Archive for December, 2003

Christmas Break

December 24, 2003

Blogging will be light for the next few days as I celebrate Christmas here with my family. I hope you all have a safe, joyous, and peaceful holiday. In addition to the excellent Virginia Postrel piece on Christmas lights that I linked to yesterday, James Lileks had a fun Bleat about a bus tour to see Christmas lights in and around his city. My part of Plano has several festive houses, but my kids tell me these are the “best lights ever” —
Warmest Wishes of the Season to all of you.


One Step At A Time

December 24, 2003

The Rocket Man has another marathon post comparing and contrasting the development efforts behind big dumb boosters (ELVs), airplane-like reusables like Scaled Composites’ SpaceShipOne, and VTVL reusables like the DC-X or the RVT. ELVs, by their nature, are not amenable to incremental flight testing and development. We can all hope that the steady, incremental development of vehicles by the current crop of X-Prize competitors and the Japanese RVT program will lead to cheap access to space in the near future.

Christmas Enlightenment

December 23, 2003

Through her blog, Virginia Postrel points to a couple of her recent articles (subscription required to access the WSJ piece) on the economic implications of Christmas lighting.
This isn’t the first time she has touched on the topic of Christmas lights (visit here and here and scroll down or search for “lights”).
Her Reason piece highlights elegantly how global capitalism leads not only to more affordable lights for the retail customer, but also to a specialized service industry that installs professional lighting displays for people who are not necessarily the most affluent customers. The article concludes with a nod to the real benefits of free trade and the value of aesthetics:

“We mourn the loss of manufacturing jobs – ‘real jobs’ – and ignore growing aesthetic professions, from installing holiday lights and landscaping lawns to giving manicures and facials, from designing brochures to crafting granite countertops. “Yet in an advanced economy, in which competition is pushing the prices of goods ever lower and their quality ever higher, enhancing the look and feel of people, places, and things will become more and more important over time. Just as surely as the horsepower of a car engine or the warmth of
a blanket, the pleasure of twinkling Christmas lights offers real value.”

I don’t think I could wrap this up any better than that.

Meaning of the Libyan Turnaround

December 23, 2003

Much of the anti-war movement seems to want to paint the Bush administration as out-of-control in its willingness to use military force overseas, and some of the wackier members even characterize the overthrow of the Hussein regime in Iraq as some sort of personal vendetta (“He tried to kill my daddy!”), unrelated to the war on terrorism. But in the days after September 11, Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz enunciated a clear strategy that he thought would be required to prevent a 9-11 from happening again. A strategy that extended beyond merely capturing the responsible parties and “bringing them to justice:”

“I think one has to say it’s not just simply a matter of capturing people and holding them accountable, but removing the sanctuaries, removing the support systems, ending states who sponsor terrorism.”

From the perspective of previous world wars, we are only a short way into this global war on terrorism (or, in my un-PC opinion, Islamic extremism), so it is probably a little early to gauge the overall success of this strategy.
But Libya’s recent turnaround provides some preliminary support for the success of the strategy. Today’s Dallas Morning News has a very forceful editorial connecting the dots between the takedown of Hussein and Libya’s voluntary capitulation.

“Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi may be a madman, but he’s no fool.
“He saw what happened to Saddam Hussein, and doesn’t want to end up being dragged out of a spider hole by American soldiers. . . .
“European Commission chief Romano Prodi is hailing this a victory for
‘discrete diplomacy and engagement.’ Don’t you believe it.
“Libya first reached out to the West in March, as American soldiers prepared to
shock and awe Saddam Hussein into collapse. Col. Gadhafi saw that when President George W. Bush said that nations were either for us or against us in the war on terror, and would be held accountable for their actions, he meant it.
“And note well that the Libyans did not approach France or Germany for help with the Americans, but Britain, the United States’ staunchest ally. Col. Gadhafi knows which nations matter in the post-9-11 world.
“This development is first and foremost a ringing vindication of the Bush terror-fighting strategy, which depends on the use of force to back up diplomatic initiatives. When dealing with thugs like Col. Gadhafi, an able military and the
political will to employ it are the most useful tools of international relations. It’s amazing how clarifying a few well-placed daisy cutters can be for Middle Eastern despots, and how persuasive the tender ministrations of the U.S. armed forces are to even the most obstinate potentate.
“Libya’s stunning decision could prove a real intelligence coup for the United States, given that nation’s role in funding international cutthroats and radical movements for decades. Additionally, the Libyan foreign minister is now saying that trade between his nation and the U.S. and Britain will improve.
“Washington and London now have a tremendous opportunity to show how no nation, no matter how outcast, is beyond rehabilitation if it will only turn from
its rogue ways. As we reward Libya for playing nice – and we should – let’s not forget that what brought Col. Gadhafi around was not endless carrots offered by the European Commission, but a large stick swung hard by Mr. Bush.”
(emphasis added).

I think Libya remains on probation, but I am heartened by this development.

Ringworld Animation

December 22, 2003

One of the first major adult (non-juvenile) SF novels I read (at the age of 12, I think) was Larry Niven’s Ringworld.
If you’ve played Halo, you’ve gotten to run around on a small ringworld. This Flash animation (via the Larry Niven mailing list) conveys a little bit more of the grand scale of the “real” Ringworld. Enjoy.

SpaceShipOne Breaks Sound Barrier

December 18, 2003

Yesterday, on the centennial of the Wright Brothers’ first successful powered manned flight (and landing!), this airplane system made history. But you couldn’t tell from the “professional” media coverage.
Professor Hall has a good recap of the event and the [lack of competent] media coverage. In his assessment (and mine) the Washington Post did the best.
Congratulations to Burt Rutan and the teams at Scaled Composites and SpaceDev[*].
[*]Full disclosure — I own a few hundred shares of SpaceDev stock, the first hundred of which I purchased several years ago when their core mission was to land on and claim ownership an asteroid.
Update: Here’s a nice picture; wish there were a little more detail, but still breathtaking.
Update: And here’s a video (via Jerry Pournelle).

Return of the King

December 18, 2003

[Warning! Spoilers Ahead!]
I ventured out to see the 10:00 PM showing of The Return of The King last night, continuing my tradition of viewing the Lord of the Rings movies on opening night. While I’m reserving final judgment until I have seen it again in the theater and, more importantly, until I have seen the extended version on DVD, I can say that, purely as a movie, this is the best of the three.
But as an interpretation of Tolkien in letter and spirit, it ranks second behind The Fellowship of the Ring, which I think was most faithful to the source material, and well ahead of The Two Towers, which is in a distant third. I can look over the minor quibbles I have with some of Jackson’s choices (like giving new footage to Pippin while deleting key aspects of Faramir’s and Denethor’s characters), because when Jackson gets it right, he gets it perfectly right — The Ride of the Rohirrim, The Death of the Witch King and of King Theoden, and the entire Cracks of Doom sequence. And I can’t complain about his omission of the Scouring of the Shire, which, like the Tom Bombadil chapter in the first book, would have been nice to see, but not essential to the story.
Update: What he said.

100 Years of Flight

December 17, 2003

Many of the bloggers I follow on a daily basis have appropriate words to commemorate the monumental accomplishment of the Wright brothers. Naturally, Rand Simberg has been busy, with articles up at Tech Central Station and National Review in addition to his own blog entry.
Rocket Man Mark Oakley discusses Rand Simberg’s “Airplane Scientist” article from TCS, and posts an opinion on why we have not advanced as far in space during the 42 years since the first manned spaceflight as we did in aviation during the 42 years
after Kitty Hawk.
Tim Sandefur, who has a sweet picture of an SR-71 and a copy of one of my favorite poems, High Flight, contrasts the triumph of the free, entrepreneurial Wright Brothers with the failure of the government-funded Samuel Pierpont Langley (a point also made by Rand Simberg in his several articles above).
Since Tim got High Flight up first, I’ll have to resort to quoting some poetic prose from one of my favorite books:

Throttle forward again and the airplane swings into take-off position on runway two eight. The concrete is wide and long. The painted white stripe along its center is held at one end by my nosewheel, at the invisible other end by the tough nylon webbing of the overrun barrier. A twin row of white edge lights converges in the black distance ahead, pointing the way. The throttle moves now, under my left glove, all the way forward; until the radium-caked tachometer needle covers the line marked 100 percent, until the tailpipe temperature is up by the short red arc on the dial that means 642 degrees centigrade, until each pointer on each dial of the red-soaked instrument panel agrees with what we are to do, until I say to myself, as I say every time, Here we go. I release the brakes.
There is no instant rush of speed, no head forced against the headrest. I feel only a gentle push at my back. The stripe of the runway unrolls, lazily at first, beneath the nosewheel. Crackling thunder twists and blasts and tumbles behind me, and, slowly, I see the runway lights begin to blur at the side of the concrete and the airspeed needle lifts to cover 50 knots, to cover 80 knots, to cover
120 knots (go-no-go speed checks OK) and between the two white rows of blur I see the barrier waiting in the darkness at the end of the runway and the control stick tilts easily back in my right glove and the airspeed needle is covering 160 knots and the nosewheel lifts from the concrete and the main wheels follow a half-second later and there is nothing in the world but me and an airplane alive and together and the cool wind lifts us to its heart and we are one with the wind and one with the dark sky and the stars ahead and the barrier is a forgotten dwindling blur behind and the wheels swing up to tuck themselves away in my seamless aluminum skin and the airspeed is up to one nine zero and flap lever forward and airspeed two two zero and I am in my element and I am flying. I am flying.

Clothespin Republicans

December 16, 2003

Glenn Reynolds mentions South Park Republicans again today.
I like South Park. I grok the Simpsons. I prefer the Canadian rock group Rush to the big fat idiot Rush. I’ve never been a big fan of Pat Boone (except for this) and do not belong or want to belong to a country club. I support gay marriage. I support the legalization of drugs. I support a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion until the fetus exhibits a steady alpha-wave pattern on an EEG (the beginning of “brain life”). I am in favor of human cloning and stem cell research. I am opposed to most aspects of the PATRIOT act.
But I support very strongly the overseas war on terrorism. And I am opposed to any income taxes (one reason I live in Texas!) I would love to see the entire welfare state dismantled completely. I hope the Boomers choke on the “free” drugs they’ve decided to purchase with my (and my kids’) money.
I should probably vote Libertarian. After all, based on the above, I am a “small-ell” libertarian. But I couldn’t really be a “big-ell” Libertarian, as I prefer the Blue Man Group to blue man candidates and the other assorted nutballs that tend to run for office under the Libertarian Party banner. So how can I possibly vote? Usually, for the lesser of two evils. Which, for me, is usually the Republican candidate.
But I have to hold my nose when I do so. Thus, I propose a new term — “clothespin” Republicans. For those of us who vote Republican, but put a clothespin on our nose when we punch the card.
What do you think?

Obscene Waste of Police Resources

December 16, 2003

Now this makes me soooo proud to be a Texan.
Good coverage of this particular case on Instapundit, Volokh, and Freespace. And be sure to check out the comments at Hit and Run, where I first learned of this particular bust.