Friday, February 07, 2003 :::
"INTELLECTUALLY, MULTICULTURALISM IS INDEFENSIBLE. It is embarrassingly inconsistent. It is refuted and undermined by its own argument. Politically, multiculturalism is dangerous. Multiculturalism represents nothing less than the political suicide of the West, and in particular the crown jewel of the West, the United States of America. Multiculturalism attempts to undermine the good principles upon which America is built, and it is corrosive of the patriotic spirit that fills the hearts of free men and women. Though it operates much more subtly, multiculturalism is no less a threat to our free institutions than the terrorists who attack our cities with airplanes. It is the test of the American people whether they have the intelligence to identify multiculturalism for the mistake it is, and the resolve to ensure that it does not triumph over this, the last best hope of mankind."
Wednesday, February 05, 2003 :::
SHUT DOWN THE SHUTTLE? A growing number of political pundits and science writers are suggesting that the fiery deaths of the Columbia astronauts are a wakeup call to NASA not only in connection with its shoddy safety procedures and stifling bureaucracy, but also with the failure of the shuttle program as such. And although it's unfortunate that only such a tragedy has provided them a hearing, it must be admitted that they're perfectly right. Billed as a cheap, efficient delivery vehicle of men and materiel to space, the designers of the shuttle once promised that it would fly every week and thus open the gateway of the heavens to workaday use. Obviously that hasn't happened -- the shuttle flies just a few times a year and costs billions more than the initial estimate. Even more disturbing, however, is that the thirty-year-old program sapped energy from projects in deep space exploration and colonization that exactly the kind of of bold initiatives that once interested the public in the space program. The interest of a few big contractors and congressmen from powerful districts has transformed NASA from the institutional backbone of modern-day Lewis and Clarks into a sort of giant moving company that has to make up busy work to keep its redundant human workforce occupied. No doubt the president will find room in the his enormous new budget for new NASA funding, much of which is likely to be earmarked for improvement in safety. Under the circumstances, that's fine. But we hope that he also uses this opportunity to prod complacent administrators into thinking big again, to shift a little power from the engineers to the radicals and dreamers who got us up there in the first place. We're hardly the first to say so, but here's for making the space program relevant again: On to Mars!
MORE ON THE SHUTTLE DISASTER. Let me say from the start that I am not a scientist. My thoughts are those of a concerned amateur, someone who believes that man is destined for more than consumption on our beautiful blue planet, and someone who believes that this can only be done by extraordinary men and women, who need freedom and the rule of law to do their daring and affirm their humanity. Keep that in mind when reading the following lines. I have questions that seem so obvious to me that I am baffled that I have not seen them widely asked, nor answered. First, here it is suggested that the shuttle may have hit something (or vice versa). That was the first thing that I thought of when I heard the news last Saturday, although I understand that the tile problems remain the most likely cause of the disaster. [UPDATE: something, such as a meteorite, hitting the shuttle is of course not necessarily unrelated to tile damage being the immediate cause of the disaster, since the one may have led to the other.] Second, note NASA's speculation about the astronauts' deaths: "the astronauts were killed as soon as the shuttle broke up" and so on. Really? As with the Challenger, their bodies were ripped apart, but not pulvarized, or so I read yesterday (no link). Apparently in a Texas forest a human torso as well as a partially tarred human skull have been found by searchers. After the Challenger crash NASA said that the crew most likely survived the explosion that caused the disaster but died when the cockpit (which had been blown off) hit the water. Gee, that's fun. Doesn't look like instantaneous death to me. And why is there no escape possibility from the shuttle? Why not design the shuttle in such a way that the crew compartment can separate itself from the main body of the shuttle and land by parachute? Too expensive?? Or would an engineer call this a really dumb question? And what about NASA's claim that they are not able to repair the shuttle in space? Or inspect it? Is shuttle flight supposed to be a potential suicide mission? NASA can build a space station. NASA can repair space telescopes. But NASA cannot inspect the shuttle? Even if tile repair is impossible in space (and, again, who knows, I'm a concerned member of the public, not an engineer), I would like to hear an explanation why it is not possible to have some sort of 'tile spray' (you may laugh) that will do the job in emergencies, that can hold the fort, that an astronaut with a jetpack can apply underneath the shuttle. But of course the Columbia astronauts did not have such jetpacks, let alone anything to repair the tiles with. I find this difficult to accept: talk about reducing one's options! Even if my tile spray suggestion is really impossible (I doubt it: NASA used to carry a tile repair kit on the early shuttle flights and technology has improved since then), with jetpacks astronauts could have inspected the shuttle. A decision could then have been made for the astronauts to wait in the shuttle to be rescued from space (as opposed to them fleeing to the space station, because, unbelievably, they did not have a docking ring to dock to the space station, so in case of disaster they would all have had to space walk to the station, which is extremely dangerous without jetpacks, although, again unbelievably, they probably did not have enough fuel to get there in the first place). I accept that space flight is a dangerous enterprise. But it seems to me another thing altogether to see all your exits blocked by design.
ONE OF THE most puzzling things in America, the land of free enterprise, is American misunderstanding of free enterprise. America owes its power and prosperity to the free market. Yet even in America, the belief in the free market can stop short where it concerns things that are somehow considered special. This is strange. State provision of goods has failed everywhere and at all times. That would make it seem obvious that the market should be used especially for things that are considered important. The Soviet Union had empty state-run grocery stores; America's grocery stores have been an example of free market abundance. Communist Cuba has no cars other than those existing at the time of the Revolution; free market America has designed generation after generation of new and better cars since the 1950s. Why would we apply such a failed approach to our most important endeavors? Unfortunately, however, applying such a failed approach is exactly what we do when it comes to schools, and, tragically, space flight. For groceries America relies on an efficient free market, but for schools and space flight we rely on the state, resulting in consequences that are as bad as the statism of any socialist system. State-run schools fail disastrously, no matter how much money you pump into them. State-run space agencies -aka NASA- become deadly, as well as aimless and inefficient. Why is it that in America, the land that owes all to the free market, such folly is not stopped? We should privatize education, with government paying for access only. We should privatize the space industry, with individuals and companies doing in space whatever they wish to do, within the law. If government has an interest in space -for military purposes, for national greatness, or for both- it should ask the market to come up with bids for the few tax-payer funded projects that we may think necessary. But we should no more have a big, inefficient government bureaucracy doing something so complex as space flight as we have a big goverment bureaucracy doing something as basic as supplying food to our stores. I hesitate to say this at this time. I do not wish to give the impression that I make light of the deaths of seven astronauts last Saturday. Nor do I wish to put a partisan gloss on all events. Yet I cannot help but think that Columbia's all-American heroes died because of the existence of a very un-American statist approach to space exploration.
SOME FACTS AND THOUGHTS about grade inflation. When 91% of Harvard students graduate with "honors", average grades have risen by half a grade in less than a generation, and SAT scores are "renormed" -- that is, automatically scored 100 points higher than before 1995, but SAT scores are still significantly lower than in the 1960s, clearly there is something problematic going on.
THE MANHATTAN INSITUTE, a New York-based think tank, is celebrating its 25th birthday this week. Author Tom Wolfe reflects on how the Institute started the career of welfare guru Charles Murray -- and what happened next.