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, and The Man from Mars: The Asteroid Mining Caper.

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Friday, August 31, 2007
 
Hollywood Spits on the Soldiers (Again)

Addendum: From the Weekly Standard Hollywood Hates the Troops

Addendum 2: More from Roger Simon.


Thursday, August 30, 2007
 
So less than half of the scientific community actually believes in man made global warming. So much for the idea of a scientific conensus on the subject. So much also for accusations that conservatives are somehow "opposed to science" for not buying the global warming koolaide.


 
Another reason for blessing the name of Sir Richard Branson, who is apparently running an airline that cares about customer service.


 
Now a school in Colorado has banned tag.


Tuesday, August 28, 2007
 
Just when one thought that Oliver Stone had gotten Vietnam out of his system, comes this news that he intends to do My Lai: The Movie. Is this all Hollywood can offer us?


 
Looks like the story of drunk astronauts has no substance. Not that the MSM will broadcast that fact with the same volume that they did the falsehood to start with.



 
Home Hickam offers a spirited defense of the return to the Moon. He offers this story which I really wish had made it into the film, October Skies:
First, let me confess a little bias. When I was a West Virginia lad of 17, I met a Massachusetts lad of 42 by the name of John F. Kennedy. At the time, I was in a bright orange suit that I had just purchased to wear to the 1960 National Science Fair, where I hoped my home-built rockets would win a medal. Kennedy was in West Virginia trying to win the state's presidential primary. We met just as he finished a speech designed to convince a crowd of less-than-enthusiastic coal miners to give him their vote. When he asked for questions, I raised my hand and, for some reason, he noticed me right off. Because I was a rocket boy, I asked him what he thought we should do in space. He turned it around and asked me what I thought we should do, and I said we should go to the moon. When he asked me why, I looked around at all those coal miners and said, well, we ought to go up there and just mine the blamed thing! The miners all laughed, and so did Kennedy, and when he agreed with me, he secured all their votes that day. For the longest time, I took credit for the Apollo moon program and, though I'd been shipped off to Vietnam when we got there, I followed the moon flights with a certain personal pride.


Monday, August 27, 2007
 
Nothing is apparently sacred to the Hollywood Left. Apparently the live action film version of GI Joe will no longer be--well--American.
Nothing is sacred to liberals. Nothing patriotic or American is worth preserving. And I'm sure it never crossed their little liberal minds that perhaps if Hollywood made movies in the vein of those released during WWII, in which America, the military, and our soldiers were portrayed as strong, patriotic heroes, rather than today's military movies in which the United States is always the bad guy, war is always "wrong", and our soldiers are morally corrupt, people wouldn't have such a negative outlook on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (the mainstream media should get that memo, as well). They could be supportive and make movies that showed America, our troops, and their mission in a positive light. But that would go against the liberal agenda. What's even worse is that one of the scripts they had was evocative of the patriotic G.I. Joe, but they chose to go with a script that was less militaristic, described as "X-Men meets Mission: Impossible".

Of all things to turn into a liberal fantasy, why did they have to choose G.I. Joe? From what it sounds like, they are taking everything that was great about it, and the Real American Hero line, and ruining it. I mean, this is worse than making G.I. Joe an "eco-warrior" in the early 90s. It is a sad indication of where our country could be headed when making a patriotic movie featuring a Real American Hero is considered a tough sell, and shelved so easily.


 
The Last Legion


 
Looks like "Moriarty" from aintitcool likes the upcoming Apollo documentary, In the Shadow of the Moon. I rather like this bit:
This is a movie about the space program, yes, but in a larger sense, it’s a movie about a time when America was a world leader for all the right reasons, when we lived up to the promise of our nation, and when we managed to do something great simply because we could.

Ah, how times change. I remember when a lot of folks were sneering at Americans for wasting "all that money" on a lunar adventure when there were so many problems here on Earth. And let's pray not mention Vietnam.


Sunday, August 26, 2007

 
How the Iraq War is Like the American Civil War

Addendum: Captain Ed notices some progress on the political front as well. Oh what is a Copperhead Democrat to do?


Saturday, August 25, 2007
 
Just when one thought that Bush Derangement Syndrome could not get any worse, a "pundit" named Martin Lewis actually proposes that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs arrest the President of the United States, in effect overthrowing the Constitutionally elected Chief Executive in a military coup.


 
Bill Maher, who is without a doubt the most evil, smug, ignorant man on television today, is astonished that a New York Times reporter would contradict everything he believes about Iraq.



Friday, August 24, 2007
 
Jon Voight wants to play Alger Hiss in a film based on Witness, the Whittaker Chambers autobiography recounting his journey into and then from communism. Considering Hollywood's additude toward Reds, such a movie would be a miricle.


 
The Coming Collapse of Zimbabwe


Captain Ed has more.


 
India and China are said to graduate twelve times more engineers than the United States. Does that mean that the US is in trouble of losing its technological edge? Well, as it turns out, not really. For one thing, both India and China have a broader definition of what exactly is an engineer.


 
Apparently J.K. Rowling is not working on a detective novel.


Thursday, August 23, 2007
 
Growing perfectly formed crystals in microgravity was ounce touted as a potential product for space manufacturing. Lots of experiments along those lines have been conducted over the years on the shuttle and ISS. Now a group of scientists, using a trick that once caused a frog to levitate, have grown the same kind of crystals on Earth.


 
The idea of Helium 3 fusion has both its supporters and critics. Increadibly, though. while a coalition of nations are proposing to build a huge fusion reactor called the ITER for billions, the University of Wisconson already has a 3HE fusion reactor running on a budget in the six figures. And it's privately funded.
Still, Kulcinski's reactor proves only the theoretical feasibility and advantages of He3-He3 fusion, with commercial viability lying decades in the future. "Currently," he says, "the Department of Energy will tell us, 'We'll make fusion work. But you're never going to go back to the moon, and that's the only way you'll get massive amounts of helium-3. So forget it.' Meanwhile, the NASA folks tell us, 'We can get the helium-3. But you'll never get fusion to work.' So DOE doesn't think NASA can do its job, NASA doesn't think that DOE can do its job, and we're in between trying to get the two to work together." Right now, Kulcinski's funding comes from two wealthy individuals who are, he says, only interested in the research and without expectation of financial profit.

Like the bigger and far more expensive Tokomaks, Dr. Kulcinski's table top fusion reactor, using a technology called intertial electrostatic confirnment, has not yet created net energy. Even so, it would seem to me that a small grant--say in the tens of millions--would be very helpful for the shoe string University of Wisconson effort.


Wednesday, August 22, 2007
 
Looks like Ad Astra Rocket Company, which is developing the plasma VASMR rocket, has signed a contract with Excalibur Exploration Ltd to help further the VASMR for space resource recovery and an asteroid mission.


 
One gathers by this that Paul Thornton wants to spend more money on Earth observation missions. I'd be in favor of moving the lot to NOAA and funding it for an extra billion or so. But Thornton does not do his cause any favors by sneering at space exploration, blaming as he does NASA's principle mission for budget short falls in stuff he wants. It's the same old whine that people who oppose space exploration commit. Only this time, with social welfare programs lacking the fascination they had in the early 70s, it's Earth science. Because, after all, if we don't defund the Vision for Space Exploration and put all the money into Earth observation missions, global warming will soon turn the Earth into a ball of fire and kill all of us.

Addendum: More from Jeff Foust.


 
Scientists are starting to draw some interesting conclusions about the Moon from the data gained by Smart-1.


 
Has Maliki just ended the insurgency? Maybe, but there is no need to judge too quickly yet.


 
Some predictions relating space to nanotechnology.


 
Why did the United States rank so low on the World Health Organization's health care survey? As it turns out, it is not because the US has bad health care.


 
So according to one Appeals Court, while it is illegal to enter the country illegally it is not illegal to be in the country once one has succeeded entering the country illegally.

This is sort of like suggesting that breaking and entering someones house is illegal, but being in someone else's house once the breaking and entering has been accomplished is OK.

This is the sort of thing that drives sensible people wild.


Tuesday, August 21, 2007
 
Looks like Germany has joined the new race to the Moon.


 
Rocketeers by Michael Belfiore
Rocketeers by Michael Belfiore is not so much a history of commercial space as it is a kind of survey of the state of affairs of the same as of about spring of 2007. If suffers a little from the stream of consciousness writing style, jumping from one subject to the other. Nevertheless it is an inspiring story about a small group of entrepreneurs who propose to open the high frontier of space for commerce, and incidentally for everyone who is not a highly paid, highly trained employee of some government.



 
This story about the continuing difficulties RP-Kistler has raising money for the COTS competition illustrates the continuing problems private space ventures have with venture capitalists. It should provide a reality check for all of those who confidently predict that newspace is going to beat NASA (or the Chinese) to the Moon or otherwise do a lot of miraculous things tomorrow. No matter how technically adroit an organization is and no matter how flexible and non bureaucratic management is, no organization can achieve lift off, not to mention go to the Moon with no money.

Fortunately there are companies that can rely on self financing. Once some success can be noted from these, I think it is entirely possible that private capital can be pried loose.


 
Janeane Garofalo will be a government agent on 24. Casting against type I would say.


 
It looks like simulated Mars missions, such as being conducted both by the Mars Society and NASA in the Canadian artic, are yielding valuable data that should prove useful toward making the real thing a success.


Monday, August 20, 2007

 
Apparently not content to restricting its imperial ambitions to this universe, the Chinese government now proposes to extend their rule to the afterlife by regulating reincarnation.


 
Is J.K. Rowling writing a detective novel?


 
Dwayne Day takes umbrage in a bizarre response to a previous piece on Chinese military ambitions in space that makes a silly, preemptive strike against any criticism (by suggesting that he's about to be accused of "whining", when he hasn't--yet), seems to nit pick on grammar, complain about "tone", makes at least one ad hominem attack (by accusing the author of the previous article of not wanting to engage in "rationale discourse"), and does not actually dispute any of the previous article's points with anything resembling facts.

My only addendum would be to suggest that when a totalitarian regime behaves in an aggressive and provocative manner (say, by exploding a space weapon and trashing Low Earth Orbit with space junk), it is not good policy to automatically assume that regime has benign intentions. When one does so, one does actually sound like--to be very blunt--a 1930s style appeaser. And this particular passage raised eyebrows:
We object when foreigners seize upon a single bombastic American document to prove that the United States is seeking space weapons, so why should we do the same thing to the Chinese? Is the objective discussion and comprehension, or mudslinging?

I'm not sure how one engages in "mudslinging" against a regime that deals with dissent with tanks and bayonets. It is certainly not by wondering if it would do to others what it regularly do to its own people. Is Day suggesting a kind of moral equivalency between China and the United States? If so, he seems to have repeated the same mistake a lot of people committed during the Cold War in regards to the United States and the Soviet Union.

One would think that having experienced relations with tyrannies dating back seventy years or so (first the Nazis and the Japanese, then the Soviets, now the Islamofascists and their enablers, and now and in the future China) that certain lessons should have been learned. One of those lessons would be do not ignore the threat. The threat will not ignore us whatever we do.

Addendum: Something else Day wrote kind of jumped out at me.
He used the word “enemy” several times to describe how China views the United States—perhaps this explains why they are poisoning our children’s toys?

The passage was perhaps meant sarcasticly, but what was the point being attempted? That those of us who view China as a threat think that the Chinese are deliberately poisoning children's toys? No one has actually suggested that, so far as I know. However the scandal in question (and China's somewhat huffy and unhelpful response to it) does say a lot about the callousness and the corruption of the regime in Beijing.


Sunday, August 19, 2007
 
It lookes like aerogel, used to good effect on the Stardust probe, has all sorts of remarkable uses.


Friday, August 17, 2007
 
One of the criticism directed at NASA is that dissent tends to be crushed, sometimes quite brutally. That no longer seems to be the case at least in regards to the decision to return Endeavour home without repairing the tile damage.


 
The Physics of Christianity by Frank Tipler


 
When Galactic Suite, a Spanish company, first announced its intention of building a space hotel, the somewhat vague nature of certain details caused a certain degree of healthy skepticism, here, here, and here.

Alan Boyle, however, has dug up some more information on the enterprise.
Galactic Suite would certainly not be in the orbital business in 2012, primarily because there wouldn't be a reliable way to get tourists up there in the numbers required, Homnick said.

"We do expect somewhat improved orbital access to be available for tourism in that time frame ... but the amount of folks who can go up there will be pretty limited," he said. "Why would we put an orbital resort there that no one can reach?"

Homnick said he's guessing that the required launch capability won't be available until 2015 or later. And he said 4Frontiers has already begun making contacts with the companies that might be providing those capabilities in the years ahead.


 
More inconvenient truths being uncovered about NASA's global warming measurement methodology.


Thursday, August 16, 2007
 
This bit of news about the light barrier being breached is likely less than what it seems.

Addendum: Stuart Coleman suggests that the light barrier was not, after all, breached.

Addendum 2: Alan Boyle has more.


 
The 16th Carnival of Space is now up.


 
Victor Davis Hanson inveighs not only against anonymous sources, but anonymous journalists. The latter is something of a problem in the blogosphere, where someone posing as "anonymous" can post all sorts of authoritative sounding copy, hint at being a person in high position, and maintain that if his/her identity were to be revealed, he/she would suffer. The problem is one cannot judge the person in question's credibility, biases, or expertise. That's one reason we rarely if ever here take anything anyone calling himself "anonymous" has to say but with a grain of salt.


 
Hamas is a terrorist organization that very often abuses and kills human beings. Now it has taken to abusing animals on their hit, children's TV show starring Nahoul the Bee. And that has gotten PETA really, really mad.


Wednesday, August 15, 2007
 
James Hansen's latest error has raised questions among those of us who are called "Global Warming Deniers."
Ultimately the greatest importance of all of this is that it strongly appears to substantiate the intuitive belief that, with scientist-politician Hansen at the helm the GISS, whose data are far more important to modeling global temperatures than it lets on, is not a neutral collector and disseminator of statistics but rather a politicized mouthpiece.


 
The Moon as a kind of Noah's Ark in the event of global catastrophe.


 
The Mummy: The Throne of the Dragon Emperor, coming for general enjoyment in August, 2008.


 
Is the Bourne Ultimatum anti American? Apparently so and it's just the beginning.
"Shooter" and "Bourne" are just the beginning. Later this year, Hollywood will release "Lions for Lambs" (Tom Cruise, Robert Redford and Meryl Streep), in all likelihood an anti-war on terror screed; "Grace is Gone" (John Cusack), an anti-war flick about the husband of an American soldier killed in the war on terror; "Rendition" (Reese Witherspoon, Jake Gyllenhaal), another "the CIA is so evil, they're torturing my husband" piece; and "The Torturer," sloganned "In a post-9/11 world, no one can hear you scream."


Tuesday, August 14, 2007

 
Saving Grace


 
Apparently wishing someone "Merry Christmas" is the subject of legislation making it protected speech in Texas schools. The sad bit is that is necessary to actually pass a law saying so.


 
The one thing I'd like to see about this story is how serious FDR was about fighting global warming. Or for that matter how President Harding dealt with the melting of the polar ice caps.


 
A film called Stardust


 
Bigelow is now moving up the deployment of the first habitable module for its private space station.


Monday, August 13, 2007

 
I muse about the Next Fifty Years in Space.
2007 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Space Age, agreed by most to have begun with the launch of the first artificial Earth satellite, Sputnik, on October 4th, 1957. While some are taking stock of the last fifty years of space exploration, noting what has been accomplished and, more importantly, what has not been accomplished, others are wondering what the next fifty years might bring. And therein lays the problem.


 
There seems to be a robotic surge going on in Iraq. So far the robots are being used for bomb disposal and recon. But eventually they'll be used in combat roles. At that point, though it be politically incorrect, they might be called "terminators."


 
Would Hillary Clinton have negative coattails? Democrats seem to fear that it's true.


 
Jeff Foust reviews a fascinating new book on commercial space.

We'll have our own thoughts anon.


 
Christopher Stone gives warning about Chinese intentions in space.
The “Assassin’s Mace” concept is a form of space warfare devised by Colonel Jia Junming in his book Integrated Space Campaigns and is studied at the various Chinese war colleges. It is a term used for a two-phased approach where space combat support in space is first, followed by the covert deployment of space weapons and a “limited space deterrence”. Some examples of the goals of the Chinese in this approach, with respect to the American space systems, can be best summed up by Colonel Li Daguang’s book Space Warfare: “Destroy or temporarily incapacitate all enemy satellites above our territory, [deploy] land based and space based ASAT weapons, counter US missile defense systems, maintain our good international image [by covert deployment], space strike weapons concealed and launched only in time of crisis.” Colonel Daguang’s position in his book is “one of space control using space weaponry, equipment and systems to achieve this control, and use space based assets to coordinate all other subsequent military operations.”

I remember being hooted at when I suggested that China might want to deny access to space to other countries, including new space entrepreneurs.


 
Jeff Foust sees a a revival of interest in space solar power.


 
Taylor Dinerman unearths a fascinating document on space policy from the Eisenhower Administration, giving a new perspective on the thinking on the subject of a President who perhaps was maligned for not being very interested in things space.


 
Frank Sietzen calls for a "broad political consenus" on space in a piece that suffers from a number of whoppers, such as:
This president has shown no interest in either science or space, and is the head of a political party many of whose members doubt the veracity of evolution and climate change. Given these political realities it is surprising not that the Vision has its flaws, but that Bush set forth a space vision at all.

So little in fact that he is transforming NASA from a high tech, space taxi service to a cutting edge exploration agency. A lot of scientists doubt the idea of man made climate change being a problem. And I'm not sure where he gets the idea of Republicans being doubtful of evolution; one suspects a lot of religious Democrats have similer views. In any case, the President is said to be quite comfortable with the idea. Sietzen should do a little fact checking before taking political shots.

Still, despite the obvious political bias, the article has some good points about educating the public.

Addendum: If Frank Sietzen thinks that the Republican Party is solely made up of raving creationists, he might be interested in this story of how creationism actually found favor with a science corespondent for National Public Radio. Of course it was Islamic Creationism, but the princible applies.


Sunday, August 12, 2007
 
It appears that Bigelow has a little competition. This Galactic Suites idea looks interesting and we shall be keeping an eye on it.


Saturday, August 11, 2007
 
Looks like Peter Jackson just might direct the film version of The Hobbit after all. Stay tuned.


Friday, August 10, 2007
 
Victor Davis Hanson sets Mike Gravel straight about sexual practices in Ancient Greece and other subjects.


 
China would like to survey "every inch" of the Moon.


 
The design for future lunar habitats (on Earth they are called buildings) is proceeding apace.


Thursday, August 09, 2007
 
Weekend Getaways with Giada De Laurentiis


Wednesday, August 08, 2007
 
Space Shuttle Endeavour has successfully launched.


 
I ordinarily have mixed feelings about The Daily Show because of its left wing bias. But this skewering of the opponents of the Cape Wind Project is choice.


 
I suppose it was inevitable that a live action version of Jonny Quest would come to the big screen. I only hope it is done more in the spirit of the original series and not the absurd PC revival that was inflicted by Ted Turner.


 
Anton Yelchin (an actual Russian born actor) will play Pavel Chekov in the up coming Star Trek film.


Tuesday, August 07, 2007
 
Dr. Andrew Maynard consults with Mr. Arthur Weasley of Great Britain's Ministry of Magic on the ethics of nanotechnology.



Monday, August 06, 2007


 
Michael Barone sees a shift happening in the conventional wisdom about Iraq.
The Democratic base has been furious that Democrats in Congress haven't pulled the plug on the war already, and Democratic strategists have been anticipating big electoral gains from military defeat. But if the course of the war can change, so can public opinion. A couple of recent polls showed increased support for the decision to go to war and belief that the surge is working. If opinion continues to shift that way, if others come to see things as O'Hanlon and Pollack have, Democrats could find themselves trapped between a base that wants retreat and defeat, and a majority that wants victory.


Sunday, August 05, 2007
 
Are the Democrats about to give their own moderates the Royal Order of the Boot?


 
The good news is that the internet rumor that Orion is too heavy (or Ares 1 too underperforming) to do a lunar mission so NASA has given up on the Moon has proven, as expected, false. The not so good news is that landings on land has been deleted as a capability as a weight saving measure. Naturally this has gotten the NASA SpaceFlight board hopping with lots of angry back and forth. The most sensible point I have seen, so far, is this:
The vehicle is a like a lump of clay. It needs to be fashioned, and in that process you lose some clay. In time we might be able to add some clay, but right now, some needs to come off as Orion WILL be launched on Ares I for all the reasons you can read in the ESAS report. The article is correct, it's a mass saving requirement, but that is what happens when you design a vehicle.

On the other hand does this change mean the expense of a huge recovery fleet or can the Orion splash down close enough to a coast (likely California for a variety of reasons) to make that unnecessary. We'll see.

Addendum: Chairforce Engineer is, not surprisingly, unhappy.
So the mismatch between Orion mass and Ares I performance is solved. But what's the price to be paid for this solution? For one thing, an entire carrier battle group will have to be put on notice for each mission, and NASA will have to foot the bill that the US Navy will send its way.

On the other hand, as pointed out in the NASA SpaceFlight thread (see above) if Orion has the landing precision that its designers are claiming, which would be necessary in any case for a landing on land, it really could splash down a few miles off the California coast or even in the Gulf of Mexico and be recovered by land based helicopters.

Addendum 2: And, of course and not surprisingly, Rand Simberg is unhappy. Aside from the probably bogus worry about maintaining a recovery fleet, he suggests, perhaps with a little more validity, that making the command module reusable will be a bit more difficult.

Addendum 3: I've been reminded that a precision water landing is how SpaceX intends to end every flight of its new Dragon space craft. One wonders, considering some of the chatter on the Internet, how the Dragon can be cutting edge and cool while at the same time Orion (which costs more, to be sure, but is going to the Moon and beyond) is the worse thing ever imagined.

Addendum 4: Apparently NASA is denying as a rumor the story that Orion will now land on water. So the yelling and screaming we've been seeing on the Internet may be (once again) over something that is not strickly true.


 
Neil DeGrasse Tyson, the Carl Sagan of this century, has a good piece on Why American Needs to Explore Space. He offers a warning for all those who think it's not necessary or that someone will do it for us or it will happen without effort:
In October 2003, China became the third space-faring nation (after the U.S. and Russia) as it launched its first “Taikonaut” into orbit. Next step, the moon. Meanwhile, Europe and India are redoubling their efforts to conduct robotic science on spaceborne platforms. There’s also a growing interest in space exploration from a dozen other countries around the world, including Kenya, whose equatorial location on the west coast of Africa makes it geographically ideal for space launches—even better than Cape Canaveral is for the U.S. This emerging community of nations is hungry for their slice of the aerospace universe. In America, contrary to our self-image, we are no longer leaders but simply players. We’ve moved backward just by standing still.

A minor nit. Kenya is in East Africa.


Saturday, August 04, 2007
 
The Space Cynic analyzes an asteroid mining scheme and finds it wanting. Mind, I think that in the fullness of time (and that means several decades) asteroid mining will be a hot industry, but I have to agree that this particular scheme is not very well thought out.


 
Mars Phoenix is on her way to Mars.


Friday, August 03, 2007
 
Charles Krauthammer comes out in defense of drunk astronauts.


 
Did Lee Harvey Oswald kill American liberalism? I'm sure that modern liberals will claim it was the men behind the grassy knoll.


Thursday, August 02, 2007

 
Babylon 5: The Lost Tales has arrived and we enjoyed it immensely.


 
Jon Goff looks at the Moon and finds it not quite as boring as some have been led to believe.


 
Jerry Bowyer reads Harry Potter and finds a lot of Christian symbolism in it, which for sure must irk some of the hyperactive people who think the series is blasphemous.


Wednesday, August 01, 2007

 
In an apparent attempt to prove that he's more of a man than Hillary (a tough task that), Barack Obama has proposed invading Pakistan after bugging out of Iraq. Captain Ed thinks that Obama has gone quite mad. Aside from the diffculty of conquering a country of over a hundred million, armed with nukes, Obama seems to have forgotten that his nutroot supporters want the troops home, not in another third world Hell hole.