Belated: Happy Anniversary, Chuck Yeager!

October 20, 2007

Panorama of the Mountains noted the 60th anniversary of the first known faster-than-sound flight by a human — October 14, 1947. Test pilot and all-around good guy Chuck Yeager did it.

Bell X-1, on display at National Air and Space Museum

This is a great post-World War II, Cold War story of technology that should pique interest in the time and the events for many students. For a 90 minute class, a solid lesson plan could be developed around the science and technology of the flight (yes, even in history — this is key stuff in the development of economics, too). The physics of sound, a brief history of flight and aircraft, the reasons for post-war development of such technologies, the political situation: There are a dozen hooks to get into the topic. Fair use would cover showing a clip from “The Right Stuff” about the flight, and there are some dramatic clips there. (The movie is 3 hours and 13 minutes; great stuff in a format too long for classroom use. Is there any possibility your kids would read the Tom Wolfe book?)

When will someone – the Air Force? NASA? an aircraft company? — put together a DVD with authorized film clips from the newsreels and the movie, and suggested warm ups and quiz questions?

Back in the bad old days one of my elementary school teachers did an entire morning on the speed of sound, aircraft engineering, and the history of faster-than-sound flight. I learned the accurate way to measure the distance to lightning by counting seconds to the thunder (it’s about a mile for every 5 seconds, not a mile for every second, as our school-yard lore had it).

  • Image at right: Brig. Gen. Charles E. Yeager today, with image of Bell X-1; U.S. Air Force imageChuck Yeager, collage with Bell X-1

This program, to fly at the speed of sound, at what is now Edwards Air Force Base changed the way science of flight is done in the U.S. Yeager led the group of Air Force pilots who proved that military pilots could do the testing of aircraft; the project proved the value of conducting research with experimental aircraft on military time. The methods developed for testing, evaluating, redesigning and retesting are still used today. The drive for safety for the pilots also grew out of these early efforts at supersonic flight.

Yeager’s flight came when technology was cool, not just for the virtual reality role playing games (RPGs), which were still decades in the future, but because it was new, interesting, and it opened a world of possibilities. We all wanted to fly airplanes, especially small, fast airplanes. Read the rest of this entry »

Pro voucher forces panic in Utah

October 20, 2007

With the nation’s first state-wide voucher on the ballot in Utah this November, and with the polls showing a large majority ready to vote the idea down, voucher supporters push every button they can find, hoping one of them is the real “panic” button. Panic button, from iWantOneofThose

But, legislators recruiting lobbyists into a referendum? A new blog dedicated to the Utah referendum, Accountability, carries the story with links to local Utah news media.

. . . I know there’s a whole industry built up now to protect the will of lawmakers from their constituents.

But I didn’t think that was the prevailing wisdom here. We hadn’t fallen victim to the political industry like folks have back East.

Then I read articles like Paul Rolly’s column in this morning’s Trib and I wonder if we’re not so far away from succumbing to it, too.

“Lawmakers stack the deck on vouchers” is the headline, and the first sentence tells the whole story. “About 20 lobbyists were summoned to a meeting Monday by legislative leaders who urged them to roll up their sleeves and help save the voucher law.”

Isn’t a ballot referendum supposed to be the voice of the people? In fact, isn’t it the last chance the people have to have their say on a law, after the legislature has had its way? That’s what the Constitution provides. So what’s wrong with informing every Utahn man and woman of voting age what the referendum says, answer any questions they have, then let them vote on whether to keep this law or discard it?

The story as related at Accountability would be a road map for a corruption investigation into the Republican leaders of the Utah legislature for a state attorney general out to defend the electoral process from graft and the legislative process from corruption. Does Utah have such an attorney general? Utah’s relatively clean and open political processes, artificially bipartisan by LDS Church decree in the 19th century, appears to be going the way of all political flesh.

Cash is provided from interest groups far outside Utah, groups that have never considered the effects of a voucher bill on a kid in San Juan County, Utah, who has a 50-mile, one-way bus ride just to get to the nearest public school.

Later stories at Accountability detail the cash flow from outside, and the folly out-of-state and out-of-their-mind interests create in local elections. (I have not found any identification for the author of that blog — does anyone know who it is?)

Maybe it’s time we took a more historic view of this fight, and labeled it for what it is: As Chris Mooney has documented the Republican War on Science, this Utah skirmish is part of the larger War on Education; whether it’s an exclusively Republican declaration of war is not yet clear. It doesn’t bode well for peace, progress and prosperity that the Republican leaders of the Utah legislature are the ones commanding the gun batteries shooting at Utah’s schools.

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