Friday, August 29, 2003

Funny Translations: Cuzco edition

When I went to Peru last year, we stayed in a wonderful, old hotel in Cuzco, the Hotel Picoaga. This building used to be a monastery. It's hundreds of years old, and you can still see the smoke streaks on the lobby walls from when they used candle sconses rather than electricity. The base of the outer walls is the original Incan stonework, which is amazingly precise.

The humor part is from the guest instructions inside the rooms--you know, the little sheets on the inside of the doors? They were in Spanish, with a parallel English translation. The funny ones were

7) Pets are requested not to entertain in their rooms.

8) Guests are requested not to entertain in their rooms.

OK, #8 would make perfect sense in isolation--no holding parties in your hotel room. #7 by itself could look like a mistranslation for "no pets in rooms." Put them together, though, and I've got this image of Spuds MacKenzie carrying on all night with the Taco Bell chihuahua and a couple of cats.

11) The room reservations are confirmed writing in case that not exist cancellation itself the prepayment will be panished the according to the reservation rulers.

This is verbatim.

First, I think the general meaning is something to the effect that if you cancel a reservation for which you've prepaid, any refund will be according to their rules. I have no earthly idea what "panished" is supposed to mean. It doesn't seem to be a misspelling of an English word ("punished" wouldn't fit the likely meaning), nor does it look similar to any likely Spanish words. The closest Spanish words in spelling are panocha, "ear of corn," and panico, "panicky." Mmm... maybe, "the prepayment will be made with a panicky ear of corn"? And I'm enjoying the image of "the reservation rulers." Minor satraps running the reservation desk?

Thursday, August 28, 2003

Hubble Space Telescope as a spy satellite?

Back when I was a grad student at the Space Telescope Science Institute, this was a popular topic of cafeteria debate: if we turned the Hubble around to look at the earth, how small a feature could we see? In fact, the Hubble does look at the earth on a regular basis. They take an exposure of the clouds as the telescope streaks by, and after combining this with other such pictures, they get an "earth flat" (if I remember the term right). A "flat" is used to identify and correct imperfections in raw CCD images.

Now, to avoid streaking the image (if you want to use Hubble as a spy satellite), you'd have to take a very short exposure. Let's imagine we take one that's arbitrarily short, so ignore the Hubble's motion. Hubble is somewhere around 320 nautical miles above sea level. It has a mirror 3.2 m (I think that's right) in diameter. Assume we observe in blue light, wavelength 430 nm (nanometers, not nautical miles). What's the smallest size we can resolve?

I'll come back to this later. Discuss amongst yourselves...

TUNE IN NEXT WEEK, when Tim will explain the secrets of "funky dark time" (really). [Stop giggling! --ed.]

Jeff reminds me that the Hubble's primary mirror has a diameter of 2.3 m, not 3.2 m. Thanks. I'm always mixing that up.

In the solution to this problem, I'll also bring up the intriguing (and intriguingly-named) "shower-curtain problem." Or at least that's what the STScI astronomer who explained it to me called it. It tells you why the resolution is different for ground-based telescopes looking up than for space-based telescopes looking down (read: spy and weather satellites).

Thanks to Virginia Tech's C.D. Hall for linking to us and to this spy satellite problem. The "Spacecraft" blog looks really interesting, and we've added you to the blogroll. I'm going to start checking that one out regularly.

The answer is...[drumroll, please]...about 5 inches! Not bad for a single-mirror instrument without interferometry. Scroll up a couple of posts for the detailed answer.

Inbound link from a good space blog

I just noticed this one showing up on the reference logs--Transterrestrial Musings has linked to us. Thanks, Rand! I've been to his blog, and it's a great one for space discussions, among other things. I'll be checking it regularly now, and we've added him to our blogroll.

Future Space Planes/Things to ride in

I find Jeff's comments on the Columbia accident very interesting, especially his last sentence,

I personally don't think we'll be seeing a winged, reusable space plane. I think we'll be seeing Apollo capsules, version 2.0.

Thinking about it, I realized that due to this unfortunate accident and NASA's budget, space vehicles will probably change drastically in the near future just as Jeff suggests. Thinking more, technology is always developed 10 years before it reaches market - so I decided to find out what other space vehicles are being developed currently. Is it possible that something better, safer, cheaper, and more reliable has already been underway for a few years? The best way to answer that question is "yes." To my amazement, I discovered space vehicles of all shapes and sizes are being developed today not just for space exploration and research, but the focus is just as heavily on passenger planes: sub-orbital and orbital. Yes, passenger planes! Go here to read about the many different types of planes (mostly funded privately) that are either developed in theory, or are under construction. A couple that caught my eye were the Kankoh-Maru, the Black Armadillo, and the Nova. Even though a lot of the vehicles listed are paper rockets, or as we like to call them Powerpoint rockets, the Black Armadillo and the Nova are under construction. And the Nova will be the first completely private space ship built in the world. That leads me to another question - NASA in the US is designed to regulate space travel and space launches (among its many other points of interest) and each country that's involved in space exploration has its own government organization designated to do the same. So how do we coordinate with all those private companies that have the ability to build their own spacecraft? If many different organizations have the ability to launch - do we set forth regulations on safety specifications, times to launch, etc? I think this will become an issue in the near future, especially with the push for space passengers.

One more note: I tried to find future NASA space vehicle designs but was unable to get the URL to work. If anyone can find that URL, that'd be great!

SIRTF launch -- so far, so good

The Space Infrared Telescope Facility was finally launched this week. A colleague sent the link to this video of the rocket lifting off. The neat thing is, you're watching the launch in thermal infrared, so it's mostly the rocket plume that shows up. I especially like the reflection that appears in the cloud after a few seconds. Other movie formats are available here.

And to any friends of mine reading this...

I noticed a couple of hits today from the Space Telescope Science Institute, where I was a grad student ('97-2000). So I'm wondering if these are people I know. Actually, I'm pretty sure who one of them is. Please drop me a line if you read this! (e-mail on right margin, or my NASA/GSFC address if you know it)

For the rest of you, be sure to take a look at their Mars images, now on their main page.

Thanks for the links

We'd like to thank the several websites that linked to us today. We just saw a huge spike (well, let's hope it's the beginning of a trend, not a spike) in traffic, about 20 times our usual number of visitors. Most of this was from interest generated by Jeff's e-mail on the Columbia accident report and from our addition to the Rocky Top Brigade.

Thanks in particular to Joe at Winds of Change, who posted a note about us, commenting in particular about Jeff's last line. Incidentally, in case it isn't clear from Jeff's written remarks, he isn't criticising the idea of an updated Apollo capsule as the next manned spacecraft we create. It might strike some as a step backwards, but it's proven, reliable technology.

Also to Jay at A Voyage to Arcturus, who also gave us an introduction. Incidentally, his is the reason we added a separate list of "Space Blogs" today. He gets onto other topics, and others get onto space, but it seemed appropriate. And this is a blog that "does the math" in detail to back up an argument.

Say Uncle mentioned us in the new round of Rocky Top Brigade members. And we'll especially thank South Knox Bubba, who added us to the RTB to begin with. We're on this list because I'm a Tennessee ex-pat. If you read my posts below on the Tennessee Constitution, you'd probably figured that out for yourself.

Incidentally, as I noted to SKBubba, the credo of his RTB includes the injunction to fight

the battle for truth, justice, and a good single malt Scotch whiskey for around $20.

I don't know about the single malt part, but I know where you can get a decent bottle of whiskey for a less than $20. You see, head up Nebo Mountain and there's this still... [Umm..."bottle"?--ed Jug, whatever.--Tim]

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Commentary on Columbia Accident Report

My friend Jeff, a fellow astronomer, has been following closely the Columbia accident investigation. He just sent me the following thoughts on yesterday's press conferences about the accident report:

I was watching NASA TV, waiting for NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe's response to the Columbia report. There was a sort of morale-boosting video on, with NASA workers talking about how amazing it is to work at NASA, and to be part of the space program.

More so than perhaps any other Federal agency, the folks who work for NASA believe in the importance of what they do. They believe that it is humanity's destiny to travel the universe. They believe that what they do today, is indispensible to making that happen tomorrow.

NASA exists in an environment of scarcity, where there are always many more good ideas than money to carry them out. And sometimes, as the old saying goes, being penny wise means being pound foolish. I wonder if... NASA survived the end of the Apollo program by the slimmest of margins. For 30 years, NASA learned that bad news from its programs resulted in bad news at budgeting time. Bad news became... bad. Anything that could jeopardize a program was a bad thing. And it wouldn't have to be overt, but maybe it just became part of the mindset, unconsciously rather than intentionally. And sometimes problems maybe were ignored, unconsciously. And sometimes costs were understated and capabilities were overstated, as happened with the shuttle program.

NASA must have a mission commensurate with its means. Hopefully the means will be enough to allow great things, but NASA must somehow learn to say: "If that's all you're willing to spend to put people in space, then we just can't do it for that. Sorry."

If the response of NASA and Congress and the White House is to take the time to work out a mission and a budget that are compatible, and to comply with the recommendations of the CAIB, then the report and accident will have resulted, beyond all hope, in some good. But if everybody puts the wagons in a defensive circle and fights against changes and new ways of thinking, then things look bad indeed.

A note for the future: the CAIB minced no words when discussing the orbital space plane as a space shuttle replacement. A quote from the report: "At least in the mid-term, that replacement will be some form of what NASA now characterizes as an Orbital Space Plane. The design of the system should give overriding priority to crew safety, rather than trade safety against other performance criteria, such as low cost and reusability, or against advanced space operation capabilities other than crew transfer."

I personally don't think we'll be seeing a winged, reusable space plane. I think we'll be seeing Apollo capsules, version 2.0.

Hubble Views of Mars Approach

The Hubble Space Telescope has already taken a set of images of Mars near its close approach to Earth, available here. The first set was taken Tuesday night, and a second set was taken this morning, just before 6:00 AM. The second set, taken about the time of the closest approach, will be online after 4:00 PM today. The main site at the Space Telescope Science Institute will be the place to find the next images. has information on the observing schedule and has also posted the Mars images. They do a good job of interpreting what you see in the pictures.

I'm curious what combination of cameras they're using to observe Mars right now. The original Planetary Camera (part of the Wide Field/Planetary Camera instrument) launched in 1990 was made to have high resolution, good for seeing details on planets, and it was wide enough to observe all of Jupiter at its closest approach. The Planetary Camera had 4 CCD chips arranged in a square, and the Wide Field Camera also had 4 CCDs in a square.

When the optical repairs were performed in 1994(?) by replacing this with the Wide Field Planetary Camera 2, there was supposedly a budget shortage, and they combined the cameras to make a single mosaic-ed image. One high-res Planetary Camera (PC) CCD tucked in the corner of 3 low-res (but wider-field) Wide Field Camera (WFC) chips. This is why so many released Hubble photos have an odd, B-2 bomber like shape--they're made from four unequal-sized chips.

So I'm curious--can Mars at this closest approach be imaged entirely with the single PC chip? There's also the new Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS), which has PC-scale resolution but is wider than even the WFC. They've gotten at least one image of Mars with ACS.

Saturday, August 23, 2003

But first... (Linguistics question)

Okay, before I go: I had some friends over for supper tonight, and we got off on linguistics at one point, when I brought up a question I've had for years. In every language I've studied that has noun declensions, the genitive singular suffix is identical to the nominative plural. Why??

This is true in English, Latin, and Russian--three Indo-European languages from different branches. In English, the genitive case (the "possessive") is expressed with the suffix -'s, while the nominative ("subjective") plural has the suffix -s.

In Latin, let's take the first and second declensions. The first declension has genitive singular -ae, and the same for the nominative plural. The second declension has -i for both.

In Russian, this pattern is violated for masculine nouns. For feminine nouns, the common suffix is -i. And for neuter, we have -a.

These English case endings are nothing like the Latin or Russian, but the gen. pl.--nom. s. correspondence holds true. What gives? Is there some psychological reason for it? Some part of human nature that makes us want to associate the two meanings?

For that matter, I'd always noticed in Latin that the dative and ablative cases often had similar endings. There, I could see less-educated ancient Romans confusing their usages. But I don't think this would be the case for the example I've been discussing.

Does anyone know more about this?

Documentary interview

Well, folks, I'm off for the weekend, so no blogging from me. I'm being interviewed for a historical documentary! I'm very excited, and I'll have to make sure I wear the right tie. Hollywood beckons. Ciao, baby!

Friday, August 22, 2003

Back from the business trip

Ah, it's wonderful to be back from the business trip. Although I must say the most important meetings and assignment of projects happen while you're away. I visited businesses in NY and MA. Both are wonderful places, although I must say upstate NY is gorgeous with their Adirondak mountains and beautiful countryside.

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Heat deaths in France

I just heard on ABC radio that the estimate of deaths in France from the recent heat is not the originally-announced 3,000, nor the revised 5,000, but 10,000!

That's an absolutely astounding number. In the South, we regularly get temperatures as high or higher than France has now, but there are few deaths from it. Is it a matter of not knowing how to handle the heat? Is it house design? We have nicely-shaded front and back porches on our house, plus plenty of ceiling fans and high ceilings. On top of it, the house is air conditioned, but we can keep cool without the A/C on.

I'd heard it said once that the advent of air conditioning marked the decline of front porches in the South. True in some part, but many of us still build them. It surely changed parts of our culture, when people started cooping themselves up indoors, rather than sit on the front porch in hot weather, where you see the outdoors and socialize with neighbors.

Sad to see such deaths in France, and I suspect they won't be the only European country to see them this year. But I really want to know why it happened.

Sunday, August 17, 2003

British TV Licenses

Andrew Stuttaford at NRO comments on the BBC licensing fees and links to the TV Licensing website. The funniest item on the FAQ is under "Do I need a license?" and then "Students":

The great thing about being at college is that you're always meeting lots of new people from all sorts of interesting backgrounds.

Unless, of course the visitor is a TV Licensing officer.

You can almost hear the soundtrack switch to minor key: dum, dum, DUM!

More on General Grant's order to expell the Jews

More on Grant's "General Orders No. 11" from below. I found a site with a contemporary report of one particular expulsion, from the Jewish Record, New York, 1863. This site also has what appears to be the full text of General Order No. 11, as well as a letter from Unionist Jews in Kentucky to Lincoln, asking to have it revoked.

The story of this expulsion is pretty bad, and this one wasn't even a case of them being thrown out of their homes, as many others must have been.

Wesley Clark slams opposition to Kosovo war

There was a pretty mean comment from retired Gen. Wesley Clark on CNN's Late Edition today. He was talking about House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who had criticized the "armchair Napoleons" acting as TV commentators during the Iraq war. According to the CNN transcript, DeLay had said,

Frankly, what irritates me the most are these blow-dried Napoleons that come on television and, in some cases, have their own agendas.

General Clark is one of them that is running for president, yet he's paid to be an expert on your network. And he's questioning the plan and raising doubts as he becomes this expert.

I think they would serve the nation better if they would just comment on what they see and what they know, rather than putting their own agenda forward as an expert.

Now, that's a pretty direct criticism, mostly of what DeLay sees as Clark's conflict of interest in being a paid commentator on a war under a Republican president, when he is considering a run for the office as a Democrat.

Wolf Blitzer asked Clark to respond to this. The relevant part of the transcript reads,

You know, Wolf, when our airmen were flying over Kosovo, Tom DeLay led the House Republicans to vote not to support their activities, when American troops were in combat. To me, that's a real indicator of a man who is motivated not by patriotism or support for the troops, but for partisan political purposes.

Well, that's entirely different. Clark is dangerously close to calling DeLay unpatriotic because he opposed the war in Kosovo. Has he forgotten that Congress has the sole authority to declare war? We do tend to let Presidents conduct small wars without an official declaration, and I believe this is a good idea. It gives us the flexibility to respond to these situations. But the power of the purse belongs to Congress, and it's one of their checks and balances against the executive branch. Our Founding Fathers intended it this way; it's even a holdover from British tradition, when Parliament refused to fund some kings' wars.

Now, when we're engaged in a war, I do want our military to do it right and not to be hobbled in such a way that gets them killed. But there are some wars I might oppose (those in which we have no ally in danger and no national interest at stake), and I think it is entirely appropriate for Congress not to fund them. The debate should be over the propriety of the war to begin with. In the case of Iraq, our national security was at stake, and I think the war was justified on that and other grounds. In the case of Kosovo, I sympathized with the Kosovars and would have been happy to supply them with arms, but our security was not at stake, and we had no allies being attacked.

True, Clark didn't outright call DeLay unpatriotic. What he said was that DeLay is "motivated not by patriotism or support for the troops, but for partisan political purposes." Well, in a very strict, technical sense, that's true. For instance, when I woke up this morning and took a shower, I was not motivated by "patriotism or support for the troops." In Kosovo, since none of our country's interests were at stake, there was also no clear patriotic motive at work for either side of the debate. Voting against funding the Kosovo war didn't mean one was unpatriotic. And while a Congressman who opposed the war but voted to fund it might have done so out of a concern for the troops fighting, that does not mean that one who opposed it and voted against funding did so out of a lack of concern for the troops. But Gen. Clark seems to imply that both of these are the case.

I didn't like the implications of a few commentators during the Iraq war that not supporting the war was itself proof of unpatriotism, and I don't like it when the argument is so laughably weaker, as in Kosovo.

Clark also spouted off about Iraq, saying, "We went into Iraq under false pretenses." No, we didn't. But I'll get into this later... In the meantime, check out the full transcript here.

The Blackout: Before and After

Great satellite photos of the Northeast at night, both before and after the blackout. has one Air Force satellite photo the night before the blackout (20 hrs. before) and another from 7 hrs. after the blackout.

Now, it's not quite as dramatic a difference as I expected. The New York City area still glows pretty brightly during the outage--it's just fainter than before. The biggest changes appear to be in Detroit and Toronto. Both of them are completely knocked out.

I notice a gray edge on the "after" image. I'm guessing that's probably due either to the satellite looking at this region at a shallower angle or to changes in cloud cover.

Cuba Jamming US Broadcasts to Iran

The United States government and expatriate Persians living here have been broadcasting pro-democracy radio and TV into Iran, in support of the demonstrations there, but we've been running into interference. These are satellite broadcasts, so Iran can't jam them the way they could a shortwave signal. What's happening instead is that someone is messing with the satellite (Telestar-12), and it appears to be Cuba. Iranian girl has noted that despite the mullahs outlawing ownership of satellite antennas, plenty of people have them anyway and listen to these broadcasts.

Insight magazine has an excellent article explaining the situation. The interference seems to be coming from Bejucal, a Russian-built facility outside Havana. The article has a typo--it should be West longitude, not East. Interesting that the source of the interference was identified by one private company (Loral Skynet, the owner of the satellite) going to another (Transmitter Location Systems LLC ) for help...not by government action. The American government response so far has been mixed, but there's also public disagreement as to whether the jamming continues or has already stopped.

I'd like to know if this really has been solved or not.

Saturday, August 16, 2003

General Orders No. 11 and the Jews

Has anyone else ever heard of this? I'm reading about a play based on General Grant's "General Orders No. 11" of December 17, 1862. This order apparently expelled all Jews from the regions under his army's control. The review quotes from the order, in part,

The Jews, as a class violating every regulation of trade established by the Treasury Department and also department orders, are hereby expelled from the department within twenty-four hours from the receipt of this order.

I believe that the word "department," beginning with a lower-case "d," refers to territory occupied by his army. I'll have to check just what that encompassed, but the review of the play notes,

If any Jews returned, Grant said, they should be arrested. The order affected areas in western Tennessee, southern Illinois, northern Mississippi and far Western Kentucky.

This reminds me somewhat of the Communist attitude towards the kulaks in Russia.

Friday, August 15, 2003

NASA management advice?

From "I Dream of Jeannie" tonight:

Gen. Peterson [to Col. Bellows]: You'd better keep an eye on him, too. One weed-sitter in NASA's enough!

I don't know why, but I got such a laugh out of this line.

"Spike TV" is up

So I reckon that Spike Lee's lawsuit lost. I was just flipping though channels and found their new "bug" at the bottom of the screen. Of course, this was a pretty silly suit to begin with, so I didn't think it would actually succeed.

Transcript of Senator Clinton's speech to the American Constitution Society

The guys over at Southern Appeal have made several posts regarding Hillary Clinton's July 23rd speech to the American Constitution Society. I've found the transcript, available here.

She expresses some attitudes that worry me, but they're nothing I didn't expect from her.

Too Much Information

Thinking of excessive national coverage of local stories (I know, the blackout is regional, but I'm making a segue here.), I notice this a lot with NPR's All Things Considered. I grew up listening to this news show when we'd be in the car on a long trip. Mom used to tease Dad about why he listened to it so often, if he didn't like their coverage, to which he'd laugh and respond that he wanted to know what the enemy was up to.

I've found that their format tends to be that the first half hour of each hour covers a few stories of international or national importance. The final half of each hour usually covers just one story of (at best) local interest and in excruciating detail. I mean, there is only so long that I can stand to listen to arguments over sewer design in a town in Arizona! And they'll keep this up for a half hour.

Saturation Coverage on Blackout?

I noticed a couple of comments on NRO's Corner this morning about the heavy national news coverage of the blackout. I've got a mixed response to the way it has been reported.

There are a couple of things that are newsworthy about this from a national perspective:

1)--It's the most widespread blackout in our country's history. Size alone lets it deserve some attention, and since it's affecting airports and railroad connections regionally, it has a wider effect.

2)--What caused it, and is this a vulnerability terrorists could exploit? It's a fair question.

But most of the coverage I'm seeing seems a little silly to me. Asking people on the street, "Where were you when the power went off?" overdramatizes it, from my perspective. Oh, I know that this is a rare occurrence for New York, and this approach might warrant coverage on the local news there, but it's commonplace elsewhere. I'm from the Smoky Mountains, and we often get power failures with thunderstorms. So often that our living room beams have hooks where we can hang Coleman lanterns.

So it's hard to watch that kind of coverage with an entirely straight face, unless the person being interviewed was stuck in an elevator or a subway. I think the several times I've experienced several-hour or even multi-day blackouts, it has never gotten the amount of attention even on our local news that this blackout has gotten, nationwide. That aspect of the news coverage is excessive.

Thursday, August 14, 2003

De plane! De plane!

One of the perks of working at Goddard Space Flight Center is that the base is right under the landing pattern for Andrews Air Force Base. In good weather (of which there's been precious little, lately), we'll eat lunch and have afternoon tea outside at the picnic tables, where we get a good look at the planes. I've seen Air Force One fly right overhead at least three times. Once, I got to see the top of it, as it banked hard to begin its final approach. That plane is huge, but then, I'm unused to 747s.

When Andrews had their annual air show, we got to watch the planes arriving over a couple of days. The highlights for us were a B-52 and a B-2. I'd never before seen a B-2 at all, much less flying over my head, and it was a real thrill.

I was thinking about all of this again when a C-17 or maybe a C-5 passed over during tea today. Even a cargo plane is exciting when its big and loud enough.

The Cochran Firm

I see a lot of things around here in D.C. that I haven't elsewhere. One that gives me a confused laugh each time is watching Johnny Cochran advertise his local law firm on TV. I usually think of TV lawyer ads as being reserved for ambulance chasers (there's one firm in the area whose ads actually begin, "If you've been injured in an accident..."), but here's one who's famous enough that clients must surely be coming to him without much prompting.


Major blackouts in North East and Canada

Got a bit of a surprise when I turned on the radio in my office just after 4:30 today. They had wall-to-wall coverage from New York. That had to be a big deal, and the last time I heard such coverage was a little after 9:00 AM, September 11, 2001. This one just turned out to be a massive power failure across the Northeast and even Canada. I am surprised by just how wide the problem is--as far west as Detroit, as far north as Ottowa, New York is out, and I've been hearing rumors of some places near Maryland out.

My first reaction, of course, was to wonder if terrorists were responsible. They're saying "no" now. I was engaging in idle speculation, but it's not an unreasonable question, of course. My foreign-service relatives who were in Peru in the 1980s reported that terrorists there had taken out power stations. It's a good way to create a bit of disarray, although I wouldn't think this would be much more than an annoyance here in the United States. It would cause some delays and such, but hospitals and radio stations have their backup generators.

Well, boys and girls, tonight's the night to go stargazing, if you're a city kid up North.

Tennesseans' Right of Free Navigation of the Mississippi

Here's a right of Tennesseeans I've always enjoyed having:

Article I, Section 29.

That an equal participation in the free navigation of the Mississippi, is one of the inherent rights of the citizens of this State; it cannot, therefore, be conceded to any prince, potentate, power, person or persons whatever.

Amen, brothers! That's more of that firm language I like. There's an interesting story to this right, a right which would seem odd if you didn't know our early (pre-statehood) history. I'll get into this later.

I should mention that despite my wording at top, I have not "enjoyed" this right, myself, but I'm sure I would if I had the chance. (Eugene Volokh's joke is coming to mind.) Four years of college in Memphis, and I only got on a Mississippi riverboat once...


Another section of the Tennessee Constitution (Article I, Sec. 8) prohibits outlawry. As I recall, outlawry was a way of dealing with particularly bad criminals who (I think) had not been able to be caught. Outlawry removed them from the protection of the law, so any man could lawfully beat, rob, or kill them.

I've gotten the idea that perhaps that was what was really meant by "an outlaw." Not merely a man who broke the laws, but one who had been outlawed, as a punishment.
I'm thinking of Robin Hood--in the movies, he's always called an outlaw. And you often hear the term used in Westerns, although I don't know if outlawry was still practiced that recently.

I'm very curious about the history of this.

Tennessee Constitution has the right attitude

I love little details of Constitutional law, both at the state and federal levels. My own state's constitution (Tennessee) has some sections that practically make me cheer. One of my favorites is

Article I, Section 2:

That government being instituted for the common benefit, the doctrine of non-resistance against arbitrary power and oppression is absurd, slavish, and destructive of the good and happiness of mankind.

That's the spirit! We don't mince words in Tennessee.

Restrictions on the Military Use of Special Operations

I was surprised by this headline in the Washington Times yesterday, Congress to restrict use of Special Ops. The "Senate Intelligence Committee" (I assume that that is the same as the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence) has inserted language into a bill that would redefine certain special military operations as covert action and would require a Presidential "finding" before they could begin.

What that means is that things that special ops used to do will now require sending a finding to [Capitol Hill] before doing anything," said the former officer who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

This surprises me. I would think that now, of all times, is when we'd want to free up the military to be more flexible and able to respond rapidly.

Then I read this article by Jed Babbin in National Review Online, which explained the upcoming shake-ups in the Army. Much of this article discusses Gen. Shinseki, Clinton's Army chief of staff and "protégé of Hawaii Senator Daniel Inouye, [...] as political as his mentor." Babbin makes the case that Shinseki was a major obstacle to adapting the Army to the new kind of warfare we're in (this reform is being pushed by Sec. Rumsfeld), but that he was essentially protected by Sen. Inouye. Inouye was (is?) the ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee and could have held up funding of national missile defense as a stick.

Is there some connection here? I checked, and Inouye is not on the Intelligence Committee. But here are those who are:

GOP: Pat Roberts (Kansas, Chairman), Orrin Hatch (Utah), Mike Dewine (Ohio), Chris Bond (Missouri), Trent Lott (Mississippi), Olympia Snowe (Maine), Chuck Hagel (Nebraska), Saxby Chambliss (Georgia), John Warner (Virginia)

Dems: John Rockefeller (West Virginia, Vice-Chairman), Carl Levin (Michigan), Dianne Feinstein (California), Ron Wyden (Oregon), Dick Durbin (Illinois), Evan Bayh (Indiana), John Edwards (North Carolina), Barbara Mikulski (Maryland)

Who would be most likely to push for this kind of thing? First of all, this would have to be voted out of committee, so it can't be the work of one senator alone. The Republicans have a 9-8 majority, so at least one Republican would have to vote for it. If all of the Democrats hung together, perhaps they got Chuck Hagel to go along. He's the only anti-war name I recognize on the GOP side there.

Of course, this has about a snowball's chance of being passed into law. In the meantime, it's merely revealing about some still-unnamed senators' attitudes on national defense.

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

More on the Bermuda Triangle

I'm sticking with the idea that ships are sunk by gaseous water, but I'm starting to believe that the triangle is MUCH more complicated than I first thought. Read the documented stories of aircraft that has experienced clear air turbulence over the triangle and at 18,000 feet one aircraft experienced ice. I wonder if there's any modeling that has been done on this - although the triangle is not officially recognized by US Board of Geological names nor the US Coast Guard, so it may be difficult to find actual data on it. Interesting note: Japan has a similar phenomenon off their coast called "the Devil's Sea." Looking at a topographical map I don't discern any formations that might preclude strange natural phenomena explaining the triangle.

The Bermuda Triangle

I was thinking about the mysterious Bermuda Triangle. Ships and airplanes have disappeared there for years, and yet we still don't know much about that area. I was looking up stuff on volcanos (a new volcano was discovered in the Alaskan Aleutian chain which if erupted could potentially create a new island between Alaska and Siberia) and began to think... Underwater volcanos are not completely mapped out. When an underwater volcano explodes it typically releases gases which lighten the density of water and therefore any ships that happen to sail over this volcano (keep in mind gases could be in a 5 mile diameter circle out from the volcano) would sink with no warning! I found an excellent article online (you need acrobat reader to use it) that goes into detail about what happens when a volcano erupts under water, specifically looking at Kick 'em Jenny, a volcano in the carribean. Now I know I'm not the first one to think of this - but I think it's an interesting explanation. I think I'll try to see what else I can come up for the Bermuda Triangle - we still need an explanation for the airplane disappearances! Oh - and volcanos cause tsunamis too if they erupt underwater!

UPDATE: One theory that is similar to mine.
Dr. Ben Clennell, of Leeds University, England, is not the first to make note of the possibility of methane hydrates as a source for causing ships to disappear, he has become identified with the theory which, on September 21, 1998, at the Festival of Earth Sciences at Cardiff, Wales, he proposed methane hydrates as the future of energy.
As a part of his elaborate dissertation he claimed that methane locked below the sea sediments in the Bermuda Triangle can explain the mysterious disappearances. He told how subterranean landslides can unlock the vast beds of methane hydrate. This would be disastrous, he told the audience, because large amounts of methane would reduce the density of the water. “This would make any ship floating above sink like a rock.” He went on to explain how the highly combustible gas could also ignite aircraft engines and blow them to pieces. Although I believe a certain percentage of flammable gas to air is required for the atmosphere to become combustible.

UPDATE2: more on the bermuda triangle, i'm finding all this at an excellent site (my favorite story is ray's crystal, but I'm not putting much stock into it)

Countless theories attempting to explain the many disappearances have been offered throughout the history of the area. The most practical seem to be environmental and those citing human error. The majority of disappearances can be attributed to the area's unique environmental features. First, the "Devil's Triangle" is one of the two places on earth that a magnetic compass does point towards true north. Normally it points toward magnetic north. The difference between the two is known as compass variation. The amount of variation changes by as much as 20 degrees as one circumnavigates the earth. If this compass variation or error is not compensated for, a navigator could find himself far off course and in deep trouble.


Mars will be less than 34.65 million miles away on Aug 27-- closer to our planet than it’s been in 60,000 years! It will be the brightest object in the sky minus Venus and the moon. Unfortunately, the moon is nearly full this week, so if you want to look at Mars, probably the best time is next week. Look to the south east after 10 pm or during the pre-dawn of the day for you earlybirds. I can't wait to see the Hubble shots from this! Also -- last night was the predicted peak of the Perseids meteor shower, and I missed it!!! Darn! But I imagine you can see them again tonight.

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Buffy's "Giles" on MI-5 tonight

Anthony Michael Head, who played "Giles" on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, will be guest-starring on MI-5 tonight. That's on A&E at 10:00 PM.

I enjoyed last week's show, although I was a little distracted by some chores and didn't get to settle down and enjoy it as much. It seems like they kept the political preachiness on the back burner (in contrast to the pilot episode, I understand). And they already appear to be establishing some multi-episode plot arcs. I'll enjoy seeing how this all goes.

More on Taxes

I found the Congressional Act to appoint a Department of Treasury. I couldn't find in it anywhere where it states that the Dept of Treas. is not a government based department (off of the official D of T website). Looking for further verification...

Re: Taxes

Careful, E! I've found out for some time now that there are all sorts of false rumors when it comes to income taxes. They seem intriguing whenever you first hear them, and it's hard to believe that something so far out of whack could be so wide-spread a rumor, but they're guilty of some fundamental misconceptions.

The one you mention seems similar to the first one of these that I ever heard. The idea was that the 16th Amendment gives Congress the authority to collect taxes, so since the IRS isn't identical to Congress, you don't have to pay the taxes. The mistake in this one is that Article I, Sec. 8 of the Constitution allows Congress to establish an agency like the IRS or the Department of the Treasury to carry out the powers granted to Congress. The rumor you heard makes the same mistake. It doesn't matter if the Treasury Department farms out some of its services to private contractors or not (the Department itself is part of the Federal Government); they have all the authority they need, under Article I, Section 8.

Another one I've heard is that while the 16th Amendment gives Congress the authority to levy income taxes, Congress somehow forgot to pass the laws to bring this tax into being! Not that government is a rational entity, but to believe in that kind of an oversight is pretty ridiculous. I don't know the exact part of the US Code that concerns all of this, but it can probably be found through The fact that the IRS exists at all means that Congress passed a law to create it.

Another that I've heard is that some court decision once held "income" to mean only corporate income, not personal income, and therefore none of us individual citizens have to pay "income" taxes. It's surely a misreading of a decision, or a misreading of the case before the court, so taken out of context. is again the place to go to look for such a thing. And even if that were the proper interpretation of such a court decision, I think it would have about as much weight as precedent as that law that redefined the Great Lakes to include Lake Champlain!

From the Library of Congress,S.927:

(a) (5) The term `Great Lakes' includes Lake Champlain .

If any lawyers are reading this, could somebody help us out with specific sections of US law that refute these rumors?


I have just recently heard from someone (rumors can never be good, I know...) that the Dept of Treasury is not a federal organization, but private. By that fact, taxes do not have to be paid. OK - is this true? And if so, does the government get all the tax money that the Dept of Treasury collects? How does this work? I'll try to find out and get back to you on this...

UPDATE: I wanted to add a disclaimer in here - I DO NOT believe that we should stop paying taxes (taxes pay my salary!) and I know they are needed for many things but I do find this possibility intriguing.

1910's vision of the future

On that same Georgetown afternoon, I stopped in the Antique Print Gallery (on Wisconsin, near Q Street, NW) and bought a couple of (surprisingly enough) antique prints. Incidentally, this is a great shop, recently reopened, and it has piles and piles of engravings, prints, maps, and indentures. I bought an illustration from a 1910 Harper's Weekly magazine. It's a vision of the future of air travel by the artist Harry Grant Dart, titled "On the Aerial Highway."

It depicts gigantic passenger airplanes the size of ships, but designed like 1910-era planes looked. Big towers and support cables hold the wings up. Wright-brother-style canard elevators stick out the front, anchor cables (?) dangle from the side, and pairs of fan-shaped pusher airscrews are attached to the back end. Think of a Wright Flyer but 10x bigger (and with the wings more bird-shaped) and with an enclosed fueselage something like a ship. Four of these behemoths are barrelling around the sky in the picture.

And on top of it, there's a hovering highway marker! It looks like a floating ball, anchored to the earth far below with a cable, sporting a Saturn-type ring, and labeled with the highway number and "9,000 ft." Heh, heh...makes me think of the Jetsons driving their flying car through a jammed highway in the sky, and with those hovering traffic markers! Keep in mind that this was painted just seven years after the Wright brothers' first flight.

I looked up Harry Grant Dart online, and there is a web page devoted to his "fantasy" airplanes. He was a prolific magazine illustrator and a cartoonist, as well. The other examples of his art on this page are really imaginative and look even more like the Jetsons in other ways, although with 1910s-era aircraft.

I'm going to have to look for other examples of his. The one entitled "Going into Action" (1907!) might be my favorite (scroll down halfway). It reminds me a lot of the illustrations of space ships in battle, from a kids' science fiction book of mine from the early 1980s. Interesting how similar the artistic style was for this kind of art, many decades later. It's also intriguing that Dart envisioned the big air battles not as being between small, maneuverable fighters, but between lumbering, dreadnought-like planes with cannon and turrets. And he's come up with this just four years post-Wright bro's. I'd love to find a copy of this one.

Latin II

This made me think about one of my favorite lines from The Aeneid: "dux femina facti" (Book II, line 364). My high school Latin teacher, Miss Goss, said that this was (much later) stamped onto medals after Queen Elizabeth I defeated the Spanish Armada. I used to joke that this would be a funny motto to have on my tombstone. ...well, if I'd wound up dying by pining away for this one girl I had a crush on back then. Well, maybe it's not that funny, really.

Looking through my old copy of The Aeneid, I have come across lots of marginal notes I'd scribbled in it. One of them quotes Miss Goss as saying that a particular section is "The height of romantic mush." (Book II, ll.607-610)

Monday, August 11, 2003

Latin Poetry

Just the other day, I went down into Georgetown and bought a neat old (1700s) book of Horace's poetry. It's been high school since I studied Latin, but I had three years of it then and really enjoyed it. I can still read some of it, but I keep getting things like the "passive periphrastic" mixed up. (Or as my college roommate Gerry Fernandez jokingly called it, the "passive prophylactic.") According to my "Jenny" book, Ch. 60,

Since intransitive verbs can be used only impersonally in the passive, the passive periphrastic of intransitive verbs uses the future passive participle impersonally, in the neuter nominative singular only.

Oh. Clears that right up.

OK, so I'll need to review a little before I tackle Horace. Fortunately, this edition is chock-full of footnotes and annotations. ...except those are all in Latin, too.

The 14th Amendment (Sec. 4) and Meanspiritedness

A long time ago, when I first read the U.S. Constitution in detail, I noticed Section 4 of Amendment 14 with some mild gratitude:

The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.

"Oh, that's nice of them," I thought. In the last full sentence, the victorious Yankees had decided to relieve us poor and defeated Confederates of our war debts!

It was probably only three years ago that the truth hit me. Just who owned the Confederate and state war debts? Every Southerner who bought CS and state bonds. Every Southerner who held Confederate currency. Basically, all of us.

Even though the CS ceased to exist, it is conceivable that without this provision, the individual ex-CS states could have passed laws to buy back Confederate notes (although probably at a fraction of face value, given their heavy inflation) and bonds. Certainly the state war bonds would have remained valid. And given that most Southerners would have had some of the above, there would have been the public support within the individual states for this.

What this did, then, was to take the defeated and conquered population and to deliberately impoverish us. That's absolutely despicable. It probably was a great help to the carpetbaggers who descended like locusts on the South and bought up land from the owners who had just had their whole savings wiped out and were thereby unable to pay the new, onerous taxes imposed by the occupying governments.

Of course, there's no use repairing the crime now. I'd still like to see this cruelty stricken from our Constitution as a matter of principle, but the bonds and currency have mostly been traded away by their original owners as mere collector's items now, so the families who were hurt by this aren't going to get back their money. More reason I'm just going to fume about this.

UPDATE: I just reread the Amendment, and I noticed that it doesn't just apply to bonds and currency. It's "any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States..." (emphasis mine). So if Tennessee had taken possession of an order of wool for uniforms but hadn't yet paid the farmer for it by the time this Amendment passed, tough luck.

Of course, considering that the War Between the States was a defensive war on the part of the various sovereign and seceeded states, fought against an invading United States, then no state was fighting in an "insurrection or rebellion"! Heh, heh. They were already separate countries, after all. In fact, the reality of secession was an argument used by the Radical Republicans in favor of making "Reconstruction" particularly cruel and onerous. But I'm sure they wouldn't have maintained that opinion if it came to the wording of this Amendment.

Davis Recall and Federal Court Decision

I'm getting even more confused about a Federal court decision concerning the California recall law. A group successfully sued in Federal court to have a portion of the California recall law overturned on U.S. Constitutional grounds. The specific provision is California Elections Code, section 11382. According to the decision I found with, this part of the law stipulates that in order to vote for a successor to the Governor, a voter must also vote on the question of recall itself.

This is not what I had originally thought. Earlier, I had believed that a voter must specifically vote yes on the recall in order to vote for a successor. This seems to say that even those voting no have always been allowed to cast a vote for a successor. The plaintiffs argued that they should not be required to vote on the recall at all, in order to be counted on the second part of the ballot.

Their argument, upheld by the Court, was that this violated their First and Fourteenth Amendments to the Federal Constitution (free speech, due process, and equal protection).

Freedom of speech because they were supposedly being denied their right to express their opinion on the best successor. I'm not a lawyer, but this one strikes me as the weakest, perhaps because "speech" is stretched to cover all sorts of activity these days. After all, the purpose of an election is quite specific--to elect an officer of the government. It's not the Op/Ed section of the newspaper, and you're not able to express just any old opinion. You're inherently limited to the offices (and possibly referenda) on the ballot. The court seems to agree with the 1st Amendment argument, unfortunately (although it discusses it only elliptically).

The Fourteenth Amendment claim seems reasonable, however, and I take back my original opinion that this was an unreasonable Federal court interference in state election law. The relevant text of the amendment states

But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State.

The plaintiffs argued that requiring them to vote on one issue (the recall itself) was an unconstitutional restriction on their right to vote for the "Executive ... officer[] of a State..." OK, I'll buy that one. I had not realized that the 14th Amendment also concerned state elections.

Troop numbers for an occupation force

I keep reading about politicians and pundits who say that the way to prevent the attacks on our troops in Iraq is to send more soldiers in. That probably wouldn't be a bad thing, but I wonder if it would actually do much good. A problem as I see it is that sheer numbers are more of an aid during regular combat, when you are either advancing to meet the enemy or arranging defenses for fortified positions.

But when you are an occupying force doing more police-type duties, it seems that your numbers are less of a help. Now that there is something closer to peace, you're no longer out in the desert, meeting clearly-identified Republican Guard divisions behind their earth berms. Instead, you are in and about the civilian population, who are expected to go about their normal lives. You're mixing with them, to some extent. As a result, guerrillas who have disguised themselves as such civilians will find it easier to get close to you and conduct surprise attacks, using women and children and innocent men as unwitting cover. (To be fair, the Fedayeen Saddam did this during the major combat phase, as well, but it caused us trouble even then.)

So it's not a matter of how many soldiers you have milling about on the streets of Baghdad and Tikrit. Having twice the current number might just be twice as many to get shot at, if they're simply there to bulk up our numbers. What we need is intelligence from inside the Ba'athist loyalists, telling us where they hide out and plan these attacks. Recruit anti-Ba'athist Iraqis as informants and agents, and go root out these remnants of the old regime. I have heard indications that this is exactly what we're doing, of course.

The people I've heard arguing for sending in massive numbers of additional troops have not made it clear what those troops should do once they get there. This is an example of not thinking an issue through. There needs to be more discussion of how to apply them wisely, so that we're not simply shipping over more human targets. Intelligence will probably be the key to crushing the Ba'athist remnants.

Space Wedding

What a way to get married, in space! I have been vaguely following this story, curious to see whether the couple would get married or not. Apparently, in Russia it is mandatory that a Russian officer who wishes to marry a foreigner must have it approved first, which could take 3-6 months. Needless to say the Russians were not thrilled about the idea, and told Malenchenko (the groom) that he could not do it. At the same time Russia was announcing it will not happen, his fiancee Dmitriev was telling Houston newspapers that the wedding was still on. Texas allows that one person need not be present to get married. I'm glad they were able to marry, and I'm sure it will be quite a story to tell their grandkids one day. Hmmm...maybe I could get married in space?

Camping - Not so Fun

Ummm...everything was perfect about this camping trip, except for the fact that campsites are on a first come first serve basis, and let's just say we were nowhere near first. In fact, there were no campsites available. So much for camping in the wilderness. No more shall be spoken about this.

Friday, August 08, 2003

Camping - Oh what fun!

Tomorrow I leave for a very short camping trip up in the Pecos wilderness with my fiance. I've never been camping in the high desert before, so this should prove interesting. I'll let you know how it goes when I get back. Hopefully I won't get eaten by any bobcats or bears!

Thursday, August 07, 2003

Gray Davis and election math

I've been amused at the recent news that California governor Gray Davis is trying to get listed in the recall election as a succeed himself! So does he think that somebody who votes to remove Davis from office is going to vote to elect him as the replacement? As I noted below, a vote not to recall is inherently a vote for Davis. It makes no sense to vote to recall Davis but also to re-elect him, unless one wants to "send a message."

I reckon that's a possibility, but not a very likely one. This possibility certainly does not strike me as grounds for a lawsuit to get Davis listed as a candidate. (I'll look for a link to that story.)

However, there is a mathematical aspect to this vote that might be the twist. What percentage of the votes on the specific question of recall is necessary to remove him from office? And if the recall succeeds, what percentage of votes is necessary to win the office as a replacement?

I think I've read that the replacement only needs to win a plurality of votes. Let's assume for a moment that the recall question is decided by a simple majority in favor or opposed. Imagine a scenario in which Davis is recalled, with 51% voting to recall him. Now, he has so far succeeded in getting a Federal court to block part of California recall law, so people who vote against recall will actually be allowed to vote for a replacement governor. With several candidates running to replace him, and no primaries, the votes for replacements might be heavily divided, with no candidate gaining an outright majority. Then if the 49% who voted against the recall hang together and vote for Davis as the "replacement," he could easily stay in office, despite being recalled.

I understand that he is wildly unpopular right now, so the percentages are unlikely to come out exactly the way I've described. But it is mathematically and even legally possible, if the current Federal court ruling stands and Davis wins his suit to get on the ballot.

This does not mean that it would be appropriate. California had written its laws so that a governor losing a recall vote would, in fact, be recalled. Now that's been partly tossed out by a court, opening the door for outcomes unintended by the people or the legislature that wrote the laws.

Tuesday, August 05, 2003

RE: Al Qaeda

I do believe that if Al Qaeda saw it in their interests to have an "intelligence" community, they would. I think by the very fact that the WTC required years of planning AND it was pulled off without a hitch - that indicates that Al-Qaeda is committed to their goals, and if their goals include espionage, then they'll make it happen. The next question to ask is if it is in their interests to do so. If we assume that their interests are to create as much chaos and damage to the US as possible, then it would seem that infiltrating our intelligence community would only help this endeavor. Especially since our country has been on alert since 9/11. It would be to their advantage to know what leads our government was following and to know what we plan on doing about it. Now that we've determined it would be to their advantage, how would they infiltrate? Tim has an excellent point when he states that although it might be difficult for them to get inside the government agencies themselves, it would be much simpler to coerce someone already on the inside. I would assume that in order to coerce someone, you either have to blackmail them (not likely if they already work for a government agency) or they have to pay extremely well. So then it comes down to another of Tim's points - do they have the resources?? Excellent question - I really have no idea! But I'll take a guess...For the WTC, did the pilots pay for their own schooling or did Al-Qaeda pay for it? Any terrorist act committed, does the participant pay for it or the Al-Qaeda? Do they just plan the events or do they guarantee their success? I would think that the participants pay for it themselves, otherwise they'd leave a trail right back to Al-Qaeda. So how would they afford to pay a spy? Perhaps there's a complicated network among the Al-Qaeda in order to pay their terrorists without a warning sign lighting up? Tim, any more thoughts on this?


I'm eagerly going to watch the new series, "MI-5" on A&E tonight. It's on Tuesday nights at 10:00 PM. I heard the pilot episode got a bit preachy and political, but I'll give it a chance. Plenty of shows try to be controversial in the pilot but then settle down. And ever since "The Agency" was cancelled, I've been eager for another espionage-themed series.

Counterintelligence and al-Qaeda

E, this brings up something I've been wondering about this week: could al-Qaeda try to infiltrate our intelligence organizations? Are they that sophisticated?

Now, having a Saudi subject pose as an American and apply to the FBI or CIA would be difficult. Those agencies do check people out, after all. But what about al-Qaeda approaching an American and trying to turn him? They do manage to get native American recruits, after all: John Walker Lindh, Jose Padilla, that group near Buffalo, etc., have all been alleged to have joined in one fashon or another. It would be valuable to them to have their agent inside our intelligence community and able to tell them when we're closing in on them.

Does al-Qaeda have the patience and the resources to create an intelligence network? They've certainly had moderately-long-term plans when it comes to some bombings (I think the World Trade Center attack is thought to have been five years in planning). They wouldn't have needed a network of spies much, until after that attack. Right now it would be especially useful to them, since they're on the defensive but still fighting. But do they have the resources?

Counterintelligence or something like that

I read two very interesting articles today, both about espionage. The first one is an eye opener for everyone in the technology and business world. No longer is the threat of spies just present in embassadors and diplomats. No, the real threat today is spies in corporations, research centers, and universities who get paid to find out the sought after "secret" to whatever successful method they are implementing at the time. Our "enemy" is not just Russia, in fact, even though they are still considered a threat, our largest threat is China. Even friendly countries such as Taiwan pose a threat. After the Soviet Union collapsed, counterintelligence measures (in the FBI) were drastically reduced, and it was not considered a problem until after 9/11. It's kinda funny this article came out yesterday, and then this one followed. Chinese students have admitted to reporting US secrets of defense technology to the Chinese military. That's almost scary - do you know how many graduate students and therefore scientists there are in this country who are foreign nationals?!?! I can tell you from experience that the majority of graduate students in the sciences these days are not American, or are American but have close ties to foreign countries. My graduate advisor was Korean (but a US citizen) however his post doc was NOT a US citizen, she was Korean. The post-doc before her was Russian, and before him was Korean. In the same department another professor (who was Chinese origin, but a US citizen) had a chinese post-doc. All of them were working (indirectly) for the US military on technology advancements. And that's just in one small area, I can imagine (or should I say can't imagine) the number of foreign nationals in military labs, and private company labs associated with the US military. As sad as it is to say, I'm not surprised by the Chinese students actions. In fact, I am surprised that this is the first time they've caught someone in technological espionage. What an easy way to gain knowledge of your enemies - send your youth to school, and have them get jobs in the scientific community, and sit back and wait.

Correction on Terrorism Futures

I got an e-mail back from Robin Hanson, the George Mason University professor who seems to have put together the concept of markets in "idea futures," such as DARPA's now-shelved proposal for terrorism (PAM).

I had speculated about the implementation of a terrorism futures market below. Among other points, I discussed (#4) how the market might undercut its own effectiveness, and possible ways around that. Predictions of terrorist attacks would no doubt be acted upon by the United States, and if they were prevented, the futures "contract" would not pay out.

Dr. Hanson corrects me: "PAM was never intended to predict details of individual terrorist attacks. It was about aggregate geopolitical trends."

Okay, so that sounds like it might have been more geared towards questions like, "Will Arafat hold on to power?", or "Will the Middle Eastern economy grow next year?" ...instead of my too-specific idea of "Will al-Qaeda hit New York?" That makes sense.

Mars Polar Lander, Part Deux!

My friend Jeff writes that NASA's going to refly the Mars Polar Lander. Or rather, a copy of it. You might recall that Episode One crashed. I seem to remember it was a problem with the retrorockets, but I'll have to go back and check. Jeff says they've fixed the line of C code that was responsible, "and 'Project PHOENIX' is born!"

He concludes, "I guess the '' folks (not sure if the website still lives) won after all!" I'm getting this funny mental image of a bunch of scientists in tie-dyed T-shirts and sandals chanting "Save the Mars Lander!" at a protest outside NASA HQ.

UPDATE: Ummm...don't try going to the "" link if you're at the office or are easily embarrassed. The domain is up for sale, and it's been taken over by...certain..."specialty" medical products.

FURTHER UPDATE: Considering the lost domain above, the story on the Save the Mars Lander! movement can be found in an old article here. Thanks to Jeff for the link.

Monday, August 04, 2003

More on Telemarketers

There has been a lot of controversy concerning this new "do not call" list, supported by the federal government. Companies are suing the goverment because of this. Previously, I suggested they find a new means of marketing their product. But I wasn't thinking of this. I was thinking more along the lines of a different marketing environment, maybe a TV station devoted to marketing products (not the shopping channel, more of a variety of products instead). No, the telemarketing companies instead have developed a legal but devious way to lure people back into the annoying telephone calls. Now they send post cards offering free products...sounds innocent. Until you read the super super fine print which states that "By completing this form, you agree that sponsors and co-sponsors of this offer may telephone you, even if your number is found on a do not call registry or list." I was cautious of free offers before, but beware - if you have your number on a do not call list like myself and you want to keep it on there, I would look for the strings attached.

Terrorism futures

Yesterday's Wall Street Journal has an interesting discussion of terrorism futures markets. Reuven Brenner brings up drawbacks to DARPA's implementation, in addition to why such a market is generally a good idea.

Sunday, August 03, 2003

The Simpsons on astronomers

From last week's Simpsons:

Prof. Frink [to Lisa]: For astronomers, like me, [light pollution] is even a bigger problem than...oh, say, getting a date! ...which is difficult...for the geeky people...
Prof. Frink: I'd like to help; I would, but if I leave this observatory, another astronomer will mooooove right in [gestures]. They're like hermit crabs, they really are--Oh! There's one right now--I see you! [throws microscope at astronomers hiding in woods]

Astronomer #1 [to Astron. #2]: You said he was out of microscopes! [runs away]


It's like that day in and day out, here at NASA.

Acceptable stereotypes

Ohhhhhh boy... As an expatriate East Tennessee farm boy (from the Smoky Mountains, no less), I occasionally run into Yankees who actually seem to believe these stereotypes. Heck, I ran into some of this just by going into town for high school. Right now, I'm just rolling my eyes. Like this author says, "I'm not a citizen of the United States of the Offended," but it does get tiresome after a while.

For years, one thing I've said about the fun of going to grad school was the knowledge that when I was finished, I'd still have this accent and a Ph.D. in astrophysics. Heh, heh, heh...

Boeing had some bad news this past week in their rocket division, and I hope they're not limiting the country's launch capabilities as a result.

Friday, August 01, 2003

No Hubble in the Air & Space Museum

A friend of mine just wrote and said that the Hubble Space Telescope will not be recovered and donated to the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum at the end of its mission. Instead, it will be allowed to burn up in the atmosphere. Either it will fall in an uncontrolled re-entry, or it will be more directly de-orbited by attaching a rocket motor.

He says is reporting much the same thing today. I'll look for an exact link later.

There's been a debate on just this question for some time now. I was a graduate student at the Space Telescope Science Institute, which operates the Hubble and manages its science, and we talked about this several times, informally. I think instinctively, a lot of us would love to have that giant satellite here on display to look and gawk at. When I first saw the Smithsonian's display of the full-scale engineering model, I was amazed at its sheer size, and I'd already been working with HST (Hubble Space Telescope) data for a year. It's just so much more impressive to see it for real (even a mock-up). Here's a photo of the real thing, apparently while it was in the world's largest clean-room here at Goddard Space Flight Center, before launch.

But to retrieve it would cost an entire shuttle flight. I don't have recent numbers, but I think those are usually estimated at $500,000,000 each. Furthermore, although these kinds of retrieval missions have long been considered for the shuttle program, I don't know if any shuttle has ever landed with such a heavy payload. There are always risks involved. And there is probably little scientific or engineering justification for bringing it back. I'd love to see it or even get to touch the observatory I used during my Ph.D., but I reckon I understand if the costs outweigh the benefits.

MORE: My friend e-mails again to say that has links to several "what do we do with it" presentations from a recent meeting.


E, I just saw that article on Poindexter resigning. I'm getting pretty ticked off at Barbara Boxer (D, Cal.), Byron Dorgan (D, N.D.), Hillary Rodham (D, N.Y.), et al. for their grandstanding. I saw the film clips of Boxer interrogating Wolfowitz the other day and demanding somebody's resignation for daring to propose a system that gives financial rewards for accurate predictions of terrorist attacks! Why, the nerve!

And now it's happened--we've had a resignation, and the concept is shelved. The Republic is not better off for this. Boxer and the others ought to be ashamed.

Yesterday, I read all of the articles that the Washington Post has written about the project (search their archives for "DARPA"), and they mostly had general descriptions that were repeated, almost verbatim, from one article to the next. Most of the reporting covered the controversy heavily but really didn't illuminate the reader as to the workings of these new market theories. The only press coverage I have seen that went into detail on how this would have worked was Brit Hume's show on Fox News last night.

The Washington Post stories did, however, bring up a point I was not aware of: other government agencies would not have access to the identities or money of market traders. I wonder if that would go against my answers to questions #1 and #5 below? Maybe, maybe not. It didn't say that DARPA or the Department of Defense would not have access to their identities, and the DoD does have an intelligence service, after all.

But I'd like to read more about what the plans had been--whether traders would have been screened, or perhaps checked up on after they received a payout. The questions about how we'd deal with al-Qaeda playing the market are obvious ones and problems which DARPA must surely have thought about. And probably thought through much more thoroughly than the politicians leading the lynch mob did.

This brings up another point--if these politicians really wanted to get answers to their questions, they should have asked somebody from DARPA to come answer them. The Deputy Secretary of Defense had only just found out about the program, as he said, so he was in no position to explain the details to Congress.

To read about these kinds of markets, see Robin Hanson's webpage and references therein.

I'm confused!

So I'm reading up on the world news today, and discover something that has me quite confused. I did not know this, but in Iran there is a group called the People's Mujahedin, or Mujahedin-e-Khalq Organization (MEK). The US considers it a terrorist group. OK - nothing confusing so far. They are dedicated to the overthrow of Iran's Islamic fundamentalist regime , and were highly supported by Saddam Hussein. OK - still no confusion. The confusion sets in when I read "The group's aim is to replace Iran's religious government with democratically elected leadership." Whoa! Slow down! Doesn't the US support a democratic government? Wasn't our reason for this war with Iraq (besides WMD) to overthrow Iraq's government and replace it with a democratic one? So why do we consider them a terrorist group? Is it because they were supported by Hussein or is it their methods? Shouldn't we support a group that wants freedom from an oppressing regime and wants a democratic government? So confused...

More insight into FutureMAP

OK - I finally read up (what I could) on FutureMAP and the Terrorism market. I was intrigued to discover that Ret. Adm Poindexter was involved with Oliver North in the Iran-Contra affair (shows what I know) but was brought "quietly" back into the Pentagon last year. If the military brought him back, that's a sign to me that they highly valued his opinion, and considered him an expert on such matters of national security. Rumsfeld seems to have shot down his market idea because he looked at it from the point of view that the US would be betting on death and terrorism. I don't see how that could be a reason when the point of the market is to prevent terrorist acts. Of course, I can understand where the public would be apprehensive about it until the market proved itself, and therefore it got cancelled to avoid the hassle which would appear consequently. But in my opinion it is an ingenious idea that would work well if utilized correctly. I like Tim's answers to his questions, I think he does a great job of addressing certain issues that may arise if this form of anti-terrorism was implemented.