Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Sky Hasn't Fallen

Today the Dow Jones soared 485 points, recovering over half the losses of yesterday's nose dive. Not that there is not still a serious situation here, especially in terms of a growing constriction on credit.

However, two developments underway may help restore stability and confidence to the economy. The Senate will be next at bat with a finance bill tomorrow evening. This version includes a package of tax breaks and a clause raising the federal deposit insurance limit from $100,000 to $250,000, which would be a big assurance to middle class Americans (a move supported by both Senators McCain and Obama). Also, the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) has issued a "clarification" that loosens the "mark-to-market" rule that those more knowledgeable than me have said has had a depressing effect on the financial markets and credit.

A couple of thoughts on yesterday's House vote rejecting the previous rescue/bailout bill. Did Speaker Nancy Pelosi really proceed with the scheduled vote thinking it would pass? Did she really not bother to find out that 95 members of her own party would vote against the bill. These questions have led some to question whether she is either inept as a legislative leader or that she saw this more as a political issue to be exploited than a national crisis to be resolved.

Finally, there was some serious division among House conservative Republicans on yesterday's vote. John Hinderaker at Power Line presents the statements of two conservative Republican Reps from Minnesota who took opposing sides on the vote based on principle and assessment of the choices at hand.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Market Crash! Congress in Knots! Hubble Trouble! What a Day!

The stock market took a dive today after the House voted down the proposed rescue/bailout plan agreed to by leaders over the weekend. A majority of Republicans and a significant minority of Democrats voted against the plan, motivated largely by a tidal wave of calls from constituents opposing the plan. Speaker Pelosi's pre-vote diatribe and other back-and fourth charges made it a most contentious situation.

So what happens next? Congress will try to come up with a solution that doesn't anger constituents by having them foot the bill for Wall Street excesses and flawed government policies going back over a decade. Finance is not an area I understand very well, though Newt Gingrich and others say there may be a relatively straightforward way of mitigating the situation by suspending an accounting rule called "mark-to-market" that does not require an act of Congress. Probably the best advice for an average citizen investor is not to panic. We'll get through this.

Meanwhile, above it all, the Hubble Space Telescope encountered a serious data handling problem that will delay the upcoming Shuttle servicing mission, probably until early next year. Those of us involved in this mission will be doing some serious replanning in the coming days. We'll get through this too.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

"Fourth Time's a Charm!"

So says Elon Musk, founder and CEO of SpaceX, which this evening achieved success in reaching Earth orbit with its Falcon 1 launch vehicle after three earlier flawed attempts. This is a significant accomplishment for commercial space ventures. Companies like SpaceX and others, both new and established, may play a crucial role in assisting the US in mitigating the 'gap' between the retiring Space Shuttle and NASA's next human spaceflight program.

Given the serious economic woes of the moment, the persistance of entrepreneurs like Elon Musk and his team to put their money where their dreams are and open up frontiers is cause for optimism about future prosperity for America and the world.

Reports on the Falcon 1 launch success include those at Space.com and MSNBC. Also, look for numerous reports at Spacetoday.net and HobbySpace.

The Financial Fix Bill

It appears the long tough negotiating of the past few days has resulted in a bill to rescue the ailing financial system. (Here's the draft text via NRO.) While I can't claim to know what all transpired, it appears the stand taken by Republicans has resulted in a better bill, including removal of the onerous proposed subsidy to social activist organizations like ACORN. John Hinderaker at Power Line analyzes the side by side comparison of the two earlier versions of the bill with the one finally agreed to early this morning, and assesses a political angle to the outcome.
The role played by John McCain appears to have been a constructive one. He supported and worked with the House Republicans. The Democrats no doubt wanted his support for the final product, and that must have enhanced the Republicans' position at the table. The Democrats would not have wanted an unpopular bailout plan to be supported by Barack Obama and opposed by McCain.

If voters understood the events of the last week, they would probably return control of the House, and perhaps the Senate, to the Republicans. The mainstream media will make sure that doesn't happen.

Political implications aside, we better hope and pray that this package does settle things down and restore confidence in the financial system, given the dire consequences of failure seen by some of those knowledgeable in the financial field.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Chinese Space Traveler Takes a Walk

Zhai Zhigang became China's first spacewalking 'taikonaut' today. Mark Whittington has posted a link to a ~11 minute video clip of the event.) The three space travelers are preparing for a Sunday return to Earth.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

China's Shenzhou 7 Launch Successful

Xinhua/Li Gang

The three crew members of the Chinese Shenzhou 7 spacecraft were launched into orbit earlier today. China's first attempt at an Extravehicular Activity (EVA) or spacewalk is likely in the next day or two.

Tough Dealing on Financial Fix

Efforts in DC to come up with a deal to avert a potential collapse of financial markets have entered a tough negotiating phase going into the night. As President Bush explained last night, this is a very serious situation where some kind of government action is necessary and probably inevitable.

However, demands for immediate action to avert a crisis do not mean we have to forgo thinking about what is a good solution and what would make a bad situation worse. Reportedly, from evening news and talk shows, Republican House members are holding out to move the package toward a more free market and responsibility compatible solution. Senator John McCain is reportedly playing a major leadership role. Of course almost anything could possibly happen, so let's pray for the best.

Largely overlooked this week is an apparent Republican victory in the fight to enable access to offshore and shale oil resources.

Safer Stem Cells

Safer for patients and for embryos: induced pluripotent stem cells (IPSCs) have passed a major hurdle toward being safely used in medical therapies, according to Wesley Smith and this Washington Post article.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Going for Stem Cell Results

Leading stem cell researcher James Thomson of Wisconsin is shifting his research focus to the new developments in non-embryonic stem cell research, according to this article on ProLife Blogs.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Barack Obama, Gianna Jessen and the Lives of Infant Abortion Survivors

Gianna Jessen, a 31 year old survivor of a failed abortion attempt in the late seventies appeared in an ad produced by BornAliveTruth.org, an independent 527 organization, taking Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama to task for his multiple votes against legislation to protect infant survivors of abortion.

Here is the ad that Obama's campaign put up in response to the Gianna Jessen ad.

Notice how the Obama ad includes a very small and brief video clip (no audio) of Jessen while attempting to blame his Republican opponent John McCain for a supposedly misleading and 'sleazy' ad. But that description more aptly describes Obama's ad on several counts. First, John McCain's campaign did not produce the original ad. An independent 527 organization did. Second, the Jessen ad is not misleading. Obama did vote several times to oppose the protective legislation and did not vote for it. Finally, Obama's ad is trying to have it both ways. By fleetingly using Gianna Jessen's video image, it is trying to vaguely remind viewers of the original ad without reminding them of the details or even of Jessen's identity.

This last point is significant, because Gianna Jessen's very existence is a threat to Obama's position and abysmal record on protecting infant abortion survivors. This issue touches on the deepest meaning of where our society stands on protecting innocent human life and Barack Obama is playing with fire by attempting this kind of deception to divert attention from the truth.

A Day of Food, Drink, Music and Merriment...

...at the Maryland Renaissance Festival today.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

At the Gateway to Space

Last Friday I participated in a 'systems hardware walkdown' to view the flight hardware for the upcoming STS-125 Hubble Servicing Mission at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. While there, I also got to take some interesting pictures of the KSC/Cape Canaveral facilities and Cocoa Beach.

Shuttle Atlantis on Pad 39A awaiting launch to the Hubble Space Telescope. The top of the Shuttle's orange External Tank is visible while the rest of the vehicle is obscured by the pad's Rotating Service Structure.

Atlas V Launch Complex 41 on the left, Falcon 9 Launch Complex 40 on the right. The sets of four spindly towers at each launch site serve to protect the rockets and launch facilities from lightning strikes.

The view from in front of my room at the Holiday Inn, Cocoa Beach.

The launch to Hubble is currently scheduled for October 10. Meanwhile, our friends and colleagues at Johnson Space Center remain in our thoughts and prayers as they deal with recovering from the aftermath of Hurricane Ike.

Politics Gone Criminal

Personal e-mails of Sarah Palin and her family were hacked and published on the Internet. The political mud-slinging has gone lower while fast-and-furious, but this latest development is not only the most outrageous but also a criminal offense and an offense against privacy that must be of concern to all Americans.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Ike Strikes the Houston Area and Others


Hurricane Ike surged ashore at Galveston, TX early this morning, leaving millions without power and making it difficult to move around the area. Authorities are still trying to account for those who did not evacuate the most endangered areas.

NASA's Johnson Space Center suffered some damage though major functions appear to remain intact., while space station operations were supported by a temporary site at a hotel in Austin.

Do keep all those affected by this storm in your thoughts and prayers.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

In Remembrance of September 11, 2001

U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Michael W. Pendergrass

Seven years ago tomorrow morning, I overheard a coworker down the hall from my office telling someone else about planes hitting the World Trade Center. I checked in on the Internet and on news radio for reports on what would develop into the the modern era's day of infamy. We know of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, but there was also the attack that did not occur because of the heroic actions of the passengers on United Flight 93.

Seven years of daily living, along with increasing domestic rancor, may have dimmed the feelings of shock, horror, and outrage and the response of prayer, compassion, and resolve that united the people of America and most of the world. However, terrorist activity around the world should serve to remind us that the threat is still real.

This audio/visual Internet presentation developed by a New Yorker shortly after the attacks recaptures all of those experiences. The sequence is ~15 minutes long and some of the images and sounds are quite disturbing, others are inspirational. (I've also added the link to this video to my sidebar.)

Good for presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama, who will put aside their serious differences for a day and stand together in observance of this solemn anniversary.

It is important that we remember, not only to honor those who died and those who acted heroically that day, but to remain constantly aware of the ongoing dangers, of the presence of real evil in the hearts of some men, and to maintain constant vigilance and a determination to defeat this evil. Finally, we must always remember to trust in God and his mercy during trying times.

Down-Ballot Shift?

The Dem/Left/Media/Cultural Establishment melt-down over Sarah Palin and the shift in the polls has been coming too fast to have time to cover it all. One interesting trend is that the shift in the polls may not be limited to the presidential race. The Real Clear Politics Generic Congressional Vote polling data shows a narrowing of the generic preference for Democrats for Congress. The average of recent polls is down to a 5.4% margin for Democrats. Only a couple of weeks ago this margin was over 10%. Notice that the most recent poll, taken by USA Today/Gallup on 09/05 - 09/07 shows a 5% Republican advantage. Scroll down through the polling history that shows no other poll with a Republican advantage in the past two years.

Now one should be careful about putting too much stock in any one poll or even a short term trend, but if the trend continues, it will be a dramatic change in the atmosphere surrounding the congressional contests. The cause is apparently the coattails of the 'Palin effect' along with the possibility that the Republican initiative for comprehensive energy development, including drilling for our domestic oil resources, may be starting to break through.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Hanna Comin'

Tomorrow will be a day of heavy rain and strong winds here as Tropical Storm Hanna blows through the Mid-Atlantic region.

On the Pad

Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

The Space Shuttle Atlantis was moved out to the launch pad on Thursday for its launch to service the Hubble Space Telescope, now rescheduled for October 10.

Politics is Getting to Be Fun Again

Well, the week that began with predictions that the Republican National Convention would be drowned by Hurricane Gustav ended with a re-energized party and conservative movement. Sarah Palin's blockbuster speech Wednesday night (which I watched with a large group of fired-up supporters in Gaithersburg) and John McCain's solid leadership address last night have leveled the playing field for the coming election.

The pile-on by media and cultural establishment types against Gov. Palin only guaranteed her a bigger audience for her to reach the American people with her winsome way the other night. Her selection by Sen. McCain may have not only recast the presidential race but but could help mitigate what has been predicted as a looming disaster for GOP congressional candidates. (Hat Tip to Mark Whittington)

While we don't want to turn Sarah Palin into another messianic figure (one is too many this election cycle), Michael Reagan has given permission to consider her the Second Coming of the Gipper.

Now that each party has had its energizing convention, the campaign will turn on how each party's candidates persuade the voters on how they will lead, particularly on the nation's economic challenges. I feel McCain/Palin got off to a good start, particularly on energy development, but need to steadily press their position and continue to develop further their economic message.

With both sides now energized, the public is likely to become more engaged and turn out in higher numbers. That is definitely good for the country.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Gustav Roars Ashore

Hurricane Gustav came ashore along the Gulf Coast near New Orleans today. The devastation appears so far to have been less severe than during Katrina three years ago, although there is still concern and some action to fortify some of the levies. The definite good news is that all levels of government performed far better than during Katrina and the residents themselves also took the advanced warnings more seriously this time resulting in a more complete evacuation. Thank God a major catastrophe has apparently been averted and pray for those who are affected by the severity of the storm.