Friday, July 31, 2009

Shimmy dance technique

My latest Research magazine piece, "When Florida Sizzled," about Florida's real estate boom of the 1920s, is now online. Excerpt:

During the winter of 1925, visitors to the new Florida town of Coral Gables were treated to a curious spectacle. There was former Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan, three-time presidential candidate and one of the best-known politicians in the United States, sitting under an umbrella touting the attractions of Florida real estate, including its ample access to what Bryan called “God’s sunshine.”

Bryan had been hired by George Edgar Merrick, Coral Gables’ founder, to make daily pitches for the development. The famed orator, moreover, was followed by another crowd-pleaser, shimmy dancer Gilda Gray, who as American Heritage magazine recounted decades later, “shook her chemise with such gusto that it took the viewers’ minds off the prices quoted for lots by salesmen circulating through the audience.”

Whole thing here.

Moon movie

Saw Moon last night. For a while, it was slow and downbeat, borderline depressing, but the ending was excellent and put the whole thing in a better light. In any event, there was nowhere to go but up after some of our recent filmgoing.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Greenhouse non-treason

I'm a pro-nuclear power guy, and I've long been a fan of Glenn Reynolds, notwithstanding my recent criticism here. But referring to a lack of pro-nuclear enthusiasm as "greenhouse treason," even with a waffling question mark, is the kind of inflammatory vehemence that will aid Obama's reelection chances, as people conclude he's better than his over-the-top opponents.

UPDATE: I've thought about this some more, and concluded I missed Reynolds' attempted irony, with the "treason" being to the cause of reducing greenhouse gases, rather than to the U.S. Still, I'd keep the word "treason" out of my political commentary, unless it refers to, you know, treason.

UPDATE 2: And, doing a search on "greenhouse treason," I gather the phrase stems from this bit of Krugmanesque nonsense.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Moon after 2028

Some dreary news:

NASA's goal of putting astronauts back on the moon by 2020 is all but impossible to achieve, a presidential panel was told Wednesday.

An independent study concluded there is little hope NASA could replicate anytime soon what Apollo accomplished 40 years ago. And sources said an undisclosed part of the study showed another moon shot won't happen before 2028 -- nearly 50 years after America's first moon landing.

The political party that manages to fix this, including through privatization, will reap benefits.

And you know this how?

Pravda: Still not an entirely reliable source of information.

Headline: "Life on Mars To Be Found in 2018."

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Instapundit shrugs

I'm surprised at the obtuseness of this Glenn Reynolds comment:

VARIOUS PEOPLE HAVE BEEN SENDING ME THIS DAVID FRUM PIECE. I do think that there are a some cheerfully-gloomy folks on the Right, people who would rather talk about how things are going down the tubes than, you know, actually do anything about it. I don’t know why Frum picked Mark Levin as an example, though. Even Levin’s detractors would admit that he’s a fighter, not a Gloomy Gus. And if you actually read Liberty and Tyranny — as I did for my Levin interview, it’s clearly a call to action, not a counsel of despair. What’s more, if you look at things like the Tea Party movement, which Levin supports, there are obvously a lot of people out there doing things, and having fun doing them.

Which is more than you can say for Frum, lately. The tone of his stuff seems closer to the problem he diagnoses than does Levin’s. Pundit, heal thyself.

Frum doesn't criticize Levin for not being "a fighter." He criticizes him for being a hysteric. Sure, Levin wants "action" and he's shouting at the top of his lungs for it. Here's an example of his persuasive rhetoric: "Well I don’t know why your husband doesn’t put a gun to his temple. Get the hell out of here." It's not quite "doing things and having fun doing them."

Palin postscript

Karol Markowicz has a thoughtful, nuanced -- and ultimately negative -- post about Sarah Palin. My take on it is that if Palin has lost Karol, her political career (Palin's, I mean) really is over.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Undocumented visitations

"Have We Ever Been Visited by Extraterrestrials?" Unfortunately I probably won't be attending the upcoming Lolita Bar debate, though I expect it will be interesting. As if often the case, interpretation of the debate question's wording makes a difference; who are "we" and do we really mean "ever"? A starship passing by while Australopithecus was foraging strikes me as less hard to believe than some scenarios.

A later debate will cover the supposed conundrum of whether Obama is a natural-born citizen. I would find that interesting only if it turns out aliens stole the long-form birth certificate.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

NGC 1097 is watching

A terrific picture from the Spitzer Space Telescope. Info here.

Garden State

New Jersey politics. One day you're being sworn in as Hoboken's new 32-year-old mayor. A few weeks later, you're under arrest by the FBI.

About 30 people, including some New Jersey mayors and several rabbis, were arrested Thursday in a federal investigation of public corruption, the U.S. attorney's office in Newark, New Jersey, said.

The probe also involves a "high-volume, international money-laundering conspiracy," according to a statement from the office.

Among those arrested in the public corruption portion of the investigation are Hoboken Mayor Peter Cammarano III, Secaucus Mayor Dennis Elwell, New Jersey Assemblyman Daniel Van Pelt and Leona Beldini, a Jersey City deputy mayor.

In case readers are wondering, most of the people mentioned above are Democrats, but Van Pelt is a Republican.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Pure-strain Clinton Road fetish

Apparently Larry Summers sees cause of optimism in a decline in the number of Google searches for "economic depression." Maybe. I find a noticeable slice of my modest traffic results from people searching for "recession comparison." However, that remains small compared to the more popular subjects of "Clinton Road, New Jersey," "pure-strain gold" and "catwoman fetish."

I do notice this, however: Far fewer people than last year are searching for "Palin Roslin."

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Jupiter defense

It appears an asteroid or comet has hit Jupiter. We are, all of us, fortunate that Jupiter is there, since its gravitation pulls in objects that might otherwise make it to the inner solar system and hit Earth. However, we can't rely on Jove to do the job in all cases, so developing some defensive capability of our own would be a wise approach.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Birth-certificate madness

It's hard to think what better friends the Obama administration could have than these people. Right now, Obama is losing popularity, because of justified concerns about Obamacare, cap-and-trade and other policy initiatives. What the Republicans need to do is present a reasonable alternative. Instead, we have these birth-certificate cretins foaming at the mouth.

Via Little Green Footballs and the Washington Independent.

Apollo and Mars

George Musser, friend and colleague from Scientific American, points out that the U.S. might already be on Mars, if we'd built on the Apollo technology rather than replacing it with the shuttle. Harrison Schmitt made a similar point to me in my piece on Apollo missions that never flew -- though Schmitt, unlike Buzz Aldrin, thinks bypassing the moon now to aim at Mars would be a mistake. I tend to think Mars just isn't going to happen anytime soon, and that learning how to live on and use the resources of the moon will get humans to Mars in due course. Back in the 1990s, I was persuaded otherwise for a while by Robert Zubrin's arguments for a direct-to-Mars approach, but the nineties were a heady time and some realism is needed as well.

Republican scientists redux

For a sampling of conservatism's dismal state today, check out this Free Republic thread about my article on scientists and Republicans. A consensus quickly formed there that the Pew poll, showing only 6 percent of scientists to be Republicans, was distorted because it focused on government and academic scientists, not engineering types employed by industry. The Freepers failed to notice that the poll did a breakout of party affiliations among scientists by employment sector.

So there you have it -- a whopping 10 percent of industry-employed scientists are Republicans. Can such horrendous numbers be improved? Only if conservatism moves away from the dumbed-down, ears-closed, eyes-shut know-nothingism of, for instance, Free Republic.

Friday, July 17, 2009


Harrison Schmitt, whom I interviewed for my Apollo piece, has a lot of interesting ideas about future exploration. Think what a space program we'd have had if he'd become president. And even with just a longer time in the Senate, he would have done much to prevent the current Republican-scientist divide.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Canceled Apollo missions

To mark the upcoming 40th anniversary of Apollo 11, I wrote a piece for Scientific American about the Apollo missions that never flew. Excerpt:

When Apollo 11 landed on the moon, NASA's plan was to continue manned lunar missions through Apollo 20. But history turned out differently. The last three missions, still in planning stages, were canceled. Hardware that would have flown to the moon ended up as museum exhibits. And scientists and space enthusiasts were left to contemplate what Apollos 18 through 20 might have accomplished.
Whole thing here: "Down to Earth: The Apollo Moon Missions That Never Were."

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

WWI radio

Tonight I appeared on the Gabe Wisdom Show to talk about finance and the First World War. Audio of the interview is currently available here. UPDATE: And will soon be available here.

Republican science row

My post at New Majority on "Why Scientists Hate Republicans" is up. Excerpt:

The Pew Research Center has come out with a poll comparing scientists’ attitudes (on scientific and other matters) with those of the general public. Among its revelations was that Republicans comprise 6 percent of scientists. That’s not a typo. Meanwhile, 55 percent of the scientists polled were Democrats, 32 percent were independents, and others were none of the above.

Throw in the scientists who are independents but lean toward a party, and the numbers change only modestly: the GOP figure goes up to 12 percent, while the Democrats get 81 percent.
The rest includes some thoughts on what to do about it.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

King Tut book

Current reading: In the Valley of the Kings: Howard Carter and the Mystery of King Tutankhamun's Tomb, by Daniel Meyerson. Some parts are more interesting than others, but I guess archaeology is like that.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Republican scientists: there could be more of them

From a new Pew Research Center survey of scientists:

Only 6 percent of the scientists surveyed were Republicans? If that's reflective of scientists overall, it's a problem for Republicans. But it's also a lost opportunity when you consider that on some issues, Republican views match scientists' preferences pretty well. Consider this table:

If Republicans talked more about nuclear power, particularly as being part of the mix needed to address the possible consequences of the Earth getting warmer, it would be a lot harder to characterize Republicans as the know-nothing party on science. Throw space solar power and algae biodiesel into the mix, and you have the beginnings of a pro-science Republican energy policy.

UPDATE 7/15:
I've got a good deal more on this here.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Young Earth assumption

"This Earth's been here 6,000 years ... it's been here 6,000 years, long before anybody had environmental laws, and somehow it hasn't been done away with." -- Arizona State Sen. Sylvia Allen (R), providing an example of why Republicans currently are not winning the college-educated vote.

Via Little Green Footballs and Bad Astronomy.

Tangled strands of libertarianism

Via Arnold Kling, I came across Tyler Cowen's list of five strands of libertarianism: (1) Cato-influenced; (2) Rothbardian anarchism; (3) Mises Institute nationalism; (4) Jeff Friedman and Critical Review; and (5) "Hayek libertarianism."

The list strikes me as a bit odd. The Rothbardian and Mises Institute strands strike me as basically the same thing (and "nationalism" seems a misnomer for the latter), and there seems to be a good deal of overlap between the Cato-influenced and "Hayekian" (not sure why that's in quotes) strands. As for Jeff Friedman and Critical Review, they don't impress me as very important, though that may reflect some (rational?) ignorance on my part.

One could come up with a simpler categorization scheme (e.g. "hard" versus "soft" libertarianism, distinguished by their radicalism or moderation) or a more complicated one (with say left-libertarianism and conservative fusionism as categories). But however you slice it, libertarianism means a lot of different things, many of them mutually incompatible.

For my part, I want nothing to do with Cowen's strands 2 and 3, but think 1 and 5 have much to offer (especially if they don't succumb to getting entangled with strands 2 and 3, as Reason magazine did for much of last year with its ill-considered touting of Ron Paul).

Renewable energy fiasco

Renewable energy is quickly shaping up as a case study in how government takes difficult problems and makes them worse. From a WSJ news piece:

The U.S. government stimulus package passed in February promised to reinvigorate the renewable-energy industry with new capital and programs, but the prospect of large flows of government money to the industry is holding up private-sector investment.

New incentive programs haven't yet been defined, and uncertainty about program rules has deterred investors from backing companies that also may get government money. At the same time, companies are holding off from accepting private capital because of the possibility of getting it more cheaply from the government.

"It artificially slowed the recovery," Matt Cheney, chief executive of Renewable Ventures, the U.S. subsidiary of Fotowatio SL, a Spanish developer of renewable-energy projects, said of the stimulus plan.

Bureaucratic inertia is the ultimate renewable.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

New Majority redux

Take a look at the revamped New Majority. A new format and a continuing mission of trying to penetrate the cotton that currently fills many conservative ear canals and heads. At least that's my take on it, and I'm glad to have some involvement.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Where Rumsfeld went wrong

My review of By His Own Rules: The Ambitions, Successes, and Ultimate Failures of Donald Rumsfeldis up at New Majority. Excerpt:
Bradley Graham’s By His Own Rules is a valuable, thorough and fair-minded look at the long career of Donald Rumsfeld, with particular emphasis on Rumsfeld’s tenure at the Pentagon in the Bush years. The story that emerges is that of an intelligent, hard-working, innovative, abrasive, blinkered and oddly indecisive secretary of defense, whose failings contributed to catastrophe in Iraq.
Whole thing here.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Powell transmogrified

Colin Powell is right, both as Obama critic and as celestial entity.

Regarding Palin

It seems to me that this most likely is the end of her political career. The core complaints against her are that she doesn't have enough experience for national office, and that she's an erratic personality. I don't see how resigning counteracts those critiques. Caveat: A really erratic politician might think she can win despite the above.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Lolita doom debate audio

For those who missed last night's Debate at Lolita Bar on "Is America Economically Doomed?" -- or who just want to relive the experience -- I've posted audio (sound quality imperfect despite my growing amateur audio engineering skills) at the following links:

Part 1.

Part 2.

The files will be there for 30 days from whenever last downloaded, although they may also find a more permanent home.

I voted yes, by the way, despite having some disagreements with both sides.

Divine intervention

I'm usually skeptical when people claim that God advised them to take a particular political position. But in this case, the advice seems pretty good.