March 02, 2002


By now you've probably heard that Space Shuttle Columbia got off the pad on Friday morning in one of the most spectacular launches yet (I'll be posting pics eventually). Shortly after attaining orbit, it began to experience problems in the freon system, problems which threatened to abbreviate the servicing mission without installing the new gear on Hubble. Well, word has just come down that Columbia's problems have stabilized and the crew will be able to carry out the mission. That means a new camera, more efficient power system and the revitalization of an existing camera on Hubble. So now I get to work graveyard shifts next week covering the mission control activities during the spacewalks. Should be a hoot.
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February 25, 2002


This NY Times story is real piece of work. Here's one fun little paragraph:

While all nations regard their causes as just, and all demonize their enemies, the combination of American might and its longstanding self-image as uniquely virtuous irritates even its allies. Europeans, for example, have largely tended to use more pragmatic language and embrace realpolitik in foreign policy matters.

I love the juxtaposition...Americans are Puritans while Europeans are more sophisticated and "pragmatic." Their "pragamatism" allows them to be apologists for the various dictators we're working to overthrow, and their "pragamatism" allows them to criticize us for doing what they would do--defend themselves--if they were attacked. Whatever. Now I'm going. Really.
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I'm off to Florida and Houston to document STS-109, the space shuttle mission to upgrade and enhance the Hubble Space Telescope. I know a lot of you libertarians despise NASA, but you have to admit that Hubble has done a bang-up job in its nearly 12 years in space. The telescope has actually surpassed its mission goals, and has accomplished several feats that its designers thought it couldn't, such as probing the atmosphere of a planet outside our solar system to determine its chemical makeup. Hubble's new camera, the Advanced Camera for Surveys, is expected to give twice the field-of-view, between 8 and 10 times the resolution, and 10 times the data throughput of its current main camera, the Wide Field Planetary Camera 2. This mission may also revive the Near Infrared Camera/Multi-Object Spectrometer, which allows astronomers to image objects behind and inside of dusty regions. To do this, the astronauts will be installing a new type of refrigerator unit that hasn't been tested in space before, and they'll be attaching a radiator unit onto the aft end of the telescope to channel out some of the heat (the infrared camera needs to be kept as cold as possible, or it will detect the heat from earth, the Moon and even the telescope's other instruments). It's a fairly perilous mission for the telescope, as it will be powered down for the first time since launch so that its Power Control Unit can be replaced. The PCU wasn't designed to be serviced on orbit, and has 36 connections that the astronauts will have to disconnect on the old one before inserting and firing up the new one. It amounts to performing a heart transplant more than 300 miles above the earth. HST is also getting smaller, more modern rigid solar arrays, so it will look a little different after this servicing mission.

I won't be posting much in the next few days, but will try to dash off a line when I can.
Posted by B. Preston at 05:37 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 24, 2002


The posts in this thing are getting so long and detailed that I've decided to move them off this page and onto a new page, The JYB Science Page, which can be found here. The new page is also permalinked to the right. This page remains the main blog, the war blog, and during the appropriate season, the yule blog.
UPDATE: My links to the other site weren't working earlier, my meager html skills having caught up with me. They should work now.
Posted by B. Preston at 11:17 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack


Canada 5, USA 2---Canada's first hockey gold in 50 years. Congrats, Damain Penny and the rest of you Northern cousin bloggers. Your guys outplayed our guys today, and deserve the win.
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in The Atlantic is a fascinating article in many ways. It's late and I'm a bit tired but a few things come to mind that deserve comment. The article is impressive for its scope, but by examining religions from a Darwinian point of view reveals the religious viewpoint of the author--he's a Darwinist. More on that assertion in a moment. The article examines what academics call New Religious Movements, or NRMs, and their growing place in the world. NRMs are usually thought of as cults, but to academics they're mini-societies that should be preserved and dissected to be understood, an attitude similar in many ways to that shown by academics to isolated indigenous societies in the remote areas of the Philippines, South America and Africa. It's an interesting attitude, in that it allows one to essentially leave people in a backward state of existence in order to study them and draw comclusions about comparative sociology and such. I must confess my own ambivalence toward that sort of behavior--no one should be forced to "move on to the reservation" or so to speak, but to leave people in their subsistence-level, disease-ridden lives is in some ways a form of cruelty when the anthropoligist has the choice of introducing his or her test subjects to, say, medicines, hardier crops, sturdier shoes and literacy. Christian missionaries, possibly the most misunderstood and maligned NGO workers in Third World contries, at least offer indigenous peoples a written form of their own language, and the choice to remain in their former lives or opt for something new.

As for the "Oh Gods" article in The Atlantic, it concludes with one of the most dubiuos academic statements I've seen in a long while.

The present rate of growth of the new Christian movements and their geographical range suggest that they will become a major social and political force in the coming century. The potential for misunderstanding and stereotyping is enormous—as it was in the twentieth century with a new religious movement that most people initially ignored. It was called fundamentalist Islam.

"We need to take the new Christianity very seriously," Philip Jenkins told me. "It is not just Christianity plus drums. If we're not careful, fifty years from now we may find a largely secular North defining itself against a largely Christian South. This will have its implications."

Such as? I asked.

Jenkins paused, and then made a prediction. "I think," he said, "that the big 'problem cult' of the twenty-first century will be Christianity."

There are a few leaps of logic going on in this conclusion. First off, I recall fundamentalist Islam being a major force, and being recognized as a potential problem, from the time I was aware that Islam as a religion existed--I was 9 years old when the Shah of Iran was overthrown and the Ayatollah's minions seized our embassy in Iran and held US citizens hostage for 444 days. I remember reading newspaper stories and watching tv news stories on the networks warning of the growing influence of a militant strain of Islam from the time I became a news junkie, which was also when I was 9 or 10 years old. A cursory study of history indicates that Islamic fundamentalism has been a problem at least since 1948--the year of Israel's founding and the first Arab-Israeli war. It's arguably true that militant Islam has been at war with the West since the Crusades. I don't think it's fair to say that militant Islam has been ignored, except perhaps by academics who were more concerned with countering the influence of Christianity here at home. The second big leap is in predicting that Christianity will become the "big 'problem cult' of the 21st Century." Philip Jenkins is guilty of the same thing Pat Buchanan is often caught doing--extrapolating today's trends like iron tracks into the future, and seeding the conclusions with his own biases. Who's to say whether the Northern Hemisphere will be "largely secular" in the coming decades? As the article points out, Western secularists have been predicting the demise of religion for centuries, only to see it flourish. And if he's right, why does he assume that the growth of Christianity presents a problem--in the West Christianity helped bring about, among other things, individual rights and equality before the law. Isn't it possible that its spread into developing regions might do the same thing?

As for my earlier comment about Darwinism, I think it's clear that in many ways Darwinism is a religion, or at least is starting to resemble one. It has a messianic figure (Darwin), a holy foundational text (The Origin of Species), and even an early apostle who spread it around the globe (T.H. Huxley). Its strongest adherents are every bit as committed and evangelistic as any fundamentalist--if you don't agree with them, Darwinists not only want to convince you, they want to convert you. Darwinists believe that their way is the only way, and delight in weakening and overthrowing other older religions--the little two-footed fishes glued to the trunk lids of cars are evidence enough of that. Darwinsts know that by using that fish logo they're appropriating and twisting a Christian symbol, and they love it. Further, Darwinism was arguably the most destructive religion of the 20th Century. The century's two most murderous ideologies, Nazism and Communism, were informed and shaped by Darwin's ideas of "survival of the fittest" and his more or less atheistic worldview. Though Communism and Darwinism should be at odds--Communism is dialectic while Darwinism is progressive--Communism early on appropriated Darwin in an effort to undermine Christian teachings on the origins of man and morality. Hitler misunderstood some of Darwin's thoughts race, added them to the "social Darwinism" prevalent in his times, and attempted to create a master race while exterminating those he deemed unworthy. And he tried to stamp out established religions of all kinds.

Ok, maybe the analogy between Darwinism and religion isn't perfect. But it is interesting, and it isn't as far a reach as most people think.
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