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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Friday, March 31, 2006
 
Chantal has come home from the hospital. Looks like the stones were detonated completely. She is resting comfortably. The wonders of modern medicine.


 
Day of Decision: The Battle of Bosworth.


 
Several members of Congress are suggesting that there is indeed a space race with the Chinese. Jeff Foust is skeptical, but I would hasten to point out that one can win a race even when moving "slow" when the other side is moving even slower or perhaps, if the political winds ever change, not at all.


Thursday, March 30, 2006
 
Blogging has been and at least for the next day or so will be light. Mrs. Whittington is in the hospital, having undergone a procedure to shatter a couple of kidney stones and then, hopefully, flush the remaints out of her system. At the same time she is taking antiboitics in an IV to get rid of a reoccuring infection caused very likely by the stones.

She came out of the procedure a bit groggy and weak, due to the seditives. By the time I left for the evening, she was much stronger, albeit in a slight amount of pain due to the remaints of the stones passing out of her system. We hope to have her home tomorrow and she will likely spend the weekend resting before going back to work Monday.



 
Ken Murphey has some disagreements with Robert Zubrin. Then he gives the back of his hand to Gree Easterbrook.

When I have the time I may give Easterbrook's piece the examination it deserves.


Wednesday, March 29, 2006
 
This idea of factory fresh meat is all well and good. But two questions come to mind. Will is be as cheap to produce as the farm fresh kind? And will it taste as good?



 
The "enthusiastic but uninformed Monday morning quarterbacking" over the loss of the first Falcon 1 continues. (Not my words, but those of the poster by the way, for those who are about to leap the length of their chains.)

Rand Simberg has, of course, linked to this We'll check back to his coments sections from time to time just in case there is any useful feedback.


 
Three members of Congress pontificate on space policy.


 
Jeff Foust recalls how the late Cap Weinberger saved publically funded space flight, albeit with a program that was to prove its albatross for a generation.


Tuesday, March 28, 2006
 
I guess it may be a first (though I may be mistaken) for a political party to make a campaign promise to eliminate an enemy of the United States. Mind, I would take it with a grain of salt. The promise is being made by the Democrats and when they were last in charge they punted a chance to lay hands on the enemy on several occassions.

Of course the Democrats also promise to recruit more special forces and spies--both of whom they cut back on when last in power.

Addendum: Captain Ed is unimpressed.


 
Our heart felt condolances to Professor Glenn Reynolds and his family for the death of his grandmother.


 
I like Sharon Stone. She had one of the best lines in Total Recall, just before Arnold ventilated her. "Doug. Honey... you wouldn't hurt me, would you, sweet heart? Sweet heart, be reasonable. After all, we're married!"

To which Arnold replied, after shooting her, "Consider that a divorce."

And, of course, who can forget Basic Instinct, the sort of movie Hitchcock might have made if he had been permitted to make a porno flick in his declining years?

But I think Ms. Stone started to lose it when she blamed President Bush for the fact that she didn't get to smooch with Hallie Berry in Cat Woman (a much under rated movie, IMHO.) Now she has really gone to see the wee folk, as my Irish granny used to say.


 
Our favorite nut case moon bat, Bruce Gagnon, inveighs against the idea of lunar bases and prospecting helium 3. In so doing, he quotes a racist polemic against the Apollo Program first sung by Gil Scott-Heron back in the early seventies, called Whitey on the Moon.


 
Loc8tor: Finder of Lost Items.


 
RIP Casper Weinberger.


 
Dr. Morris James has some interesting speculations about China's future space plans.


Monday, March 27, 2006
 
Chair Force Engineer has some interesting thoughts concerning the Falcon 1 failure and the future prospects for SpaceX. This statement jumped out at me:
Right now, the big rocket vendors (Orbital and BLoMart) are looking at SpaceX with an incredulous eye, but also with more than a hint of fear that they are sunk if SpaceX succeeds. I tend to believe that current rocketry ventures would be more profitable if they had 1) lean management structures with reduced overhead, and 2) economies of scale. SpaceX definitely has the lean management, and they are trying very hard to promote launch rates to support an economy of scale. Perhaps there is money to be saved in the engineering of such rockets, but Falcon I will be proof of that.

I think, in fact, there are a lot of people who would be secretly pleased if SpaceX failed. That is certainly true of Boeing and LockMart, since they would be in a world of hurt if SpaceX started taking away market share from them.


 
Sean Penn is certainly a sick puppy.


 
Zacarias Moussaoui is the kind of defendant that prosecutors dream about, as he seems to have done their work for him. I'm sure now that not even Denny Crane could keep him from the needle. And a good thing too, as he belongs in Hell.


 
The Dawn mission to Ceres and Vesta seems to be on again.


 
Criticize SpaceX? Moi? Apparently yes and no.

Addendum. Rand makes my point. First he says quotes himself with this:
..good luck to SpaceX. There's no reason to think at this point that they can't be as successful, ultimately, as their predecessors that cost much, much more to develop, but still had early failures

Then he retorts:
I never said I didn't criticize SpaceX. I in fact said that I was an early critic.

So, is the supposition this: "I was a supporter of SpaceX before I was a critic?" Or maybe the other way around. Or both at the same time. With Rand, one never knows.


Sunday, March 26, 2006
 
Bacon from cloned pigs that's rich in Omega 3 fatty acids, which is good for the heart. What a wonderous age we live in!


 
Red Dawn: A Politically Incorrect Vision of Guerilla War by John Milius.


Saturday, March 25, 2006
 
The Washington Post discusses some of the problems inherent in living on the Moon.


 
Mark Steyn has a wonderful suggestion of how Abdl Rahman, the man under threat of death in Afganistan for daring to convert to Christianity, could be helped.
What can we do? Should governments with troops in Afghanistan pass joint emergency legislation conferring their citizenship on this poor man and declaring him, as much as Karzai, under their protection?

In a more culturally confident age, the British in India were faced with the practice of "suttee" - the tradition of burning widows on the funeral pyres of their husbands. Gen. Sir Charles Napier was impeccably multicultural:

"You say that it is your custom to burn widows. Very well. We also have a custom: When men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks, and we hang them. Build your funeral pyre; beside it, my carpenters will build a gallows. You may follow your custom. And then we will follow ours."

Indeed, I think the same protection could be offered to anyone under threat of death by mad Mullahs, say women who are subjected to honor murders.


 
Rand Simberg has a post mortem on the lost of the Falcon 1, with some links to some more. Reading it, along with stuff in the coments section, I am detecting the first whispers of back biting and second guessing of Elon Musk and his team who, the day before yesterday, were going to instantly revolutionize space travel. I think, in fact, this incident has proven how difficult building and flying new rockets can be. To be fair, Clark Lindsey compares it to the full systems test of new software, which inevitably reveals bugs that need to be fixed. But I think that "helpful" suggestions from the internet rocketeer club about what SpaceX should or should not have done and comparisons to completely differnt vehicles are inappropriate. My suggestion is to back off, let SpaceX do its job of finding the cause of the problem and fixing it so that next time, hopefully, will be a success.


 
Apparently, before the liberation of Iraq, the Fedayeen Saddam was planning a terror campaign.


Friday, March 24, 2006
 
Prizes that advance technology seem to have become all the rage since the X Prize jump started sub orbital barnstorming. The latest is the H Prize, to be given for technologies for hydrogen fuel cells.


 
Looks like the first attempt to launch the Falcon 1 ended with complete loss of the vehicle. Our condolances to the SpaceX team and best wishes for better luck next time.


 
Looks like The Washington Dispatch is back--sort of.


 
Bones, my favorite forensic detective show, has been renewed for a second season.


Thursday, March 23, 2006
 
Visiting Kathmandu.


 
You and some friends have been kidnapped by blood thirsty, savage terrorists. One of your friends has been horribly tortured and then killed. You will likely be next. But then US Special Forces rescues you from a certain and slow, twitching death. What do you do?

If you are like me or anyone who has been well brought up, your graitude to those brave men will be unending.

Not so those three falsely so called "peace activists." Michell Malkin gives them the sound spanking their momas should have given them decades ago.


 
As a fan of Battlestar Galactica, I think this is just to precious.


 
Looks like the first flight of the Falcon has been pushed back a day.


 
James Hansen, the climate scientist who accused the Bush Administration of censorship, is looking more and more partisan and biased than we've been led to believe.
The scientist touted by CBS News' "60 Minutes" as arguably the "world's leading researcher on global warming" and spotlighted as a victim of the Bush administration's censorship on the issue, publicly endorsed Democrat John Kerry for president and received a $250,000 grant from the charitable foundation headed by Kerry's wife.

Scientist James Hansen has also admitted that he contributed to two recent Democratic presidential campaigns. Furthermore, he acted as a consultant in February to former Vice President Al Gore's slide show presentations on "global warming," which Gore presented around the country.

So one wonders, who is actually politicizing science?
In the March 2004 issue of Scientific American, Hansen appeared to be justifying the past use of climate models to scare the public into believing the "global warming" problem was urgent.

"Emphasis on extreme scenarios may have been appropriate at one time, when the public and decision-makers were relatively unaware of the global warming issue," Hansen wrote in 2004. "Now, however, the need is for demonstrably objective climate-forcing scenarios consistent with what is realistic under current conditions."

Patrick J. Michaels, the author of several books on climate change, including the recently published "Shattered Consensus: The True State of Global Warming," declared that Hansen has "advocated the use of exaggeration and propaganda as political tools in the debate over global warming."


Addendum: Looks like Hansen has had a vendetta against the Bush family for decades.


Wednesday, March 22, 2006
 
Riding Rockets by Mike Mullane.


 
The latest launch attempt for SpaceX's Falcon 1 will be at 1 PM California time on Thursday, March 23rd.


 
The case of Abdul Rahman is a fine pickle. The idea that a country which we spent blood and treasure to liberate from the Taliban may kill a man for converting to Christianity boggles the mind. If Abdul Rahman is killed, then the resulting loss of good will for Afghanistan will be enormous.

Naturally, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, quick to leap at any slight--real or imagined--against Muslims, is silent on the matter. I suggest it should not be. This kind of thing has the potential to confirm in the minds of a lot of people the image of Muslims as blood thirsty fanatics. The reluctance of Muslims to criticize the bad behavior of other Muslims is a continuing problem.

Michelle Malkin asks the question: Who will save Abdul Rahman? Apparently not the feckless State Department, an institution that has proven quick to toss even American citizens under the bus when it comes to maintaining diplomatic nicities.

Addendum: Looks like CAIR has stepped up and has called for Rahman's release. They even quote the Koran to support this call. Good for them.

In the meantime, it looks like the Afghans are trying to find a face saving way out of this problem by declaring Rahman too nuts to stand trial. Well, alright if it spares his life, but it sounds oddly like the stance taken by the old Soviet Union that people who dissented from communism were insane.


 
Day of Decision: The Horns of Hattin.


Tuesday, March 21, 2006
 
This talk about commercial opportunities available with the return to the Moon is not new, but does bear repeating.
We also are interested in a strategy for lunar exploration that opens up the door for opportunities in commercial space. As Mike Griffin has stated, “if we are to make the expansion and development of the space frontier an integral part of what it is that human societies do, then these activities must assume an economic dimension as well. Sooner rather than later, government space activity must become a lesser rather than a greater part of what humans do in space. To this end, it is up to us at NASA to use the challenge of the Vision for Space Exploration to foster the commercial opportunities which are inherent to this exciting endeavor.”

Among commercial opportunities that come to mind are such activities as in-space fuel delivery, lunar resource prospecting, and the development and maintenance of lunar surface systems and infrastructure, including lunar habitats, power and science facilities, surface mobility units such as rovers, logistics and resupply, communications and navigation, and in situ resource utilization equipment. With these opportunities in mind, it is our goal, working with international partners along with the commercial sector and the academic community, to develop a decadal lunar exploration strategy by the end of the year.

Before these markets open up, however, NASA is doing something very exciting right now to encourage the development of new commercial markets in space. One of our most important needs is to provide cargo and crew services to the International Space Station, which has had permanent crews for over five years, and which we intend to operate for another decade. It is a service that looks very promising for reliance on the commercial space sector and that is why we’ve devoted so much funding to this effort.

Last month, NASA issued a challenge to U.S. industry, both the established aerospace companies and the emerging entrepreneurial companies. Through our Commercial Orbital Transportations Services Demonstrations announcement or COTS, we are challenging all interested parties to demonstrate through competitive proposals that they can establish capabilities and services to safely and reliably support the Space Station’s cargo and crew transportation needs.

This initiative establishes a precedent. For the first time ever, NASA is seeking non-government vehicles and commercial services to provide these capabilities for human space flight. When this happens, hopefully by the end of the decade, our colleagues at the Federal Aviation Administration’s OCST will have a role in determining safety requirements for the commercial providers’ launch vehicle.

For what we hope will result in a Space Act agreement or agreements, we are putting up about a half-billion dollars over the five years of our current budget runout for those companies that have the best proposal for Earth-to-orbit space flight demonstrations of any one or combination of four capabilities: first, external un-pressurized cargo delivery and disposal; second, internal pressurized cargo delivery and disposal; third, internal cargo delivery and return, and fourth, crew transportation. Given the probable need for (1) logistics support during International Space Station assembly, (2) the need for cargo and crew transport during the time between Shuttle retirement in 2010 and the Crew Exploration Vehicle coming online, and (3) the ongoing need for this capability even after the CEV comes online, this is a substantial opportunity for the commercial sector.

Phase One proposals for the COTS demonstrations are due in March, and we expect to announce and award one or more Space Act agreements this summer. We hope that successful flight demonstrations of the selected capability will occur in the 2008-2010 timeframe. During the first phase of this technology demonstration initiative, NASA intends to provide capital and assistance similar to an investor to help provide the necessary stimulation to ensure the success of this venture. The second phase of the technology demonstration initiative is the possible purchase by NASA of commercial transportation services to and from the Space Station on a purely commercial basis relationship with the transportation suppliers.

There are several features of this COTS initiative that are much different than a typical NASA procurement and which will provide maximum flexibility for commercialization. Under this initiative, the space transportation systems that result from this project shall be owned by the companies that develop them, not by NASA. With COTS we will have a limited negotiated right to purchase back the property at a reduced cost. We also will have limited rights to terminate the contract once it is underway. NASA also typically requires specific cost accounting standards from our contractors and has certain audit rights. In this case, our only interest is in whether the milestone is met. If they hit a milestone, they will get a check.

There are other features of the initiative worth mentioning. We also will have our NASA Centers offer to provide reimbursable support to participants, such as wind tunnel testing. The bidders for this announcement are allowed to have the participation of foreign suppliers of parts and services, subject to current U.S. laws and policies such as the Iran Syria Nonproliferation Act and ITAR.

All of these policies are designed to minimize NASA requirements and oversight. It will truly be up to the participant to get the job done to our satisfaction. Once a demonstration of a service is proven, we plan to buy the service in a commercial transaction, subject to the normal rules of congressional authorization and appropriation. The provider will be free, of course, to also provide these new services to non-NASA customers. And this should (1) help spread development costs, thereby reducing the price paid by the government customer; and (2) further enhance this portion of the commercial space industry.

We believe NASA has structured a business arrangement that will promote genuine competition and one that is good for the private sector as well as the public interest. I’m confident that this kind of financial incentive for purely commercial industry will encourage serious providers to emerge.

Obviously, this represents a significant and welcome departure in the way that NASA conducts business. We should remember, however, that NASA has been purchasing commercial launch services for our space and Earth science missions for a long time. We are committed to expanding the agency’s base of launch service providers to include emerging U.S. companies. One way we’ve approached this goal is to change the entry requirements to no longer require the provider to demonstrate a proven flight history. Our colleagues in the Defense Department deserve credit for paving the way for this policy, through their decision to allow an unproven launch vehicle to send up a satellite built by Air Force Academy Cadets. Now, by encouraging a more competitive market, NASA seeks to help lower launch costs and provide a better return on investment to the taxpayer.

There’s another NASA initiative to spur commercial enterprise that I’d like to mention. NASA’s Centennial Challenges Program, for example, will use the tool of prize competitions, so successfully demonstrated by the X PRIZE, to plant the seeds of these future commercial activities. Although the dollars involved are currently smaller than the Commercial Crew/Cargo Project, over the next couple years, you should expect to see NASA roll out multi-hundred thousand dollar to multi-million dollar prize competitions for demonstrations of projects such as subscale orbital fuel depots, human lunar rovers, oxygen production from lunar regolith, advanced power storage and transmission, non-toxic rocket engines, platforms for communications relays, low-cost space pressure suits, lunar lander analogs and telerobotic construction.

These initiatives are the first steps along the path of creating a robust and enduring commercial space economy. For those of you who know Mike Griffin and me, you know that we both very much want the commercial space industry to be successful. When one tries something novel like this, there may be a few bumps in the road. But at the end of this path, we hope that by opening NASA’s space flight needs to a broader community of commercial providers NASA will encourage the growth and diversification of the commercial space sector while also enabling solutions that allow NASA to focus its resources on extending the frontier of space exploration.


 
One of the canards that some people make against NASA's return to the Moon plans is that all it consists of are four government employees doing boring stuff on the lunar surface. John Marburger, the Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, suggests that these people are all wet.
The Moon has unique significance for all space applications for a reason that to my amazement is hardly ever discussed in popular accounts of space policy. The Moon is the closest source of material that lies far up Earth's gravity well. Anything that can be made from Lunar material at costs comparable to Earth manufacture has an enormous overall cost advantage compared with objects lifted from Earth's surface. The greatest value of the Moon lies neither in science nor in exploration, but in its material. And I am not talking about mining helium-3 as fusion reactor fuel. I doubt that will ever be economically feasible. I am talking about the possibility of extracting elements and minerals that can be processed into fuel or massive components of space apparatus. The production of oxygen in particular, the major component (by mass) of chemical rocket fuel, is potentially an important Lunar industry.

What are the preconditions for such an industry? That, it seems to me, must be a primary consideration of the long range planning for the Lunar agenda. Science studies provide the foundation for a materials production roadmap. Clever ideas have been advanced for the phased construction of electrical power sources – perhaps using solar cells manufactured in situ from Lunar soil. A not unreasonable scenario is a phase of highly subsidized capital construction followed by market-driven industrial activity to provide Lunar products such as oxygen refueling services for commercially valuable Earth-orbiting apparatus. This is consistent with the space policy statement that the U.S. will "Develop the innovative technologies, knowledge, and infrastructures both to explore and to support decisions about the destinations for human exploration".

I disagree with his assessment of 3HE, but the market is going to make the ultimate decision on that one. However, his point is well made. Those four government employees will just be the leading edge of the opening up of the Moon to commercial development.



 
Tales of the Heliosphere has a message that many internet rocketeers need to hear.
Those who want to make money in space and go to space themselves will have to build their own ships and find their own financing. Some have gotten that message by now. That's why suborbital entrepreneurs are creating a market for what they want to do, raising the money however they can, and building their own ships.

The best that can be hoped for is for government to be commercial friendly.


 
Some interesting speculation about the Chinese space program. In the absense of hard intelligence, it remains just that, but I find this very interesting:
Has a factional battle erupted somewhere within China's manned space program? The early Soviet space program, which holds so many parallels with China's own human spaceflight efforts, was legendary for its Titanic power struggles between "Chief Designers" such as Korolyev and Chelomei.

Alternative plans for human spacecraft and space stations were advanced as ways to enable one designer to trump the other. Has such a war broken out behind closed doors in China? Has the Big Station faction lost ground? The details will probably remain obscure for years to come.

What agendas are being advanced? By whom? Inquiring minds want to know.


Monday, March 20, 2006
 
George Lucas explains why his last three Star Wars movies made a gazzilion dollars and Serenity--far superior that it was in every way--did not.


 
The Wind and the Lion.



 
Tom James poses a question of "libertarian" vrs "statist" space settlers. I'm not sure that the question is very useful. If history is any guide, there will be both state and private entities operating on the Moon, then Mars, and then so on. Indeed, I will predict that some of the state entities will act more "libertarian" than "statist" by using their efforts to spur private development. And some of the private entities will act more "statist" than "libertarian" if they happen to be groups of people trying to found whatever their conception of a good society out there.


 
Tayler Dinerman reflects on what seems to be a permenent problem at NASA, that being its public relations operation. Meanwhile, Jeff Foust gives Rolling Stone the back of his hand for shoddy reporting.


Sunday, March 19, 2006
 
Fred Barnes, helpfull fellow that he is, thinks that President Bush needs a staff shakeup and then does it for him.


 
The sad saga of that pathetic dingbat Condy Sheehan continues. I notice that Susan Sarandon is going to play her in a movie, which has got me thinking. So far not one major motion picture has been released about 9/11 or the heroics of our fighting men and women in the War on Terror. Now, to be sure, I saw a trailer for a Flight 93 film friday night that looked promising and there are a number of films in various stages of development. But, come on, does it really take four and a half years to get something to the big screen? And now a major motion picture about Cindy Sheehan?

I'll be you it gets nominated for a slew of Oscars no matter what its quality.


 
Looks like attempts by the anti-war crowd to "celebrate" the third anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq War are pretty much a bust.


 
Alan Boyle reports that the static testing of SpaceX's Falcon 1 rocket continues over the weekend.


Saturday, March 18, 2006
 
I noticed that Bruce Gagnon, one of our favorite, mad cap professional protestors, has found a way to be against the peaceful exploration of space. Hint: It's all a plot by Halliburton.


Friday, March 17, 2006
 
Looks like Tom Cruise is suppressing free speech.


 
One year ago tomorrow, the slow death of Terri Schiavo began by order of the state. She took nearly two weeks to succumb to dehydration and starvation.


 
Edward James Olmos, my favorite Colonial Admiral, is directing a new film for HBO called Walkout, about an uprising in 1968 of Hispanic High School students in 1968 over conditions in their schools. As is usual with Hollywood, not everything that happened gets mentioned. For one thing, the incident led to the imposition of the pernicious practise of bilinqual education.


Thursday, March 16, 2006
 
Remarkable. Something I like to eat is actually good for me as well. Of course I can see the ad. "Our salsa is so hot that it cures cancer."


 
Apparently, if this is true, the Soviets plagerized Star Trek.


Wednesday, March 15, 2006
 
John Travolta as J.R. I can understand. Travolta is pretty good at playing smarmy charecters. After all, he did play the Clinton charecter in Primary Colors. But J-Lo as Sue Ellen?


 
The Battle of Pharsalus.


 
Virtual Reality as Psychological Therapy.


 
David Frum asks, that with all of the discontent and full poll numbers that have plagued President Bush, is he still the Right Man?
There are many things to say about George W. Bush, positive and negative. But with his numbers dropping into the mid-30s, and even many of his friends having to acknowledge doubts and disappointments in his performance, here is one verdict that remains true, the same that Lincoln delivered on General Grant. "He fights."

I guess, all other things considered, the answer is still, "Yes."


 
Russ Feingold is not a happy man todsy. After offering his drive by shooting of a censure resolution, he fled the Senate floor before the matter could be debated. Now the Democrats are treating it like Feingold had tossed a piece of warm wet--er--stuff in their laps. Feingold is not pleased.
"Democrats run and hide" when the administration invokes the war on terrorism, Feingold told reporters.

Of course. They are not only afraid of the terrorists, but of the guy who is leading the fight against them. I wonder what it is like to be that afraid all the time.


 
Who will build first lunar base?


Tuesday, March 14, 2006
 
A day in the life of a doctor trying to do the best he can under Britain's vaunted National Health System. Warning, not for the squeemish.


 
Time Magazine has discovered, much to its surprise, that we're going back to the Moon.



 
While certain left wing kooks had concluded that Russ Feingold walks upon the water for his censure gambit, the Republicans are quite gleefully saying, "Go ahead. Make my day."


 
Jason Apuzzo suggests that Hollywood has basically written off the American heartland and will merrily continue to produce left wing films, so long as the costs can be kept low enough. Brokeback Mountain, for example, cost 14 million to make and so far has grossed over 80 million. So it doesn't matter if few people see these type of films.

But, there is a solution:
Phillip Anschutz’s Walden Media turned a lot of heads in conservative circles last year by pumping about $180 million into “The Chronicles of Narnia.” It was a great, successful experiment - but you won’t see another “Narnia” until 2007 - and in the meantime Hollywood will go about its usual business, merrily bashing Bush.

Anschutz’s $180 million could just as easily support twenty films - maybe about the War on Terror? Maybe about loopy Marxist academics? Maybe about snotty West Hollywood liberals who drive gas-guzzling SUVs? Anything’s possible.

Wouldn’t it be fun if a conservative company followed the model of Participant Productions, and pumped out a few low-budget conservative films each year? Such a company could kick-start a conservative film revolution.

It would be a refreshing change from what we’ve become accustomed to - and wouldn’t it be great for our side to make George Clooney angry for once, rather than the other way around?

Indeed.


 
James Miller suggests that the Republicans propose building a space elevator as an election year gambit. I have a couple of problems with his proposal.

First, I wonder about the potency of space elevators as an election issue. Unless it is framed very well, the proposal can be attacked by the Democrats for taking money away from healtheducationtheenvironment.

Second, Miller proposes this as a government project. We've had sad experience in government run transportation systems already. My suggestion for space elevators is for the private sector to build them, helped along with subsidies, tax breaks, and so on. That's the way we built the transcontinental railroad in the 19th Century.

I wonder if a better space related election year idea would be for the Republicans to openly suggest that space settlements should be the goal of our national space effort and give a list of simple to understand reasons why.

(1) Space settlements would become centers of commercial development that would enrich nations on Earth by exploiting space resources for economic gain.

(2) Space settlements would become engines of scientific and technological research and development, advancing the state of human knowledge and expertise.

(3) Space settlements would ensure the long term survival of human civilization, and indeed the human species, in case the unthinkable happens to Earth.

(4) Space settlements would become beacons of human freedom, becoming in effect laboratories for organizing societies around concepts of liberty, free thought, and free markets.


Monday, March 13, 2006
 
Russ Feingold continued his campaign to become the McGovern of 2008 by actually proposing that the Senate officially censure the President for conducting intelligence gathering in a time of war. In a country where politics are a little bit saner, Feingold would himself be expelled from the Senate for his daring.


 
Tether solutions for the International Space Station.


 
First communicators, now tricorders. Can warp drive and transporters be that far behind?


 
Marrakesh: Where the 1001 Nights Still Live.


Sunday, March 12, 2006
 
Looks like that after consideration, Spielberg has concluded that he was a little tough on the shark.


 
Looks like that the proposed alternate budget being proposed by the House Republican Study Committee has a proposal that is just plain nuts.
The proposal seeks to save money on human space flight by not funding two different missions at the same time. Moreover, the proposal does not postpone the new mission, it cancels it.

This is just nonsense. Rather than scrapping the space shuttle now and focusing the money on developing America's next generation of space vehicles sooner rather than later, the RSC proposes the opposite. Stick with the old system that barely flies and is headed to scrap heap and get rid of the new systems.

This is not, in my opinion, fiscal conservatism. It's fiscal madness.

Despite the President's supposed weakness, my guess is that this proposal is going nowhere. Both the House (including many members of the HRSC) and the Senate voted overwelmingly for the Moon/Mars Vision. If anything, the complaint in the Congress seems to be that the White House is short changing NASA, not overspending.


Saturday, March 11, 2006
 
I just finished An Army of Davids by Glenn Reynolds. It's an easy read, stuffed full of ideas, many of which you are probably familier with if you read Instapundit. I highly recommend the book.


 
Slobodan Milosevic, the old Serbian war criminal, is now facing a higher judge.


Friday, March 10, 2006
 
Jim Oberg suggests that we drink from the fountains of Enceladus.


 
Bones: Truth and Justice for the Dead.


 
Hans Mongolian Wok.



 
The Khyber Grill.


Thursday, March 09, 2006
 
Rep John Culbertson (R) Texas (and the Curmudgeon's member in the House) has a plan to restore science funding to NASA, in an open letter to scientists and engineers.
Start now by writing the Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committees, Thad Cochran of Mississippi, and the Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Jerry Lewis of California. Thank them for their strong support over the years for investing in the NSF and NASA, and ask them to move at least $1 billion, or up to $3 billion, more dollars into NASA by taking the money from the $15 billion that Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has recommended be spent on federal programs that OMB admits are officially classified as "wasteful," "obsolete" or "duplicative." As an alternative or additional source of funds, you should ask them to move $1 billion from the 2007 Budget request for Homeland Security and into NASA because Homeland Security has a surplus of at least $6.8 billion sitting in the U.S. Treasury that was intended for first responders but has not been spent in over three years. In other words, make Homeland Security spend $1 billion of their unspent surplus before we give them another $1 billion, and use that $1 billion now where it is needed most for the nation's security in the future - for scientific research and planetary exploration that NASA is now canceling.

Well, I personally have no problem with this. But I suspect that programs that OMB considers wasteful, etc (and almost certainly are) are considered by some to be essential to children and other living things. And as for taking it from Homeland Security--well--that's an invitation to have the proposal demagogued to perdition.


 
Apparently, liquid water may have been found by Cassini on Saturn's moon Enceladus.


Wednesday, March 08, 2006

 
Think President Bush is politicizing science? Turns out he was a piker compared to Bill Clinton.

Addendum: Both Fred Kiesche and Jim Oberg himself reminds me of this analysis written by Oberg almost six years ago.


 
Those folks who have written Tom Delay's political obituary seem not to have consulted his constituants. Of course he has a general election to get through and a politically motivated prosecution. But his political survival and triumph will be a good thing for the cause of advancing space exploration. Delay is a lion on that issue.


 
Is warp drive actually possible? More and more people seem to think so.


Monday, March 06, 2006
 
Taylor Dinerman explains why we have to finish the International Space Station. He also makes a point I have been making to some of the people who think NASA's return to the Moon plan is evil.
Instead of relying on foreign partners, NASA is choosing to build the main elements of its future space exploration systems—the Crew Exploration Vehicle, Crew Launch Vehicle, and Heavy-Lift Launch Vehicle—itself. As a backup, NASA is going to support the private sector via the Commercial Orbital Transportation System (COTS). The plans includes the possibility that someday American astronauts will fly to the ISS, or even to the Moon, as passengers on a commercial spacecraft.

This is no longer as absurd as it once sounded. After all, American military personnel can deploy overseas either on Air Force planes or regular passenger aircraft: it depends on the mission. The COTS program has at least the promise of providing alternative manned space access somewhat along the lines of the EELV program, which was designed to ensure that if one rocket fails, the US military will still have a way to get its payloads into orbit.

Once the US has begun to build an outpost on the Moon, maybe around 2025, it is only prudent to have at least two ways of transporting people there and back. While the CEV and a lunar lander will be the main vehicles, having a proven commercial service available will not only provide a greater level of safety, but it will allow of the early creation of private sector lunar operations.

Unlike the ISS, which is a fine example of intergovernmental relations, COTS is leading towards manned space operations with room for both governments and capitalists. NASA has had a hard time finding ways to effectively integrate non-governmental actors into its operations. If it can stick to its current concept and if the American entrepreneurial community responds, then just maybe the US will no longer have to take a back seat to Russia when it comes to the commercial exploitation of human spaceflight operations.

By all means, let's beat the Russians--again.


 
Sam Dinkin continues his tour of SpaceX's facilities.


 
Jim Oberg, a great space reporter of this century, weighs in the balance a space reporter of the last century and--as far as accuracy goes--finds him wanting. The other reporter is one Walter Cronkite.


 
Questions about lunar ice continue to be asked, some of them (God help us) by lawyers.


 
Ben Stein gives Hollwood a well deserved beating.
Hollywood is above all about self: self-congratulation, self-promotion, and above all, self-protection. This is human and basic, but let's not kid ourselves. There is no greatness there in the Kodak theater. The greatness is on patrol in Kirkuk. The greatness lies unable to sleep worrying about her man in Mosul. The greatness sleeps at Arlington National Cemetery and lies waiting for death in VA Hospitals. God help us that we have sunk so low as to confuse foolish and petty boasting with the real courage that keeps this nation and the many fools in it alive and flourishing on national TV.

Hear that, George Clooney?


 
Looks like Elon Musk's ambitions really do go beyond just beating Boeing and Lockmart in the satellite launch market. He has an entry into the orbital passenger ship race called the Dragon. It's a capsule shaped vehicle that would be launched on a heavy version of the Falcon.


Sunday, March 05, 2006
 
Has the military been flying a two stage to orbit reusable space plane for the past sixteen years? You be the judge.

Addendum: Rand Simberg and Clark Lindsey are understandably skeptical. So am I, for that matter. Still, if--as implied--failed projects like NASP and X-33 were just fronts for this baby, then the history of aerospace and a lot of assumptions that have been made as a result will have to change.


 
Let's suppose that there is global warming and further suppose that it could become a problem. Now let's suppose that, instead of wrecking the world economy and cramping the lifestyles of hundreds of millions of people, by limiting greenhouse emissions by fiat, we could instead undertake an engineering solution. Would anyone really want to conceal that last supposition?

Apparently so.

While humans have a long history of wanting to control weather and climate - cloud seeding is an example - this incarnation of geoengineering is such a hot potato that scientists cannot even agree whether it should be discussed publicly.

"The knowledge that we maybe could engineer our way out of climate problems inevitably lessens the political will to begin reducing carbon dioxide emissions," observes David Keith from the University of Calgary in Canada.

In other words, anything that distracts from my agenda should be suppressed.


 
The Lunar South Pole is one of many reasons how the next expeditions to the Moon will be different from the last.


Saturday, March 04, 2006
 
The world's nations will shoot for the Moon.
In the "space race" of the early 1960s, when reporters asked U.S. rocket pioneer Wernher von Braun what he expected to find on the moon, he jokingly replied: "Russians."

Nowadays, his answer might be: "Indians, Chinese, Japanese and Europeans."


 
A review of Moonwake by Anne and Paul Spudis.


Friday, March 03, 2006
 
Well, it's Oscar time again, with a slate of films that range from the mildly interesting (Capote) to the positively evil (Munich). Not bound by anything that the Academy has actually nominated, here are my picks.

Best Picture: Serenity
Best Director: Peter Jackson for King Kong
Best Original Screenplay: Joss Whedon for Serenity
Best Adapted Screenplay:Ann Peacock, Andrew Adamson, Christopher Markus, and Stephen McFeely for the Chronicles of Narnia
Best Actor: Nathan Fillion for Serenity (Note: The next and better Harrison Ford if he can get some good roles.)
Best Actress: Naomi Watts for King Kong
Best Supporting Actor: Anthony Hopkins for Proof
Best Supporting Actress: Summer Glau for Serenity (You will believe that a ninety pound girl can beat up on Adam Baldwin and a whole bunch of Reivers.)
Best Documentary: Tom Hanks for Magnificent Desolation

Did I mention that we are bound by films I have actually seen? If you have a problem with that, I can't help you.


Thursday, March 02, 2006
 
Is the Democrats' lock on the black vote about to be broken in Maryland?
Black political, business and religious leaders say a shift is occurring, especially among young voters who are less concerned with civil rights and more attentive to economic issues.
"The younger black demographic is not as tied in to the Democratic Party," says Robert Johnson, founder of Black Entertainment Television.


Wednesday, March 01, 2006
 
Looks like Rep John Conyers (D) Michigan is being accused of violating House ethics rules. I blame the culture of corruption.


 
Historic Hong Kong.


 
People in China are about to get a rare treat, which is to hear Dr. Robert Zubrin explain his ideas about the exploration of Mars. If you have ever heard his talk, even if you disagree with the premise (as I do) that Mars should be the sole near term object of our efforts, then you know what I mean. Zubrin helped to revolutionize the art of space exploration but showing how costs could be cut by "living off the land" by creating rocket fuel and other consumables on Mars.

Zubrin is also passionate about the idea of Mars as a frontier that tests and strengthens human civilization, just as the American frontier did until the end of the 19th Century. He also has interesting ideas about how a Mars colony should be run. It would be a libertarian paradise, with a great deal of restrictions on private conduct and business practice that has grown up even in nominally free countries swept away. Mars would, in effect, be an engine for human freedom.

Which of course makes one wonder why a lot of the internet rocketeers, most of whom are libertarians to one extent of another, hate him with such a passion. One supposes that part of the reason is his reputation of having a prickly personality (which I have not observed, but have heard about.) Part of it seems to be his advocacy of heavy lift launchers, which the internet rocketeers find abhorrent. Heavy lift can only be done by governments (a supposition which, I think, will one day be proven wrong.) Government is evil, inefficient, and wasteful. Therefore...well, you get the picture.

Also, Zubrin has an interesting purpose to going to China, besides spreading the good news about Mars.
Speaking about the invitation, Zubrin said; "The Mars Society welcomes China's interest in human Mars exploration. The Chinese are a very talented people, who have contributed numerous inventions, from printing to rockets, that have greatly furthered human progress. Without question, they can, and soon will, make many valuable contributions to the exploration and development of space."

"Furthermore, as we enter the 21st Century, two nations stand out as leaders, the USA and China. In the past, it has typically been the case that such nations have felt the need to compete with each other to establish prominence, a tendency that has often had very negative consequences. However the emerging US-Chinese race for space offers a different prospect, that of a competition more in the spirit of the Olympics, where nations compete for honors, not empires; where the goal is not to take anything from anyone, but to see who can do the most to advance the frontiers of human achievement and human possibilities."

"Finally, we welcome the Chinese interest in human Mars exploration because of the much-needed healthy effect such competition will have on the American space program. Currently, for example, the United States has set itself the objective of sending humans to the Moon and Mars, but is actually spending over 90% of its manned space budget on the Shuttle and Space Station programs in activity that contributes almost nothing towards the achievement of that goal, and furthermore, plans to continue doing so for the next five years. Under conditions of a spirited international competition to achieve real objectives in space, such delay and its concomitant enormous monetary waste could not and would not be tolerated."

Another reason for the internet rocketeers to hate Zubrin. I have noticed that the one sure fire method to get some of them to leap the length of their chains is to mention the idea of a space race with China. They find it at once absurd, because China has a government run space program and--well--we've already covered that, and evil, partly because of bad memories of how Apollo ended and partly because they don't really care for governments doing things in space.

Of course the response to this is sort of like the response to an atheist when he declares that he doesn't believe in God: "But God believes in you." In other words, one may not believe in governments, but they exist and they will do what they will do, one thing being (if in charge of a great power like China or the US) is to explore space. Governments are indeed wasteful and inefficient, but they do have two things in abundence that even the most clever entrepreneur does not have in abundance: money and resources.

They also have access to guns. And when dealing with a fascist government like China's, that is something to be concerned about.

And while Dr. Zubrin talks to his Chinese audiences, I do hope he does slip in his ideas of the Martian frontier as an engine for human freedom. It's the sort of subversive thing that the people of China need to hear.

Addendum: Kenneth Mortenson has some comments.

Addendum 2. Dan Schrimpsher also has some thoughts.


 
Valley of the Wolves, the anti American, anti semitic film staring Billy Zane and Gary Busey, is causing consternation and controversy in Germany where it's a hit with Turkish expates.
Afterward, an 18-year-old member of the audience said: "The Americans always behave like this. They slaughtered the red Indians and killed thousands in Vietnam.
"I was not shocked by the film, I see this on the news every day."

That should say something about how the German media reports the news, don't you think?

As an added note, despite lending his acting talents to a film that repeats the Jewish blood libel, among other things, Zane is attached to a new movie called Johney Kakota, which is apparently about American Indians, people transforming into hawks (Wasn't Michelle Pfieffer in something like that?), and nuclear waste. Busey is already filming something called Souled Out as Gabriel (yes that one) and is slated to be in two more films, Crying 4 You and Glubina.