Sunday, March 12, 2006

Bernard Lewis on Anti-semitism

An excellent article here.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

House of Lords for sale?

Via Andrew Stuttaford on NRO's The Corner, here's a report from the London Times about a scandal erupting over the new method of naming peers to the House of Lords. Recall that the Labour party eliminated the hereditary lords from sitting in the body, in favor of non-hereditary lords named by the party in control of the House of Commons. Not exactly a check on the tyranny of the majority, is it? And, surprise, surprise: now it seems that one of those nominees made a million-pound loan to the Labour party.

Although I wouldn't want to live under a system of monarchy and nobility as England has and had, I can see that the hereditary lords at least were independent of the House of Commons and could act as a check on majoritarian power. (And, coming from one who doesn't have to live there, I can also see a romantic, historical attraction to the old system.) The new system abolishes some legal priviliges of lords, but it doesn't improve the government. Rather, it makes it worse.

England needs an elected Senate.

Good for him

A man in Puerto Rico for the World Baseball Classic held up a sign reading, "Abajo Fidel," or "Down with Fidel [Castro]," from the stands Friday. The top Cuban "official" (whatever that means, in this case) at the games came rushing over to confront the man, but Puerto Rican police, thankfully, came to the spectator's aid and took the Cuban off and explained to him the concept of free speech. Good for this man, and good for the Puerto Rican police!

Cuban TV was carrying a live feed from the games, so Cuban subjects watching would have been able to see the sign, briefly. Ahh, yes, we can't have the chance that the proles would be able to catch a glimpse of somebody in another country criticizing the great leader, now, can we?

Monday, March 06, 2006

Shelved Pentagon space plane

(via Drudge) Aviation Week & Space Technology is reporting that the Pentagon has shelved a space plane that has been operational since the 1990s. It is a two-stage to orbit system that could be outfitted with a number of different payloads, including satellites and anti-missile (or anti-satellite, I imagine) kill vehicles.

If they've cancelled the program, it suggests that it was either not successful (although this program was reportedly "operational"), was hit by changes in the budget, or was surpassed by something better. I'm hoping for the latter!

Sunday, March 05, 2006

A leftist speaks honestly

I was listening to the BBC World Service on the way to church this morning, and they were discussing the situation in Iraq.
There was a caller whose nationality I didn't get, but who spoke with a pronounced accent, who said straight out that he hoped Iraq failed. He wanted the country to fail, so that it would be a defeat for Bush. A defeat that would prevent Bush from invading Syria or Iran.

I cannot call this man a "liberal," because despite the modern usage to mean "left-wing," I still like to pretend sometimes that it has a little of its old meaning left--a lover of freedom. This man is no lover of freedom. He wants the fledgeling democracy there to die. What a wish to extend to Iraq's 20 million citizens.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

NASA programs squeezed in budget

The New York Times reports that some research programs are getting squeezed in NASA's budget, as the agency organizes around the manned space program goals of returning to the Moon and going on to Mars. I'm sympathetic to both sides, actually. Some of my fellow astrophysicists moan about their fields getting tight, but a lot of this is a matter of whose ox is getting gored. NASA isn't being slashed; rather, it's bringing in a big, new manned program, and the others are being shuffled around to make room for it.

I've never understood the attitude expressed by some astrophysicists like James Van Allen (discoverer of the Van Allen radiation belts around the Earth) that manned spaceflight is pointless, and we should concentrate only on robotic space probes (and telescopes, I imagine). I've heard similar thoughts expressed by some friends of mine over the years. Never that many people, mind you, but enought that I get the impression it's a more widely shared sentiment than I hear expressed. Generally, though, especially among us youngsters, there's an enthusiasm for manned space flight (I never say that horrible, clunky, and Politically Correct phrase, "human space flight," which NASA has imposed upon itself.). The shuttle program was lately a ho-hum affair, as it seemed our manned program was stalled in Near Earth Orbit. But the goal of reaching to the Moon and planets is an exciting one for lots of us.

Still, I'm a scientist and want NASA to keep the science programs up, too. I think the Hubble and the James Webb Space Telescope ought to be the primary science priorities, so of course we have to make some compromises elsewhere. I just hope they're not too big or irreversible.

Astronomical telescopes obsolete in a half-century?

Well, the BBC starts off saying that, but then you scroll down and find that it's the claim of one scientist who's relying on if trends continue on more than one count and some other speculation and assumptions on others. And he's countered by other scientists. What this fellow claims is that airplane contrails and global warming will make unmanageable amounts of cloud cover over astronomical observatories by 2050 that will prohibit any ground-based astronomy from then on.

Of course, he didn't take into account that for airplane contrails to disperse into broader clouds takes specific atmospheric conditions that aren't always there. And even if one of these clouds blows over your observatory from elsewhere (he says that sometimes contrails blow for "hundreds of kilometers"), a lot of our best observatories are on the Pacific coast--Hawaii, Chile, and California. The prevailing winds are from the West, there. Yes, you have planes crossing the Pacific, but you don't have too many destinations to the immediate West of these observatories.

Italian commission finds USSR behind pope's assassination attempt

This article from the AP brings the 1981 assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II back into the news. After Mehmet Ali Agca, a Turk, shot the Pope and was caught, he initially said the Bulgarian spy agency and ultimately the Soviets were at the top of the operation. He changed his story a number of times, but there was other evidence to implicate at least Bulgaria in the crime. Now an Italian parliamentary commission, originally set up to investigate KGB penetration of Italy during the Cold War, has concluded that the Soviets were, in fact, behind the operation.

What's surprised me throughout the years is finding that there are liberals here in America who have dismissed the possibility out of hand. As if a tyrannical regime that killed a quarter of the Ukrainian population, rounded up and murdered entire "classes" of Russian peasants, sent political dissidents to the Gulag in vast numbers, and so on, would never, NEVER have considered offing a problematic pope!

Of course, there are liberals who still claim Alger Hiss was innocent, when the Venona transcripts prove his guilt...