Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Moon civilization

This just in: "Japan's space agency announces proof of civilization on earth's moon."

Or, one more reason not to read

(Via Jeff Foust.)

Some more worthwhile thoughts about the moon here.

Crumminess in America

Joel Kotkin:

If the U.S. were a stock, it would be trading at historic lows. The budget deficit is out of control, the economy is anemic and the political system is controlled by academic ideologues and Chicago hacks. Opposing them is a force largely comprised of know-nothings--to call them Neanderthals would be too complimentary.
Impressively, after this start, the article manages to be optimistic.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Aurora borealis, New Jersey...

The simulation argument in comic form. Someday I may draw up a comic version of my anti-simulation argument. Meanwhile, here's a simulated, even homemade, aurora borealis.

Plus, some glow-in-the-dark stars.

Happy New Year from QuickSilber.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

19th century finance

Here's my latest piece for Research: "The Tumultuous 19th Century." It's an era that offers some uncomfortable implications for Ron Paul/end the Fed/gold standard believers. Excerpt:
On September 12, 1857, Commander William Lewis Herndon, in full uniform and with head bowed, stood by the wheel of the SS Central America as women and children evacuated the hurricane-battered vessel. Herndon, a Navy officer on leave with a distinguished record in war and exploration, would go down with the ship, along with over 400 passengers and crew. So would some precious cargo: over three tons of gold.

This gleaming payload, worth some $2 million (in 1857 dollars), had been collected in the California Gold Rush and was en route to Eastern banks. Its disappearance into the choppy waters off North Carolina meant those banks would be unable to make payments to customers. And that news, coming on top of the August shutting of doors at the New York office of the Ohio Life Insurance and Trust Co., a major firm wracked by embezzlement and bad investments, triggered the Panic of 1857.

Big picture

Popular Science has an overview of the commercial space industry, touching on some topics that aren't particularly commercial. I like the thinking of SpaceX/PayPal entrepreneur Elon Musk:
"Of course, there are many people who ask: Why spend anything at all, with all the problems we have on Earth?" Musk says. "But not only are there significant things we can learn about the universe and our place in it when we go to space, there are things we learn about the Earth." He points to climate change, ozone depletion, pollution. "And if you really want to go big picture here," adds Musk, who himself clearly loves to go big picture, "I think it is actually very important that we start making progress in extending life beyond earth and we start making our existence a multi-planetary one."
And also:
"Life cannot be just about solving problems," he said. "I mean, if all we do in life is solve another bloody problem, that's depressing. You need things that inspire people."
(Via Instapundit.)

UPDATE 12/21: "New Course for Space Exploration Promotes Private Firms."

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Blogging, Twitter and such

Besides blog posts, which may strain my attention span at the moment, there's also my recently minted Twitter feed (which besides showing up to the right, also appears in a group feed at FrumForum).

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

"Clinton's Ditch"

In response to my DeWitt Clinton article, I received a note from Hugh Pratt, an upstate man who with his wife Anne Paris has written a play titled "Clinton's Ditch: the Story of the Building of the Erie Canal." It was presented in Buffalo last summer and the creators are working toward further productions. I haven't seen or read it yet, but there's certainly great material there for a play.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Not for the vacuum

Over at Chicago Boyz, there's a discussion of "Is the space program worth it?" and a commenter links to last week's debate. For the record, I think the idea we should save money now spent on space exploration by building some vacuum facility on Earth instead is a pretty bad misjudgment of what's important about space exploration; getting some good vacuum is way low on the list.

UPDATE 12/13: A mother agonizes over her sons' love of space.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Drive book

Current reading: Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, by Daniel H. Pink. I'm motivated to review it in due course.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Hamilton reading

Until now, I didn't happen to see my old editor Myron Magnet's excellent article from last winter about Alexander Hamilton. Recommended reading. Here's an excerpt about Hamilton and Adams:
All this dirty linen Hamilton aired in his pamphlet, going on to argue that Adams had “great and intrinsic defects in his character, which unfit him for the office of Chief Magistrate,” including “a vanity without bounds, and a jealousy capable of discoloring every object.” His “ungovernable temper” makes him “liable to paroxisms of anger, which deprive him of self-command” (to the point, Jefferson recalled, of his “dashing and trampling his wig on the floor”).
Reminds me just a bit of my own relationship with Lou Dobbs. And here's my piece on Hamilton.

Monday, December 7, 2009


It looks pretty cool. As I discussed at the recent "abolish NASA" debate, I don't think Virgin Galactic is going to be much help in monitoring, let alone deflecting, asteroids, or performing deep-space missions or basic science, and for those sort of things we need a public agency or two. But for getting people near orbit, and maybe into orbit soon, the case for the private sector keeps getting stronger.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Climategate effects

"Republicans push on 'Climategate.'" I think we're going to see some pretty serious overreaching. As far as I can tell, the leaked emails show that climate scientists really didn't like their critics (not a surprise) and were determined to not give them any ammunition (also not a surprise, but not in keeping with the scientific imperative to bend over backwards to prove yourself wrong). As far as I can tell, also, nothing like a conspiracy to falsify data has been demonstrated at all. So, with the global-warming-is-a-hoax people now on the warpath, the rift between Republicans and scientists is only going to deepen, and my party is going to get stupider.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Tweeting soon

I've avoided using Twitter up to now, but in cooperation with FrumForum, I'll give it a try.

Real financial reform

One of the high points of a rather crowded week was getting to see Nicole Gelinas, in a presentation at the University Club, offer some reasonable ideas for financial regulation, as opposed to the many unreasonable ideas now circulating from left and right. C-SPAN was taping, and I had a chance to ask a question about, speaking of unreasonable, Ron Paul. Better yet, Nicole will be doing some writing for Research magazine soon, and appeared in our December roundtable.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Sciam ed chief

Heartfelt congratulations to Mariette DiChristina at becoming, on a formal basis, editor-in-chief at my sometime employer Scientific American. A great decision, and to say the least, Mariette's management and editorial skills vastly outshine those of certain other bosses I've known.

NASA survives bar debate

Last night's Debate at Lolita Bar on "Should We Abolish NASA?" was an absorbing and fun discussion, and what the audience lacked in numbers it made up for in engagement. Following a narrow vote, the space agency lives on. My thanks to my thoughtful opponent, Greg Rehmke, and to everyone present. I'll be posting audio of the proceedings sometime soon.

UPDATE: The audio is in two parts, at the links below, temporarily (it should be there for one month from the time someone last downloaded it):

Part 1.

Part 2.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Remembering DeWitt Clinton

My latest Research magazine article is now online: "The Canal Builder," about DeWitt Clinton, governor, mayor, senator, visionary of the Erie Canal, and more. Excerpt:
DeWitt Clinton (1769-1828) was an early American politician who transformed the country in far-reaching ways — physically, economically and financially. He was the driving force in building the Erie Canal, a massive engineering achievement that helped make Wall Street into a major financial center and the United States into an economically dynamic nation where investors would want to put their money.

Clinton served at various times as governor of New York state, mayor of New York City, U.S. senator and member of the Erie Canal commission. He ran for president in 1812, losing a fairly close contest to James Madison. He was an intellectual with interests ranging from rattlesnake biology to the history of Native Americans. He also was imperious and abrasive. A couple of years before the infamous Hamilton-Burr duel, Clinton went up against Burr supporter John Swartwout and irritably shot him in the leg.

Whole thing here.