Friday, November 12, 2010

Video Del Fuego, Part XXXVI

Alan Shepard had a long, hard road between his two space missions. An inner-ear problem kept him grounded for most of the 1960s, until an experimental procedure restored him to flight status in time for Apollo 14. These clips are from a 1998 HBO mini-series, From The Earth To The Moon. If you can grab this on Netflix, the whole thing is well worth a look.

And, an interview with Alan Shepard on the 20th anniversary of the mission:

Friday, November 05, 2010

Election 2010 Postmortem

The results are in, and they're interesting to say the least. Just like we do every two years, the entire House of Representatives and one-third of the Senate went up for election. As expected, the Democrats lost control of the House. Also as expected, they retained control of the Senate. But neither the victories nor the losses are entirely as they would seem on the surface. And, as a bonus feature, two other odds and ends from the week that I thought would be important.

(1) The Results: Currently, the tally looks something like this:

House of Representatives: 242 Republicans, 193 Democrats
Senate: 47 Republicans, 53 Democrats

Note that I put the Senate's Independents with the party they'd be expected support.

The pre-election predictions under-estimated the Republican gains in the House, and slightly over-estimated gains in the Senate. The main story here, I think, is the continuing lousy economy. We've known since about January that the Democrats would pay a steep price for holding the bag this year, and here's the pay-out. As I've said before, it may not be right or fair, but conditions like this always play against the party in power. The other big story of this election cycle was the heavy involvement of Tea Party activists, which brings us to ...

(2) The Tea Party: The Tea Party both did and did not help the Republicans. Their enthusiasm may well have put a few candidates over the top that otherwise wouldn't have made it. However, if we examine the results using the Electoral Explorer feature, an interesting picture emerges:

Non-Tea-Party House Races: 200 Republicans, 104 Democrats, 2 currently undecided
Tea-Party House Races: 39 Republicans, 83 Democrats, 7 currently undecided

In sum, Republicans not affiliated with the Tea Party won two races for every loss, and Tea Party Republicans lost two races for every win. I don't know precisely what this means, but surely, it's important. My gut feeling is that the contentious nature of Tea Party candidates had a tendency to backfire amongst moderate voters.

Still, it's pretty clear to me that not only did the Tea Party not win the House for the GOP, they may well have cost them the Senate. I think John Boehner may have figured this out. On Wednesday, he did not exactly sound like someone who had routed an opponent and had them on the run. The question is, who else has figured this out? Will the Tea Party activists continue to agitate and demand for ever more extreme candidates? Will they claim this as their victory, and carry this through into 2012?

The next election cycle could prove very interesting, indeed.

(3) A House Divided: And so, we find ourselves once again with a divided government. This is not especially unusual for us. We had such for most of Reagan's two terms, and for most of Clinton's two terms. It wasn't the end of the world then, and it won't be now. What I said before still holds: after a period of such intense change, it may well be a good thing to take a bit of a breather. The Executive and the Legislature will find a way to work together, sort of, if only to keep the government from shutting down altogether. But don't expect any major initiatives. The bad thing about this is that major decisions will probably get kicked down the road, and you can only get away with that for so long.

(4) ...It Must Be A Damn Peculiar Question: Jerry Brown? I didn't know he was still in politics. Either that, or the Terminator's last act before resuming his mission for Skynet was to open a rift to the '70s. Still, this -- even this -- isn't the weirdest thing to happen in California politics. There was a Congressional election from 1948 that merits notice. Republican Congressman Richard Nixon was facing a grueling, bitter contest against the winner of the Democratic primary ... Richard Nixon. Yes, Californians used to be able to register for both primaries. History leaves us no record of the Nixon-Nixon debates, but they must have been quite a show. All kidding aside, I wish Governor Brown all the luck in the world. He'll need it.

(5) A Fire in the Sky: This is just about the last thing you want to see when you look out of an airplane's window:

You've probably heard by now about the Quantas A380 that had to return to Singapore due to an engine fire. The immediate question that rose when I saw this picture was: is there a problem with this engine? This particular A380 uses the Rolls Royce Trent 900 engine, which was developed from the Trent 800 used in the Boeing 777. I had started to wonder about what kind of failure cascade could produce such an accident ... but today, we see this news item about yet another Quantas flight suffering engine trouble, this time a Boeing 747-400. Needless to say, this aircraft does not employ the Trent 900, although I think it does use another Rolls Royce engine. Anyway, I've stopped wondering about possible design flaws. It's probably time for someone to take a nice long look at Quantas' Singapore maintenance shop. [Addendum, 8Nov10: Then again, maybe not. BBC World Service had an item this morning regarding tests Quantas engineers have been running on their A380 fleet. They have identified problems with four of their six aircraft, which works out to one in six of their Trent 900 engines, if I understood it correctly. They haven't identified the specific problem yet, but it appears to be a oil leak of some kind in the turbine section. So, we may be back to my original guess, a problem arising from mating the Trent 500 core to the Trent 800 fan section.]

(6) At Last! By great good fortune, someone else has taken up the Sesquicentennial project. Disunion is a new feature over at the New York Times, updating several times a week. This is almost assuredly by chance, but I am simply delighted. Not just because I'm happy not to be doing this alone anymore, but for another set of perspectives. As I've said before, I've got the background to analyze the strategy, tactics, and such; but there are gaps in my education I don't know how to fill. This will be a tremendous resource for those of us interested in peering back a century and a half at our greatest crisis.

In any event, we've come to the end of yet another election season. It was a good one for some, a bad one for others. Either way, there's another one coming in two years' time. That's the great thing about our system. It's never completely, finally over. You always get another chance.