Thursday, July 31, 2008

Lakes on Titan confirmed

This is great news--Cassini scientists have verified that one of the dark pools on the surface of Saturn's moon Titan is liquid, not solid. We'd seen these features and at first thought they were lakes and seas but then found we couldn't tell from photographs alone whether they were still liquid or had frozen or dried up. The new results use spectroscopy and have picked up the signature of ethane. Larry Soderblom, a USGS scientist, said, "The fact we could detect the ethane spectral signatures of the lake even when it was so dimly illuminated, and at a slanted viewing path through Titan's atmosphere, raises expectations for exciting future lake discoveries by our instrument."

They've named this lake Ontario Lacus, Latin for Lake Ontario, and in fact the lake is a little bigger than Lake Ontario here on earth.

"Obama says Republicans trying to scare voters"

Unlike the kind and gentle Democrats, such as himself, who would never do such a thing. Who would never talk about their opponent in ways designed to scare the voters. Who would never say, "That's a definition of madness, but that's what John McCain is offering. He's offering Bush economic policies and Karl Rove politics"

Waiting to sneak the "Fairness Doctrine" back in

Looks like the Democratic leadership in the House is eager to put the so-called "Fairness Doctrine" back in place. Let's hope this gets publicized enough to build up public opposition.

Michael Novak on real patriotism

Michael Novak nails it on the Left and "real patriotism." Especially eloquent is this passage:

Real patriotism, he [Obama] clarified, is loving the ideals of a country and dissenting from policies not in line with those ideals.

Here Obama points to a huge divide between left-wingers and ordinary Americans. Ordinary Americans do not love a mere “ideal” out in never-never land. They love the land, the soil, the mountains, the plains, the history, the bloody battles, the mistakes, the rises and falls, the real human history of an altogether human people, the particular, imperfect people of the United States. Left-wingers, by contrast, are continually judging the real country harshly. They often judge it so harshly that their attitudes toward their leaders, their neighbors and the real country as a whole sometimes seem almost like hatred for the country itself.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Oh, Danny Glover...

I liked him in Silverado and the Lethal Weapon movies (although I had to ignore the blatant politicization of the latter ones), but his off-screen activism is off-putting. I don't care if there are no "white heroes" in a movie about Toussaint and the Haitian revolution. I think that the producers who say they need that are being shallow (well, that's Hollywood). If he can get the movie made, that's great, and it shouldn't need racial rewriting to make a good story.

But. You're going to your buddy Chavez to get the dough?! ...raised 18 of the 30 million dollars needed from a Venezuelan cultural body set up in 2006 by his friend President Hugo Chavez to counter what he termed "the Hollywood film dictatorship".


Thursday, July 24, 2008

Dang Yankee

I often agree with Ann Althouse, but not today: "22% of Americans "believe any state or region has the right to peaceably secede and become an independent republic."

Her comments? "So all these people have the law wrong and don't seem to know the basics of the history of the Civil War." "Fascinating(ly stupid)."

Go insult somebody else, yankee. The natural right exists, the history of the War Between the States shows us that you need more soldiers with guns to protect this right, and the advocates of this right have included all of our founding fathers, who weren't stupid.

Deo Vindice!


The Iraqi olympic team has been banned from this summer's games because the Iraqi government replaced the Iraqi Olympic Committee? I understand you might want to have procedures and rules for doing this sort of thing, but you're banning the team from competing because of some bureaucratic issue? Also, I am totally lost at the end of the article:

(1) The committee which the government dismissed was elected in 2004, in line with the Olympic movement's regulations.
Its chairman, Ahmad al-Samarra'i, and several other members were abducted by gunmen while attending a meeting in central Baghdad in July 2006.
They have not been seen since.


(2) [...] the Iraqi government replaced the country's Olympic committee with its own appointees.
The Iraqi government said it took the move because the committee was corrupt and had not been functioning properly.

So, wait--(1) several members of the Iraqi committee have been kidnapped and are still missing. (2) The Iraqi committee was replaced by the government because it was corrupt.

Can we have a little follow up on number (1), here?!?! And if part of the committee has been kidnapped, didn't that factor into the decision to appoint new people?!

Oh, come on!

Sad to see this from an actual Apollo astronaut who'd walked on the moon. Of course, if I believed him, I'd figure he was an unimpeachable inside source. Since I don't, I figure he's gone a little nutty. Sigh.

Monday, July 21, 2008

MIsusing the Red Cross symbol

Well, I can understand the Red Cross not wanting anybody to falsely identify as Red Cross, because if it became known that was happening, the real Red Cross guys would be under suspicion of being false, as well. Similar to how a journalists' organization demanded the CIA no longer have spies go undercover as reporters--because then real reporters could be suspected of being spies. (Of course, so can businessmen, scientists, and so on.)

So I can accept a bit of formalized (maybe ritualized?) apologies by President Uribe of Colombia, after it came out that one of the Colombian soldiers who rescued the FARC hostages improperly wore a Red Cross badge. The man said he got skittish after seeing how many terrorists they were up against, and he put it on in a fit of panic. Critics said that the fact that he had the badge to begin with showed they'd already considered this as a backup plan.

Yeah, that's probably true. And I don't blame them for it one bit. I'll let the Red Cross defend the purity of its symbols (it has good reasons), but I'll defend the Colombians for going in disguise. The terrorists don't play fair. You'll have to fight dirty and cheat. This isn't like shooting prisoners--it's simply deceiving them, which I have no problem with. So I roll my eyes a bit at the level of news coverage this generated. Not anything I'm going to get worked up over.

On the other hand, Instapundit links to this story about a drug plane flying with the Red Cross emblem painted on it. Yeah, that'll do wonders for the brand. Let's sit back and cup our ears to hear if we can pick up the howls of indignant outrage this time:


Thursday, July 17, 2008

Americans and multilingualism

In the wake of Obama's snide remarks about our language skills last week, National Review's Yuval Levin has some surprising numbers to show. Huh. I did not know that!

The right of self-defense makes a comeback in Britain

It's small, but it's a start: British subjects who defend themselves from robbery or attack can now have their perspective on the situation taken into account when they're prosecuted. Whoopie. Well, no one thought it would be easy to reverse their statist trend towards a government monopoly on force (even itty bitty force). Glad to see there's some progress, at least. The depressing trend from the early twentieth century up 'til 2004 is chronicled here, in this cringe-inducing article by Joyce Lee Malcom.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

So the EPA can regulate, like, everything?

The Heritage Foundation brings our attention to the EPA, which has issued an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) regarding (among many other things) lawnmower motors and highway speed limits for trucks.

That whole Constitution's that holding up for you? Remind me again, what was the Framers' point in enumerating the specific powers of Congress, if there are no limits (aside from a few specific exceptions in the Amendments)?

If they can set speed limits... [sigh.]

Really, though, that lawsuit that forced them to take on CO2 emissions as a "pollutant" really opened the door for absolute power. Because we exhale CO2 when we breathe. If they can, even in ridiculous theory, regulate that, they can do anything.

(Just for the record, of course they're not going to regulate breathing, but I mean that the power to control CO2 emission in practice has no limits.)

Send the space station to the planets?

Well, it's an idea. I haven't read this in detail, so I won't comment on the practicality yet. But it's interesting.

The writer's complaint that the ISS just orbits the earth and doesn't go anywhere (as contrasted with Apollo going to the Moon, or the Constellation/Orion project to go to Mars) reminds me of the SNL parody of the HBO miniseries, "From the Earth to the Moon":
"From the Earth to the Area around the Earth: The story of The Space Shuttle."

A threat to Christianity from the "Resurrection Tablet"?

Michael Spencer isn't so sure. OK, so we've got a pre-Christian Jewish document possibly (there's some debate on the interpretation of the damaged text) talking about a messiah who will die and be resurrected in three days, and whose death will redeem Israel. And Christians are supposed to feel threatened by this?! The lay press (at least what reports I heard) has been framing this as a threat to the originality of Christianity. But if this translation were right, then it would at least in part shore up a major point Jesus kept trying to make: that people would have known who he was, if they'd only paid better attention to the scriptures. That much of it was laid out for them right there.

So in that respect, no, this is no threat to Christianity. Now, the fellow who's promoting this new interpretation of the stone (he's an outlier among those who've translated it) thinks that it puts an entirely different light on the Lord's Supper. That when Jesus said he came to save men from their sins, he was (in the tradition of the stone's text) really meaning that he would redeem Israel. Well, no. Let's assume for a minute that the new translation is accurate, and the redemption of Israel is a more earthly and literal and collective thing, and that Jesus was aware of this document or the belief that underlay(?) it. He still said rather explicitly that he saves men from their sins. It's a common frustration I feel when scholars in certain areas of the humanities treat historical figures as entirely trapped by the average of the beliefs and assumptions of their time. That no man strays from the mean. That there is no variation in human thought in a given time and place. And therefore if there was a thought that the Messiah would come to save the nation of Israel on this earth, Jesus couldn't have meant anything different than this.


Anyway, see Spencer's post for lots of helpful links, including the translation.

McCain vs. La Raza

Huh. McCain might actually be showing some backbone here, going before this "National Council of La Raza" (The Race). He kept taking hostile audience questions even after "The Race" organizers tried to end the session. Not bad. I still think he's too wishy-washy on enforcing the law here, but it's a good start.

Just what the doctor ordered:

Howard Dean is going to "help" Obama get Southern votes. Yeah. That'll work.

Bonus: find the "Southerners vote Republican because they're racist" assumption the lazy AP writer uses.

"That's not funny!"

So late-night comedy writers are having a hard time making fun of Obama. They've come up with all kinds of elaborate explanations for this reluctance, but I'm betting it boils down to two things: (1) They like him better than McCain or Clinton, and (2) he's black. From the latter, there's probably a reluctance to joke about him in any way, not just in a way that involves race, lest they be making fun of the black candidate. It's different with, say, Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton, who by this point are walking caricatures. They've been around long enough and said enough dumb things that the comedians have no trouble. But Obama is newer, so they're less at ease (not yet a real caricature of him they can draw from--something that would make it obvious they're not being prejudiced on his race), and he's going to be the first black presidential nominee, so it's different than going after a mere activist like Jackson.

The underlying caricatures that frame the jokes on the late night shows, night after night, are necessarily treated as being universally acknowledged by the host and audience alike. So even if you don't share those opinions, you're treated to the idea that everybody else does, without debate. There's a bandwagon effect, I think. After long enough, it might seep into your mind, as well. I think of Clarence Thomas' Senate hearings. Anita Hill made unsubstantiated accusations against Thomas (some of which, too, could be pretty well refuted). At the time, I think I remember most of the public believing Thomas rather than Hill. But Saturday Night Live and the late night comedians kept up a steady stream of Thomas jokes that took as their unquestioned assumption that Hill was telling the truth. Some time later, with no new evidence or accusations coming out, I believe public opinion had pretty much reversed. I really think the jokes had a lot to do with it.

It even works against those on the left, once in a while: think of Al Gore claiming he invented the internet. No, he didn't say that. He did exaggerate the influence he had after it was invented, but he never said he came up with the thing. But everybody uses this in jokes now.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The dangers of *trying* to attract the attention of aliens

David Brin, of the Lifeboat Foundation, has an interesting and somewhat disturbing report of the new turn within the SETI community. Instead of just quietly listening for aliens' radio signals, some of the people are wanting to try alerting any aliens to our presence. Brin warns that, if aliens are really there at all, it might not be a good idea to try to make contact, considering the chances are that they're much more advanced than us. Those kinds of first meetings haven't always turned out well for the weaker side.

I've not been terribly interested in SETI or in the chance of intelligent alien life, at least not within the region of space that's easy to contact. I consider it likely that there are little single-celled aliens out there, possibly close by (Mars?!), and that, in all of the billions of galaxies, each with their billions of stars, that there's a great chance of intelligent life out there somewhere. But intergalactic travel is a really tough thing to try to breach. Millions or even billions of light-years is a big, big distance.

Still, if you buy the premise of aliens close enough by for us to pick up their signals, or for them to pick up ours, they might just be close enough to stop by. And are you really sure they're going to be friendly? And that even if they are, that it'll all be for our benefit?

Bonus: a Communist doctrine guides the Russian desire to wave to aliens.

Monday, July 07, 2008

FARC and Columbian politics

The Wall Street Journal makes a good point about the apparent(!) ease with which FARC terrorists/guerillas were duped into getting into a helicopter flown by Columbian military pilots: just tell them it's a sympathetic NGO. And wear Che shirts. (Probably not these.) (But, maaaan, wouldn't that have been funny?!)

Meanwhile, the captured FARC documents, e-mails, and the like are turning up interesting names. The WSJ (referenced above) and this website say that a sympathetic Columbian senator, Piedad Cordoba, advised FARC not to release one particular hostage. Amazing. Have to see if those charges stick.

Economics of foreign adoption

No, not in the monetary sense, but in the more general meaning--something that could have found its way into Freakonomics. My cousin, who is a pediatrician who does a lot of work with foreign adoptions, noted that the strong prejudices against Gypsies in Eastern Europe has had a noticeable effect on the relative health of babies adopted from those countries. Gypsy children being adopted into the United States are more likely to be in good health than babies (who are up for foreign adoption) of the majority ethnic group of that country. Why? Because the babies of the majority group are preferred by locals wanting to adopt, and they'll obviously further prefer one of good health. So the majority-group babies who are left for foreign adoption are mostly those who have some health or developmental problem. Meanwhile, the Gypsy babies are more likely to be passed over by local adopters, and so those being adopted into the US still have the typical distribution of health.

I don't know of any moral to take from this. I just found it interesting.