Wednesday, November 30, 2005

I do not much care for the US Postal Service. I collect postage stamps, and so I'm fond of those, but so far as the service is concerned, I have an intense dislike for it.

My local service at my home has taken a nosedive in the past month or so. It used to be that the mail was delivered around four PM at the latest. I liked our mail carrier and he did a fine job. But in the last month or so I've not seen him and instead have seen several different people pretending to do his job. And the mail has been arriving at 7:00 PM or even as late as 8:00 PM! Or not coming at all.

In one memorable scene from the TV series, Cheers, Cliff Claven, the mailman, had delivered mail along a hallway in an apartment complex. Once he leaves the scene, we witness the inhabitants exiting their doors and exchanging misdelivered mail with one another.

Well, the mail that is delivered to our church suffers that problem on a regular basis. At least twice a week I discover mail delivered to the church that should go to our neighbor, or sometimes to someone on the next block.

Last week, it happened at my house. My next door neighbor came by and handed us our mail--the whole bundle--because it had mistakenly been delivered to his house!

And twice now in the past two weeks, our mail wasn't even delivered at all; it showed up the next morning in one case, mid afternoon in the second, followed much later by the regular mail delivery.

And now, for this deteriorating service, the postal service intends to raise the cost by another 2 cents. I already avoid snail mail as much as I can, doing my bill paying and bill receiving almost exclusively on the web. I will cut back even more now.

And the postal service, like most government agencies, seems not to have a clue about basic economics. When usage declines and their revenue suffers, their thought is to raise the price to compensate for the falloff. Other industries, such as airlines, instead LOWER their prices to encourage people to come back. That's kind of the basic principle of how supply and demand function. Economics 101.

But government bureaucrats and congress people don't think that way. And so the price goes up every time usage declines. And what will happen? Usage will continue to decline, and the revenue will continue to drop. And they'll scratch their heads and raise the price again and again, completely confused and clueless that bad service coupled with overpricing, when there are alternatives to everything they offer, will only result in further declines in their revenue.

Unfortunately, since it is a government operation, it won't go out of business like any similarly incompetent corporation would mercifully do.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Well, SpaceX has now delayed their first launch by at least a week; they're having trouble with the liquid oxygen tank. But Musk figured it would be late, given that this is the first launch for this rocket and it is, after all, rocket science.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

SpaceX has postponed the first launch of their Falcon 1 again. reports:

An upstart rocket company on Saturday postponed its first-ever satellite launch on Saturday after a series of last-minute snags....

After a series of ups and downs, Larry Williams, SpaceX's vice president for international and governmental affairs, announced that the launch would be have to be postponed yet another day, until Sunday at the earliest.

So, maybe Sunday.

Friday, November 25, 2005

According to, SpaceX has been forced to delay the maiden launch of their Falcon 1 space rocket by 24 hours:

An upstart rocket company says it has delayed the startup of its launch schedule by at least 24 hours, due to the U.S. Army's need to prepare for a missile defense launch.

The maiden launch for the Space Exploration Technologies Corp., or SpaceX, had been scheduled for 4 p.m. ET Friday from an equatorial launch site on an island in the Pacific Ocean's Kwajalein Atoll.

However, the El Segundo, Calif.-based company said in a statement issued late Thursday that the Army Space and Missile Defense Command had bumped the first launch of SpaceX's Falcon1 rocket by 24 hours, to 4 p.m. ET Saturday, "in order to facilitate preparations for a missile defense launch."

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

MEMRI reports that:

On October 20, 2005, the Lebanese press reported that a delegation from the Presbyterian Church USA, headed by Father Nihad Tu'meh and with Robert Worley as its spokesman,(1) visited southern Lebanon at the invitation of Hizbullah, and met there with the terrorist organization's commander in southern Lebanon, Nabil Qawuq.

During the meeting, Qawuq expressed his doubts about U.S. actions in the region and the intentions of the Bush administration. Worley, on his part, assured Qawuq that he was not defending the U.S. administration, that all delegation members had voted Democratic, and that the Presbyterian Church had been pressured by U.S. Jewish organizations because of its campaign to divest from corporations working with Israel.

A year previously, on October 17, 2004, a Presbyterian Church USA delegation visiting Lebanon also met with Qawuq. MEMRI TV translated excerpts from a report on the meeting that was aired by Hizbullah's Al-Manar TV. During the meeting, church elder Ronald Stone(2) said, "We treasure the precious words of Hizbullah and your expression of goodwill towards the American people. Also, we praise your initiative for dialogue and mutual understanding. We cherish these statements that bring us closer to you. As an elder of our church, I'd like to say that according to my recent experience, relations and conversations with Islamic leaders are a lot easier than dealings and dialogue with Jewish leaders."

I do wonder how history is going to report on the Presbyterian Church USA. I suspect it will not be kind. To me, these "leaders" resemble those in the churches of Germany who applauded the Nazis. There's something desperately wrong with people who think that terrorists are the good guys. Is it really that difficult to figure out that people who blow up synogogues, restaurants, buses and schools in order to kill women and children are the bad guys? Can't they grasp the concept of evil?

Sunday, November 20, 2005

As most know, awhile back Pat Robertson called for the assassination of the President of Venuzuala. Now, according to a story in the LA Times, Venuzuala is expelling missionaries.

Last month, Chavez ordered the expulsion of about 200 evangelical Baptist missionaries from the country's Amazon rain forest. He accused them of spying, mining, exploiting indigenous tribes and using jungle airstrips for "imperialist penetration." Last week, the missionaries were given 90 days to leave the zone....

Some observers see the expulsion, which targeted the Florida-based New Tribes Mission and its offshoots, as a part of a hardening attitude toward religious groups since U.S. televangelist Pat Robertson suggested in August that someone assassinate Chavez.

Robertson, besides making vile statements, has brought the name of Christ into disrepute and has harmed the spread of the Gospel message. Peter wrote:

If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. (1 Peter 4:14-16)

Unfortunately for all of us, Pat Robertson is a meddler.

Friday, November 18, 2005 reports that SpaceX has set a date for the first launch of the Falcon 1:

After more than three years of development, an upstart competitor to the Goliaths of the global launch industry announced Friday that it would attempt its first blastoff in one week.

The Falcon 1 rocket from Space Exploration Technologies Corp. is scheduled to lift off from a launch complex on the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands at 9 a.m. local time on Nov. 26, which translates to 4 p.m. ET on Nov. 25. The launch window lasts four hours.

SpaceX, as the company is known, was founded by software millionaire Elon Musk. In announcing the launch, Musk said he saw the launch as "the first steppingstone in reducing the cost of access to space."...

During Friday's news conference at SpaceX's headquarters in El Segundo, Calif., Musk said "approximately $100 million" has been invested in his company, with 98 percent of that coming from his own wealth. The other 2 percent came from "friends and family who were crazy enough to put some money into the company," he joked.

Musk already has plans to beef up his line of launch vehicles with a heavy-lift Falcon 9, which could conceivably be used for human spaceflight. Indeed, he told reporters that future generations of Falcon rockets would be used for "not just satellites, but really ultimately for human transportation."

So, one week and counting...

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Remarkably, for the second straight year, Congress passed a budget that fully funds NASA, so the President's vision for space exploration, the building of the shuttle replacement and a return to the moon by 2018 continues. NASA's FY 2006 share of the federal budget comes to $16.5 billion. For those who think we should focus our attention on problems here on earth, well, that is precisely what we do. The bulk of the federal budget goes to things like social security, medicare, education, and the like. NASA's $16.5 billion for the year represents only 0.7 percent of the federal budget. 99.3 percent of the federal budget focuses on all those things that the naysayers think are important.

I suspect that the naysayers drop a larger percent of their personal budgets on watching movies and other frivolous things (or do such people really spend all their time and money helping the homeless at soup kitchens?)

So there.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Before teaching class tonight at Quartz Hill School of Theology, I was looking at the science news on and discovered that a letter I’d written to Alan Boyle, who writes Cosmic Log there, was published in his column. It is critical of Intelligent Design. You can see it here:

Just scroll down to the second November 11 posting; it is at the beginning, and he gives my name, and mentions the School of Theology!

Monday, November 14, 2005 ( is reporting that lasers are that much closer to becoming practical weapons:

Solid Success in Speed-of-Light Weaponry

A laser has blasted to a new energy level, a milestone that picks up the pace for moving them from the lab onto the battlefield.

Northrop Grumman announced November 9 that the company’s solid-state laser being built for the military has fired one of the most powerful beams yet produced by an electric laser.

The advancement stems from a military effort to leap frog speed-of-light technology under the Joint High Power Solid-State Laser (JHPSSL) demonstration program.

The solid-state laser churned out more than 27 kilowatts of energy with a run time of 350 seconds. In a separate test, the company reported that the laser demonstrated “excellent beam quality” at 19 kilowatts power level, showing how well the beam can be focused and thus get to a target. The company’s laser demonstrator could have operated much longer....

Engineers raised on Star Trek are determined to make it happen. We already have communicators, after all. Now, if we can just figure out how to build warp engines...

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Sigh. Pat Robertson's constituency must appreciate the fact that he says stupid, foul things. Otherwise, it's hard to explain how come he still has a forum to keep spouting nonsense. According to (, now he's popped off with this:

WASHINGTON - Conservative Christian televangelist Pat Robertson told citizens of a Pennsylvania town that they had rejected God by voting their school board out of office for supporting “intelligent design” and warned them Thursday not to be surprised if disaster struck.
Robertson, a former Republican presidential candidate and founder of the influential conservative Christian Broadcasting Network and Christian Coalition, has a long record of similar apocalyptic warnings and provocative statements....

“I’d like to say to the good citizens of Dover: if there is a disaster in your area, don’t turn to God, you just rejected him from your city,” Robertson said on his daily television show broadcast from Virginia, “The 700 Club.”

“And don’t wonder why he hasn’t helped you when problems begin, if they begin. I’m not saying they will, but if they do, just remember, you just voted God out of your city. And if that’s the case, don’t ask for his help because he might not be there,” he said.

You know what? Just because people don't agree with Intelligent Design Theory, that doesn't mean they have rejected God. One can reject Intelligent Design Theory and still believe in God and be a Christian. Apparently Pat Robertson can't comprehend that, and apparently his followers don't either; but then, it seems, many creationists and the like demonize their opponents in just this way on a regular basis. I've found it relatively common among many of my fellow Christians to consign those who dare disagree on some point of doctrine, however minor, to Hell.

From the theological standpoint, I believe that the intelligent design concept is deeply flawed. It is simply a new version of a very old error: the God of the Gaps fallacy. To put it simply, the God of the Gaps fallacy argues that God is to be defined as mystery. Where there is mystery, there is God: if we find something in the world we don’t understand, the explanation is always the same: God did it.

This is an incredibly lazy approach to the world. When explanations for objects and events are found—as they must always be—the God of this fallacy inevitably shrinks. Needless to say, those caught in the grip of this fallacy inevitably fear explanations. Each time humanity’s understanding of the universe grows, a little piece of their God shrinks. They little realize that they’re worshiping a false God who needs to disappear.

Most theologians, along with most scientists, discarded the God of the Gaps fallacy a long time ago. God is not dependent for his existence on ignorance.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

One of the sites I read regularly is the one belonging to Jerry Pournelle, the science fiction author ( He has written several novels on his own, as well as in collaboration with Larry Niven. He also has a PhD and has been involved in the space program and is a computer expert, having written for the print version of Byte Magazine for years and now the online edition. Anyhow, I found this humerous item on his page:

President Bush May Send Up To 5 Marines For French Assistance

President Bush has authorized the Joint Chiefs to begin drawing up a battle plan to pull France's ass out of the fire again. Facing an apparent overwhelming force of up to 400 pissed off teenagers Mr. Bush doubts France's ability to hold off the little pissants. "Hell, if the last two world wars are any indication, I would expect France to surrender any day now", said Bush.
Joint Chiefs head, Gen. Peter Pace, warned the President that it might be necessary to send up to 5 marines to get things under control. The general admitted that 5 marines may be overkill but he wanted to get this thing under control within 24 hours of arriving on scene. He stated he was having a hard time finding even one marine to help those ungrateful bastards out for a third time but thought that he could persuade a few women marines to do the job before they went on pregnancy leave.

President Bush asked Gen. Pace to get our marines out of there as soon as possible after order was restored. He also reminded Gen. Pace to make sure the marines did not take soap, razors, or deodorant with them. The less they stand out the better.

Cruel, I suppose, but funny.

Monday, November 07, 2005

According to (

MOSCOW (AP) – Russian space officials Monday set a Nov. 9 blastoff for a European probe to explore Venus after its earlier launch was postponed because of a booster rocket problem.
Engineers will be able to fix the flaws by that date, the Federal Space Agency said in scheduling the launch at the Russian-leased Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. ( gives a nice overview of all the previous space missions to Venus:

1961: Venera 1 (Venus 1), Soviet-made probe designed for a fly-by of Venus. Fate unknown. Communications with ground station broke down about seven million kilometers (4.37 million miles) from Earth.

1962: Mariner 1 and Mariner 2 (US). Mariner 1 veered off-course and had to be destroyed shortly after launch. Mariner 2 became the first successful interplanetary probe. Found no significant magnetic fields or radiation belts around Venus. Heat sensors found the surface to be dry and scorching hot.

1965-83: Venera 2 - Venera 16. Ambitious programme of Soviet campaign of fly-bys and landings, characterised by several failures but some successes. Among them: Venera 7 (1970), which parachuted a capsule of scientific instruments to the surface, marking the first successful landing on Venus, and Venera 9 (1975), which sent back the first TV pictures of the Venusian surface.

1967: Mariner 5 (US). Flyby, measuring magnetic fields, charged particles, ultra-violet emissions.

1973: Mariner 10 (US). NASA flyby of a probe en route for Mercury. Returned first close up pictures of Venus, despite navigational problems.

1978: Pioneer Venus (US). Orbiter, operated until 1992. Included the Pioneer Venus Multiprobe (US). Comprised one large and three small probes, equipped with sensors, that were sent down to the surface in 1978.

1984: Vega 1 and 2 (Soviet). Flybys of Venus while en route to Halley's Comet, dropped scientific packages to surface.

1989: Magellan (US). Orbiter designed to map Venus' surface. Highly successful. Operated until 1994.

- Galileo (US). Flyby of Venus in 1990 while en route to the outer planets.
2004: Messenger (US). Two scheduled fly-bys of Venus (Oct 2006, June 2007) en route to Mercury.

Venus is a harsh place to visit: sulphuric acid clouds and 800 degree F. surface temperatures.
Google now allows searches of books. They've been scanning books in the public domain from the University of Michigan library, among other places. It is only the beginning, but already, it seems to be quite a useful resource. Check it out:

Of course, the project has generated controversy, primarily in how they are going to handle books that are not in the public domain.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Ugh. From Jihad Watch (

Some are even calling for the areas where Muslims form a majority of the population to be reorganized on the basis of the "millet" system of the Ottoman Empire: Each religious community (millet) would enjoy the right to organize its social, cultural and educational life in accordance with its religious beliefs.

In parts of France, a de facto millet system is already in place. In these areas, all women are obliged to wear the standardized Islamist "hijab" while most men grow their beards to the length prescribed by the sheiks.

The radicals have managed to chase away French shopkeepers selling alcohol and pork products, forced "places of sin," such as dancing halls, cinemas and theaters, to close down, and seized control of much of the local administration.

A reporter who spent last weekend in Clichy and its neighboring towns of Bondy, Aulnay-sous-Bois and Bobigny heard a single overarching message: The French authorities should keep out.
"All we demand is to be left alone," said Mouloud Dahmani, one of the local "emirs" engaged in negotiations to persuade the French to withdraw the police and allow a committee of sheiks, mostly from the Muslim Brotherhood, to negotiate an end to the hostilities.

President Jacques Chirac and Premier de Villepin are especially sore because they had believed that their opposition to the toppling of Saddam Hussein in 2003 would give France a heroic image in the Muslim community.

That illusion has now been shattered — and the Chirac administration, already passing through a deepening political crisis, appears to be clueless about how to cope with what the Parisian daily France Soir has called a "ticking time bomb."

It is now clear that a good portion of France's Muslims not only refuse to assimilate into "the superior French culture," but firmly believe that Islam offers the highest forms of life to which all mankind should aspire.

So what is the solution? One solution, offered by Gilles Kepel, an adviser to Chirac on Islamic affairs, is the creation of "a new Andalusia" in which Christians and Muslims would live side by side and cooperate to create a new cultural synthesis.

The problem with Kepel's vision, however, is that it does not address the important issue of political power. Who will rule this new Andalusia: Muslims or the largely secularist Frenchmen?

And of course, the new Intafada continues elsewhere in Europe, too. It's not only France that's burning...

A two state solution was good enough for the Israelis, eh. Land for peace. Does it seem such a good idea now that we're talking about France?

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Events in France give new meaning to the word schadenfreude: taking guilty delight when something bad happens to someone you know. Gee, maybe appeasing Moslem extremists doesn't do any good? You'd think they'd have learned that from their experiences with Germany. Oh well. Of course, they don't seem willing to learn much of anything. They still think socialism is a fine idea, despite their 9.8 per cent unemployment versus the U.S. 5 per cent.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Back in the summers of 1976 and 1977 I worked on a kibbutz in Israel; that was while I was an undergraduate in college. While there, I discovered the Jerusalem Post (I still subscribe to the International edition) and within its pages, I discovered a political cartoon, Dry Bones.

Well, today, I discovered that Yaakov Kirschen, who still draws that cartoon, has a blog. He tells the stories behind his comics and puts them on the blog.

You can see it here:

I really like his cartoons. I even bought a book of his collected cartoons published back when I was still in college.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

What is a failed writer? A failed writer is a writer who gives up, a writer who quits, a writer who does not write. Failure is not a consequence of an editor turning you down. Failure is not doing the writing. If you're writing, you're not a failure.
A song of ascents.
I lift up my eyes to you,
to you whose throne is in heaven.
As the eyes of slaves look to the hand of their master,
as the eyes of a maid look to the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the LORD our God, till he shows us his mercy.
(Psalm 123:1-2)

Whether we live in joy or in despair, God remains with us.
MEMRI is a website I visit regularly; I also receive emails from them. I just got this one today, which I found interesting:

Liberal Bahraini Journalist: "Who Hates America in the Arab and Muslim World, and Why"
To view this Special Dispatch in HTML, visit

Against the backdrop of the September 2005 tour of the Middle East by U.S. State Department official and presidential advisor Karen Hughes, who is heading the effort to improve the U.S.'s image abroad, in a recent article liberal Bahraini journalist 'Omran Salman presents two explanations for the hatred towards America: Arab and Muslim culture, and a post 9/11 coalition of Islamists, Pan Arab Ba'athists and nationalists, and Arab regimes.(1)

The following are excerpts from the article:

Hatred is a General Phenomenon in the Arab and Muslim World, and Not Limited to Americans
"...Hatred in the Arab and Muslim world is a general phenomenon that is not limited only to the Americans. It is possible that the Arabs and Muslims hate each other no less than they hate others...

"In the 1990s, over 200,000 citizens were killed in Algeria – most of them by extremist Islamic groups. What was the response of most of the Arabs and Muslims? A mixture of amusement and of presenting justifications for the murderers and terrorists. During those years, the Taliban movement also abused Shi'ites, Azeris, Tajikis, and other minorities, and no one did anything [to stop it].

"In 1990, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, occupied it, and expelled its residents. What was the response of the Arabs and Muslims? Nothing. On the contrary: Most Arabs and Muslims supported Saddam... And in 1991, Saddam murdered hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Shi'ites and Kurds, and most Arabs and Muslims did not condemn it.

"These days, the Arab Janjaweed militias, which are supported by the Khartoum government, are continuing their racist campaign of annihilation against the African Muslims in Darfour.
"In Iraq, Al-Zarqawi and the terror groups affiliated with him are slaughtering Shi'ites and blowing up their mosques and their schools, after declaring war on them. In both cases, none of the Arabs or the Muslims are acting to prevent this, or even to condemn the deeds.

"In total, during a single decade alone no less than half a million Arab and Muslim victims were murdered by Arabs and Muslims.

"In addition, the religious, ethnic, and national minorities in the Arab world, such as the Shi'ites, Isma'ilis, Zaidis, Christians, and Jews, have been subject to humiliation characterized by racism...

The U.S.'s Powerful Response to 9/11 Infuriates the Extremist Muslims and Pan-Arabs as well as the Arab Governments

"American policy in the [Arab and Muslim] region did not change essentially for over 50 years, until 2000. So what new thing happened to arouse the hatred [towards the U.S.] in its current broad scope? ...

"The new element in the American-Arab-Islamic arena was the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, and the U.S.'s powerful and decisive response. This response was aimed at accomplishing three goals simultaneously.

"First, to strike a crushing blow against the Al-Qaeda organization and its allies in the Taliban movement in Afghanistan. This goal was accomplished.

"Second, to destroy the despotic regime of Saddam Hussein and of the fascist Ba'th party in Iraq. This goal too was accomplished.

"Third, to spread democracy and freedom in the Middle East. This project will continue for decades to come.

"The first blow infuriated the Islamists; the second blow infuriated the pan-Arab nationalists; and the third blow infuriated the Arab regimes.

"Gradually, an unofficial alliance emerged between these three parties, with the long-term goal to thwart the new American policy. [But] since this alliance is too weak to respond militarily to the American policy, it responds in the media and with propaganda.

"Its first goal was to distort the image of the U.S. in order to make the Arab citizens loathe everything American.

"The main means which they are using to distort the image of the U.S. are:

"1. The printed and electronic media, which are for the most part subject to the control of the Arab governments (whether via funding or via influence), beginning with Al-Jazeera in Qatar and including the national papers in Egypt.

"2. Educational programs, all of which are subject to control by the Arab governments and to the influence of the Islamic groups.

"3. The mosques, which are also subject to the control of governments and the Islamic groups, via the Ministries of Religious Endowments and Islamic Affairs in the Arab countries. Exceptions are the Shi'ite mosques, because the Shi'ites are usually economically independent from the governments of their countries.

"This [propaganda] machine operated at full power in order to brainwash the Arab citizens, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in order to fan the hatred against the U.S. ...

"[The Islamists, the pan-Arab nationalists, and the Arab regimes] are the ones who hate America. The ordinary Arab and Muslim citizens are mere blindfolded hostages in the hands of this alliance.

"The U.S. must respond [to the hatred against it] not by appealing to the hostages and convincing them of the good things in the U.S. – because they are incapable of seeing them even if they wanted to.

"They must be helped first of all by freeing them of their [Islamist, pan-Arab, and Arab government] abductors."

(1) Mideast Transparent, October 25, 2005.

The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) is an independent, non-profit organization that translates and analyzes the media of the Middle East. Copies of articles and documents cited, as well as background information, are available on request.

MEMRI holds copyrights on all translations. Materials may only be used with proper attribution.

The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI)

P.O. Box 27837, Washington, DC 20038-7837

Phone: (202) 955-9070

Fax: (202) 955-9077