Saturday Night Science: Rockets and People, Vol. 3

“Rockets and People. Vol. 3” by Boris E. ChertokThis is the third book of the author’s four-volume autobiographical history of the Soviet missile and space program. I will discuss the four volumes in four Saturday Night Science posts, one a month; here are the first and second installments.

Boris Chertok was a survivor, living through the Bolshevik revolution, the Russian civil war, Stalin’s purges of the 1930s, World War II, all of the postwar conflict between chief designers and their bureaux and rival politicians, and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Born in Poland in 1912, he died in 2011 in Moscow. After retiring from the RKK Energia organisation in 1992 at the age of 80, he wrote this work between 1994 and 1999. Originally published in Russian in 1999, this annotated English translation was prepared by the NASA History Office under the direction of Asif A. Siddiqi, author of Challenge to Apollo, the definitive Western history of the Soviet space program.

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Orwell Youth Prize Draft Entry

Ricochet is technically too old for the Orwell Youth Prize. But I think we should enter all the same. Click on that link. Study every word of it carefully. Really give yourself an time to enjoy it and think about it. Relax with it. Why not? It’s the weekend.

The contest is open. Ricochet has until THURSDAY, 30th APRIL to draft a proper automated response to youngsters who might truly be preparing to send their finished application to orwellyouthprize@gmail.com. Assume there could be teenagers in the Anglosphere who are right now proudly preparing their entries.

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Curb Your Economic Pessimism

shutterstock_69907912The economy has been in a tepid, soft, slow recovery for the past five-and-a-half years. It’s the weakest rebound in generations. The Commerce Department’s revision of fourth-quarter GDP shows that nothing much has changed. Over the past year, real economic growth registered 2.4 percent, slightly higher than the recovery average. It ain’t much.

Meanwhile, winter economic reports for retail sales, manufacturing, and capital investment point to a weaker first quarter, perhaps around 1 percent. And Wall Street is talking about a possible profits recession, with expectations of a 2 or 3 percent drop in corporate earnings for the first half of 2015. So the market bears are out in full force.

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Climate Change Apocalypse

You can’t make this stuff up. Hillary’s revelation that during her tenure as Secretary of State she ran the department as though it were an appendage of the Clinton Foundation; Republicans doing their best impression of a Common Core civics lesson to instruct the Iranian leader, when their letter should have been addressed to America’s leader; Democrats, at least many of their multicultural, morally relativistic, blame-America-first acolytes of Jeremiah Wright’s “G. D. America” diatribe, accusing Republicans of treason; and current Secretary of State, John Kerry, trying to get a deal with the Iranians to change their nuclear program timetable from apocalypse now to apocalypse later; the list goes on. The real question is, which among these events should be considered the single most important crisis facing this generation of decision makers?

The answer is, none of the above. In fact, the correct answer is not found on this list, but rather in a speech made by Secretary Kerry to the Atlantic Council on March 12, in between executive denunciations of the leader of our most important ally in the region and negotiations with the world’s most nefarious supporter of terrorism. It’s climate change; specifically, the 97-percent-of-scientists-agree variety of climate change. Indeed, in his words, if we (the world, but mostly the American government) do nothing, “future generations will judge our effort, not just as a policy failure, but as a collective, moral failure of historic consequence. And they will want to know how world leaders could possibly have been so blind, or so ignorant, or so ideological, or so dysfunctional, and, frankly, so stubborn that we failed to act on knowledge that was confirmed by so many studies over such a long period of time and documented by so much evidence.”

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Da Noive of Dese Ultras. Da Gall!

23F23B5C-F8E4-4B3E-839E-56294D12C65A_mw1024_mh1024_sProponents of the death tax would be less likely to insist the state raid a dead man’s wealth if they were required to attend the funeral, crowbar open the coffin, and pull the rings off the corpse. Some would. Sorry about that cracking sound, but it’s all for the greater good. But most are content to have unseen agents of the state perform the task.

I’m glad these people want the death tax, because it shows them for who they are: statists who believe the government has a right to your purse the second you lack the strength to hold it. But now and then someone really gives the game away, and that brings us to James Kwak. Writing in Medium today about the mythical family farm threatened by estate taxes, he says:

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Need To Know with Mona Charen and Jay Nordlinger
Why George Will Is Optimistic

UnknownNeed to Know welcomes the incomparable George F. Will to talk politics, history, baseball (ya think?), and more. The focus is on threats to free speech, which are multiplying in American life, and poisoning the universities. Despite it all, Will remains basically sunny about America’s prospects, and explains why.

Jay and Mona then consider, among other topics, the Obama administration’s increasingly naked ntk-logoattacks on Israel – at the UN human rights commission, at the Pentagon (which declassified a report about Israel’s nuclear program), and elsewhere. They analyze the Iran negotiations – a slow motion
nightmare — and consider that France is now more hardline than the US. Jay recounts a particularly ugly moment of mob hatred at the New York Philharmonic.

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Ask Amelia: Diets, Boredom and the Perils of Exercise

AskAmelia3It’s Friday afternoon, — time for Amelia Hamilton to answer readers’ vexing questions and curious queries!

Dear Amelia,
I hate exercising with a passion, but I live in Real Housewives of Orange County territory, and I’m the fat, plain housewife next door. I’d love to be the slightly less fat, plain housewife next door. Any tips for finding a workout routine that doesn’t make me wish I lived in Samoa?
— The Realistic Housewife of Orange County

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Ithaca College Student Government Considers Anonymous ‘Microaggression’ Tracking System

prevent-snoring-tape-mouthThere is a chilling resolution that is currently under consideration by the Student Government Association (SGA) at Ithaca College, a private university in upstate New York. The resolution, which has the support of many SGA members, seeks to target so-called “microaggressions” on Ithaca’s campus by creating a tracking system that students can use to anonymously report incidents of perceived bias on campus.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, a microaggression is a slight against another person—intentional or not—that is perceived to be discriminatory based on the snubbed person’s race, ethnicity, gender, class, or practically any other characteristic that one might think of. Princeton University students have called microaggressions “papercuts of oppression.”

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90 Varieties of Libertarian: Which One Are You?

Extreme state libertarianismDid you ever notice…

  • that it’s possible to prefer libertarianism for federal policy, and be a Marxist for your state?
  • that many on the Left do it the other way around? (I.e., the more they think nothing at all should come between little Julia and her father/husband/God/the federal government, the more they support Libertarianism for the state governments!)

Outlined below are four distinctions between various types of libertarianism, making for a total of 90 available libertarian positions.

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Grand Strategy Podcast: Stephen Krasner on Failed States and Realistic Expectations

This is the last installment of Hoover’s Grand Strategy podcasts that I’ll be posting for a bit and probably my favorite of the bunch. In this episode, I talk with Stephen Krasner, former Director of Policy Planning at the State Department and current Chairman of Hoover’s Working Group on Foreign Policy and Grand Strategy. The topic? You might call it “a humbler foreign policy,” though not in the way George W. Bush once used that phrase. Rather, Dr. Krasner wants us to think about the limits of what America can do well when it comes to assisting failed states. He’s no pollyanna about the threats that can emerge from such states — all you have to do is listen to this episode’s discussion about the consequences of a WMD attack on American soil to know that — but he’s not trigger-happy either. It’s an insightful discussion and one I hope you’ll find the time to listen to:

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The Enduring Problem of GITMO

imageWriting in the Washington Examiner, Byron York suggests that the prosecution of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is likely to rekindle debate over the US detention facility at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. President Obama is apparently embarrassed that he has not been able to close the prison as promised six years ago and — given his penchant for taking questionable executive action over congressional objections — it’s reasonable to expect him to do something about it in the next few years. There’s no way that ends well.

But while it’d be best for Obama not to get his way on this matter, GITMO’s use as a detention facility — and the political maneuvering around it — should not continue past the next presidents’ term. The prison’s location was clearly chosen less for its geographic advantages — members are welcome to correct me if I’ve missed something, but Naval Support Facility Diego Garcia has long struck me as a superior location in almost every regard that way — than for its unique political situation, being situated on the only spot on earth from which the United States military cannot be evicted that is also not subject to US civilian law. It’s humiliating for the United States military to feel it has to hide its prisoners from civilian courts (though I leave it to readers to decide on their own whether this speaks worse about our military or our courts). Comparisons to a gulag are offensive on many levels, but that’s hardly an endorsement of the situation.

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Mad Men and Desire for a Non-Political Society

Mad-men-title-cardJim Kearny’s post on Mad Men yesterday led to a conversation about why it is such a hit and what that says about America. One of the commenters got me thinking that the reason why these types of shows are so popular is because the viewing audience has a desire to return to a time when American society was not dripping with politics. They desire a time when many more normal, everyday things were considered mainstream and just part of living in the United States.

The idea that we live in a society today that is riddled with politics is much more than a theory: it is fact. Jonah Goldberg was on to something when he defined fascism as:

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Stop Deifying Reagan

shutterstock_2812964I know, I know. I’m going to get a lot of hate for this post, or a lot of furious “we know” comments. But someone had to say it. As the campaign heats-up between the Republican challengers for the White House run in 2016, many will invite — and some already have invited — comparisons among themselves and friendly libertarian and conservative hosts as the true successors to the flame lit by Reagan, invoking his name left and right and center to counter any problem that the current world faces, and to chastise the opposition (not just Democrats here) as failing to live up to the standards Reagan set in office.

Just this week, Mark Levin launched a furious, Reagan-quoting attack on Eric Bolling and Greg Gutfeld for (rightly) stating that Ted Cruz lacked experience, is too young, and isn’t ready yet for the Office of the Presidency. Levin, who seems to believe that Cruz is the next Reagan or like him, brought Reagan into the argument in a manner which is becoming way too common among conservatives nowadays – for comparison and attack. Courtesy of Breitbart:

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Nashville Mega Meetup

nashvilleSomething really special is happening here in Nashville April 10-12: the Nashville Mega Meetup! Some of Ricochet’s most beloved members and contributors will be descending upon Middle Tennessee for a weekend-long bacchanalia that will include a pond-side country bonfire, tours of Belmont Mansion and the Jack Daniel’s Distillery, sightseeing in Nashville, and a lovely capstone dinner at Circa Grill Sunday evening. Right now, our numbers are hovering around 50! I believe this makes the Nashville Mega Meetup the biggest Ricochet has ever seen. Since we in the South are known for our hospitality, I’d like to invite y’all to join us for this weekend extravaganza full of good food, strong drinks, and sparkling company.

So come on down to Nashville, and rub elbows with the likes of Troy Senik, Frank Soto, Dave Carter, Fred Cole, Jason Rudert, James of England, Pleated Pants Forever, Aaron Miller, 6ft2inhighheels, yours truly, and many others. If you don’t come, you may regret it for the rest of your life, bless your heart! Remember, to attend you must be a member. So join Ricochet today and come see us in Music City.

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Obama Administration Outs Israel’s Nuclear Program

There seems to be no end to the damage President Obama will inflict upon the nation of Israel. While wooing a genocidal regime in Tehran, this administration has treated our staunchest Middle East ally with a mix of pettiness, contempt and rage.

Following Benjamin Netanyahu’s huge election victory, Obama grumbled that it was time to “reassess” America’s relationship with Israel. Monday he began that effort when, for the first time ever, the U.S. delegation refused to speak in defense of Israel at the UN Human Rights Council. The council was adhering to the sinister-sounding Agenda Item 7, which mandates the discussion of “Israeli human rights violations” at every meeting.

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Do You Even Science, Bro?

As religious belief loses steam in the western world, people must look elsewhere for ways to flex their moral superiority muscles. After all, without a core belief to espouse, you look rather silly while standing on a soap box. Sure, your primary reasons for occupying the pedestal are to feel good about yourself while simultaneously letting those around you know how awesome you are, but pretext can be important for one’s self-image.

An unfortunate side effect of this impulse has been the politicization of the sciences. Rather than treating human knowledge as incomplete and ever evolving, many have chosen to treat scientists as a priestly cast, from which all decisions in life should be primarily informed. Many scientists balk at this role, while others embrace it. The Union of Concerned Scientists wants to know if you’ve got Science, and they provide a handy quiz in order to be sure. As a fun exercise, I thought we might take this as a group.

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Death to America

IRAN-POLITICS-ANNIVERSARYMaybe I’m too sensitive, but when a foreign autocrat leads his people in chants of “Death to America” I take it personally.

President Obama and Secretary Kerry apparently don’t. The chant, which became a staple of the Islamic Republic during the 1979 revolution, is not a relic of the past. Just last weekend, at a rally in the northern part of the country, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei was interrupted by the chant as he was denouncing American “lies” and “arrogance.” He smiled and responded, “Of course yes, death to America, because America is the original source of this pressure.”

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Mad Men, the 1960s, and “Free” Love

mad-men-season-7-960x641I’ve looked at the 1960s from both sides now — through my own eyes and through the vision of Matthew Weiner’s epic drama of that decade, Mad Men, which returns for its final episodes on Easter Sunday, April 5. In Mad Men time, it is 1969. The massive publicity campaign has the perfect tag line, of course: “the end of an era.”

Previously on Mad Men, man walked on the moon and agency founder Bert Cooper (played by Robert Morse, he of the 1960s Broadway smash How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying) uttered a “bravo” to Neil Armstrong’s own timeless tag line and passed away. Then Cooper, an Ayn Rand afficionado, returned in a season-ending fantasy sequence with a final bit of wisdom for Don Draper: the best things in life are free.

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My Gears, Ground

There are few subjects about which I can say — with confidence — that the definitive take belongs to an Italian toad puppet from New York. Proper subway etiquette, however, makes the cut:

Since watching this, I’ve twice belted out “Let people ouffa da train first!” on the Boston subways as someone tried to squeeze their way on the moment the doors opened. I can’t say it’s done me any practical good yet — the emotional gains, however, are immeasurable — but I nurse the hope that someone might take it to heart, even if it sounds like it came from a Yankees fan.

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Grand Strategy Podcast: The Challenges of Nation-Building, with Francis Fukuyama

Our newest episode in the special series of podcasts from the Hoover Institution’s Working Group on Foreign Policy and Grand Strategy features Francis Fukuyama on the challenges of nation-building. What does history teach us about the viability of such projects? Where has the U.S. erred in its past efforts? And what alternatives should it explore in the future? We discuss these topics and more in the conversation below:

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We Love the ’90s! Why Doesn’t the Left?

Bill-ClintonHey, the X-Files is coming back. Just another sign that we are in full “I love the ’90s!” mode. It’s not just Mulder and Scully. Monica Lewinsky just gave a TED speech. Republicans are again talking about the flat tax. (In the ’90s, even the Dems were talking up the flat tax.) Hollywood is finally making an Independence Day sequel. And there’s a Clinton running for president. I wrote about that last bit of nostalgia in my The Week column. I would say most Americans remember that decade with some fondness thanks to the booming economy. But as I note in the column, those on the left have a more nuanced view of Clintonomics:

In the progressive mind, Bill Clinton quickly ejected his “putting people first” spending agenda in favor of the Alan Greenspan-approved “bond market strategy” that focused on boosting growth by cutting the deficit. (During the Obama era, Republicans adopted the strategy and renamed it “cut to grow.”) “I hope you’re all aware we’re all Eisenhower Republicans,” Clinton fumed, as recounted in Bob Woodward’s The Agenda: Inside the Clinton White House. Not long after, Clinton’s economic council was praising the much-hated — well, at least by progressives — Reagan tax cuts: “It is undeniable that the sharp reduction in taxes in the early 1980s was a strong impetus to economic growth.” Eventually, Clinton declared that the “era of big government is over.” Not a red-letter day in Liberal Land.

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Plane Crashes: To Know or Not To Know

4527144457_1ed822dac5_zOn Thursday morning, we woke up to the horrific news that the German Wings co-pilot deliberately crashed the Airbus plane into the French Alps, instantly killing all those on board. I have so much trouble wrapping my head around this sickening development to an already tragic story. The most chilling detail came from the prosecutor who’s now investigating: “Death was instant. You only hear screams in final seconds.”

Imagining the terror experienced by the passengers and crew in the moments before impact is the stuff of nightmares. Seeing tiny fragments of a once huge airliner — and thinking about the actual disintegration of so many innocent human beings — is something that literally makes me nauseous. Family and friends who are grieving, are now probably also angry and confused. The company has to be wondering what signs they might have missed in this co-pilot.

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