Thursday, June 12, 2008

A Simulating Q & A...

Here's some pointed commentary on Bush's lame “stimulus package”:
This year, taxpayers will receive an Economic Stimulus Payment. This is a very exciting new program that I will explain using the Q and A format:

Q. What is an Economic Stimulus Payment?
A. It is money that the federal government will send to taxpayers.

Q. Where will the government get this money?
A. From taxpayers.

Q. So the government is giving me back my own money?
A. Only a smidgen.

Q. What is the purpose of this payment?
A. The plan is that you will use the money to purchase a high-definition
TV set, thus stimulating the economy.

Q. But isn't that stimulating the economy of China and Japan?
A. Shut up.
Tip o' the hat to Simi L...

Phoenix Update...

Phoenix – the little lander that could – is working away on the surface of Mars. A few days ago it scooped up some Martian dirt and tried to deliver it to one of the instruments on board, but ran into an unexpected problem: the dirt was very “clumpy” and refused to enter the pencil-lead sized container for the instrument's sample. The soil just sat on top of a screen intended to keep large particles out of the instrument.

The photo at right (click to enlarge) shows the clumpy dirt in the scoop. It looks to me almost like damp soil, though in the thin and dry Martian atmosphere this can't be the real explanation. The project scientists are trying to figure out what the actual source of the clumpiness is. The photo shows a test of a different way of delivering the dirt to the instrument: they tried vibrating the scoop (using a motorized rasp that's attached to the back of it) to see if that would help the soil more gracefully exit the scoop. Looks like this worked.

Meanwhile, the initial sample of soil delivered a few days ago decided to drop through the screen and into the intrument, to the delight of the project science team. They're not sure exactly why this happened – it could be all the vibrating that they've been doing, or it could be simply that the soil's characteristics changed after a few days in the sun. Whatever the reason, the team now has a sample in the instrument, and they have begun analyzing it. This is one of the key experiments on the lander, so I'm sure there are big sighs of relief being heard right about now...

The photo at right shows the two trenches that Phoenix has dug so far: “Dodo” on the left, and “Baby Bear” on the right (click to enlarge). Both trenches show whitish areas that are likely either ice or salts of some kind – with any luck at all, the sample currently being analyzed will give us a clue which it is.

So far the Phoenix lander has had zero technology problems – a very impressive achievement for NASA. For about the same price as delivering a pizza to the International Space Station...

Drill! Drill! Drill!

That's the title of Daniel Henninger's latest column in the WSJ. Here's his lead:

Charles de Gaulle once wrote off the nation of Brazil in six words: "Brazil is not a serious country." How much time is left before someone says the same of the United States?

One thing Brazil and the U.S. have in common is the price of oil: It is priced in dollars, and everyone in the world now knows what the price is. Another commonality is that each country has vast oil reserves in waters off their coastlines.

Here we may draw a line in the waves between the serious and the unserious.

Brazil discovered only yesterday (November) that billions of barrels of oil sit in difficult water beneath a swath of the Santos Basin, 180 miles offshore from Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. The U.S. has known for decades that at least 8.5 billion proven barrels of oil sit off its Pacific, Atlantic and Gulf coasts, with the Interior Department estimating 86 billion barrels of undiscovered oil resources.

When Brazil made this find last November, did its legislature announce that, for fear of oil spills hitting Rio's beaches or altering the climate, it would forgo exploiting these fields?

Of course it didn't. Guilherme Estrella, director of exploration and production for the Brazilian oil company Petrobras, said, "It's an extraordinary position for Brazil to be in." Indeed it is.

At this point in time, is there another country on the face of the earth that would possess the oil and gas reserves held by the United States and refuse to exploit them? Only technical incompetence, as in Mexico, would hold anyone back.

But not us. We won't drill.

Read the whole thing.