Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Extraterrestrial auditor

Posting may be light for a while. I have pieces in the pipeline in a couple of magazines, and work to do on my book. Meanwhile, here's something I saw on a recent visit to the Queens Museum.

Convenient to think an extraterrestrial auditor would share one's own political convictions. As I've written before, there's a wide range of possibilities as to what they might want to say to us.

Friday, May 23, 2014

More interstellar ideas

Finally got around to watching the latest episode of Cosmos, "The Immortals." Somewhere Fred Hoyle is smiling about panspermia (life being seeded from space) getting a respectful hearing. I was fascinated by the imagery of a future civilization complete with giant starships. Thinking about interstellar travel ideas seems to be heating up, perhaps in time to help the Interstellar movie's box office.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Life in space movies

Recommended reading: "Life in space is impossible," by Dwayne Day at The Space Review. The title refers to a line from the opening of Gravity. The article is about various movies, including the weak Elysium and the much-anticipated (by me) Interstellar. Day has a somewhat downbeat view of how the pro-space movement, as he calls it, is doing, as reflected in the movies, though I'd add that such a movement has always had its challenges, including in the supposedly halcyon 1960s when public opinion did not give much support for the Apollo program.

Carbon taxation for skeptics [with small update]

Sometimes, an opinion piece is notable not just for its opinion but for the lengths to which the author will go to convince a particular audience of that opinion. Case in point: Irwin Stelzer's "Let's Tax Carbon," in the Weekly Standard. I strongly agree with the basic position (tax carbon and cut taxes on other things), which is one of the issues on which my centrist zig veered from the conservatives' zag in recent years. But I'd part company from Stelzer's rhetoric at moments like this:
Conservatives can maintain their skepticism about global climate change, but that does not mean that a bit of prudential action might not be appropriate should it turn out that carbon emissions are indeed having a negative effect on climate.
Me: Conservative identity has become so beholden to "skepticism about global climate change" that it's apparently now necessary to tell conservatives they can keep that set of beliefs even while trying to convince them to act as if they didn't hold them. If you like your skepticism, you can keep your skepticism. But I'm a pragmatist and not complaining. I hope Stelzer's approach is convincing.

UPDATE 7/17: Stelzer and the Standard double down, denying a carbon tax even has anything to do with climate change.

Delhi-Washington prospects

The words in bold below (my emphasis) jump out at me from this piece by Tunku Varadarajan on India's incoming prime minisater, Narendra Modi, and his likely awkward relations with President Obama:
The foreign leader he [Modi] will bond with best is unlikely to be Obama, an American president who has none of the instinctive feel for India, or for the enormous potential of a U.S.-India alliance, that George W. Bush had. The withering of that alliance has been one of the bleak, untold stories of Obama’s period in office, and one senses that India will have to wait for Hillary Clinton to reach the White House before the Delhi-Washington relationship blossoms again.
What's interesting is not just that Varadarajan, a conservative writer, seems to assume or strongly suspect that Hillary Clinton will be the next president, but that among the major Republican prospects there's nobody that would fit easily into the sentence. "One senses that India will have to wait for Rand Paul..."? No way. "One senses that India will have to wait for..." Ted Cruz? Paul Ryan? None of the biggest hitters has distinguished himself on foreign policy. If Bobby Jindal's star had risen higher in recent years, the idea that he might repair relations with India might have been noteworthy, because it's his ancestral homeland if for no other reason. (Or would he be under pressure to show he's not engaged in favoritism on that basis?) Obama foreign policy looks likely to leave a legacy of great mediocrity, but who in the Republican Party is positioned to make a strong case about that?

Friday, May 16, 2014

Potentially interesting movie note: Interstellar

Planned for a November release is a movie called Interstellar, with an all-star cast. (I hope Michael Caine is an alien.) The plot, about which little is known, reportedly involves a wormhole, which may not be the most original device but it's hard to come up with ways to get people to another star system that won't bore an audience. Here's hoping it's good.

UPDATE: "I'm coming back." I like the trailer.


Friday, May 9, 2014

Space priority disagreements

I expressed some skepticism about the Asteroid Redirect Mission in my recent Space Review piece (while making a suggestion on how it might be improved). But I think it's fair to say my attitude toward that mission is mild compared to that of Paul Spudis, a lunar scientist whom I interviewed years ago. Spudis also has a pretty clear opinion about the idea of a human flyby of Mars.

Meanwhile, for those who think Mars is all that, here's Lee Billings arguing that the real scientific payoff is on Europa. (What I'm not clear about is whether the Monolith's "attempt no landing there" dictate applied only to human or also robotic missions.)

Climate denial panel

As a follow-up to my recent post on anti-science politics, I highly recommend this excellent analysis by Jonathan Chait: "All Science is Wrong, Concludes Esteemed Fox News Panel." As I've pointed out many times, the conservative movement wasn't always like this, and need not always be like this.

Future solar statement

It's good that solar panels are back on top of the White House. Let's hope a future administration launches a solar array into orbit, beams energy down to an offshore platform and then transmits it wirelessly to Washington.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Platforms, privileges, philistines

A few odds and ends:

-- Some dangers of living in a bubble illustrated. I've warned about this kind of thing.

-- An idea for space solar power, desalination and offshore platforms (some of my favorite topics), which I came across because of a comment at my Space Review piece this week.

-- A critique of Tal Fortgang's critics on "checking your privilege." Seems right to me.

-- Damon Linker accuses Neil deGrasse Tyson of being a philistine; his critique gets pushback (weakened by the misspelling of "Neil"). Having listened to Tyson's comments, I'm with the pushback (especially in that he goes on to discussion of the poet Rainer Maria Rilke; what philistine does that?).

Monday, May 5, 2014

Space economy ideas [updated]

I've got a piece up at The Space Review: "How to energize the space economy." It involves space solar power and space property rights, and related topics.

UPDATE 5/7: A lot of interesting comments at my post, and I got some positive feedback privately from someone experienced in moving stuff around in space. The Space Review has a readership that's very focused on space policy, a subject that doesn't get its due in the media world at large. I'll write for the site again sooner or later. Meanwhile, posting may be light here at Quicksilber in the near term.

UPDATE 5/7: Flashback to 2003: "Choices in Space." This piece is dated but still has some relevance in summarizing different viewpoints as to what to do (and not do) in space. I'm less of a Humans to Mars (anytime soon) believer than I was then, though.

UPDATE: Someone likes this in Portugal.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Port Authority infra-scandal

Back in January, I wrote about the Bridgegate scandal that has devoured much of Chris Christie's political cachet, and mentioned this:

I think a lesson conservatives and centrists should be embracing is that big government is a source of the current scandal or possible scandals--for instance, that the bloated Port Authority of NY/NJ lends itself to political pressure and shenanigans. Reforming that rotten institution, and privatizing its functions to the degree possible, is an approach we should be hearing a lot about in the wake of Bridgegate--but sadly few seem to care.
Now,  I'm pleased to note that said indifference is not total, in that Reason (with which I've had plenty of disagreements in recent years) has a piece called "Port Authoritarians" in its May issue that examines the underlying problem of a sprawling, unaccountable bureaucracy. I'm glad that the sober policy wonk side of libertarianism still has some life in it, in contradistinction to the hipster utopian conspiracist side.