Thursday, December 28, 2006

European Space Agency Launches Planet Finder


The ESA launched a French orbital satellite observatory designed to search out planets orbiting nearby stars. It has a 27 cm (10.6 inch) lens capable of tracking thousands of stars simultaneously. It is believed the satellite will be capable of discovering smaller rocky planets, down to the size of a just a few earths, that have so far eluded planet hunters.

"Flying high above the Earth’s atmosphere, the Convection Rotation and planetary Transits (COROT) satellite [[image] will use a different technique better suited to finding smaller worlds. Called the “transit” technique [image], it will detect extrasolar planets by measuring the dip in starlight their passage creates as they glide across the face of their parent stars."

NASA will launch its own Kepler satellite on a similiar mission in 2008.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Merry Christmas!

Light blogging due to the holidays and a heavy work schedule, but I'll try to post something in a day or two when I catch sight of something interesting enough to note. In the meantime, everyone have a safe and happy season.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Foreign Policy - Schools of Thought

Former Marine officer and current Naval War College professor M. Thomas Owens discusses the history, limitations and nuances of various political scientist's theories on the International system at NRO, particularly with regard to America's role in light of current events. Interesting discussion about the Realist school, the "Neoconservative" school, and the Internationalist/Liberal school. Read the whole thing.

The Realist school recognizes states as the principal actors, and that the international system is one based on relative state power. Liberals contend that the actors goals "transcend power and security", such as peace and prosperity, and that actors other than states play critical roles. Realists have been critical of the Bush Doctrine of Pre-emption as noted below.

"Realists have predicted that the Bush Doctrine will lead to anti-hegemonic balancing on the part of other states — i.e., other states will takes actions to prevent the United Stated from establishing, or further establishing, international hegemony. But such an outcome has not occurred. There has been no anti-hegemonic balancing, even of the “soft” variety (the realists’ fall back position). This suggests that other nations consider the Bush Doctrine to be also in their own interests, or, at least, they do not worry that, in pursuing this doctrine, the U.S. intends to establish a hegemony harmful to their interests. This judgment is mostly likely based on an understanding of the nature of the political regime of the United States..."

In short, the Realist school ignores the TYPES of regimes when examining the balance of power. Liberals believe that international institutions and law can keep the peace, and view the Realist school as far too cynical, while the Realists belive the Liberals far too idealistic. Neoconservative theory, at least in foreign policy, is a bit of a blend, as they believe that the regime's internal characteristics matter, and that it is only prudent of the hegemon, the US, to use its power to provide not only stability, but propagate those principals upon which its own regime rests, liberal democracy.

The money quote:

"The Bush Doctrine is a species of “primacy” based on hegemonic stability. Primacy can be caricatured as a “go-it-alone” approach in which the United States intimidates both friends and allies, wields power unilaterally, and ignores international institutions. But the Bush Doctrine sees itself as having a “benevolent” primacy, an approach in keeping with its liberal political traditions, but which recognizes the world as a dangerous place in which a just peace is maintained only by the strong.

This form of primacy is based on the assumption that U.S. power is good not only for the United States itself but also for the rest of the world. The argument is that the United States can be fully secure only in a world where everyone else is also secure. The existence of liberal institutions is not sufficient for preserving this order. A liberal world order is possible only if the United States is willing and able to maintain it."

This sounds Reaganesque to me, the "America is the Shining City on the Hill", only we are doing things more actively to serve as a beacon today, as opposed to just being a passive role model for others to emulate. I guess I just might be a neoconservative, at least when it's explained in this fashion.

Supreme Court

via USA Today.

Interesting article describing the Court's two newest memebers, Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito, and their potential impact on pending issues. Abortion, obviously, is a big issue, as well as school integration/choice and the environment, along with the national security and civil liberty divide.

"Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito have signaled a readiness to move the court to the right. In recent cases involving abortion, global warming and school integration, Roberts and Alito have been aggressive and sometimes feisty proponents of conservative views and particularly sympathetic to arguments by the Bush administration."

Elections have consequences, and this is among the biggest of them all. Conservative Presidents have had a historically poor track record of nominating conservative justices, but President Bush appears, at this point, to have fulfilled his campaign promises to nominate justices that view legal matters pretty narrowly, rather than legislating questionable decisions from the bench. It will be interesting to see what kind of teeth gnashing and hair pulling these two justices cause liberals over the coming years. The court's more liberal members have certainly caused a lot of conservative heartburn over the years, it is ironic indeed to see the shoe on the other foot for a change.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Discovery to Leave ISS

via OWH.

"Space shuttle Discovery's astronauts have rewired the space station, managed three spacewalks, and now completed the most difficult task of their mission: getting a stubborn, solar array folded up during an impromptu fourth spacewalk."

Astronaut Robert Curbeam set a record with his fourth spacewalk of the mission in repairing the balky solar array. The old array was replaced by a new one installed during the misison, but the old one would not retract as planned, necessitating the emergency fourth spacewalk. Curbeam is now a man with the fifth most spacewalk time in history, behind only a small group of Russian cosmonauts as US astronauts. Discovery is scheduled to return to Earth Friday.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Global Economic Projections

Also at TCS, James Peron looks at the new World Bank projections for global economic growth, and the results are actually pretty encouraging. The global economy is expected to double by 2030, and the developing world's share of that output is likely to reach 50% by that time. The best news of all: the world's poor will benefit greatly.

""The number of people living on less than $1 a day [in constant dollars] could be cut in half, from 1.1 billion now to 550 million in 2030." And the number living on less than $2 per day will decline by an estimated 800 million."

The ranks of the "global middle class" are expected to raise as well, up to 1.2 billion people. Developing nations will continue to converge with more developed nations, and the situation could be even more rosy - these scenarios are the low to middle of the road projections, the optimistic projections show a decline of people living in poverty from today's 20% to around 4%, with incomes 45% higher than today.

The Economy

Dave Henderson at TCS takes a look at economist Alan Reynold's thorough debunking of the "shrinking middle class" myth perpetuated by the Paul Krgumans of the world. Reynold's new book Income and Wealth tackles this and other myths, like the fact that famly income has been shrinking over the last three decades.

These claims often rely on curious definitions, like utilizing "tax units" as opposed to families, or holding income level definitions static (middle class = incomes of S35-50K, ignoring the effects of growing prosperity over time) in order to distort the data sets to achieve these pundits dubious pre-conceived claims. As Reynolds puts it:

"Such a fixed definition ensures that the proportion of households in the middle group must decline with a rise in general prosperity, because rising prosperity causes a rising percentage of families to earn more than $50,000." (emphasis his)

In other words, the number of people inside these income levels dropped because more families were earning incomes OVER the high end of the bracket, $50k. But of course, that isn't stated, just that the people in the middle brackets dropped. Disingenuous at best, blatantly misleading at worst, and almost certainly done on purpose to score some political point.

Japan's New Diplomacy

Time via RCP.

Interesting article about the visit of India's Prime Minister Singh to Japan, and the special treatment he is being accorded there, addressing the Japanese Diet (legislature). Japan is looking beyond its relationship with the US for perhaps the first time since WW2. Japanese PM Abe is cultivating India as a potential diplomatic counterweight to China.

"Deepening ties between the two biggest democracies in Asia is part of Abe's efforts to chart a new direction for Japan's foreign policy, one less consumed with the U.S. and more embracing of Asia"

Although bilateral trade between the two nations is not yet significant, it is growing pretty rapidly. Japanese investment is still concentrated on China, but Japanese automakers are eyeing the Indian market, and India's software companies could begin to make inroads into the Japanese markets as well.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Loss of the Libertarians

via TCS Daily.

Good article on how those of us self described fiscally conservative, socially liberal voters actually voted. There was an approximate 24 point swing against the Republicans from the 2002 midterms. OUCH. Still, a majority of Libertarians vote Republican despite overtures from the other aisle.

"In 2006, libertarians voted 59-36 for Republican congressional candidates—a 24-point swing from the 2002 mid-term election. To put this in perspective, front-page stories since the election have reported the dramatic 7-point shift of white conservative evangelicals away from the Republicans. The libertarian vote is about the same size as the religious right vote measured in exit polls, and it is subject to swings more than three times as large."

Worse, the Senate losses of Conrad Burns and Jim Talent were directly attributable to Libertarian candidacies in their states. Both sitting Senators lost by less then the number of votes the Libertarian candidate garnered. The Republicans would still control the Senate had both candidates won re-election. The R's would be wise to return to their principles if they wish to continue to win elections.

St. Paul's Tomb

via National Geographic.

St. Paul of Tarsis, the principal founder of the Christian religion after the death of Christ, has had his tomb in Vatican City partially uncovered for viewing by religious pilgrims.

"For now we didn't open the sarcophagus to study the contents. Our aim was to unearth the coffin venerated as St. Paul's tomb, not to authenticate the remains," said Giorgio Filippi, the archaeologist of the Vatican Museum, who directed the excavations. "The sarcophagus was buried beneath the main altar, under a marble tombstone bearing the Latin words "Paulo Apostolo Mart.," meaning "Apostle Paul, Martyr."

Paul's tomb was first first honored with a basillica in 320 AD by the Emperor Constantine, expanded by Theodosius in 390 AD, who also entombed the saint's remains in the sarcophagus discovered. The sarcophagus was buried and marked by a marble tombstone after an earthquake in 433 AD. A fire in 1823 burned the ancient basillica down and the modern building was erected in its place with the tomb buried under the Papal altar. Pilgrims visiting in 2000 were disappointed that they could not see the saint's tomb, leading to the decision to excavate. The sarcophagus can be viewed through a hole in the Papal altar about 2 ft wide and 3 ft deep.

A Tale of Two Dictators

Washington Post via RCP.

Very interesting article noting the differences between Chile's dictator Augusto Pinochet and Cuba's Fidel Castro. Pinochet is often vilified, and with reason; Casto is often lauded, despite his (to me, anyway) very obvious flaws. Now while it is more than a little crass to say so to their victims and their families, I have to believe that the people of Chile are far better off today than the people of Cuba. I'll note for the record that Pinochet left power voluntarily - Castro?

John O'sullivan of the Chicago Sun-Times has more, including a comaprisons to Franco, Mao, Hilter and Stalin, along with the leader of the island paradise 90 miles from our shores.

"As for Pinochet's economic legacy, it outstrips that of most advanced democracies, let alone the economic rubble of all the communist dictators. Within a decade of the 1973 coup, Chile was a stable growing economy transformed by monetary, supply-side, trade and labor market reforms introduced by Pinochet. When Chile returned to democracy in the late 1980s, the Christian Democrat government of Patricio Aylwin continued his free-market approach."

He also makes the point that while Castro has traveled freely around the world, Pinochet has been constantly forced to defend himself in courts around the world - even though the courts in Chile had granted him amnesty. It is certainly illustrative of way they are viewed.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Shuttle Launches at Night

via OWH.

For the first time in four years, NASA launches a shuttle at night. The launch had been delayed twice due to unfavorable waether, which cleared just in time for the spectacular lift-off.

"During their 12-day mission, Discovery's crew will rewire the space station, deliver an $11 million addition to the space lab and bring home one of the space station's three crew members, German astronaut Thomas Reiter of the European Space Agency. American astronaut Sunita "Suni" Williams will replace him, staying for six months."

Interestingly enough, the shuttle crew is one of the least experienced in recent memory, with five of the astronauts being rookies who have never been in space.
Mission Commander Mark Polansky and pilot William Oefelein are among the more experienced members of the crew. Three ISS construction spacewalks are planned for the mission.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

MIT Research boosts Ethanol


MIT researchers have developed a new type of yeast that could boost ethanol production by as much as 50%. The new strain is able to withstand a higher alcohol and glucose content than the yeast usually used in producing ethanol, speeding the production process and increasing the yield. Pretty cool.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Last Gathering of Pearl Harbor Survivors

Great article on the 65th reunion of the Pearl Harbor Association, most likely the last. An estimated 500 survivors and 1300 family and relatives are expected to attend.

"The survivors have met here every five years for four decades, but they're now in their 80s or 90s and are not counting on a 70th reunion. They have made every effort to report for one final roll call."

2,390 died in the attack, and 1,178 others were wounded. About half of the dead were from the USS Arizona, which lost 1,177 sailors, still the largest loss of life for any US Navy warship.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Conservative Dems

Great article by John Hood at NRO on the two "Centrist" Democratic groups, the New Democratic Coalition and the Blue Dog Democrats, and where the groups stand on certain issues. First, a history lesson on where the two groups originated.

"These two groups, though both centrist, are far from identical. The Blue Dogs were formed first, just after the 1994 Republican victories. Founded by Democrats primarily in the South, Midwest, and inner West, the group argued that reflexive liberalism on social issues and an appearance of fiscal imprudence had damaged the party’s national prospects, as well as the prospects of Democratic candidates in swing districts...Before Election Day, there were 37 Blue Dogs. In January, there will be at least 44.

The New Democrat Coalition came along a few years later, in 1997. Its name was a conscious nod to the brand personified by the original new Democrat, President Bill Clinton. The 2006 election added at least 15 members to the coalition, which will number at least 63. While the Blue Dogs have emphasized moderation on social-issues and the importance of balanced budgets, the New Democrats describe their agenda as “pro-growth” and often focus on foreign policy, innovation, and technology issues. Not to exaggerate the differences between the two groups, whose membership does overlap, but they do have distinct identities and priorities."

Most New Democrats are free trade supporters, while most Blue Dogs are anything but, blaming manufacturing's job losses on free trade (and not technology, which is actually to blame - manufacturing OUTPUT is up, but jobs are down due to increased productivity.) Both groups are against raising taxes, with the New Dems more friendly towards investor helpful cuts on capital gains and dividends, while the Blue Dogs are more deficit hawks and would want spending cuts to match any tax cutting. Blue Dogs are more restrictionist on immigration, the New Dems more "comprehensive". Neither group is in favor of gun control legislation, and they are both a bit mixed on abortion, wiht some memebers openly pro-life, others not so much.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Ancient Tsunami

It's been discovered that Mt. Etna on Sicily has had a pretty massive impact on the Mediterranean basin. Much like the Santorini explosion several thousand years later, this volcanic eruption sent a massive tidal wave up to 130 ft tall throughout the ancient world around 8000 years ago.

"Their recreation suggests the tsunami's waves reached heights of up to 130 feet and maximum speeds of up to 450 mph, making it more powerful than the Indonesian tsunami that killed more than 180,000 people in 2004."

Talk about a bad day. Neolithic hunters at the time would never realize what hit them.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Cuban dissident Movement

Via NRO.

Fantastic article about the burgeoning dissident movement in Cuba. Much like the solidarity movement in communist Poland, the movement is unified by a single word, cambio. Change. The word is seen on placards, T-shirts, and windows throughout the island. Incidents of civil unrest are also becoming quite common.

"The Directorio Democrático Cubano, a Miami-based pro-dissident group, keeps a detailed catalogue of pro-democracy activities in Cuba. Its report on incidents in 2005 alone fills nearly 400 pages."

Naturally, this doesn't get a lot of press, because of the biases of many members of the journalism porfession. Of course, anything that would indicate that Cuba isn't exactly a tropical paradise, like the endemic poverty, is ignored.

"Indeed, international journalists are so clueless that when they ask people on the street in Cuba to describe conditions there, they earnestly quote them saying, “Everything is going well,” completely oblivious to the large signs all over Cuba bearing the Orwellian caption “Everything is going well.” "

A 1984 society run by thugs is alive and well, 90 miles from our shores. Millions suffer every day, and we don't do anything to stop it or publisize it, in fact, some of our most notable citizens visit the island and fawn over an old dictator - hard to believe, but true. Worse, very few of us seem to care, particularly those who purport to believe in things like democracy, human rights, justice, freeedom, etc.
My fervent hope is that one day we'll all be ashamed of our inaction as the Cuban people finally joins the ranks of the free citizens of the world.