Monday, July 27, 2009
Have to apologize to everybody checking in the last few days, and into the next week. Real life intrudes (quite rudely) into blogging right now. I'll post when I can, but no particular promises until we get to August.
Thanks for your patience. As the Governator used to say, I'll be back.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
We spent considerable time in the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History and the National Air and Space Museum. But as cool as the Smithsonian is, I discovered a travesty about which I am compelled to write.
As much as I had looked forward to seeing the statues of Jefferson and Lincoln, the dinosaur fossils, and Apollo Lunar Module, and the Spirit of St. Louis, I looked forward to paying homage to another monument to American greatness, the model of the starship U.S.S. Enterprise used in the original Star Trek series.
We made our way through the Air & Space Museum, finding plenty to marvel at, even if my boys didn't quite get what they were seeing and my wife and sister-in-law are insufficiently appreciative of air and space technology.
But no Enterprise.
I remembered it being prominently displayed, and I had even checked the website to make sure it was still there. But I walked from one end to another on both floors, and nothing.
We had not gone downstairs in the gift shop--I didn't even see a stairway, and certainly no indication that such a majestic item was displayed there.
Evan and I went down to have a look, and sure enough, there it was, still stately, still dignified, still glorious, even if relegated to the far corner in the basement of the gift shop. The very model in that familiar grainy video, orbiting dozens planets of styrofoam and spray paint.
I hate running down the Smithsonian guys, because they are the awesome preservers of some of the awesomest of awesome air and space awesomeness. But this is like, I don't know, letting the Argo rot away in a garage or something.
I hope you will join me and let the Smithsonian curators know that the The U.S.S. Enterprise should be restored to a place of honor in the Air & Space Museum. If for some absurd reason this is not possible, then I would accept its movement to American History, so long as it is given the proper respect. (To make matters worse, I just noticed that they misspelled "starship" on the official website entry.)
You can let the Smithsonian know how you feel here. If need be, write your representative. Write President Obama, who once claimed to "believe in the final frontier." Write Shatner.
This injustice cannot stand.
What he said. There must be a far better resting place for the original Enterprise than the basement of a gift shop.
Monday, July 20, 2009
Note: I wrote the following column for my old proto-blog Will's World on the thirtieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing. I'm rather sorry to say that I see no particular need to revise its conclusions today--although I should admit that I'm starting to doubt whether I'll ever write the book referenced at the beginning.
Thanks to technical difficulties not worth boring you with, "Will's World" is currently only available via the Internet Archive (here), but I do plan to get the entire old site back up eventually.
Every writer--at least every one I've ever met or heard of--has a "trunk." It's where they store work that didn't make the cut, or isn't ready yet, or just had to be left alone for one reason or another. For some it is a literal trunk, a footlocker full of scribbled pages and typed sheets. In my case, it's a computer folder named (wait for it) "THE TRUNK." Here's a peek inside, at the first page of a book I'll write one of these years:
On the Atlantic coast of Florida stands an artifact that looks like a giant's table. It towers over the sand and scrub grass, a massive construct of stained concrete and rusted steel. It sits mutely, in a field of debris, left behind by its makers, all but forgotten by history.
Three men died here, by fire. Three more were hurled from this stone table and very nearly perished on a dangerous mission turned frantic by human mistakes. Eighteen were carried from here on a pillar of flame to land on another world and claim it for all humanity.
It is Pad 34, at the John F. Kennedy Space Flight Center. There is no plaque to mark the significance of the spot, no memorial to the fallen, no record of the great feats that were accomplished from this place. All that remains is the giant's table, its epitaph marked in stencil with a cold bureaucratic notation.
The legs of the table bear a single phrase: ABANDON IN PLACE.
The book that will have that title is years in my future, but its melodramatic foreword will serve for today, the thirtieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. As we look back across three decades at that epochal achievement, it's worthwhile to remember not just what was accomplished, but also at what's been lost since then.
Neal Armstrong had hardly taken his one small step thirty Julys ago when the Apollo program was abruptly truncated. Ten landings were planned, but by the time two billion 1970 dollars had been ripped away from NASA's annual budget, only six would be accomplished (unlucky Apollo 13 would have made it seven). In a panic, NASA scrambled for a new mission, a further reason to exist as a major-league agency.
Casting around madly for a stepping stone to future manned explorations, the agency settled on the Space Shuttle, billing it as a reusable vehicle that would take off and land as easily as an airliner--no more throwing away great chunks of a spacecraft along the way. Pie-in-the-sky proposals assured congressional planners that a Shuttle would dramatically lower the costs of space flight, down to $1000 a pound or less to Earth orbit (the reality was closer to $10,000 a pound in 1988).
As Shuttle development ramped up (only to be cut back itself as budgets were lowered again and again during the 1970's, causing design compromises that eventually led to, among other things, the 1986 Challenger explosion), the "old-fashioned" Saturn rockets, the most powerful machines ever built by man, the chariots that that had taken humanity to another world, were literally left to rot.
The last of the great Saturn V boosters ever flown was used to lift the Skylab space station into orbit in 1973. Three more of the 363-foot-tall Saturns were already built, needing only fuel, payload, and direction to fly... but the decision was made that they were more useful as relics than as rockets. The last of America's Saturn V's were carted off to NASA museums, and there they still lie in pieces today, at Houston, Huntsville, and Cape Canaveral. **
Think about that for a moment. Three... Saturn... V... rockets. Finished. Built. Paid for. Wasted.
These were not just carefully crafted towers of aluminum and steel. These were national treasures--the only machines in the world that could carry a space station to orbit in one launch (it will take dozens of Space Shuttle missions to finish the interminable construction of the current station). A second, completed Skylab was also mothballed--it too sits dismantled, in the Huntsville Space and Rocket Center, a waste of untold millions.
These were the only rockets ever built capable of taking a significant payload to the moon. It's been said accurately, many times, if we wanted to go back today, we couldn't. The Soviets tried, frantically and unsuccessfully to duplicate the Saturn V; their highly secret, rarely spoken of N-1, a monster rocket with an incredible cluster of 30 engines, never flew successfully. A final desperate attempt to beat Apollo 11 to the moon ended in a catastrophic launch pad explosion on July 3 of 1969--the marks left behind by that explosion are still visible in satellite photos today.
The Saturn V could do that job, reliably, and they were thrown away, like so much waste paper (speaking of which, legend has it that NASA actually discarded the blueprints during the 1970's). Many of the highly trained people who designed and built the Saturn V's were also thrown overboard and out of work. Some found other jobs--my grandfather, who had worked on every American rocket since the original Jupiter I, which launched the first U.S. satellite into orbit, went on to build and test the Shuttles--but thousands of others were pushed out, never again to use their talents in the pursuit of space flight.
There have been triumphs since then, to be sure. For all their faults and compromises, the Shuttles are dependable and versatile. They will serve us well for decades to come (they will have to, because no follow-on manned vehicle is even on the drawing boards). The roster of unmanned space probes is an astonishing record of achievement in exploration: Mariner, Viking, Explorer, Voyager, Galileo, Cassini, Pathfinder, more to follow.
But there could have been so much more. Thirty years ago, humanity briefly left its cradle to step out into the unknown. What a pity, what a shame on us all that we promptly jumped back into that cradle, and threw away our hard-won traveling shoes.
[Postscript: I've been advised since writing this column that somebody has already published a 'coffee table' book of NASA facility photographs titled Abandon In Place. I feel kind of like Snoopy in an old Peanuts cartoon--"All of the good titles have been taken."]
** 2009 Postscript: the Saturn V still on display in Huntsville was actually a test vehicle that was never intended for flight. Still, two of them left to rot was two too many.
Friday, July 17, 2009
Daniel Hannan of the European Parliament, the Daily Telegraph (UK), and my blogroll, is in Atlanta today. Wish I'd known ahead of time; I already missed his speech this morning.
At any rate, welcome, Daniel, and if you get the chance, hit Fat Matt's Rib Shack. You'll be glad you did.
The U.S. Senate is never going to be mistaken for a Mensa chapter (and that applies to both parties), but even given the low intellectual and personal standards, Barbara Boxer is one of the dimmest bulbs and least-appealing personalities to ever get their windbaggery on in the north wing of the Capitol.
The most damning thing I could possibly say about the California Republican Party, the Party that once produced Ronald Reagan, is that in the last three (soon to be four) Senate election cycles, it still can't come up with even one candidate who can beat this shrill airhead:
I mean, seriously--you can't find anybody who could beat that? No wonder you guys on the Left Coast are in a permanent minority.
Thursday, July 16, 2009
Further proof that journalism majors shouldn't be writing about science:
Could the best climate models -- the ones used to predict global warming -- all be wrong?
Maybe so, says a new study published online today in the journal Nature Geoscience. The report found that only about half of the warming that occurred during a natural climate change 55 million years ago can be explained by excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. What caused the remainder of the warming is a mystery.
"In a nutshell, theoretical models cannot explain what we observe in the geological record," says oceanographer Gerald Dickens, study co-author and professor of Earth Science at Rice University in Houston. "There appears to be something fundamentally wrong with the way temperature and carbon are linked in climate models."
Memo to media types, something you should have understood twenty years ago: computer models are not "science." Computer models are software.
Even a "journalist" should be able to understand the difference. Unfortunately, too many either don't, or simply don't care.
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Regarding the matter of Sonia Sotomayor's likely accession to the Supreme Court, I can't say I'm all that worked up. All that's actually happening is one dull, undistinguished liberal judge being replaced by another: here's the new shlub, same as the old shlub.
What does bother me, though, is the level of dishonesty being played out regarding Sodomeyer's now-infamous "wise Latina" speech. Sodomeyer and her Democrat and media defenders (please forgive the redundancy) have tried to excuse the whole thing with a convoluted argument asserting that Sotomayor was actually expressing a belief in the fundimental ability of all judges to tender unbiased judgements. One needs only to look at Sotomayor's own words, which were repeated several times in several speeches, to see that this spin is errant nonsense:
Whether born from experience or inherent physiological or cultural differences, a possibility I abhor less or discount less than my colleague Judge Cedarbaum, our gender and national origins may and will make a difference in our judging. Justice O'Connor has often been cited as saying that a wise old man and wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases. I am not so sure Justice O'Connor is the author of that line since Professor Resnik attributes that line to Supreme Court Justice Coyle. I am also not so sure that I agree with the statement. First, as Professor Martha Minnow has noted, there can never be a universal definition of wise. Second, I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life.
It's not possible to read those words, in their full context, and not understand that Sotomayor meant precisely what she said: that her own "gender and ethnic origins may and will make a difference in [her] judging," and worse, she was not just pandering to her own gender and ethnic group in the conclusion, but also expressing flat bigotry against "white males."
I have no illusions as to whether that statement will derail Sotomeyer's nomination--it will not, although it should. If it were going to, it would have done so by now. In the eyes of the political and media elite, Sotomayor is an ideologically-compatible member of an approved victim group, and that is simply that. Her bigotry will be excused and ignored, and she will join the Court, because her party has a big majority, and that is what the politics demand. I certainly understand that fact of life.
But like the man said in "The Outlaw Josey Wales," don't piss down my back and tell me it's raining. It's a simple fact that Sonia Sotomayor was entirely comfortable in pandering to one ethnic group and spouting errant bigotry against another. It's a shame that so few in Washington and in the press have the intellectual honesty to admit it.
Friday, July 10, 2009
Just how unpopular are the bailouts of Chrysler and Government Motors? So unpopular that their competitors are using the bailouts as ammunition in attack ads. This one was in a local paper today:
Now, if a business with its existence on the line is confident enough about public opinion to run that tough of an attack in a full-page ad, just extrapolate what an actual political ad aimed at, say, a congressional candidate would look like.
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
Recently, I posted an account of how Stevie Wonder took under his wing a young cancer patient my wife has been treating at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. A camera crew from Atlanta's WXIA TV ("11Alive") covered the story; thanks to intervening events it took a while for the story to be broadcast, but it went on the air today. Jaye Watson and her crew did a very nice job:
Thanks again (obviously) to Stevie Wonder, to Rock Against Cancer (who would certainly appreciate your donations, which if you choose may be marked to support music therapy in Atlanta), and to 11Alive for the great coverage.
UPDATE: Jaye Watson also wrote up a lovely account of Leo's story, here.
The Telegraph's Gerald Warner:
For America voluntarily to reduce its nuclear superiority is madness. Bien-pensant talk of a nuclear-free world displays total stupidity in a global situation where nuclear weaponry is proliferating, not receding. There is even a nuclear bomb in Pakistan, which is teetering on the brink of failed statehood at the hands of Islamist insurgents. Is this a time for America to disarm, to “sell the store” as one trenchant right-wing commentator has already described Obama’s posturing in Moscow?
For Obama, success is not the delivery of watertight nuclear security for America; it is a feel-good news conference and photo opportunity that will create huge approval ratings on liberal campuses where the delusions of 1968 and the anti-Vietnam war movement still linger on in these isolated Jurassic Parks.
It seems certain Obama will sacrifice the anti-missile shield in Europe that would have been our defence against a nuclear Iran after the ayatollahs, with Russian help, emerge as potential vapourising agents of the infidel. The interceptor missiles do not even carry warheads: they rely on an impact at 14,900mph to destroy any incoming missile, so Russian hysteria about this “threat” is synthetic.
Mr. Warner misses the point of Obama's disarmament drive entirely. Facts are irrelevant in the eyes of The One and his academic entourage; a robust nuclear arsenal and missile defense were Reagan's ideas, thus, they must be wrong.
You see, it saves a great deal of time and discussion if you just react in accordance with your faculty lounge ideology, no matter what history or current reality might entail.
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
Monday, July 6, 2009
I'm not sure what it says about any of us when it takes a story as big as Sarah Palin's jaw-dropping decision to step down as Alaska's governor to make a dent in the wall-to-wall coverage of a dead, child molesting freak, but that's what happened over this Independence Day weekend.
Opinions on Palin's move are all over the map, and that's not even counting the Left's flurry of nyah-nyah Nelson Muntz-isms. The establishment view appears to be that Palin has blown any chance of running for president in 2012, and hung a big sign reading "FLAKE" around her neck for the years after that (see Fred Barnes and Steve Green). Then there's the "she's going Perot" faction, summed up here by the Blogfaddah, that believes Palin plans to start a third party (I find this one hard to swallow myself). A close cousin of the Perot Theory, the "she's going Goldwater" group, led notably by Bill Quick, believes Palin is cutting herself loose from the constraints of governing Alaska as well as the Washington Republican establishment to wage a guerrilla war within the GOP over the next three years.
And then there's the "Who Needs This?" theory. Since joining McCain's ticket late last August, Palin's family has been subjected to the most vicious media assault imaginable, and Palin has also had to defend herself against a steady stream of specious ethics charges in Alaska. She's been vindicated 15 out of 15 times in those cases, but defending yourself against partisan lawfare is not cheap, and the Palins are not even remotely rich. One wonders how interested many (heck, any) of Palin's leftie critics would be in living in that kind of crucible for years at a time.
I don't pretend to know what Palin plans to do next, but if I were wagering, I'd bet heavily on "who needs this," with a hedge on the "GOP guerrilla warfare" theory, which would involve Palin spending most of the next three years in the Lower 48 campaigning for conservative candidates and building support in the heartland. The latter is probably her only option for remaining viable as a national candidate. The former is the only way her family is ever going to have anything like a normal life over the next decade.
Thursday, July 2, 2009
Yes, I know it's not the same Annandale, but I still can't believe neither Glenn nor Steve have made any Steely Dan jokes about The One's fake town hall meeting yesterday.
Jim Geraghty has a solid (if sadly Dan-free) rundown here.
Jonah Goldberg on Mark Sanford:
I've not had much to add to what's been said around here about Mark Sanford, and I still don't have much new to say. But Jeez-O-Peet it's time for this guy to step down. Go in the woods and bang drums, wear dresses at the shopping mall or become a Trappist Monk — whatever you need to do to get your act together on your own dime and on your own time. South Carolina, it seems to me, is not a state where politicians are expected to air out their "personal journeys" from the Governor's mansion and I know the Republican Party doesn't to become an unseemly hybrid of est seminar, Plato's Retreat and Bible Camp. Invoking King David as your inspiration for hanging around like lech at the strip club after last call was stupid enough, but if you're going to do that, you can't start crying (again) about your Argentinian girlfriend or blathering on in a way that might cause John Belushi to descend from heaven just to smash your guitar against the wall. If stepping down makes it harder for the GOP or for some rivals to run for governor. Jimmy crack corn, and I don't care. You need to get off the stage.
The GOP needs to march to your office and tell you, "Look, you don't have to go home, but you can't stay here."
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
Watching and reading coverage of the ongoing story in Honduras, in which the word "coup" is repeated roughly every ten or fifteen seconds (take this AP article as an example), I'm reminded of the immortal words of Inigo Montoya: "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."
Obviously, Honduras has a serious problem. When the Army hustles an elected president out of his bedroom and into exile in the wee hours, that's not exactly what you'd call an orderly transfer of power. But contra (pun intended) the western media, the UN, the Obama Administration, Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro and all of the latter pair's sundry authoritarian vassals and/or allies, what happened in Honduras this week was not a coup.
A coup is what happened in Pakistan a decade ago, when General Pervez Musharraf deposed the elected government and took control himself (more than a bit ironically, then-colonel Hugo Chavez tried to do the same thing in Venezuela back in 1992). What Honduras is undergoing right now would be more properly described as a constitutional crisis.
Manuel Zelaya, who was elected president of Honduras in 2006, is one of the recent crop of Chavez clones who've popped up in Central and South America. Early this year, Zelaya attempted to ram through a "plebicite" to negate Honduras' constitutional one-term limit on its presidency. The Honduran Parliament--which was and still is controlled by Zelaya's Liberal Party--refused to go along, no doubt influenced by Chavez's never-ending rewriting of the Venzeulan constitution to prolong his own grip on power. The Honduran Supreme Court agreed, finding no provision for such a plebicite in Honduran law.
Zelaya, who apparently wasn't going to take trivialities like the law into account, literally had Chavez print up millions of ballots and ship them to Honduras. Honduran elections are administered by the Army, which, following direction from both the Parliament and Supreme Court, refused to distribute ballots for an illegal election. Zelaya responded by firing the head of the Army and calling for a mob to attack the air force base where the Chavez-produced ballots were stored.
The Honduran Supreme Court, deeming Zelaya's actions as illegal and beyond his constitutional powers, reinstated the head of the Army and ordered Zelaya removed from office, with the concurrence of Parliament. Roberto Michelletti, the speaker of the Parliament, was elevated to acting president per the established Honduran succession laws. He's pledged to hold office until a successor is elected in the regularly-scheduled polls this November.
Now, all of this is certainly out of the ordinary, and made even moreso by the Honduran military not just removing Zelaya from power, but also physically ejecting him from the country. That, plus leveling pretty severe media restrictions within Honduras, gives the removal of Zelaya an unpleasant flavor, but it still doesn't sink to the definition of a coup d'état, no matter how many times those words get shouted by Zelaya's ideological allies and/or the media.
Zelaya pretty clearly acted beyond the bounds of his constitutional powers, and was called on it by the other two branches of the government (one of which is controlled by his own party), following established constitutional law. That's a big, ugly mess, but it's not a coup, and I'm at a loss to understand why anybody who isn't Chavez or a Chavez wannabe ought to be wildly upset about it.