Friday, September 28, 2007

Star Trek as Mafia

Ilya Somin at The Volokh Conspiracy explores the presence or lack of federalism in The United Federation of Planets, and suggests along the way that Starfleet could be likened to a crime organization.

How to reconcile the evidence? I would suggest that it is only Earth that is socialistic, while the other member worlds have free market systems or mixed economies. The human-dominated Star Fleet military is the only Federation military force, and is tasked with collecting tribute from the nonhuman planets for redistribution to Earth. But as long as they pay their taxes, which subsidize Earth's welfare state and Star Fleet itself, they are largely left alone to govern their domestic affairs as they see fit. The Federation isessentially a big protection racket (in both senses of the word: providing external security, and also "protection" against its own depradations).


Why don't we ever see Captain Kirk or Capt. Picard on tribute collection runs? Because the Enterprise is one of Star Fleet's most advanced warships, and is therefore reserved for more difficult missions, such as going "where no man has gone before" in search of new wealthy star systems to occupy and tax.

If Gene Roddenberry were alive, I doubt he would be happy with this analysis. It makes the Federation seem somewhat less than ideal.

Monday, September 24, 2007

"Germs taken to space come back deadlier"

If true and consistent, this could be a problem for the future of space travel.

The researchers placed identical strains of salmonella in containers and sent one into space aboard the shuttle, while the second was kept on Earth, under similar temperature conditions to the one in space.

After the shuttle returned, mice were given varying oral doses of the salmonella and then were watched.

After 25 days, 40 percent of the mice given the Earth-bound salmonella were still alive, compared with just 10 percent of those dosed with the germs from space. And the researchers found it took about one-third as much of the space germs to kill half the mice, compared with the germs that had been on Earth.

The researchers found 167 genes had changed in the salmonella that went to space.

There's talk about fluid shear, but, so far, the researchers really don't know why this is.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Describing something exactly

I love to hear English used in creative, nifty, and thought-provoking ways that still convey their meaning. Take this passage, for example, from a blog called San Antonio Daily Photo:
There's some work being done to the exterior of the Central Library. I'm not sure what's being done, but they have the whole work area cordoned off with that caution do not cross tape and those pylons. You see the men on scaffolding, or sometimes they have this big craney-like machine that raises them up into position.
I love the phrase "big craney-like machine". At first glance, it seems wrong. She means a cherry picker, but she didn't use that term, because she either didn't know it or because she just liked the "craney-like" phrase. Then it strikes me that, in reading her description, I know exactly what she is talking about. And then, it doesn't seem wrong at all.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Faith afternoon

Nothing but a picture of a tanker being guided through the channel on a bright afternoon.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Iapetus surface

A fabulous picture of the surface of Iapetus, a moon of Saturn.

Photo courtesy of NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute. Read more about the picture here.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Noncommittal headline of the day

"Pregnant smokers may suffer depression"

And, in other news, so might everyone else. Or not.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Monday, September 03, 2007

"Wicca teacher claims 1 Mega ticket"


NOTTINGHAM, Md. - Elwood "Bunky" Bartlett says a New Age book store made it possible for him to become an overnight multimillionaire.

He and his wife, Denise, were on their way to the shop where he occasionally teaches Wicca and Reiki (RAY'kee) healing when they stopped at a liquor store and bought two $5 Mega Millions tickets for Friday night's estimated $330 million jackpot. On Sunday, he said one ticket was a winner.

"If it wasn't for this place I wouldn't have won the lottery," Bartlett said Sunday at Mystickal Voyage, the New Age shop. [emphasis added]

Sounds like if it wasn't for the liquor store he wouldn't have won the lottery. Post hoc fallacy, folks.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

"Mars rovers OK after dust storm"

This is good news for roverphiles.

LOS ANGELES - They're old and dirty, but NASA's Mars rovers are back in the exploration business after enduring a lengthy Red Planet dust bowl that blocked most of the sunlight they need for power.

With skies gradually brightening, the solar-powered rovers Spirit and Opportunity recently resumed driving and other operations that had been suspended during the dust storm.

"The rovers are in good health and in good shape," said John Callas, the rover project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. "Things have improved from the more dire conditions that were existing previously due to the dust storm on Mars."

Go rovers! Successes like this more than make up for any of NASA's shortcomings.