Monday, August 24, 2009

Potpourri XCIX

Okay kids, let's dig into Bart's bag o' tricks and see what surprises are lurking out there in Cyberspace...

My former Disney IT manager Dalton now has a blog. Dalton has since left Disney and now makes his living as a humorist, lecturer, and voice-over artist. Good for him!

From Yohon, more bad news about the state of television. It seems the CW network (formerly WB) has decided there's an unfulfilled need to revive the Melrose Place franchise. Sigh. Kinda makes me long for Dynasty. At least most of the folks on that show were grown-ups.

A follow-up on the alleged comment by NASA Administrator Bolden on Ares I-X: it seems Keith Cowing might've posted erroneous information (I'm shocked, shocked). Rand Simberg wonders about the comments as well. Much as Ares detractors might hope otherwise, work continues on the flight test and the project.

From Lin, an editorial that claims that Obama has played the "God card," as people who believe in God should believe in his policies.

I started out this morning in a bit of a snit, probably because the Ares-related news was so bad over the weekend. Here's what came to me as I was ruminating over the state of America's human spaceflight program:

This is a story that Robert Zubrin included in The Case for Mars, and it bears repeating. In the late 1300s and early 1400s, the Ming Dynasty in China had the largest and most powerful merchant fleet in the world, calling on ports ranging from Japan to Indonesia to the east coast of Africa. The book 1421 even speculates that part of this fleet sailed around the world. Yet by the 1430s, after the death of the eunuch admiral Zheng He, the voyages of this massive fleet were ended, the ships beached or burned, and China’s international presence diminished. The Mings turned inward, consumed by political machinations and usurpers in the capital. By the 1450s, the first trading ships of the Portuguese had arrived around the Horn of Africa, and by the 1500s were trading on the shores of China itself. Between 1500 and 1900, China became weaker and weaker as it ceased exploring and advancing its
technologies, bringing it eventually under the domination of the European empires.

The lessons for the U.S. should be obvious: if we cease to explore space, others will arise to fill the void. Nations that explore have advantages in technology, trade, and influence that non-exploring nations do not. Nations that turn inward decline and self-destruct, with political horizons focused on tightening control of local politics (tyranny) instead of responding to the needs of international exploration and commerce (openness). Social structures harden, planning and philosophical horizons shrink, government ossifies, and military doctrine turns to defensive measures rather than expansion or attack. “Great nations explore,” NASA is fond of saying; what they neglect to mention is that “Great nations that cease exploring die.”

To which Dan the PAO Man replied, "And good morning to you, too." Still. Just sayin'...

Bob Ess, the Ares I-X Mission Manager, is not taking this negativity lying down. He made it quite clear that the work is continuing.

On a completely different note, the Wall Street Journal has a good article offering a suggested set of conservative reforms which, as I suggested a couple days ago, would reduce the amount of government interference in the healthcare market.


On the reading front, I finished The Death of the Grown-Up: How America's Arrested Development is Bringing Down Western Civilization, by Diana West, which I highly recommend but haven't found the leisure to review in full.

I also read The Culture We Deserve: A Critique of Disenlightenment, by the late teacher and scholar Jacques Barzun. This book is a critique of various scholarly maladies afflicting our culture, from literature to history to the visual arts, most of them coming out of the university, but he doesn't do nearly as good a job as Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind in offering remedies for these problems. Far be it for me to slight Mr. Barzun's work, however. I highly recommend Teacher in America, a reflection on his early encounters with American education (he came here as a teacher from France in the mid-1940s) and From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life 1500 to the Present, which is a masterful overview of some of the great works that all of us should read or should have read to fully appreciate the culture into which Westerners were born.

My most recent reading was Escape from Hell by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. Escape from Hell is a sequel to Niven and Pournelle's earlier sequel to Dante's Inferno, both of which I reviewed last October and found enjoyable--or at least as enjoyable as trips through Hell can be. Escape was not nearly as enjoyable, for some reason. I can see why Niven and Pournelle returned to that literary territory. They left a number of loose ends for their protagonist to work out, the most important of which was finding a functional and just reason for hell to exist. Perhaps I need to go back and reread the ending--I finished the book in nearly one sitting, it's that engaging--because the answers Allen Carpenter receives don't seem nearly enough to satisfy.

I'm trying to finish Science Matters: Achieving Science Literacy before I head off to Europe. It's not that I consider myself entirely science-illiterate, but I know there are gaps in my education. And as a fun side note, my pal Dar the Science Cheerleader managed to get the Philadelphia '76ers' cheerleaders to do a cheer for each of the points in this book as a way to encourage people to get a "brain makeover." I don't have nearly that kind of pull.

And so I bid you good night. Salud, y'all. Looking forward to tuning out in 12 days.

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