Friday, January 24, 2003

I'm writing this one down for posterity

"With Australia and the UK standing beside my nation in times of trial, I neither need nor want anyone else."
- Steven Den Beste, January 24, 2003

N.B.: I'm off for the weekend.
All Togther Now: M-a-g-i-n-o-t L-i-n-e

Lots of piling on on the French today. Here, here and from, of all places, here.

There are lots of unfathomables about France. But let's put the blame where it is required: not on the French people, but on the coke-bottle... excuse me... the Coca-Cola Bottle-myopia of a political caste unable, or unwilling, to do anything but in the most base short-term political interest.

France's loss in World War II was, at least in part, a result of this myopia. France moved to defend Belgium, despite Belgium's refusal, for nearly a year, to accept French help until she was actually invaded (Belgium lasted 18 days). Instead of fighting a defensive war which Germany could not have supported for very long, and ultimately liberated the Low Countries with Britain's help, the French moved to attack the Germans before they reached French soil, and left the Ardennes defended by France's valiant, but weaker Ninth Army (where the Germans pushed through for the kill). The soldiers of the French Army fought well and bravely, but were deployed badly and led by a French government who took nearly half a week to realized they had been suckered north and east. There are, we should remember, as many stories of Germans dropping their guns as running as there are those of the French. The French Air Force did not snap in a day --- the Luftwaffe's losses on May 11 were four times worse than the Allies (44 to 10 (4 French, 6 RAF)).

And while it's fun to watch the French cave to German pressure, there's no need for the cheap shots as fun as they might be. The Maginot Line, as we are fond of pointing out, did not save France. But let's remember something: it wasn't supposed to, not the way most of us like to criticize it. It was designed to do exactly as it did, to force the Germans north through the Low Countries. Admittedly, France relied upon some bizarre notion that the Germans might respect Belgian neutrality, but the French never believed the Germans would assault the Maginot Line directly and the Germans did no such thing.

Now, don't get me wrong - the French government is immoral and craven. But even as we beat up on the French, let's remember our target is not the guy on the street, but the guy on the chartered Air France jet. So maybe the French man-in-the-street really doesn't care for America that much (a position I disagree with. I find the French to be quite kind and generous). So what? If Chirac had committed France's troops to Iraq, do you believe for a moment that the French Army would not have fought diligently and bravely, in the best traditions of the Western World? I don't doubt it for a moment. The problem is with the bureaucrats in Paris in the cocktail parties in Brussels, not the recruits from Cherbourg or Lyon or their families. And it's certainly not with the men and women of the French Army.

The Iraq War looms. I'm glad the British, the Australians, the Spainards, the Italians, the Czechs, the Poles, the Turks and the forward-thinking Arab countries are with us.

The right side of history is here for the taking, France. Again. I'm sorry you won't be there for it.

N.B.: Ernest May's Strange Victory: Hitler's Conquest of France made me strongly reevaluate my view of the collapse of France. It's worth a read.

Kill the Shuttle

This piece gets it right:

Americans in their 30s watched shuttle launches as young children. Now NASA wants to keep the program going so they can one day watch shuttle launches from their retirement home. Then they wonder why there is no enthusiasm for space programs in the nation or Congress. If the shuttle hangs on for another 80 missions, does anyone expect anything to come from them?

Perhaps NASA should build a "Sea Station" 1000 feet below the sea and use submarines to take foreigners and other salaried government tourists on "missions" to conduct "experiments" and set "endurance records" while "improving international relations". This idea may seem crazy, but it would be much cheaper than the shuttle program and accomplish just as much.
See Jane Run

Baby-naming is not something I have (yet) to deal with. But Adam Bonin at ThrowingThings has a theory about how to give your kid a decent name.

Thursday, January 23, 2003

Whiskey of the Week

A reader pointed out to me that for a blog that claimed to be about, among other things, Single Malt Whiskey, I haven't offered much advice about Single Malt Whiskey. So here's the occasional feature, to come out Thursday evenings or Fridays: Whiskey of the Week. I'll point out a bottle of single malt worth trying and try to weave in a bit of a lesson about whiskey as well. To wit:

Instapundit was going on about the Rocky Top Brigade, a junta of Tennessee bloggers who, among other things, want a good bottle of single malt for around twenty dollars. So I'll take as my text for today Bowmore's "The Legend" --- a whiskey without an age statement --- from Islay, the cultural center of whiskey. But first, let's ponder just what does it mean for a whiskey to be eight or twelve or twenty-five years old.

A lot of people I know, some related, think that a whiskey should be "old" to be good. Not so. While there is a correlation between quality and age, it's not a particularly strong one. The age statement on whiskey tells you only the age of the youngest drop of whiskey in the bottle, nothing more. It's sort of like finding the clearing price in a spot-pricing electricty auction, except in reverse. But not as expensive. And tastier.

Scottish Law provides two things regarding the age of a whiskey: First, if it's not aged for three years, it's not whiskey. Second, the youngest drop of whiskey in a bottle is the oldest age it can be called. So if a bottle is 95% 12 year old whiskey and 5% 5 year old whiskey, that bottle cannot (legally) be called anything older than 5 years old. I don't know if there is some economic calculus of reputational effects prevents this kind of doping or if it is, as I suspect, the Scots would prefer tyranny from Edinburgh to Jesus Christ himself ruling from London, but compliance with this law is universal.

Now, a 10-year old whiskey is very likely to have some whiskey in it older than 10 years. A whiskey blender, even with a single malt, will use whiskeys from different barrels to blend to reach a particular flavor (this does not make it a blended whiskey, something we shall get to during our alphabetical review of whiskeys, hopefully before the overly long G's). A whiskey's end flavor is driven by so many variables, that to produce a fairly consistent product, one has to tinker. Older barrels and barrels with a particularly strong character are kept around for years to reinforce a particular flavor that might be missing from one year to the next.

Lately, as single malt drinkers have learned a bit more, whiskeys can be found which are made to highlight a particular use such as the Dalmore’s Cigar Malt (although properly a 10 year old, it is blended from whiskeys up to 20 years old)), a particular interesting taste such as Aberlour's delightful A Bunadh or, in the case of the Bowmore, to present a sort of armed recon on your palate. Bowmore makes many amazing whiskeys, ranging from $35ish for their 12-year old to hundreds for their 30-year old. But since they want you to try something a bit different, and don't want to be forced to call it an 8-year old (since that's not "old enough" for people to give it a try) they leave the age off the bottle.

Which brings us to Bowmore’s The Legend our Whiskey of the Week. It is peaty – if you really don’t like that dirt taste involved in whiskey, I’ll be offering another beginning whiskey next time – but it’s not overly so. It’s a lighter tasting whiskey, good as a stand-alone before dinner drink. The nicest thing about The Legend, however, is its shocking affordability. Even at Beverages & More, which I think generally has obscene prices on single malts, you can often find The Legend for $20 or $22. At my preferred liquor store, Jackson’s in Lafayette, CA, it’s usually $19.

And it’s a whiskey you can use to impress your friends. Either with your ability to drink something that tastes like dirt or, for those less familiar, to give them a lesson on whiskey yourself. The question “how old is it?” when enjoying a malt without an age statement (or for that matter, one with an age statement) should never be answered until your guest has had a moment to enjoy it and decide for themselves whether they like it or not. Then use the lack of age statement to teach them a thing or two about whiskey.

Buy a bottle, share it with your friends and neighbors. If you don’t like it, keep it on your shelf. It’ll keep about three or four years if the cork’s kept in place. If you do like it, or think you might like whiskey but something that's less peaty, come back next week and I’ll talk about the Macallan.

It’s not wine, whose truth is guarded and obscured by the high priests of taste. It’s just whiskey.

N.B.: Bowmore's official website can be found here. Unfortunately, the website looks and sounds like pledge week featuring the bastard child of John Tesh and Kitaro.

Nevermind that the Indian Tribes made a deal with the people of California with Proposition 1A in 2000. Nevermind that, if anything, Indian Gaming has reduced Native American dependence on state and federal handouts. And nevermind the inconvenient fact that the state of California has no constitutional power* to tax casinos owned by the Tribes. Gray Davis wants the Indian Gaming industry in California to cough up $1.5 billion to the general fund and, by God, is he going to get it.

The Governor likes spending money. But since he’s already spent it, he needs more. That’s bad enough. But mostly what he likes to do is tell folks what to do. Now that the slot-machine limit is open to renegotiation, the Governor will shake down the Indian Gaming industry for $1.5 billion with the enthusiasm (and moral reflection) of a Central Asian kleptocrat. The casinos are making lots of money because folks in California apparently like to gamble and these guys provide the opportunity. Much to my relief, however, Hilary McLean, the governor’s spokesman says, “that’s something we don’t condemn.”

Excuse me? I want to keep Pathetic Earthlings PG-13 but, what the #$!(!%$ ? What the !#$&!’ing (*&!$? He doesn’t “condemn” their profits? I have a hunch that those profits, save the last billion and a half, are evidence of divine favor. But those last $1.5 billion of “heavy profits” are evidence that the Indian Tribes don’t have that Calvinist stamp o’ approval.

This is government at its most arbitrary. Threatening to tax people without legal authority, with the threat of the state to back it up if they don't cooperate. Certainly, the state can do other things to make miserable the other economic activities of the various Tribes. The threat is quite real. Here’s a growing, productive sector of California’s entertainment economy, which is constitutionally immune from taxation, and Gray Davis is behaving like President Lukashenka, albeit with nicer hair.

* * *

By way of background, in December, Time Magazine had a rather interesting expose on the subject, which apparently hit a nerve with the National Indian Gaming Association. Those articles, combined with Cache Creek Indian Bingo & Casino commercials,is about all I know about Indian Gaming.

That said, I’m not quite agnostic about Indian Gaming, so let my biases, such as they are, be laid bare: Native Americans hardly got a fair shake in this country and, discriminatory or not, I’m happy to read expansively those Constitutional provisions which defend Indian sovereignty. There is no greater natural resource in the world than sovereignty and if the Indian Tribes get to keep theirs in tact so they can put up a casino, fine. That’s a pittance for the resources taken from them.

Federal law doesn’t allow casino gambling everywhere on tribal lands. Best as I understand this if (a) you are a federal recognized Indian Tribe and (b) you have tribal land you can open up a casino if (x) the Department of Interior approves your application and (y) you make a compact with the State of California, such compact which is granted at the sole discretion of the Governor, under existing enabling legislation, you can build yourself a decent casino. In 2000, the California voters approved Proposition 1A, which served to approve this compact (ordinarily granted by the Governor) between the state and various Indian Tribes.

Part of the sales pitch by the tribes and their supporters was that Indian gaming revenue would be shared with other non-gaming tribes (who, naturally enough, got screwed out of an easy chance for their own casinos). As far as I can see, last year, the tribes did $150M in direct expenditures on Tribal social programs and far more than that real, direct economic activity. Once that compact was made (via the proposition), the tribes were, according to the Proposition 1A compact, to renegotiate in March 2003 in order to up the total number of slot machines that the Indian Tribes, something they certainly want to do and something for which they have some support. This is a growing sector in an otherwise tepid economy, with plenty of tribes who want to invest in some of the tougher parts of the Bay Area.

Naturally, we can’t have that, so we’re going to tax the Indian Tribes into submission. Give the state $1.5 billion or the Governor’s not going play nice.

* I believe this to be true – although there are limits. I don’t have a copy of the excellent State Tax Treatise of the Professors Hellerstein, a book which contains everything a human being could possible want to know about state taxation. The “pursuit of the intricacies of state taxation...require[s] more time and space than the undertaking warrants.” Gunther, Constitutional Law (11th Ed. 1988).
Even More on Nuclear Space Flight

Even more on nuclear space propulsion can be found with these guys. You can see a film of a conventional demonstration of the Orion nuclear-pulse propulsion concept here.
Air Raid Drill To-Day!

The demo clips are pretty chopped up, but if you've got some time here's a good film archive of nuclear weapons tests from the Department of Energy.

And that guy sure looks like Robert Heinlein!
Credit Where Due

The excellent Tim Blair was good enough to plug my blog. Pathetic Earthlings looks like a space blog, I'll admit. I hope it can live up to its charter of war, space, scotch and libertarianism. Four great tastes that taste great together.

I'd just note that you should consider giving a couple of bucks to help him help the Canberra Brushfire Recovery Appeal. My folks are just an (unladen) swallow's flight away from the site of the 1991 Oakland Hills fire. Canberra 2003 sounds at least as bad. Kids are more important than pictures of kids and houses, of course, can be rebuilt. But I know plenty of people who lost everything in the Oakland Hills fire and, more than 10 years later, it's still hard on them.

Wednesday, January 22, 2003

Another Rainy Day Movie!

I don't know what I like better, that the Major General demonstrates the danger of explosives to our future rocket scientists, or the fact that he didn't clear his desk of paperwork before he did so.
Open the Pod Bay Doors, Hal

Nothing new here, but I sure like the artist's rendering.
The Naked Truth

"As far as we're concerned, war means failure." - President Jacques Chirac, Jan 22, 2003.
No Fly Zone?

Hans Blix wants to use a U-2 spy plane to look for weapons sites. We want to lend him one. Iraq, of course, doesn't want us to do anything of the sort.

Seems to me the thing to do is to extend the no-fly zone to cover all of Iraq and challenge (read "destroy") any Iraqi fighter plane and destroy (read "destroy") any Iraqi SAM base that cares to object. The U-2s can obviously fly higher than our fighter aircraft, but that doesn't mean we ought not send fighter escorts. The weapons inspectors must do their job and we, the United States, want to give them every opportunity to work.

Provocative? You bet. But we've got to take out Iraqi radar and SAM sites in central Iraq anyway... why not beat the rush?
Dred Scott of the 21st Century?

Marvel has sold the Mutants down the river.

Tuesday, January 21, 2003

Tragic Blow to Science

The Canberra fires destroyed one of the finest astronomical observatories in the world. Word is that, mercifully, none of the astronomers or staff were hurt.
Rainy Day Film Link

Click here for the General Dynamics' contractor public relations film on the Stinger. The score and the sound effects remind me of a fifth grade health film.

N.B.: The volume's a little loud (and comes on immediately) so turn it down if you are at work.
It might be fun to watch at Air Shows

Senator Barbara Boxer wants to spend $7 billion to retrofit 6,800 airliners with missile countermeasures. Senator Feinstein thinks this is a good idea , too. It is pretty clear that it would cost at least that much.

The threat, to be sure, is real. The world is lousy with Soviet-designed (and Chinese-, Yugoslav- and Egyptian-modified) heat-seeking SA-7s. (There are certainly Stingers floating around, too, although given the dirth of Stinger-missile attacks in Afghanistan, it's likely the batteries have gone past the expery). Any one of them could bring down an airliner, but this is a non-solution to a non-problem.

1. The threat is pretty small and there are better ways to spend airline safety and airline security funds. In 16 months since the terrorist attacks, there have been no SAM attacks inside the United States and only a couple outside of it, none successful. I understand the political problem with losing an airliner to a SAM, but if we're just worried about human life (and gosh, is Barbara Boxer always worried about human life...except when she isn't), there are a number of better places to spend $7 billion on airline safety. Improve air traffic control, set aside funds to speed up mandated aircraft fixes (e.g., the 737 rudder problem) or, hell, just make every airline turn the seats in an airplane around; the really dangerous acceleration in an airplane is aimed toward the front. The ticket-buying public might not like it, but I can't think of the last time an airplane got rear-ended.

2. Assuming the system isn’t entirely automatic (these are passive-IR guided), the pilot still needs to react. The SA-7 can be launched as close as 500 meters and at altitudes lower than 18 meters. With a missile cruise speed of 580 meters/second, we're well under two seconds of reaction time, even if they see it coming. And if someone is going to try to down an airliner in the United States, they're going to be close in. Any rooftop in South San Francisco or any U-Store-It in San Leandro is a perfectly good place to attack an airliner and the reaction time is almost zero.

3. Who or what do you suppose Barbara Boxer will blame for those marginal $7 billion in deficit spending? Additional spending on transportation security or, say, tax cuts for the richest one-percent of Americans?

More Snout-Counting

Another article on counting the demonstrators in San Francisco can be found here. An initial police estimate of 55,000 was a count just of those in Civic Center Plaza and didn't include those backed up on Market Street. An SFPD spokesman is now going with 100,000 to 150,000. I'm not going to quibble if ANSWER is off by 50,000 or so.

Here in California, at least, I think the numbers make sense.

Free Trade Agreement of the Good Guys

The same day Turkey allows us to use our bases, the EU comes out barking against the Iraq War. Turkey is in a far tougher spot than any other member of NATO and she's done as much as her public opinion will allow.

When all this is done with, President Bush ought to mention, by name, our friends -- the UK, Australia, Turkey, Qatar -- and offer to fight to the death for Free Trade Agreements with them, if that's what any of them want.
NASA's anti-spin

NASA's lowering expectations on the nuclear rocket program I mentioned earlier. the German Army can march in the shade

At least Chancellor Gerhard Schroder said he would have nothing to do with the Iraq War in the first place.

I cannot believe, for a moment, that if al-Qaeda had blown up the Louvre or the Eiffel Tower and France demanded satisfaction by knocking over the government in Damascus, we would threaten a veto just as the French Army was settling in in Lebanon at the invitation of Beruit. So I don't know, exactly, what France wants before they give us their (completely unneeded) approval.

But my guess is that this is last-minute posturing for post-Saddam goodies. Maybe if we tell France that Boeing will sit on the sidelines and post-Saddam Iraqi Airways (an all-Boeing fleet) will buy a bunch of A-318s, they'll shut up and fight.

Monday, January 20, 2003

I'm finally someone!

Steve Martin said it best in "The Jerk"! I just made Instapundit!
The Vomit Comet

Don't want to spend $5,500 to fly to Russia to get a ride on their zero-gee training airplane? Zero-G Corporation is going to offer zero-gee flights in a 727 around the country starting this year, hopefully for considerably less.

The Chocolate Ration has been increased from 200 grams to 100 grams per week

Lots of noise about how ANSWER is upping the numbers from the Washington March on Saturday, claiming as many as 500,000. From what I can see on local (San Francisco) news, 200,000 in San Francisco may not be out of the question. These crowd estimates are, themselves, a bit of a political squabble, no matter who you support. But check out some of the photos and reports from around the Washington March. Until I see a decent aerial photograph, I'm hard pressed to believe that ANSWER drew anywhere close to 500,000.

Here are some overheads of two of the bigger marches in recent history, the Million Man March in 1995 and a Promise Keeper's rally in 1997 and the Million Mom March, which drew considerably less than 100,000:

Here's an overhead view of 1995's Million Man March:

A Boston University study estimated the crowd at 837,000 +/- 20%, challenging the official National Park Service estimate of 400,000. This link has some interesting notes on crowd-counting methodology and is worth a look.

Here's an overhead view of a Promise Keeper's March. Some estimates had this crowd at 800,000 to 1 million, but the only apparent official estimate came from DC Metro, which noted Saturday ridership of 350,000 versus 200,000 from a normal Saturday:

To see what a smaller rally looks like, here's an ABC photo of the 1999 Million Mom March, which had a turn out of about 35,000 to 50,000:

On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, it's appropriate to make a note of the 1963 Civil Rights March. Unfortunately, it's hard to compare this crowd -- given the Reflecting Pool and the trees around the reflecting pool, but estimates seem to be 250,000 to 300,000:

Anarchists of the World, Unite!

Polite, yes, but not exactly on message.

Sunday, January 19, 2003

Go Long on Plug Strips

I hope Saddam has stocked up on surge-protectors.