Archive for September 2008


September 30, 2008

Fear, Itself

The compromise bill to address the economic crisis that started in the mortgage markets failed in a House vote yesterday. The reactions have been – um… interesting. Some are sort of iffy about the idea of the bailout, and even think that the bill should not have been passed.  They think it may not have even been constitutional.

First of all, Treasure Secretary Paulson should have been fired when he sent Congress a flagrantly unconstitutional bill that would make him tin-pot dictator with no judicial review for his actions. As if the constitution were toilet paper.

Then he should have been fired yesterday when it was revealed (on the front page of The Times) that he brought a fellow stooge from his old firm, Goldman, Sachs-the chief executive!-into an emergency meeting about the fate of A.I.G.-a fate in which Goldman had huge undisclosed (to the public) stake-and one from which all other corporate finance stooges were excluded.

This is breathtaking contempt for the rule of law (the no judicial review provision) and then an astonishing, shameless naked display of crony capitalism corruption. Where were the law school profs to protest no judicial review? An astonishing dereliction of civic duty.

Well, gee. I wish Ron Rosenbaum would stop holding back like that and tell us what he really thinks…

So is this – the failure of the bill to pass – a good thing?

From the Wall Street Journal Online:

Cut everything.

Drop your cable package and TiVo. Say goodbye to Applebee’s and Starbucks. Cancel the ski trip.

Slash every single penny you possibly can from your household budgets and start building up cash.

Yes, I’m serious. The shocking collapse of the rescue package on Capitol Hill threatens a disaster on Main Street. Unless this gets reversed almost immediately, it could turn a slowdown into a slump, and a slump into a depression.

It’s hardly possible to make any sensible recommendations about investments or other financial matters until we get a better sense of what will happen next.

Panic! Hide under a bushel barrel! Run Away!

Or not. The Instapundit quotes Bob Krumm, who make you wonder if it’s not all illusory, when he does an experiment. Krumm decided to see what kind of offer he could get for his house using “Lending Tree”. He wanted to compare it to the mortgage he actually got in 1996, in the midst of a “great” economy.

So what kind of offer did I get today in the midst of this horrible financial crisis? I got four offers, the lowest of which was a 15-year fixed-rate VA mortgage of 6.0%, zero points and zero down, yielding a monthly payment of $948.20. Yes, that’s right, as bad as everyone says the economy is today, I can get the same mortgage as I had twelve years ago for about $250 a month less than I was paying 12 years ago in the midst of a “great”economy.

He also asked to find out what his old house might cost today. The price of the house has presumably increased, right? And that would mean that, even with the mortgage numbers looking about the same, he’d be paying much, much more. Right?

While that particular home isn’t currently on the market, another home with the same floorplan and in the same subdivision is listed at $139,000. Plugging that amount into the 6.485% effective annual percentage rate of the mortgage I was offered today and I could buy my old home again today for $1,209.69 a month-about a dollar less than what I was paying for the same home in 1996.

He ends by saying that a little perspective is in order.

I’ll say.

There is something going on, and some people are really hurting.  But I don’t think it’s the end of the world, yet. Gee. I wonder if maybe there’s an election sometime soon.  Or something.


Hubble’s Hurting, Bad

September 29, 2008

The Patient Is Not Communicating

Hubble Space Telescope

Hubble Space Telescope

Nancy Atkinson at Universe Today and Chris Bergin at NASA Space have reported that there was a major failure of the Hubble Space Telescope’s communication system over the weekend, leaving it unable to send signals back to the ground. Science operations have been shut down.

The good news, if there’s any to be had here, is that this is half of the redundant system. By later this week, mission engineers will attempt to turn on the “B-side” and resume a nominal communications status. The bad news is that it’s not kosher for NASA to allow the system to run indefinitely without redundancy. The better news is that a repair mission has been scheduled to refurbish HST in a major way. The worse news is that this particular job wasn’t part of the deal, and the repair mission will need to be re-scheduled into next year if it has to be done.

The worst news hasn’t happened yet. That would be if mission engineers can’t get the “B-side” to come up, which would mean the effective end of the mission – the end of Hubble.

Paranoid Much?

September 28, 2008

There Are No Armed Guards At The State Borders

And there won’t be, either. Linda Hirshman (free registration required) commits the worst kind of high-school, debate-tactics, hysterical fear mongering screeding in the WaPo this Sunday morning, right there in the opinion pages.

In the 1980s, when abortion was severely limited in then-West Germany, border guards sometimes required German women returning from foreign trips to undergo vaginal examinations to make sure that they hadn’t illegally terminated a pregnancy while they were abroad. According to news stories and other accounts, the guards would stop young women and ask them about drugs, then look for evidence of abortion, such as sanitary pads or nightgowns, in their cars, and eventually force them to undergo a medical examination — as West German law empowered them to do.

West Germany? Did she mean to invoke East Germany? Technically, this isn’t a Godwin violation, but it might as well be.

Sounds like a nightmare of a police state, doesn’t it? Like something that could never happen in this day and age — and certainly not in the United States? But depending upon the outcome of this presidential election, it could happen here. This is how.

Oh give me a break. This didn’t just become a political screed, did it? The piece was born that way, with a stated bias for the Democratic presidential candidate. Fine. She can do that in this country. But this lawyer and former professor of law and philosophy is playing fast and loose with the facts, projecting her political fears into a future that exists only in her nightmares, calling it reality, while ignoring certain other facts that she does not find comforting.

It seems a long way from McCain’s bold statement that life begins at conception to police cars waiting on an abortion clinic side street in Granite City. But it’s not. If the law were to take this post- Roe course, Americans’ lives would be determined by their state citizenship in ways unseen since the Civil War. Professional legal scholars have traced the developments step by step.

Um… no, they haven’t. The facts with which she’s not comfortable? The over 28 million abortions that have been performed since 1972 (a number that is also reported to be as high as 40 million) have not all been performed when the life of the mother is in danger. Not even close.  There is another side to this, but the WaPo isn’t telling anyone.

Watching And Waiting, For A Friend To Play With

September 27, 2008

Perhaps ETs Are Moody As Well As Blue

Please Phone!

Please Phone!

For nearly 50 years, the Search For Extraterrestrial Intelligence, SETI, has been going on. Since 1984 the SETI Institute has been conducting the search in an organized manner, examining the radio region of the electro-magnetic spectrum for evidence of artificially produced signals. The results have, unfortunately (or fortunately, in the opinion of some), amounted to nothing. So far.

But why, you may ask, have they chosen to search using radio? There’s an intelligent answer to that question. Radio, you see, is a relatively cheap, efficient and easy way to communicate across vast distances. After all, even we can do it. So it makes sense that anyone out there who actually wants to communicate with us will use radio (more precisely, the radio region of the spectrum) to do it.  But the nagging question remains: what if ET prefers other parts of this vast spectrum, or some other, completely different technology?  Are we using radio just because it’s all we know?

“No, officer. I didn’t lose my keys over here. I lost them over there, by the bushes.”

“So why are you looking here, sir, by the lamp post?”

“Because that’s where the light is, officer.”

If ET prefers to use some other means of communication then it would be a lot harder for us to detect him if we go on looking at the narrow radio portion of the electro-magnetic spectrum.  Is there a better way?  The folks at WETI think there is. Think of when you’ve tried to re-unite with someone that you’ve lost in a crowd.

When you’ve lost a companion in a large crowd, the best strategy is not to run around looking for the other person, but to remain in place and wait for them to find you. It would be outlandishly foolish to give up one’s own known position to reach the unknown position of another person, who might have wandered off from that position already anyway. And since, in a philosophical sense, both humans and extraterrestrials are lost in a huge and very empty crowd called outer space, the very same logic applies there.

??? Hey – wait! Just what is it that they propose we do? The answer is, nothing. Absolutely nothing.

The WETI Institute has chosen an entirely novel approach to achieve that goal. Instead of actively searching for extraterrestrial intelligence, the idea is to simply WAIT – until the others find us.

That seems easy enough to do. Effortless. In fact, they already have an Effortless Action Committee that you, too, can join.  Soon you will even be able to download the WETI@HOME software, which according to their web-site, efficiently waits in background, doing absolutely nothing but waiting, efficiently.  It uses almost no resources, and doesn’t even connect to the network. It doesn’t need to because we’d do just as well waiting for aliens that use some sort of “Universal Hacking Tool” to efficiently interface with the WETI@HOME application anyway.  It’s like looking for the keys where the light isn’t, you see.

Thanks to Nancy Atkinson at Universe Today for this bit of comic relief.

82 mph – On A Bicycle?

September 26, 2008

Oh Yes. It Has Been Done

Slow Poke!

Slow Poke!

I was insufferably pleased with myself last weekend for completing a 23.6 mile bike trip in just under 100 minutes.  Ask the AstroWife.  She’ll tell you I was insufferable.  The math works out to an average speed of just over 14 mph, which probably won’t make Lance Armstrong reconsider his decision to re-enter the world of competitive bicycling, but isn’t too bad for an old man like me. I think. Half the trip was uphill, after all.


Sam Whittingham has gone a little faster than that, on a human-powered, two wheeled vehicle that I hesitate to call a bicycle.

Sam Whittingham is the fastest cyclist on the planet, having pedaled his sleek recumbent bicycle to a stunning 82.3 mph to claim the world record for a human-powered vehicle.

The bike-builder from British Columbia bested his previous record of 81.02 mph during a picture-perfect run through the desert during the World Human Powered Speed Challenge outside Battle Mountain, Nevada.

Now that’s toolin’.

“I was flying down the course, but I was getting bumped around like crazy,” he said afterward, according to Canadian news blog The Tyee. “That was one of the scarier runs of my life because I’ve never gone that fast before.”

There aren’t many times where I’ve gone that fast in a car.

Lies, Damn Lies

September 25, 2008

And This Guy Is Making Statisticians Look Good

Okay, maybe Harry Reid just rubs me the wrong way. Maybe he just pushes my buttons in a way that, as a functioning adult, I should be able to ignore. But for my money, the Senate Majority Leader has a way of serving the public that makes him worthy of Mark Twain’s most cutting evaluations. Allahpundit shows how the man’s word is most definitely not his bond. Quoting The Heritage Foundation:

This comes as both a stunning and ridiculous development; Americans are still coping with high energy prices and coming to grips with a plan to bailout Wall Street, and Senator Reid is denying access to potentially one of America’s most abundant energy reserves.

In essence, Senator Reid is stripping the decision rights away from his colleagues in other states.

According to Nick Loris at Heritage, and to Senator Jim DeMint, “Just when it appeared that we could celebrate Congress lifting the ban on oil shale, Senator Reid ‘has decided to sneak an extension of the oil shale ban through as Congress fights over the financial bailout.’

So what did Mark Twain say? Oh, a couple of things.

There are many Senators whom I hold in a certain respect and would not think of declining to meet socially, if I believed it was the will of God. We have lately sent a United States Senator to the penitentiary, but I am quite well aware that of those who have escaped this promotion there are several who are in some regards guiltless of crime–not guiltless of all crimes, for that cannot be said of any United States Senator, I think, but guiltless of some kinds of crime.
Mark Twain in Eruption

Senator: a person who makes laws in Washington when not doing time.
More Maxims of Mark, Johnson, 1927

NASA on the State of the Sun

September 23, 2008

It Still Shines

NASA held a press conference to present what was essentially the last results from the soon-to-be defunct Ulysses spacecraft.

The Ulysses spacecraft observed the weak solar winds, the constant, high-speed stream of particles that races from the sun, during a quiet period in the sun’s activity. The solar weather cycle affects Earth and other planets in the solar system.

“We know that the sun has been this cool before, this inactive before,” said Nancy Crooker, a physicist at Boston University in Boston, Mass., during a NASA teleconference on Tuesday. “But that was prior to the Space Age, so we didn’t have actual physical measurements until now.”

The solar wind, it found, is the weakest that’s been recorded since the beginning of the space age.

[D]uring the sun’s latest quiet period, the spacecraft found that the overall solar wind is 20 to 25 percent weaker, in terms of pressure and density, than during the previous solar minimum. Weaker solar winds mean a smaller and leakier heliosphere bubble, a protective sheath that surrounds the entire solar system. That means more background cosmic radiation gets through.

We certainly can ask what this means for the Earth. That doesn’t mean that NASA knows the answer. The former television meteorologist who blogs at Watts Up With That? (and who’s fast becoming the go-to guy for posts about Climate Change) posts:

The three general things that struck me most from this conference were:

1) We don’t know enough yet to predict solar cycles, we aren’t “in the game”, and “we don’t really know how big next maximum will be”.

2) We don’t see any link between the minimums, cosmic rays (which are increasing now) and earth’s climate. This was downplayed several times. Some quotes were “none of us here are experts on climate, and when asked about Galactic Cosmic Rays and Svensmark’s climate theory is the answer was “speculation”.

3) The minimum we are in now is “unique for the space age”, but “within norms for the last 200 years”, but we are also surprised to learn how much the solar wind has diminished on a truly “entire sun” scale.

He’s right – our ignorance about solar activity is showing.

The next mission that will return new, even better data about the sun has already been launched, and is being run out of the Applied Physics Lab. in Laurel MD. It’s called Stereo.