Archive for April 2009

Worst School Board In The Nation

April 20, 2009

I’m Surprised It’s NOT In Wash.  D.C.

Don Surber blogs from the Daily Mail:

Most of Buffalo’s kids don’t graduate from high school, yet its school board members traveled first class on $90,000 worth of trips and dined on catered meals before each school board meeting — at a cost of $33,000.

And then the members of the worst school board in the nation don’t appreciate a typical menu of “egg rolls, shrimp lo mein, General Tso’s chicken, pepper steak, sesame chicken, cheesecake, cookies and flan, among other goodies.”

That was last week’s menu.

Sheesh.  The D.C. area schools are known for union members that stole $5 million from the teacher’s pension fund.  That was simple theft.  This, this is simple stupidity.

“It’s not a high-end buffet, and it’s not a lot of it, either. It serves like 20, 30 people maybe,” board member Ralph Hernandez told the Buffalo News. “The administrators eat there, too, the superintendent and associate superintendents. Most of us don’t even eat it. We’re sick of it, and it’s the same stuff all the time.”

Uh-huh.  The Buffalo school system spends over $16,000 per student.  I see how that’s possible.

Stephen Hawkings Is Gravely Ill

April 20, 2009

Above and Beyond the Usual, That Is

He’s lived almost 40 years with ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease, which usually kills its victims in 2 or 3 years. That’s never stopped him from being recognized as the world’s foremost cosmologists, holding Sir Isaac Newton’s seat at Cambridge, being a grandfather or being a world class prankster and pain in the butt (or so I hear). From CNN: Scientist and author Stephen Hawking is “very ill” and has been hospitalized, according to Cambridge University, where he is a professor.

From Nancy Atkinson at Universe Today and Yahoo News:

Famed theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking has been rushed to a hospital and is seriously ill. Cambridge University released information today that Hawking has been fighting a chest infection for several weeks, and was taken to a hospital in Cambridge.” Professor Hawking is very ill,” said Gregory Hayman, the university’s head of communications. “He is undergoing tests.”

Update: CNN updates the information on Hawking’s condition.

The Ordinary and The Extraordinary

April 18, 2009

And The Sounds of Silence, Too

Forgive me the dearth of posts these last two weeks.  It’s not that I’ve had nothing to write about, or nothing on my mind.  Indeed, there’s been too much of both.

There are big things happening in the world, not the least of which is N. Korea’s new found missile capability, taxes and tea parties, rights and wrongs. The small things have caught my attention – a single line; “Take off your watch.” in a television show, an unexpected triumph of substance over style.

It’s not because of her magnificent voice, although that gift from God is happily now in our awareness.

It’s because it should not have taken that exposition for people to think well of her.

Susan Boyle embarrassed the judges, although they seemed barely aware of that.  Truth be told, we should all be embarrassed, for we make the Susan Boyles of the world invisible.  It’s a mistake.

I did something a little different for Lent this year; a little thing. I made a point of making eye contact with people I passed in the hall at work (there are about 800 people in the building).  I greeted everyone I could with “Hi” or “Hey!” or “Good-morning”, or anything to acknowledge their existence (and not just the babes, for you sceptics).  That’s something that I stopped doing too many years ago in this cold town.  For that, I am embarrassed.

I didn’t expect the results.  People do respond in kind, of course. But they go out of their way to be kind, sometimes.  They even learn your name, somehow.  It changes you.  You stop being invisible when you see others.

That’s not a little thing, you know.

Moon Shadow

April 13, 2009

And Cat Stevens

Credit - Cassini / NASA

Credit - Cassini / NASA

Emily at Planetary.org has a wonderful post about some shadow-play that’s occurring right now on Saturn’s rings.  You see, the rings are quickly becoming “edge-on” to the Sun, as they do twice every Saturnian year (which is about 30 Earth years).  Right now, shadows caused by the moons of Saturn that happen to fall on the ring system are very long, as you can see by the spike shaped shadow cast by Mimas in the photograph.

But that’s not the cool part. That would be the jagged, “grassy” edge that you can see above (and mostly to the left of) the spike (click on the thumbnail to enlarge it).  What’s that caused by? Why, something much smaller, clearly.

Emily does some quick “back of the envelope” calculations right there in her blog (she’s a pro., so please don’t try this at home without a trained mathematician nearby!) to show that whatever is causing that jagged line effect is only about 3 km. high.

But Cassini has already spotted moons around the planet that are about that size, and whatever is causing this doesn’t look like a moon to Cassini.  So are they many small moons – hundreds of them?  Not exactly, probably.

I believe that what we’re actually seeing is clumpiness of particles at the outer edge of the densest B ring, where particles bunch together partially by self-gravity (which would make them more like moons) but also by the periodic gravitational shoves they get from Mimas. At least that’s what the imaging team has said about past images of the outer edge of the B ring, like this one. These clumps would be transient, torn apart by the same forces that bring them together. The B ring is so dense that particles rub up against each other as they orbit Saturn — an astronaut would be able to travel easily from one particle to the next, clambering around the rings, though it’d be a long trip to circle Saturn! And, evidently, the astronaut would have some climbing to do, traveling up and down the clumps of big particles that form the B ring’s outer edge.

Now that’s cool!

Here’s more from Nancy Atkinson at Universe today.

Because Saturn is approaching its equinox, in August the rings will “disappear” from our view from Earth, as the rings will be exactly edge-on. But as the rings ease into alignment with the sun, Saturn’s moons cast their shadows across the rings, growing longer as equinox approaches. See in the image above, a shadow is cast on the rings[.]

Captian Phillips Freed

April 12, 2009

3 Pirates Dead

It’s being reported (in Bulletin form only, at this moment) that Captain Richard Phillips has been freed, and that three of the pirates holding him are dead.

This is most emphatically not the latest incident involving pirates off the Somali coast.  It is probable not even the test of which Vice-Pres. Biden spoke during the presidential campaign.

This Time It’s Personnal

April 9, 2009

Situation Critical, But Not Serious

It’s odd living in an era when the goings-on in Capital Hill affect you directly. It’s one of those times. Defense Secretary Robert Gates was talking about me just the other day…

The proposed cuts in space and missile defense programs reflect a retreat in emerging environments that are increasingly critical in modern warfare. The termination of the Airborne Laser and Transformational Satellite programs is especially discouraging.

The Airborne Laser is the most promising form of defense against ballistic missiles in the “boost phase,” the moments immediately after launch when the missiles are most vulnerable. This project was also the military’s first operational foray into directed energy, which will be as revolutionary in the future as “stealth” technology has been in recent decades. The Transformational Satellite program employs laser technology for communications purposes, providing not only enhanced bandwidth — essential to fulfill the value of all kinds of information networks — but increased security.

Well, Okay – I’ve been working on the Transformational Satellite proposal. He’s proposed its termination. Congress has yet to act, and Pres. Obama has yet to sign. The former, in particular, is not a done deal.

Nothing happens until it happens, and the only constant is change. In this case, there’s a decent chance that the form of the change will actually increase the work headed to the company for which I’m contracting.

Or not. We’ll see.

North Korea Launches Rocket

April 4, 2009

Sometimes the quickest way to learn something is by Tweets.

North Korea has launched a rocket over the Sea of Japan.  Both the first and second stage have been reported to have come back to earth harmlessly.

More as we find out.

Update: Breaking News Online reports: Launch is posing “a serious threat to the Northeast Asian region and to the international community”, US State Department tells BNO News.

The US is calling this a “provocative” act.  The Japanese government is calling the launch “regrettable”.

The Japanese have requested an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council.

Despite the statement from the NHK saying that the missile did not place anything in orbit, the U.S. State department is saying that this has not yet been determined.  There will be a State Department press briefing at 11:40 PM EST.

More: Via Drudge, JEAN H. LEE, Associated Press Writer reports at Yahoo:

North Korea defiantly carried out a provocative rocket launch Sunday that the U.S., Japan and other nations suspect was a cover for a test of its long-range missile technology.

From President Obama: BNO now reports the statement made by Pres. Obama moments ago.

“North Korea’s development and proliferation of ballistic missile technology pose a threat to the northeast Asian region and to international peace and security. The launch today of a Taepo-dong 2 missile was a clear violation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1718, which expressly prohibits North Korea from conducting ballistic missile-related activities of any kind. With this provocative act, North Korea has ignored its international obligations, rejected unequivocal calls for restraint, and further isolated itself from the community of nations.

We will immediately consult with our allies in the region, including Japan and the Republic of Korea, and members of the U.N. Security Council to bring this matter before the Council. I urge North Korea to abide fully by the resolutions of the U.N. Security Council and to refrain from further provocative actions.

Preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery is a high priority for my administration. The United States is fully committed to maintaining security and stability in northeast Asia and we will continue working for the verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula through the Six-Party Talks. The Six-Party Talks provide the forum for achieving denuclearization, reducing tensions, and for resolving other issues of concern between North Korea, its four neighbors, and the United States. North Korea has a pathway to acceptance in the international community, but it will not find that acceptance unless it abandons its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and abides by its international obligations and commitments.”

Indeed.  Now if only I had any faith at all in the U.N.’s ability or willingness to enforce their own resolutions.

Final Edition: If you’re wondering how this played out last night and this morning, I’ll let the expert pundits explain.  First, Belmont Club.

Reuters quotes diplomatic sources as saying that UN Security Council is unlikely to impose any sanctions on North Korea for firing a missile in defiance of earlier Security Council Resolutions.

In other words, look for the UN to do nothing.

Unless something drastically changes, then the likely outcome of a diplomatic offensive to make North Korea pay for its missile launch is nothing. “Stephen Bosworth, Washington’s special envoy for North Korea, said ahead of the launch last week that he hoped to bring the North back to the talks once the ‘dust’ had settled.”

Right.

And the response from our President?  Ed Morrissey figures it’ll be about the same as we’ve seen all week at the G20 summit.

No one will accuse Jackson Diehl of being a right-wing neocon, but even from his center-left perspective, the Washington Post columnist recognizes disaster when he sees it. After watching Barack Obama abdicate all responsibility for Porkulus to Nancy Pelosi, Diehl wondered whether Obama was tough enough for the presidency. Obama’s Grand Tour of Europe leaves Diehl more convinced that Obama is a weak sister, unable to stand up for America’s interests:

Yeah – it’s “of a piece”.