Saturday, July 30, 2005

Photo's from Afghanistan

As I've blogged about earlier; here, here and here, my wife's niece, Reiko, is currently serving in Afghanistan. She is in the Army and is working with a MEDCAP (Medical Civilan Assistance Program) currently situated in Ghazni. Recently she sent me some photos, a few of which I'm sharing here.

Reiko is the one in the middle :)

Another one with her and a couple of the village elders...

Wish the lighting was a little better.

And one final one, this of some Afghani children that have had toys distributed to them by Reiko's team...

The Fordham Spire

A new skyscraper, The Fordham Spire, has been proposed for Chicago. I think would be a magnificent addition to the city. It looks so futuristic, like a building on Minbar.

Let's hope it happens...

Friday, July 29, 2005

More prostate fun…

I suspected something was up when I saw my proctologist’s phone number on the Caller ID recorder, twice, but no message had been left on the answering machine. “Sorry, but your biopsy results were positive” is not a message one would normally leave on an answering machine. The doctor’s office and I played telephone tag for a day and a half before we finally linked up this afternoon. I received the news that I’m officially one of the “1 in 6 men who will contract Prostate cancer in their lifetime.” Lucky me.

What can you say? More importantly, what can you do? My doctor is on vacation at the moment (one of his partners called me with the news) and won’t be back until next week. Then we’re going to have a meeting and I’ll learn my options. Will it be treatment; chemo or radiation, or will it be surgery? Will it be “watchful waiting”? Who knows? We’ll find out…

Good news. Prostate cancer is, normally, very slow growing. Bad news. Out of the 14 biopsy threads taken in this latest set of tests, 4 of them were positive. This is nearly 30% of the samples taken. Another biopsy I took less than a year ago was completely negative. So, 0% to 30% in less than a year. I’m not comforted…

Good news. The doctor who spoke with me today told me that my “Gleason Score” is a “6” and that’s “good”. Bad news. I did a little research on the Internet today and find that a “6” is NOT good – its just one step below “aggressive” in tumor growth. Is this doctor just blowing smoke up my ass? Maybe I’m just misinterpreting the web site.

Good news. The cure rate for this type of cancer, if caught early enough, is supposedly nearly 100%. Bad news. Both my father and his mother died of cancer…

So, we’ll see. 95% of me thinks that everything is fine, that I’ll have some interesting medical experiences over the next several months that I’ll share with you on this blog and then it will be over. The other 5% of me is thinking “Oh God, Oh God, Oh God…”

In an earlier posting, I had poked fun at my proctologist for wanting to do another, and more thorough, biopsy. It goes without saying that I am now, more than ever, very grateful for his vigilance.

Stay tuned…

Thursday, July 28, 2005

“We were wrong…”

With these words, Shuttle Project Manager Bill Parsons stated the obvious; the Space Shuttle suffered a near disaster yesterday when a piece of foam peeled off the center fuel tank during launch. If this piece of foam had struck a leading edge of the Shuttle’s wing, as what occurred during the Columbia mission, the same disastrous result could have happened.

Bill Parsons was interviewed by Ted Koppel on Nightline tonight. The interview was extremely painful to watch. You could see real emotion and distress in Mr. Parson’s voice and face as he was grilled by Koppel. To Parson’s (and NASA’s) credit, as Koppel acknowledged, he didn’t try to hide or shade the truth. But that would have been scant comfort had that piece of foam struck something vulnerable.

I’m a huge fan of the space program and always have been. I’ve followed every space exploration mission and nearly every Shuttle launch. I still vividly remember the flight of Discovery in 1985 with Saudi national Sultan Salman Abdel-aziz Al-Saud on board. I was living and working in Saudi Arabia and happened to be on vacation during the time of that flight. My oldest daughter was visiting me in the Kingdom, and we were camping in the Asir region in Western Saudi Arabia. I still remember little Saudi children running up to us, the only Americans in the park, laughing and shouting “Discovery! Discovery!” as they made flying motions with their hands. They were happy and proud that one of their own was on board.

But it’s become obvious to all of us who pay attention to such matters that the Shuttle has never lived up to its promise as a (relatively) cheap and reliable way to get to space. It’s too expensive, too unreliable and, ultimately, too dangerous. It’s beginning to remind me, in a way, of the SST. The SST represented the culmination of a certain branch of aeronautics, but ultimately turned out to be a technological dead-end. The same can be said of the Shuttle. It’s a brilliant piece of engineering, but it will never fulfill its promise. NASA and Congress have recognized this, of course, and this is why it’s supposed to be phased out in 2010.

They are searching for a replacement. Several attempts have already failed, perhaps the most notable being the X-33, announced with much fanfare by then Vice-President Al Gore in July, 1996. A good summary of the current situation can be found here.

I have another proposal, one which I've blogged about before: rather than spend money on trying to develop yet another reusable launch vehicle, why not plow these resources into R&D for a Space Elevator? This is an idea whose time is nearly here and, with the right push, that time could be moved rapidly forward.

For the uninitiated, a Space Elevator is a 44,000+ mile tower, tethered to earth at one end and an asteroid or other large body at the other. Once in place, it is a stable platform, capable of carrying multiple loads up and down its structure using plain old electricity. As crazy as such an idea might sound, the physics of it are straightforward and have been known for decades. There are hurdles, of course; the biggest being able to find a material strong enough to build and support the tower. With the rapid advance in carbon nanotube technology, a solution may be at hand.

The advantages of a building a Space Elevator over designing and building another fleet of reusable launch vehicle are huge. Perhaps most significantly, we’d have physics working for us rather than against us. Dr. Brad Edwards, someone who has written the definitive work on the subject, believes we could have a space elevator operational in 15 years – and this without Government help. A public-private partnership here could possibly advance this date. I don’t think it's unrealistic to believe that such a structure could be operational before a Shuttle replacement could be.

Let’s be smart here and think outside the box…

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Justice Delayed

It’s been over twenty-two years since little Jeanine Nicarico was kidnapped, raped, and murdered in a horrific crime that shocked the nation. Several news reports over the past two weeks have indicated that Brian Dugan, a convicted felon who confessed to the Nicarico crime nearly twenty years ago, is finally going to be charged in this case. Evidence against Dugan appears strong; he made a video-taped confession, and passed a lie detector test incriminating himself in the crime. DNA evidence from the crime scene has also implicated him. Finally, he has been convicted of two similar crimes, and he is currently serving a life sentence because of them. Despite the evidence against Dugan, three other men were prosecuted multiple times for this crime, even though no physical evidence linking them to the crime was found. Two of the men, Alex Hernandez and Rolando Cruz, were convicted, and subsequently spent many years on death row.

The initial indictment of Cruz, Hernandez, and a third defendant, Stephen Buckley, was made on March 8th, 1984 by then DuPage County States Attorney J. Michael Fitzsimmons. This was just twelve days before Election Day. Mr. Fitzsimmons was up for re-election, a race he would lose. Public pressure was growing to indict somebody, anybody in this case, and it was becoming an issue in the election. Though Mr. Fitzsimmons had no hard evidence linking these three men to the crime, he moved forward with the indictments anyway.

Evidence introduced during the first trial included a “vision” of the crime Cruz related to an investigator, a “vision” which included details of the event not known to the public at the time. During a subsequent trial, it was revealed the investigator fabricated this story.

Another piece of evidence introduced into the first trial was a shoeprint and “matching” shoe. The front door to the Nicarico’s house had been kicked in. Mud on the heel of a shoe left a print on the door, and prosecutors claimed this shoeprint matched the shoes of one of the defendants, Stephen Buckley. Though two crime labs had failed to match his shoes to the shoeprint, Prosecutors were able to find an anthropologist who claimed she could tell someone’s “sex, race and socio-economic status” just by looking at their shoeprint. Even though, while on an archeological dig, she had once claimed a human footprint was made by a “horse or a deer”, Prosecutors still thought her credible. She “matched” Buckley’s shoes to the muddy shoeprint. After the trial, a team of forensic experts totally demolished her theory.

The initial trial of Stephen Buckley resulted in a hung jury. During the retrial, Judge Nolan refused to allow defense lawyers to introduce Brian Dugan’s confession as evidence, even though Dugan had passed a lie-detector test and was already in prison for committing two similar crimes. Prosecutors convinced Judge Nolan that Dugan’s testimony was “totally unreliable”.

In September of 1995, DNA tests ruled out Rolando Cruz and implicated Brian Dugan in the crime. Nevertheless, five weeks later, prosecutors brought Cruz to trial for a third time.

The list of travesties goes on and on. How could this have happened? How could such a gross miscarriage of justice have occured? The underlying reason was a prosecutorial mindset more interested in obtaining a conviction than in seeing justice done. Once prosecutors had decided who was guilty, the facts didn’t matter anymore. Rolando Cruz didn’t confess? No problem; just make up a story about a “vision” Cruz said he had. Unable to find a crime lab which will match the shoeprint to the defendant’s shoe? No problem; just keep looking until you can find someone, anyone, to say the prints match. Someone else has confessed to the crime? No problem; have the judge suppress the information. DNA evidence ruled out the original suspect and implicated someone else, someone who has already confessed? No problem; just ignore it and re-try the original suspect anyway. Prosecutors were simply out of control, and it finally took a directed verdict from a courageous and honest judge to end the travesty.

The problem of prosecutorial misconduct is, unfortunately, still with us. Just last year, Kevin Fox was indicted for murdering his daughter, an indictment handed down, coincidentally, just a few days before the States Attorney was up for re-election. Fortunately, when DNA evidence came in clearing Kevin Fox, he was promptly released. Hopefully, the newly elected States Attorney will now look for the criminal rather than a scapegoat.

Reforms are urgently needed in our judicial system. Governor Ryan made a courageous start when he emptied Death Row, but it will take an aroused public and a rededication of everyone in the judicial system to the ideals of truth and justice before real reform is made.

(If readers are interested in more detail about this case, the definitive work is "Victims of Justice"; an absorbing and depressing read)

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Insanity in London

It was announced today that the man chased and shot dead by British police had nothing to do with the recent terrorist bombings in London. If news reports are to be believed, the man was chased and caught by the police. The police then held him down and shot him multiple times in the head and torso. His “crime” appeared to be living in the same apartment building as a suspected terrorist did and wearing a “thick coat” which, because of the warm weather I guess, aroused suspicion.

"If you are dealing with someone who might be a suicide bomber, if they remain conscious, they could trigger plastic explosives or whatever device is on them," said Mayor Ken Livingstone (of London). "Therefore, overwhelmingly in these circumstances, it is going to be a shoot-to-kill policy."

Is this wise?

Have the police never heard of a dead-man switch? More importantly, what about the intelligence value that can be gained from questioning live suspects? And what about mistakes, such as this one, which can never be undone?

I understand the fear and the rage which must exist in London now, but the proper response is to capture these bastards, interrogate them and, when they no longer have any more intelligence value, then it can be decided what to do with them. You can always kill them later – you can’t bring back a dead man.

The Brits need to rethink this one…

Friday, July 15, 2005

Operation Paperback

I have found a relatively easy and inexpensive way to help our soldiers overseas alleviate some of the boredom they undoubtedly encounter from time-to-time. I am sending them books, used paperback books, through the auspices of Operation Paperback.

I found this group while perusing the America Supports You website, looking for a way that I could make a contribution which was more personal than just “cutting a check.”

The way it works is this; you sign up at the Operation Paperback website. They email you the APO addresses of soldiers who have requested that books be sent to them. You send them the books. Pretty simple, yes?

There are a few things you need to watch out for, of course;

First of all, a large number of these books are going to soldiers stationed in the Middle East or other Muslim countries. As such, you should not send books that have “racy” covers (racy, in this context, means showing a woman’s arms or legs). If it’s a great book and you want to send it anyway, take a black magic marker and cover up the “offending” portions of the picture. Trust me on this one. I remember living in Saudi Arabia and going shopping for books or other publications. If, say, a Newsweek magazine cover had a picture of a woman in a bathing suit on it, the “offending” portions would be blacked out with magic marker (yes, they did that for every publication that was sold there).

Second, many of the soldiers will have specific requests (Sci-Fi, or Tom Clancy, or Clive Cussler, etc.). Get the addresses and requests from Operation Paperback first before you begin packing your books. Otherwise, you’ll wind up like me – re-opening boxes and shuffling books around.

Third, they want only paperback books. If, also like me, you have a large number of hardcover books that you don’t want anymore, look for a used bookstore in your neighborhood where you can swap them (usually for partial credit) for used paperbacks. You’ll wind up spending a few dollars for more paperback books, but you’ll have more to send.

Fourth, consider using the Post Office’s Priority Mail boxes. You can usually get about 15 books in such a box and it ships for a flat rate of $7.70 to any APO address. It’s a good deal.

More details are found on the Operation Paperback website. It’s a great cause – support it.

Prostate fun...

PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen) is a protein produced by both normal and cancerous prostate glands. I have an elevated PSA reading, currently sitting at 5.8. “Normal” is a subjective word in this regard, but a normal PSA reading is between 0 and 4. So my reading is nearly 50% higher than the high end of the normal range. Lucky me. An elevated PSA can be caused by several conditions, the most serious and scary being Prostate cancer. Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer in men; approximately 1 out of every 6 men will contract this disease. If you couple that fact with my family history, both my father and grandmother died of cancer, you can see why I pay careful attention to my PSA levels. Elevated PSA levels can also be caused by BPH (Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia – an enlarged prostate) or a prostate infection. The infection has been ruled out, so we’re now down to Door #1 or Door #2; Cancer or BPH. To test for Prostate cancer, one has to do a Prostate biopsy. I had one last year, which was, fortunately, negative. However, as my PSA level has continued to rise, my proctologist wanted to perform another biopsy. I thought I would start off the weekend with a bang and underwent this fun and invigorating procedure this morning.

If graphic descriptions make you queasy, you might want to skip the rest of this blog entry.

The night before the procedure, you start a 4-day regimen of antibiotics. This is to help prevent an infection which might be caused by punching multiple holes in your ass and in your prostate gland with a hollow needle. About two hours before the procedure, you have an enema to clean out your lower intestinal tract. So, if your procedure is at 9:00am, as mine was, you have your enema at 7:00am – a really swell way to start the day. Once you’ve satisfied the most frantic urgings, you then drive to the doctor’s office, with your anxiety alternating between the coming procedure and a need to visit the bathroom.

If your doctor’s office is efficient, they get you started right away – knowing that sitting in the waiting room is not conducive to a relaxed state of mind. Oh, and they don’t want you to use the bathroom just before the procedure begins because having some “fluid in the bladder” is conducive to a “better” test. So make sure you’re empty before you get in the car.

You undress from the waist down and climb up on a table. As you get on the table, you notice that they have absorbent pads covering the area where your genitals and your ass will be sitting. This does very little for your peace of mind. The nurse adjusts the pillow, has you raise both of your knees to your chest and covers up your front side with a sheet. Your ass is hanging out, your sphincter is twitching, and you feel thoroughly exposed. The nurse asks you if you’re comfortable. Of course you are…

Then the fun begins. The doctor first does a DRE (digital rectal exam) of your prostate. He gloves, lubricates a finger, and sticks it up your ass. He cops a feel of the prostate gland through the wall of the rectum (the prostate gland is located adjacent to it), looking for lumps or anything that might indicate something is amiss; anything other than “smooth roundness” (or "round smoothness"). Once done with that, he lubricates the business end of a “Specialized Anal Probe” and inserts that up your ass. This instrument has more gizmos on it than a Swiss-army knife. Its first function (after prying you open) is to do an ultrasound on your prostate gland. He presses the probe against your rectum wall, closest to your prostate, and moves it around, this way and that. He takes multiple ultrasound images of your prostate, again looking for anything other than “smooth roundness”, all the while telling you how “well” you’re doing. You’re thinking “just get the damn thing over with – I have to go to the bathroom.”

Once he’s done with the Candid Camera bit, Dr. Procto gets ready to perform “snatch-n-grabs” where the peppers grow. First, he needs to anesthetize the area. If you like needles, this next little vignette will really appeal to you. The “Specialized Anal Probe” has an opening in it which allows him to insert a needle full of lidocaine (or whatever the hell it is they use) up your ass to numb your rectum wall. You hate it when it’s happening and wish they had numbed your brain instead. He then begins taking the actual biopsies. Did I mention that he uses a “Specialized Anal Probe”? It has yet another handy-dandy feature, a spring-loaded needle that is used to take the actual samples themselves. As each sample is taken, you hear the “click” as the spring trigger is released and you feel a small pinch as Dr. Ahab launches the harpoon where the sun don’t shine. This needle goes through your rectum wall and into your prostate gland. While in the gland, it closes off, trapping a portion of your prostate in the needle. The good doctor then withdraws it, extracts the core sample and puts it on a biopsy tray. He’s then ready to plumb the depths once more. You thought there was just one sample? Oh no, he takes several. The actual number depends on how thorough he wants to be. My proctologist is pretty anal (pun intended) so he took 14 samples; 7 on one side of the prostate and 7 on the other. You quickly figure out that he’s going to take the same number of samples on each side, so the counting of odd and even number “clicks” quickly becomes an all-consuming.activity

And then, just like that, it’s over. When he pulls that probe out of you and allows your sphincter to assume its normally puckered state, it’s almost sinful how good it feels. And the best thing about all this is that when the procedure is finished, the doctor wipes your ass for you, a nice touch if there ever was one. The entire process is pretty quick. From the time I walked into the out-patient room until the time I began pulling my pants back on was only about 15 minutes. Time flies when you’re having fun…

I was able to view the biopsies. They look like skinny little pink or grey worms – about an inch long. They’ll get sent off to the lab and, in about a week or so, I’ll know if I have something to really worry about or not. But even these biopsies are no guarantee. If your PSA is elevated and your first biopsy is negative, there is still about a 15% chance that you may have prostate cancer. If the second biopsy is negative, your chances of having prostate cancer drop to about 5%. That’s good, but not perfect, of course. I guess I’ll have to resign myself to periodically having this procedure every few years for the rest of my life. Or maybe I’ll get lucky and my PSA will start diminishing, like my memory…

One other thing worth mentioning; you’ll be peeing and crapping blood for a day or two until your prostate begins to heal. Even though the doctor warns you this is going to happen, it’s scary to see it and is a reminder of how fragile life really is.

If I don’t have cancer, then I almost certainly have BPH. BPH is no picnic, but it’s not life-threatening. It has its own set of medical procedures which I will comment on if they occur.

On a serious note, I am thankful to my doctor for being there and doing this. Yes, the procedure is unpleasant, but it’s quick and really not painful. And, once it’s over, you can laugh about it. It sure beats not knowing about prostate cancer until it’s too late. Prostate cancer is very treatable if caught early. If you’re a guy, especially if you’re over 50, make sure you get regular check-ups and make sure that you have your PSA level measured. It may save your life.

Monday, July 11, 2005

News from Afghanistan - Part 3

In an earlier email to me, my wife's niece was wondering if I could round up some used eyeglasses to send her - she said that the village elders they treated often were unable to see well. I told her I'd try and began to contact organizations, including the Lions Club, to see if I could get a shipment organized for her. I made some progress, but the project has been called off. Here is her latest email to me;
Hey Uncle Ted!

I am so sorry it has taken me forever to get back with you. I just got back from another mission. So, I think the eye glasses issue is dead in the water. They feel that giving some of the elders eye glasses is a bad idea. The higher command thinks it's a risk because if they still have loyalty to the Taliban or Al Qaida, giving them eye glasses will help them see better and make us easier targets.

I can see the logic in that one but I think the reasoning is a little weak. The other issue was since we don't have someone to assess their vision, the "trial and error" methodology to find a prescription would be too time consuming during a MEDCAP.

I'm sorry for wasting all of your time looking for an organization. I really appreciate that you were willing to help, but I just can't get the support behind me for this one.

Thanks again Uncle Ted!

I agree that "the reasoning is a little weak". It seems to be a very odd way to "win hearts and minds." I'm not a military guy and I'm not on the ground there, so of course must defer to their decision. But it's frustrating being unable to help in this situation.

But I've found another way to help out troops overseas - this the subject of a future entry.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Way to go Jay...

As longtime readers know, I'm not a big fan of Jay Leno. While he certainly is funny, I think his humor is often mean-spirited and too often attacks people when they're down. I wrote earlier about how, IMHO, his continual acid-tongued attacks on Prince Charles and his new bride-to-be stepped far over the line of good taste.

Tonight though, while flipping channels, I caught the end of his monologue. He closed it by talking about how the Brits have always been America's staunch allies, standing by us no matter what. And he expressed his sympathy and pain caused by today's terrorist attacks in London. It was a very classy statement and I salute him for it.

I agree with him completely. The Brits ARE our friends. Statesmen on both sides of the Atlantic have opined that "there are no permanent allies, only permanent interests" and, in general, I agree with this. But Britain is a special case. Because of our shared history and our shared values, it is a rare situation, indeed, where we and the Brits are at odds. The last time I think this happened, over any issue of substance, was in the 1950’s regarding control of the Suez Canal. Prior to that was probably the War of 1812. I count many Brits as my friends and I join Jay and countless other Americans as we express our solidarity with the British people, our sympathy for the families who are now suffering because of these atrocities, and our rage at the terrorists who have attacked them in such a cowardly manner.

Great Britain is a country that, not so long ago, withstood the Nazi blitz, an all-out terror attack on their country by another nation-state. Today’s bombings will have no effect on British policy and will only stiffen British resolve.

Thanks, Jay, for your comments this evening.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Original Intent

The United States Constitution is an amazing document. It is small and concise, and is a blueprint for establishing a Republic where citizens are free to act in any way they choose, as long as they do not intentionally harm someone else. It expressly limits government power and responsibility to carefully defined areas. Upon assuming office, every elected officeholder in the United States must take an oath to “…preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America.” The U.S. Constitution is discussed at length in Civics classes taught in every high school in America. And yet there is no national consensus as to what the U.S. Constitution means, and there is no national consensus on how the Supreme Court should make its decisions relevant to the Constitution. One only has to look at the large number of decisions which are split 6-3 or 5-4 to see this is true. Why are there such sharp disagreements about what the U.S. Constitution means?

I think the reason for this profound discord is that the Supreme Court has decided the “Original Intent” of the framers of the Constitution is no longer relevant. Most Justices cite prior cases as their justification for rulings on new ones. Other Justices ignore Original Intent and past decisions entirely, saying the Constitution is a “living document”; one which must be constantly reinterpreted in accordance with the social norms of the day. It’s rare, indeed, to see a ruling which addresses the “Original Intent” of the framers as the basis for the decision. An examination of present and past decisions shows this is so.

For example, in Kelo v City of New London (2005), the Supreme Court ruled the city of New London, Connecticut was allowed to forcibly take people’s homes for redevelopment. The 5 judge majority cited previous Court rulings as the basis for this decision. A discussion of the Original Intent of the “Takings Clause” in the Constitution was mentioned only in one of the dissenting opinions. In Wickard v Filburn (1942), the Supreme Court ruled Congress has the power to decide how much wheat a farmer may grow each year. Again, the Court’s ruling cited only previous Court decisions as the basis for this ruling, and refused to entertain any discussion of Original Intent.

This wasn’t always the case. If one looks at earlier decisions, especially those made prior to 1930, Original Intent was more often cited. For example, in two cases involving bankruptcies, Sturges v Crowinshield (1819) and Ogden v Sanders (1827), the Supreme Court expressly discussed the relevant Constitutional articles and their Original Intent in the ruling. And in the “Separate but Equal” case of Plessy v Ferguson (1896), the Court also explicitly refers to various Constitutional clauses and their Original Intent in justifying its decision.

People of good will may agree or disagree on what the various articles of the Constitution mean. But at least they have a common starting point, a document which was agreed upon and ratified by all the founding States. And if they find the Constitution is lacking in a certain area, for example in ensuring people of all races are to be treated equally under the law, an Amendment to the Constitution can and should be passed to rectify the situation.

But when decisions are based on previous decisions, and those previous decisions are based on still earlier decisions, it is as if a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy is made; the original information can become confused and eventually lost.

In the coming debate over at least one, and probably two, new Supreme Court Justices, the real debate should not be over what the previous decisions of the nominees have been, but rather on what basis Supreme Court decisions should be reached. While this may be painful over the short-term, in the long run it will help to create a new national consensus; one which can be used to help address the thorny social issues of today and tomorrow.

Monday, July 04, 2005

The Supreme Court and Eminent Domain

Last week I wrote about a project getting underway to try and get Supreme Court Justice Souter’s home in New Hampshire condemned so that a hotel could be built on it. This is supposed to be “payback” for his voting in favor of allowing the city of New London, Connecticut to take private property solely for the purpose of economic development.

If one actually reads the decision, as I have, it’s painfully clear how the court has gone astray (again). The justices ruling in favor of New London rely solely on previous court decisions made in the past several decades and totally ignore “Original Intent” of the Constitution. I came to this conclusion while reading the decision, and at the end of Justice Thomas’ dissent, he says the same thing.

A couple of thoughts on this; First of all, those who say that this decision represents a “new direction” or “increased powers” of local government haven’t been paying attention. This decision really breaks no new ground. It just reaffirms previous decisions and quotes several previous cases where the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of a very broad interpretation of eminent domain. Second, even in Justice O’Connor’s dissent, she tries to split hairs by saying that it’s OK to take land for development for, say, a sports stadium, but it’s not OK for this particular development project. Talk about slippery slopes… And third, this just reaffirms my opinion that “Original Intent” is not the ruling guideline for all of Supreme Court justices. How can it be anything else?

Getting back to the attempt to “take” Justice Souter’s home, I predict it will go nowhere quickly. First of all, it’s in New Hampshire. This is a State, above all other States, that favors individual rights. And second, the Supreme Court decision affirms that it’s the local government which must make these decisions. This means that the Selectman of Weare, the town in which Justice Souter lives, would have to sponsor a development project and then invite in developers for proposals. Unless they have a personal vendetta against Justice Souter, they just aren’t going to do it.

If you’re interested in current developments in the "Lost Liberty Hotel" project, visit the Freestar Media website.

Happy 4th of July...

Deep Impact - Mission Accomplished

It's now nearly 2:00am Central Time and I've just turned off the TV. I'd been watching coverage of the Deep Impact space mission on the NASA channel (thanks, DirecTV). Mission Accomplished - a direct hit on the comet Tempel 1.

Everything we can learn about Comets and Asteroids is a good thing, something that may mean our lives one day. I don't know who said it first (I first heard it from Larry Niven, the SF Author), but it's true; "The reason the dinosaurs are extinct is that they didn't have a space program." Comets and Asteroids have hit us in the past causing global catastrophes, and are certainly going to target us in the future. If we don't learn how to find them and then either destroy them or alter their orbits away from impacting earth, they can cause planet-wide devastation that makes "Global Warming" look like a picnic.

Well done NASA and JPL - Congratulations...

Sunday, July 03, 2005

The Space Elevator – a real “Stairway to Heaven”

Imagine an elevator that is tens of thousands of miles high, an elevator into space. Such a structure is theoretically possible and, with the rapid pace of technology, is now looming on the horizon as a real possibility.

I’ve been fascinated by this concept ever since I read Arthur C. Clarke’s “The Fountains of Paradise.” This is a fictional story of an engineer who does, indeed, succeed in building such an elevator. To quote Mr. Clarke; “The concept was first developed in detail by a Leningrad engineer, Yuri Artsutanov, in 1960 and later by several American engineers quite unaware of Artsutanov's work.” It’s an idea whose time has come.

One of the major hurdles towards building such a structure has been finding a material strong enough to handle the tremendous stresses that something this large would be under. Conventional materials, even the strongest steel, Kevlar, etc. are nowhere near strong enough. With the rapid developments in carbon nanotubes, however, this hurdle may be jumped in the near future. Other problems exist, for example creating sufficient radiation shielding to protect passengers and crew. But these are going to be overcome, too. Predictions are now being made that such a structure will be built and operational within 15 years; hopefully within my lifetime.

The advantages of such an elevator are enormous. No longer do we need to have rockets with their expensive payloads and polluting exhaust to lift items out of earth’s gravity well. Simple electricity can power the “climbers” that would travel up and down the elevator cable. Energy can be recovered from items coming down and used again. With cheap “lift costs”, space industry and exploration will begin to happen in a big way. The space-end of the elevator will be whipping through space at high speeds and can be used to launch space craft (which were brought up the elevator and assembled in space).

Multiple elevators can be built. As the technology gets still better, the costs to ship goods into space should become still cheaper. The exploration of space will open to commercial enterprises. The possibilities are literally endless.

The best book, so far, on this subject is “The Space Elevator; A Revolutionary Earth-to-Space Transportation System” by Bradley Edwards and Eric Westling. It’s a fascinating look at the possibilities and does a fine job of listing advantages to such a project and hurdles yet to be overcome. The 3rd Annual Space Elevator conference was recently held. There are several web sites that discuss this concept; some of them are here, here, and here. There is an online discussion group devoted to talking about subject. And, a 12 minute video discussing current events in this arena has been posted at the release1-0 web site (registration required).

I can’t wait – maybe I’ll make it to space after all…

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