Saturday, October 10, 2009

Potpourri CV

This has been in my inbox for awhile. Veronique Koken and her partner Howard Chipman, a doctor with his own Czech L-39 jet fighter, have opened an astronaut training center called Aurora Aerospace in the Tampa Bay (Oldsmar) area. The training, a la carte or all together, is not cheap ($8,000 for the whole thing), but sounds like quite an adventure. The full package includes, per the brochure:

This is a two-day experience that operates out of a local airport in Oldsmar, and it includes a medical screening to ensure that your body can handle all this stuff. I was just flipping through the brochure and noted that the L-39 has ejection seats if needed. Well, jump in as you see fit. I've already made my choice: Earth is my home. For those of you so inclined, I'll add the link to my permanent rotation.


Yesterday's Lunar Crater Reconnaissance and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) was a little disappointing from a visual point of view. To be blunt, I saw nothing--no flash, no plume of stuff thrown into the air--nada. I admit to having a little fun with this. I posted Marvin the Martian as my user image on Facebook and asked, "Where's the kaboom? There's supposed to be a moon-shattering kaboom!" Part of that was to express my shared disappointment that the NASA simulation graphics were more dramatic than the actual event; part of it was to poke fun at the people I griped about on Thursday who thought the mission was going to somehow damage the Moon. Now, of course, the mission is being pummeled in the press. If there weren't any fireworks, the press assumed, the mission was a failure. The truth is, until they sort through the data, we won't know what they've got. But the only real reason that LCROSS matters is, if we find water ice on the Moon, we can build long-term bases and permanent settlements there. NASA can't say that because the administration isn't talking about it. However, in my off-duty hours as a National Space Society person, I think that's exactly what they should be talking about. If you agree, join NSS today, and start the campaign to get that started. I want my hotel (not home) with a view of the Earth!

Oh yeah: our president--the guy who was elected nine months ago--has won the Nobel Peace Prize. Let's consider what some previous winners have done:

  • Mediated between countries at war (Theodore Roosevelt, Ralph Bunche)
  • Ministered to the needs of the poor and suffering (Mother Teresa, UNICEF, the International Committee of the Red Cross)
  • Negotiated a peace treaty (Menachem Begin, Anwar Sadat, Henry Kissinger)
  • Fought for the rights of prisoners (Amnesty International)
  • Fought for freedom of conscience (Andrei Sakharov)
  • Fought for equality under the law (Martin Luther King, Jr.)
  • Designed a plan to help rebuild countries destroyed by war (George C. Marshall)

President Obama has done none of these things. Now I commend Obama and his speech writers for acknowledging that he's done nothing (yet?) to earn the award, but jeez, if you know you've done nothing, why accept it? So what has Obama done? The Nobel organization notes on its web site that the nomination process ends in February. I leave it to the reader to review to look for themselves:

I still think someone in the international community is setting this guy up. He's very sensitive to public and press opinion, here and abroad. If he's turned down for the Olympics, it affects his attitude toward the press, as does his surprise award for the Nobel Peace Prize. I believe he's also very susceptible to flattery. Why would the Nobel Foundation give such a prize to someone who, 12 days into his presidency, had yet to make any substantial contribution to world peace? As Obama saw it,

I am both surprised and deeply humbled by the decision of the Nobel Committee. Let me be clear: I do not view it as a recognition of my own accomplishments, but rather as an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations.

To be honest, I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who've been honored by this prize -- men and women who've inspired me and inspired the entire world through their courageous pursuit of peace.

But I also know that this prize reflects the kind of world that those men and women, and all Americans, want to build -- a world that gives life to the promise of our founding documents. And I know that throughout history, the Nobel Peace Prize has not just been used to honor specific achievement; it's also been used as a means to give momentum to a set of causes. And that is why I will accept this award as a call to action -- a call for all nations to confront the common challenges of the 21st century.

Again, I appreciate his humility and candor. But you've got to wonder, don't you, why you're being given an (arguably) important award before you've done anything? Could it be a message that "We're awarding you up front so you do things in a way that will make us happy in the future"? Is this some sort of message that "We want you to remain a man of peace, and by a man of peace, we mean undoing everything George W. Bush has done"? (Sure, give Iraq back to the Baathists and Afghanistan back to the Taliban--that'll make everyone happy and safe!)

I'm very much a merit-minded person. If I've earned something specific, I take that as a matter of course. If I'm rewarded for extra effort, I'm appreciative. If I'm awarded for doing little to nothing (as I see it), I feel uneasy and try to deflect attention elsewhere. But no, our president is going to accept the award as an incentive to go forth and do things. Interesting take on things, but a little disingenuous. And if someone gave me a big prize without me having done anything, I'd wonder what game was afoot. I'm probably overly suspicious that way, but really...


I got this item from Lin: the Democrats are looking at a "second stimulus," as the economy shows little sign of improving (unemployment now at 9.8 percent--is it still Bush's fault?).

There are two approaches to governing in the U.S. One side tries to do what it can for the individual citizens to make it on their own with as little government charity as possible. The other side says that government needs to make sure that the goods of society are distributed as equally as possible, usually through taxation and wealth transfers. Conservatives overlook the fact that everyone isn't equipped to do things on their own; liberals overlook the fact that if you make people dependent on someone else, they'll never learn to do things for themselves. The conservative approach to governance empowers more individuals, but results in inequality of outcomes among those individuals due to differences in ability, willingness to work, and starting position. The liberal approach empowers government by giving the political class the power and (assumed) right to decide who gets what--ostensibly to raise up the poor, but more often to punish the rich.

It's been 30 years since the nation went through one of these exercises. Perhaps it will take another "Carter presidency" to hammer the lesson home. Alas, we must await the next swing of the pendulum.


Got this from my company yesterday: an FBI press release on a Jordanian who was looking to bomb a building in Dallas, Texas. This wasn't an old release from just after 9/11, but a fresh one, from September of this year. Our peace-loving president would do well to remember that he's supposed to maintain peace and security in his own back yard, not just in the court of world opinion. Safe bet: if he takes actions that protect Americans--you know, the folks who voted for him--he'll be regarded as an outlaw and a cowboy, just like Bush. That might do him some good and earn him a second term. As it stands right now, I don't see that happening.

That's about it for now.

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