Monday, November 29, 2010

Advent 2010 Begins

Yesterday marked the first Sunday of Advent, a time of preparation for the coming celebration of our Savior's coming at Christmas. Pope Benedict XVI welcomed the season by calling for respect for nascent human lives..
Dear brothers and sisters, our coming together this evening to begin the Advent journey is enriched by another important reason: with the entire Church, we want to solemnly celebrate a prayer vigil for unborn life. I wish to express my thanks to all who have taken up this invitation and those who are specifically dedicated to welcoming and safeguarding human life in different situations of fragility, especially in its early days and in its early stages.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

A special day set aside in our nation to give thanks to God for all His gifts to us.

Here's an interesting Thanksgiving column by the late Jerry Falwell describing some of the key people who shaped this Thabksgiving tradition. The fact that I found this column on a Baptist web site linked by a Catholic news portal site shows the growing cooperation among Christians which is yet one more thing to be thankful for.

Have a good time with family and friends and don't eat any more than I would. ;-)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Patterns in History and the Early 21st Century

Do historical events tend to follow cyclical trends over decades long periods? Are there certain opportunities for nations and humanity in general to make sudden, quantum leaps in exploration, large scale development, etc? Ever heard of a "Maslow window"?

Professor Bruce Cordell and a group of contributors maintain a web site called 21st Century Waves which is dedicated to tracking current trends in light of the past couple of centuries and make some interesting predictions about the next 10-20 years.

The authors explain their analysis as follows.
Long-term patterns in the economy, technology, and exploration over the last 200 years appear to have predictive power for the 21st Century. In particular, a roughly 56-year cycle was identified, where macro-engineering projects (e.g., Panama Canal), significant human explorations (e.g., Lewis and Clark), and major military conflicts (e.g., Civil War) tended to cluster together, near economic booms. The bottom-line forecast is that the decade from 2015 to 2025 will be the analog of the 1960s, bringing a global focus on achievement in space exploration and a Camelot-like zeitgeist.

The social/psychological force behind this pattern is explained this way.
This long-term approach to 21st Century space forecasting is based on the concept of a "Maslow Window", in which each successive economic boom (typically peaking every 56 years) does two things: 1) it fuels the societal affluence required to spur large-scale technology and engineering activities, and, more importantly, 2) it creates widespread ebullience by briefly elevating society to the highest levels in Maslow’s hierarchy. This ebullience creates the atmosphere of social well-being and confidence vital to undertake and support large, complex, risky, expensive, multi-year programs and explorations. The confluence of societal affluence and ebullience is seen only infrequently in modern times, when peaks in economic activity (following a 56 year cycle) triggered the four great explorations (Lewis and Clark, Dr. Livingstone in Africa, the Polar Expeditions, Apollo Moon) of the last 200 years.

I was in my childhood and early youth during the last "Maslow window", so the excitement and optimism of the early space age seemed normal to me and the following let down was really puzzling and disappointing. This may have shaped my personality and explain how, at least in some respects, I tend to be a stubborn optimist.

As you can see, this analysis does raise questions about events that occur outside of these 50-60 year patterns (e.g. WWII, the late 20th Century computer/information age boom) and how to deal with the downside of how these positive cycles end. What would a major 21st Century military conflict look like with more nations and other forces possessing Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs)? How would an expansion into space be sustained after a brief forward thrust? Can greater engagement of the commercial sector be the way to sustain our presence in the Solar System?

The 21st Century Waves site is frequently updated to document how current events such as the recent financial collapse and current economic doldrums and even the recent mid-term elections play into this analysis.

I've placed the site in my side bar in the space section (though it is difficult to easily categorize) so it will be interesting to see if and how these predictions play out over the next few years.

The Day Hell Froze Over

Well, one year ago today was the day a chill was cast on the subject of man made global warming, with the release on the Internet of a collection of e-mails and documents that became known as "Climategate".

Even before then, the view among scientists and the public was far from the "consensus" portrayed by much of the Media. A couple of good sources of information are Climate Debate Daily, which features articles from proponents and skeptics, and Climate Depot, a site with a definitely skeptical point of view which culls many articles from various sources.

As I've said before, climate science is a complex field that certainly merits vigorous research and monitoring, but is far from being "settled" so as to justify drastic upheavals to economic and social policy. National, security, economic growth and general environmental stewardship are all good reasons to be more efficient in use of resources and to develop new energy sources, but those can be done in a way consistent with respecting life and liberty.

Don't Touch...

The topic of new TSA screening procedures at airports is getting plenty of attention. Charles Krauthammer
expresses the growing frustration of many in the public about what is and is not being done to thwart terrorism.
We pretend that we go through this nonsense as a small price paid to assure the safety of air travel. Rubbish. This has nothing to do with safety - 95 percent of these inspections, searches, shoe removals, and pat-downs are ridiculously unnecessary. The only reason we continue to do this is that people are too cowed to even question the absurd taboo against profiling - when the profile of the airline attacker is narrow, concrete, uniquely definable, and universally known. So instead of seeking out terrorists, we seek out tubes of gel in stroller pouches.

Meanwhile, a couple of articles examine the questions of radiation safety and privacy protection with the new scanning machines.

Finally, here's a timely humorous video from Iowahawk.

I'm glad my upcoming holiday travel will all be within easy driving distance and I hope they get this whole thing straightened out before I fly again.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Brian Marsden, RIP

Dr. Brian Marsden, astronomer who specialized in cataloging discoveries of asteroids and planets at the Harvard-Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, died yesterday at age 73. I recall well having him on a panel I chaired on Near Earth Objects at the 2005 International Space Development Conference.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Eucharistic Springtime

Pope Benedict XVI today described a renewed recognition of one of the deepest truths of the Catholic Faith.
"Recalling St. Juliana of Cornillon, let us also renew our faith in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and let us assist in a very strong renewal of the Eucharist throughout the world." These were the words of the Pope who, in his general audience catechesis today, presented the life and work of this thirteenth century saint.

New US Catholic Leaders

Congratulations to Archbishop Timothy Dolan of NY who was elected President of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops and to Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, who was elected VP. The election, which defied conventional expectations, is generating analysis like this piece.

The Gift That Keeps On Giving

Nancy Pelosi was elected by Congressional Dems to be their leader in the minority. She did face a heroic challenge by prolife moderate Dem Heath Schuler.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

So What Was It?

What was that mysterious object appearing to rocket into the sky off the coast of LA last evening? It certainly looked impressive in the video from a TV station helicopter and it left US military officials (at least publicly) quite perplexed for a full day.

My curiosity led me to do a little online research on China's Sea Launch Ballistic Missile (SLBM) capabilities. Most of the descriptive information from Western experts was several years old but clearly indicated that China was pushing toward a robust SLBM capability.

The Chinese would have had the motivation, especially right now. They're probably not too pleased to see the US President moving through Asia with an entourage worthy of, well, a Chinese emperor, and might be tempted to make a upstaging show of power. And they also likely have the capability, though eluding detection to get so close to the US coast would also indicate a serious gap in our defense monitoring operations.

Anyway, a more likely, if unexpected explanation has emerged. Where you view an event from determines your perspective and how the event appears to you. What looks like an ascending missile moving away from you could also be a plane approaching leaving an expanding contrail in its wake. A more detailed explanation including previous examples of this occurrence and an illustration of the geometry of this illusion are contained in this article. Also, a likely airliner flight in the right place at the right time has been identified.

This event does bring to mind the time when I was living in California and driving east toward Yosemite with a friend on a bright sunny day when I noticed a bright trail rising vertically from the southern horizon (the direction of Vandenberg AFB, the primary US west coast launch site). I pulled over and we got out and watched for a few minutes until the object got higher (from our point of view) and it became obvious that it was simply a jetliner coming toward us.

Now, revelation of videos taken from other angles or other evidence corroborating a missile launch could change this story again, but it appears that the most mundane explanation turns out to be the most plausible.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Medical Advances

Two reports on exciting medical advances (hat tip to Glenn Reynolds):

- A possible key to unlocking how cancerous tumors resist efforts to harness the immune system against them may lead to new ways of attacking cancer.

- A discovery of a process that converts human skin cells directly into blood cells. Wesley Smith describes how this development could really revolutionize some therapies and do so in an ethical manner.

Clarity Please!

Glenn Reynolds says the newly invigorated Republicans' approach to the Democrats shouldn't be all compromise nor all confrontation, but that they should take a stand for clarity.
Sometimes, of course, compromises can bring clarity -- when it's clear what's being given up, and what's gained in exchange. Generally speaking, though, the Washington approach is to pretend that there's a free lunch, rather than to acknowledge the trade-offs.

Ed Morrisey has some further thoughts.
People honestly disagree on policy and political philosophy. Congress gives us a forum for confrontation and compromise. Representative democracy requires elected officials to be accountable for their votes in Congress, and clarity is an absolute necessity for that process to work. Passing 3,000-page bills doesn’t add to clarity, nor do back-room deals with opaque codicils for favored interests. As Glenn says, confrontation forces those issues out into the sunlight.

The Tide Goes Out, Comes Back In

Charles Krauthammer writes that last week's election simply reversed the Democratic gains of 2006 and 2008 (with a little extra margin in the House).
Or to put it numerically, the Republican wave of 2010 did little more than undo the two-stage Democratic wave of 2006 to 2008, in which the Democrats gained 54 House seats combined (precisely the size of the anti-Democratic wave of 1994). In 2010 the Democrats gave it all back, plus about an extra ten seats or so for good - chastening - measure.

Yet Michael Barone says the Republicans gained some more enduring strength by advancing in many of the states.
Republicans look to have a bigger advantage in this redistricting cycle they've ever had before. It appears that in the states that will have more than five districts (you can make only limited partisan difference in smaller states) Republicans will control redistricting in 13 states with a total of 165 House districts and Democrats will have control in only four states with a total of 40 districts. You can add Minnesota (seven or eight districts) to the first list if the final count gives Republicans the governorship and New York (27 or 28 districts) to the second list if the final count gives Democrats the state Senate.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Comet Closeup

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UMD

NASA's EPOXI mission made a flyby of Comet Hartley 2 on Thursday taking spectacular closeup images of this celestial visitor. This same spacecraft delivered the Deep Impact probe to a collision with another comet five years ago, as reported here at LATF. The University of Maryland played a leading role in this mission.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Riding the Wave

The Day After: Yesterday's historic national wave that turned over the House and restored a closer balance to the Senate is quite exciting, even though not unexpected (with a few races TBD). The victories of Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Pat Toomey (kudos to my native state) and others represent a welcome conservative resurgence to at least a more balanced government after the last couple years of a frenzied liberal agenda.

Of course there were heartbreaks, starting here in Maryland with the loss of Bob Ehrlich's run for Governor and other good state and local candidates, while a bright spot is the addition of Andy Harris to Congress. Also sorry to see O'Donnell, Angle and Fiorina lose their Senate races (Hard to take California keeping Boxer and recycling Jerry Brown for Governor).

Overall, however, this is a fresh start for our country, with a galvanized grassroots citizens movement that will hopefully remain vigilant at keeping both parties accountable for living up to the principles of life and liberty that our nation was founded on.

I need to get back to a more normal bedtime schedule but they'll be plenty of fallout to watch and possibly comment on in the coming days.

Monday, November 01, 2010

The Time for Decision Is at Hand

In a few days I’ll have time to clean up my house, get more rest, take an autumn hike on a mountain trail, spend more time at than I do at, etc.. These have been the final days of phone-calling, sign-posting, blogging and Election Day at the polls activities tomorrow. Kathryn Jean Lopez wrote last week of her similar feelings of loving the importance and excitement of politics with a yearning for a post-election respite.

I voted early here in Maryland last week, casting my vote for Bob Ehrlich for Governor and the rest of the team fighting to bring some balance to my state and county. For those who haven't had the chance to vote already, tomorrow is your chance to have your say in the future of your community state and country. Whatever your politics, whatever your mood, it's important to take time out of your normal frantic life to cast your vote

I'm encouraged by the nationwide polling trends and have high hope for races I've been watching in other states including Pennsylvania, California Nevada and, yes, Delaware for character and optimism to win out over widespread cynicism. However, the only poll that counts is the election itself and now is no time for complacency. Get out and vote and bring others along with you.

I heard one pundit this evening say that we may be sailing on uncharted waters. The choice of world views is stark, between a culture of death and an increasingly oppressive state v. a culture of life and a new birth of freedom. Here is a link to prayer for guidance at this critical time.