Wednesday, December 20, 2006

"Iran Now Nuclear Power"

Ooooh, goodie!

What do international law and Methodism have in common?

The answer is Hugo Grotius (1583-1645).

My wife and I have been getting into theological discussions lately, and it's prompted me to look up more on my Methodist theology. Methodism's character was formed by John Wesley (1703-1791), of course, who founded our movement. Wesley's theology was similar to Arminianism, and in fact, he founded the Arminian Magazine (1778-1969, with some name changes; revived 1980-present) for the promotion of Methodist teaching. Wesley, as I understand it, didn't come to his beliefs as a direct result of reading Arminianism, but his theology is closely identified with it.

Arminianism is traced back in a formal sense to Jacobus Arminius (Jacob Harmenszoon; 1560-1609) a University of Leyden professor and Dutch theologian. His theology is often contrasted with Calvinism, especially over the famous "Five Points of Calvinism." Arminian teaching holds that Christ died for all and that there is (in practice) free will.

In the early Dutch Republic, after the overthrow of Spainish dominion and Catholicism, Calvinism grew to prominence. Arminius' views changed, as he studied and rejected some the Calvinist doctrines. Church issues got caught up in politics, there still being an official religion at that time. After his death in 1609, his followers published the "Five articles of Remonstrance" against Calvinism. The national synod he had called for to debate the issue was finally provided in the Synod of Dort (Dordrecht), but it turned out not to be a two-sided debate but a heresy trial for the Arminians. Excluded from speaking or debating, the conclusion was..ahem...predestined, and the Arminians were imprisoned or banished from the country. The "Five Points of Calvinism" were part of the synod's proclamation.

Now, where does Hugo Grotius fit in? Huig de Groot (his Dutch name) was a child prodigy who had lived up to his early promise. When the Arminian "Remonstrants" published their points in 1610, the official government position was to be one of tolerance for the Arminians. Grotius, then a rising star in the government and a protege of statesman Johan van Oldenbarnevelt, was asked in 1613 to write the edict of toleration. Grotius had been developing a theory of church/state relations, holding that "only the basic tenets necessary for undergirding civil order (e.g., the existence of God and His providence) ought to be enforced while differences on obscure theological doctrines should be left to private conscience." (From Wikipedia) The official proclamation didn't exactly end the crisis, unfortunately. The public arguments worsened, the Synod of Dort was convened, and the Prince of Orange saw van Oldenbarnevelt and Grotius as political threats. They were arrested, van Oldenbarnevelt was executed, and Grotius was to be imprisoned for life.

Fortunately, Grotius escaped and fled to France (What--royal France, haven of political and religious toleration? As opposed to those intolerant Dutch?? Well, times change...). There he wrote both a book on Christian apologetics from a Protestant perspective and his works on international law and just war theory.

Grotius is today recognized as the founder of the modern system of international law (as much as I dislike where it's gone these days). His Christian apologetics remained in print through the end of the 1800s (by the way, his Dutch version of this is entirely in verse!). And he further developed Arminian thinking, proposing the now-widespread "Moral Government" theory of Jesus' atonement.

Beyond the person of Grotius himself, I find interesting the frequent emphasis by Arminians on toleration. Grotius published an official edict on this, and he was already developing a theory of church and state that advocated reducing the governmentally-prescribed beliefs to the bare minimum. (Well, the minimum as they saw it.) Move the details of theology into the sphere of private conscience. The Arminian "Remonstrants" as a whole asked for toleration, as well. Maybe partly because they were then in the minority, but it did go along with their belief that people's interpretations of scripture could be debated and change over time. We find the same strain In Methodism, as well. Of course, we started within Anglicanism, which had already sought to achieve the broadest-possible consensus within the denomination and thus holds only to 39 articles of religion (compare this with the catechisms of some other denominations). Then Methodism, with its emphasis on practical application and away from abstract theology, reduced these further to 25 articles. It holds that only the fundamental understandings of salvation and faith need to be agreed upon within the denomination, and everything else left to private conscience.

Well, this went on much longer than I'd planned, but I hope you've enjoyed this tour of a rather winding thread.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

A good response to the world-government types

Some of our black-robed would-be masters in the judiciary have tried to apply foreign precedent to interpreting American laws. There are others on the Left who want to subject America to all sorts of multilateral treaties and sign away our sovereignty. I've always held that democracy depends to a great extent on popular sovereignty-the ability of a people to govern themselves, without outside interference.

I was reading the Articles of Religion of the Methodist Church this week. The Methodist Church, of course, was born as a movement within the Church of England and only became a separate denomination with the American Revolution. The existing Anglican bishops served under (at least nominal authority of) the King of England. While most of the 25 articles of our doctrine are pared down from the Anglican Church's 39, Article XXIII was added to make something explicit:

The President, the Congress, the general assemblies, the governors, and the councils of state, as the delegates of the people, are the rulers of the United States of America, according to the division of power made to them by the Constitution of the United States and by the constitutions of their respective states. And the said states are a sovereign and independent nation, and ought not to be subject to any foreign jurisdiction.

[Emphasis in original.]

I like that. Not only on the foreign issue, but also in how we explicitly mention the states.

"Family" TV, then and now

We're here watching the Disney Channel's marathon of "holiday" episodes. The "Proud Family" just got taught the true meaning of The Holidays by a kindly bunch of black nationalist angels: don't celebrate Christmas, but instead celebrate the "cooperative economics" of Kwanzaa. The "Even Stevens" Hanukkah episode was much better, great, in fact--religion was explicit, with hymns being sung and the story of Hanukkah being recited. Now, for Christmas, apparently, there's the "Lizzie Maguire" episode that seems to be explaining the true meaning of Christmas as something to do with elves. Woah--out of the blue, the annoying little brother character is reciting the nativity story out of Luke (I think Luke)! Didn't see that coming... Aaaand he's done. Those few seconds were the only mention of religion in this show. Well, it was a start, anyway.

But my real point here was to get onto the decline of "family" TV shows over the past two decades. In the 1980s, with us not having cable (and for that matter, only picking up one channel), most nights had an hour or more of prime-time shows that all of the family could enjoy together. I don't mean kids' shows. I mean comedies like, say, "M*A*S*H," "Who's the Boss?," "Growing Pains," "Coach," "The Cosby Show," or "Benson." Mom and Dad watched these, too. Even the dramas were generally fine for kids to watch.

This has been pointed out in more detail by many other people, but there's been a decline in the 8:00 "family hour" of programming, going to more and more adult-oriented shows, or at least adding more bad language and sexual situations. (Someone put the start of the fall with "Rosanne.")

But this isn't the whole story that I'm getting at. At the same time as the prime time shows have changed to aim for adults, there has opened up a cable market for shows kids can watch. Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel come to mind, although I've only seen the latter.

Though these Disney Channel shows superficially remind me of the '80s family sitcoms, they've got a noticeable difference in style and quality. Many of them are nearly unwatchable from an adult's perspective. They're over-acted, the humor is juvenile, and the directing is over the top. Everything is exaggerated. Parents act like big teenagers, with no maturity or self-respect, and they get little respect from their brat kids, who get scripts full of smart-alecky remarks and sarcastic come-backs.

You can debate the quality of the '80s family shows I mentioned above, but at least they had material adults could appreciate. I've enjoyed a couple of Disney shows. "Even Stevens" was pretty good (though now off the air), and "Kim Possible" is an excellent cartoon. But that's about it for me.

The wife has said that "Scrubs" reminds her of a grown-up version of these kids' shows. She's right--there's the same intentional exaggeration, the intentional silliness, and use of sound effects. But it is of far better quality, so we enjoy it.

I wonder if the proliferation of cable channels has led to niche programming [Brilliant insight, genius!--ed.], and the assumption that kids are going to watch shows on their channels, adults will watch their channels, and nobody's going to watch together. Maybe everybody's got two TVs these days, but this kind of fragmentation isn't such a good thing.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Re: How not to conduct a religious debate

Sigh. I keep finding more little gems in that discussion on The Nativity I linked to below. Here, commenter "Christopher" says,

You think that we should talk about all this stuff, but the Church after thinking much longer and harder on it than we have, has said we should not delve into too much of the specifics, but should keep it closer to mystery. Don't you think they have a good reason for saying so? Do you really think this was just some arbitrary request of the Church? Do you really think so much of your opinion, that you are unwilling to admit that maybe the Church is the one that is right?

Sigh, part 2. Shocking how closely that reminds me, by way of contrast, of this statement of Saint Augustine's (Confessions, Book 11, Ch. 12):

How, then, shall I respond to him who asks, "What was God doing before he made heaven and earth?" I do not answer, as a certain one is reported to have done facetiously (shrugging off the force of the question). "He was preparing hell," he said, "for those who pry too deep." It is one thing to see the answer; it is another to laugh at the questioner -- and for myself I do not answer these things thus. More willingly would I have answered, "I do not know what I do not know," than cause one who asked a deep question to be ridiculed -- and by such tactics gain praise for a worthless answer.

It's not that Christopher was making fun of the one who asked the question; he was criticizing him, which is about as bad.

People, we have brains, and to say that discussion and questioning aren't allowed, even in principle, is to turn good people away from their faith.

The reason Christmas is December 25

I got so caught up in reading Mark Shea's blog post on The Nativity that I forgot the reason I surfed over there. Here is his well-written explanation of why Christmas is celebrated on December 25. It's not a revamped Mithraic holiday. The reasoning behind December 25 is faulty, or at least relies on a pious superstition, but it's not to take over the cult of Mithras.

Shea doesn't discuss the Saturnalia, though, which is the one I'd always heard, rather than the Mithraic celebration of the Winter solstice.

How not to conduct a religious debate

Over at Mark Shea's excellent Catholic blog, there's been a lively discussion over the movie, The Nativity Story, and one specific detail of Catholic doctrine. Being a Methodist, I won't comment upon the specifics, but I have been interestedly reading along.

I think, though, that the style of the debate in some places compares unfavorably with that I linked to at Southern Appeal, a few posts below. For example, there's this little gem:
"Unfortunately, in this post Enlightenment Age, people are convinced that their opinion really means something."
And this one, "Back not so long ago honorable men would not dare to disrespect a Priest in such a way for fear, both of God and perhaps of a good whipping behind the shed! " That latter remark came after a priest had said somebody else's comment was a "libel," and a third person asked whether this was what Saint Francis would have done.

And this is a debate within a single denomination. I'm much more impressed now with how that Catholic/Protestant debate was handled over at Southern Appeal.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

On the workings of the Holy Ghost

Methodist Bishop Will Willimon has some interesting things to say here, about Christians' involvement in politics, the watering-down of religion, and the driving force of the Holy Spirit. I particularly liked this bit:

Willimon quipped that he sometimes felt that the United Methodist General Conferences were designed "to use Robert's Rules of Order to keep the church safe from the Holy Spirit."

He seems to be somewhere in the middle, politically, and a conservative, theologically. From what I'm reading here, I'd be proud to have him as my bishop. Wonder which Conference he's bishop of?

Reminds me--I was thinking this week about how the Holy Spirit works in the church today, and you get the idea from some people that His inspiration is limited to properly convened meetings, with quorums (quora?) (wait--or is "quorum" genitive plural?), procedures, rules, precedents, and so on... So I particularly enjoyed this quip.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Weird Revelations on the US Bugging Princess Diana

Well, I don't know quite what to say about this post of Mickey Kaus', on the news this week that the Clinton administration had bugged Princess Diana and was interested in her relationship with Ted Forstmann, a New York financier and Republican, who had some political aspirations (he considered running against Hillary! Clinton in 2000). According to aides of both Diana's and Forstmann's, there was a romantic interest, and Diana had dreams of ultimately being First Lady.


Again, ...huh.

UPDATE: Byron York's got more on this at National Review. For me, most articles about foreign royalty fall into the category of trashy celebrity gossip. So I don't really care about it all, except that it's kind of funny, and it involves the Clinton bunch. But I made a mistaken implication above--that the interest in wiretapping her might have been that Forstmann was considering running against Hillary in 2000. Well, Diana died in 1997, so their interest in Forstmann wasn't that he was specifically any rival of Hillary's.

UPDATE 2: "Never mind."

A Government-authorized Protection Racket

Via Instapundit, the Volokh Conspiracy reports on a jaw-dropping case of eminent domain abuse. Here, a city has authorized a private land development firm to do the work, but also to demand what sounds like a bribe (of $800,000) from landowners in return for not condemning their land! At least, I gather that the city authorized them to extort this sort of money.

With my limited knowledge, I don't see that this is necessarily unconstitutional at the Federal level. But you'd sure think it would be outlawed by the state, under corruption laws. At the very least, the citizens of Port Chester, New York, ought to assert their rights as free citizens and demand that their city fathers be accountable to them.

Ilya Somin (who wrote the post) offers much more detail here, in his original post on the subject. It's not clear that the city government authorized this extortion, but when the landowner refused to pay the developer, they certainly authorized the land's condemnation. Even more interestingly, the developer gave the landowner (who wanted to put in a CVS pharmacy) three options: pay him $800,000 outright, let him go in 50/50 on the CVS business, or suffer the consequences of having his land condemned. The owner stood firm...and wound up with option #3.

I agree with some the commenter Joel Mackey on Somin's follow-up post, who says that the developer ought to be charged with extortion, and let that be the end of this.

Scary. The more publicity on this case, the better.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Catholics and Protestants Debating "Unity"

Let me link to this interesting discussion over at Southern Appeal, which was one of the first blogs to link to us here. Hunter Baker was musing about the possibilities for rapproachment (sp?) between Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox churches, and he wondered whether any fellow Protestants might be eager to join them if they reunified.

The resulting debate has raised a number of interesting issues that I hadn't realized were lying in wait, there. Your humble correspondent has been participating in this debate, and I've made a number of posts there. I'll probably summarize them here, later.

Some of my questions center on the intent behind Anglican-Catholic discussions that have been going on for some time now. For a critical Anglican's view on these, take a look at Archbishop Cranmner's blog. The latest relevant posts His Grace has made are here and, more usefully, here.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Water on Mars? NASA Press Conference Announced

"Water!" is just speculation, but NASA's press release today (link via Drudge) is headlined, "NASA Schedules Briefing to Announce Significant Find on Mars." It's live at 1:00 PM EST and will present results from the Mars Global Surveyor. Global Surveyor completed exactly one decade in space on November 7th, and on the eve of that anniversary...we lost contact. NASA now says that Global Surveyor's mission is likely finished, as a result.

Stay tuned Wednesday to find out what they've found. I don't know for sure whether it's going to be a general mission wrap-up or something more specific, but "significant find" sounds pretty specific!

Interestingly, here's a related report that the new Mars orbiter, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, has taken photos of the old Viking 1 & 2 landers, which touched down on the surface in 1976.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Movie Review Sunday: Lost Horizon

Another movie we've recently seen is Lost Horizon (1937). This one is a classic and undeniably well-made. My wife and I wholeheartedly disagreed with the entire premise, but we enjoyed watching it. It takes place from 1935-37, as a British diplomat is escaping a local rebellion in China and helping other Englishmen get on the planes to take them to safety. His own plane is instead forcibly taken to some place in Tibet or Nepal, off all of the maps, and he finds Shangri-La. Shangri-La is ruled by a three hundred year-old Belgian priest (the fantastic ages possible here are part of the premise) as the High Lama, and it is a place of peacefulness and harmony. The guiding philosophy (they demurr when asked of their "religion") is one of "moderation in all things." Quite Epicurean, in the true sense of that word.

The film quite nicely represents a liberal (in the modern sense) utopia, not only in outcome, but also in the reasoning behind it. No police are needed because crime is unknown. Crime is unknown because every man has enough of what he wants, and if there is no lack, how can there be greed? The baser aspects of human nature are gone, somehow--rather than being part of human nature, they are seen by the characters as merely social problems whose causes they have eliminated.

The day-to-day leader, Chang, explains the moderation-in-all-things premise to include virtue itself: they only aim to have moderate virtue. I've forgotten some of my college philosophy class, but I remember our discussing whether the Epicureans believed in only moderate virtue, as well. ...and I don't remember the answer.

Hmmm...that "moderate virtue" part may go a long way to explaining why they allow someone to steal another's wife, if he really wants her badly enough. In that case, Chang explains, the husband should simply give the man his wife.

The High Lama and our hero, Robert Conway, discuss the awfulness of war and how to avoid it. MInd you, this is 1937, as tensions are rising with Germany. The Lama says that war can be stopped even in the face of an invading army, if you were to put down your (defensive) arms and welcome the invaders in. And they will say to themselves, "why, what wonderful people these are! Surely we can't shoot them!" And peace will reign. As my father says of such ideas, "There's always the peace of the grave."

I will say, that as foolish as I believe all these ideas to be, Lost Horizon does an excellent job of presenting the liberal argument attractively and without malice, and so it's a pleasure to watch. I think that most viewers today, even liberals, will be amazed at the naivite and silly assumptions that are presented here. We're seeing it with the full experience of the twentieth century. And I think the past hundred years have disabused even the utopians of a lot of their notions.

Still, watch it and see what thinking was considered part of the mainstream of literature, if not politics, seventy years ago.

Movie Review Sunday: The Legend of Zorro

Last weekend, we watched "The Legend of Zorro" on TV. I'd rented it last year but after the Southern-bashing in the beginning of the movie, I got fed up and turned it off. This time, I figured I'd grin and bear it to the end. Well, the anti-Southern bits turned out to be too ridiculous to get worked up over. So I'll get worked up over them here:

Now, our movie takes place as California is voting to join the United States. Specifically, it's 1850, and we know that because at the end of the movie, an act of statehood is passed and signed and dated. So, when early on, we are introduced to P. G. T. Beauregard (yes, General Beauregard), we've got to marvel at his prescience as he says that he's afraid the Confederacy will secede if California joins the union as a "free state." Let's parse that sentence. So before secession, there was a Confederacy? Within the United States? People, the Confederacy didn't exist until after multiple states had seceded. Oh, and this is a full decade beforehand.

Then there is the scene in which Confederate soldiers in gray uniforms are working for the bad guys (of course) and fighting Zorro. Again, this is a decade before they existed!

And finally, let me mention that I had forgotten that part of my Confederate States history in which General P. G. T. Beauregard was killed by a massive nitroglycerin explosion in 1850, as he was about to transport it by the Transcontinental Railroad (completed 19 years later) to aid the Confederate States in destroying Washington, in order to advance the intrests of a secret society bent on ruling the world. That must have been his ghost leading us to victory at First Manassas eleven years later.

I'll end my sarcasm here. I really enjoyed the earlier Mask of Zorro, with the same principal actors. Legend didn't live up to it. Aside from the explicit Confederate bashing, there was also the bad guy with a Southern accent and a cross branded on his cheek who was always spouting off ethnic insults and saying he was doing the "Lord's work" by attacking Mexicans. Hey--they put my preacher in the movie! OK, I'll really end the sarcasm this time.

And aside from my people all made out to be bad guys, it wasn't as exciting a movie as the first. It reminded me a bit of the later episodes of MacGyver, in which he stopped chasing spies and terrorists and South American dictators and started working on after school programs and helping aging boxers and things like that. I think one episode, his only gadget was a cold compress, when the boxer took a hit to the face. Sheesh. In this movie, Zorro's graduated to making public appearances at election sites and saving the ballot box. More exciting than that MacGyver episode, but not very swashbuckling.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

More on Bond

Here's a story on the same subject as my previous post, this one by Simon Winder, the author of The Man Who Saved Britain: A Personal Journey Through The Disturbing World Of James Bond. The Dynamist Blog story I linked to below is taken mostly from his book. I apologize that I've only gotten Scotland's "Sunday Herald" story by the Google cache. They've moved their links, and I haven't bothered to hunt around for the thing.

The original world of Casino Royale

Via Instapundit, here's an eye-opening explanation of the context of Ian Fleming's book, Casino Royale. Now, I've read a few of Fleming's books, and I think I've seen all of the James Bond movies, but I hadn't realized the great differences in the cultural landscape from then 'til today. Sure, the early-mid '60s, in which many of the Sean Connery movies were made, had a lot more class and formality than today, but I always figured that I knew enough about the culture then to understand what I was watching.

But Casino Royale was written in 1952 (if I've read correctly), long before any of the movie adaptations had made it to the big screen. (Actually, Casino Royale was featured as a TV movie on the show "Climax!" in 1954; supposedly a good adaptation. We'll slip past the awful 1967 movie spoof version without comment, which is the only movie my dad has ever walked out of.) So the original settings were much earlier than even the movies.

Great Britain of the early 1950s was a much different place than it was in the high-Cold-War 1960s. They were living in the aftermath of the War, and wartime privations were not entirely gone. The Dynamist blog describes currency and travel restrictions from England to France that were still in place then, making a French casino a quite exotic and unreachable place to the British readers.

Frustratingly, it doesn't explain exactly what those restrictions were, although it says that some remnants of them continued even through the 1970s! I've got to find out what these entailed--legal anachronisms fascinate me.

Incidentally, even the mention of an avacado in the book was exotic back then. Not that people didn't know what they were, but after the war, they simply weren't available. In a different way, it reminds me of an ear-opening experience I had listening to the comedy channel on XM Radio last week. They were playing a clip from "You Bet Your Life," with Groucho Marx. It was the part of the show in which he introduced each of the contestants and asked them about themselves. One lady was of Mexican background, married to a husband of Irish ancestry. She described all the kinds of Mexican foods she liked to fix for him--tacos, enchiladas, etc. "What's his favorite?," Marx asked. "Steak and potatoes." She said this without laughing.

But the interesting thing was that after she mentioned tacos, enchiladas, and the rest, Marx asked her, "Could you tell me, what is a taco?" And she went on to describe the concept. Now, whether Marx already knew and was just setting up the next joke is beside the point--what's amazing is that the audience wasn't expected to know what a taco was! Could you imagine that today?

I remember in the early 1980s, my family occasionally fixing tacos or taco salad at home. No hispanics in our part of the state back then, either. So it had certainly become part of the general culture 20-25 years after this show was on.

Another assassination in Lebanon

A Lebanese Christian leader was assassinated in Lebanon this week, probably by the Syrians, again. At least, everybody figures it's the Syrians. As far as "why?", there is interesting discussion at Sandmonkey's blog. Scroll down to the input by reader "Vox" on the Lebanese parliamentary rules. I don't follow the whole thing (the alliances in the government seem contradictory to me, but that could be just me, or it could be the complexity of Lebanese politics), but the gist seems to be that if 1/3 of the ministers leave the government, whether by resigning or dying, the government falls. According to this reader, if the Syrians get only one more minister killed, the government will be dismissed.

Farther down the discussion, reader "tommy" suggests that if that happens, with Syria managing a coup to bring themselves back in to run Lebanon, then Israel should wait patiently as the Syrian army crosses into Lebanon...and then launch an all-out offensive against Syria proper. Boy, wouldn't I love to see that happen!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Home fusion generator

Check out this story about a high school senior who has become only the 18th amateur ever to create nuclear fusion. (link via Drudge) Impressive stuff. I liked the quote from his mother:

Thiago's mom, Natalice Olson, initially was leery of the project [...] "Originally, he wanted to build a hyperbolic chamber," she said, adding that she promptly said no. But, when he came asking about the nuclear fusion machine, she relented.

I like her ability to set limits with her son. A hyperbolic chamber? Not on your life! Nuclear fusion? Well, OK.

I'm only kidding--I agree that with the good supervision he was getting, this can be done safely. It's not nuclear fission, mind you! I think it's hilarious that the normal activity of kids' begging their parents to let them do things (stay up late, buy a video game, go to a friend's party) in this family gets turned around into high-energy physics projects.

Incidentally, my wife and I had a similar discussion, and the upshot is that she won't let me operate a particle accelerator in the basement. :( (Yes, seriously.)

Anyway, I was confused by the reference to a "hyperbolic chamber." I'm a physicist, and I did some research in particle physics before getting into astrophysics, but I didn't know of this equipment. What's so risky about a hyperbola-shaped chamber? So I googled it. What do I come up with? This article from America's Finest News Source, The Onion.

OAK RIDGE, TN—After six grueling years of Herculean research, scientists at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory pronounced EHC-1 Alpha, the new hyperbolic chamber, "an unquestionably, undeniably, fantastically revolutionary milestone in the history of science, mankind, and the universe, all of which it will undoubtedly change forever."

(Note the double meaning of hyperbolic, here.)

Huh. Was the kid pulling one over on his mom, to let him do something he really wanted to to begin with? Does she know this thing is a joke?

Is this whole story a joke? Well, it's in the Detroit Free Press, not the Onion, and they've got a picture of the kid, so they're not just taking some wire story. Weird. Anyway, best of luck to Thiago Olson and his fusion chamber!

UPDATE: A couple of friends and my wife have all suggested the "hyperbolic chamber" mentioned in the story was probably actually a "hyperbaric chamber"--a high-pressure chamber. That makes sense, then. And the reporter's spell-checker might have "corrected" the word.

Still, I think it would have been pretty funny if the guy had pleaded with his mom for a hyperbolic chamber as a way to get her to relent on the nuclear fusion!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Jihad of the Eyes

I've forgotten where I found the link to this Moslem discussion board, but I poked around it a little and found an interesting thread: The Jihad of the Eyes during hot Summer months. ("Jihad" there is used in the general sense of "struggle," rather than in the more specific sense of "struggle to kill the infidels.")

The gist of this discussion is on the trials of being Moslem in a non-Moslem country, in which other people go around wearing less clothing, especially during the summer. Mohammed had apparently told them to keep their eyes lowered if they saw a woman showing too much, so they wouldn't be tempted. Well, in general, that's not outrageous advice, although the boundaries of how much is too much is something we're going to disagree upon.

The funny thing is the story by whom I gather is a young lady, "Ebony" (I'm figuring a she, based on her self-description as "Anti Mushy Sis"), who shares this personal anecdote:

27-05-05, 07:34 PM

Watch out for the Arrow!

Oh, what a beautiful day: Twenty-two degrees Celsius; a clear sky; the sun passionately declaring its warmth to the land below. I put on my cap and decide to go out for a walk. Moments later, I come across two scantily dressed girls, enjoying the wonderful weather. Nervously, I look down towards the cement sidewalk and walk past them. I look up, only to encounter a couple, roller blading towards me in the most fashionable, spandex exercise gear.

I fidget with my cap using it to shield myself from obscenity and continue walking. With my head down and cap covering my view, it was bound to happen some time: I walk into a lamppost and hit my head! As I lay on the sidewalk recovering from the accident, I hear a male voice asking me, Are you alright? As I open my eyes to figure out what is going on, I see a bare-chested man, jogging in position, offering his hand to help me get up. Subhan-Allah, what a day! I get up, run home, go to my room, and close my door. How am I expected to survive in such a filthy environment? Am I supposed to isolate myself from the society to escape such temptations?

No. Obviously, with every trial and difficulty Allah always provides us practical defensive tools. Keep in mind, though, that the command to control our eyes is not just a fatwa of some conservative scholar From the East. It is explicitly expressed in the words of Allah and the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

First of all, I don't get her averting her gaze from members of her own sex. Without meaning to imply anything here, surely she doesn't regard this as a problem of temptation. (I reckon maybe it's still a shock to her--I certainly wouldn't want to go for a walk and have to weave through crowds of fully-naked men, but she's talking about people with (some) clothing on.)

This sounds like a parody at first. But she goes on to provide a helpful list of advice to keep yourself from temptation:


3. Always walk with your gaze lowered. But make sure not to bump into a hydro post! Lowering the gaze does not mean that you cannot have any eye contact as you walk or during a conversation. It means that you keep your eyes under control.

4. Take the Right Seat! In a public place (e.g. café), choose a seat that minimizes your view-frame and avoid mixed-crowds. It is precisely about such comfortable gazing at the attractive features of the passers-by that the Prophet (pbuh) advised 'Ali ibn Abi Talib: "Ali, do not let a second look follow the first. The first look is allowed to you but not the second.''(Ahmad, Abu Dawud, at-Tirmidhi.)

[Is she really saying to face the wall when you're in a public place?!! Come on!]

[There follow a few reasonable suggestions about keeping friends of good character, and so on. Nothing wrong there.]

7. Avoid visiting malls and parks alone. Always try to go out with a family member or a good friend, whose company may help you avert your eyes from the objectionable billboards and inappropriately clothed people. In summer, step out only when you have to.

[Lock yourself indoors throughout the summer, unless you've really got a good reason to leave your house? Yikes!]

8. Surf or Watch TV when others are around. The temptation to sneak a look at dirty pictures is heightened when you're alone in your room watching TV or surfing the internet. Shaytan's primary target is always a lonely person! Try to avoid late night TV and internet surfing.

[OK, late night TV can be pretty raunchy in Europe--when I was in Holland recently, I joked that I found the BBC and CNN refreshingly nudity-free at 11:00 PM. Is England that bad? I assume she lives in England. But don't watch TV alone at any time of the day?!]

14. If you are able and responsible then get married for the sake of Allah. It may be one of the most effective, yet challenging, defense mechanisms against such temptations.

[I actually agree that being married is the responsible thing to do in life, but this comes across as advice to do it not for love, but to keep yourself from being tempted. ...hmmm, you can write your own joke here...]

This sounds almost like a parody, but she seems sincere.

And another thing...

Speaking of nursey rhymes, will she force these parents to sing the politically-correct versions? I've read reports lately of some school in England changing "Baa, Baa, Black Sheep" to "Baa, Baa, Rainbow Sheep," to avoid the racial overtones!

Maybe it really is April Fool's Day, and I forgot to flip my calendar...

Who is Beverley Hughes?

Heh, heh...I don't usually laugh at Nazi references, but this is pretty funny. After posting that last item, on Britain's "Children's Minister," Beverley Hughes, proposing to establish government control over how parents teach their kids nursery rhymes and brush their teeth, I searched the web in a little panic to find out if this was a spoof. An old April 1st article that Stuttaford stumbled across out of season?

Nope. I found Iain Dale commenting on the same story from a different newspaper. So who is this Beverley Hughes, and what else has she committed? I Googled her and found a Wikipedia entry. Here's where the fun begins.

Here is the link to "Beverley Hughes" in Wikipedia:

And here is the page to which you are directed:


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

(Redirected from Beverley Hughes)

Lebensborn (Source of Life, in German) was a child welfare and relocation program initiated by Nazi leader Heinrich Himmler to aid the racial heredity of the Third Reich. The program was implemented in Germany and some parts of occupied Europe. After World War II it was widely reported that the objective of the program was to establish housings where the Nazi regime would breed, through copulation, racially pure humans to create a strong race of Aryans.


The purpose of the program was to provide incentives to encourage Germans, especially SS members, to have more children.
On September 13, 1936, Himmler wrote the following to members of SS:

The organization "Lebensborn e.V." serves the SS leaders in the selection and adoption of qualified children. The organization "Lebensborn e.V." is under my personal direction, is part of the race and settlement central bureau of the SS, and has the following obligations:

(1) aid for racially and biologically-hereditarily valuable families

(2) the accommodation of racially and biologically-hereditarily valuable mothers in appropriate homes, etc.

(3) care of the children of such families

(4) care of the mothers

It is the honorable duty of all leaders of the central bureau to become members of the organization "Lebensborn e.V.".

Somebody's done a prompt job with this hack. Not that of calling it a Nazi-like proposal, mind you...just utterly totalitarian...oh, what's the difference?

This is in England?!

England. The country from whom we won our independence, over the issue of an intrusive and overbearing government. You know, I had been happily surprised a few years ago when I first visited Independence Hall, to hear that our colonial forefathers had actually been used to governing themselves pretty much. And when King George III started taking away their freedom, they demanded their rights as Englishmen. England was considered a pretty free country for its time, back then, and they were fed up with being made second-class citizens.

It makes all of those discussions of Constitutional rights that reach back to the Magna Carta and the Act of 1689 (or whatever--I can't remember the latter too well) make more sense. We weren't spawned by France or Spain, for instance.

And now, out of that same country...there's this:

Mrs Hughes condemned the way governments before 1997 thought they had no role in the upbringing of children, which it 'regarded as the entirely private arrangements families make.'

Want to know where she's going with this? She's Britain's "Children's Minister," and here's some detail on the plan:

Parents could be forced to go to special classes to learn to sing their children nursery rhymes, a minister said.
Those who fail to read stories or sing to their youngsters threaten their children's future and the state must put them right, Children's Minister Beverley Hughes said.


The call for state intervention in the minute details of family life followed a series of Labour efforts to reduce anti-social behaviour and improve educational standards by imposing rigorous controls on the lives of the youngest children.
Mrs Hughes has established a national curriculum to set down how babies are taught to speak in childcare from the age of three months.

Her efforts have gone alongside a push by other ministers to determine exactly how parents treat their children down to how they should brush their teeth.
Tony Blair has backed the idea of 'fasbos' - efforts to identify and correct the lives of children who are likely to fail even before they are born - and new laws to compel parents to attend parenting classes are on the way.

This autumn is likely to see an extension of parenting orders that can force parents to attend parenting classes so that they can be used on the say so of local councils against parents.
For the first time, parenting orders are likely to be directed against parents whose children have committed no criminal offence.

This sends chills down my spine. It is absolutely totalitarian in its outlook and approach. I'm sure that Britain remains, on balance, a free and open country. But this is the kind of government control over people's private lives that no free people should tolerate. There should be no debate over the effectiveness of this kind of program, but only an indignant rejection of the intrusion of government into children's upbringing.

I found this from Andrew Stuttaford's post on The Corner. I couldn't tell from his post whether this was a spoof or real. Even reading the whole article in This Is London, I wasn't sure it was real, but none of the commenters were laughing. Has Blair's government gone nuts?

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Was Clementine Wrong?

Via Instapundit, here's a disappointing report in Popular Mechanics that the Clementine lunar orbiter's discovery of large amounts of water ice near the lunar south pole might not be so. A lot of the signal Clementine was picking up seems to be associated also with a particular type of ejecta from young impact craters, not only with water. Cornell's Donald Bruce Campbell, using Puerto Rico's Arecibo radio observatory, found the same signal on the sunny, temperate latitudes of the moon, where no water could exist.

However, he says that it doesn't mean there's no water at the lunar poles. Clementine also picked up excess hydrogen in the polar regions, which could still be consistent with (smaller) amounts of ice mixed into the soil.

The Weekly Standard on US Space Supremacy

Over at the Weekly Standard, Michael Goldfarb writes about the US government's goal of space supremacy. That came out in a press release a few days ago, and I'm sure that the Europeans are shocked and appalled at the idea. I heard the news over the BBC World Service, which didn't scold us in the segment I heard, but the idea of "supremacy" was emphasized by the news reader.

I haven't read Goldfarb yet, but it ought to be interesting. I'll comment on it once I do.

Kerry's Komments

There's always a delight in seeing your opponents squirm, especially from making a dumb comment. But it does seem reasonable to me that Kerry was trying to make another "Bush is stupid" joke, rather than a "soldiers are stupid" one. And the release of this intended text ought to put an end to it: "You know where you end up if you don't study, if you're not smart, if you're intellectually lazy? You end up getting us stuck in a war in Iraq. Just ask President Bush."

Derbyshire and Nordlinger at National Review already thought this was a reasonable interpretation before the text was released, and I agreed with them. I've said enough things in my life that came out really, really wrong, that I am willing to give someone some benefit of the doubt in a situation like this.

Yes, it was also a reasonable interpretation that he meant just what he said, a crack about the supposed lack of smarts in soldiers. A lot on the Left probably hold that opinion, even if they're not saying it. But I'm not going to assume malice in Kerry, just because he's on the other side of the aisle, especially if I'd give a charitable interpretation to someone else.

The shocking thing is that while some conservatives honestly believe Kerry meant it as a slam against soldiers, there have been a few who don't care if it's true or not. In Derbyshire's e-mail, one correspondent quoted his comment that "Something is owed to honesty" and replied, "No, it isn't." Yikes! Now that's dishonorable and condemnable, and I hope there aren't many like that out there. When Derb calls this guy and those like him "liars for Bush," a whole bunch of others assume he meant anybody who disagrees on what Kerry meant is a "liar."

Geez, people! If you can't interpret Derb's easily-understood sentence properly, how can you expect to figure out what Kerry meant?!

I'm getting annoyed at all of the high campaign season dishonesty and rushing to misunderstand anyone who disagrees with you.

UPDATE: Incidentally, Kerry's intended "Bush is dumb" joke is over the line and is a typical left-wing conceit. I think it's ugly to call your opponent (former opponent in this case) "not smart," right out like that. The Left likes to think of themselves as the intellectuals and of conservatives as stupid, and it's an obnoxious bit of arrogance. What's funny in this case is that (as many have pointed out) Bush was a better student at Yale than Kerry was. So who's the butt of Kerry's joke? Himself?

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Shuttle to repair Hubble Space Telescope

This past January, at the winter meeting of the American Astronomical Society in D.C., I attended the big address by NASA Administrator Michael Griffin. He told us that if the then-upcoming shuttle flights showed that they could fly safely, then the shuttle would go and repair the Hubble Space Telescope. I'd been watching this year's flights closely, and all of the reports seemed to be good enough.

So, true to his word, Griffin has announced that the next Hubble repair mission will fly in May, 2008, probably using the Discovery. The crew has been announced. It includes John Grunsfeld, whom I've met a few times, and Scott Altman, whom I've met once. Plus a bunch of other guys I don't know...

This will come as a great relief to some friends of mine, one of whom's (yikes--is that really correct grammar?!) job depends on the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph getting installed on the Hubble. Looks like that's a "go," now.


Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Debate over the Moslem "nikab"

National Review Online has a symposium up on an Islamic women's headcovering called the "nikab," which exposes only a slit for her eyes. The question of the day there is, "should it be banned?"

My own views accord most closely with those of Bill Bennett and, to a lesser extent, with Andrew McCarthy. To be honest, I'm shocked at many of the other opinions expressed in the symposium, at a conservative magazine. I'll say right off that I think there are specific situations in which a nikab might fairly be required to be removed--taking or checking a photo I.D., especially, because one has to be identified by the face. And a private group or institution is free to make its own restrictions within its property--I'm only discussing government action, here. But aside from those specific situations, the idea that any government--state, local, or federal--should involve itself in banning an expression of religion in clothing is horrible. The reasons given in support are not only unconvincing to me; they often strike at the heart of conservative and American ideals.

Some of the writers argue that the veil is not required by the Koran, and therefore it's not an element of religion and cannot be protected by the First Amendment. But that means the government gets into the job of interpreting someone's religion for her. No longer would her religion be a matter of private conscience; the government would tell her what she was to believe about it. Can the veil ever be "freely" worn, or is it always and inherently coerced by the Islamic patriarchy? Some of the writers say or imply the latter. Good grief! For all of my criticisms of Islam, I can't believe that all Moslem women live in persistent fear of their men and only go along with this because they're afraid of getting a beating. Do the writers really think they know the minds of all of the women who wear this clothing? Too much generalization, without much knowledge. And at least one post sounds like the kind of far-left feminism that claims women in our own society can't freely make a choice to, say stay home and rear children--they only do so if they're forced to or brainwashed by the Patriarchy.

One links the nikab to implicit support for terrorists. Maybe in some, but do you really think all wearers have this in mind? Who told you this? Or is it simply a wild guess made without evidence? Useless generalizations, again.

Some others seem to want to ban it (do they really mean by law?!) as a preemptive move to assimilate and make the culture more harmonious. I agree that it does create a separation from the rest of society, but that wouldn't make an argument for passing laws on it. " cannot have face-less persons walking the streets, driving cars, or otherwise entering public spaces." Actually, yes, we can. Not that I like them doing so, but we certainly can. As for discouraging separation, let's not let this talk get too far. After all, the Amish, for instance, separate themselves from the larger society, and by doing so, they keep themselves much more godly than the rest of society. I would not push them to remove that separation. Now, there's a clear difference between the pacifist, mind-their-own-business Amish, and some of the strains of Islam making the headlines these days. What I mean is not to push aside "separation" for its own sake.

Lastly, I'd like to ask the advocates of a "ban" if they really mean it in law. The federal government is Constitutionally prohibited from making such a blanket ban. Forget the First Amendment; Article I, Sec. 8 and the Tenth simply don't extend this power to Congress in the first place. What about the States? I'm suspicious about the incorporation doctrine, but although the States are not, unlike the federal government, of inherently limited powers, they all have explicit protection of religion. And as I wrote above, the government should not (can not?) be in the business of interpreting a man's religious beliefs for him.

Calling for an English Constitutional Convention

Meanwhile, over in England,Iain Dale is calling for a Constitutional Convention, and he's not alone. The list of signatories includes some lords and members of Parliament, as well as journalists. I recognize Roger Scruton's name on there.

I suspect this idea goes hand-in-hand with Dale's criticisms of the "reform" of the House of Lords a few years back (1997, was it?) from a mostly-hereditary, impotent body, into an impotent body appointed by the majority party. Dale has argued recently that they ought to make it more like the American Senate, which is actually elected.

Their argument in this letter, though, focusses on the devolution of government to Wales and Scotland in recent years, which has left England out of the picture. As I understand it (and I haven't been paying careful attention), Scotland and Wales get their own national parliaments, as well as representation within the overall parliament of Great Britain. So the English don't get quite as much self-sovereignty.

Now, as a proud descendant of Scotland, and as a Southerner who likes popular sovereignty and weak central governments, I'm happy to see Scotland get its parliament back, and I hope it'll lead to independence some day. But I agree that England ought to have more self-sovereignty, too--it seems only fair. England's current situation seems like having New York's state legislature getting a say in the Tennessee General Assembly. Hmmm...that's not a really accurate comparison, because England had historically been the nation ruling over Scotland and Wales (is that still true?), while Tennessee and New York must Constitutionally be treated equally.

But whatever the comparisons to be made, this proposal sounds like a good move. I'm impressed, too, at the seriousness of it:

"At a meeting in the House of Commons today, the English Constitutional Convention will be formally established..."

Wow--they're actually organized!

European misperceptions of America

Over at Asymmetrical Information, "Jane Galt" goes to England and notes some British misperceptions of America. This unleashes a hilarious rain of anecdotes from the commenters. Her readers strike me as an impressively polite and well-spoken (written?) lot, especially when you think of the kinds of "flame wars" that erupt on some blogs. After reading a lot of these personal stories, this one, from "Mark in Texas," got me laughing hard:

I have usually found that Europeans have a very accurate picture of life in the United States that they have gotten from TV and movies. We are all very attractive young people with lots of money from our jobs as lawyers, cops, movie stars and computer geniuses. We all drive expensive cars very fast and frequently get into gun fights, sometimes with ninja assassins. [...]

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The BBC Strikes Back

Well, after that illuminating record of the BBC's impartiality summit made it out last week, the BBC's editors are fighting back. Helen Boaden writes a defense of the BBC that doesn't really refute the allegations leveled at it (one specific refutation, but her other example misses the point, I believe), nor, for that matter, does it even stand against the fact that these were admissions by high-level BBC people themselves.

Not a convincing defense, all in all.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

More on the BBC

That previous post on the BBC's self-admitted anti-American bias puts this in a new light, now:

The Fox presenter, John Gibson, said in a segment entitled My Word that the BBC had "a frothing-at-the-mouth anti-Americanism that was obsessive, irrational and dishonest"

That's from 2004, when the Britain ruled against Fox News Channel for John Gibson's criticisms of the BBC in an on-air opinion piece.

Fox News, the US news network owned by Rupert Murdoch, has been found in breach of British broadcasting rules for an on-air tirade that accused the BBC of "frothing-at-the-mouth anti-Americanism".

Given that the BBC has now admitted its anti-Americanism (though I haven't seen where they've characterized themselves as rabid), I wonder if they'll also admit to letting lies get onto the air (another part of Gibson's criticism, and which the British court claimed wasn't factual). After all, the blog Biased BBC has got some little items showing where the BBC has lied about what their stories said and then gone back later and changed the wording of the stories without changing the date stamp. Interesting.

I still like their science coverage.

While we're on England...

Here's something that will probably just anger you, even though it doesn't affect any of us back here in the States. A man in England has now got a criminal record because he once put his recycling bags out on the curb one day early (he was headed off on vacation the next day and wouldn't be there on the proper collection day) and then sometime later allowed a single piece of junk mail to slip into the bag intended for bottles and cans (he disputes the later--says he wasn't the one who put it in there). One of those was enough to get him a legal warning. The second time, they gave him a criminal record. If it sounds like one of those minor criminal records that you wouldn't mind one way or the other, he notes that if he ever visits America, he'd even have to apply for a special entry visa.

%*(! bureaucrats.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

BBC admits bias? *There's* our October surprise!

The (UK) Daily Mail has a "leaked" (ooh, don't you love leaks?) description of an "impartiality summit" the BBC chairman organized. (Link via Instapundit.)

I know it will shock and awe you all, but the BBC has found...(drumroll, please)...that the BBC is biased! (cue rimshot) (sound of crickets chirping) What? Nobody?

OK, so we might have seen that one coming, but the details are still interesting, mostly because they come from the BBC itself. The Daily Mail says that

BBC executives admitted the corporation is dominated by homosexuals and people from ethnic minorities, deliberately promotes multiculturalism, is anti-American, anti-countryside and more sensitive to the feelings of Muslims than Christians.

You don't say. The summit itself seems to have generated more examples of some of these biases: "...criticism was raised at the summit of TV newsreader Fiona Bruce, who recently wore on air a necklace with a cross." Now, while the third paragraph says that "the BBC's 'diversity tsar', wants Muslim women newsreaders to be allowed to wear veils when on air," I'd like to point out the context, in her defense. Later, it says, "And the BBC's 'diversity tsar', Mary Fitzpatrick, said women newsreaders should be able to wear whatever they wanted while on TV, including veils. Ms Fitzpatrick spoke out after criticism was raised at the summit of TV newsreader Fiona Bruce, who recently wore on air a necklace with a cross."

Well, it sounds like the veiled comments (bad joke, I know) are going too far the other way (newsreaders on TV without their faces visible?), she at least was standing up in some vague way for a Christian's right to wear the cross. A far sight better than British Airways, if you asked me.

Here's another bit that caught my eye:

Washington correspondent Justin Webb said that the BBC is so biased against America that deputy director general Mark Byford had secretly agreed to help him to 'correct', it in his reports. Webb added that the BBC treated America with scorn and derision and gave it 'no moral weight'.

Now, I listen to the BBC World Service on a daily basis and get a lot out of it. Like NPR often is, they're in-depth and thorough, and they generally seem to take the news seriously, without too much celebrity gossip. But, like NPR, they can also be outrageously liberal and anti-American. The other day, I was listening might have been "Outlook," but I've forgotten which show. The host was interviewing a lady who had been doing humanitarian work in Fallujah, Iraq, with ambulances. She was going on in a matter-of-fact tone of voice, and she related the dangers she'd encountered in places like the street they called "sniper alley," because the Americans had gained control of it. And how the American soldiers made it a practice to shoot at ambulances in Fallujah, so she was really in a risky job. Luckily, she had some good people there amongst the terrorists, kidnappers, and insurgents to take care of her and help protect her from the Americans. Amongst the nice people she met were some guys who took her and her team hostage for a short while, until they found out she did humanitarian work, and then they made sure everybody was all right, made the ladies tea, and giggled amongst themselves about how they were there in balaclavas and with their guns, making tea for a bunch of women. Oh, those fun-loving terrorists!

The host took all of these comments, insinuating the American army had a practice of shooting occupied ambulances and medical workers, without asking for any clarification or expressing any disbelief. Sure. The evil Americans can be counted on to do such things, after all. Nazis probably did the same; why wouldn't the Americans? And the hostage-takers are good-hearted people, all at the same time.

Beyond specific examples like this, there's a pervasiveness to the anti-Americanism on the BBC that is best detected by taking in a whole day's news updates and seeing if you're left with the general impression the Americans consistently do everything wrong. Any time, any where. It's like the feeling I get in about five minutes listening to NPR in the mornings, about what conservatives or (especially) Republicans do. I can get into such a sour mood waking up to that, giving up hope that our side will ever do anything right...until I get up and read some other news sources (and not just conservative ones, either) and find out that it's not really true.

And while I've defended Mary Fitzpatrick, their "diversity tsar" above, I then find this: "...Ms Fitzpatrick, who has said that the BBC should not use white reporters in non-white countries..." Sigh.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Sorry? SORRY??!!

What?! Kim Jong Il says, "sorry?" I don't trust anything that comes out of a Communist government, and Il is less trustworthy than even those others. Wasn't he promising just yesterday to test two more nuclear bombs? And is said to be working on a hydrogen bomb?

So the Chinese are at least publicly pressuring him, but given the nature of both governments, I just don't trust this.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

EU threatens to regulate all internet video

This is a worrisome idea, but it looks like the Brits are on the case. The EU wants to regulate all internet video, even including cell-phone camera footage, as it does broadcast TV. It's "for the children," naturally, among other excuses. The British are opposing the measure, but are coming back with an idea to regulate actual TV broadcasts that are on the web. [Grumble.]

I've got to remind myself that this isn't America, and they don't have the freedom of the press that we do here. While I do believe that the FCC is, in principle, unconstitutional, on the basis of the First Amendment, we give the government a little slack on the issue because of the limited range of broadcast frequencies available. So we let the Federal Government regulate the press on the air in a way that we'd never permit it to do in the traditional print media. Yes, we have laws against certain kinds of indecency, even in print, but there isn't any blanket authority to regulate press content if it's not broadcast over the radio spectrum (and TV uses radio waves). For instance, the government can't tell a newspaper how much advertizing space it's allowed. Political content is beyond its scope, as well, although with McCain-Feingold, I'm starting to wonder.

So while child pornography laws can be applied online, a general regulation of the press can't be. Advertizing content, "hate speech," appropriateness for children, etc. All of these things would be dictated by Brussels. If they protected the freedom of the press, this wouldn't go anywhere.

One thing more that I'm curious about: the "licensing fee" the British pay to support the BBC applies to all televisions and devices capable of receiving TV signals, including TV tuners that fit into computers. ABC and, I believe, NBC have started putting some of their most popular shows online, where you can watch them with a regular computer and no TV tuner. And Britain's new political "channel", 18 Doughty Street, is only available online. College kids especially are going to be able to do a lot of their TV watching without an actual TV. Will the BBC soon see a drop in revenues from college students? Will they propose taxing computers to make up for it?

Hillary comes clean...on her name

Well, this has been a long time coming! Hillary Clinton is finally admiting she's not named for Sir Edmund Hillary, the man who first scaled Mount Everest. I remember her saying this back during the 1990s (the article says 1995). We conservatives immediately laughed, because Limbaugh pointed out that Sir Edmund Hillary didn't climb Everest until 1953, and Mrs. Clinton was born in 1947. And yet, she apparently let that claim stay out there until now.

Funny that the New York Times doesn't mention that this had been dismissed by conservatives over a decade ago. And if Mrs. Clinton wasn't actually lying about it but really had been told this by her mother...wouldn't she have come across the "1953" date at some point in her life? Maybe reading about her famous, supposed namesake? Then she would have known long ago this wasn't true, and yet she repeated it.

I think this was the first direct evidence that many of us had that Hillary, no less than Bill, was willing to make a bald-faced lie about a minor detail, in order to please an audience.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Nobel Prize: Friction Between the Recipients?

In Googling Smoot & Mather, I came across this Amazon link to Mather's book on the COBE project. Two professional reviews note that Mather criticizes Smoot for supposedly taking too much personal credit for the team's work, in Smoot's own book in 1993.

The talk amongst my astronomy friends now is on the friction said to be between these two.

Nobel Prize in Physics

...goes to John Mather and George Smoot for their work on cosmology with the COsmic Background Explorer (COBE). Ahh, more astrophysicists taking the physics prize. It is as it should be. :)

Mather (NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center--my previous post) was the project scientist for the COBE mission, and Smoot (UC Berkeley) was the principal investigator (PI) for the Differential Microwave Radiometer (DMR). There were PIs for other instruments on board, of course, but the DMR is what gave us the spectacular results on the anisotropy in the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB). This is what Stephen Hawking called, "the most important discovery of the century, if not of all time."

OK, I think that's a little exaggerated, but it is an important result, because these variations in temperature from one place to another led to the structure we see in the universe today. The universe isn't a smooth, bland cloud of gas these days. It has broken up into voids and galaxies, nebulae, and stars. The anisotropies in the CMB are the forerunners of the structure we see around us today.

Mather got the Gruber prize in cosmology two months ago (at the infamous IAU meeting where the whole Pluto fiasco was perpetrated) for the same work. (OK, I'm a little opinionated about the Pluto thing...) I'm curious whether or not he had heard any rumors of Nobel recognition then.

Reading this article about the Gruber award, I've discovered that I actually know a couple of the other men on the COBE team: Eli Dwek at Goddard, and Michael Hauser at the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI). I'd known that Hauser had done a lot of work on the infrared background radiation, as there was a big result on that while I was a grad student at STScI, but I didn't know that Dwek was involved in this project, too.

Hmmm...this makes at least the second time that a Nobel has gone to someone working on background radiation. Another recent Nobel prize in physics went to Riccardo Giacconi for his work on the x-ray background.

Well, my congratulations to both of these guys, and it's exiciting to have worked at the same place as a Nobel laureate.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Happy St. Gemini Day!

Yes, yes, the day is here. There's nothing quite like the rush of trying to get an astronomy observing proposal in by deadline, when your collaborators are in and out of the office, you still have questions for them, you've got an out-of-state trip coming up this evening, and you're still grousing over the comments in the rejection letter from the last time you all proposed this.

Still, it's a really cool idea you're proposing, and it'll feel a lot more relaxing once you hit the "submit" button and are done with it for another six months, until the next time comes around.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Preparing for the St. Gemini Day holiday

Actually, that title doesn't make much sense, even if you know what I'm talking about. I was thinking of writing, "Happy St. Gemini Day!," but that isn't 'til Monday. And it would still be silly.

Anyway, my little quirks aside, I'm still here at the office today, preparing a Gemini Observatory proposal, which is due Monday. A right early start, eh? There's a nice, peaceful feeling to the office at 8:17 on a Friday night. The kind of peace you really only get to experience much if you're an astronomer...or a night watchman, or something.

The great thing is, since most of the proposal's already been written, I can spend the time fairly mindlessly cutting and pasting my target list from some old files into the new one, an activity that lends itself nicely to listening to podcasts and having a cup of coffee. I mean, it's not especially creative work, where I need to be thinking hard and can't afford to be distracted. So I put on Lileks' "Diner" and Derbyshire's "Derb Radio" and settle in for a pleasant evening.

Those fellows make me think I'd like to start up an astronomy podcast. I could imbed images of the latest discoveries in the field, comment on them, and maybe do some interviews. Hmmm...I'll have to think about it.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Ideal Ages for Marriage

Over at the Corner, Derb quotes a formula I've seen before, for the ideal ages of a man and his wife. If the man's age is x, his wife's should be (x/2) + 7 years.

The funny thing is, I'd heard that formula for a few years, which first came up in a conversation with some grad-school friends. In that conversation, it was presented as the minimum age you can date, rather than an ideal age for marriage. But the really surprising thing is that Derb cites Aristotle for this! Huh!

As far as the different usage from Aristotle's intention to my friends' discussion, well, how times have changed since the fourth century, B.C.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Cheap, Commercial Spaceflight Begins

Cheap commercial cargo spaceflights (I'd have tried to come up with another "c" word, if only for the alliterative value, but alas) have begun flying out of a launch site a few miles from Truth of Consequences, New Mexico. There's been a good amount of commercial spaceflight for years, but the significant word here is "cheap." I didn't catch a price quote in this article, but they're not running regular flights just yet--still pending some FAA approval. And these are sub-orbital, so I really wonder just how useful they'll be. But if you have people willing to pay to get something into sub-orbital space, all the better!

"Bin Laden has been held responsible for the September 11, 2001 attacks..."

No, really! That's what it says near the end of that AFP article I linked to above. You see, AFP doesn't want to jump to conclusions or anything hasty like that. Always leave yourself some wiggle room.

The Rumors of His Death...

Drudge has three headlines up right now, concerning a report that a French newspaper reports that bin Laden died of typhoid in Pakistan, but
the US hasn't confirmed this.

Not anything solid to get excited about just yet, but let's cross our fingers.

UPDATE: Of course you realize, he's been dead for years, but the Bush administration is only leaking this now, to help the Republicans in November. Just like with Khalid Sheik Mohammed. And the oil prices.

No, I actually had a friend tell me last week that the reason gas prices are falling is because Bush and his minions are doing it for the election in November. This is the same dear friend (I say that without sarcasm, actually) who once told me that KSM wasn't captured alive--that he'd actually been killed some year or more before we'd claimed to take him, and we were just using the fake capture for some nefarious purposes as yet unexplained.


Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Shuttle Atlantis Apparently OK

Via Fox News, it looks like NASA is telling Atlantis they're physically OK. The "mysterious objects" (yeesh--I'm just waiting for that to show up on the web as a UFO sighting) seen floating past the shuttle are tentatively identified as a plastic bag and some items used in the installation of the thermal tiles on the shuttle. The latter are supposed to be removed after the tiles are applied, so they're not items that need to be there in the first place.

UPDATE: As I was writing this, Fox announced that NASA will have a public announcement at about 12:15 or 12:30 PM today--the tentative identification was, I think, from the first two pieces seen yesterday. There are new pieces seen today. I'll stay up on this.

I'm back...

Sorry for the long silence. It's been a busy summer, so thank goodness the school year has started, and I finally have all this free time again! Heh, heh... Really, I was joking a few months ago that during summer vacation I felt like I could at last get more work done. The research is going well, and I'm in the midst of replying to a referee's report on my current paper; it's just a matter of fitting it in amongst the rest of my work.

There's been so much going on in the world lately, and I ought to comment on such things, but honestly, when it's something really big, what can I add that hasn't already been written? Nevertheless, I'm back in and blogging now.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Update on Hubble's main camera

Sorry for the blog silence. Family trips, the Fourth, and now a research trip. Which brings me to the topic. I've got the news from several friends here at the Institute (Space Telescope Science Institute, which operates the Hubble) that the main camera, ACS (Advanced Camera for Surveys), is back up and running. Actually, it has been for a few days. They made the switch to the so-called "side 2" electronics, the back-up systems, without much trouble. They're taking science data already, although there's still more calibration to be done. Some improvements are already showing. They've lowered the temperature 3-4 degrees C, which has improved things like lowering the "dark current," which is the false signal that comes through even when there's no light. And I think the number of "hot pixels," bright specks that deface the images, have been reduced.

With things going well on the current shuttle flight, there's optimism that Hubble Servicing Mission 4 will indeed go through. Among the tasks on that mission will be installing two new instruments (COS-Cosmic Origins Spectrograph, and WFC3-Wide Field Camera 3), replacing some gyroscopes and batteries(?), and fixing the STIS (Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph). Intriguingly, there's an idea to use a robot--which I believe has already been created--to do some of the trickier manual tasks needed for opening it STIS or ACS? for repairs. From what a friend described to me, this robot would be perched on top of the camera housing and would unscrew the needed screws. Easier than trying to do this kind of thing with big, bulky, pressure-suit gloves. Very clever idea, and I'll be interested to see if it's approved. Maybe this is supposed to be for STIS. But there is also an idea for fixing the side 1 electronics in ACS, so that there'd still be a backup in case the side 2 system failed.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Space shuttle Discovery begins countdown for July 1 launch

The space shuttle Discovery began its countdown yesterday for the anticipated July 1 launch. This will be the final shakedown flight before normal flight operations resume, as long as the flight goes well. Right now, there's some bad weather looming, though:
"Discovery's STS-121 spaceflight is set to launch toward the International Space Station (ISS) from Pad 39B at 3:48:37 p.m. EDT (1948:37 GMT) on July 1. Current forecasts call for a 60 percent chance of poor weather on launch day, NASA said."

Well, here's hoping the skies clear up in time. Actually, though, some colleagues of mine are hoping they purposely delay the launch a while longer, as they've heard there are still some unresolved problems with the shuttle. I haven't gotten a clear picture of how reliable these reports are. On Fox & Friends this morning, someone cited a chief engineer(?) at NASA who had supposedly been fired for saying it wasn't yet safe to fly. I can't imagine NASA would actually do that, if it was someone expressing a sincere concern. Especially these days. But the person being interviewed indicated that this engineer is now saying something different, and that it was an argument over an unrelated issue, and he wasn't actually fired. Well, I'll trust that the guys in charge know better the state of Discovery than I do...

My real hope is that this flight proves successful and shows that the entire fleet can go back into regular operation soon, so that we can get the Hubble repaired. We've got gyroscopes to be replaced and new cameras to install (COS--the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph), if we want to keep the HST up and running for several more years. With last week's shutdown of the Advanced Camera for Surveys, I'm getting a bit nervous about the long-term health of our observatory.

The UN and gun control, again

Via Instapundit, here are two reports from Cam Edwards on the UN's conference on Small Arms and Light Weapons: first and second. This is the conference in which the UN has been hoping to restrict private ownership of firearms around the world. A beautiful thing happened this week: the US representative (Robert Joseph, the Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security) told the assembled nabobs to go stick it. In so many words.

"The U.S. Constitution guarantees the rights of our citizens to keep and bear arms, and there will be no infringement of those rights,” he proclaimed to the dignitaries and functionaries. “The United States will not agree to any provisions restricting civilian possession, use or legal trade of firearms inconsistent with our laws and practices.”

That's the spirit! Anybody think we would have gotten this statement two administrations ago?

Check out Edwards' regular reports from the conference, so we can keep a close eye on this bunch.

Pluto's "new" moons get named

See my usual caveats on the International Astronomical Union, but regardless, there's some happy news this week (actually, a week ago): Pluto's two newly discovered moons have gotten named "Nix" and "Hydra." The link here goes to the press release at Space Telescope, which also has photos of the moons. Click on "Full Story" to get more details on the naming.

From the full press release:

In Greek mythology, Nyx is the goddess of the night. Among her many offspring was Charon, the boatman who ferried the dead across the river Styx into the Underworld. (Because asteroid 3908 already bears the Greek name Nyx, the IAU decided to use the Egyptian equivalent, Nix, for the name of Pluto's moon.) The mythological Hydra was a nine-headed serpent with poisonous blood. The Hydra had its den at the entrance to Hades, where Pluto and his wife Persephone entered the Underworld.

Also interesting is that the discoverers were looking for names beginning with "N" and "H," partly to honor the "New Horizons" mission which will fly to Pluto, and "H" does double duty in also honoring the Hubble Space Telescope, which was the observatory they used in the discovery. Pluto itself was named in a similar way--"P" and "L" honor Percival Lowell, who began the search for Pluto, which was discovered by Clyde Tombaugh at the not-coincidentally-named Lowell Observatory.

Monday, June 26, 2006

The UN and gun control

Despite the UN's proclamation that it's not trying to meddle in private gun ownership, it sure seems like it is. I think they've said at one point that they were just trying to restrict insurgencies. John Lott has an article on the topic here, mostly reminding us that not all rebellions are bad. (1776, anyone?)

One junior college radio station changes format, and it's a NY Times headline?

Yes, I'm sure this is worthy of the front page (online, anyway) of the New York Times.

A junior college in Kilgore, Texas, is selling its radio station, which will not cease to exist, but will simply change format from a "public radio" station playing classical music to a Christian contemporary format. Of course, from the Times' phrasing, you'd figure there was going to be a big, gaping hole in the radio spectrum all of a sudden: "The loss of KTPB would leave the Tyler folks the most bereft (to the east, some receive Shreveport's public radio station). No more Metropolitan Opera broadcasts. No more New York Philharmonic." People suddenly bereft?!! Noooooooooo!

Of course, they didn't interview anybody who liked Christian contemporary and was happy to find that he'd get more of his kind of music. It's as if there is only one kind of music out there, and it will suddenly cease to exist. If it's not in Kilgore, it's gone...forever: "The loss of a classical KTPB would be the latest footstep in the decline of classical music radio in the United States."

And then there's this scary statistic: "In 1990, about 50 commercial stations were on the air; the number is closer to 30 now." Wait--wasn't this a public radio station being sold? Is that counted as a "commercial station"? I wouldn't have thought so, but maybe the Times' reporter has mixed his terms, accidentally. Or maybe he's really citing a different statistic that doesn't apply in this case. I can't tell.

Look, I love classical music, and I prefer it to Christian contemporary. I like stations like this one being sold in Kilgore, except when they're yammering on for a week at a time, trying to bore me into becoming a "member," rather than selling honest advertising to make their living. "...the station has a meager 650 members. 'People want things, but they don't want to pay for them,' he said. 'It's not unique to the arts.'" Huh?! This is radio. You can build a crystal radio receiver for $10 and pick up the vibrations in the aether, free of charge. (Or you can buy a little AM/FM set premade for probably $5. Whichever.) It's always been this way. And radio stations have always realized that they were giving their broadcasts free to the public. You make your money by selling advertising. You don't imply people are stealing your precious electromagnetic squiggles if they don't volunteer to send you money.

Oh, but as I was saying, I'd be disappointed, too, if I lived there. I prefer classical music, and I'd miss having this station play my kind of music. But how is this a national issue? It's not. And it's not as if "Music" will cease to exist, either in Kilgore or throughout the country, if this sale goes through. It will simply be a different kind of music.

While we're at it, can we please finally get the Corporation for Public Broadcasting eliminated, or de-Federally-funded, or whatever? Why does my tax money go to pay for radio stations? We have a free press, and that should also mean the press is free of Federal money. Federal funding for radio stations is, quite astonishingly, not accounted for anywhere in the Constitution. Huh.

Hubble Space Telescope's Advanced Camera shuts down

Geez I'm out of the loop this week. I'm an astronomer who uses Hubble data, but it was my parents who informed me about this one. The Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS), the main imaging camera (redundanciness, there?--I mean, one that's not part of a spectrograph), has shut down, as of Monday last week. Rather than give you a watered-down summary from a newspaper, let me just copy the official notice from the Space Telescope Science Institute itself:

ACS Suspends Operations

On Monday, 19 June 2006, at 1:15 pm EDT (17:15 UT), the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) issued status buffer messages indicating that the +15V and +5V power supply voltages in the CCD Electronics Box (CEB) were above their high limits, causing the ACS to suspend. This event occurred in a period with no ACS commanding and outside the SAA. A dump of the relevant data showed that a total of 36 CEB items exceeded limits at the time of the event.

At this point, the ACS is in a safe configuration, and further analysis is ongoing. Preliminary reviews of the telemetry and technical details about possibly affected components of ACS have been carried out. However, the root cause for the ACS suspend is still unknown. Further analysis and testing revolves around low-voltage power supplies as well as analog to digital converters. Analysis of ACS images taken before the suspend event shows no anomalies of any kind.

The further course of action will simultaneously prepare for further testing of the Side 1 electronics, which has been used since the installation of ACS, while preparing for a potential switch to the Side 2 electronics. The Side 1 tests will commence later this week, after verification that the tests will not harm the instrument. These tests will check various registers and voltages to pin down the location of the cause for the suspend.

Preparations for a switch to Side 2 involve procedure verification, Flight Software changes, as well as the definition of calibration and verification programs to be executed before the full ACS science program could hopefully continue. A switch to Side 2 could come as early as the week of 26 June, if the tests successfully show that this would be beneficial.

For the time being, no ACS science observations will be carried out. Measures are being taken to advance non-ACS observations to fill the available time.

"SAA" is the South Atlantic Anomaly, a region of high radiation over the South Atlantic, appropriately enough. They've got to be careful whenever the Hubble flies over that spot, because the extra radiation can damage the electronics.

OK, so now having read this myself for the first time, I'm not as worried. They've got backup electronics ("Side 2"), and it's possible they could fix this by using them, instead. That wouldn't require a spacewalk from the still-non-flying shuttles to accomplish. Interestingly, though, if it did take a shuttle flight, the timing might be good. NASA administrator Michael Griffin has said (at the January American Astronomical Society meeting in D.C.) that if this next shuttle shake-down flight shows that they can fly, they will fly to the Hubble. Now, we'd already planned to use that Hubble Servicing Mission, if it happens, to install an ultraviolet spectrograph, the "Cosmic Origins Spectrograph," or COS, as well as do some routine maintenance and replace some gyros. But if they had to tighten up the screws in ACS, so to speak, they could work that in, too.

Anyway, there's a lot they can find out and often fix from the ground, so it's not time to panic yet. The engineers we've got are good at this sort of thing.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Cue the Imperial March from Star Wars!

I saw an ad for this on the same page as that Bill Gertz article, below. PBS is advertising a Frontline show called "The Dark Side," which is all about the Cheney-Rumsfeld Axis in the so-called "War on Terror." (My use of "axis," "so-called," and scare quotes intentionally sarcastic.) The ad has the picture of a frowning Cheney (you know he never smiles), with "The Dark Side" plastered over it. At first, I thought it was just a funny coincidence, that they wouldn't be that obvious or intentional. That this might really be an even-handed look at the need for covert operations (there's a quote from Cheney(?) about the need to use the shadows and the dark side in this war). But no. It's exactly what you think it is.

Check out the link and read their own summary. All of the quotations are anti-Cheney/Rumsfeld and are pro-Tenet. Richard Clarke is featured, among other gripers.

The astonishing thing to me is that PBS wouldn't be more sensitive of its leftist reputation--I'd honestly have thought they'd never let such a ridiculous stereotype of themselves make it through in the ad for this show. I mean, come on! At least try to hide your biases, or save this kind for the ads that play on the Daily Kos or some such site.

Unintentionally Funny

Homework assignment for Logic 101.

(1) Create a syllogism that concludes the following:

...most illegal immigrants obey the law...

(2) Is such a syllogism logically valid?

New technology to block CCD cameras

Georgia Tech has created a new technology that could be used to neutralize CCD cameras in sensitive areas, according to UPI. As I understand this, CCD (Charge-Coupled Device) chips (the light-detecting part of a digital camera) reflect the incoming light back towards the source, perhaps like the retinas of dogs and cats, which makes their eyes seem to glow at night when you shine a light on them. By constrast, normal film emulsion scatters the incoming light--no reflection back at the source.

This reflection is what the Georgia Tech technology identifies, and the equipment shines a bright beam of white light at the camera, overexposing the CCD. CCDs are limited in how much light they can detect in a given amount of time, and a source that is too bright will lead to bright streaks stretching from it across the field of view. We have to deal with this all the time in astronomical CCD cameras, which are intended to capture as much light as possible from faint sources. If you were to shine a flashlight down the barrel of a working observatory telescope, you'd "saturate" the CCD camera and render it useless as long as the light was turned on.

The article specifically mentions the potential to thwart spies from photographing sensitive areas with digital cameras, either still or video. I'm interested in whether this might lead to a movement back to film cameras in espionage. I'm just a little disappointed that digital technology has probably (not that I know first-hand) taken over espionage photography, eliminating the need for such exotic devices as pinhole cameras, 9mm film slitters, and daylight darkroom developing bags.

Back to the Minox C, men!

North Korea proposes, America disposes

With Pyongyang readying a new long-range missile for a test flight, I've been hearing some speculation that perhaps the US could try out our fledgeling missile defense system on a live target at last. I'd assumed such talk was only idle and uninformed, but here's an article by Bill Gertz, the Washington Times' ace reporter for missile technology stories. He has it from a "senior Bush administration official" that "an option being considered would be to shoot down the Taepodong missile with responding interceptors."

According to some other unnamed officials, "...the system was switched from test to operational mode within the past two weeks." We apparently have eleven long-range interceptor missiles, spread between two sites, one at Fort Greeley, Alaska, and the other at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

Sounds to me like the North Koreans picked the ideal time to test out their new missile, from our point of view. By all means, let them test it. And we'll proceed with our own test...