Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ash Wednesday

Today is Ash Wednesday and here is Catholic Online's Lent/Easter page. Here's a report on Pope Benedict's comments today and the US Catholic Bishops' Lenten web site.
"In the homily, the pope focused especially on a phrase from the second Letter to the Corinthians: "We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God." (5:20). " Paul," he commented, "experienced in an extraordinary manner the power of God's grace, the grace of the Paschal mystery that is the vital force of Lent itself. He presents himself to us as an 'ambassador' of the Lord. Who better than him, then, to help us travel in a fruitful way this path of interior conversion?"
Pope Benedict XVI

Here is a symposium on Lent at NRO Online.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Space Blitz

I'm participating in today and tomorrow's Space Exploration Alliance Legislative Blitz on the Hill. This year's agenda items include continuing the Moon, Mars, Asteroids & Beyond vision, closing the post Shuttle 'gap', Commercial Orbital Transportation Services, space solar power & continuing a healthy science program.

My sense is a lot of general interest and support (including very enthusiastic interest from a certain woman on Rep. Mike Doyle's (D-PA) staff), but much uncertainty about budgets and policy from the Obama Administration. Some staffers (particularly, but not exclusively GOP) were asking what our sense of the situation is, though as volunteers on the Hill for a couple of days, we don't know any more than they do.

Note that the annual ProSpace March Storm will not be held this year due to resource and time limitations.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Something Stirring?

President Obama's announcement of a plan to deal with failed mortgages produced a predictable reaction along party lines in Congress, while the President's push for the 'stimulus' and the mortgage proposal seem to have hit Wall Street with a resounding THUD! This has an ominous impact on all of us.
What is going to turn this beast around, and what should the president do? First of all, let’s dispense with the antiquated notion that only rich people own stocks, and that the market’s ups and downs are unimportant. Almost everyone has a stake in our financial markets, either through owning stocks and bonds directly or through pension plans. Even the neediest Americans who are fed or clothed by charities are hurt when those organizations’ endowments crater or donations dry up.

What is most striking is what seems a growing popular movement reacting against an aggressive expansion of government with the mortgage proposal on top of the enormous 'stimulus' on top of the financial bailouts with more spending and regulatory initiatives expected.

Michelle Malkin reports on some citizen protests dogging the President and some members of Congress. But what really seems to have caught fire was the outrage expressed by Rick Santelli on CNBC from the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, calling for a "Chicago Tea Party". His emotional words gained audible support from those on the floor around him and are reported to have generated a tidal wave of emails to pundits and talk show hosts and become a hot topic for blogs.

This could signal a rising tide of anger over over fairness and liberty. Let's pray and work that it be channeled constructively toward corrective action.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A Teaching Moment With No Photo-Op

Pope Benedict XVI had a private meeting with a delegation headed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. According to the Vatican statement issued after the meeting, the Pope made a point of stressing the Church's strong position on protecting human life, including the unborn. Nancy Pelosi futilely attempted to re-interpret that position last year.
His Holiness took the opportunity to speak of the requirements of the natural moral law and the Church’s consistent teaching on the dignity of human life from conception until natural death, which enjoin all Catholics, and especially legislators, jurists, and those responsible for the common good of society, to work in cooperation with all men and women of good will in creating a just system of laws capable of protecting human life at all stages of development.

Pelosi's office later issued a statement on the meeting that avoided the points the Pope made regarding human life. George Weigel asks if they are talking about the same meeting.

Two things worth noting. First, the meeting was closed to reporters and photographers. This denied Pelosi and the other Democratic Congress members in the group a photo-op that could be used to imply papal toleration of their pro-abortion positions.

Finally, the Pope made it clear that the Church is simply observing the natural law concerning the dignity of human life. While Church doctrine cannot be imposed on those that are not Catholic or on the whole society, the natural law is knowable by and binding on every human being, including those in positions of power, even those who are not Catholic. (Are you listening, President Obama?)

The Anchoress has some good points and links to others' comments on this story.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Space Pioneers and Visionaries, RIP

The past couple of days have brought reports of three pioneers in advancing the frontier in space who have passed away.

Tom Rogers was an older gentleman, a curmudgeon in the positive sense of the word, who persistently advocated for greater human access to space, including space tourism, for decades with often innovative approaches. I enjoyed meeting and talking with Tom at a number of space conferences over the years, though I'd not seen him in the last few years.

Konrad Dannenberg, a leading member of Wernher von Braun's team of rocket scientists who developed the Saturn rockets that propelled the first humans to the Moon, passed away at age 96.

Finally, Charles Gehrke was a leading lunar scientist who studied the lunar rock and soil samples who returned by the Apollo astronauts. He was chartered by NASA to identify if any life forms existed in the samples (They don't).

Signed into Law

Public Domain

President Obama signed the enormous 'stimulus package' into law today in Denver. This experiment no doubt does include some beneficial measures, most of which would have been more appropriately handled in the regular appropriations process.

The downside is the huge addition to the debt in the coming years, plus the potentially dramatic policy changes involving health care, welfare, ACORN, and other areas that most people don't expect to find in an economic 'stimulus' package.

As for the overall impact, only time will tell. Sooner or later, the economy will improve, though the huge spending can have both positive and potentially serious negative impacts. (We probably have not seen the last of the pig.) Politically, the impact will depend on the timing of the effects of this huge spending measure and whether the Republicans can effectively communicate an alternative economic vision to the American people (over the heads of the Old Media).

Saturday, February 14, 2009

NASA Direction Needed Soon

The inclusion of additional NASA funding ($1 billion, with $400 million for 'exploration')in the huge 'stimulus' package raises some intriguing issues (aside from the obvious one about the mix of useful and dubious measures in the enormous package that was just rushed through Congress). A NASA article discusses possible options to close the 'gap' between Shuttle operations and future US human spaceflight activity.
While acceleration studies have been taking place for Constellation’s Ares and Orion vehicles, the alternative options of utilizing EELV vehicles - such as the Delta IV Heavy or the Atlas V Heavy - have been touted, along with the "Direct" proposal of using their Shuttle Derived Jupiter launch vehicles - which has gained increased interest and publicity over the last couple of years - to, as they claim, save money, shorten the gap, and avoid the shedding of Orion’s capabilities, as is currently required by Ares I’s performance shortcomings.

However, any major decision on altering the architecture for future human spaceflight will depend on the Obama administration choosing new NASA leadership, which hasn't happened yet, to review the situation and make the decisions within the framework of Obama administration policy, which is still not clear. Thus, any benefit of the additional NASA money in the 'stimulus' package may be diminished by delay in decisions on new leadership and how to best proceed with the future human spaceflight program.

Satellite Collision Creates New Debris Problem

This week's collision of a US Iridium satellite with an apparently defunct Russian satellite raises concerns about why it was not predicted and the impact the resulting debris will have on other spacecraft.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Final House and Senate Passage

Public Domain

The enormous 'stimulus' package passed the Senate tonight after final House passage earlier today. President Obama is expected to sign it Monday.

Representative Tom Price (R-Ga) publicizes the haphazard process that produced this dubious legislation in this video.

In a sidelight to these developments, it was reported by Drudge that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was eager to get the bill passed quickly so that she could leave for Rome as part of a delegation that will meet with Pope Benedict XVI and with Italian legislators next week. Given her attempts to reinterpret Catholic teaching on human life, there is speculation on what kind of papal reception Pelosi will receive. More on this here.

Judd Gregg's Withdrawal Highlights Census Power Grab

Senator Judd Gregg announced yesterday that he was withdrawing his name from nomination to be Secretary of Commerce because of fundamental differences with President Obama over the 'stimulus' package and the decision to pull the 2010 census under direct White House control. While it can be argued that he should have seen the difference over economic policy before originally agreeing to be nominated, the census decision announcement came after his nomination was announced.

Given the potent political implications of next year's census, hopefully Gregg's withdrawal will attract the needed public scrutiny of the White House census plan.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Astronaut's video Lampoons NASA Bureaucracy

Astronaut Andrew Thomas has produced a video (with NASA's blessing) that depicts the frustrations of a young engineer working for a NASA contractor as she tries to introduce an innovative idea to a NASA project. The video is hilarious but sad, in that it is based on some real-life situations.

Working in the industry, I have seen some of this frustration myself, though I must also say that there are many dedicated people in management positions in the industry and at NASA who are open to innovation, and do their best in a sometimes difficult system.

'Stimulus': A Health Hazard, Senate Passage, A Mascot

Public Domain

The $800 B+ Senate version of the 'stimulus' bill passed today with votes from every voting Democrat and three Republicans, and will now go on to a conference committee to resolve differences with the House version. You can Read The Stimulus, which may be more than many senators and reps have done.

One of the most dangerous surprises coming to light in this bill is a provision that could potentially lead to health care rationing according to former New York Lt. Gov Betsy McCaughey.
Tragically, no one from either party is objecting to the health provisions slipped in without discussion. These provisions reflect the handiwork of Tom Daschle, until recently the nominee to head the Health and Human Services Department.

Finally, the pig. Animals often provide humorous images in political satire, and I felt that what this 'stimulus' bill needed was a mascot. So, I went to Public Domain, a source of images freely available for personal or business use and found the perfect mascot for this enormous piece of legislation (and probably other big spending bills to come). I haven't settled on a name yet (though "Porkulus", the nickname for the bill used by some pundits, radio talk-show hosts and bloggers, would be a good fit.)

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Born Alive, Then Killed

A Florida abortionist has lost his medical license over a botched abortion, while it was the abortion facility's owner who, according to witnesses, killed the baby after a premature birth. Tom Hoopes at the National Catholic Register raises some questions for President Obama regarding this case and his past opposition to protection of born-alive infants after attempted abortions.

$827B + $350B + ?

Public Domain

As the Senate continues to debate the enormous 'stimulus' bill, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has postponed until Tuesday announcement of plans for the second $350 billion for the second installment of the Trouble Assets Relief Program (TARP) passed by Congress in October. Adding up the stimulus and TARP (parts 1 &2) plus interest payments approaches $2 trillion.
One trillion is 1,000,000,000,000 - 10 to the 12th power, or a thousand, thousand, thousand, thousand. To put things in perspective, current estimates put the number of stars in the Milky Way at somewhere between 100 and 400 billion. The U.S. population is slightly over 303 million, and the world population is around 6.6 billion.

$1 trillion would be enough money to buy about a 1,000 boxes of Girl Scout cookies for every person in the United States. A trillion barrels of oil would - at current consumption levels - fuel the world for about 33 years.

To be fair, President Bush recently set the unfortunate precedent of rushing through the TARP package without a clear plan for making the measure effective at reviving the credit market. But that doesn't mean we should compound the error by letting President Obama intimidate us into passing an even larger spending bill with little focus or full knowledge of its contents.

A more focused and less costly bill should be passed reasonably quickly to help enable economic recovery.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

A School for the Future

NASA is teaming up with Google and leading futurists to establish a 'Singularity Institute' to study some of the biggest issues facing humanity in thhe future. The biggest challenge to this type of enterprise is thinking outside the box of any of various sets of assumptions that could blind us to the promises and perils ahead.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Secular Utopian Fantasy

Actually, several things have happened in the two weeks since Inauguration Day was supposed to usher in the new era of Hope & Change. While two weeks does not an administration make, and President Obama is probably smart enough to regain some momentum, there are no longer any expectations of spotting him walking on the Potomac.

-If sex scandals are the worst embarrassment for social conservative Republicans, then tax scandals must be the most embarrassing for big government liberal Democrats. The administration hit the trifecta, with three tax scandals causing two withdrawals from nomination in a single day (the third one who got a pass being the new Treasury Secretary, the guy who oversees the IRS.) Any chance we can finally get some Democrat support for radical tax simplification?

-The tax scandals distracted attention from what the President wanted to emphasise, trying to win support for the 'stimulus' package. This entity continues to oink and lumber its way around Capitol Hill while public skepticism continues to grow.

-It's not the 'Hope' promised during the campaign. Iran's launch of a satellite called Omid, which is Persian for 'hope' (the disturbing part being not the satellite, but the missile capability that launched it), only complicates the foreign policy challenges already facing the new administration. We can only pray that the President overcomes any naivete in foreign affairs as he deals with the world, including those powers that mean us no good.

-Americans aren't happy with the Obama decision to fund abortions through aid programs to other countries. Even many Americans who may describe themselves as 'prochoice' are appalled by the prospect of the government supporting the Planned Parenthood agenda of encouraging and subsidizing abortions everywhere.