Saturday, February 08, 2003

Hell Spawn of Lessig!

A new blog from my friends Jason Schultz, who has done some top notch work for Larry Lessig on the Eldred case, and his most excellent fiancee, Tara Steeley. Not too much content up yet, but knowing Jason and Tara as I do, Jason and Tara will be players... ahem, a Playahs! in the Blogosphere soon enough.

On politics, I'm sure I'll agree with Jason not at all. On intellectual property, something which was not a particular interest of mine at University of Chicago (itself the seed of Lessig), Jason pretty much holds my proxy.

Greetings, Arcturians!

Very nice of Jay Manifold to link over to me today. He runs a great space blog to which I had, for reasons which defy any human understanding, not yet linked.

Management regrets the error.
The Little Supreme Court Case That Could

I really don't understand why Wal-Mart and others are going to get in the business of voluntarily collecting sales taxes to pass back to the states from which customers by the goods. I haven't kept up on the literature of late, but the Supreme Court case Complete Auto Transit v. Brady, 430 US 247 (1977) and the cases which followed, form a long line of Commerce Clause cases which form the heart of the debate on internet sales taxation. Complete Auto makes enforcement of sales taxes across statelines if not quite unconstitutional, not enforceable in a constitutional manner (if you think that's a pointless distinction, you are right, but it's one the Supreme Court's made). The government can't make them do this and I'm really curious as to why they are.
I got your crack pipe right here, Baby

The drug war's fifth column: novelty plastic roses.
Monkeywrenching the Left

This is ticklish. People for the American Way wants you to fax your Senators with support for the anti-Miguel Estrada filibuster. Turns out, however, that you can change the text and fax a pro-Estrada fax on their nickel!

UPDATE: Someone notes that sometimes these groups send whatever hell text they want and they're just collecting addresses. Caveat populus.

Shuttle Wing Damage

I'm not an analyst, but if I'm seeing what I think I'm seeing (notice the stuff behind the left wing (picture is from the underside)), this picture is frightening:

More information can be found here.
Whiskey of the Week: Glenmorangie 12-year old Port Wood Finish

One of the things you'll see quite a bit of these days, and in the coming few years, are quite a few of the so-called "Wood Finished" single malts, something championed by Glenmorangie and the Balvenie, particularly, but also Aberlour and, I believe, Dalmore. It's sort of an odd term, since all whiskey is aged in wood barrells (and at least 99.999% of it in oak barrells of one form or another) and to say it's "wood finished", I think, implies that it was started in something else. Nevertheless, it's called "wood finishing" so let's explain it.

Lots of things go into the taste of a whiskey - the water, the grains themselves, the method of drying out the barley (which stops the germination and provides lots of those good sugars you want to give to let the yeasts do their important work), and the aging process. Even the location of a barrell at a distillery can change the flavor - Glenmorangie sells what they call their "Cellar 13" (not in the US as far as I know, alas), a whiskey taken from barrells aged in the cellar which is closest to the sea, and it's not just a marketing gimmick. The wood, as I mention in last week's post about the Macallan, is key. Whiskey makers use used oak barrells, as the whiskey is too delicate to hold up to fresh oak, and the past-life regression of an oak barrell is telling.

So what, pray tell, is a wood finish? Take that barrell of whiskey, age it for twelve years in your preferred wood (say, former Jack Daniels barrells, which is what Glenmorangie uses (are you listening, Rocky Top Brigade? When I say "Jack Daniels" I don't mean "American Bourbon" I mean the pride of Monroe County, I repeat: Glenmorangie is aged in Tennessee bourbon barrells)). Then move it to a different barrell, with a different history. Glenmorangie has done this regularly, moving 12-year old whiskey into Port Wood (former barrells for port wine, called "port pipes"), Sherry Wood ("sherry butts"), Madeira Wood (I don't think these have a clever name) and aging it for between six and eighteen months.

The result, at least with the Port Wood, is a pure delight. The whiskey has a pinkish hue and is rather sweet and is just a little viscous, so it lingers on the tounge. Probably of any whiskey I drink, this is the one with which I've won the most converts, not least my sweet wife, and it's probably the one I drink most often. Take it especially easy on the water, as I think this whiskey doesn't hold up quite as well to over-watering (add as much as you like, but do it gently so you get the desired effect).

You may notice in my whiskey reviews I won't describe flavors too much, save the really powerful ones. I'll always alter the reader if it's a peaty malt (since that's the flavor that many find objectionable), but tasting is so subjective that there's little point in describing it in great detail (my wife agrees with Glenmorangie's own tasting notes, which claims hints of mint, something I've never found). Glenmorangie's Port Wood will probably set you back around $40. I've seen it as cheap as $34 and, just as importantly, I believe CostCo carries it (I know they've carried Glenmorangie 18-year, which is fantastic, but read the label so you know what you are getting).

At Glenmorangie's distillery in Tain, they'll take you on what amounts to the best alcohol-production-center tour I've ever seen. Small groups (my tour was my wife and I and six Dutch motorcyclists, which is strange because when we toured the Talisker a week later, our tour was my wife and I and three Dutch motorcyclists. And when we went to Scotland a year later and toured Glenkinchie -- two Dutch motorcyclists), easy access (a warning: "the stills are hot, please be careful" not a prohibition on standing next to them or even touching them), and a wonderful lesson on whiskey. In their cellars, among other things, they've got barrells whose caps are painted blue, which are experimental whiskeys and (I believe) all unique wood finishes. And they done quite a few: a Sauterns finish, a Claret finish, a L'Hermitage (Rhone wine) finish and, (Lord, God, Yes!) the 25-year old Malaga Wood Finish, the greatest tasting liquid ever to pass my lips.

But don't go out and buy any of these fancier bottles (even if you can find them... largely, you cannot) until you've tried the Port Wood finish. I'd avoid their Sherry Wood finish, if you want a sherry taste to your scotch, stick with the Macallan. And I don't much care of the Madeira wood, but some folks like it.

Friday, February 07, 2003

New Whiskey Links

I've added a number of new whiskey links. All of those, save Royal Mile Whiskies, which is a shop, not a drink, go to corporate sites. I've never been overly pleased with some of the hobbyist whiskey sites out there, but I'll try to dig out one or two of the more comprehensive ones next.

Whiskey of the Week will be delayed until tomorrow (or so). Today, however, is my birthday and my wife is taking me to Spiesekammer, an excellent German restaurant in Alameda, which I heartily recommend and I've got some stuff to do before that.
Last I checked, Alcoholics Anonymous was "Faith-Based"

Last I checked, Alcoholics Anonymous was "Faith-Based." The always-charming Pete Stark seems to think otherwise.
Profiles in Courage

It was nice to a get some coverage for my comments on Ralph Carr. This apparently struck a chord over at Orcinus, where he claims that, among other things, I don't know the history of my own party. Of course Orcinus knows who Ralph Carr is, he's writing a book on the destruction of the Bellevue, Washington, Japanese-American community because of the internment (a book I'd very much like to read, it's a period of history most folks, myself included, don't know enough about). Some of whom, I can only assume, ended up in Colorado.

But to his charge that I don't know my party's history, I'll only note: how many Republicans (or Democrats for that matter), even good ones, do you know who invoke Ralph Carr? The answer is, of course, not many. And certainly too damned too few. I know my party, warts and all, and while my field interest in history tends toward Cold War science policy (where we can talk about Lt. Gen. John Medaris and George Kistiakowsky (Don't Wait for the Movie!)) and I know where I should look for inspiration. I also know where the bodies are buried.

Orcinus, after pointing out some very bad war time Republicans and (rightly!) invoking some real champions among Democrats, he points out, in relevant part:

The reality is that neither side, Republican or Democrat, covered themselves in anything but abject shame during the entire internment episode. For one side to claim now that because some of its members spoke up, that this somehow vindicated the larger party's behavior in the matter, is abjectly untrue. Indeed, such claims could and should be called what they are: revisionism, or the falsification of history.

I certainly agree, but let's stop there. If I were to have done that, that would be revisionism (here's my post again). I didn't say word one about the Democrats. I didn't even say the Republicans were better or, on the whole, even decent. I know, and will live with, my party's history, warts and all. But isn't Governor Carr the kind of person that everyone should champion (frankly, I'm surprised -- and glad, the Democrats haven't tried to claim them as their own, just like we Republicans have, of late, latched onto Harry Truman or Jack Kennedy's tax cuts)? I certainly think so.

If I were to have claimed that the GOP is cleansed of its sins because of the political martyrdom of one man, I would be a fool (and perhaps, in a different time, a blasphemer). What I said was that there are good people in the Republican Party's history on the issue of Civil Rights, Ralph Carr perhaps the best among them, and we should point them out. I look to Ralph Carr, not Albert Beveridge, even though, as a Republican, I get them both. Just as Democrats look to Harry Truman, not Orval Faubus. If I want to point to the best traditions of the United States Army, I'll point to Gabby Gabreski or Benjamin O. Davis, not Curtis LeMay or William Calley.

He continues:

There were indeed heroes in the whole internment affair. Ralph Carr unquestionably was one of them. So was Francis Biddle. And so, for that matter, was Justice Robert Jackson, who later gained renown as the chief U.S. prosecutor at Nuremburg; his stinging dissent in Korematsu is still a legal landmark.

Indeed. Ralph Carr is an example of what one should aspire to, not (sadly) a representative of the history of American politics: acting boldy in the face of unpopular opinion, championing the rights of all Americans as equal before the law and knowing that racism is wrong not only because of what it does to those discriminated against, but because it rots one's soul.

I've no particular quarrel with what Orcinus said otherwise (save his belief in my understanding of my party's history), but I'll only note this: By invoking the champions of history, you indicate (at least) an acknowledgement of that person's goodness and (at best) an aspiration to follow in their footsteps.

And with a history lousy with hyenas, shouldn't we look to the lions?

UPDATE: Orcinus responds. (His name is actually David Neiwert and while I think he's wrong about a bunch of stuff, he's a very amiable fellow. That said, I like the ominous sound of "Orcinus" better. Much more intimidating, don't you think?).

UPDATE: There's a great deal of his indictment of my party, heart-felt as it is, to which I vigorously object. Although I think Orcinus is wrong (see, I can say "Orcinus is wrong" and I sound like a blasphemer and you don't need to know a thing about it; "David is wrong" lacks Cheney-esque gravitas), his indictment is incredibly thoughtful and well-articulated and it, I think, reflects much of the deep-seated criticism, distrust and (too often) hatred of Republicans among the left. Much as I enjoy listening to interesing news (and paranoid analysis) by Pacifica Radio and KPFA, I've never gotten the sense that those guys even know any Republicans. Orcinus knows (this is how religions are born) Republicans and should be read carefully, because I think he's actually hit on an intersection of reasonable discourse and biting leftist criticism and it should be faced head-on, not passed over. I'll try my hand at it soon enough.

Thursday, February 06, 2003

Don't Use Children As Politican Pawns, Says the School Official

I read this article about the Libertarian Party of Manhattan (now that's tilting windmills!), who is fighting a proposed ban on all toy guns, and handing out new squirt guns and such to any kid they can find. Folks at NRO and elsewhere have made better commentary, but I couldn't avoid noting this:

"Our children should never be used as pawns in a political fight," Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields said in a statement.

As we are well aware, big city politicians never use kids as pawns when talking about gun control.

More Whiskey Information and Less Crotch-Grabbing

I'll try to get a Whiskey of the Week up tomorrow, but I was watching the ubercreepy interview with Michael Jackson on 20/20 and thought I'd point the reader toward the other Michael Jackson, a whiskey and beer critic, and to his book-of-all-knowledge, Michael Jacskons's Complete Guide to Single Malt Scotch, 4th Edition. If you want to learn about Single Malt, buy this book and read it when you are having that wee dram.
"Upon this charge, cry God for England, Harry and Saint George!"

A correspondent from southern Utah decries the lack of availablity of decent Single Malt scotch in that otherwise perfect part of the universe. He notes, first, that he's a great fan of Highland Park (a malt whiskey which is, essentially, liquid crack) but goes on to note "Our particular store carries Glenfiddich and The Macallan at $48 a pop." Due to the state-run sales of hard alcohol, our correspondent has to drive to Las Vegas to find something more reasonable.

Forty-eight dollars? Tops, this is a $35 bottle of scotch at any quality bottle shop. Forty-eight dollars? I know Utah isn't the most progressive state in the union. But this isn't merely expensive, this is a crime against humanity. While the Rocky Top Brigade endlessly debates whether Bowmore's the Legend as quenched the thirst for "a good single malt Scotch whiskey for around $20" our brothers and sisters in southern Utah are living in virtual chains. They must be liberated.

UPDATE: At the local Albertson's, I saw Glenfiddich for $29 and the Macallan for $40, and that's about the single most expensive place I know to buy single malt around these parts.
Crash Recreation

The NASA folks who will attempt to reconstruct parts of Columbia for the crash investigation have a hell of a task ahead of them, even if they had every piece in front of them. Now that there are reports of Shuttle debris from California to Mississippi, I feel for the guys at NASA who have to sort the parts on the way in the door. A friend took look around the parking lot at his Milpitas, CA place of business and muses:

"I wonder what the ratio of Earth Truck to Space Truck parts will end up being. Just casting a casual glance through the parking lot at work here shows quite a few bits of ceramic-y and metallic debris."
Happy Birthday, President Reagan

Ronald Reagan is 92!

Wednesday, February 05, 2003

Whiskey Blogging

Say Uncle, over at Say Uncle, was kind enough to link over here after I pointed him to Bowmore's the Legend, a lovely whiskey without an age statement.

I hope anyone who stops by here will come on back for my occasional whiskey blogging, including my weekly feature, where I have discussed, among other things, the Bowmore to which SayUncle refers as well as the Macallan.

If you have any whiskey questions, I'd be delighted to field questions. One day, I'm going to figure out how to put up a comments section, but for now you'll have to email me.
I hope it has a chrome girl on it

Now that we've got some semi-reliable reports of Shuttle debris as far west as Woodside, CA, folks are jumping on the bandwagon. No links, unfortunately, but Channel 7 KGO (Our Bay Area ABC affiliate) reports that things ranging from an alternator from a Chevy to a mudflap have been turned into local authorities as "shuttle debris." I know folks are trying to help, but an alternator?

Two people charged with looting shuttle debris

Throw the book at them.
Death was all around us, death was in the breeze. Death was by the tree. Death tripped over a root. Clumsy death.

I was scrolling through the ever excellent memepool and klicked over the Lyttle Lytton Contest a shorter version of the Bulwer-Lytton Contest of bad writing. Oddly, I just today found out I had won a 2001 Honorable Mention in Lyttle Lytton, with my effort on the unnecessary clarification gag ("In anticipation, John licked his own lips."). The other honorable mentions are probably more deserving, but I'm nevertheless honored. But it's all very strange since I only vaguely remember entering it in the first place.

Perhaps that's for the better.
Where's Ralph Carr when you need him?

Rep Howard Coble (R-NC) apparently thinks Japanese internment camps were a swell idea. Now, as always, is a good time to remind the reader of the noble efforts of Governor Ralph Carr (R-CO) who did his damnedest to resist Japanese internment and committed political suicide in the process.

"This is a difficult time for all Japanese-speaking people. We must work together for the preservation of our American system and the continuation of our theory of universal brotherhood . . . If we do not extend humanity's kindness and understanding to [the Japanese-Americans], if we deny them the protection of the Bill of Rights, if we say that they must be denied the privilege of living in any of the 48 states without hearing or charge of misconduct, then we are tearing down the whole American system."

The Republicans need to start playing offense when it comes to their record on civil rights, and they've got some good folks in their history, and I don't just mean Lincoln. Ralph Carr was a lion. And I hope Colorado Governor Bill Owens, my horse for President in 2008, will invoke this fellow early and often.

UPDATE: I see I've earned myself an Instalanch! I was re-reading my own link and though this quote worth particular note: "If you harm them, you must harm me. I was brought up in a small town where I knew the shame and dishonor of race hatred. I grew to despise it because it threatened the happiness of you and you and you."

UPDATE: Eric Muller, who literally wrote the book on the subject (and was kind enough to link over here) has far more wisdom about Ralph Carr than me. Check him out.

UPDATE: I've gotten a handful of hits from, although I cannot tell from where at the House of Representatives. I sure as hell hope the leadership is paying attention. This jerk Coble needs to be stripped of power.
We Few, We Merry Few

The Hill reports (scroll down) that outside the President's health care address in Grand Rapids, MI:

"An estimated 500 pro- and anti-Bush demonstrators clashed in a savage snowball fight. There was about 10 inches on the ground,” reported Ehlers, so opposing forces had plenty of ammo. By the time order was restored, several demonstrators were arrested. But Ehlers, a professor at UC-Berkeley in the 1960s, wasn’t impressed. “Nothing like a Vietnam protest,” he said of the melee, in which outnumbered Bush supporters routed their opponents, according to one participant, by using “better target selection and superior firepower.”"

UPDATE: Angry Clam beat me to it.
First sign of trouble?

No images have been released as yet, but apparently, an amateur astronomer in San Francisco took five pictures of the shuttle streaking over California, a few of which show a big purple bolt of lightning. Sounds whacky, but NASA is looking at this stuff seriously.

I particularly like how the astronomer is refusing to release the picture until NASA has had a chance to analyze it.

Tuesday, February 04, 2003

People of the Book

Lots of complaints from idiot Muslim clerics about our putting an Israeli in space. Nevermind that this is eighteen years after we put a Saudi Prince in space.
Six Americans, One Israeli

The Sun concludes its article about that idiot Muslim cleric who declared the Columbia's demise as divine retribution:

"The American victims in Saturday’s disaster were Rick Husband, 45, William McCool, 41, Michael Anderson, 43, David Brown, 46, and Laurel Clark, 41.
"Indian-born Kalpana Chawla, 41, and the first Israeli in space, Ilan Ramon, 48, also died."

Chawla was an American. I wish the foreign press could understand that a little bit better. Once you sign up, you are one of us, and damn the man who says otherwise.

Monday, February 03, 2003

More Breathless Reporting on FOX

I was watching Greta Van Sustern on FOX this evening and in her set-up for an on-air telephone interview with the brother of space station astronaut Don Pettit, she asks: "Can we get our [space station] astronauts home?"

This is just lousy journalism. If she herself bothered to watch the NASA press conference this morning (or spent five minutes on the internet over at, say, Astronautix), she'd know perfectly well what our options are. Yet if you wanted to go to FOX for some honest-to-god information, you'd have learned nothing and you'd be left with the impression that Astronauts Bowersox and Pettit, and Cosmonaut Budarin were going to replay the Gene Hackman, Gregory Peck and Richard Crenna vehicle Marooned and die slowly in space.

The short answer is, of course, yes. The Russians send up a new Soyuz with 3 cosmonauts every six months and use the old Soyuz to come home.

(Marooned (1969), I hasten to add, isn't that bad of a movie. And it is, without a doubt, the highest quality movie to ever been ground up by Mystery Science Theater 3000. The rescue is a bit silly, even by Hollywood's standards, but it holds up pretty well as a film. And that the Gene Hackman character, Buzz Lloyd, who gets really paranoid as he waits to die, shares my surname makes it all the more fun. Anyone know where I can get mission patch for Ironman 1?)

An updated FAQ can be found from
A Statement from the Families of the Columbia 7

"On January 16th, we saw our loved ones launch into a brilliant, cloud-free sky. Their hearts were full of enthusiasm, pride in country, faith in their God, and a willingness to accept risk in the pursuit of knowledge -- knowledge that might improve the quality of life for all mankind. Columbia's 16-day mission of scientific discovery was a great success, cut short by mere minutes -- yet it will live on forever in our memories. We want to thank the NASA family and people from around the world for their incredible outpouring of love and support. Although we grieve deeply, as do the families of Apollo 1 and Challenger before us, the bold exploration of space must go on. Once the root cause of this tragedy is found and corrected, the legacy of Columbia must carry on -- for the benefit of our children and yours."

Would that I be so brave!

UPDATE: A rare interview with Neil Armstrong can be found here.

The Russians are offering to step up Soyuz launches and suspend any space tourist flights in order to keep the space station operating at a more normal pace. My guess is that the United States will have to cough up the $25M or so each Soyuz costs, but that's chump change, and it should (I hope) keep the pressure off for a quick fix for the Shuttle.

Despite near-desperate problems in Russia, and our need to keep paying for things, they are a good people and a loyal partner in human space flight. Like your unemployed but dear friend with the pickup truck, the Russians may never bring beer to your afternoon barbecue, but they'll show up on moving day.

We're lucky to have them.

UPDATE: The Russians can only do so much, but they're the only game in town.
External Tank Foam and Other Data

Eighty seconds after launch, a piece of the insulation on the external tank broke off and hit the left wing. This is an event at the very core of the Columbia investigation. Here's a good picture of what the foam looks like, in cross-section (again, from Robert Pearlman's CollectSpace).

UPDATE: Here's a crib sheet for the NASA press conference's comments about "OV-103" and such. Each shuttle is an "Orbital Vehicle" with a tail number and at the press conference, NASA was not refering to the status of other shuttles by name.
Old Glory on Mars

I was happily gestating when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the Moon and, for most of my life, I’ve joked that there were two things I wanted to see in my life: Old Glory on Mars and new pavement in Berkeley. Neither was going to happen, so I always wished for both. Last week, I drove back from my brother-in-law’s house and saw new road work on Hearst Street and I found myself rather depressed.

I would have preferred Old Glory.

But since yesterday morning, as sad as I am for the loss of Columbia and her crew, I find myself bristling with hope. Yes, we want to know what happened and we want to fix the problem. We think of the families and friends. But the public demands, on the networks, on the street, in conversations with my less space-focused friends have not been practical: Who Failed? Who is to Blame? What Did They Miss? but quite romantic: Where To? When Are We Going? What’s Next?

And I thought of what Deacon Matson says to Rod Walker in Robert Heinlein’s Tunnel in the Sky:

“I’m telling you straight: I think you were born in the wrong age.”


“I think you are a romantic. Now this is a very romantic age, so there is no room in it for romantics; it calls for practical men. A hundred years ago you would have made a banker or lawyer or professor and you could have worked out your romanticism by reading fanciful tales and dreaming about what you might have been if you hadn’t had the misfortune to be born in a humdrum period. But this happens to be a period when adventure and romance are a part of daily existence. Naturally it takes very practical people to cope with it.”

Today, we have quite the opposite problem. This is a practical age begging for romance. We are living in Heinlein’s hundred years-ago, Rod Walker’s regression. The world is lousy with practical problems. Like it or not, this planet is going to spend the next few years fighting, in one fashion or another, over freedom and oil, tyranny and dirt. Africa is dying of disease. Millions live under tyranny in China, the Middle East and Cuba. We fight these problems, but it often requires the most naive optimism to find the will to win. Many good Democrats – Truman and Kennedy – were practical men who contained communism and held us back from the brink. President Reagan was a romantic who saw that the Soviet Union could be pushed. Many good Democrats were practical folks who saw AIDS as the problem it is years before the Republicans could even say the word “condom” helped stemmed the tide. I think President Bush, at least in Africa, is a romantic to believe the disease can be ended before it claims a hundred million people, but I think it could tip the scales between staunching the wound and curing the problem.

Since the Nixon Administration, the NASA Administration has been practical – good people, some known, most unsung. Scientists like Ed Stone, astronauts like Kathleen Sullivan, achieving important things, yes, the Shuttle, Voyager, Galileo, Hubble – but without a purpose, without an ultimate human purpose. Budgets and bureaucratic imparatives. The space station exists largely to give the space shuttle something to do, after all. What it does is very cool, but it's practical... humdrum.

But in the two days since Columbia, Americans seem to be asking the right questions, the questions that push us truly further. For fifty years, engineers could tell us how to get to Mars. But people need to tell the politicians and the contractors why. If one good thing is coming out of Columbia and the loss of her crew, it’s that we're ready to tell our politicians: because we can, because it’s there, because we’re Americans. We should go to Mars, because it’s silly and defeatist to think we shouldn’t. I see it in the pride of the good folks in Texas, finding and guarding the debris – their debris -- from their space program, but only asking: What Next? Where To? How Long? Pundits and newscasters reporting on an important story, but asking an optimistic When? Not a horrified Why?

Perhaps it was the visuals – if this had been a space station mission, the shuttle would have come and broken up over over Central America, the Yucatan and the Gulf of Mexico, not Texas and Louisiana. And I think America would have reacted very differently indeed. We would never have seen a thing, not astronauts in their last vibrant moments, no doubt trying to solve the problem long after it was hopeless. Instead we'd have been left with the images of a Coast Guard cutter looking for the dead and newscasters pleasing themselves with cheap, predictable ironies about the Columbia 7 dying just miles from the impact which killed the dinosaurs.

But we saw what happened, we know it was a tile problem (if that’s not yet confirmed... it will be) and we already know why, and we don't need the punditry to dwell on the practical, the mundane. We will bury our astronauts, we will put their names on the memorial, and we will begin to figure out what’s next for space. And we will live to make them proud.

Let us not apologize for wanting to see Old Glory on Mars in our own lifetime and, in the centuries to come, for demanding free people among the stars. We've got practical know how, we just need to be silly enough to think it possible.

Let’s push ourselves over the brink. Let’s tip the scales. Let’s go.

“I told you,” Matson said slowly, “that it would be rough. Well, sweat it out, son, sweat it out.”

“I can’t stand it.”

“Yes, you can.”

Sunday, February 02, 2003

Reporting Live, from Orbit, Geraldo Rivera

Geraldo is interviewing a NASA engineer on FOX and keeps asking him about the "controversial" tiles. Problematic? Critical? Yes. Controversial? No. Controversy is Teapot Dome. Controversy is the relationship of the King and Wallis Simpson. Are folks debating the thermal tiles, or just waiting for the good folks at NASA to rule them in -- or out -- as the critical failure? Yeah, I thought so.

Don't know why this one irritated me so, but FOX's background music and tag line is starting to annoy me.
E-Bay Users Strike Back

Some fellows are listing on EBay just to point out that you can get an STS-107 mission patch for $4.95 at NASA gift shops, rather than pay hundreds of dollars to some damned fool. Good on 'em.
Normal Reentry

I'm digging around to see if I can find any video of another, daytime re-entry. The networks, always focused on the dramatic, have yet to show a decent clip of a normal reentry. It would be a useful, baseline comparison.

I found Paul Maley's page of stills, including a dramatic photograph of the Shuttle External Tank burning up (as planned) over Hawai'i. The reentry photos are mostly night-time shots.

UPDATE: Here's a link to a normal re-entry video of STS-103. A more complete description of how James Byrd took the video is here. It's useful to note that you'll find a pretty distinct, smooth contrail and the difference in the footage shown on the networks of Columbia is that you start to get both (a) separate contrails as pieces break off and (b) a break-up in the smoothness of the contrail as the shuttle begins to disintegrate.
Yuri's Night

Another thing you can do to honor the spirit of the Columbia 7, come Saturday, April 12, is go to a Yuri's Night Party. April 12, 1961 was the day Yuri Gagarin became the first member of mankind to voyage into space, aboard Vostok 1. April 12, 1981 was the launch of the Columbia herself, with America's first space shuttle. April 12 honors both accomplishments specifically and spaceflight in general.

There are Yuri's Night parties around the country and around the world. If there's one in your town, think about going... if there's not, start one.

And while Yuri's Night parties range from neighborhood pub gatherings on up, check out the promo for Yuri's Night 2002 in Los Angeles.
Wish Them Well...

Do you have a clear night tonight? Step outside and you just might be able to see the Space Station pass over and wish our other three other space voyagers well. Check out Heavens Above. The interface is pretty straight-forward.

More Debris

I don't know whether CNN will update this, but here's a list of known debris finds.

Also, MSNBC's Ashleigh Banfield was visiting a ranch outside of Nagodoches where a fellow found "12 or 13" pieces of debris including what I thought was hinge for the cargo bay doors and, more importantly, a piece of aluminum skin with six or eight thermal tiles still attached.

The Banfield piece (if I can find a link I'll put it up) gave me pause, again, about how wonderful this country was. This rancher and his wife (who own 300 acres) heard about the debris, saddled up the wife's Suburban and his ride-on 4x4 and searched their property for material. No one needed to tell them to do it. And with no reward save doing the right thing... they just took it upon themselves to help out.

UPDATE: Robert Pearlman, who runs CollectSpace, a space hobbyist site, has a good command of some of the profiteering that's going on. Not least is this incident, where a woman came up with a plastic bag and stole a piece of debris. Witnessess got a description of the woman and a plate number, so I think she's going to be in a heap of trouble. Moreover, if I know Texans, that lady better hope for a bench trial --- Texans take pride in their space program and there ain't a jury which won't convict her.
Nevermind, I'll have coffee

I'm a fan of Gregg Easterbrook and he's got some good thoughts over at Time Magazine. The Shuttle must be replaced (not because it's unsafe --- I'll take 1:55 odds to go into space any day), but because, as he rightly points out, it's expensive. And, until it's cheaper to get to orbit, we're not getting to Mars. The Shuttle is a Boeing cash cow, not a bold manned space vehicle. And Easterbrook's right. But never-you-mind! I know we're all saddened by yesterdays events, but if he's going for political blood, he might as well take the time to get his facts straight:

First, he writes:

With hundreds of launches to date, the American and Russian manned space programs have suffered just three fatal losses in flight—and two were space-shuttle calamities.

Not to be picky, and lots of folks are missing this, but there have been four: The two space shuttle accidents, of course, and most folks have picked up on Soyuz 11, which took the lives of Georgi Dobrovolsky, Viktor Patasyev and Vladislav Volkov . On Soyuz 11, the Soviets decided to put three cosmonauts on the vessel, but to do so the crew had to forgo wearing pressure suits. A valve, which was supposed to pop open at 4,000 meters to flush air into the cabin opened at reentry, asphyxiating the crew. We should not, however, forget Soyuz 1 which took the life of Vladimir Komarov in 1967 when, after reentry, the main parachutes fouled and the capsule hit the ground at, shall we say, an uncontrolled rate.

He makes some good points about the space station, of which I am also a big critic, but some of this is just polemical:

The bottled water alone that crews use aboard the space station costs taxpayers almost half a million dollars a day.

Well what the hell are they supposed to drink, Mr. Easterbrook? A copy of the Budget and Impoundments Act?

His criticism of the shuttle is fair -- it's damned expensive, so let's talk cheap launch systems (which he does!) but as long as we've got ISS, getting stuff up there costs money: $20,000/pound or more -- $160,000 a gallon. And three astronauts are going to drink three gallons a day. There's your half-million. So long as astronauts and cosmonauts are up there, there's no way to save that cash.

" safety systems were added to the solid rocket boosters whose explosion destroyed Challenger"

Just wrong. The SRBs were dangerous (still are!), but the joints, which allowed the failure of a single O-Ring to doom the shuttle, were completely redesigned with a second O-Ring and a baffle which essentially eliminated the problem. Secondly, and at least as importantly, flight rules were changed so the shuttle could not fly after an overnight freeze, which is really the but-for causation of the Challenger disaster. All the engineering fixes don't have to all show up in the rocket itself.

"no escape-capsule system was added to get astronauts out in a calamity, which might have helped Columbia:

At Mach 18? At maximum heating and pressure? A crew eject-system which would have helped Columbia yesterday would be, itself, nearly a completely separate space vehicle, with its own reentry shields, guidance, attitude-control rockets and just about everything else. See my comments below about the F-111 crew-eject and you'll see it is pretty complex. The Solution, which Easterbrook suggests could have helped Columbia would be as good for ejecting in orbit and leaving the orbiter to rot as it would have in at 200,000 feet. Probably even more difficult.

In 1986 the last words transmitted from Challenger were in the valiant vow: "We are go at throttle up!" This meant the crew was about to apply maximum thrust, which turned out to be a fatal act.

Easterbrook is obviously confused. "Go at Throttle Up" is a reference to throttling the Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSMEs), the three hydrogen-oxygen engines which you see on the back of the orbiter itself. Challenger had just gone through Max-Q (or Maximum Dynamic Pressure) so the engines had been throttled back. Since they were then past that, the SSMEs were put to full. And they had nothing to do with the Challenger explosion. The same accident would have almost surely happened at 65 seconds, 73 seconds (when it did happen) or 85 seconds or 100 seconds. Very briefly: because of a faulty O-Ring, the Solid Rocket Motor (which cannot be throttled up or down) was already shooting hot exhaust out one of the seems of the rocket and burning through the insulation on the external tank (itself full of hydrogen and oxygen). When it the flame hit pay dirt, the hydrogen began to leak and, when combined with the air of the atmosphere, burned. As that burned (and then very quickly) it broke apart the main (forward) oxygen tank and caused the much larger fireball. That explosion pushed the orbiter into an impossible aerodynamic position and the orbiter was torn apart by aerodynamic forces (it was then travelling Mach 1.92 or so).

Anyway, not to be harsh, Easterbrook is a damned smart guy, but if we're going to criticize NASA and make it work, so some little girl who is right now fighting with her Mom about breakfast can, someday, watch a Martian sunset at the edge of Valles Marines: for the honor of the United States of America and for the future of Humanity, we need to get our facts straight.

UPDATE: If I'm going to flog Mr Easterbrook about stuff, I should at least get my own facts straight. It's the Budget and Impoundments Act, not the Budget Impoudnment Act. My bad.

A friend notes: "Heinlein's been popping up a lot today. I take it as a good omen - if Americans are thinking of Heinlein, then they're looking in the right direction - up and forward."