Saturday, February 01, 2003

Columbia, forever among the stars

I am so, so sorry. The world is mourning the loss of these seven brave men and women who dared to reach out and touch the infinite. Through their tears of grief their families may be consoled by knowing that the thoughts of billions of people are with them right now.

They died in the service of the human race. Their endeavour was in all our names, no matter what strife arises between nations.

I hope beyond hope that their effort was not in vain, that the space program will continue to expand our knowledge across the limitless gulf. We must go on. We must explore and learn. It's a part of who we are, as indivisible from us as our beating hearts.

Their names are Rick Husband, William McCool, Michael Anderson, David Brown, Kalpana Chawla, Laurel Clark and Ilan Ramon. Steven Den Beste has their pictures up here, so go have a look. If your vision splinters and blurs as you read, that's okay.

Take a look at their faces. Don't they look happy? They are living the dream. You just know that although they are risking their lives there is nowhere they'd rather be.

So we'll go on. If the Space Shuttle really has had its day we should build something better and safer. The names of the seven will be added to the rollcall of those who gave their lives to the noblest cause. One day our decendants will recall our first, faltering steps into the unknown and remember their names with gratitude and love.

Friday, January 31, 2003

Are They Not Flagrant?

Never let it be said that the Government isn't interested in tackling Britain's problems. I can sleep easier knowing that their legislative sharpshooters have their sights set on people having sex in their gardens.

The Sexual Offences Bill has plenty of sensible clarifications but at times it goes into a bit too much detail. Is it strictly necessary to codify offences relating to sex with animals and dead bodies? (see the notes on Clauses 72 and 73). Existing public order laws cover these offences adequately and I think we can rely on the police and the courts to apply their common sense.

Thursday, January 30, 2003

Q: What song is number one in France and Germany?

A: I Think We're Alone Now.

Wednesday, January 29, 2003

Chickenhawks and Penguins

John Pilger's anti-war tirade reaches hysterical levels in today's Mirror (via Peter Briffa). Typical quote:

"The current American elite is the Third Reich of our times.."

Last weekend I watched television coverage of some of the anti-war protests. I'm sure many of the participants were well-meaning folk but the lunatic fringe was clearly visible. One protester was dressed in a bird costume which was maybe meant to be a carrion-eater but actually made him look like a giant penguin. He was jumping up and down in front of a fence, pirouetting and making a sound like "Ark! Ark! Awwwwrk!". My reaction was just a resigned Oh God. John Pilger is engaging in roughly the same level of debate.

Just one thing. Tony Blair isn't a coward, he's an elected politician. I often disagree with his government's policies but the unremittingly stupid "chickenhawk" argument used by Pilger needs to be dropped, and the idiotic name-calling too. In a democracy elected politicians propose policy and armed forces expedite it - that's the way it has to be. If only military men who have endured war are qualified to advocate it then the idea that the warmaking should be subject to civilian approval goes straight out the window. Unless Pilger fancies the idea of a supreme military class, of course.


Trust the Germans to come up with an original youth subculture. The latest craze is for spud guns built like rocket launchers and powered by hairspray. But it's all good fun until someone gets hurt:

One man almost lost an eye, a woman had her leg broken and one teenager was badly burnt when the hairspray used as the propellant exploded in his face as he prepared to fire.

A 16-year-old in the university city of Göttingen lost part of his ear when the firing chamber ripped open as he pulled the trigger.

Oops. Authorities are getting the things banned as fast as they can but I can't help admiring the kids' inventiveness.

Tuesday, January 28, 2003

The War Against Chocolate

Professor Malcolm Law believes that child obesity can only be combated with regulations to limit the size of chocolate bars and packets of crisps. I don't think the "20% extra free" marketing ploy he addresses is the root cause of unhealthy eating. Actually, a normal sized 35p chocolate bar today is noticeably smaller than one costing the same 20 years ago. Manufacturers have used shrinkage to maintain their profit margins instead of increasing their prices.

A public health service simply can't make people more responsible for their health. Take away people's extra large Mars Bars and they'll just deep-fry the smaller ones. Individuals will only treat their bodies more responsibly if they have to dig into their pockets for higher health insurance premiums - brutal, but true. As long as the Government is trying to provide blanket care - and failing dismally - people won't have this sort of personal stake in their health.

I'm mostly libertarian but if there's one state service I have no quarrel with in principle it's the National Health Service. If it worked I would have no problem forking over my taxes to alleviate the physical frailties that can take us all by surprise. If it worked. However, since it's obvious that the system is rotting into an MRSA-infected ragheap this matters less and less. If something doesn't work in practice this fact really has to override philosophical arguments about whether it's right or wrong.

Via Samizdata.

Monday, January 27, 2003

Read The Whole Thing

The American case for war, passionately put forward by Bill Whittle. It's worth taking ten minutes to read this as it really gets to the heart of the argument.

The Final Frontier

Today marks the anniverary of the Apollo 1 tragedy. On January 27, 1967 Virgil "Gus" Grissom, Edward White and Roger Chaffee died in a fire during a launch pad test of the Apollo capsule.

Tomorrow marks the anniversary of the Challenger disaster in 1986. Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Judith Resnick, Dick Scobee, Michael Smith, Greg Jarvis, and Christa McAuliffe died in the explosion.

Their names are remembered with sadness and pride.

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