Friday, January 17, 2003

Reflections on Goldwater

I know the anti-war left thinks they're being cute reviving the anti-Goldwater 'Daisy' ads, but every time I think of those ads I think of something a friend's father once told me:

"They said if I voted for Barry Goldwater, we'd be at war in six months. I did. And we were."

Pluto or Bust!

I've been largely unimpressed with the space policy of the Bush Administration. With the important exception of Sean O'Keefe trying to staunch the crash-and-bleed-out economics of the space station, NASA isn't getting much leadership from the Bush Administration. There's been too much on-again, off-again with Pluto Express, among other key unmanned programs. We've done an amazing thing, surveying the outer planets, but for just a few hundred million more, we can finish the job.

Today, however, there's a news report which I find rather encouraging, that this administration is going to push for more development of nuclear propulsion for space craft.

There's some apparent conflict as to whether this is simply more work into nuclear-generated electricity for space craft, that is, RTGs (radioisotope thermal generators) which have been used on Voyager, Galileo and Cassini, among others; nuclear-electric propulsion ("ion engines") which is being used on Deep Space 1 or honest-to-God solid-core nuclear rockets. I'll post more after President Bush's State of the Union Address --- I'd love to see a space initative there of some kind --- but I like the fact that President Bush isn't (apparently) going to shy away from the issue.
Be There In a Jiffy

If there's one thing I like, it's obscure units of measure: the Jiffy, the Canvas and the Glasgow Coma Scale. Russ Rowlett of University of North Carolina has it all.

Thursday, January 16, 2003

Sorry, Chicago

Chicago won't get to watch Darren Baker be a bat boy. MLB boosted the age requirement to fourteen.

I suppose it's a reasonable safety issue. And if you don't think so, imagine what would have happened to three-year old Darren Baker if it had been Pete Rose, not J.T. Snow, coming into home plate.
Nuclear Prima Noctra

There are a whole lot of things wrong with North Korea. This article about the most horrid forms of punishment for political dissent is wholly unpleasant to read, but you should read it nevertheless. The fact that this stuff is coming out now, just as North Korea is claiming nuclear prima noctra over Northeast Asia, however, is curious.

The target audience of this MSNBC report about North Korea's barbarism isn't the American public, but the Chinese oligarchy. As Orson Scott Card rightly points out, we need Beijing to solve our Pyongyang problem and our leverage is limited -- we're not going to yield on Taiwan, we're not likely to put nuclear weapons in South Korea. That said, Communist China has its own history of human rights violations. Our government probably knows a hell of a lot more about those abuses than does the public, and I'd be surprised if the Beijing government weren't doing something at least as bad as Pyongyang. Does that make the United States complicit in those human rights violations? Yes, of course it does.

But Beijing would prefer we downplay them and I think we've just signaled to them the price.
Tina Brown and Me -- Threats to National Security

In Salon, Tina Brown gives a kind rememberance to an old friend, Roy Jenkins, but cannot pass over an opportunity to insult the President, no matter how irrelevant to her subject matter and how thin her understanding of the subject. But what's so troubling is the ease with which she dismisses professional Secret Service agents as semi-tame wolfhounds. These guys are better than that and a damned sight more courteous.

...I drop my bag on the floor and disconcertingly [Prime Minister Tony Blair] stoops down and picks it up with swift courtesy.

Blair in recent months has been roundly mocked for being "presidential," but from an American perspective this scene in an Oxfordshire village hall is inconceivable. If I had been talking to the president of the United States and dropped my bag on the floor, I would have been wrestled to the ground by a posse of 7-foot Secret Service agents and (being a foreigner) either deported or shipped to Guantánamo.

First, if Tina Brown ever gets so close to President Bush that she can casually drop her purse, the Secret Service will have already searched, profiled and rendered her harmless. Tina Brown can imagine herself a threat -- and the President so delicate -- that the Secret Service would thrash the poor woman for the tiniest provocation and have fantasies about being sent away to exotic prison locales. But it's not how they work. Tina Brown, to the Secret Service, is not a threat --- she's a nobody. I know. I was, ever so briefly, a somebody.

On a cold summer morning in September 1991, when I was an undergraduate at Berkeley(map), I was late for class downstairs in Moffett Library walking more or less by myself downhill along the north side of Doe Library. Around the northwest corner of Doe came German then-Chancellor Helmut Kohl, a few university bigwigs, a flock of forty or fifty students trailing behind and, naturally enough, perhaps six Secret Service agents. I didn't know the Chancellor was on campus, but didn't mean to stop to watch him go by. I'm guessing I was about twenty yards from the Chancellor when I recognized him --- and, obviously, a Secret Service agent saw that I recognized him.

I -- not a man of a slight stature and sort of German-Irish looking -- was wearing dark sunglasses and a knee-length boiled wool duffle coat and was walking quickly in the Chancellor's general direction.* Before I even had a conscious thought, two Secret Service agents were staring directly at me. Not at the large and loud mob behind them, who they had, no doubt, already decided didn't pose a risk, but at me, the a big German-sort-of-looking guy with the overcoat walking right for their man.

One Agent held up his hand at me to stop, which I did immediately, while another one, further from the Chancellor, walked a bit wide of the crowd to keep his eye on me, as the entourage headed into the Library. Perhaps foolishly, as they had not told me to do this, I slowly opened by overcoat (it wasn't fastened) as wide as it could get and stood quite still. I knew they wanted to check to see if I had a gun. I was trying to cooperate but doing too much, I think. The Agents themselves stopped. They did not shout orders, they did not draw their guns and they did not throw me to the ground (each of which, I suppose, might have been justified by them, if not exactly welcomed by me). But what's interesting---and something I don't think Tina Brown understands, Secret Service agents being in her estimation automotons--they let the situation develop. Here was someone who, by all fair accounts, was the biggest threat around and they reacted perfectly - I was going to go nowhere, and I did, after a fashion, follow their instructions.

Once I had opened my coat and stood there long enough for them to see I was carrying nothing and was willing to obey them, I was not a threat. And, with a nod I took as a "thank you", I faded out of being a somebody--a threat--to being a nobody.

From start to finish, this episode lasted less than 30 seconds, but the Agents did exactly what they are supposed to do, both to protect their charge and to respect the rights of their fellow American citizens. They didn't lecture me about behaving, they didn't ask to see identification, they didn't ask campus police to detain me, they didn't ask if I belonged on campus. They didn't do anything but their job.

And they never looked back.

I don't know why Tina Brown has this fantasy of cocktail hour thuggery by the Secret Service. But it's not the way they work.


* Not that I had much choice. This was 1991 before the remodelling and the clearing of the Glade, so there was a fairly narrow corridor between the building and a stand of Eucalyptus.



No Small Plans

China, which tested its Shenzhou IV spacecraft in December, has firmed up its plans for a one-man, one-day orbital mission sometime in the second half of this year. The Chinese Space Program has 14 taikonauts--all former fighter pilots, currently training for space missions.

Wednesday, January 15, 2003

...until we run out of the People's gas!

Since the start of the latest North Korean silliness, the media has flocked to one of my old favorites, the official North Korean News Service (KCNA). I doubt anyone's got any high-level sources in Pyongyang and I trust the AP knows this stuff is silly, so I see why wire reports rely on the official statements from Kim Jong-Il, but the rhetoric coming out of the KCNA is hardly different today than six or seven years ago.

Take a look for yourself. It's doesn't take long to find something like this:

"No matter how desperately the U.S. warmongers may try to justify their war moves against the DPRK with groundless smear campaign, they cannot cover up their true colors as the chieftains of aggression and intervention just as a gimlet protruding from a sack cannot be hidden. It is the steadfast stand and character of the People's Army and people of Korea to answer provocative acts of the aggressors with an annihilating blow. The U.S. warmongers should not run amok, clearly mindful that the ignition of war in Korea will lead to their own destruction." - KCNA, March 8, 1999 (Juche 88)

or this

Minju joson sunday brands the "Intensive firing exercise" of the south korean puppets near the military demarcation line (mdl) as a premeditated war game to round off war preparations against the north, pose a military threat to the north and bring the situation further to the brink of war. The news analyst says: Intensive firing of large-calibre artillery pieces in a sensitive area near the mdl is very dangerous. If the Kim Young Sam group dare attack us, we will annihilate the provocateurs mercilessly. - KCNA, December 2, 1996 (Juche 85)
Attention Must Be Paid

Shawn Steele, Chairman of the California Republican Party, lays Bill Simon's defeat at the feet of Gerald Parsky the "liberal, ultra-wealthy" investor. Ignoring the class-warfare nonsense, Steele wants to assure the good readers of National Review Online that California is ready for a conservative rebirth.

It's Hogwash.

Conservatives in this state, like Steele, are desperate to be the conservative vanguard of the national Republican Party. As the Godhead of Ronald Reagan, they think they are entitled. They want respect from places like Tennessee and Georgia and Utah and Wyoming, where the heart of the Republican party is and, I suppose, not to get laughed at at cocktail parties when they claim this time California is going to come through. They want to elect a Sam Brownback or a John Kyl. But it's not going to happen -- the demographics in this state, and the anti-immigration play by Pete Wilson, have made it all but impossible.

In the meantime, we've witnessed the twenty-point splattering of Dan Lundgren in 1998 by Gray Davis, the twelve-point cost-free win for Al Gore in 2000 and five- and ten-point losses to Barbara Boxer in 1992 and 1998, respectively.

What's so pitiful about this is California can, again, be a force in the Republican party. But it involves as Robert Heinlein put it, removing your virtue with your clothing and doing your whorish best. No matter how bad or "squishy" a Republican might be to the conservatives in the party, conservatives need to realize that those folks are the ones that let Republicans (and, presumably, some conservatives) organize a legislative chamber, determine committee assignments and drive the agenda. Elect even the "worst" Republican and you've provided important reinforcements against the blackmail of a quisling like Jim Jeffords.

Republicans in this state have to do is stop pretending that electing Dick Riordan governor is more of an affort to its collective dignity than not electing Bill Simon. Conservatives elsewhere in the country need to tell their conservative fellow travelers that it would be better if California delivered a Senator like Susan Collins than one like Barbara Boxer. All of the unelected Bruce Hersehsohns, Matt Fongs and Bill Dannemeyers in the world don't keep Pat Leahy out of the Chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee. If this sort of dignified failure continues, in a few years down the road, we could be facing Chairman Schumer. That's not who I want reviewing President Owens' 2011 selection to the Supreme Court.

A California Republican party with a moderate image and an energized base (I know these aren't easy to have at the same time) who elect moderate Republicans at the statewide level will make the Democrats very nervous indeed. And a successful moderate party that gives some wind to the top of the national ticket here in California is the Democrats worst nightmare. It could become a sort of electoral Stalingrad for the Dems -- a place they aren't sure that they can win, but know they can't afford to lose -- sucking on Democrat resources throughout the country.

Tuesday, January 14, 2003

What Would Ender Wiggin Do?

Instapundit, among others, points to an article by Orson Scott Card explaining precisely why North Korea and Iraq are -- of all things -- different. Orson Scott Card, however, wrote something even more terrific in the same addition of the Rhino Times, namely, a rather brilliant review of About Schmidt.

It was written by elitist snobs whose hatred of ordinary people is matched only by their ignorance....[the writers] are the undergraduate “intellectuals” who sneer at the athletes and the business majors whose lives are so empty because they don’t know Faulkner or Pound and wouldn’t understand Beckett or Ionesco. Here’s the lie that is the very foundation of this movie: Ordinary middle-class Americans don’t experience the same high and lofty feelings that intellectual and artistic people do. Only a few – like Schmidt – ever wake up to an understanding of how hollow it all is. The truth is the opposite. The only people I know who truly lead empty, shallow, meaningless lives are those intellectuals who sneer at the ordinary person and imagine that because they have read some books and know the right things to say about them, they are somehow superior.

Read the whole thing. You'll be glad you did.


Lost (and Found) in Space

In compliance with Article 5 of the Agreement on the Rescue of Astronauts, the Return of Astronauts and the Return of Objects Launched into Outer Space, Member States provide reports of space debris discovered within their territories. The following list is compiled from these notifications.

Monday, January 13, 2003

:: East Bay
:: This Land Is Not For Sale

John King, one time Contra Costa correspondent for the San Francisco Chronicle is now an architecture/urban environment critic. I rather like his stuff, but today he's got a beef with new billboards at the Oakland Coliseum and is making common cause with Alameda Supervisor Gail Steele. King (and presumably Steele) are the first to admit that the Interstate 880 corridor isn't exactly 17 Mile Drive, but they are melancholy that State Senator Don Perata (D-Oakland) has paved the way for these new adverts.

Steele, I think, is just expressing a bit of doubt and, to her credit, isn't trying to undo this deal. But when the same exit which officially directs you to Network Associates Coliseum officially directs you to Zhone Way, it seems the genie's already way out of the bottle.

Sunday, January 12, 2003

The Belize-Laos Axis of Evil

Flags of the World can tell you just about everything there is to know about vexillology. Including, apparently, that the roundels of the Belizean and Laotian Air Forces are indistinguishable.
Lessons About Appeasement

The 49ers tried that against Tampa Bay. Didn't seem to carry the day.
Myth and Anti-Myth at NASA

Something about NASA's portfolio makes it a focus of adoration, even worship, on the one hand and fear and anger on the other. Transterrestrial Musings gets it right.

I particularly appreciate his comments about President Eisenhower, who prevented the Democrats from forming a Department of Science, as was their want. The fight between Eisenhower and Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson over who would control the fate of national science policy -- the executive or the legislature -- was an epic one. Eisenhower ultimately won, partly through his deft use of the President's Science Advisory Committee. Nobody deals with this better than Walter McDougall's ...the Heavens and the Earth and while I was hoping to see a bit about this political fight in Robert A. Caro's third volume of the Lyndon Johnson biography Master of the Senate, a quick review of the index reveals only passing reference. A pity.