Sunday, May 27, 2007

TV in a flexible sheet

Here's the video. Looks impressive! I'm still waiting for a notebook computer that has pages like an actual notebook, and where the "pages" are each a flexible screen. TV on one page, computer output on another, use a third for writing with a stylus, like a tablet computer...

The Monster Boar of Alabama

Oh. My. Goodness.

An 11-year-old boy killed this boar with nine shots from a .50-cal pistol. It weighs 1,060 lbs., and it measures 9' 4" long! For goodness' sake, look at the photo--the thing is bigger than any bear I've seen in the smokies! In fact, I think the largest bear killed in the Smokies was something over 400 lbs., so in sheer mass, this boar is over twice its size. The polar bears I saw at the zoo recently will grow to 1,500 lbs., half again as large as this. So this thing is the size of a juvenile polar bear, and they're the biggest land carnivores, period.

I'm trying to imagine this creature roaming through the forests. Alabama has some pretty dense undergrowth, and surely this hog didn't find many clear paths it could fit through. On the other hand, at that size, it just trampled anything in its way!

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Letters of Marque and Reprisal against al-Qaeda? Plus: the Ron Paul Experiment

Interesting little test by Extreme Mortman. But the thing that really caught my eye was the comment made by "richarda" at 2:27 PM, May 25: Ron Paul proposed issuing letters of marque against al-Qaeda? You know...that's a pretty good idea!

Letters of Marque were issued against enemy merchant shipping, which al-Qaeda doesn't do much of, but the concept of private action against an enemy state could be useful. In principle, though, haven't we actually approved that by issuing a large reward for bin Laden's capture?

Science and Religion

I just found the Veritas Forum, which has (among plenty of other things) two interesting-sounding articles on religion and science. The first is "The Theological Roots of Modern Science," by Fritz Schaefer, and the second is "Is it God's Universe," by Owen Gingerich.

I'm not familiar with Schaefer, but it says that he's a scientist. Gingerich is a pretty famous astronomer, and he's written popular books on cosmology, most recently, The Book Nobody Read, which is about the Copernican revolution.

These are audio or video files; I don't see that there is a transcript. But maybe these could be downloaded onto an iPod.

The Veritas Forum, where these are posted, is an organization of campus discussions and debates on religion and its application. I'll be checking back often. Schaefer himself has about a dozen talks posted there on Big Bang Cosmology and religion.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Weekly Standard on Limbo

Jonathan Last has a nice summary of the limbo activity (the theological concept, not the dance) coming out of the Catholic church. He points out a lot of the misinterpretations in the press, and he summarizes the history of the concept.

His closing remarks are something I especially appreciate:

In essence, the biggest problem with the whole theory of limbo was that it suggested that the sacraments God established created limits to His own power--which would mean that God is not, in fact, omnipotent. If one believes that all things are possible to God, then limbo is a problem.
What did the magisterium do that is so heartening? It admitted that it doesn't, and we can't, know everything. It acknowledged that this situation has no theological signposts to guide an approach to it.
In a way, it was a model, from on high, of a type of intellectual humility, a constant awareness that we are trying to talk about things we can't really talk about.

Yes, yes, YES! One of my biggest frustrations in theology, especially mediaeval theology, is the temptation to run on into wild speculations, extrapolating far beyond the data of the Bible. Do that often enough, and you wind up with all kinds of crazy doctrines there's little or no evidence for.

Now, limbo was never an official Catholic doctrine, but it's still good that in this document, they have countered the kind of speculation that led to its proposal in the first place.

My second agreement is on the tendency of theologians and churchmen to force God's actions into a concrete formula, from which He can never depart. They figure that we know completely how God acts in certain situations, and they treat Him as some kind of mindless automaton whose behavior in other situations is simple to predict, given the handful of rules He obeys. That is another wrongheaded attitude that is countered by this document.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Reflexive Anti-Americanism of the British Press

Yikes. Carol Gould, a British journalist herself, takes her fellows to task in their reporting of events in Iraq and friendly-fire incidents. I listen to the BBC, so I know British news is often biased, but the depth to which these stories sink is still astounding.

But the National Union of Journalists thinks its primary job is to pass condemnations of America and Israel...

On a more cheerful note, Gould herself has a more pro-American feeling blog, Current Viewpoint.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Supposed "Mercury 13" Women Astronauts

James Oberg has a good article in The Space Review debunking a growing myth about a supposed secret NASA program to put women in space in 1961. Which was cancelled by evil, sexist, chauvinist pig-men at NASA or the U.S. government.

I've seen a book on this subject, recently. From the jacket summary, it seemed a shockingly blatant account of pure sexual discrimination by NASA, and yanking the rug out from underneath a bunch of highly-trained women astronauts-to-be.

Well, Oberg has set me straight. It turns out there was never a NASA project for women astronauts to begin with. It was a private program, run by a doctor, Lovelace, who had supervised(?) NASA's medical tests on the actual Mercury astronaut candidates. Apparently, he'd decided to try this out with women, too, and he put several of them through the physiological tests to winnow out those who couldn't take the physical stresses of spaceflight.

And that was it. No spaceflight training. Their piloting skills were not as high as the mens', who were all military pilots and test pilots. And the program didn't end because those mean ol' men at NASA changed their minds and stabbed the women in the back. It ended because Lovelace didn't have the funding to go farther with his idea. NASA wasn't funding him at all, and Lovelace had to pay the Navy for the tests he wanted done.

I'd have to look up more, but I suspect from this that trying to apply "Project Mercury" or "the Mercury 13" to these women isn't justified in any way. But because it has a nice ring to it, since we're used to saying the "Mercury 7," those who perpetuate this myth are going to play it up. And reporters will repeat it.

Big guy smackdown!

It's Michael Moore versus Fred Dalton Thompson, Cuban style! (via Drudge)

I know who my money's on. Maybe I should be impressed with Moore, though--he says he's "forewarning" Thompson that he was "the winner of the 1971-72 Detroit Free Press Debate Award for the state of Michigan." Oooohh! That's some intimidation factor!

I think that around that time, say about '73 or '74, Thompson was coming up with his own debating questions, such as, "What did the President know, and when did he know it?" Thompson's work has gotten remembered nationwide, even thirty years later. And it wasn't in a high school debating club, but in his work for the Senate Majority Leader, Senator Howard Baker (R, Tenn.) during the Watergate hearings.

Still, Moore's got a nice trophy from the Detroit Free Press, I'm sure.

P.S: My first experience with! Breitbart used to be Drudge's assistant or cowriter for the Drudge Report, who has gone off to his own ventures, including this one. Take a look around; he's even planning to present original programming.

Assault on the First Amendment, Part II

I heard Rush Limbaugh on the radio yesterday talking about this article. The Washington Prowler in the American Spectator reports that the Democrats want to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine. Well, that much we already knew. What's shocking about this is the quotations he's gotten from Democratic staffers:

The decision to press for re-establishment of the Fairness Doctrine now seems to have developed for two reasons. "First, [Democrats] failed on the radio airwaves with Air America, no one wanted to listen," says a senior adviser to Pelosi. "Conservative radio is a huge threat and political advantage for Republicans and we have had to find a way to limit it. Second, it looks like the Republicans are going to have someone in the presidential race who has access to media in ways our folks don't want, so we want to make sure the GOP has no advantages going into 2008."

That last comment appeared to be a veiled reference to former Sen. Fred Thompson, who appears to be gearing up for a presidential run.

Oh, yes. Political idealism at its finest! The other guys' speech is hurting us politically, and we aren't as successful at it, so we're going to regulate their speech away. And this is from a senior advisor to the Speaker of the House! That makes this a real threat in a way that Kucinich's fringe blustering wasn't.

"They are identifying senior employees, their political activities and their political giving," says a Government Reform committee staffer. "Salem is a big target, but the big one is going to be Limbaugh. We know we can't shut him up, but we want to make life a bit more difficult for him."

My goodness, the blantant abuse of power this guy admits to! Salem is Salem Radio Network, which syndicates some conservative talk shows. But read how this is all intended: to make life difficult for conservative political commentary. They can't get people to listen to Air America and other liberal talk radio, so they decide the next best thing is to regulate the conservatives' speech away.

Absolutely outrageous.

Assault on the First Amendment, Part I

Retiring Rep. Marty Meehan (D, Mass.) is trying to push through an amedment to a lobbying bill to regulate groups that encourage the public to contact Congress on issues. Seeing as how petitioning the government for a redress of grievances is explicitly protected by the First Amendment, he and his supporters are going about this in a sly way, "regulating" these groups as "lobbyists." Disclosure forms, quarterly reports, tell us who donated your money, etc.

It's harder to stir up a fight against this kind of restriction, when it is a creeping regulation, rather than a clear, outright ban on the activity. You'll get some otherwise sensible people who think, "Sure, we ought to regulate lobbying groups...," without reflecting on the protected right that's being regulated.

Well, John Fund's article ought to be a good step in exposing this.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Yeltsin Derangement Syndrome

...a close cousin of Bush Derangement Syndrome. There's an eye-opening review of the Yeltsin years here. (Via Instapundit) I'd been a fan of Yeltsin, but I'd still forgotten some of the facts, and I'd fallen for the press' biased history, in some points. This article is an excellent corrective.

Oldest star yet found

This is interesting. Astronomers at the European Southern Observatory (ESO) have dated a star in the Milky Way as 13.2 billion years old. The current best estimates of the universe's age range from 13.2-13.7 billion years, if I remember right. (They quote only the 13.7 estimate in this article.)

The astronomers used the Very Large Telescope (VLT) (we're not always the most creative when we come up with telescope names, are we?) for this, as they needed a large collecting area to get accurate measurements of the star's thorium and uranium content, which is how they dated it.

Incidentally, it was only a decade ago that we had the famous age problem of the universe. Kinematic measurements of globular clusters implied they had ages of 15 billion years, while cosmology derived an age of only 13 billion years for the universe itself. This was a neat little problem, but it was finally solved with better measurements (on the cosmological side, this also meant better equipment, especially the work of the WMAP probe).

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Does Britain need a written constitution?

Fascinating. On the BBC World Service right now, two Englishmen are debating whether Britain needs a written constitution or not. The man arguing the pro side, from a think tank, I believe, is pointing to the fixedness of a written constitution as an advantage. There was something about the EU he brought in, but I didn't catch that. He says that a bill of rights (like in America) is needed, but that itself would be part of a written constitution, and to codify one part of a written one without writing the rest doesn't make sense. (Have they passed a written bill of rights?) Furthermore, the creation of the Welsh and Scottish parliaments (which he agrees with) have put some more aspects of the British constitution in writing.

The man arguing the con side argued for the flexibility of an unwritten constitution as an advantage. He said that, for instance, women didn't get the vote in (Switzerland?) until the 1970s (I think this was true in Italy, but I missed some of what he said), and in America, civil rights for blacks were denied in practice for a century after they were supposedly codified in the Constitution. Furthermore! Those crazy Americans are stuck with (cursed with, really) gun rights, a right that was only meant "for the pioneer days," so you could "shoot a bear" or something. And now this anachronistic "right" is causing all kinds of problems.

Yikes. The man arguing the con side is a "Conservative" MP.

The fundamental misunderstanding of our Second Amendment is disappointing, especially coming from someone I'd expect to have been more favorable to the right it protects. And he's blind to the reality of violent crime in America and Britain—we have lower violent crime rates here, with a right to keep and bear arms, than they do in Britain, where there is an almost total gun ban.

Furthermore, though I don't need to waste too many pixels explaining it to this crowd, the right was never about shooting bears. It was and is, first and foremost, about defense against domestic tyrrany.

Well, I'm intrigued to follow how this debate goes. I believe in written constitutions, because fixedness of government form is something I desire. It better constrains the powers of government. But if the British can get along without it, and maintain a free country, more power to them.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Investigation of Michael Moore's trip to Cuba

Michael Moore's filming a movie about medical care, and he went to Cuba as part of this. But the U. S. government is checking up on him, saying that he didn't have permission to violate the embargo. He brought along some rescue workers from the New York 9/11 attacks who'd gotten sick from the job.

Because, you know, there are no doctors in America. Or these guys couldn't get insurance approval, I'm guessing. And there are no free clinics or charities in America. And flying to Cuba, in violation of the embargo, to go to one of their mediocre hospitals (from what I've read, they are not the top-notch institutions Fearless Leader claims) is the only solution.

Interestingly, Fred Thompson makes an appearance in this article. They mention his National Review article criticizing Moore. Writing these articles has been a great decision; it's laid the groundwork for support among conservatives.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Sex Quotas on Academic Panels

(Via Instapundit) The American Historical Association has a sex quota for its panels at annual meetings, and it was about to reject this proposed program because all of the panel were men. Happily, one lady professor stepped up to help them out and offered herself as the token woman. It did the trick.

I'm not aware of any such rule at the American Astronomical Society, to which I belong, but there are a few activists within the organization who have gotten something along these lines (I think) instituted at, say, the Space Telescope Science Institute (which runs the Hubble).

One friend of mine is pushing these, and I enjoyed hearing her ask a lady astronomer about sex discrimination at her grad school (I mean, the school where she had been a grad student). When the young lady answered that she hadn't experienced any, my friend was actually taken aback!

Well, if it goes too far, there's always the suggestion in the article above: Have all of the men appear in drag!

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Big Foot as "endangered species"?

That's what a Canadian Member of Parliament wants his country to declare. According to the petition he circulated (and got 500 constituents' signatures),

"The debate over their (Bigfoot's) existence is moot in the circumstance of their tenuous hold on merely existing. Therefore, the petitioners request the House of Commons to establish immediate, comprehensive legislation to affect immediate protection of Bigfoot."

Well, that does have a certain logic to it...if he goes extinct, it won't matter if he existed to begin with... Ummm...

Never say the Canadian Parliament doesn't provide entertainment for us.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

There are still geocentrists out there?!?!

Yikes! Here is an honest-to-goodness geocentrist's blog. In this post, he's recounting an internet exchange between another geocentrist (Robert Sungenis) and physicist Stephen Barr. Good grief!

I came across this while looking up material for my scientific reasoning class. They'll present a debate over geocentrism in class, set as the trial of Galileo. Since Galileo's actual (second) trial wasn't specifically about geocentrism per se, I'll have them refocus it so that it is. And I'll let the prosecution team know that until Galileo's telescopic observations, the geocentrists probably had the preponderance of evidence on their side. They ought to make a halfway decent case, although the defense should be able to answer their objections with telescopic observations. was 400 years ago! Science has moved on, people!

Iowahawk on the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and Lileks

For those who aren't following these things, the Star-Tribune has cancelled James Lileks' daily "Quirk" column and reassigned him as a beat reporter covering local news with, I think, internet angles. Local news is important, but this is a guy whose self-published internet column, "The Bleat," is read across the country, and, I suspect, across the world. It doesn't seem like the smartest move. By the way, I linked to his "Bleat", rather than the "Quirk."

Anyway, in sarcastic tribute to the Star-Tribune, Iowahawk has an absolutely hilarious history of the newspaper business, told through fifty years' worth of subscription letters. It doesn't directly refer to Lileks, and you can enjoy this without needing any context. Pay particular attention to the names used in the pitches. They pop up repeatedly.

Queen Elizabeth visits Goddard Space Flight Center

The Queen of England visited NASA today, at my old workplace, Goddard Space Flight Center. Curious if any of my friends & colleagues saw her or not. She went to a video conference with the space station astronauts, accompanied by the British-born American astronaut Michael Foale. I've met him, actually. When he came by Space Telescope with the other astronauts from the...third (?) Hubble servicing mission to brief us. I think he set an American space endurance record on the Mir.

This WTOP article says something I hadn't known: that "the flight center is home to the largest organization of scientists and engineers in the United States..." Huh! I knew it was big, but I didn't know just how it compared with other research centers.

(Possibly unintentionally) funny quote of the article: "The video link at the Goddard Space Flight Center was one-way, so the crew members could not see the queen standing by silently wearing a large yellow hat."

One more thing: although I disagree with the whole idea of monarchy, I am still impressed by the actions of a good king or queen. And I hadn't known this before:

The queen, a teenage princess during World War II, won permission in 1945 from her father, King George VI, to join the war effort as a driver in the Women's Auxiliary Territorial Service, the women's branch of the British Army. She became known as No. 230873 Second Subaltern Elizabeth Windsor.

Incan Suspension Bridges

An interesting story on Incan rope suspension bridges. (From the NY Times, so free registration might be required.) It says that these jumped canyons up to 150' wide, which was wider than masonry bridges could leap with a single arch at the time.

King Herod's tomb found

They've probably discovered the tomb of King Herod, near Jerusalem. This was the Herod (there were lots of them...) who reigned from about 37 to 4 BC and who was king when Jesus was born.

They found it on the artificial hill built for his palace, Herodium (say, that name sounds familiar...), which was long suspected to be its site. But previous searches hadn't turned up the tomb itself. The tomb was desecrated, probably not long after Herod died, maybe during one of the anti-Roman revolts, when the palace was occupied by the rebels.

The site has a long history after Herod. It was occupied twice during the various revolts, and it was used in the early Middle Ages, from the 5th century to the 7th century. First as a monastery, then as a leper colony.

Really interesting!

New type of Supernova Discovered?

I'm hearing a lot about this possibly new type of supernova discovered, but I haven't yet read an article aimed at astronomers, and these stories are using rather vague terminology. This is the NY Times story, so registration might be required, but I'll post on this again once I hear something more specific from any friends who work on these.

As far as I can gather now, this supernova is the most luminous one ever discovered, and it might be a newly-discovered type, the explosion of a primordial star.

Now, "most luminous" doesn't mean the brightest one ever seen, from here on Earth. It means its total light output is the highest, but because it's so far from our own galaxy, you still need a telescope to see it.

It is possibly the explosion of a star from the first generation of stars that ever existed--the long-sought-for "Population III" stars. These stars would have no heavy elements, or "metals" (we've got a specific astronomical usage of the term) in them, because the heavier elements are produced in the cores of stars by nuclear fusion. When the universe came into existence, it started off in a hot, dense ball--the Big Bang. And that allowed nuclear fusion throughout the universe, creating helium, deuterium, and lithium out of the vast amounts of hydrogen that we started off with. But this period lasted for only a short time, because as the universe expanded, it cooled, and the time for fusion ended quickly. So now, we mostly have H and some He, plus small amounts of D and Li. (And maybe trace amounts of the next one or two down on the periodic table--I don't know exactly where the cutoff is.)

All of the rest of the elements came about through fusion inside stars, and when these stars exploded or shed their outer layers at the end of their lives, they scattered the materials out into space. The next generation of stars formed out of this material, so they started off with some metals, in addition to the H and He that makes up the bulk of their matter. The father on you go in time, the more the metal content of the stars.

OK, I'll post more on this once I know more...

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Quote of the day:

"They replaced the Communist with a Canadian which, even I had to concede, was a very poor substitute for a Communist."
--Jonah Goldberg, National Review Online

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Russia sees NASA conspiracy in Moon base plans

Wow. This would be really cool if it were true, but I've just got my doubts...

Russia is wanting to join the US plan to go back to the Moon and establish a lunar base (by 2024, but you know how NASA timelines get stretched), but claims it has been "rebuffed," despite American courting of the European Space Agency.

The Russians think this is all a plan to sieze the rich helium-3 fields in the lunar soil, cornering the burgeoning nuclear fusion market in a world hungry for non-carbon energy sources. So they're pushing for their own lunar base, to be established by 2015.

Well, except the He-3 isotope is still just a dream, as far as an actual energy source, and we've never gotten nuclear fusion to work in a practical way for civil energy production. So I really don't see the US as trying to shut the Russkies out of the lunar mission in order to hoard He-3 for ourselves.

If it's true the Russians have been "rebuffed" (love that word; you don't hear it often enough), I'd suspect it was a matter of their reliability and ability to deliver on time.

Anyway, if this were real, it would be really cool!

Venezuela's next step towards Communism

Hugo Chavez has seized "operational control" of the Orinoco Belt crude oil operations from foreign oil companies. Well, it's "May Day," the big communist holiday, and Reuters notes that on May Day last year, Bolivia's Evo Morales actually sent troops in to seize natural gas fields.

So they're both going for the political symbolism in their timing.

No surprise; I mean, Chavez isn't hiding anything. The "workers" "celebrated" the takeover by painting a wall with Chavez's slogan, "Homeland, Socialism or Death." least he's giving people the option...

Bill Frist exonerated on stock sale

(Via Instapundit) Tigerhawk is reporting that former Senate Majority Leader (now regular ol' Senator from Tennessee) Dr. Bill Frist has been exonerated from accusations of insider trading. He'd been accused of this from a sale of stock in his family's medical company, before the company had a worse-than-expected quarterly profits report.

The accusation was spread all across the press, of course. Now we find out from the e-mails he turned over that it wasn't true. The SEC and the US Attorney in New York have announced they're closing the investigations and would take no action against him.

Great! I assumed this was the case from the beginning, because of the timing I'd read of (he started action for the sale long before the quarterly report). OK. Now, let's see the New York Times and the rest plaster his exoneration across the front page...




Al Qaeda leader in Iraq may be dead

Breaking news--some reports that Abu Ayyub al-Masri, the head of al Qaeda in Iraq, was killed in a battle between al Qaeda and some insurgents today. No confirmation yet from US forces, but I bet we'll be scrambling to find out for sure.

It's especially nice to hear that the fighting was between our two enemy groups. The more they hate each other, the better for the Iraqis and the Americans.

Let's see how this goes...

Mark Shea's descent

Some time back, I posted a link to Mark Shea's blog, where he had a post about the reasons for the traditional date of Christmas (i.e., why pick December 25th, if we don't know exactly when Christ was born?). Since then, I'd checked it out regularly and found nice articles there on religion and some other things.

But I've finally seen how he has descended into crankery on some political issues, especially on the Iraq War. Not content to disagree respectfully with people who are otherwise on his side, he indulges in sarcasm, snideness, name-calling, insults, and throws around words like "sin" and "evil" and "stupidity" in a discussion of politics. Plus his apparent view of President Bush as being bent on establishing a totalitarian dictatorship or a cult. Or both, maybe. A number of his regular commenters seem to share my objection, so it's not just me. This is, however, the internet, so I shouldn't be surprised to find somebody losing a grip on polite disagreement.

I bring this up because I could agree with Mark on other issues in politics or morality, and for some reason I still check his blog regularly. But now, I think I do it just to find things to get mad about, whether it's on politics or religion. It's a shame, really...

Back to blogging...

Wow--a whole month without blogging! What relaxation, though I've missed using this outlet for my opinions. Well, assuming we have any readers left who'll regularly check in...