Friday, January 14, 2005

Huygens is at the top of the news today. In case you have been in a cave (or don't follow space stuff, which is pretty much the same thing, IMO), that is the name of a small probe released by the Cassini space craft back on Christmas Day. Cassini has been loitering around the Saturn system for several months filling up NASA's photo albums with pretty pictures. Huygens was designed to enter the atmosphere of Titan, one of Saturn's moons. Titan is interesting primarily for its dense atmosphere; the only moon in our solar system to have one. Parachutes were used to slow down Huygen's descent, but even then, it hit with a pretty good thump. There was no guarantee that the probe would survive the landing in good enough shape to keep transmitting. But not only did it survive the landing, it was still transmitting after Cassini was programmed to turn away and begin retransmitting the probe data to earth, long after its battery was supposed to be dead. It should be noted that Germans built Huygens; maybe NASA should contract with them to build shuttles that can survive landing.

OK, that was probably uncalled for. Sort of. Maybe. A little. I promise to feel guilty about it for at least a full 30 seconds. Some other time.

In any case, the data is still in transit, but I would expect to see the first pictures taken from the surface of Titan on the evening news.

Way cool.

In more down-to-earth news:
In 1994, the IRS printed and distributed 500,000 copies of 1040 forms and instruction booklets in Spanish and manned an 800-number hotline with Spanish-speakers. Of the half-million forms distributed, only 718 were returned. The total cost of the Spanish forms was $113,000, bringing the cost of each completed form to $157. The IRS is considering expanding this service to other languages.

The return rate was fifteen one-hundredths of one percent. That would be considered a complete failure in the business world, but not by the IRS. They plan to expand this wildly successful "service" to other languages. At least government is consistent; the response to a failure is always to do more of what failed and hope it works better next time.

Meanwhile, at UN headquarters: 250,000 people are dead in one of the biggest natural disasters ever, but never fear, the UN has just what the survivors need. Cartoon condoms!! I can't make stuff like this up. Bodies are piled on the beaches around the Indian Ocean like cordwood and the UN introduces cartoon condoms. Named Shaft. And Stretch. And Dick.

If you are not depressed enough about Iraq, go read this and Jerry Pournelle's response to it. None of which should be a surprise to anyone. It was all predicted before the first Marine stepped foot into Iraq. History has lessons, and we all know what happens to those who fail to learn them.

The death of the mainstream media has been announced. On MSNBC. The irony knows no bounds.

Speaking of government: After studying real hard for a really, really long time, the federal government announced it knows exactly how people can lose weight!! Are you ready for it? You better grab some sunglasses, because this is one blinding insight! And the answer is....

[insert drum roll here]

eat less and get off your fat butt.

Wow. My life just changed. I think I felt the earth move. Or maybe that was the Quarter Pounder I had for lunch hitting my colon.

A good article in Reason magazine on the relationship between neoconservatives and evolution. Certainly worth a read. The conclusion Bailey reaches is disturbing. Some of the money quotes:
Thus, to preserve society, wise people must publicly support the traditions and myths that sustain the political order and that encourage ordinary people to obey the laws and live justly. People will do so only if they believe that moral rules are divinely decreed or were set up by men who were inspired by the Divine.


Thus, following the lead of Strauss and Kristol, those who support the attacks on evolutionary biology may be reasonably suspected of practicing a high-minded hypocrisy. They want to bolster popular morality and preserve social order. Attacking Darwin helps to sustain what Plato regarded as a "Noble Lie"-- in this case preserving the faith of the common people in Genesis, and thus the social order.


Kristol asserted in a 1949 essay that in order to prevent the social disarray that would occur if ordinary people lost their religious faith, "it would indeed become the duty of the wise publicly to defend and support religion."

As I said: disturbing if true. Mainly because it will ultimately fail and "religion" will be declared a fraud.

And one more: reading exercises your mind. Another blinding insight. Which is precisely why public schools refuse to teach and encourage children to read. It makes it harder to shove contradictory PC crap down their throats.

And I think that should be enough for a while.

No comments: