Thursday, February 21, 2008

Satellite Shootdown

Last night the U.S. Navy shot down an errant spy satellite about the size of a bus which threatened to dump toxic fuel in inhabited areas as it plummeted to earth. It also contained classified technology which the U.S. does not want to fall into the hands of people like the Chinese who have had difficulty obtaining American military technology secrets since the Clinton administration left office.

The shootdown is an impressive feat. The satellite and the kill vehicle collided at a combined speed of 22,000 mph about 130 miles above Earth's surface at 10:50 p.m. EST.

Hot Air has video.

No doubt this success has chagrined those around the world who would like to threaten us with nuclear missiles and also those here in the U.S. who have been for decades deriding the hope that we would one day be able to shoot down ICBMs with missiles. Hitting the satellite is not as difficult as hitting a missile but the fact that we were able to do it at all means we're well on the way to silencing those who say that ballistic missile defense is technologically out of reach.


Long Life

There's a lot of information in this NYT story, but the key graphs are these:

Living past 90, and living well, may be more than a matter of good genes and good luck. Five behaviors in elderly men are associated not only with living into extreme old age, a new study has found, but also with good health and independent functioning.

The behaviors are abstaining from smoking, weight management, blood pressure control, regular exercise and avoiding diabetes. The study reports that all are significantly correlated with healthy survival after 90.

While it is hardly astonishing that choices like not smoking are associated with longer life, it is significant that these behaviors in the early elderly years - all of them modifiable - so strongly predict survival into extreme old age.

Details can be found at the link. If only science could come up with an easy and painless way to do all of this.


Fourteen Challenges

This is strange. A BBC article lists fourteen challenges facing humanity in the next several decades, but omits the one challenge that must be met in order for any of the others to have a chance of being realized. Here are the fourteen:

  • Make solar energy affordable
  • Provide energy from fusion
  • Develop carbon sequestration
  • Manage the nitrogen cycle
  • Provide access to clean water
  • Reverse engineer the brain
  • Prevent nuclear terror
  • Secure cyberspace
  • Enhance virtual reality
  • Improve urban infrastructure
  • Advance health informatics
  • Engineer better medicines
  • Advance personalised learning
  • Explore natural frontiers

Some of these don't strike me as particularly urgent (e.g. advancing personalized learning), but in any event, none of them will be possible at all unless the West neutralizes the menace posed by radical Islam. Islamic imperialism is the paramount threat to the Western world and it needs to be defeated in each of three domains: the military battlefield, cyberspace, and the realm of ideas. If this challenge is not met, and it doesn't seem as if we're even addressing the third domain, none of the others in the list is going to matter much.

It's curious that this paramount and crucial challenge would be omitted from consideration by the contributors to the BBC's list. Perhaps the reason is that were it included it would be seen as at least a partial affirmation of the worldview of George W. Bush and that would be unacceptable company for sophisticated people to place themselves in.