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We tuned into the US news for a bit and they were doing an extended obituary for New Orleans, which is not expected to be there anymore tomorrow. And I saw something that proves once again that the entire American nation seems to have gone barking mad.

So just about everyone who has the means has left New Orleans, and those unable to leave town (overwhelmingly poor black people) are heading to one of the hurricane shelters the city has set up. So there they were, waiting in line in the rain outside the supposedly hurricane-proof sports stadium, waiting and waiting in a line that was not moving at all... because before they were allowed to enter the stadium, every single one of these soon-to-be-homeless people had to let the National guard troops at the door search their bags and give each one of them a pat-down search.

And the American jounralist at the scene explained that the searchers had to make sure none of these people had brought any explosives or weapons or scissors with them. [sarcasm] Because of course we can never be sure where those evil terrorists are going to strike next [/sarcasm].

The second worst thing about this was that the pat down searchers were wearing rubber gloves. [sarcasm] Because, you know, those poor people, they're just so dirty and full of germs [/sarcasm].

The worst thing about it was that the people waiting in line were just accepting this ridiculous, stupid waste of time and infringement on their personal privacy. One woman even told the journalist that she understood how it was necessary. Holy shit, do George and Dick ever have her fooled. How the fuck did an entire nation allow itself to be so easily and quickly brainwashed?
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As the New York Times reports, NASA is planning on discarding the shuttle in favour of manned and unmanned disposable booster rockets. The first stage of the manned rocket will be a refitted Shuttle solid rocket booster; the second stage will be based on the J-2 rocket engine, last used in the Apollo program (in other words, it's a redesigned Saturn V third stage). The unmanned cargo booster will basically be a shuttle external fuel tank fitted with the Shuttle's main engines, assisted by dropaway solid fuel boosters, again borrowed from the Shuttle. The article emphasizes that these hodgepodges of off-the-shelf and out-of-the-museum designs are what NASA can afford to deploy given its budget constraints.

This sounds all too familiar. I looked in William Burrows's history of space exploration, "This New Ocean," and found the precedent: back in the late 60's the Apollo program was being phased out. The stingy idiots in the US Congress weren't even willing to fund enough missions to use up all the Saturn rockets that had already been built, forcing NASA to use the last couple of them as the world's most expensive lawn ornaments.

But America had to continue a manned space program because the Russians had one, so President Nixon asked NASA what America should do in space now. NASA suggested a reusable cargo-carrying space plane, launched into orbit by a reusable suborbital winged booster. Both stages would glide back to earth and land on an ordinary airstrip. The advantage of a space plane over traditional boosters was not that reusable spacecraft would be all that much cheaper than throwaway spacecraft, although with a lot of creative accounting, this became the big selling point NASA used to get funding for the Shuttle. Rather, the space plane was an improvement over disposable boosters because it let the astronauts return to Earth under something resembling controlled flight (reducing the danger of incinerating on re-entry), and it enabled them to bring cargo back from orbit.

NASA proposed using the space plane to build a permanent manned space station, which would act as a launch point for manned flights to Mars. Nixon looked at the cost of the Vietnam war and said OK, design your space plane, but do it on the cheap: forget about $15 billion, you've got $5 billion. We'll talk about space stations and Mars some other time. NASA should have told Nixon that the space plane couldn't be built for so little. Instead they took the concept and tried to bring it under budget by whittling it down to the nub that is the Shuttle, thereby wasting billions of dollars and killing the crews of Columbia and Challenger (both disasters were due to the Rube Goldberg external fuel tank/solid rocket booster configuration which replaced the original concept of a reusable winged first stage).

So here we are again, with NASA trying to develop a new space vehicle on the cheap and under budget constraints. If their new craft kills its crew at the same rate as the shuttle, and proves to be just as expensive and wasteful as the Shuttle, don't say I didn't warn you.

At least the shuttle represented a step forward technologically, in terms of controlled re-entry and the ability to bring cargo back to Earth. These designs NASA has divulged are huge steps backward. Yes, the proposed cargo booster would be the first heavy lift launch vehicle since the Saturn V. But it can't bring cargo back to Earth. In terms of control (which translates as safety) on re-entry, the proposed crew capsule will be no better than the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo capsules. In terms of low-cost space flight yes, these designs will be cheaper than the Shuttle (just about anything would be), but putting things in orbit will still cost hundreds of dollars per pound.

If humans are ever going to have a real space program (instead of a program designed to funnel money into certain congressional districts), with high orbit permanent space stations, bases on the Moon, L-5 colonies, asteroid mining, and space manufacturing, we will have to dramatically lower the cost to get things into orbit. Designs for reusable single-stage-to-orbit, vertical take-off/vertical landing space vehicles have been on the drawing boards of visionaries for decades. For a long time those visionaries have hoped that their designs could be developed by NASA as the eventual replacements for the space shuttle. Well, now we know that isn't going to happen. Sure, NASA might go to the Moon again, and to Mars as well. But not on a sustainable basis: that would require actually investing money in a spacecraft R&D, and NASA would rather do things on the cheap.
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In Town of Castle Rock, Colorado vs Gonzales, the US supreme court ruled 7-2 today that local police are not constitutionally required to protect someone from a person they have a restraining order against.

From the summary of the opinion:

Respondent filed this suit under 42 U.S.C.§1983 alleging that petitioner violated the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause when its police officers, acting pursuant to official policy or custom, failed to respond to her repeated reports over several hours that her estranged husband had taken their three children in violation of her restraining order against him. Ultimately, the husband murdered the children. The District Court granted the town's motion to dismiss, but an en banc majority of the Tenth Circuit reversed, finding that respondent had alleged a cognizable procedural due process claim because a Colorado statute established the state legislature's clear intent to require police to enforce retraining orders, and thus its intent that the order's recipient have an entitlement to its enforcement. The court therefore ruled, among other things, that respondent had a protected property interest in the enforcement of her restraining order.

Held:Respondent did not, for Due Process Clause purposes, have a property interest in police enforcement of the restraining order against her husband.

This despite the fact that the language of Colorado's restraining order law clearly stated that police were required to enforce restraining orders.

In short: the US supreme court has told battered women that they don't have any recourse if their abusers persist in stalking, beating, or killing them and their children. The fact that this was a 7-2 opinion says many sad things about the state of the US legal system.


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