005
 
Durbin has apologized for comparing American soldiers to Nazis and other horrible people.


 
Cosmos 1, the privately funded solar sail craft, has successfully launched. Confirmation of orbit is pending.


 
John Derbyshire whines about the somewhat caustic reaction to his stink bomb of a anti shuttle/anti space exploration piece (which, in my observation, seemed to come even from people who agree with him about the shuttle) and backpedals ever more into confusion.
I'm a bit surprised at the strength of some of the reactions to my Space Shuttle piece last week. For some people out there, the Shuttle is not just a gummint program, or a handy way to get into orbit: it is an object of veneration, and any words said against it are blasphemous.

I'd like to see some quotes from people who think that. It could be that there are a few people like that out there, but I can only observe that even NASA has concluded that the shuttle's time has passed and needs to be phased out in an orderly fashion.
One reader faction thought it wicked of me to suggest that the motivations of the Shuttle astronauts might not be all selfless nobility -- might have something to do with thrills and glamor. For heaven's sake (these people say) they died in the service of their country! Think about their bereaved families!

This is absurd. Even if I allow that dying while working for a government program is the same thing as dying for one's country (I want to think about that), I wasn't saying that the dead astronauts were bad people. I was saying that they were human -- a thing which includes a susceptibility to exciting adventures, and some capacity for self-deception. If you have recently lost someone, and I tell you I think that the lost person was a pretty normal human being, attracted by thrills and glamor, are you offended?

[Incidentally, I got a friendly email from an ex-NASA employee saying that the notion that astronauts are in it at least partly for the excitement, is a thing often heard from Shuttle engineers and support staff. Would like to get further corroboration of this.]

Of course, that was not what Derb suggested. He suggested that the shuttle in particular and space travel in general are solely about thrills and glamor--except of course when they were about venelity and all of those other unpleasant things Derb talked about.
Another reader ranted at me for being a coward. Now, I may or may not be a coward; but I am baffled to know how anyone could decide the matter from reading that piece. Which sentences, exactly, give away my cowardice? This one, perhaps: "Even with two young kids who need me, and a wife who (I feel fairly sure) would miss me, I would still, if given the opportunity to go into space tomorrow, be on the next flight to Cape Canaveral"?

Well, Derb's not a coward. Clueless about several things, perhaps. Certainly prone to write about things without fully researching them. But not a coward.
Most of the abuse, however, was directed at my small-minded, blinkered failure to see that this -- the Shuttle program -- is the beginning of a marvelous spiritual adventure, in the course of which Mankind will free himself from these clayey origins and populate the universe.

Well, maybe it is and maybe it isn't. Given the technological obstacles, though, if we do go out and populate the universe, it will be several decades before we even have a toe-hold in the nearer parts of the Solar System, and surely a century or two, at least, before we tackle interstellar travel. So while I think it would be a very nice thing to go out and colonize the universe, I don't feel any sense of urgency about it.

This is a little bit of a backpedal on Derb's part. In his original piece he declared baldly that there was nothing that humans could do in space that robots couldn't do as well or better. Now he's lukewarmly in favor of colonizing space, one presumes with humans. Despite the "lack of urgency" that is a big step and Derb should be congratulated for it. I should add that "several decades" may be a bit conservative, depending on how the growth of the commercial space sector shapes up.
[And if I DID feel a sense of urgency about it, I'd be asking why we scrapped the Saturn V, which put men on the moon, in favor of the Shuttle, which can only put men in low earth orbit.]

Derb may not know it, but his question is shared by plenty of people in the space community. Getting heavy lift back, however, seems to be on NASA Administrator Michael Griffin's to do list, which oddly enough is something else people argue about , but that's another matter.
The Shuttle isn't a spiritual adventure, it's a government program, one that costs $16 billion a year -- around $100 per federal taxpayer. There is nothing wrong with criticizing that, nor in suggesting that the people on the payroll are motivated not entirely by the loftiest human aspirations, but also by more ordinary ones.

Actually the shuttle costs about four billion a year, give or take. Sixteen billion or so is NASA's entire budget. Also, I am amused by the adding of the adjective "entirely" that was not in the original piece.
As for the "benefits" of the Shuttle program: You may place into my hand one of those NASA booklets listing all those "benefits" only if, at the same time, you place into my other hand a parallel list, signed by a reputable economist and notarized, estimating what the cost of each benefit would have been without a Shuttle -- using earthbound resources, or unmanned space vehicles. (I feel sure that someone must have done this calculation, but had no luck with Google -- anyone know?)

All together now. We know the shuttle is dysfunctional and the development of it was riddled with mistakes. What that has to do with the over all utlitity of space travel, I haven't a clue.


 
Latest in our series of travel pieces, A History Lovers Guide to Pompeii.


Monday, June 20, 2005
 
Rand Simberg weighs in on the John Derbyshire rant against the space shuttle in particular and space exploration in general. I agree with most of his points. Please also note Paul Spudis' post in the comments section.


 
At first glance, this seems to be yet another shot in the tiresome robots vrs humans in space argument. However, offloading day to day, boring tasks such a construction and mining to machines, leaving the creative stuff for humans makes a lot of sense. I suspect that human/robot cooperation techniques developed for the exploration and settlement of the Moon and Mars will, in the fullness of time, become one of those spinoffs for Earthly applications that some people like to boast about.


 
It looks like Ronnie Earl, the political hack prosecutor who wants to send Tom Delay to jail, has been dropping cases against corporations who agree to donate to his favorite charities. Now, that would seem to me to have the appearance of a shakedown operation. But I'm sure it's all innocent.

Addendum: Captain Ed has some more comments.


 
There's no need to fear, Under Dog is here.


 
Douglas Wood, the Australian engineer who was taken hostage in Iraq and then rescued by Iraqi troops, offered an apologized for things he said at gun point. It showed remarkable grace, but I don't think an apology is really necssary. Statements made under duress are never taken seriously by intelligent people.


 
There is a debate over whether to censure Dick Durbin or to remove him from the Senate leadership. I say, to both, yes.


 
Looks like three Senators have a brilliant idea to save social security reform. It's called the personal lock box.


 
Taylor Dinerman suggests that space weapons are not only desirable, but inevitable.


 
Alan Wasser credits (or blames, depending on your point of view) with starting the first Space Race. LBJ also gets the blame for ending it--not in 1969 with the Apollo Moon landing, but in 1967 with the signing of the Outer Space Treaty.


Saturday, June 18, 2005
 
While NASA struggles through the painful transformation from a space going taxi service to a modern day Corps of Discovery, exciting things may be at hand from the private sector.


 
A hundred and ninety years ago today, Napoleon met his Waterloo. France has never gotten over it.


 
Steve Chapman gives the vaunted "universal" Canadian health care system the back of his hand.


Friday, June 17, 2005
 
David Brody discusses the ethics of terraforming and comes to some interesting conclusions.


 
And yet another travel piece, Beyond Cairo: Exploring Egypt.


 
Nick Nolte as Indiana Jones? Lloyd Bridges as Captain Kirk? Julia Roberts as the femme fatale in Basic Instinct? It could have happened.


Thursday, June 16, 2005
 
Turns out that Terri Schiavo would have been treated much better if she were a terrorist locked up at Club Gitmo.


 
Latest in my series of travel pieces, A History Lovers Guide to Cairo.


 
Citzens Against Government Waste gives the back of its hand to the Vision for Space Exploration and damages its own credibility by repeating the "trillion dollar Mars program" canard. It also has this remarkable statement:
CAGW President Tom Schatz said. "The immense technological challenges involved are expected to be overcome by an agency that currently lacks the ability to launch a shuttle beyond low-earth orbit."

It would be astonishing if NASA were to try to send the shuttle beyond low-earth orbit, as it is not designed to go beyond low-earth orbit.


 
Captain Ed discusses the results of the Terri Schiavo autopsy. One should note from the comments section that the debate still rages. I suspect that when Mark Furhman's book comes out, it will rage even hotter. Michelle Malkin has some thoughts too.


 
John Derbyshire launches against the space shuttle in particular and human space flight in general and wanders, alas, into confusion.
Like the monster in some ghastly horror movie rising from the dead for the umpteenth time, the space shuttle is back on the launch pad. This grotesque, lethal white elephant — 14 deaths in 113 flights — is the grandest, grossest technological folly of our age.

Two interesting fallacies. Most people who have actually seen a shuttle launch are rather moved as it is a wonderful sight. Nothing like a rocket rising on a tail of fire to stir the emotions. Also, virtually every mode of transportation kills a certain number of its users, the less technologically mature the transportation, the higher the body count.
If the shuttle has any reason for existing, it is as an exceptionally clear symbol of our corrupt, sentimental, and dysfunctional political system.

Is this a comment on Nixon, who approved the project, or folks like Reagan and GW Bush who continued it, even after the two formentioned disasters?
Its flights accomplish nothing and cost half a billion per. That, at least, is what a flight costs when the vehicle survives. If a shuttle blows up — which, depending on whether or not you think that 35 human lives (five original launchworthy Shuttles at seven astronauts each) would be too high a price to pay for ridding the nation of an embarrassing and expensive monstrosity, is either too often or not often enough** — then the cost, what with lost inventory, insurance payouts, and the endless subsequent investigations, is seven or eight times that.

Here Derb overstates his case and not for the last time. It is true that the shuttle is too expensive, but it is not true that it accomplishes nothing. The Hubble Telescope, for instance, has been launched and sustained by the shuttle. Of course, perhaps Derb doesn't care very much for astronomy.
There is no longer much pretense that shuttle flights in particular, or manned space flight in general, has any practical value. You will still occasionally hear people repeating the old NASA lines about the joys of microgravity manufacturing and insights into osteoporesis, but if you repeat these tales to a materials scientist or a physiologist, you will get peals of laughter in return. To seek a cure for osteoporesis by spending $500 million to put seven persons and 2,000 tons of equipment into earth orbit is a bit like… well, it is so extravagantly preposterous that any simile you can come up with falls flat. It is like nothing else in the annals of human folly.

Again, Derb commits the fallacy of assuming that the shuttle and human space flight are the same. We've established that the shuttle is expensive. That does not follow that given the development of technology and the institution of sound business practices, the cost of space flight can't come down considerably. After all, Burt Rutan recently proved that he could do for twenty million what the X 15 did for about a billion and a half. Also, one would wish that Derb would quote an actual materials scientist or physiologist. We shouldn't tolerate the misuse of anoynomous sources, whether in the mainstream media or the National Review Online.
Having no practical justification for squirting so much of the nation’s wealth up into the stratosphere, our politicians — those (let us charitably assume there are some) with no financial or electoral interest in the big contractor corporations who feed off the shuttle — fall back on romantic appeals to Mankind’s Destiny. Thus President Bush, addressing the nation after the Columbia tragedy two years ago:

"These men and women assumed great risk in this service to all humanity. In an age when space flight has come to seem almost routine, it is easy to overlook the dangers of travel by rocket and the difficulties of navigating the fierce outer atmosphere of the earth.

"These astronauts knew the dangers, and they faced them willingly, knowing they had a high and noble purpose in life. Because of their courage and daring and idealism, we will miss them all the more.

"The cause in which they died will continue. Mankind is led into the darkness beyond our world by the inspiration of discovery and the longing to understand. Our journey into space will go on."

Anyone who finds it “easy to overlook the dangers of travel by rocket” just hasn’t been following the shuttle program very attentively. One astronaut death per eight flights!

The entire NASA budget, not just the shuttle, is somewhat less than one percent of the federal budget. That's an accounting error over at Health and Human Resources or the Pentagon. I also remember a figure of one pilot in four being killed test piloting jet and rocket aircraft in the fifties. One should not use danger and death as a reason not to do something. Otherwise we would not do a great many things.
The rest of the president’s address on that occasion was, to be blunt about it, insulting to the memories of the astronauts who died, and still more insulting to their grieving spouses, children, parents, and friends. If these astronauts believed that “they had a high and noble purpose in life,” they were mistaken, and someone should have set them straight on the point.

Please note that “if.” The motivation of shuttle astronauts would, I suspect, make a very interesting study for some skillful psychologist. Here is Ken Bowersox, one of the astronauts who was actually on board the International Space Station (steady now, Derb, husband your wrath) when Columbia blew up. He is writing in the June 2005 issue of Popular Mechanics, putting the “pro” case in a debate on the continuation of the Shuttle program, versus former NASA historian Alex Roland arguing the “con.” Bowersox:

"I’ve wanted to be in space from the time I was listening to the radio and heard about John Glenn circling the earth. Columbia was the klind of blow that could have made me walk away from it. As astronauts, though, we wouldn’t have been on the space station if we didn’t believe in the program. Even after losing our friends and our ride home, we still believed that exploration was important."

Now Derb is just being insulting. People, like astronauts, who believe that space travel is noble and justified are just crazy and need to be set straight by someone. Also, anyone who mentions Alex Roland--who did a study of the history of aeronautics decades ago and is no way an expert on space flight--in any article just needs to be slapped with a rolled up newspaper.

Derb then tries to soften the insult by admitting a little love for space exploration himself.
Far be it from me to pull rank on Astronaut Bowersox, but I’ve wanted to be in space for somewhat longer than that — since seeing those wonderful pictures by Chesley Bonestell in The Conquest of Space, circa 1952, or possibly after being taken to the movie Destination Moon at around the same time. The imaginative appeal of space travel is irresistible. I don’t think I could resist it, anyway. Even with two young kids who need me, and a wife who (I feel fairly sure) would miss me, I would still, if given the opportunity to go into space tomorrow, be on the next flight to Cape Canaveral. As Prof. Roland says in that Popular Mechanics exchange: “The real reason behind sending astronauts to Mars is that it’s thrilling and exciting.” Absolutely correct. The danger? Heck, we all have to go sometime. As President Bush said, I am sure quite truly: “These astronauts knew the dangers, and they faced them willingly…” It’s the president’s next clause I have trouble with: “…knowing they had a high and noble purpose in life.”

Science, exploration, and perhaps the salvation of the human species (by spreading it beyond this fragile world) not noble? Derb knows not nobility, then, methinks.
Did they really know that? My experience of pointless make-work, which is much more extensive than I would have wished when starting out in life, is that people engaged in it know they are engaged in it. Whether they mind or not depends on the rewards. For a thousand bucks an hour, I’d do make-work all day long — aye, and all night too! Astronaut salaries don’t rise to anything like that level, of course; but there are rewards other than the merely financial. I hope no one will take it amiss — I am very sorry for the astronauts who have died in the shuttle program, and for their loved ones — if I quietly speculate on whether, being engaged in such a supremely thrilling and glamorous style of make-work, one might not easily be able to convince oneself to, as Astronaut Bowersox says, “believe in the program.”

Now Derb makes an another assumption without backing it up, that space exploration is "pointless, make work." Badly managed and too expensive, the way we've been doing it these past thirty years or so, but pointless? I beg to differ.
None of which is any reason why the rest of us should believe in it, let alone pay for it. There is nothing — nothing, no thing, not one darned cotton-picking thing you can name — of either military, or commercial, or scientific, or national importance to be done in space, that could not be done twenty times better and at one thousandth the cost, by machines rather than human beings. Mining the asteroids? Isaac Asimov famously claimed that the isotope Astatine-215 (I think it was) is so rare that if you were to sift through the entire crust of the earth, you would only find a trillion atoms of it. We could extract every one of that trillion, and make a brooch out of them, for one-tenth the cost of mining an asteroid.

One never reads one of these screeds without reading the claim, unsupported by experience or logic, that robots can do space exploration better than people. Robots, as Bob Zubrin famously said, could not even go to the store and buy a basket of apples better than humans. To think they can accomplish a task like exploring an unknown world, requiring creativity and intelligence and no little intutition, is just folly. As for mining the asteroids, Dennis Wingo, whose written an actual book on space mining, suggested that a typical nickel-iron asteroid contains trillions of dollars in usable minerals. That would be more than has been spent on space exploration by every nation in all of history.
The gross glutted wealth of the federal government; the venality and stupidity of our representatives; the lobbying power of big rent-seeking corporations; the romantic enthusiasms of millions of citizens; these are the things that 14 astronauts died for. To abandon all euphemism and pretense, they died for pork, for votes, for share prices, and for thrills (immediate in their own case, vicarious in ours).

Strange that he left out the crew that died during the Apollo Fire. In any case, that's not all they died for. It was for that singular dream of pushing back the frontiers of humankind, of some day spreading our civilization across the solar system and beyond. Derb may not be moved by that. That is his privledge. But lets not be insulting by suggesting that dream is somehow illegitiment.
I mean no insult to their memories, and I doubt they would take offense. I am certain that I myself would not — certain, in fact, that, given the opportunity, I would gleefully do what they did, with all the dangers, and count the death, if it came, as anyway no worse than moldering away in some hospital bed at age ninety, watching a TV game show, with a tube in my arm and a diaper round my rear end. I should be embarrassed to ask the rest of you to pay for the adventure, though.

Derb, I would be embarrassed if I were you too. But you have nothing useful to say on the subject of space exploration and doubless nothing useful to do if by some odd chance you would be allowed to go.


 
British scientists are arguing the whole people vrs robots in space question.


 
Leonard Nimoy tells the story about how he stopped traffic in a downtown Los Angeles street by walking down it while talking on his cell phone. Initially puzzled by this, he soon realized that people were not seeing Leonard Nimoy talking on his cell phone, but Mr. Spock talking on his communicator.

Looks like, some day, cell phones won't be the only Star Trek technology that becomes reality, thanks to the Vision for Space Exploration.


 
Echoing a suggesting by Professor Reynolds (see below), a good treatment for alzheimers would save billions in Medicare, and Medicaid costs.


 
Dick Durbin wins the prize for the most most psychotic rhetoric to be uttered on the floor of the Senate in recent memory. He makes Howard Dean seem sane.


Wednesday, June 15, 2005
 
The Gitmo Cookbook is now on sale. Looks like these thugs eat better than I did when I was in college.


 
The attempt by David Obey to gut the Vision for Space Exploration has been stopped in the House. More on space budget politics.
In offering his amendment yesterday, Mr. Obey made it clear that he was taking a fairly partisan position against not just DeLay but against the Vision for Space Exploration. Sadly, that approach probably got him more votes than he would have otherwise. But it still failed.

So, space exploration is now a partisan issue. Imagine.


 
For a little light reading, the autopsy report for Terri Schiavo is finally out. My initial impression is that there are too many unanswered questions to satisfy anyone, though I suspect that everyone will try to spin it to their advantage.


Tuesday, June 14, 2005
 
Rand Simberg is having some fun at the expense of those people who want to close down Club Gitmo.


 
Glenn Reynolds proposes the kind of Social Security reform that not so much eases the pangs of old age as elimates them. Of course certain people will oppose the idea because FDR didn't think of it first.


 
From Your Humble Servant, To the Edge of the Solar System: Exploring the Outer Planets.


 
The French are contributing to the future exploration of space in their one certain area of expertise.


Monday, June 13, 2005
 
Jim Oberg heaps ridicule on the idea of a space arms race, except a one sided one spurred on by hysterical talk of space weapons that don't exist and can't work.


 
Spielberg's War of the Worlds as an allegory for 9/11? Hmm, interesting. If it's not Islamofascists in planes, it could be aliens in tripods. A good argument for space weapons too, if you ask me.


 
I think Captain Ed (and many others) is quite correct that before one makes the horrible claim that Chelsea Clinton was conceived in a rape of Hillary by Bill, one had better have more than just a single anonymous source. You would think that the media would have learned about that. And I write as someone who found Juanita Broadrick quite credible.

It is interesting to note that the reporter making the accusation is not a member of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy, but a member of the main stream media and--I suspect--a man of the left. That buttresses my suspicion that Hillary's Presidential ambition will take far hotter fire from port than from starboard.


 
Jim Oberg honors John Houbolt, inventor of the Lunar Orbit Rendezvous, which made "landing a man on the Moon before this decade is out" possible.


 
Taylor Dinerman thinks that the long term prospects for political support of the Vision for Space Exploration are bright indeed.


 
Dwayne Day analyzes the success and failure of the International Space Station. I think ISS teaches a hard lesson in how not to manage and execute a project of its kind.


Saturday, June 11, 2005
 
Now that people have gotten bored with arguing about the political subtext of the Star Wars series, other are now arguing over its religious allegories.


 
This reorganization ("purge" is an ugly word more suitable for what they used to do in the Soviet Union) shows that Mike Griffin is very serious about doing the Vision for Space Exploration the right way--that is to say, his way.
At the same time, rumors arose concerning the expected departures of other top officials as Griffin, a former NASA chief engineer and associate administrator for exploration, settled into his new job.

"He's wanted to be NASA administrator for a long time and has given a lot of thought to what has been done well or badly," one congressional source said. "Because of that, he is not going to take a year or two to get to know the organization."

Instead, the sources said, he expressed dismay that NASA over the past several years had put a lot of people in top management positions because of what one source described as "political connections or bureaucratic gamesmanship -- not merit."

Several sources spoke of a corps of younger scientists and engineers, including Griffin, who had been groomed in the 1970s and 1980s as NASA's next generation of leaders only to be shoved aside during the past 15 years. They said Griffin hopes to bring them back.

"The people around him will be quite outstanding," one source said. "The philosophy is that good people attract outstanding people. This is going to be a very high-intensity environment, and NASA needs experienced, outstanding people."


Friday, June 10, 2005
 
Never Sound Retreat concludes the epic trilogy started with Gettysburg and continued with Grant Comes East and it is an awesome conclusion indeed. The armies of Grant and Lee clash near the town of Fredrick in Maryland in the final battle, with the fate of the Union at stake. The battle sequences are some of the most vivid ever out down on the page. One finds oneself cheering and crying alternately for those men who must fight and die, no matter if they wear blue or gray. The conclusion of the battle, and of the Civil War in the authors’ altered reality, is filled with a kind of hope that maybe makes the blood letting worth it. Could a hundred years and more of hate and animosity and bitterness have been avoided? Could the promise of “all men are born equal” have been fulfilled in the 1860s? Oh, for what might have been.

Two regrets. There doesn’t seem to be a book in the offering of what exactly what country will emerge from the ashes of the altered Civil War. And, there will likely be not be a movie or series based on this fantastic trilogy. Still, if Ken Burns were ever in a whimsical frame of mind and wanted to make a mockumentary in the style of his outstanding series of the Civil War, he could use these three books as material. One could just hear the mournful violins, the jaunty marches, and the melodious voice talking about the disasters at Union Mills and Gunpowder River, the salvation of Washington, the Battle of Fredrick, and the final, honorable peace. I would pay money to see it depicted thus.


 
Now for a travel piece with a slightly different perspective, Space: The Final Frontier of Tourism.


 
Howard Dean's animus against Christians seems to be a long standing one.


Thursday, June 09, 2005
 
Darth Vader sets the record straight. I should have known Lucas would distort the record.


 
It looks like that Amnesty International, which has called our terrorist detention camp at Gitmo a "gulag, is calling for the abduction of President Bush, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, and various other officials and military officers and their trial for "crimes against humanity." Of course such a move would be a violation of international law and an act of war. So would it be unfair to call Amnesty International an outlaw organization that advocates what is in effect terrorism?


 
The Left has always touted Canada's socialist health care system as the perfect model for solving the health care cost problem in the United States, never mind the waiting lists, the bureaucracy, and the needless suffering and death. Look like that the Supreme Court of Canada has struck down the ban on private health care in the province of Quebec. The ruling won't affect other provinces, but similar challenges will be made.

Addendum: David HaLevi tells a gut churning story that explains why Canada's socialist health care system needs to be changed.


 
Bob Novak finds that Hillary Clinton's ascent to the presidency may not be so inevitable as some people believe.


Wednesday, June 08, 2005
 
Next in my series of travel pieces, A History Lovers Guide to Venice.


 
What if there really were Martians? And what if they invaded--now?


 
Alexandre Dumas, author of The Three Musketiers and The Count of Monte Cristo, is coming out with a new novel after a hiatus of a hundred and thirty five years. And about time, too.

It's entitled Le chevalier de Sainte-Hermine.


 
More on the circus act that is Howard Dean. Is it all a clever ploy to get himself fired as DNC Chairman? I think not. He really is nuts.


 
Is "cold fusion", after being consigned to the outer darkness of pseudoscience along with UFOs and Big Foot, about to make a come back? It would be fascinating if it did.


Tuesday, June 07, 2005
 
Is political correctness about to infest the memorial of 9/11 to be built on Ground Zero? That would truly be an outrage and must be stopped forthwith.

Addendum: Michelle Malkin has More on the proposed "Blame America Monument."


 
Would "rods from God" deter rogue states from building a nuclear arsenal?


 
Another day, another Howard Dean rant. I wonder seriously what it will take to remove a DNC Chairman for being insane.

Addendum: Brent Bozell has More.


 
Anne Bancroft has died.

Heres to you, Mrs. Robinson.

Addendun: More.


 
Third in a series of travel pieces, A History Lovers Guide to Florence.


 
You may remember how John kerry was depicted by his supporters as an intellectual. So intelligent, so sophisticated, so European. Turns out that he was a slightly worse student at Yale as that frat boy dunce, George W. Bush.


 
David Limbaugh reminds Amnesty International and the world what a real gulag is like.


Monday, June 06, 2005
 
I have a little advice for Charlotte Church. I'll refrain from trying to sing if you'll refrain from making stupid, cheap, political shots.


 
I've been reading Newt Gingrich's epic final book in his Civil War Trilogy, Never Call Retreat, and have been enjoying it quite a bit. I was just listening to Newt on the Sean Hannity show and it looks like that his next literary work will be something called One Second After, about what happens when an EMP weapon is cooked off over the United States. After that, he may return to the series that he started with 1945. (Newt, if you do that, revise and rewrite the first book. It's not up to your current standards.)


 
Here's yet another case of judicial overreach, this time on the subject of medical marijuana. I cannot for the life of me figure out how the Interstate Commerce Clause applies, except it seems to be a catch all excuse for just about everything since the New Deal.


 
My old Deaniac friend, Rich Kolker, launches at some fellow Democrats for insufficient obeisance to Howard Dean.
There are two answers any "major" Democrat should use when asked a question aimed at dividing the party by criticizing Howard Dean.

One is "I'm a Democrat and I support the Chairman of my Party." And repeat until the questioner gives up. He will.

The other is, "It is clear to anyone except those trying to twist the Chairman's words that he was talking about the leadership of the Republican Party and the Enrons and Worldcoms behind them. To believe he was saying anything else is to concede journalistic integrity for political spin."

I think a child could see the problem with this advice. First, unthinking support for any leader (and I include the President, whom I admire, in this) only demonstrates a kind of slavish behavior more suitable to a serf in Tsarist Russia than a citizen of the United States. Second, when Dean said that he "hated Republicans" and that "Republicans don't do an honest day's work" and "Republicans are evil", I did not hear the qualifiers "leaders" or "Enron" or "Worldcom" or anything like that. Before the next day's spin occurred, I could only conclude that Dr. Dean was talking about me. A curious form of outreach indeed.

And by the way, some of the comments attached to this post are even more frightening and bizarre.


 
Even though a lot of people have concluded that there are technical hurdles that must be overcome before space weapons are deployed, Bruce Gagnon still finds it necessary to leap the length of his chain at their very prospect. Please take note of Jim Oberg's caustic comments.


 
Will the rejection of the EU Constitution affect European space policy? Very likely, though how depends on how European political elites react.


 
Steven Spielberg is making a movie about aliens again. Only this time, they're not very nice. One thing, though, I hope there isn't a lot of discussion of:
Just as the book could be read as a critique of British imperialism, the movie might be taken as a comment on US military actions today.

Can't we just for once enjoy a movie without some stupid, left wing politcal subtext?
Spielberg, however, is more interested in the quest for survival and the character issues it summons. In writing the screenplay, Koepp saw civilization not as a veneer that hides our animal instincts but as the grid that supports our way of life. How do we behave when the grid is yanked away? Most of us nobly, some less so.

Yes, that's much better.


Sunday, June 05, 2005
 
Rand Simberg marvels at the growing psychosis of John Kerry in particular and the Democratic Party in general.


 
One year ago today, Ronald Reagan, liberator of nations, breaker of Empires, passed quietly into history.


Saturday, June 04, 2005
 
The news has been filled with stores of innocent students caught in the jaws of inflexible "zero tolerance" policies and getting punished far out of proportion to what they did. An example might be a student caught with a pocket knife and being arrested, expelled, and sent to alternative schooling for trouble makers. Now it looks like Texas may do something about this sort of injustice.


 
Sixty five years ago, a life time for some, the world seemed about to fall into a permanent age of darkness. But one great man hurtled defiance into the teeth of the Monster:
Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God's good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.

God bless you, Winston Churchill.


Friday, June 03, 2005
 
From Your Humble Servant, A Brief History of the Exploration of the Moon.


 
I have seen exhibitions of artifacts from almost every culture on Earth, including Greece and Rome, China, Egypt, and South America. But never before have I heard of an exhibition of artifacts from a land that exists only in the imagination.

I imagine that Professor Tolkein would have been amused and maybe even pleased.


 
Is a new Space Age aborning, ready to fullfill all the lost promise of the old--and more? It may well be so. The syngery between the public and private sectors seems to be happening, as I predicted.


 
Howard Dean frothed at the mouth again and great enjoyment was had by all. Also, Arianna Huffington launched against Hillary over Iraq. That tells me that the far left may not be as enthusiastic about Senator Clinton as one might think.


Thursday, June 02, 2005
 
Some illustrations of the Orion, the coolest space ship never made. Here, here, and here.


 
Second in a series of travel pieces, Your Humble Servant presents A History Lovers Guide to Rome.


 
John McCain's drive to cripple the science of archeology proceeds apace.


 
Harlan "I Have a mouth and I must scream " Ellison lets Steven Spielberg have it.
"What annoys me is that Spielberg is such an egomaniac these days that it has to be 'Steven Spielberg's War of the Worlds,'" the outspoken Ellison said in an interview over the weekend. "No, you puss-bag. It's H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds, and it wouldn't kill you to put his f--king name on it."

It could be argued that H.G. Wells' version takes place in England around the turn of the last century, not in America of this century. In any case, it's not a point that gets me excited one way or the other.
He said that he does give Spielberg credit for directing 1984's Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. "Spielberg is only a craftsman, that's all he is," Ellison said. "He's not a genius. He's not a trendsetter. There isn't one moment of any Spielberg film, with the possible exception of Doom, that matches the least moment of a Kurosawa film. Kurosawa was a blinding genius of cinema. His vision was astonishing."

Not that I would take away anything from Kurosawa, but I think Schindler's List will live forever.


Wednesday, June 01, 2005
 
The Dutch have joined the French in rejecting in EU Constitution.


 
This story proves that when one proposes to send astronauts exploring on the public dime, it is good to have powerful people backing it. For Apollo, it was Kennedy, Vice President and later President Johnson, and NASA Administrator James Webb. Now, for the Vision for Space Exploration, it's President Bush, House Majority Leader Tom Delay, and NASA Administrator Michael Giffin. But who will carry the ball after Bush retires in 2009?


 
The mythos of Watergate tells the story of a group of crusading reporters bringing down a corrupt President by shining the light of truth on his evil ways. Of course, some might suggest that Watergate really cemented some of the bad, arrogant habits of the mainstream media, including, I daresay, selective outrage. After all, did Nixon do worse than Kennedy and Johnson before him and Clinton after?

There's a lot of hyperventilation over Watergate. We are told that we avoided a virtual dictatorship but for the efforts of Woodward and Bernstein. That's rubbish, of course. Nixon was paranoid, secretive, and a whole lot of other things besides. (And he was not, in my judgment, a very good President. He seemed to see his role as managing the retreat.) But he did not have the ambitions, nor the will, nor certainly the ability of a Caesar.

In my opinion, the true story of Watergate consisted of a hapless President trying to keep the true extent of a bungled, keystone cop style burglary quiet, his liberal enemies (who were mad as hell at Nixon, not only for Vietnam and beating McGovern, but for imagined sins going back to Alger Hiss) finding out and then going for the throat. The consequences of Watergate included the fall of Southeast Asia into blood and tyranny and the poisoning of American politics that lasts to this day.

Also, there may have been some personal motives involved, at least on the part of one newly revealed participant.