Things Must Be Bad…

January 11, 2009

…if the Wall Street Journal is publishing editorials saying that Israel has committed war crimes in its bombing and invasion of Gaza.


Spring Twitterpation

January 9, 2009

Neighborhood blog Prince of Petworth posts on pick up spots for that Spring romance. Don’t worry GGF (globalizati’s girlfriend), I’m not taking his advice. ;-)


Christian Humanism?

January 9, 2009

David Manes–a peer from my college days–has written a fascinating piece on Christian humanism, exceeded only by the discussion it prompted.

Personally, I think the merger of Christianity and humanism dulls the meaning of one or the other, but would be a lot happier with Christian humanists running around than Christian fundamentalists, so I won’t complain too much. I think growing up a fundamentalist makes it hard to accept more liberal/ less strident expressions of faith as being legitimate forms of Christianity. For a while I went through what I call my “liberal Christian phase” (about 9 months maybe?) where I described myself as a Christian and said that I believed in God. Over time I realized that what I meant by “Christian,” what I thought of Christ, and what I meant by “God” (something akin to Einstein’s God/Universe equivalence) were drastically different from what the people I was conversing with meant.

At this point, I feel that God, as commonly defined by most of the people I know who claim belief in Him, is not a concept that I find very useful/helpful/logical. If everyone meant what Einstein said, then I might describe myself as a deist/theist/whateverist, but we don’t live in that world.


Recognize the Brainwashing

January 7, 2009

One of the best ways to draw out Internet crazies is to post on someone’s favorite pet conspiracy theory in mocking, derisive tones. It’s like Will Smith dripping blood on a sidewalk in I Am Legend (a movie that had the potential to be really good, alas). I’ve done this before, rather accidentally, when posting about the 9/11 “Truth” community. It also works with Creationism, which, while not exactly a conspiracy theory (we all know that the evil Darwinists are the true conspiracy) shares a lot of the same features.

On that note, I came across a website today while exercising my conspiracy theory fetish: a list of top Conspiracy Theory Sites
:


Caption: ALIENS CAN’T PROTECT US FROM COMING WORLD WARS, OR EARTH IMPACTS BY COMETS/ASTEROIDS! FALSE SIGN OF PROTECTION COMING! RECOGNIZE THE BRAINWASHING!

It’s really hard to tell if some of these sites are serious or not, but I tend to assume they are…


Caption: Mind Deprogramming is a site to help you to protect yourself from mind control from The New World Order and The Illuminati. You can watch hundreds of videos exposing the truth the corporate controlled media do not want you to see.


Open Mic Comedians…

January 7, 2009

A random rant: Tonight I played a couple songs–just me and my acoustic–at a local open mic night. Specifically, it was at Solly’s here in DC. I had fun, but I think I would have preferred a venue with just acoustic music and no stand-up comedians. There were a few (two, really) comics who were funny and at least mildly intelligent. Call me an elitist, but I just don’t understand why ever standup in the world needs jokes about racism and ‘getting pussy’. Enough already!


US “Free Press” Toes US Party Line

January 6, 2009

Al-Jazeera has a damning article up on the US media’s coverage of the conflict in Gaza:

The images of two women on the front page of an edition of The Washington Post last week illustrates how mainstream US media has been reporting Israel’s war on Gaza.
On the left was a Palestinian mother who had lost five children. On the right was a nearly equally sized picture of an Israeli woman who was distressed by the fighting, according to the caption.
As the Palestinian woman cradled the dead body of one child, another infant son, his face blackened and disfigured with bruises, cried beside her.
The Israeli woman did not appear to be wounded in any way but also wept.

This English-language Al-Jazeera article is aimed at readers like me. It worked…


Apples and Onions

January 6, 2009

Apple Introduces Revolutionary New Laptop With No Keyboard

Do watch. However, the best part is the MacBook Wheel’s sentence completion function. Megorious provides a list of the sentence you see briefly in the video. I knew this was worth looking up when two of the suggested sentences caught my eye:

The aardvark asked for a dagger.

The abortion went well.

Wow. The complete list–my favorites are in bold:

The aardvark admitted its fault.
The aardvark admitted it was wrong.
The aardvark asked for an aardvark.
The aardvark asked for a dagger.
The aardvark asked for health.
The aardvark asked for a ride.
The absinthe arrived by airmail.
The abortion went well.
The actor asked for an aardvark.
The actor asked for abstinance.
The actor asked for redemption.
The advertisement was effective.
The agile aardvark arrived by airmail.
The agile aardvark bathed with beauties.
The agriculture was cultivated by the coral.
The aggravated driver beeped on his horn.
The aggravated rooster scratched the dirt.
The Althusserian scholar gave his copy of Lacan’s “Ecrits” to the abortion doctor.
The amiable Althusserian scholar asked the aardvark for an absinthe.
The amiable crocodile brushed his teeth with a toothbrush.
The amiable doctor performed the operation admirably.
The annex was covered with asbestos.
The annex was crawling with beetles.
The apple was airmailed by the doctor.
The apple was consumed by the amiable crocodile.
The apple was inquiring about the amiable crocodile’s friend.
The aquamarine lifevest was not used.
The aquamarine lifevest was unpopular.
The armchair was uncomfortable.
The armchair was favoured by the amiable housecat.
The ass asked for a better absinthe.
The ass brayed the moon.
The assumptive doctor did not accept our personal check.
The assumptive agricultural expert eyed out absinthe suspiciously.
The attractive peanut farmer graded the term paper.
The attractive rooster preened its feathers to attract absinthe.
The auxiliary generator has malfunctioned.
The awning covered the agile aardvark during the amiable rainstorm.
The awning was too tall to touch.
The babbling baby asked the aardvark for some absinthe.


First Bus Ad Spotting

January 6, 2009

Being a carless DC resident and therefore a frequent patron of public transport, I’ve been keeping my eye out for the American Humanist Association bus ads:

Disappointingly, I haven’t seen one yet. But today I saw one of the counter-ads. Evidently there are least two different organizations placing these now. The one I saw said this: “Believe in God. Christ is Christmas for goodness’ sake.” I feel uplifted now.


Obama Considers Merging NASA, Pentagon Programs

January 5, 2009

Bloomberg reports that “Obama’s transition team is considering a collaboration between the Defense Department and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration because military rockets may be cheaper and ready sooner than the space agency’s planned launch vehicle, which isn’t slated to fly until 2015…”

Good idea.

I’ve had some considerable hesitations about the Constellation program since first reading about it. One huge point in Constellation’s favor is that it’s not the Space Shuttle–a program that has served some useful purposes but largely wasted the best part of the potential of the last 35 years of American space flight by blockading us in low-earth orbit and castrating our imagination while sucking up just as much funding as more ambitious–and thoughtful–projects might have consumed. So at least the Constellation is intended to do more without getting us stuck in lovely, expensive dreams of reusable space-planes. But Constellation’s ambition was never matched by the necessary concordance of national leadership and popular support necessary to really carry the funding through to completion. Part of the problem is that, while using modifications of some existing technology (like the Space Shuttle SRB’s), developing a new system for manned space flight is really expensive, and can unnecessarily drain resources from unmanned missions. This isn’t necessarily bad–if the manned missions are ambitious (and well-funded) enough to achieve something worthwhile.

Space policy is difficult because administrations only last four to eight years, and the development of a single mission from inception through R&D to flight readiness is often several times that span. So when the Bush administration held up Constellation without giving it the funding necessary to make truly solid (ie, irreversible) progress before 2009, it was hard to take seriously.

So, taking some of the nice ideas of Constellation (trying to get past near-earth orbit sometime soon) while cutting a lot of the cost of developing new launch vehicles when the DoD already has nice resources available seems to make a lot of sense. Military space programs have always had massive funding yet little publicity. The Congressional Research Service (CRS) published this overview of military and civilian space programs in 2003. Like most CRS reports, it’s invaluable but dry. On the first page you get this telling note:
“Tracking the DOD space budget is extremely difficult since space is not identified as a separate line item in the budget. DOD sometimes releases only partial information (omitting funding for classified programs) or will suddenly release without explanation new figures for prior years that are quite different from what was previously reported.”

The distinction between American military and civilian space efforts serves a few purposes. One is that the less secretive NASA drives public interest in space through education programs. Another is that NASA has programs that have no immediate national security benefit, like robotic exploration missions (keep an eye on NASA’s Pluto-bound New Horizons craft).

But these benefits of having a civilian space program will not necessarily disappear with greater collaboration between the Pentagon and NASA. The major benefit would be eliminating parallel programs to save millions or billions in development costs. Some of this is likely already done, but agency turf wars likely prevent much more.

I would hazard a guess that, especially abroad, the distinction between US-funded civilian programs and US-funded military programs is not especially strong in the public mind. Why? Partly because NASA has a long history of military collaborations. NASA draws on US military pilots for Space Shuttle pilots and commanders and flying military personnel from other countries, such as Ilan Ramon, an Israeli Air Force pilot who perished aboard Columbia. NASA also flew several classified missions lofting military payloads aboard its Shuttle fleet. So the distinction is already blurry.

And, of course, everyone knows (and most people say) that the only reason the US would be likely to fund renewed exploration efforts (going back to the Moon or possibly to Mars) would be to compete with another nation. Given that the Russia’s Sputnik spurred us through Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo, it makes sense that China’s current push to go to the Moon could drive us to go back. Is it a prudent investment or a mindless arms race? Hard to say. But if we’re going to do these things as a show of national might, why not be honest about it and do it as a true military-civilian collaboration, and save some money along the way?