Wednesday, July 27, 2005

To timidly go where a few hundred have gone before

NASA has announced that it is grounding the shuttle fleet until further notice. Despite their engineers concluing that there was "no significant problem" with Discovery, painstaking analysis by the shuttle crew, extensive video that shows nothing major, some brave NASA admin has apparently concluded that the fleet still needs to be grounded.

Have we really reached a point where we can only send people into space if the risks are equivalent to driving cross-country in the family sedan? It seems to me that explorers have throughout history been involved far greater risks for far less benefit. From 1921 to 1999, for example, 900 people climbed Mt. Everest while 150 died trying, giving climbers 1-in-6 odds of dying. Shuttle astronauts, on the other hand, face something like a 1-2% chance of dying. The odds of a soldier dying in a 1 year tour of duty in Iraq is about 0.1%, though the odds for a front line soldier, without the dilution of risk from including the various support troops, will likely be much higher. Is it really reasonable for NASA to blanche at allowing a handful of astronauts to take the sort of risk we ask soldiers to take?

Monday, July 25, 2005

AFL-CIO split

More than one-fourth of the 13 million people that were members of AFL-CIO unions yesterday are no longer affiliated with the AFL-CIO today. Both the Teamsters and the service workers union, along with five others, split with the AFL-CIO today.

Given the crucial grass-roots organizational support that the AFL-CIO provides for the democratic party, what sort of impact will this have for the 2006 mid-term elections? My guess at this point is that a weakening of the AFL-CIO will prove pivotal with Senate seats in Michigan (currently Democratic) along with Ohio and Pennsylvania (currently Republican) up for grabs and expected to be relatively tight.

In the long run, though, reinvigorating the labor movement is a necessary step. Given the declining union rolls and influence over the past couple decades, a shakeup now seems preferrable to allowing the death spiral to continue.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Harry Potter?

I just finished the latest installment of Harry Potter. It's pretty good and it only took me about a day to read (I kept telling myself I would stop at the next chapter but I could never get enough will power to do so...)
So, anybody else read it? How does it compare to the others so far?

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

The Tour

Vincent pointed out recently that I haven't yet posted anything about the tour yet. Well, here's the remedy:

The Tour de France is now in full swing with the cyclists completing stage 5 today. So far there's been lots of excitment with both an individual and team time trial. Lance got the yellow jersey yesterday when Zabriskie crashed in rather dramatic fashion just over 1 km from the end of the team time trial. I've been thoroughly enjoying OLN's live coverage - my tivo hasn't yet missed a show!

If you're looking for a good read about cycling, I reccommend Lance Armstrong's War . It's not just about Lance, but includes quite a bit about cycling in general. Apparently, the Discovery team has their tires aged in a cellar for a few years before being used. I find it hard to beleive this really improves the tire...

Friday, July 01, 2005

O'Connor retires

In what I consier quite a shocker, Sandra Day O'Connor has retired. The crucial centrist swing vote in the vast majority of recent 5-4 decisions, O'Connor's resignation and Bush's likely appointment of a justice in the mold of Scalia is likely to significantly alter the balance of power on the court.

This should be a real test of the recent compromise over judicial nominees. What, exactly, would constitute the "exceptional circumstances" that will cause Democrats to fillibuster Bush's first SCOTUS nominee?