Monday, March 26, 2007

A Fred Thompson Movie Exegesis

What kind of President would Fred Thompson be? Victor Matus at the Weekly Standard looks for clues from his movie and TV roles. After all, there's only so much you can get out of a man from his speeches or his legislative record. What about his choice of movie roles?

Matus gets one thing wrong, though—Thompson's been acting, not since 1987, but since 1985 (Marie), when he played...himself.

I've never seen Marie, although I know about the Tennessee corruption case he took up as a lawyer (the movie's based on the actual case). But I expect Matus could cull a number of very insightful quotations from Thompson about how he'd handle a corruption case like the one...he handled. What would he do if his governor was selling pardons? Well, we can watch and find out!

Matus has a funny and enjoyable article, and it's well worth a read.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Death of FORTRAN creator

John Derbyshire reports the death of John Backus, who came up with FORTRAN, the first computer language. I'm linking to his Corner post, rather than to the original obituary directly (he links to it), just so you can read his comments, too.

For myself, I like FORTRAN. I've also programmed in C, but most of my C and FORTRAN work was in particle physics simulations, for which I used straightforward mathematical equations. FORTRAN had most of them already built in, whereas in C, I'd have to go and define them, which was a pain. Plus, for FORTRAN, we could directly integrate the CERNLIB particle physics subroutines from CERN. Handy.

And I'm glad to see that FORTRAN still has an active life among the supercomputer guys, like my wife, who's using parallel FORTRAN every day.

British troops captured by Iran

Uh-oh! I haven't read the details, but Drudge's links are saying the Brits were in Iraqi waters, in inflatable boats. This has got to be taken seriously by the allies.

The Attorney General's job description?

Good grief, Alberto Gonzales makes it hard for a conservative to defend him! Not that I've actually tried, but man!
"I'm not going to resign. I'm going to stay focused on protecting our kids."

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Fred Dalton Thompson and the Presidential Race

I haven't remarked on Fred Dalton Thompson yet (yeah, I'm still calling him by his full name, as we all did a decade ago, at least in Tennessee), but I'm hoping he'll run for President. The current front runners aren't that conservative, and the conservatives aren't that distinguished. Some of the conseratives in the back of the pack could be good, but I'm simply not that familiar with them.

Fred Dalton Thompson is different—I am familiar with him, since he was my senator. The only thing I can remember disagreeing with him on was a tort reform bill he voted against, and even there, I don't remember the details.

I've heard from some bloggers that he's not 100% pure conservative, but he's almost always been on the same side of the issues as I have, which means he's got to be pretty high up on that scale.

His Washington experience isn't limited to his 1 1/2 terms as a senator, as he was on Sen. Howard Baker's staff during the Watergate affair and is credited with coming up with the question, "What did the President know, and when did he know it?" He's a lawyer with experience outside of politics, and he's shown himself willing to stand up against corruption. He made a real name for himself when he took up a case against corruption in (Tennessee) Gov. Ray Blanton's administration, and he played himself in the movie Marie, which is based on that.

That was his start in acting, and I've enjoyed him in The Hunt for Red October, In the Line of Fire, and Law & Order.

My dad went to a talk he gave at home, when he was running for the Senate, and says he wasn't a good public speaker, suprisingly. But that was his first campaign, and he's had a lot more practice since then.

I'm also impressed with the articles he's been writing regularly for National Review Online. I've linked to the search results here—look for his name as author in this list.

Let's see how this goes...

Cathy Seipp has passed away

NRO has a memorial symposium up here.

She was an interesting writer and gave a conservative's view from inside Hollywood, or at least Los Angeles. She died of cancer.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

A Ghost Story

Here's a pretty frightening ghost story from the Northwest Arkansas Morning News. (via Mark Shea) The first half of the story is the ghost story, related by the man who lived in the house. The second half of the article is an interview with some people who do ghost tours and exorcisms, and that part is filled with New Agey-sounding language I could do without. But if the father, Mr. LaChance, is honest, he went through an absolutely terrifying haunting. And a nearly deadly one, too, as you'll find out.

My family has enough of our own (far less terrifying) ghost stories that I've never doubted their existence, although I don't put stock in every ol' story I hear. But I don't doubt that this sort of thing can happen.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The White House comes out swinging!

Well, I'll be! Bush finally stood up to Congress over the US Attorneys' firings! Good for him.

He said that he's already made documentation available, and he'll only let his people go to talk to Congress if it's not under oath or on the record. This is actually the perfect approach. Congress can't say "boo" about him firing the guys, which is perfectly within his authority. Now that they've got an idea to go investigate the matter, the only trouble would come from somebody getting mixed up when he talks to Congress under oath and get prosecuted for lying to Congress. So don't put them in the situation where that could happen! Avoid another situation where there's no underlying problem, but an aide gets himself in trouble during the investigation.

Congress is, of course, steaming mad and wants these guys under oath. But Bush doesn't have to bow to them, since he's the head of a separate and equal branch. Amen for the Constitution!

Veto threat over a D.C. Congressional vote

A group of Congressmen has come up with a plan to let D.C. vote in Congress without a Constitutional amendment. They'll just try to pass a simple law to that effect. The deal would include an extra Congressman for Utah (a small Republican state to balance out D.C. as a small Democratic district), but it would be an "at-large" seat.

I don't like it, either way. For the city of Washington to vote in Congress, it should either be made a state (I disagree with that) or revert to Maryland's territory (better). And we shouldn't be creating "at-large" Congressmen. We've got a system of regional representation, which is very important to our republican system. I think it's wrong to have a statewide vote for a Congressman unless there's only one in the state.

Bush should veto this, as he's planning to. But it shouldn't get that far.
Hmmm... I'd never heard of NASA's Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC) before, despite having worked at NASA. Word at Wired is that they're planning to cut the program. NASA Watch has a little more, but not much.

According to the Wired post, here are some of the advanced concepts this institute is tinkering with: "shape-shifting space suits, antimatter-powered probes, weather control, and elevators into orbit..." OK, not like all of this is going to pan out, but apparently their purpose is creative thinking. I'd be curious to know why this is being shut down.

SpaceX will launch again

SpaceX, a commercial space launch company will be trying another launch from Kwajalein Island today. Their first attempt some months ago failed, so I wish them luck.

The properties of Moon dust

This is interesting. The University of Tennessee and NASA are looking into the properties of Moon dust. The respiratory problems are one thing. Apollo 17's Jack Schmitt reported hay-fever-like symptoms when he breathed some in after changing out of his space suit. You've got very fine dust, and I'd bet a lot of the problem is the lack of weather on the Moon. There's a lot of glassy material in it, and you get sharp edges that aren't getting weathered down the way sand does here. Furthermore, as the article shows, Moon dust has a Swiss-cheese appearance, and these vesicles increase its surface area. Inhaling this kind of dust can be dangerous because the lungs will form scar tissue to cover the particle, and this scar tissue blocks the oxygen exchange. The more surface area it has, the more of the lung tissue it's in contact with. Bigger problem.

Now, what really got my attention was the physical properties of the dust itself. There's an iron content to it, so it's magnetic. On the health side, this could be used to create a magnetic filter.

But there's a more impressive property!

"I discovered that if you put lunar soil in your microwave oven, next to your tea, it will melt at 1,200C before your tea boils - which is a magical thing," he said.

This property is almost entirely due to a coupling effect between the microwaves and the nano-phase iron in the dust.

Now, that's interesting! This doesn't mean, by the way, that your microwave oven would get water up to 1,200 C—it would boil at 100 C. It means that there's a special property of the dust that will absorb the energy in microwaves very readily, so it raises its temperature more quickly than water will.

In practice, this could mean using microwaves to make glass pavement out of the dust. In principle, it's an easy task. Fire microwaves at the surface, and you'd get a glassy layer. The engineering would probably require more work—you'd want to level off the surface and make layers that would hold up the weight you need to support. But it's doable.

I'm happy to see the University of Tennessee working on this. They've got their Space Science Institute around Tullahoma, but I think this work is going on in Knoxville, the main campus.

Playing catch-up

I've been kind of spotty in posting, lately. I think a well-run blog should be regular or fairly predictable in posting, which makes it easier on the readers. Well, today's catch-up day for this week.

Friday, March 16, 2007

New Horizons reaches Jupiter

The New Horizons space probe, on its way to the planet Pluto, has recently swung past Jupiter. It returned some wonderful B/W photos of Jupiter and its moons. Here's a link to an impressive one of Io, with a volcanic eruption going on. Io is the most geologically active body in the solar system, with a lot of erupting sulphur volcanos. Their plumes reach well out above the moon's low gravity, making an umbrella shape as they fall gently back to the surface. You can clearly make out one in this photo.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Hillary's back onto the VRWC; Bush fires eight US Attorneys

Hillary Clinton has trotted out her dead horse, the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy. This one is a little different from the old one. This was a case of Republican party employees in New Hampshire trying to mess up the Democrats' get-out-the-vote calls at the last election. They got convicted, thankfully. This sort of thing can't be tolerated from either side.

But perhaps we ought to think about Mrs. Clinton's previous conspiracy theory. She's pulling at straws to make any connection here with Republican opposition to Whitewater and her associated scandals—it was just a rhetorical trick when she used the VRWC term. But her cohorts, like the state Democratic Party Chairman, Kathy Sullivan, seem to be trying to make a real connection:

"People think we're paranoid when we talk about the vast, right-wing conspiracy, but there is a real connection of these groups - the same names keep popping up," Sullivan said.

Really? Was Richard Mellon Scaife funding these two guys? Did Ken Starr poke his head up? Yes, I do think you're paranoid, if you believe that Mrs. Clinton's original claim of a VRWC has anything to do with this.

But she probably doesn't. It's just a way of rousing up the Left.

But let's do make a connection with the events of this week. As you may know, President Bush fired eight U.S. Attorneys, which is his prerogative. Their performance was cited. Now, the Democrats have shouted, "Politics!" and launched a Congressional investigation of some kind. The eight who were fired were Democrats or appointed by Clinton. The performance issues apparently relate to their failure to investigate election fraud cases from the 2006 elections. There were a number of local cases of stolen ballots, voting by the dead and departed, improper voter registration practices, and so on. Some of these were in close elections, and yet these eight did little or nothing to follow up on such illegal acts allegedly done by their fellow Democrats.

Yes, there's apparently politics involved—these U.S. Attorneys appear to have been letting their political allegiances get in the way of their duties. Bush has every right to fire them, and while a President can abuse powers he legally has, this isn't a case of it.

Now, how does this connect to Mrs. Clinton? Do you remember the scandal that broke out around the U.S. Attorneys at the beginning of Mr. Clinton's first term? He fired them all. All 93! While he can do that, it was certainly unprecedented, and it left a number of active cases hanging. Shouldn't the damage to Justice have bothered Mr. Clinton? Well, there's one case in particular that Mr. Clinton was only too happy to see disrupted: Whitewater.

The U.S. Attorney looking into the Clintons' Whitewater scandal (I think it was W. Hickman Ewing, Jr., but I haven't been able to look this up) was fired with the rest, of course. It is widely thought by those of us on the Right that the blanket firing was a cover for getting rid of him and disrupting or stopping the investigation.

Now that was cause for scandal. But firing eight who weren't zealous in the pursuit of their duties? Come on.

Friday, March 09, 2007

More on the D.C. gun decision

I should have figured: Instapundit is filled with useful commentary on that gun decision today. I hadn't realized the context of the case--the court actually struck down the District's gun ban! That ban has been the butt of criticism from us gun rights supporters for decades, and we've long pointed to it as an example of a law that's clearly unconstitutional. Nice to see the court agreeing!

And here's more from the Volokh Conspiracy. Keep updating Volokh and Instapundit throughout the day; I'm sure they'll both be keeping tabs on this.

A welcome Second Amendment decision

Over at The Corner, K-Lo has posted a D.C. Circuit Court decision regarding the right to keep and bear arms. In part,

To summarize, we conclude that the Second Amendment
protects an individual right to keep and bear arms. That right
existed prior to the formation of the new government under the
Constitution and was premised on the private use of arms for
activities such as hunting and self-defense, the latter being
understood as resistance to either private lawlessness or the
depredations of a tyrannical government (or a threat from


Despite the importance of the Second
Amendment’s civic purpose, however, the activities it protects
are not limited to militia service, nor is an individual’s
enjoyment of the right contingent upon his or her continued or
intermittent enrollment in the militia.

Wow! "Resistance to...the depredations of a tyrannical government" and "not limited to militia service"! Amen, brothers!

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Common sense on the supposed "Jesus tomb"

Opinion Journal has sensible commentary on James Cameron's documentary on the supposed tomb of Jesus. The writer is a professor of New Testament at Asbury in Kentucky, and he explains the background with a professor's care.

Interestingly, he mentions that the fourth-century church historian, Eusebius, "saw the tomb and the standing inscribed slab in front of it." Interesting. I wouldn't guarantee that Eusebius saw the correct tomb (300 years later), of course, but he was certainly a lot closer in time to the events than we are today. So does Eusebius describe the location? How long were pilgrimages made to this tomb? Is it still known today? I know that the cave traditionally thought to have been Jesus' birthplace has remained publicly known. So if the traditionally-recognized tomb hasn't, why not?

UPDATE: Oh, right. I keep forgetting that the practice in those days was to erect a church on top of any such important historical site. So yes, the traditionally-recognized site of the tomb is now underneath (or within) the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, originally built in 330.

I went looking for pictures of the tomb itself. Hmmm...turns out that not only was the church destroyed several times, but the Egyptian caliph al Hakim cut the tomb itself down to the bedrock in 1009 to destroy it also. Nothing left of the original tomb, now, whosever it was.

"Chinese" Gordon identified another tomb as a possibilty--the "Garden Tomb." Not much in the way of historical links, but a pretty site to visit. And I'd bet that Gordon's site is more realistic than the ornately-carved ossuaries Cameron is touting.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Charles Krauthammer on the Moon

Or, well, he's talking about the moon, rather.

I was excited to read his article. He lays out the case for sending a manned mission to the moon, in simple, elegant terms. I think his opinions on this matter correspond very closely with mine. Which is a relief, because I've often found myself arguing with the same two sets of people that he answers: the anti-space travel luddites, and the space science purists.

In daily life, you find the occasional luddite, who thinks there's no point going up into space. This is often justified by the clause, "...while there are so many problems to fix here on earth." Right. Not objecting to space exploration, mind you. We'll just fix everything on the earth first, and up we go!

I used to argue back to these people some mealy-mouthed excuse that the space program has had great engineering spin-offs, like velcro! Sigh. It doesn't even convince me. (And yes, I know velcro was around long before Apollo--I'm kidding, here.)

The second group, I find more often than not sitting in astrophysics offices at NASA and research universities. There is an antagonism I don't understand between many astrophysicists and the manned spaceflight program. Somehow, these astronomers think that if you can get more data per dollar with robots, than any manned flights are stealing your research money. Van Allen, discoverer of the Van Allen radiation belts, provided my discovery that this attitude exists at all. I read some magazine article about him, claiming he was a long-time opponent of manned spaceflight. Apparently, he thought everything should be done with robots. I was absolutely stunned, because I'd never heard of anyone in the field thinking that way before.

I've come across several others in my research work, even to some degree at NASA itself. These are people who think any of the Federal budget devoted to the economically inefficient manned program is theft from their research budget.

My answer to both is that manned spaceflight advances science. Not just engineering, but hard research data. It's not only robots who can do that. Men are far more flexible and adaptable than robots. Think how many robots we've crashed into the Martian permafrost over the last four decades. Often, it was a technically simple failure that might have been easily fixed by a guy with a wrench. Can't do that with a robot. And it's not efficient to keep pock-marking Mars' face with little robot-sized craters, either. Furthermore, if we're going to look for traces of Martian life, we're ultimately going to want a guy with a shovel and a microscope out there, looking for fossils. It's going to be a painfully slow process to do the same thing with these robots.

Finally, my biggest personal reason is just the sheer glory of manned exploration. Krauthammer ends with this one, as well. We've sent men to explore nearly the entire surface of the earth, excepting the ocean floor. This is the extension of Columbus, Magellan, and Lewis and Clark into space. Don't leave that for a remote-controlled car. Send a man out there to put his foot in the dirt!