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“a magnificent desolation”

On September 12, 1962, President John F. Kennedy spoke these words in a speech at Rice University:

There is no strife, no prejudice, no national conflict in outer space as yet. Its hazards are hostile to us all. Its conquest deserves the best of all mankind, and its opportunity for peaceful cooperation may never come again. But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain. Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas?

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

36 years ago today, Kennedy’s vision became a reality when Neil Armstrong became the first human to set foot on the Moon. That event remains arguably the greatest technological achievement in history, and represents the high-water mark for the American space program.

At the time it was believed by many that that Neil Armstrong’s “one small step” would represent the first step into a much broader realm of space exploration. Unfortunately, it was not to be. Rand Simberg notes:

The goal had never really been to open up space, so much as to win a race against the Soviets, to demonstrate our technological superiority, as a proxy battle in the Cold War between democracy and totalitarianism (sadly, it wasn’t viewed as a war between capitalism and socialism, else we might have taken a more promising approach). But with the knowledge that we were winning that race, and the budget pressures of Johnson’s Great Society and the Vietnam war, the decision had been made years before to end procurement of long lead items necessary to advance much beyond a few trips to the lunar surface.

The excitement and momentum that once surrounded manned spaceflight programs has now subsided into the stagnant Space Shuttle program, which literally can’t get off the launch pad.

But there is hope. Private companies run by people who envision market-oriented approaches to space exploration are beginning to take up the slack where governments are leaving off. Simberg notes:

Fortunately, though, unlike the 1960s, we can now see a means by which we can do so without having to hope for bureaucrats to make the right decisions as to how to spend taxpayer money. Before too many more Apollo XI anniversaries roll by, I suspect that there will be many non-NASA personnel on the moon, visiting it with their own money, for their own purposes.

I have always found NASA’s photographic archives of the Apollo program to be fascinating and inspiring (Be sure to take a look for yourself if you haven’t done so before.) And I look forward to the day when I will no longer have to wonder what it was like bear witness to a human being setting foot on some other celestial body.

For now, this will have to suffice.

Update: A personal remembrance from Scott Warmka:

Dad was carrying my brother and told me to follow him outside. The night was warm. Above shined clear the moon. Men were there, but we couldn’t see them. We waved anyway. (I think we did that for my brother’s sake.) Barely I caught the look in Dad’s eyes. Not a question, more a simple command, “See what we can do.”

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, July 18, 2005

Cigar Jack passes along this story about “faith leaders” soliciting the government to place tobacco regulation under the auspices of the FDA. The proposed legislation, which has twice been left languishing in the U.S. House of Representatives, “would give the FDA authority over the manufacturing, marketing and sale of tobacco products.”

These faith leaders, like Rev. T. Randall Smith, pastor of Deer Park United Methodist Church and president of Texas Conference of Churches, represent a faction of Christianity that is radically different than that is historically ensconced in European culture. I have remarked on this before, specifically with reference to the “the Dutch-American culture of West Michigan.”

Moments like these seem to show that public opinion is generally in favor of the government restriction and prohibition of smoking. Even something as traditionally suspect as poker has succumbed to the cultural sanitization, as at the 2005 World Series of Poker completed last week, “There’s no cursing, no smoking and no mercy at the tables in a windowless hangar-like room,” though there is “a choking haze of cigarette and cigar smoke in the hallway.”

And to think that government is an impartial arbiter of justice in cases like this, as the aforementioned “faith leaders” seem to think, is to be more than a bit naive. A case in point: Despite bitter and contentious debate about the state’s budget woes, Republicans and Democrats in Michigan can at least agree on one thing–there’s a consensus to “sell off part of the state’s future tobacco settlement for a $3 billion upfront payment.”

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, July 14, 2005
“We don’t want you to give your money. We’ll just take it instead.”

That commercial, the one where all the celebrities and guys in collars and habits are talking about raising your “voice” for the world’s poor, has been nominated for an Emmy award for best TV commercial.

It’s the one that ends with the voice of Tom Hanks saying, “We’re not asking for your money. We’re asking for your voice.”

In one sense, that is totally true. If those behind the ONE Campaign had their way, they wouldn’t “ask” for your money. They would just have the government take it. It really is all a bit duplicitous.

So they aren’t up front about it…they really do want your money: “If the USA agreed to commit an additional ONE percent of it’s budget, or 25 billion dollars per year, it would cost every American 23 cents a day. I’m ready to do that if it saves lives…are you?” There’s more than one hypothetical in that statement.

But even so, it doesn’t matter what you might answer to that rhetorical question. Even if you aren’t willing, if the ONE Campaign has its way, your money will be taken and used anyway.

Maybe the slogan should be: “We don’t want you to give your money. We’ll just take it instead.” This adds a whole new dimension to the idea of charity.

Apparently Europe is buying in to the concept. Here are two key paragraphs from today’s Washington Post, in this article from Robert J. Samuelson, “The End of Europe”:

It’s hard to be a great power if your population is shriveling. Europe’s birthrates have dropped well below the replacement rate of 2.1 children for each woman of childbearing age. For Western Europe as a whole, the rate is 1.5. It’s 1.4 in Germany and 1.3 in Italy. In a century — if these rates continue — there won’t be many Germans in Germany or Italians in Italy. Even assuming some increase in birthrates and continued immigration, Western Europe’s population grows dramatically grayer, projects the U.S. Census Bureau. Now about one-sixth of the population is 65 and older. By 2030 that would be one-fourth, and by 2050 almost one-third.

No one knows how well modern economies will perform with so many elderly people, heavily dependent on government benefits (read: higher taxes). But Europe’s economy is already faltering. In the 1970s annual growth for the 12 countries now using the euro averaged almost 3 percent; from 2001 to 2004 the annual average was 1.2 percent. In 1974 those countries had unemployment of 2.4 percent; in 2004 the rate was 8.9 percent.

Nearly 1,000 people were on three trains that collided in southern Pakistan Wednesday morning, killing at least 107 people and injuring 800 more. Police now say the death toll is at least 150. One train, the Karachi Express, rammed into the back of another, the stationary Quetta Express, after missing a signal causing several cars to derail. The derailed carriages were then hit almost simultaneously by a third train, the oncoming Tezgam Express, which was taking passengers from Karachi north to Rawalpindi, near the capital of Islamabad. It is well known that Pakistan’s railways are antiquated, and dozens of people have been killed in train accidents in recent years.

Poor infrastructure, coupled with poverty, increases the likelihood that this will happen again. This supports the idea that long-term sustainable economic growth, not permanent international aid or charity, will improve the quality of life as demands for better infrastructure will occur. Having been on the outdated trains in India I can tell you that I’m surprised that this does not happen more often. People are packed in the rail cars like sardines. It’s amazing to see how people can even breathe. Old trains, old technical systems, coupled with increased passenger demands, opens up dangerous possibilities. Countries with the most advanced rail systems have fewer casualities when accidents do happen.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, July 11, 2005

Today is the UN-sponsored World Population Day, which most of us have never heard of, I’m sure. From the name, I cynically (and rightly) assumed that rather than celebrating human life, this day would instead address many of the spurious “crowded planet” concerns put forth most popularly in Paul Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb (first edition 1968).

Equality empowers…to do what exactly?

You won’t see Ehrlich’s name plastered all over World Population Day materials, but I’m convinced that his thesis is what underlies the effort. Instead, the campaign has cloaked itself in the language of gender equality and the empowerment of women.

Are we having too many children? One way to address the problem is to acknowledge that “reproductive health and rights – such as the right to decide on the number, timing and spacing of children – are central to women’s empowerment and gender equality, and to women’s enjoyment of other human rights.”

A surface reading of such a statement should be non-controversial. If it means that we are all against forcing women to bear children against their will, so be it. But somehow I think there’s a more insidious meaning beind the “right to decide.”

World Population Day 2005 is a day of measured celebration for those opposed to the expansion of human population. A UN report released in 2004 shows that “because of its low and declining rate of population growth, the population of developed countries as a whole is expected to remain virtually unchanged between 2005 and 2050″ For developed nations, “The primary consequence of fertility decline, especially if combined with increases in life expectancy, is population ageing, whereby the share of older persons in a population increases relative to that of younger persons.”

And there are signs of success even in the developing world, since “in the least developed countries, fertility is 5 children per woman and is expected to drop by about half, to 2.57 children per woman by 2045-2050. In the rest of the developing world, fertility is already moderately low at 2.58 children per woman and is expected to decline further to 1.92 children per woman by mid-century, thus nearly converging to the fertility levels by then typical of the developed world.” (More at the aptly named unpopulation.org)

So if the goal of the UN project is to get the world birth rates to fall below replacement levels (usually averaging 2.1 children per woman), they are well on their way. Developed nations continue to set the pace for non-replacement, where “fertility is currently 1.56 children per woman and is projected to increase slowly to 1.84 children per woman in 2045-2050.”

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, July 5, 2005

Rev. Robert Sirico wrote a column in the Detroit News’ Faith and Policy series over the weekend on the Kelo v. New London decision handed down by the US Supreme Court. In “Court reveals conflicting ownership ideas,” Sirico writes,

In the Supreme Court’s “new” ownership society, the very safety and security of God-given, inalienable rights are threatened. Pope Leo XIII was pointing to this when he described private ownership as “a natural right of man” and a right that must be held “sacred and inviolable.” We can only hope the inevitable abuse of this newfound power will not manifest itself before there is a chance to reverse Kelo’s corrupting effects.

Blog author: mvandermaas
posted by on Friday, July 1, 2005

Breaking news for the day: Sandra Day O’Connor has announced that she is retiring from the United States Supreme Court.

Yesterday, Anthony Bradley asked what the President should look for in a Supreme Court Nominee. Join the discussion here.

Now that Chief Justice William Rehnquist, 80, has cancer, coupled with talk that Justices Sandra Day O’Connor, 75, and John Paul Stevens, 85, might also consider stepping down, there is quite a buzz in the beltway about the Supreme Court. Majority Leader Bill Frist said Tuesday he’s been talking to Democratic leader Harry Reid about nominees for a potential vacancy on the Supreme Court.

Reid later offered what he considered good possibilities: GOP Sens. Mel Martinez of Florida, Mike DeWine of Ohio, Mike Crapo of Idaho and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. They "are people who serve in the Senate now who are Republicans who I think would be outstanding Supreme Court members," Reid said. Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, called on Bush to pick a consensus candidate if a vacancy comes open. "Americans want to be brought together around this decision." What should the President look for in a nominee for the court and who would you nominate?

USAID Administrator Andrew Natsios set the record straight at a U.N. conference when he told the gathering that the United States has "no intention" of committing to a goal for foreign aid pegged to a percentage of gross domestic product. Some countries are pressing for the U.S. to commit to an official development assistance (ODA) goal of 0.7 percent of GDP, a figure that would oblige the United States to spend more than $90 billion annually. The Washington Times reported that Natsios "vigorously defended" the American aid policy, and had this to say about pegging assistance to the U.N.’s or anyone else’s "official" number:

"There is ample evidence that ODA is not generally the limiting factor on nations’ development. Development progress is first and foremost a function of country commitment and political will to rule justly, promote economic freedom and invest in people."

Yet, the U.N. and E.U. continue to push these arbitrary ODA goals. Reminds you of the way that French farmers force feed geese to produce foie gras. Only, with superabundant foreign aid, the only ones getting stuffed are people like Nigeria’s Sani Abacha and his kleptocrat fraternity.