Sunday, November 29, 2009

Remembering Bob Barr

Ross Douthat is skeptical about Lou Dobbs' presidential chances: "Remember when Bob Barr was going to play a spoiler’s role in 2008?" Yes, Bob Barr...let him be a warning to Lou just how fast your political career can go downhill when you mess with the wrong person.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

NASA debate

Mark your calendar:

Should We Abolish NASA?

This Wed., Dec. 2 (at 8pm) join us for a Debate at Lolita Bar on whether to get rid of our government-run space program:

•Greg Rehmke, lecturer and program director with the Economic Thinking project, argues yes.

•Ken Silber, writer, blogger, and Research editor — and very bitter survivor of Lou Dobbs’ — argues no.

•Michel Evanchik moderates and Todd Seavey hosts.

More info here. All are welcome, including Lou Dobbs.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Lou Dobbs and me

Over at FrumForum, I offer "President Dobbs: The First Tell-All Memoir." Excerpt:

Lou Dobbs is saying he might run for president in 2012. As one who worked for Dobbs a decade ago, when he was CEO of the Internet venture, I wish to point out that his management skills and style were unequal to running a web company with some 100 employees. As president of the United States, he would
be a disaster.
Whole thing here.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Space chair

Interesting, perplexing Toshiba ad.

Via Alan Boyle, who has more info about it.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

From Poverty to Prosperity

Review copy requested: From Poverty to Prosperity: Intangible Assets, Hidden Liabilities and The Lasting Triumph over Scarcity, by Arnold Kling and Nick Schulz. Nick's an excellent editor (among other things) whom I worked with in writing dozens of articles at TCS Daily. Kling is someone whose ideas I've always found interesting and worth thinking about, though I've disagreed with him online now and then.

Cosmonaut blog

A Russian blog written from orbit. "Much funnier" than NASA.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Martian rock connoisseurs

A new NASA/Microsoft website Be a Martian offers the public a chance to help make sense of data from Mars.

The Beer Connoisseur

It's hard to start a magazine in this economy, but I definitely wish these people well.

Danger: radioactive

Every once in a while, there arises the arcane question of how to keep far-future people (robots? aliens?) away from radioactive waste dumps that will still be dangerous millennia hence. Juliet Lapidos at Slate discusses it here, and there are some glosses on it here and here. I've long been fascinated by this question, but in a minor irony something I once wrote about it (a review of Gregory Benford's Deep Time) is now lost, though perhaps retrievable in the Internet archives.

Based on my own experience with certain outdoor-adventure, rock-climbing people, I think it's going to be hard to prevent future explorers from getting into the fields of giant jagged spikes or other such features that are meant to send a universal message of Stay Away.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Ping pong diplomacy

I like this guy:
In Guangzhou last month, he visited a neighborhood center where physically handicapped students learn English. In the recreation room, he played table tennis with a female student. "I haven't done this for 10 years. I played ping pong as a young man but only began practicing again a few days ago. I'm rusty," he told his diminutive adversary. Then he added, "I will learn from you."
I also think he's going to be president of the United States one day.

Blogging notes

Interested in Brooklyn? My friend Amelia Blanquera now blogs about that borough for the New York Times.

Anthony Duignan-Cabrera, colleague from my days, has started a blog with the evocative title Jackknifed Juggernaut.

And Ross Douthat, whose book I reviewed but whose columns I've been less than consistent in reading, now has a blog called Evaluations.

Avatar watch

Over at NASA Watch, Keith Cowing thinks NASA's missing an opportunity for public outreach in connection with the upcoming movie Avatar. He does note some interesting questions that could be brought up (e.g. "On a world with lighter gravity than Earth what modes of movement would be more probable?"). But the trailer gives me the impression Avatar's going to mix clever visuals with a hackneyed plot ("those savages," grumbles some mining executive about the local aliens). We shall see (unless the reviews are so bad as to dissuade us from seeing it).

Monday, November 16, 2009

Health care disaster pamphlet

David Gratzer, a psychiatrist and analyst of health care policy (and fellow contributor to FrumForum), has a pamphlet out: Why Obama's Government Takeover of Health Care Will Be a Disaster. Excerpt here. Besides the content of this particular one, I'm interested in seeing how much impact pamphlets have; I suspect it could be quite a lot.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Red Book

By Dan Summer

At the Rubin museum there has been a great series of intellectuals, artists, and philosophers, chatting with Psychoanalysts. The release of C. G. Jungs Red Book after 100 years is a big deal in the Jungian Psychoanalyst world. Yesterday my wife and I saw Billy Corgan with Morgan Stebbins an analyst in NYC. The basis is these individuals look at a picture by Jung from this book and then free associate with the analyst, and take questions from the audience. Corgan, came across as slightly depressed, but at the same time honest, and insightful. He talked quite a bit about his "shadow" but also how sometimes people who get angry at him during concerts will throw bottles. Although it probably would have been more interesting to focus on the here and now, I definitely recommend checking it out. You could see who is coming up here.

Age 53

That's when financial decision-making ability peaks, according to a new study. Probably best to postpone some mortgage payments until then.

Afghanistan photos

A remarkable collection by David Guttenfelder of AP. (Via Michael Totten.)

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Film note: "No Country..."

Just watched No Country for Old Men on pay per view. Fascinating. At the risk of being obscure, I wish to note that Anton Chigurh looks like Nick Gillespie.

Moon, water, Gawker

NASA has determined there was water in the plume created by the LCROSS spacecraft's impact. Gawker has the dumbest post on the subject.

Friday, November 13, 2009

There's a joke in this somewhere

I just got an email saying "Eliot Spitzer switches sides" in next week's Intelligence Squared debate on Obamanomics.

Hidden Fortress

What some of us will be watching at the Met Museum tonight: The Hidden Fortress, classic samurai movie that influenced Star Wars. Here's the trailer:

And if you happen to know me and want to inquire about a free extra ticket, get in touch.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Rosetta flyby

The Rosetta spacecraft, having just taken a beautiful picture of Earth, makes one last flyby of our planet tonight before heading to asteroids and a comet.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Lou Dobbs departure redux

Just over a decade ago when Lou Dobbs abruptly left CNN, I sent him my resume and got hired, with many good and bad consequences. Sorry, Lou, but this time you're on your own.

Space debate

Todd Seavey is looking for a debate opponent for, well, me:

Meanwhile, in the real world (more or less): we’re planning a space-based Debate at Lolita Bar for Wed., Dec. 2, on a question that could have profound consequences for the long-term destiny of the human race: “Should We Abolish NASA?” Ken Silber (formerly of will argue no — and you or someone competent you know should tell me if you’d like to argue yes. Think of it as a blow against a centralized Galactic Empire, if you like.

For more info or to respond, see

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Ayn Rand: great, tragic

And now I'll add a few drops to the current torrent of commentary about Ayn Rand. I've read one of the two new bios, Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right and am likely to read the other, Ayn Rand and the World She Made. But her life story can be a bit depressing, so I prefer to space these readings out a bit.

Rand elicits fervent admiration from some, intense loathing from others, and ambivalence from those who think some of her ideas interesting and valuable, others objectionable. Mark me down in the ambivalent category, and note that Rand herself had little use for those expressing partial agreement.

Her profile tends to rise at times of stepped-up government overreaching -- times such as the present and the Great Society florescence of the 1960s. Her ideas become a rallying cry of the opposition, as with recent talk about people putatively or potentially “going Galt” (i.e., withdrawing their talents from a government-dominated society, like her Atlas Shrugged hero John Galt).

Hers was a no-compromise philosophy and style. She championed “full laissez-faire capitalism”; the mixed economy was an abomination, regardless of the portions in the mix. Thus, her influence tends to give some backbone to the anti-big-government forces, but also tends to be self-limiting. Not many people want “full laissez-faire capitalism,” a fact Rand would regard as profound moral corruption but which is better explained as a healthy skepticism toward radicalism, utopianism and abstract ideology.

Rand thought her political stance followed inexorably from deeper principles. "I am not primarily an advocate of capitalism, but of egoism; and I am not primarily an advocate of egoism, but of reason,” she wrote. “If one recognizes the supremacy of reason and applies it consistently, all the rest follows.”

Rand’s emphasis on rationality was and is a bracing tonic against the conservative tendency to fall back upon religious faith in formulating political arguments. But Rand’s view of reason was idiosyncratic, strongly emphasizing the a priori over the empirical. She disregarded the health risks of smoking, for instance, on the grounds that statistics were epistemologically unreliable. Similarly, she pronounced that physics had been corrupted by bad philosophy, without knowing much of anything about physics.

She had a healthy contempt for the “anarchocapitalists” who followed her thinking to what they saw as its logical conclusion in their advocacy of a stateless society. She thought, plausibly, that government is needed to defend against aggression and adjudicate disputes. But given her black-and-white dogmatism, it is unsurprising that some of her onetime adherents went out looking for further extremes to embrace.

The greatness of Ayn Rand is that she presented thought-provoking ideas in a powerful way. The tragedy is not that some of her ideas were wrong, but that her philosophy was designed to deny that possibility.

Lame hikers

A pathetic misuse of satellite technology: hikers activating emergency beacons for reasons like this:

Last month two men and their teenage sons tackled one of the world’s most unforgiving summertime hikes: the Grand Canyon’s parched and searing Royal Arch Loop. Along with bedrolls and freeze-dried food, the inexperienced backpackers carried a personal locator beacon — just in case.

In the span of three days, the group pushed the panic button three times, mobilizing helicopters for dangerous, lifesaving rescues inside the steep canyon walls.

What was that emergency? The water they had found to quench their thirst “tasted salty.”

Via Reason.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Mars close-ups

About as close a perspective you can get of Mars without personally going there. (Via Bad Astronomy.)

Government vs. choice

Enthusiasts of big government and social liberalism tend not to see how one undercuts the other. Case study: "Obamacare Could Ban Abortion."

Space solar Japan

I've found that bringing up space solar power to an American audience tends to generate ill-informed mockery. In Japan, the attitude is distinctly different:

It may sound like a sci-fi vision, but Japan's space agency is dead serious: by 2030 it wants to collect solar power in space and zap it down to Earth, using laser beams or microwaves.

The government has just picked a group of companies and a team of researchers tasked with turning the ambitious, multi-billion-dollar dream of unlimited clean energy into reality in coming decades.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Science and sizzle

Randy Olson, maker of the films Sizzle and Flock of Dodos, has a new book out: Don't Be Such a Scientist: Talking Substance in an Age of Style. I may have something substantive to say about it at some point.

Film notes: "Seven Pounds"

Recommended rental: Seven Pounds (2008), a movie I don't think I'd heard of before, and which I now see got an awful (in every sense) review in the New York Times,* is well worth seeing, especially toward the end. Rosario Dawson is particularly memorable. It is, however, odd to flip the channel after it's over and see the last few minutes of Underworld.

*Did A.O. Scott actually watch the movie? It is not about "an I.R.S. agent."

Friday, November 6, 2009

"The Astronomer's Dream"

If you've got 11 minutes, 30 seconds to spare (which your visit to my blog suggests may be the case) and a very high tolerance for the weird (ditto), don't hesitate to click below:

The Astronomer's Dream (2009) from Malcolm Sutherland on Vimeo.

Via LGF.

10.2 percent

The unemployment rate is in double digits for the first time since 1983. Of course, 1983 was also the beginning of a robust economic boom, fed by lower taxes, disinflation and a more market-oriented policy stance in general. That's the key difference between now and then.

UPDATE 11/9: Via Marginal Revolution, the NYT has a very interesting interactive graphic showing how the numbers break down by various demographic groups. For "people like me" (white males, college-educated, 25-44), the unemployment rate is 3.9 percent. Good times...

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Note to some readers

If you're a financial pro who's come here looking for items relevant to Research magazine, and you happen to be on Facebook, please see Research's page on Facebook (administered by me).

My mental abilities

I found these questions pretty easy. But, unfortunately, I found them in an article on "Why a High IQ Doesn't Mean You're Smart":

1) A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?

2) If it takes five machines 5 minutes to make five widgets, how long would it take 100 machines to make 100 widgets?

3) In a lake, there is a patch of lily pads. Every day, the patch doubles in size. If it takes 48 days for the patch to cover the entire lake, how long would it take for the patch to cover half of it?

(Via Ryan Sager.)

Tenant of American culture

Meanwhile at Reason, David Harsanyi embraces the spirit of populism by showing he doesn't know how to spell the word tenet.

Smoke and mirrors

Glenn Reynolds tracks how "The Obama Magic Has Faded," aptly noting the magic was "largely substanceless froth" and adding: "Republicans, who were prepared to give Obama the benefit of the doubt a year ago, now can’t stand him." That matches my own experience, where I found him "pretty good" as president-elect and more recently find his greatest achievement to be this.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

In victory, magnanimity

Farewell Jon Corzine. Sorry I missed you at the train station yesterday.

Future recreation area

Some raw imagery has come in from Cassini's flyby of Enceladus. Someday people are going to ski those moguls.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Futures, space, etc.

My 11/2 radio spot on the Gabe Wisdom Show, covering the history of financial futures and more -- even touching on space exploration -- will be available on the Research website, and for some time can also be accessed here.

Goodbye soon I hope

Jon Corzine was apparently campaigning in the Hoboken train station at early afternoon rush hour yesterday and I must have walked right by him without noticing. That man's got charisma.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Troubled robots

At The Space Review, Taylor Dinerman offers a fairly bleak (but I have no basis to say inaccurate) assessment of the political and budgetary problems facing NASA's robotic space program.

And as an example of the sort of thing that may become harder to come by, here's a new Cassini close-up of Saturn (and in natural color, by the way):

Image credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute.


New Majority, where I've contributed a number of items in recent months, is now FrumForum. That's in keeping with the broader Internet tendency of building political sites around individual names (Huffington Post, etc), a pattern that's also vaguely Randian (all the companies in Atlas Shrugged are eponymous). QuickSilber therefore has no need to change its name at this time.

UPDATE 11/3: Some critics have their say.

Lander Challenge

A winner in the Lunar Lander Challenge. The commenters who mocked the "cash prizes" idea in my recent "Privatize Outer Space" piece probably don't know things are already moving in that direction.

Via the Examiner.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Leftist debater lack

Todd Seavey is trying to find someone to defend Hugo Chavez and other Latin American leftists at this Wednesday's Debate at Lolita Bar. It's proving difficult, which is bad news for the event, good news in a broader sense.

I've done four of these debates and have a 1-3 record; there's glory in defeat, sometimes.

UPDATE: Debater found.

9/12 analysis

I've just had a chance to look at, for the first time, the "9 Principles" of the Glenn Beck-inspired 9.12 Project. They are loaded with contradictions, exaggerations and banality. For instance:

4. The family is sacred. My spouse and I are the ultimate authority, not the government.

jibes poorly with

5. If you break the law you pay the penalty. Justice is blind and no one is above it.

But law is created by government, which we've already established is not the "ultimate authority." Oh and by the way--

2. I believe in God and He is the Center of my Life.

I thought you and your spouse were the ultimate authority.

8. It is not un-American for me to disagree with authority or to share my personal opinion.

9. The government works for me. I do not answer to them, they answer to me.

Fair enough, but these also don't go do well with point 5.

1. America Is Good.

Agreed as a generality and as an aspiration, but here it seems to be offered as invariable fact.

3. I must always try to be a more honest person than I was yesterday.

Glenn Beck, with his glycerine tears, definitely needs to embrace this one.

Rand redux

Finished reading: Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right. Well worth it, and I may have more on it at some point. Meanwhile, there's more Rand-related links (than most people would ever want) here. (Via Marginal Revolution.)

UPDATE 11/2: And an interesting take at Reason TV (albeit with somewhat less critical distance than the magazine's taken toward her in the past).