Heinlein Centennial web site
send e-mail to A Voyage To Arcturus (note: Spam Arrest is on, so a one-time-only confirmation will be requested)

[ 20040331 ]

Those Record-High Gas Prices

Let's step into Lynne Kiesling territory for a moment and try to figure the real effect of those supposedly record-high gas prices.

In the following, all dollar inputs have been adjusted to 2004 prices with the Inflation Calculator.

1980 inputs:

1980 portion of per capita real disposable personal income spent on gasoline: 3.9%

2004 inputs:

2004 portion of per capita real disposable personal income spent on gasoline: 2.6%

I think we've found the answer why, as the Fox News story put it, "motorists will ... drive as much as ever."

Jay Manifold [6:00 PM]

Titan Gets Cooler Still

(Earlier posts about Titan are here and here.).

As we used to say back in the not-particularly-good old days, this is gonna knock you on your ass:

Wind speeds of 20 km/h [12½ mph -- JDM] produce waves five metres high (16 feet). This is seven times as high as those produced on Earth by the same wind speed, although Titan's lower gravity makes the waves more widely spaced and slower moving.

However, the wind speed estimates used are conservative and could be higher, generating truly giant waves. "It would be pretty scary if you're surfing - big waves take on a whole new meaning on Titan," [planetary scientist Nadeem] Ghafoor told New Scientist.

If that doesn't remind you of the surfer scene in Lucifer's Hammer, you need to (re-)read it.

Jay Manifold [3:59 PM]

Annular Eclipse (II)

In this earlier post, I rashly promised to post any submissions of attempts to calculate the distance of Phobos from Opportunity, based on a striking but understandably fuzzy photo of the inner moon of Mars transiting the Sun's disk as seen from the probe's location in Meridiani Planum. Things promptly got hectic and my posting has been erratic at best, largely because I've been traveling on business (I'm in central Florida at the moment).

But a promise is a promise, and just because I've broken dozens of them since I started this blog doesn't mean that I drop the ball every time. Herewith, the results of the first astro-calculation contest on Arcturus:

Eli underestimates only himself, not the distance; a hint is that Ric got essentially the same result. The apparent discrepancy of 2,150 km is easily accounted for, as the 9,378 km distance (source) is from Phobos to the center of Mars, and the probe is, of course, on the surface. Since Mars' diameter is 6,794 km, a vantage point on its surface could be as little as 5,981 km from Phobos, depending on the geometry of the view.

Indeed, since the actual distance probably was at least a thousand kilometers more than this, and Opportunity is fairly close to the equator, which is also the plane of the orbits of the moons of Mars, we may infer that the transit could not have taken place at local noon, when the distance would be minimized.

Eli also wrote: "These astronomical puzzles are fun. I'd like to see more of them." Hmmm ... possible focus for more blogging, especially if it keeps the ol' readership engaged. It's all about the page views -- and the math, of course. ;)

Jay Manifold [3:39 PM]

Rock Block the Vote!

Graze on over to Horseman of the Arcturcalypse Alan Henderson's blog for some election-related merchandise.

Jay Manifold [4:47 AM]

[ 20040330 ]

Alistair Cooke, 1908-2004

(See this recent post for my comment on his retirement.) AP obit here; NYTimes obit here; UPI obit here (page down). Requiescat in pace.

Jay Manifold [9:08 AM]

[ 20040329 ]

Cryptosporidium parvum Defeated?

Just a follow-up to an event mentioned in a couple of prior posts, The Machine Recovers and KC Terror Follow-Up, namely the Milwaukee cryptosporidium outbreak of 1993, an event comparable to a full-scale bioterrorist attack:

The official toll: 403,000 sickened, 44,000 doctor visits, 4,400 hospitalized, more than 100 deaths, 725,000 lost work or school days, $96 million in lost wages and medical expenses and $90 million for a new water purification system.

Now The Scientist has Decoding Cryptosporidium, where we find:

The ability of cryptosporidiosis to cause such massive outbreaks and its resistance to standard water treatment regimens have caused concern over the potential use of C. parvum as an agent of bioterrorism, and the US Centers for Disease Control now lists it as a category B pathogen, together with Escherichia coli and Salmonella.

But now we have its complete genome sequence -- the ultimate Trojan Horse:

... according to Boris Striepen, of the University of Georgia's Center for Tropical and Emerging Diseases .... the most important finding from the genome sequence is how streamlined its metabolism is. “Biosynthesis is reduced to practically nothing… They completely depend on salvage for most of the molecules they use,” he said. This should make them vulnerable to drugs that destroy the parasites' scavenging systems, and Striepen is currently working to disable the enzymes that import nucleotides into the organism.

One less weapon in the arsenal of terror? We can hope ...

Jay Manifold [3:46 PM]

[ 20040327 ]

Yikes (II)

(Original post here.) Previously unknown reader Susan Kendrick wrote in to suggest that I should have called it an asteroid rather than a meteoroid, since it didn't actually hit us. In the event, Dictionary.com backs me up on this, but it's a reasonable point, especially since the size criterion isn't defined. While I would certainly always refer to a 1-km impactor as an asteroid, and a 10-meter one as a meteoroid, there's a range in between where it's hard to decide. The boundary line, for me, is around 300 meters, which is also conveniently near 1,000 feet.

Separately, previously unknown reader Andrew Lloyd asked why I'd be afraid of an oceanic strike, since 2004 FH might have exploded in the atmosphere. Well, my original post did say "oceanic impact point." But what would it have done, if it had made it all the way through the atmosphere?

Turning to a comment on this post on Chicago Boyz, we find my back-of-the-envelope calculation regarding an impactor that may have started the Great Chicago Fire, among other things. Relevant excerpts:

A median case, which I assume is for the Pacific Ocean, is described in this abstract. Characterizing the Pacific as a circle of area 155.6 million square km (source), a "median" impact, placed such that half of that area is on either side of a circle with the radius of its location, would occur just under 5,000 km from shore. The stated size of the median impactor is 300 m in diameter and the stated wave height at the shore is 11 meters, with wave penetration of 500-1000 m inshore.

Wave height should vary inversely as the square of the distance to impact and directly as the cube of impactor diameter.

In this case, the impactor diameter shrinks by one full order of magnitude, reducing impactor mass, kinetic energy, and wave height by three orders of magnitude. Reducing distance to impact to 100 km, however, increases wave height by a factor of 2,500, yielding 28 m (92').

Turning to this page, we find that a wave height of 7' (2 m) above the highest point on Galveston Island would essentially reproduce the effects of the 1900 Storm, "the deadliest natural disaster in U.S. history." Thanks to the 17' (5 m) seawall (constructed at the recommendation of Army Corps of Engineers Gen H M Robert, the same man who drafted Robert's Rules of Order) and Galveston's present elevation of 20' (6 m), wave height would need to be at least 8 m (26'). An object the size of 2004 FH and composed of materials adequate for penetrating Earth's atmosphere and striking the ocean intact could have done this from 190 km (120 mi) out in the Gulf of Mexico -- or even several times that distance if it was pure nickel-iron and hitting us head-on from a highly eccentric, retrograde orbit (like the Leonids).

Now let's have some (more) fun. The object came within 43,000 km of Earth, moving at 7 km sec-1 or thereabouts (that's its average inside the Moon's orbit; peak velocity was probably about 10 km sec-1), and was bright enough to be seen in binoculars.

How close would it have to be to be naked-eye visible, and how fast would it appear to move? I infer that its visual magnitude was about +10; if we wanted to make it obvious even in the presence of city lights, it would have to be thousands of times brighter, buzzing us at only 500 km or so. At that distance, it would be traveling at least at escape velocity; let's call it 12 km sec-1. From directly beneath, it would cross the zenith at around 1°23' per second. Visually it would look like a slightly fainter, faster-moving version of the International Space Station. Since it would subtend only about 12" of arc, it would appear as a point of light, but binoculars would show a small disk.

A 1-km object at 2004 FH's distance would, ceterus paribus, shine at about mag +2.5, as bright as the stars in the Big Dipper. Large, powerful binoculars might show a small disk, but a small telescope would be better. Proper motion would be about five-sixths of a degree per minute, perceptible to the unaided eye and quite obvious in a telescope.

But at 500 km, it would appear nearly a quarter the size of the full Moon and shine at mag -7, ten times brighter than Venus; from the point directly below closest approach, it would move across the sky in about 7 minutes.

So I'm hoping that they discover another one that's a lot bigger, comes a lot closer, or both. And that it's visible from my part of the world, of course. ;)

Jay Manifold [10:19 AM]

[ 20040326 ]

Sedna Follow-Up

Previously unknown reader (the best kind) Theresa wrote in to ask when Sedna's perihelion passage is. I dug around for a while and found this paper (warning: 333 kB *.pdf) off of Mike Brown's page; turning to page 5, we find:

The best fit BK200 orbit for the full set of 2001-2003 data yields a current heliocentric distance (r) of 90.32±0.02, a semimajor axis (a) of 480±40AU, an eccentricity e of 0.84±0.01, and an inclination i of 11.927. The object reaches perihelion at a distance of 76 AU on 22 September 2075±260 days.

That is, right around my 116th birthday ... while I'm at it, I should also issue a correction; my original post referred to Sedna as a KBO, but as Mike Brown points out, that's one thing it definitely isn't:

Sedna never enters the region of the Kuiper belt. The Kuiper belt is an icy asteroid belt just beyond Neptune. Extremely strong evidence shows that it has a rather sharp edge at 50 AU. Sedna never comes close than 76 AU. Calling Sedna an inner Oort cloud object makes much more sense.

Jay Manifold [10:10 AM]

Contest Contest Follow-Up

Previously acknowledged reader "Reason" sends this update: "The Methuselah Mouse prize has passed both $50,000 in cash (another $300,000 in pledges) and 100 donors (including folks like Ray Kurzweil and the founder of Human Genome Sciences) this week. Everyone involved is very pleased with progress since the launch last year."

Read all about it here.

Jay Manifold [9:50 AM]

Sociological Phenomenon of the Week (IV)

Well, so much for that theory:

The Institute for Jewish & Community Research surveyed 1,003 adults in early March and found that 2 percent believed that Jews today are responsible for killing Jesus. An ABC poll before the movie's release had found that 8 percent held such beliefs.

Although differences in wording and methodology could account for the drop, a consultant who worked on the post-movie poll said the discussion of interfaith issues surrounding the film might have had beneficial effects. Of the 146 respondents who had seen the movie, 5 percent said the movie made them more likely to hold Jews responsible for Jesus' death but 12 percent said the film made them less likely to do so.

Unsurprisingly, American society's tendency to move things in a benign direction continues to operate. We don't hear much about this sort of thing because it's not man-bites-dog news -- more like dogs-stop-biting news. Meanwhile, in a subscriber-only link, Bruce Bower reports in Science News that movie audiences' brain activity synchs up:

Brains "tick collectively" as a group of people watches an event such as a movie, propose Uri Hasson of New York University and his coworkers.

At any point during the movie, an average of 30 percent of the localized blood-flow increases in a given volunteer's brain corresponded to those of any other volunteer ...

(The movie they used? This one.)

Jay Manifold [9:44 AM]

What I'd Do If I Were Rich And Had No Scruples

-- as I said to the Friday lunch bunch a while back, is start buying up lots of old hard drives and recovering the data from them. Well, somebody's doing it; the article, which got to #4 on Blogdex a couple of days ago, is a suitably lurid depiction of the Information Age version of Matthew 12:36:

Much of the data we found was truly shocking. One of the drives once lived in an ATM. It contained a year's worth of financial transactions—including account numbers and withdrawal amounts—from a organization that had a legal requirement to not divulge such information. Two other drives contained more than 5,000 credit card numbers—it looked as if one had been inside a cash register. Another had e-mail and personal financial records of a 45-year-old fellow in Georgia. The man is divorced, paying child support and dating a woman he met in Savannah. And, oh yeah, he's really into pornography.

RTWT; fortunately, there are methods of truly eliminating your old data that don't require you to have your own blast furnace.

Jay Manifold [9:43 AM]

[ 20040321 ]

Guest Post on eTalkinghead

My first guest post on eTalkinghead is up. Graze on over for a dose of, in this case, demographics.

Jay Manifold [12:03 PM]

[ 20040318 ]


We're having an exceptionally close call today, when 2004 FH, a 30-meter-diameter meteoroid, whizzes by only 43,000 km overhead at 4:08 PM CST. This is so near that its trajectory will be bent by 15°!

Since it "spends most of its time between the Earth and Mercury," it must be made of relatively refractory materials, as opposed to being mostly ice. For simplicity's sake, assume it's a perfect sphere with bulk density twice that of water, ie 2 metric tons per cubic meter. Relative velocity is about 7 kilometers per second, but if it were to have hit us, the extra acceleration provided by Earth's gravity during the final minutes would have increased this to 18.

Applying V = 4
pr3/3 and KE = ½mv2, I get 4.6 × 1015 J; with 1 kg TNT = 4.2 MJ, this works out to 1.1 megatons. So while the New Scientist article correctly states that "2004 FH is too small to cause widespread damage should it hit the Earth," I wouldn't want to be within, say, half an hour's drive at highway speed of the hypocenter. Or within several hundred kilometers of an oceanic impact point.

Jay Manifold [12:58 PM]

Tastes Just Like ...

In the good clean fun category, we find Chris Genovese of Signal + Noise pointing to a book that "describes in detail how to make a mounted specimen of Apatosaurus out of chicken bones." A newer book covers T. Rex. It's supposed to be for kids, but I suspect adults will enjoy it at least as much. Nice way to underscore the dinosaur-bird relationship, of course, as well as reinforce the orderly interrelatedness of all life on Earth. I daresay that projects like this stand a whole lot better chance of imbuing the rising generation with an attitude of wonder and gratitude than mere classroom instruction (especially classroom instruction straitjacketed by things like this).

Jay Manifold [6:53 AM]

[ 20040317 ]

Today's Reading

I'm a bit busy, and I know everybody's desperate for a fix while Glenn Reynolds is on vacation, so amuse yourselves this St Patrick's Day by reading John J. Reilly's The Irish Empire, and reflect on what might have been.

Jay Manifold [5:43 PM]

[ 20040316 ]

Annular Eclipse

-- at Meridiani Planum, that is; if you haven't already seen this jaw-dropping photo, graze on over here, pick "Mars Rover Photo Journal: Opportunity Explores, Feb. 18-March 15, 2004," and go to the 2nd picture in the series. It shows Phobos crossing the solar disk as seen by the rover. As far as I know, no such transit has ever been photographed from a spacecraft before.

Arcturus readers wishing to practice a little trig are invited to calculate the distance of Phobos from Opportunity. Inputs: distance to Sun, ~230 million km; diameter of Sun, ~1.4 million km; mean diameter of Phobos, 22 km. You'll have to squint at the photo for a while to estimate how much of the Sun's apparent diameter is subtended by the silhouette of the moon. Send your estimates here, and I'll post them sometime in the next few days. Show your work for extra credit. ;)

Jay Manifold [7:45 PM]

“Don’t protrude the tartness and keenness out the staircase.”

Those of you who prefer your humor to be at the expense of others -- and I know I do -- should immediately graze on over to Engrish.com, where helpless ESL translators, mostly east Asian, are endlessly mocked. (Via Byzantium's Shores, which has me wondering who Vivienne was.)

This reminds me of my sneaking suspicion that the ideographs on Chinese restaurants that ostensibly translate to innocuous names like "China Palace" and "Golden House" actually mean, say, "A Curse on the Round-Eyed Western Devils to the Thousandth Generation."

Jay Manifold [7:44 PM]

Finally, A Local Blogger Meetup

First one since last August, I believe. Or at any rate the first one since then that I'll be at. Wednesday (yes, it's St Pat's), 7 PM, someplace called "Side Pockets" at 13320 W 87, which is just east of Pflumm and on the north side of the street.

UPDATE: Never mind. It's cancelled because < 5 people confirmed.

Jay Manifold [7:03 AM]

[ 20040315 ]

Sedna Update

News release here; graphics accessible via this page.

Sedna is, perhaps, larger than Quaoar but smaller than Pluto; its surface is nearly as red as that of Mars -- though this is hardly likely the result of iron oxides -- and it is near the perihelion of a highly eccentric orbit (e ~ 0.85). Even this distance is at least 2½ times as far from the Sun as Neptune. Sedna is actually in the evening sky now, where it forms a southward-pointing nearly-equilateral triangle with Mars and Venus; but at magnitude +20.5, you won't be seeing it -- it's over 600,000 times too faint to be visible by the unaided human eye on Earth.

Some great background reading is at Mike Brown's Sedna page, including: "Standing on the surface of Sedna, you could block the entire Sun with the head of a pin held at arm's length" and "the first confirmation of the existence of Sedna was made at Tenagra Observatory, an extremely high-end amateur telescope run by Michael Schwartz in southern Arizona."

As I've said before, now to see how it plays. Notwithstanding its physical and psychological remoteness, I expect Sedna to arouse a good deal of interest. OTOH, I also expect a certain amount of silly discussion of whether or not Pluto is a planet (see Mike Brown's page, linked above, for a constructive suggestion). More positively, the news release has this intriguing suggestion:

[Dr. Mike] Brown[, California Institute of Technology,] said this "inner Oort cloud" may have been formed by gravity from a rogue star near the Sun in the solar system's early days.

"The star would have been close enough to be brighter than the full moon, and it would have been visible in the daytime sky for 20,000 years," Brown explained. Worse, it would have dislodged comets farther out in the Oort cloud, leading to an intense comet shower that could have wiped out some or all forms of life that existed on Earth at the time.

Jay Manifold [1:00 PM]

[ 20040314 ]

Planet X?

The Spitzer Space Telescope, which is the subject of this post from December, has found a Kuiper Belt Object which may be larger than Pluto and therefore regarded as a tenth "planet."

I am among those who would prefer that Pluto be reclassified as the largest (or next-largest) KBO, notwithstanding my enormous admiration for Clyde Tombaugh's accomplishment. But I expect this story to capture the public imagination and thereby indirectly further astronomical progress.

Jay Manifold [8:26 PM]

Happy 125th, Albert

The JPost weighs in with The Einstein papers. But not all Einstein-related work is archival in nature; further confirmation of general relativity is the subject of this astonishingly long-lived project (hat tip: Mike Daley):

"We've waited 40 years. What's another few months?" [Stanford researcher Francis] Everitt said. "It's nothing like what the medieval cathedral-builders had to go through."

RTWT -- if possible, while listening to Kerry Livgren's musical tribute.

Jay Manifold [8:21 AM]

Results -- and Implications -- of Actual Contest

Well, nobody won this $1 million. And while we are undoubtedly about to be treated to a torrent of ignorant commentary from technological illiterates and type Ns, no one familiar with development lifecycles in general -- or the Law of Accelerating Returns in particular -- will regard this requirement as infeasible:

Congress has ordered that a large number of the military's tanks, supply trucks and other ground vehicles be capable of driving themselves -- with no human behind the wheel, or behind the lines with a remote-control joystick -- by 2015.

Given that the problems to be solved and mass production to be achieved within 11 years are much more demanding than those associated with ordinary civilian vehicles driving on paved and signalized or limited-access roads and streets, we may confidently expect ubiquitous, affordable, entirely automated passenger cars within a generation.

Which will in turn utterly destroy a major barrier that today protects most public places from unwelcome intrusion: accessibility by automobile only. The operation of an automobile requires training, licensing, and financial wherewithal. But turn them into robotic taxis, and drunks, panhandlers, schizos, and undifferentiated vagrants can go anywhere, no longer confined to high-density areas where they can eke out an existence on foot and via public transit.

I expect that every major city in the US has at least one shopping mall that has been, in effect, shut down due to easy access by large numbers of people with, as we say, poor impulse control. These effects are beginning to spread to standalone retailers as well. Comfy chair counter-revolution? You ain't seen nothin' yet.

Notwithstanding her occasional libertarian sympathies, I'm not much of a Molly Ivins fan, largely because her standards of accuracy and sourcing pale by comparison to those of, say, the top several hundred current-events bloggers. But some of her images have stayed with me, and one from about twenty years back is apposite: the contrast between a four-star restaurant in DC with its elite clientele, and mentally ill homeless people shrieking incomprehensibly in the street just outside. That's the future, folks.

I am optimistic, but not utopian. Ever-increasing prosperity is not to be disparaged, but it has allowed, and will further enable, ever-larger numbers of people unwilling or incapable of personal responsibility to survive -- indeed, thanks to 21st-century medical advances, to survive indefinitely. Organizations like this one are not going out of business anytime soon.

Jay Manifold [8:21 AM]

[ 20040313 ]

The blowing of a single autumn leaf. He turned

and the Mechanical Hound was there.

(Post inspired by this Phil Carter piece in Slate. And Ray Bradbury, of course.)

Jay Manifold [10:09 AM]

The Planet in the Morning Sky

-- of Mars, that is: tied for #10 on Blogdex, Earth as seen from Gusev Crater. And tied for #27, a view from a much closer vantage point, courtesy of Astrobiology magazine.

Jay Manifold [9:09 AM]

[ 20040312 ]

The Next Day

Via the indispensable Joe Katzman, this typically insightful comment by Gerald van der Leun:

Do I dread the day when the next strike on America happens? I dread it deeply.

But what really frightens me is what happens on the next day.

Me too.

Jay Manifold [5:16 PM]

[ 20040310 ]

A Hit, A Very Palpable Hit

Earth may have been hit by an asteroid a full kilometer in diameter only 500 years ago, reports Sid Perkins in Science News:

Scientists may have discovered the impact site of one big space rock that smacked into the South Pacific just a few hundred years ago. In eastern Australia, researchers have found jumbled deposits of rocks more than 130 m above sea level that they propose were left by a tsunami. That debris has been dated to about A.D. 1500—a date that matches when the Maori people inexplicably moved away from some areas of New Zealand's coast, says Stephen F. Pekar, a sedimentologist at Queens College in New York. On New Zealand's Stewart Island, two sites sport possible tsunami deposits at elevations of 150 m and 220 m, respectively.

I leave it to my Aussie and Kiwi readers to imagine and describe the effects of the same impact occurring four or five hundred years later. Looking at a map, we find that residents of Auckland, Hobart, and Sydney, among other places, would have a Bad Day. For as the scientific detective story continues:

The source locations and heights of waves that could have lofted materials to those elevations steered the search for the impact's ground zero to beneath the sea southwest of New Zealand, says Pekar. Sure enough, he and his colleagues have discovered a crater there that's about 20 km wide and about 150 m deep. Samples of sediment taken from the seafloor southeast of the crater, but not those obtained elsewhere around the crater, contain small mineral globules called tektites, one hallmark of an extraterrestrial impact. That pattern suggests that an object may have struck from the northwest—a path that would have taken the blazing bolide over southeastern Australia, where aboriginal legends mention just such a fireball.

The rock that created tsunamis off New Zealand 500 years ago may have been around 1 km across, the researchers say.

Atlantic coastal dwellers needn't feel left out:

[Steven N.] Ward [of the University of California, Santa Cruz] and his colleagues previously estimated that a 1-km-wide asteroid slamming into the Atlantic Ocean about 600 km off North Carolina could send 130-m-tall tsunamis over beaches from Cape Hatteras to Cape Cod within 2 hours. In 8 hours, tsunamis between 30 and 50 m tall would scour European coasts.

Interested (or terrified) readers may wish to graze on over to Tech Central Station for Glenn's latest, then read my earlier ideas for how to manage the risk, A Modest Proposal for an Asteroid Warning System and Asteroid Detection, Again.

Jay Manifold [7:51 PM]

Contest Contest Update Update

A few more contest contest entries have come in over the past week:

And I'm pretty sure I've misplaced at least one entry, so there's likely to be at least one more post in this series, which means there's still time to send your ideas in!

Jay Manifold [7:21 PM]

Sociological Phenomenon of the Week (III)

(Previous post in series here.) Just a couple of quick notes ... via Google News, an unfavorable review from a Messianic Jew; and an absolute must-read, in MIT's Technology Review of all places, The Christian Media Counterculture. If my readers may forgive me a possibly eye-rolling-inducing statement: a proper understanding of early-21st-century American society is simply impossible without knowledge of the phenomena discussed in this article ...

Rather than rejecting popular culture outright, a growing number of Christians are producing and consuming their own popular media on the fringes of the mainstream entertainment industry. Still others are gathering in church basements and living rooms to promote their own brand of media literacy—seeing commercial culture as a “window” into the culture of unbelievers. What we see here is consistent with what media scholars have found within other subcultural communities—a desire to make and distribute your own media and the desire to challenge and critique mainstream media.

While many Christians have felt cut off from mass media, they have been quick to embrace new technologies—such as videotape, cable television, low-wattage radio stations, and the Internet—that allow them to route around established gatekeepers.

What I respect about the Christian discernment movement is that it is educating people to make meaningful choices and giving them a conceptual framework for talking about what kinds of ideas get expressed through the media they consume. These folk have been willing to defend popular media against others in their same religious denominations who would denounce them. They hold firm in their own beliefs and they have not renounced their desire to see such beliefs become a more powerful force in our culture, but they have created an approach that respects diversity of opinion and civility of expression.

Thou shalt Read The Whole Thing.

Jay Manifold [7:21 PM]

Memo to Karl Rove

Better hire John J. Reilly right now, before Kerry snaps him up. (Warning: Consumption of beverages while browsing that link is strongly contraindicated.)

Jay Manifold [7:21 PM]

[ 20040309 ]

Alistair Cooke Retires

Via Beyond Northern Iraq, I find that Alistair Cooke has retired at age 95. The final Letter from America is here.

For those of us of a certain age, this paragraph from the Wikipedia entry carries the most meaning:

Alistair Cooke's America, a 13-part television series about the United States and its history, was first broadcast in both Britain and the US in 1973, and was followed by a book of the same title. It was a great success in both countries, and resulted in Cooke being invited to address the joint Houses of the United States Congress as part of Congress's bicentennial celebrations. Alistair Cooke has said that, of all his work, Alistair Cooke's America is what he is most proud of; it is the result and expression of his long love of America. (Cooke was once asked how long it took him to make the series. "I do not want to be coy," he replied, "but it took 40 years.")

(I have blogged items from Letter from America here and here.)

Jay Manifold [9:53 AM]

[ 20040308 ]

The Substance of Style in Space?

That's the gist of Survival in space:

Since 1998, a team of students and professors at Lund University’s Department of Architecture and Development Studies in Stockholm have been cooperating closely with NASA to develop futuristic planetary habitats.

The aim is to pay more attention to the human factor of space exploration. Better designed products and environments aboard a space ship or space station could help astronauts stay more comfortable, as well as healthier, happier and more alert. Especially on a Mars journey, which would last for years.

Relevant webpages are here and here.

Jay Manifold [7:13 AM]

[ 20040307 ]

Schedule of Bribes

Inspired by this, I'm taking this opportunity to notify any purveyors of soft money of what's for sale on Arcturus, and for how much.

I don't come cheap. If I'm going to sell my ideals for a suitcase full of cash, I want to be able to put it in a mutual fund and live comfortably indefinitely by withdrawing 5% of it each year. My idea of comfort is US$150,000/yr out here in flyover country, so the price floor is $3 million.

OK, now that your expectations have been set, here's the list, which is subject to expansion:

No instructions as to how to contact me to deliver the bribe. Anybody with that kind of money to spend can start by spending a little to track me down. ;)

Jay Manifold [7:55 PM]

[ 20040306 ]

Victims' Relatives Upset By Presidential Campaign Ad

Over on Transterrestrial Musings, Rand Simberg has unearthed another long-lost news story from WWII. And this one has definitely flushed the humorless pr... uh, persons, from the underbrush.

Jay Manifold [8:47 PM]

Spot The Silly

Any blogger keying off this in the next few days might as well have SILLY written across their forehead. Irresistible bait for every self-absorbed, self-proclaimed online humorist: "Pancreatitis, in which the pancreas is inflamed, can be caused by excessive consumption of alcohol or, in Ashcroft's case, a gallstone that becomes lodged in the bile duct, blocking the passage of digestive enzymes into the small intestine." Sly references to alcohol! Gall! Bile! Hilarity ensues!

On the other hand, this (108 kB *.pdf) wasn't funny at all. And John Ashcroft probably bears the single greatest share of responsibility for it. Oddly enough, I think there might be more constructive responses to Ashcroft's mistakes than dancing on his grave ICU bed, but that's just me.

Jay Manifold [7:16 AM]

[ 20040305 ]

The Silly Party

In a column which inevitably reminded me of this, we find Hugh Hewitt purporting to divide us into the serious and the silly. Now, out of fairness, I'll ask that you go ahead and read it (600 words, 2-3 minutes), even though it's a waste of time, because I'm about to emphasize just how much of a waste of time it is.

A mirror-image column would write itself: Silly people listen to Rush Limbaugh. Silly people think that we need to go to Mars. Silly people think that attacking Iraq was the way to respond to Saudi terror. And so on. But I'm not going to write that column, partly because I actually agree with at least half of Hewitt's stances and partly because it would just be too easy.

Instead, I'm going to channel Jeff Foxworthy and come up with my own list. It's a waste of time, too. Anybody can do it; and if everybody did it, we'd be no better off than we were before. So, in the spirit of "You Might Be A Redneck If ...," I present "You Might Not Be Serious If ...," dedicated to Hugh Hewitt:

And finally ...

If you speak, read, or write only in ways that reinforce your own and other peoples' existing prejudices, you definitely aren't being serious.

Jay Manifold [7:44 PM]

Attention: Groupies, Stalkers, Etc

I'll be making a special appearance at Powell Observatory tomorrow morning at 10 AM to ... help clean the place up. Just look for the guy doing something that doesn't involve any intelligence, mechanical aptitude, or physical strength.

Jay Manifold [7:43 PM]


By the rovers themselves!

Jay Manifold [3:56 PM]

V838 Mon and Van Gogh

V838 Monocerotis revisited: Space phenomenon imitates art, says the ESA in a story that actually made it onto CNN Headline News yesterday, partly because of the stunning image and partly because of this comparison (emphasis added):

"Starry Night", Vincent van Gogh's famous painting, is renowned for its bold whorls of light sweeping across a raging night sky. Although this image of the heavens came only from the artist's restless imagination, a new picture from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope bears remarkable similarities to the Van Gogh work, complete with never-before-seen spirals of dust swirling across trillions of kilometres of interstellar space.

During David Levy's recent appearance, he pointed out that a sketch of the Whirlpool Nebula, M51 (page down), done as part of a sight test for the Leviathan of Parsontown, became the frontispiece of a Camille Flammarion book, Les Etoiles, which Van Gogh is known to have read (page down to "Painting of a Whirlpool"); it is likely that this was the inspiration for the swirls in The Starry Night.

Strict historical accuracy aside, there's a lesson here for anyone wanting to get a space story into the news -- or save the Hubble. Such rhetorical devices as the ESA employed are the tools of public persuasion. Take it away, Dr Cline.

(Much of the observational work on V838 Mon has been conducted by amateurs. The object itself is at a = 07h 04m 05s, d = -03° 50'.8; browsing a map, we find that V838 Mon is about halfway between Sirius and Procyon, and just a bit to the right [west], toward Orion's belt.)

Jay Manifold [8:15 AM]

Road Trip (II)

Currently tied for #7 on Blogdex: Upon completion of the construction noted here, I look forward to a ride through this area ... "map shows level of radiation on asphalt, usually on the middle of road, because on edge of road it is twice as higher and if you step 1 meter off the road it 4 or 5 times higher" [sic].

Jay Manifold [6:46 AM]

[ 20040304 ]

Contest Contest Update

Thanks to a largely undeserved link from Virginia, I've been getting a "Postrelanche" (or perhaps a Dynalanche) over the past couple of days, which -- while about an order of magnitude smaller than an Instalanche -- has resulted in several hundred extra visitors, who are all most welcome.

Several contributed entries for the contest contest, providing further proof that my readers are smarter than I am:

Keep 'em coming, folks. The deadline is whenever I get bored with this, and that hasn't happened yet. New readers may also wish to browse through the results of this earlier contest, which is probably the single most fun thing I've ever blogged.

Jay Manifold [11:06 AM]

Tragic Results of Administration Policy

A friend in Israel sends this:

Dear DNC and Senator Kerry,

I would first of all like to congratulate Senator Kerry on his nomination and also thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak my mind.

I lost my job this past year. When Clinton was president, I worked in a prosperous enterprise. But in this last year, we had to close our operations. Far worse, I lost two of my sons in Bush's evil war in Iraq. They gave their lives for their country, and for what?

My pain of losing my sons is indescribable. While it is trivial next to the loss of my sons, I regret to say that I also lost my homes. I simply had nothing left.

I am a senior citizen with various medical problems. I'm not in a position where I can begin a new career. I was reduced to the point where I was homeless, all because of President Bush. And when the authorities found me, did they have any compassion for my misfortune and ailments? No, I was arrested. If I had any money left, I would donate it to the Democratic party.

If Al Gore had been elected in 2000, I guarantee you, I would still have a job, a home, and most importantly, my sons!


Saddam Hussein


Jay Manifold [9:32 AM]

[ 20040302 ]

Not So Dramatic

-- as my earlier supposition, but pretty cool: listening to the NASA news conference, the announcement is that in the main outcropping, "Opportunity Ledge," investigated by the Opportunity rover, "the rocks here were once soaked in liquid water .... we believe that for this place on Mars, for some period of time, it was a habitable environment."

Specific evidence includes the presence of probable concretions (spherules a few mm in size, nicknamed "blueberries," embedded in rock); crystal molds ("weird-looking holes," tabular in shape, 1 cm long and 1-2 mm wide, as though a bunch of objects the size and shape of pennies were once embedded in rock); and deposits of sulfur, sulfates, and Jerosite ([and which I daresay is going to have a lot more than 7 Google hits pretty soon!] large quantities of water are absolutely necessary for the creation of these deposits).

The first speaker also pointed out that as a place where minerals precipitated out from liquid water, Opportunity Ledge is "one of the best kinds of rocks for preserving evidence of ancient life."

Now to see how it plays. My initial reaction is that this is just a bit abstruse for the average person, largely because the geochemistry and geophysics is far from everyday experience, and liquid water was not found, much less life or the preserved remains thereof. Of course, a follow-on discovery of fossilized microbes would be the planetary science story of the century. But I fear that the public will, to put it politely, struggle to appreciate today's findings.

As I post this, the main speaker is calling for a Mars sample-return mission.

UPDATE: Via The Eternal Golden Braid, I found this excellent report over at Oliver Morton's MainlyMartian, which I am about to add to the Space/Science blogroll.

Jay Manifold [1:33 PM]

Sociological Phenomenon of the Week (II)

In the first post in this series, I asserted that "Anglo-Jewish relations have remained consistently constructive for, by my count, 348 years, and explicitly so in the US for at least 213 years" -- the dates being derived from Cromwell's readmission of Jews to England at the end of 1655 and Washington's letter to the Touro Synagogue in the late summer of 1790, a year before the ratification of the Bill of Rights.

Previously unknown reader (the best kind) John Schoffstall wrote to point out that "consistently constructive" certainly does not mean that the relations in question were up to the standards of fairness of the most recent two generations:

There [was] gentile/Jewish segregation in the US as recently as the 1950s. Family story: My father in the late 1940s was a newspaper reporter. His editor got a lot of freebies from hotels and restaurants that wanted to get their names in the paper, and when Dad married my Mom-to-be in 1948, his editor gave him a ticket for several days free in a resort hotel in Atlantic Beach for their honeymoon. Yay! But wait -- the hotel was "restricted." That was code for "no Jews." Dad wasn't Jewish, but he was a liberal New Dealer, and he wasn't going to patronize any hotel that discriminated against Jews. Had to pay for his own honeymoon.

This is, if anything, a relatively mild example. Restrictive covenants in real estate excluded Jews (among others) from home ownership in entire neighborhoods in KC up until a few years before my birth. This source notes that some forms of discrimination lasted even longer:

From the late 19th century until the 1960s, discriminatory policies in various parts of the United States generally prohibited Jews from joining social and athletic clubs, visiting resort hotels, and living in certain neighborhoods. After the 1920s, many private colleges and universities, especially those in the Northeast, established quotas to limit the number of Jewish students admitted, regardless of their qualifications. For example, a 1949 study determined that while non-Jews had a 1 in 7 chance of admission to Cornell University Medical School, Jews had only a 1 in 70 chance. In the early 1950s, studies of job markets in Los Angeles and Chicago found that 20 percent of all job openings requested non-Jewish applicants. Until the late 1960s, few Jews could find employment in large law firms or major industrial corporations.

I note that restrictions on Jewish immigration were considered a "progressive" idea in the early 20th century, something long since forgotten; there can be no question that the immigration quotas established in 1924 were aimed largely at Jews:

... the Immigration Restriction Act of 1924 ... was designed consciously to halt the immigration of supposedly "dysgenic" Italians and eastern European Jews, whose numbers had mushroomed during the period from 1900 to 1920. The method was simply to scale the number of immigrants from each country in proportion to their percentage of the U.S. population in the 1890 census – when northern and western Europeans were the dominant immigrants. Under the new law, the quota of southern and eastern Europeans was reduced from 45% to 15%. The 1924 Act ended the greatest era of immigration in U.S. history.

OK, so what's with my "consistently constructive" comment?

The distinction I draw is an unambiguous one: what's the body count? There have been large-scale instances of indigenous religiously-motivated violence in the US (most notably in my back yard, in fact), but none of them were directed against Jews. Ethnic discrimination is distasteful, profoundly economically uncompetitive, and everywhere to be opposed; but it is not the same as mass lynchings, state-sanctioned or otherwise.

The Anglosphere and its Jewish population have been working to mutual benefit for centuries -- indeed, mutual benefit the like of which the world has never before seen. The irony of the early-20th-century eugenics movement was that an honest assessment of immigrants' aptitudes and a commitment to maximizing American advantage via immigration control would have led to quotas favoring Jews and east Asians, not barring them. The tragedy of the 1924 law, of course, is that more open immigration would have saved millions of lives a generation later, precisely because Jews were physically safe here.

Now, thanks in part to fervent Evangelical American support, they are relatively safe in Israel as well.

Jay Manifold [11:35 AM]

[ 20040301 ]

Rumor Central

I am in receipt of a couple of authoritative e-mails strongly suggesting that a news conference at NASA HQ tomorrow (2 PM EST, 1 PM CST) will announce the discovery of water on Mars -- liquid water, being squeezed out of mud by the rovers' tracks and freezing into ice clearly visible in the latest imagery.

Live webcast here. We'll see.

UPDATE: New to the Science/Space Blogroll, The News From Mars. And don't forget to visit Martian Soil regularly.

Jay Manifold [5:23 PM]