Monday, April 21, 2008

To Boldly Go Where No Woman Has Gone Before.

The United States record for time in space is now held by a woman, astronaut Peggy Whitson, who just spent 192 days in space.
"Whitson, 48, returned from her second mission to the station. She served as a flight engineer on the Expedition 5 crew, launching June 5, 2002, and returning to Earth Dec. 7 after almost 185 days in space.

She landed Saturday with a total of 377 days in space, more than any other U.S. spacefarer. On April 16 she broke the previous mark of 374 days set by Mike Foale on his six flights." (Here.)
You go, girl!

Russian Cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko landed with Whitson. His cumulative time in space puts the American record in perspective. He has spent 515 days in space over four flights, ninth most of all humans. Who holds the record? Cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev with 803 days 9 hours and 39 minutes. (Here.)



Intelligent Life In The Universe?

Are there intelligent beings elsewhere in the universe? All we know for sure is that intelligent life exists here on Earth. We have no evidence that life of any kind even exists elsewhere. Zip, zero, nada. That doesn't stop scientists from trying to listen for messages from aliens. (Here.)

Now a scientist has created a mathematical model that purports to show that alien intelligent life is unlikely to exist. (Here.) All this without any evidence one way or the other.

It's interesting to think about whether there are intelligent aliens in the universe but it's entirely speculative given we have only one example to work from. There's really no way to know one way or the other the odds of life elsewhere much less intelligent life. Personally, I'm perfectly fine with the possibility that we are alone. Given the vast distances between stars we might as well be alone. What's more interesting to me is thinking about how humans will move ourselves off this planet and claim the entire solar system as our home.


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These Kids Today.

So it turns out that a popular role-playing game on college campuses is zombies versus humans. It's an elaborate game of tag in which the zombie team tries to tag all the players on the human team. The humans defend themselves from attack with nerf guns. The game field is the campus. (Here.) The game is not without controversy. Complaints focus on the use of toy guns.
"While the opponents acknowledged the game's benefits, they criticized its representation of killing and violence. Jenifer Jennings-Shaud, a member of the graduate education faculty, spoke of arriving on campus one evening and seeing a man with a gun run over the hill. 'I was terrified,' she said. 'Guns scare me. Nerf guns, regular guns. All guns.' Then she began to cry. English professor Jeff Myers raised questions about the ethics of 'playing war' while an actual war is happening in Iraq. Peace studies instructor Fran Donelan theorized about the possible link between fantasy violence and actual violence. 'There have been many studies done about how a society's games reflect the society,' she said. 'Most of the games in this country revolve around hunting people down and killing them.'"
Well, yeah. Humans are a predatory species and play naturally will reflect that evolutionary heritage. What is striking to me is not the so-called violence of the game. It's the fact that the game is played in public spaces among people who don't participate.



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Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Birds Of Paradise: Part 18.

Went birding this morning at Cabrillo National Monument overlooking the Pacific Ocean. We saw 14 different types of birds. This is a California Quail This is a bold little Spotted Towhee walking toward our group. Here's a Western Gull pecking at its reflection in the window of a pickup truck. And this is an attempted closup shot of a lizard hiding in the brush. Foiled by the twig!

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Friday, April 11, 2008

Money Isn't Everything.

For a guy who's presented himself as the candidate of a new kind of politics that transcends the usual categories, Barack Obama keeps painting himself into the liberal box. First, there was the right Reverend Jeremiah Wright's hate speech and Obama's moral equivocating about it. Now there's this statement by Obama:
"You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them," Obama, an Illinois senator, said.

"And it's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations," he said. (Here.)
The best thing about this statement is where he said it. He's talking about the plight of oppressed working folk at a fund raiser in Marin County, an exclusive and wealthy San Francisco Bay Area county.

No doubt the statement went over well there and nobody gave it a second thought. It reflects the view of wealthy liberals that the rubes don't know what's good for them. If only the rubes knew better they'd vote their economic interests and vote Democratic. It also reflects the liberal view that social issues that matter to conservatives are not legitimate issues. Gun rights, pro-life, and preserving the traditional definition of marriage? Just wedge issues!

Here's Obama developing the point today in Indiana:
"People don't vote on economic issues because they don't expect anybody is going to help them," Obama told a crowd at a Terre Haute, Ind., high school Friday evening. "So people end up voting on issues like guns and are they going to have the right to bear arms. They vote on issues like gay marriage. They take refuge in their faith and their community, and their family, and the things they can count on. But they don't believe they can count on Washington." (Here.)

Actually, people who vote on issues like guns and gay marriage instead of on economic issues, do so because they believe the former issues are important. Money isn't everything. And don't think for a minute that this election will put the conflicts over cultural issues, such as guns and gay marriage, behind us. California's Supreme Court will issue a ruling sometime this summer on whether gay marriage is a constitutional right. And the United States Supreme Court will issue another ruling sometime before the election on the meaning of the Second Amendment.


Republished once because of editing.

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Saturday, April 05, 2008

Obama: Gun Rights For Hunters But That's About It.

The Politico has a story about Obama's effort in Pennsylvania to reach out to gun owners. Obama's strategy involves reaching out to a strongly pro-gun politician in Pennsylvania, Rep. Dan Surra, to make his case. (Here.)

Obama himself claims to believe that the Second Amendment confers an individual right, although it doesn't appear to be much of a right. Here's what his website says about the issue:
Respect the Second Amendment: Millions of hunters own and use guns each year. Millions more participate
in a variety of shooting sports such as sporting clays, skeet, target and trap shooting that may not necessarily
involve hunting. As a former constitutional law professor, Barack Obama believes the Second Amendment
creates an individual right, and he greatly respects the constitutional rights of Americans to bear arms. He will
protect the rights of hunters and other law-abiding Americans to purchase, own, transport, and use guns for the
purposes of hunting and target shooting. He also believes that the right is subject to reasonable and
commonsense regulation. (PDF here.)
Obama better hope that the pro-gun Pennsylvania politician he's enlisted to his cause is a persuasive guy because Obama's position will not go over well with most gun owners I know.

Obama's position on the Second Amendment is found on his website under the broad category of sportsmen. This makes sense because Obama's view of the Second Amendment seems to be that it only protects an individual's right to use guns for hunting and target shooting. In fact, the only promise he makes to America's gun owners is that he will protect their right "to purchase, own, transport, and use guns for the purpose of hunting and target shooting." Hunting and target shooting. That's it.

When you couple Obama's extreme limitation of the right to keep and bear arms to hunting and target shooting with his position that gun rights are subject to "reasonable and commonsense regulation," whatever that is, gun owners are left with a pretty hollow right.

Obama's gun-owner outreach strategy appears similar to his pro-life outreach strategy. Obama is about as pro-choice a candidate as there is. Yet he recently received the endorsement of Robert Casey, Jr., a respected pro-life politician. The endorsement gives Obama credibility with pro-life voters and provides cover for his pro-choice positions. Likewise, Obama's position is weak on gun rights but receiving the endorsement of a respected pro-gun politician gives him cover.

The guy's crafty, you gotta give him that.


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Obama's Electability?

You've got to wonder how those Democrats who voted for Obama because of his "electability" in the general election are feeling these days. According to NPR, some Clinton-supporting Democrats are so put off by the campaign and by Obama's association with the right Reverend Jeremiah Wright, they are thinking of voting GOP come November. The animosity apparently flows both ways with Obama supporters also upset at the thought of a Clinton candidacy. (Here.)

It's not just the anecdotal evidence offered in the NPR story that suggests the Democrats are going to have a problem holding their base in November. Gallup released a poll recently that quantified the Democrats' disunity. According to that poll, 28 percent of Clinton supporters would vote for McCain if Obama were the Democratic candidate. (Here.) So much for bringing the country together in a "yes, we can" coalition. Obama apparently can't even bring his own party together. Again, the animosity flows both ways with 19 percent of Obama supporters stating they would vote for McCain rather than Clinton.

It's early still but Obama's problem with uniting the party behind his candidacy isn't just reflected in anecdotal stories on NPR or in opinion polls. Hillary's been getting the message from some Democratic corners that she should quit the race because mathematically she can't win enough pledged delegates to win the nomination. Trouble is, it's looking like Obama won't be able to win the nomination with pledged delegates alone either. He'll need superdelegates to put him over the top just like Hillary would. He may want to be a uniter but his party is looking more and more divided.

President McCain anybody?


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