Wrapping up on St. Roch

It's not even dark yet, but fireworks are already cracking and sizzling away here near the oak-lined boulevard.  2010, it seems, is about to go out with a bang.

Earlier, as I was attending to my car tire, I shook the hand of a neighbor who stopped by as another neighbor arrived to talk about the need to get the streetlights back in working order after an unnerving murder just two blocks from my house.  A giant explosion went off as we clasped hands, far louder than the firecracker and sparkler sounds that punctuated the afternoon, and we both stopped and stared, wondering. 

But it was just another double-edged, celebratory round here on this particular frontier in New Orleans.  St. Roch is a place that's still just a little too inexcusably lightless at night, even more than five years after the storm.  The sense of change is palpable, though, despite the violence that rears its head in the neighborhood - buildings are being restored here and there, more porch lights are beaming out defiantly each night.  Even if the outlook for the neighborhoods below the French Quarter calls for beautiful with a light chance of scary, you can feel the revitalization building - building by building.

2010 has been quite a year.  Law school ended in a whirlwind, the finish line suddenly arrived out of the hurried haze, and then - zip - I was past it.  But the downtick in RPMs was barely perceptible.  Amidst incredible stock market volatility, the opening demolitions in New Orleans' Lower Mid-City, and too many jobless, graduating classmates, The Bar loomed on the horizon.  Fortunately, that too has passed.  And been passed. 

I began to catch my breath on a rambling road trip through the American West.  I played some tennis.  I've even had a chance to read some great books.

Weaving throughout the year, though, was a project that compelled me to walk the streets of a New Orleans neighborhood hundreds and hundreds of times, camera in hand.  Independently at first, and then in an official role at points, I went Inside the Footprint, down to Lower Mid-City, a historic neighborhood that has been largely destroyed with the consent and urging of the federal, state, and city governments.  Katrina couldn't snuff the place out.  But others did.

I will not hesitate to say that my attempt to capture a sense of the neighborhood, its architecture, its people, and its wanton destruction came very close to consuming me at times.  It certainly diverted, as you may have noticed, a good portion of my blogging energies.  But rarely have I witnessed a massive public issue play out from such close range.  And never before have I seen the full ruin that the government, its bureaucracies, and its financial heft might rain down upon individuals when it sets its hive mind on a bad idea.  It's been a heartless and trying affair that harkens back, in my opinion, to the very abuses that sparked the launch of the United States.  Anyway, I do feel that my involvement helped to make things marginally better at some junctures - and it might serve, if nothing else, as a warning for those in power down the road.

The Tea Party surge this year seemed to target a number of the things that manifested themselves in the LSU/VA hospitals project in Lower Mid-City.  Yet I remain intrigued to find out just how the new arrangement in Congress plays out.  A little divided government should do us good, but I hope there's a new engine and not just a new paint job.  And don't forget - we're still at war.

In the end, 2010 was about the people who rode along - the fascinating and friendly visitors to S. Liberty and St. Roch, the roommates who heard my 8,020th idea, those who stopped by the Editor in Chief office, the family members who encouraged me along the way, and those who've worked tirelessly beside me to try to make and keep New Orleans an amazing, incomparable American city.

It's been a year of sound personal growth, and, as I said to a good friend after finishing the second day of the bar exam: "That was one wild ride."


No Room in the Stable and Other Wisconsin Scenes

The Last FEMA Trailers

Just over a week ago, I toured an area of New Orleans known to its residents as "Zion City."  Once home to many small churches that made it a hotbed of Gospel music, the area was heavily damaged during Hurricane Katrina.

During my walk through the neighborhood with a resident, I came upon this man who pointed out his somewhat unorthodox FEMA trailer alongside his former home.

The City of New Orleans, at its most recent BlightStat meeting, put out a few statistics regarding the remaining FEMA trailers in Orleans Parish.  A total of 224 FEMA trailers remained as of mid-December.  Letters have gone out to residents notifying them that building codes relating to trailers will be enforced going forward.  The final deadline for removal is apparently January 1, 2011.

It's amazing that well over five years after the storm, FEMA trailers remain scattered in a few pockets across the city landscape.  While I hope that everyone who remains displaced is ultimately returned to a proper home, I do think it would behoove the city or some other organization to preserve one or two FEMA trailers somewhere as part of the legacy, no matter how painful, of a major and unforgettable chapter in the city's history.


Midnight Mass: Manila

It's just past midnight on the 25th here in Manila, and from my perch on the 19th floor of my building, I can see a dozen or 20 separate fireworks displays going off around town and sweeping out to the Laguna to the south. I've been able to see, or at least hear, displays every night this month, but tonight was very much a culmination -- until New Year's, that is.

Even Santa thinks traffic has been naughty lately.

This evening found me walking along the nearly deserted streets of the city (until just last night absolutely crammed with traffic) to the vaguely-Brutalist St Francis church in the neighboring city of Mandaluyong. It's actually quite a pleasant place inside: columns of cement separating walls of windows that open like Venetian blinds to let in air on three sides, serving to make the Mass feel a bit more like a crowded, but not unpleasant, picnic than anything else. The interior had a lightness and breeziness to it that belied the basic facts of a packed-to-overflowing crowd and temperatures of 77 F at midnight, despite the fans going at full blast.

Sorry, regardless of my relative religiosity, taking tourist pictures of a Christmas mass in progress seems tacky... so enjoy another picture of a Christmas tree instead!

Just before the mass began, we were gently advised that see-through blouses would be among the items of apparel (including shorts, to be fair -- the professor would be proud) that were not quite up to code, especially for Communion. I stood in the back, having arrived just before mass began, glad I was wearing pants.

Interestingly, the entire mass, with the exception of the sermon (which itself is excepted at a number of points whose theological importance seemingly needed to be stressed), was in English. The language is common to the degree that I haven't felt the least need to start learning Tagalog (though I plan to soon, anyway), but I was surprised at how much it was used in a context where there wasn't a whole lot of particular need for it.

The other interesting bit was the pageantry. Early in the mass, a series of costumed dancers performed to a hymn sung in Tagalog. They seemed to be in the traditional dresses of various native Philippine groups, but I could only barely see them, and wasn't in much of a position to ask about it, so the meaning remains murky to me. The Gospel of Luke was used to tell the Christmas story, and live actors took their place in the manger. After reading about the shepherds tending their flocks, the priest saying the mass brought the baby Jesus to Mary. It was, I thought, a fascinating comment on the role the Church sees itself as playing -- both as shepherd to its flock and as conduit between the flock and the Lord. Here, Mary, the human, could not have held her son were it not for the priest. The role of the Church here is indeed still strong enough to have major influence on both societal mores and on public policy, and that strength was not shied away from tonight.

Some of the crèche scene in front of the San Miguel brewery.

At the end of the mass, another dance was done, this by teenagers in colonial-era garb. The men's clothes looked, to my Western eyes, very much like that of the commonly-portrayed Mexican colonial-era peasant: long white shirt and pants, wide-brimmed straw had, colorful sash over one shoulder. Some of the young men held cloth stars on poles, others red-painted wooden horses; the young women carried arches of flowers.

These guys are probably 10 or 12 feet tall.

And so it was. The fireworks have died off now, about quarter after one, and I'm off to bed. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Champion, Wisconsin Makes the New York Times

I never thought I'd see that dateline.

The Chapel, as it's known locally, is less than a mile down the road from my grandparents' rural home (where I'm headed soon for the family Christmas celebration).  It's now the site of a Catholic Church-approved Marian apparition, the only one in the U.S.  Whatever your take may be, that's noteworthy at the very least.

The Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help has been a part of my extended family's life for over a hundred years - the traditional gathering and procession around the grounds on August 15 for the Assumption, and a place for prayers in time of need (down in the crutch-lined crypt).  My grandparents told me stories of masses of people walking out from Green Bay each August decades ago.

It's fun to see the two ladies referenced at the end of the piece - good Belgian ladies who probably know my grandma - who, like many locals, have known of the shrine for all of their lives.



Snow on the tracks

normal photo + auto equalize

Get it while it lasts

Say hello to your new, compromised Internet:
Instead of a rule to protect Internet users' freedom to choose, the Commission has opened the door for broadband payola - letting phone and cable companies charge steep tolls to favor the content and services of a select group of corporate partners, relegating everyone else to the cyber-equivalent of a winding dirt road.

Instead of protecting openness on wireless Internet devices like the iPhone and Droid, the Commission has exempted the mobile Internet from Net Neutrality protections. This move enshrines Verizon and AT&T as gatekeepers to the expanding world of mobile Internet access, allowing them to favor their own applications while blocking, degrading or de-prioritizing others.

Instead of re-establishing the FCC's authority to act as a consumer watchdog over the Internet, it places the agency's authority on a shaky and indefensible legal footing -- giving ultimate control over the Internet to a small handful of carriers.
It's the eminent domain of the Internet. Because we all know that the FCC knows best, right, and that monopolies never work out poorly.


A timely repeal

While I laud the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, I have very little to add, except to express my tremendous disappointment with John McCain. So I'll just echo Althouse here...:
"Today's a very sad day. The commandant of the United States Marine Corps says when your life hangs on the line, you don't want anything distracting. . . . I don't want to permit that opportunity to happen and I'll tell you why. You go up to Bethesda Naval Hospital, Marines are up there with no legs, none. You've got Marines at Walter Reed with no limbs." And that's it. The speech suddenly ends there, and — as Dana Milbank puts it in the Washington Post — he "turned and, without another word, walked into the cloakroom." (Note the irony that the staunch opponent of homosexuals is the one who enters the cloakroom/closet.) McCain's argument against gay people in the military is that there are Marines who have have lost limbs. Don't you get it? Perhaps now that DADT is dead, a Marine with no legs — none! — will speak up and with quiet dignity inform us that he is gay. What will John McCain say then? "I'm sorry"?
...and add that, of course, it will now be much more possible to know just how many of those Marines were saved by their gay comrades. And that is a very good thing.



Two posts over at National Review Online leave me wondering about the fate of the New START treaty. The first seems to suggest that support from a number of Republicans could push the treaty over the top:
“It’s hard for me to see this being a litmus test,” Cornyn says. So there will be room for discussion on this and other foreign-policy concerns? “Absolutely,” he replies.

A handful of rumored Republican START supporters — plus Sen. Richard Lugar (R., Ind.), one of the treaty’s main boosters — are up for reelection in 2012.
On the other hand, Republicans seem to be pushing for more compromise, using leverage from their handling of lame-duck legislation that's come up in the last few days:
Earlier in the week, Sen. John Kerry (D., Mass.) had called for “reciprocity” from Republicans in regard to START negotiations. Corker thought they’d shown just that, and now wanted to see some from Democrats. “I hope there will be a degree of credit given for the fact that stall tactics could’ve been used today [a]nd were not,” he said.

Corker said that he had voiced his concerns with Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) that ample time be allotted for discussion, but remained coy on how he thought a final vote would play out. The Senate will meet Sunday to debate and vote on several Republican amendments to the treaty.
For now I remain cautiously optimistic that the treaty will pass: ultimately, do we want to prevent ourselves from being able to monitor Russian nukes?


Creole Cottage

It's in poor shape, but this diamond in the rough, featuring early 1800s brick-between-post construction, is selling for under $15k in the land of opportunity, down in New Orleans.

If you're in the market for a fixer upper and an adventure, it awaits on N. Roman Street.

Weekend miscellany

Get Ready

China announces it's building aircraft carriers.


Last bastion

Foreign Policy has a fascinating look at the opposition in Belarus -- the last dictatorship in Europe. Most fascinating to me is Ales Antsipenka:
Ten years ago, writer and philosopher Ales Antsipenka founded the Belarusian Collegium, known in Minsk as the "Underground University." Although the government has never allowed him to formally register the college, it runs MA and BA programs in modern history, journalism, literature, and philosophy. Antsipenka knows he treads on precarious ground, but he remains optimistic about the future. "I believe that change is coming soon," he says. "We will someday come out from underground and even have an American University in Belarus."
The whole thing is really fascinating, and worth your perusal.


Winter sunsets

"Duh!" I thought as I went out with my camera a little earlier last night than the night before.

My favorite time of day is dusk when terrestrial objects are little more than silhouettes against the shades of darkening sky. There's something unreal-looking about the light in the sky that I like.

It seems like it is much more noticeable in the winter. I suspect it lasts longer this time of year because the sun's path through the sky is shallower than in summer so the sun lingers around the horizon longer.

Something more for Walker to worry about

While most of the nation sees an decrease in segregation, Milwaukee gets worse:
"Milwaukee, Detroit, and Syracuse, N.Y., were among the most segregated, all part of areas in the Northeast and Midwest known by some demographers as the 'ghetto belt,'" according to the Associated Press. "On the other end of the scale, cities that were least likely to be segregated included Fort Myers, Fla., Honolulu, Atlanta and Miami."


It isn't that the North, which has lagged behind the South and West in integration rates, has dramatically different attitudes on race. Rather, new housing and job opportunities [emphasis added] in the South and West have helped to spur integration there.
That job creation he's promising best come quick.

Legalize it!

It appears that stem cell therapy may be able to cure HIV:
Timothy Ray Brown, also known as the "Berlin Patient," received the transplant in 2007 as part of a lengthy treatment course for leukemia. His doctors recently published a report in the journal Blood affirming that the results of extensive testing "strongly suggest that cure of HIV infection has been achieved."

Brown's case paves a path for constructing a permanent cure for HIV through genetically-engineered stem cells.
I've been thinking recently about Governor-elect Walker's agenda and what he should prioritize -- and I'll have more to say about the issue this week. But here's a thought that struck me: this could have happened at UW-Madison. And there's really no reason it shouldn't have.

As governor, one of Walker's biggest priorities should be fighting brain drain in Wisconsin -- far too much talent flees the state far too early. And one of the best ways to make Wisconsin a more entrepreneurial and business friendly state is to keep those grads around.

Now, Walker won't be able to directly influence the ongoing debate on stem cell research funding. But as a part of the groundswell of Tea Party candidates this year, he would do the state a great service by adding his voice to those calling for all efforts to be made to bolster funding for this crucial technology. Keeping cutting-edge technology -- and the biotech sector, where Madison has a strong presence -- would do much to attract dollars and, more crucially, young talent to our state, and keep it here.

Walker was elected by an electorate that prioritizes business above abortion, concrete solutions above culture wars. He can demonstrate this by pushing for Wisconsin to maintain a place at the top of the field for hi-tech, scientific research and development. And a commitment to supporting the legality of stem cell research would be a strong first step.



Champaign by night from my building

Big Ten realignment

The updated logo and new conferences with names, Leaders and Legends, to include Nebraska were revealed.

The logo is vanilla. It looks like IBM's. It's lost the subtlety that it had before. The "i" is now a "1" and I guess the "G" looks a lot like a "0". However 10 isn't even close anymore with 12 schools.

I made this in 20 minutes:

It was an experiment to work in a '12'. It's possible.

Also "leaders and legends" together sounds like saying "watch these and wash-ups." Calling a school a legend in contrast to a leader sounds like saying it's weak and irrelevant--not the kind of image something that's supposed to be promoting it should convey. Either way, lucky for us, Wisconsin and Illinois are both Leaders.

Maybe it's bad marketing or maybe they're trying to foster conflict between the schools?--"the only worse thing than being talked about is not being talked about." Maybe they want to run commercials with stuff like "will the Leaders be able to put down the Legends" and vice-versa?


Airport backscatter scanner machines

A physics paper has been published (PDF of paper) on their radiation and effectiveness.

Their conclusions are that the radiation does penetrate into the body--it uses a CT scan level of radiation--and the machines are easy to pass since spatial contrast to the body is what makes objects stand out.

That is, a "pancake" type object would probably pass through as opposed to a "brick" shape. They also suggest metal wires are small enough to pass as well. For that matter, they point out stuff hidden on one's sides, like a small gun, would probably pass through since it wouldn't be in front of anything.

This website says each machine costs between $100-200k and the Dept. of Homeland Security has put in a request for $72M for them.


After more than 400 years...

...Henry Hudson has re-emerged to find the federal healthcare law unconstitutional.
And the law has no severability clause.  That means that in striking down the law for its indvidual mandate provision, the judge would strike down the entire law, not just the offending mandate provision. 

Our Appetite for Risk


First there was the question of television coverage – for us back on Earth and for mission control. Planting a fixed video camera on the Moon's surface was one of Armstrong's first tasks and Nasa was very clear that thereafter everything he and Aldrin did had to be within its range of view, which wasn't large. They wanted to be able to see, for instance, how well they were walking in those clunky outfits.

Here we learn, however, that even Armstrong himself was unable entirely to play by the rules. "I candidly admit that I knowingly and deliberately left the planned working area out of TV coverage to examine and photograph the interior crater walls for possible bedrock exposure or other useful information," he acknowledged. "I felt the potential gain was worth the risk."

...and contrast:

It is becoming clear that the Great Recession has left a deep and possibly lasting scar on the American psyche. From CEOs to ordinary families, we are a nation that is more cautious, more fearful and more risk-averse. This widespread and -- so far -- indestructible anxiety has hobbled the recovery and helps explain the slow pace of job creation. The economy's revival depends in part on risk-taking, but risk-taking is in eclipse.

There is a wall of worry, whose cause transcends the recession's severity. We now fear not only what we know but also what we don't.

A green Christmas


City at night

The view from my window:


Did the Board of Regents not pay attention during the election?

I'm all for paying UW professors well. I think it is important to remain competitive with other universities so that we can continue to be one of the premier public universities in the nation.

That said, voting to give a pay raise - even a mere 2% - is astonishingly tone deaf. The state faces more than a $3 billion shortfall and union workers across the state are accepting major concessions and pay freezes to keep their jobs, but the Board of Regents acts like they are immune to fiscal and economic reality. It is no wonder that many people have a dim view of the academic elite.

In a broader view, this only serves to start things off on very poor terms with Rep. Nass, who isn't a friend of the Regents to begin with. It is a very bad idea to tick off the guy who is going to control your budget before he even gets the gavel.

On the Wikileaks fallout

I can't say I have anything terribly insightful to say about the latest round of Wikileaks, well, leaks -- certainly you've read and digested all the good bits by now. But the fallout continues, and it's just as interesting to watch as the leaks themselves, in many ways. Two things especially strike me:

+leverage of fake memos to support a political agenda: it appears that a number of news organizations in Pakistan were taken in by a faked memo critical of India's military. To a lesser degree, the usual suspects are pointing to the leaked documents as showing insidious intent on the part of Washington to control or undermine them. But it would be an interesting info-war judo move to push fake stories, especially in government-run presses, to make things look worse.

+Julian Assange may be facing spying charges in the US, which pushes fascinating moral questions on his right to publish the leaks. And then -- should the major news outlets that published the leaks also be charged with spying?
The question is whether there might be some other way to legally distinguish between Assange and WikiLeaks, on one hand, and “beneficent” news outlets, on the other. And lest we put too fine a point on it, this is a very big deal; the principal restraint on the scope of the Espionage Act vis-à-vis the media has historically been prosecutorial discretion, not the Constitution. After all, the Supreme Court has steadfastly refused to give the Press Clause of the First Amendment any meaning separate from the Speech Clause, as a result of which it is virtually impossible to say that the First Amendment distinguishes between materials published by a Wiki as compared to by the Paper of Record. If the Constitution doesn’t draw such a line, mightn’t the statute?
There's much more at that link, so do click through.


"Even if I am crushed into powder, I will embrace you with the ashes."

Powerful - the "Final Statement" of a Chinese dissident.

On Don't Ask, Don't Tell

While the effort to repeal the U.S. military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy failed in the U.S. Senate yesterday, I was a bit surprised to see this perspective on the defeat from Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (and a call for another vote):

"My concern is being faced with the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' law being overturned with no time to prepare," Mr. Gates said. "The way we get that time most assuredly is with the legislation that's before the Congress today."

It lines up with my own take on navigating significant societal changes - try to let things evolve rather than change dramatically and artificially, and attempt to situate the changes in the popular support of the legislature when possible, as opposed to seismic court orders.  Those two things taken together, I believe, produce longer lasting, more widely accepted transitions across a democratic society.  That's especially important in the military subset of our society - where certain traditions and a particular culture are deeply embedded.

While I'm concerned first and foremost about the effectiveness of the military's conflict-fighting ability, I do think we've reached a point where it's difficult to defend the existing policy.  I don't see sufficient proof that fighting ability would be reduced enough to warrant restricing the ability of individuals who are otherwise qualified from expressing themselves and their respective sexual identities openly.  Plus, I think it's better for all involved to deal with things as they are in reality.

Quite frankly, I think the issue comes down to a rather crude crux: it's basically a desire by the bulk of those serving in the military to say, "Look, we know there are gay people in our ranks, and we're fine with allowing people to serve openly.  But just don't 'abuse' that privilege by making things awkward in the showers, etc."  That's not a politically correct assessment.  But I think it's awfully close to the truth given my conversations over the years with a large number of friends in the military.  And I use the word privilege because even if it's not fully accurate (sexuality is a fundamental part of who a person is, after all), I think that's how many people view it.  Our all-voluntary military, after all, restricts inviduals in a number of ways that would not be acceptable for the civilian population.

From my own experience, I think that permitting an adult individual to express or live his or her own sexual identity is crucial to that individual's ability to live happily as a sound member of society.  Forcing a person to put on a mask 24-7 for years on end leads only to problems.

Finally, as I noted in 2008: "Really, all one has to do to question the wisdom of the policy is recall The Sacred Band of Thebes. Or Alexander the Great."

Something of a disappointment

Perusing the Daily Cardinal's list* of most influential people in Madison today, I have to admit I was saddened by something -- only one is a blogger (okay, you're right, I'm not counting Brenda Konkel, but I mean, really...); and there are no student bloggers listed at all.

At the risk of nostalgia clouding my better judgment, I have to say that in the time when LiB was still a student blog, there was a healthy and heady atmosphere of online opinion coming from the students. And that opinion had a direct influence on the student newspapers and on campus organizations -- without ego, I can say that LiB was read by a very healthy slice of the student leadership on campus. Leaders like David Lapidus (after starting here!) went on to their own blogs as well.

That swarm of discussion should have at least rated a collective slot on the influence list -- but in the years since we graduated, that atmosphere has dried up. I'd be hard pressed now to name anything acting as a kind of central blog, much less a network of blogs discussing student life and issues, on campus. A quick glance at our "Shipwrecks" section on the right is an indication of how precipitously things fell off.

I suppose that in part, blogs are a bit passe now -- Facebook and Twitter are the new hotness, and this medium is just a bit dated. But it also seems to say something about a diminished atmosphere, a loss of vitality.

It's more than disheartening -- I think it's a real disservice to students. There is a real public good in liveblogging events, of being able to report from the scene of major university events in a way that the daily papers cannot. There is also a commitment to interaction that blogging suggests -- an involvement in campus life that is unique. Blogging, when done right, represents another aspect to the sifting and winnowing that can't be got from the other traditional media sources.

Will it come back? There's always the chance. It's a shame some enterprising editor doesn't attach a blog feature to one of the student papers, but it doesn't seem that that's going to happen anytime soon. (No, the Herald's blog section doesn't count -- none of the blogs hosted there are updated nearly frequently enough to really be considered worth the effort.)

It's a pity.

*link goes to the number one slot -- weirdly, they're all separate articles, with no central link to go to the entire list.


A "victory" against 'a symbol of excessive government spending'

Alas, the train has died.

Illinois gets an additional $42 million. On this side of the border, St. Louis and Chicago are linking up.

Even the clock

looks cold

The Fed...has an image problem

No, the central bank is facing something closer to a crisis of legitimacy:

Asked if the central bank should be more accountable to Congress, left independent or abolished entirely, 39 percent said it should be held more accountable and 16 percent that it should be abolished. Only 37 percent favor the status quo.

I'm not saying that everyone who responded to the poll really understands the nature of The Fed, its history, and what an "independent central bank" even means.

But I think most people have an inkling of the dangers of concentrating significant power in the hands of the unelected, even if the legislative branch has some inputs into the system.

What's new in space?

A new planet suggests far greater possibilities for diversity in the universe:
Astronomers have discovered that a huge, searing-hot planet orbiting another star is loaded with an unusual amount of carbon. The planet, a gas giant named WASP-12b, is the first carbon-rich world ever observed. The discovery was made using NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, along with previously published ground-based observations.

"This planet reveals the astounding diversity of worlds out there," said Nikku Madhusudhan of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, lead author of a report in the Dec. 9 issue of the journal Nature. "Carbon-rich planets would be exotic in every way -- formation, interiors and atmospheres."
Meanwhile, private space flights are go:
It is a small but significant milestone. The unmanned demonstration mission wants to prove that Dragon is able to deliver crew and cargo to the International Space Station (ISS). The reason for all the excitement is that the working capsule really points the world firmly in the direction of greater involvement by the private sector in providing trips to space. More competition means lower prices. Lower prices mean better access. After the retirement of the shuttle, Dragon would be able to deliver crew and cargo to the ISS on top of a Falcon 9 rocket.


Judge Thomas Porteous of New Orleans goes down on corruption charges, becoming only the eighth sitting federal judge to be impeached and convicted in the history of the United States.


Hey everybody!

The State Department announced we're going to host World Press Freedom Day next year!

The United States places technology and innovation at the forefront of its diplomatic and development efforts. New media has empowered citizens around the world to report on their circumstances, express opinions on world events, and exchange information in environments sometimes hostile to such exercises of individuals’ right to freedom of expression. At the same time, we are concerned about the determination of some governments to censor and silence individuals, and to restrict the free flow of information. We mark events such as World Press Freedom Day in the context of our enduring commitment to support and expand press freedom and the free flow of information in this digital age.

See the video! It's the first two minutes.

It seems SNL has their opening skit already written for them this week.

Regarding politics and decision making

Political discourse is how we, the many sides of people in our community, reach an accord and comprise about how what direction things should go. Government is how we make it happen.

At present it seems like politics, discourse, and even the media are at an uninspired nadir, and we all suffer for it. Politics isn't supposed to be and can't be about always being right no matter what or consolidating as much power as possible. Our country and our future hang in the balance!

If you're in one party, you should actually be hoping for a strong opponent instead of some perennial weakling to steamroll. Take your ideas and if they can withstand a worthy challenge, they're all the stronger. If not, be happy you didn't waste any more time being wrong and either work with the others in shaping their ideas or get a new idea. In essence, what fun is any game or sport when you have to play against children? You're just wasting everyone's time.

But it's not just that, I think people have forgotten something very fundamental: we're all on the same team and everybody wants to make the country a better place, from tea partiers to unionists to democrats to republicans and every other group.

There are two further points within that: what a good country looks like and how to get there. I think things would improve if people did talk about these sorts of things. What does a good America look like to you and how do we get there? Both sides would probably be surprised at how much in common they have.

Instead, as it is now, we run on division and it's like one group makes a move and everyone on the outside speculates the worst possible motive and agenda, which feeds into the next cycle only making it worse by further alienating everyone.

So, dear people, keep in mind it's important to talk about the kind of America you want and why.

People may have even neglected to imagine themselves a coherent vision of how everything would fit together.

No more politics crap! 

Now more than ever, we need to get our act together and clean up our government. This much is clear from events like Wikileaks. Not only that, but we are now being competed against nationally by autocratic countries like China which are actually efficient at decision making and goal setting. (Did you know China is actually run by engineers?) European governments aren't necessarily efficient but they've shown that they can make good decisions.

Our government was set up to be inefficient with tasks delegated to many different groups on several different levels. Actually that goes in hand with the original plan for a small government--it doesn't matter if it's inefficient if the show doesn't revolve around it.

However, that's still no excuse to inefficiently make bad decisions.

Thinking about it as an engineer, if we wanted to design, say a computer, it would already be complicated to have a large committee of engineers make all the decisions. It would turn out even worse if half the engineers were holding the other half's ideas hostage for the sake of appearances. People would get their hearts set on this monitor or that one, or what voltage is uses or which operating system or a certain hard drive or processor and then fight to the death over it. What a mess! We'd end up with a sloppy mess ducted-taped together that barely works, if at all.

That's what our politics looks like. Instead if we can compromise about the big picture of what the computer should do and what main features it should have--is it to be a light laptop for internet browsing or a powerful computer destined for computation or something else in between?--then there'd be only relatively minor disagreements about appearances and other specifics.

Like I said, with other countries building themselves up, unless we get better at making good decisions, we'll be squandering the good position we inherited by spinning the boat in circles while China and Europe advance past by being able to set courses and row.



National Media Catches Up - Inside the Footprint

I've been focusing on the unwise and massive use of eminent domain and demolition by the federal, state, and local governments in a New Orleans historic district at my "Inside the Footprint" blog for over a year now.  The neighborhood was coming back from Katrina, but it continues to be dismantled even as I type this.  Hundreds of people and numerous businesses are being displaced once more.

Finally, in the past week - now that much of the excessively large 67-acre hospitals site is cleared of historic homes and looks something like Carthage must have looked after the Punic Wars - the national mainstream media has begun to pay attention.

Pieces have appeared this week in Newsweek and The Christian Science Monitor.  An AP story got picked up Monday by the Washington Post and Fox News, at least.

To see the links to the articles and to learn more about the story, a cautionary tale for sure, head here.

Salmon Door



Moped a No-Go

Urbana reporting in from under 6-8" of snow.


A bit squirrely

I forgot these were on the camera from almost a month ago.

The window in my lab faces the far side of the roof from the one tree I've subsequently discovered reaches up to the roof. I doubt the squirrel would have success stowing nuts up here.



Supply tanks of refrigerant sitting under the wind tunnel in the environmental chamber. Pink means R410A. They look small but by my estimation, they're at least two gallons.

A Bazaar Surprise

So I was browsing a Milwaukee newspaper and saw an article regarding one of the malls finding a new a anchor store. What drew my attention was that it mentioned that the mall was the largest mall in the state.

Wondering if I've been to this largest mall--I've been to maybe two of the malls around Milwaukee--I looked it up on Wikipedia. The wiki article said it had a twin mall, Northridge. I clicked.

Standard shuttered mall fare until the bottom of the article which is about the mall's future--it has been bought by Chinese interests and they're going to open the Chinese Mall of North America! Whoa!

And this was announced a year ago! Here's a report with video. They're planning on opening a mall full of Chinese companies to sell Chinese products.

My first thought was: that seems redundant and a little strange because our country already has no deficit of or contact with Chinese products.

My second thought was trying to visualize a typical Wisconsinite eagerly walking around a establishment of retail commerce other than a Walmart, Farm & Fleet, or Menards, let alone a foreign one. Cheese is among last things I'd think to combine with Chinese food.

My third thought relates back to the first and it's that if this happens, the truly major development is that Chinese products will be presented directly to us from Chinese companies with Chinese brand names, which is what I presume to be the whole point of it.

I think they will be going uphill. They'll have to overcome the reputation China conveys--they might be able to improve the mass-production/low quality perception, but there are much larger issues that they can't control like unease at being percieved as a rising international opponent or even their human rights issues, for starters--just to get to a neutral standing.

Outside of Japanese companies, the only common Oriental brands I can name off the top of my head are all South Korean (LG, Samsung, and Hyundai-Kia). Glancing at lists, Taiwan has several technology brands I recognize. I've heard of one from China: Lenovo.

All the articles I could immediately find on the mall, like this one, are all from a year ago and it was supposed to have opened in August.

I finally found this one from August which says that the project is still on as the AmAsia Center but the opening has been delayed until next summer due to visa snags. It is also revealed that the mall is to be wholesale oriented so it sounds like it will be more of a stationary trade show than a retail mall. I would imagine that is even better than a mall for Milwaukee and the state since such a place will draw from a much larger area, perhaps the entire Midwest if not further.

Of course, there may be ulterior motives for the project as a scheme to procure investor visas.


As the snow flies

Today was the second weather event that put snow on the ground. In fact it's still flurrying. Thanksgiving was the first day of snow here, but everyone was away.

It was more impressive late last night when it was fresh before the streets and sidewalks had a crack at melting it.