Blog Challenge Verdict: Free Darko

Free Darko was kind of a gimicky site.  I'll put it this way:  there are two types of sports reporting (and I say this having been a sports reporter from time to time).  There is reporting and commentary.  Reporting is when you say what happened, or what is happening.  Commentary is when you guess about what will happen, or why it is happening.  Commentary in sports is usually a semi-pleasant diversion.  That is why I like Reiss's Pieces - it feeds me facts, even completely trivial ones, at an alarming rate.  Even the commentary there is action, because most of it is in the form of mailbags or chats.  It's why I sometimes feel empty after posting something that doesn't link to a story with a graph.

Free Darko is all about the commentary side.  You don't see much in the way of stats, or play by play, or news... it's tongue-in-cheek, satire-of-itself commentary, but it is sports commentary nonetheless.  In fact, it seems like a large minority of the commentary isn't even about basketball, but rather about the Free Darko blog.  I'm not saying it's a bad blog, it just didn't really show me anything I would come back for.

Consumer confidence: not such an easy knob to turn?

Amity Shlaes puts her finger on a facet of Keynesian economics that I think a lot of us sensed, but couldn't quite define:

Most of us sense that there’s more to revival than sudden desires for phones or cars, that the consumer isn’t always a mindless mall rat. Rational caution may be beneficial, tax breaks aimed at stimulating consumption, perverse.

One of my problems with how people are responding to this is the ignorance mentality.  It is bliss... for a while.  A huge majority of people in the US - and it is even worse in most places - simply aren't educated on economics, and don't pursue that education.  The alternative being, a sort of complacent faith or condoning of certain economic policies.  They ask the same questions when they see the news - "how did this happen?" But they are content to watch straw men burn and do more entertaining or productive things with their time once a smiling newsman or politician says it was "lack of regulation" or "greed."  But even the smiling masses have intuition, and they use it when they go to the store - perhaps even more so.

Still, the same Chicago trust-o-meter carries some negative messages. In December the pollsters asked: “Have the government interventions in financial markets over the last three months made you more or less confident in investment in the stock market?”

A full 80 percent replied “less,” an annihilating mark for the performance ofGeorge W. Bush, then-Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson and Fed ChairmanBen Bernanke. Asked a similar question last month, 67 percent replied “less confident.”


Blog Challenge Verdict: Planet Money

Planet money will become one of my frequented blogs I think.  Thanks to Simon for throwing me that bone.  I wrote more about PM in this post and this post.  To summarize,  the blog brings outstanding data to light,  but it tends not to ask the obvious questions or make the obvious connections.  The good part of this is that it stays relatively apolitical - although of course different posters have their own mild bias.  If one contends that Americans are reasonably rational creatures (I would contend this), then the readers can draw their own conclusions.  And the blog does have comments, which of course has lots of punches and conclusions.


Blog Challenge Verdict: Huffington Post

I think I'm starting to catch on to the M.O. of the Huff Post after about 10 days of reading it.  There is no M.O.  Some articles are actually well-researched, some are just absolute opinion-backed crap with few to no facts.  It's the ultimate wheat and chaff bonanza.  I'm not sure if it is the former or latter that pays the bills, but for my money and time they could use a good editor to cut the volume in half and throw out the prodigious amount of editorial filler they publish.  For instance, Arianna herself posted this today on the front page: 

It's what people do when the only two ideas they have -- tax cuts and deregulation -- have been given full expression for the last 8 years and failed. Miserably.
That was the end of the point, in a 30-paragraph article.  That was assertion, argument, and conclusion #1.  It was followed by a 8-10 more un-backed, completely unassociated paragraph rants about Republicans, tea parties, socialism and fascism, and so on.  The post ends with a video that shows a bunch of white supremacists Heil Hitlering.  The other side's issues are twisted, the most radical statements are taken as typical, and perhaps worst of all, all the points are countered by burning down strawmen.  Reading those posts, one wonders if they should call it the Ad Hominem Post.  I just made that up right now.

On the other hand, there is this well-thought and well-argued article about fiscal problems caused by knee-jerk anti-deflationism.  Essentially, the Fed has now traded its formerly solid treasury assets for the worst of the toxic securities, and has basically lost control of its ability to re-shrink the money supply after the liquidity takes hold; it also lacks the political will to do so and the sheer chutzpah to crush the government and consumers under high interest rates.  The likely result will be large rate spreads and high inflation, since printing money is the only way to pay off debts you can't finance as interest rates rise.

The blog seems to fixate on certain things and churn out a bunch of poli-fluff, but at the same time it refutes its own hubris by attracting good writers who, for lack of a better theory, must sneak their press in under the radar.  It reads like a college newspaper: there's the one or two golden truth articles that the editor in chief worked her tail off for 3 years to get the freedom to write.  And then there's the filler.  It's a frustrating blog to visit.  You know you're going to get some very good writing, but you also know you're going to have to wade through sludge to find it.  


Meet the new boss (#4)

Another day, another "Dude - where's my country?"

The American President's call "to free the world of the menace of a nuclear nightmare" was hot air, Mr Sarkozy's diplomatic staff told him in a report. "It was rhetoric – not a speech on American security policy but an export model aimed at improving the image of the United States," they said. Most of Mr Obama's proposals had already been made by the Bush administration and Washington was dragging its feet on disarmament and treaties against nuclear proliferation, the leaked report said.


Bad government vs. good government, or... we have always been at war with Eastasia

It's amazing how the power vs. outrage tug of war has swung. Maybe you believe Bush's actions can be justified while Obama's cannot. And by most accounts Caesar was a good emperor and Caligula was not. But Caligula never would have become emperor if Caesar hadn't accepted the title first.

The outcry du jour (linked from Transterrestrial Musings) is about an obviously highly politically-motivated DHS report about domestic radical groups. The phraseology appears to be highly motivated by what you might see if you put a guy named Hannity and a guy name Colmes, or two angry monkeys, in a room:
(U) Leftwing extremism in the United States can be broadly divided into those groups, movements, and adherents that are primarily hate-oriented (based on hatred of particular economic classes, and religious groups, particularly Christianity), and those that are mainly pro-government, preferring federal authority and particularly federal judicial rulings over state or local authority. It may include groups and individuals that are dedicated to a single issue, such as opposition to restrictions on abortion, immigration, or gay marriage.
Everyone is currently getting burned by Democrats. Unfortunately, many of the tools they are usuing were institutions that Republicans either created, consolidated, or pioneered as a tool. Dems finally caught on to the political carte blanche of massive deficit spending. The DHS has turned into - gasp! - NKVD lite. Bush's irresponsible bailouts make Obama's even more irresponsible bailouts defensible.


A truer description of the state...

From the comments on http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2009/04/some_libertaria.html

Almost perfect, but he fails to mention how the reps give a quarter the money to their friends, then the McDonalds manager comes after the whole group with a shotgun because they stiffed him.
Say we're on a bus trip with 100 people and stop to have dinner at a mall. 90 people have money to buy dinner, but 10 people forgot their wallets.

First, we decide everyone needs food, so we're going to pool our resources, since we can spread the cost. Then someone mentions that we could negotiate a deal with one of the vendors if we all buy the same meal. Lots of people grumble but a chorus of "ok" sounds like a majority so the "group" decides to do it.

Everyone breaks up into cliques and elects a representative. Then the representatives decide what we'll have for dinner, and how much everyone should pay ($8 each to cover the 10 who can't pay). Then the vendors hear what we're doing and start lobbying. The Chinese food stall offers $50 to a representative if he changes his vote. The pizza place offers to throw in free cookies if they are chosen. Finally, we find out that we're all having Filet o Fish value meals, with Diet Coke and fries.

When the reps go to pay, they realize they don't have enough money. More than 10 people didn't pay, or someone pocketed some money. It changed hands about 3 or 4 times. They have to order some cheaper food to get enough.

Everyone lines up to get their food, but at the end, there are 7 people in line and the food has run out. The 7 have to buy their own meal, but one of them is a person who forgot their wallet. A friend pays for his meal.

The guy who paid for three meals is really pissed off, and he uses the f-word about 10 times a minute for the entire bus ride home when talking to his friend. He also makes loud comments about the manhood of one representative and threatens to beat up another. The seven people who didn't get food are angry. Several people hated the fish and just ate fries. Some gave their sandwich to others, but a few just threw them out. That pissed off two fat people who were still hungry later on the bus and a couple other people on general principle, who lectured the others. When we got back home, most people asked, who is the moron who came up with that idea?

Making sense of health care (r)

I've come to realize that, until we have healthy eternal life, nobody will be happy with their health care system.  That said, there are certain things that make health care a really tough thing to diagnose and repair.  For instance, in most human endeavors when people say "oh, but times have changed," one can say with fair certainty that they are full of shit.  As Baz Lurhmann said, "Prices will rise, politicians will philander, and you too will grow old.  And when you do, you will fantasize that when you were young, prices were reasonable, politicians were noble, and children respected their elders."

It's said often by both sides, for instance, that much of the problems we are having currently with Social Security are the result of health care.  Well, it's not said that way, but it's what people mean when they say the retirement age should be raised.   And that's not the whole of it - 40 years ago, you died of cancer or a heart attack, and quickly.  Now, you probably get cured once or twice, at the cost of 2-3 years productive employment.  My Pepere had open heart surgery back in '84 - he's still going strong today.  These days, you can almost bank on a few rounds of chemo, open heart surgery, 30 years of insulin shots, or a hip replacement before whatever really takes you out takes you out.  People don't save up for retirement anymore so much as convalescence.  

Make no mistake - this is progress.  However, our lives are backloaded with costs nowadays - those 20 bonus years cost a lot more than any other 20 years, and while we're paying half our incomes in taxes and burning ourselves out to keep and extra thousand sq ft. of roof over our heads, we aren't saving for the personal apocalypse.  But who would deny those 20 years to anyone?

I've heard horror stories from countries with socialized health care, and from countries with relatively open health care.  I've seen surveys that say the US has the best health care in the western world, and surveys that say the US has the worst health care in the western world.  I've talked to people from all over, and like I said, nobody likes their health care system all that much.  

This thread will try to come to some answer I can be happy with about health care.  And yes, I'm starting off biased, because I can't see how politicians and bureacrats can make better decisions for my health than I can.  But I'll try to keep an open mind, because like I said; this is a very unusual territory.  In my first 1/3 of life I have done very little to  support myself over my last 1/3 of life.  I am currently one of the uninsured millions (that link, by the way, goes to a former Bush economic staffer and includes lots of mailing list emails from inside the White House... interesting reading).  I don't think I can trust Medicare and Social Security to be there when I need it 30+ years from now.  So it's ideological, but it's also personal.

Today's entry:  primary care.  The primary care "dream" is one of house visits by doctors you call by first name.  More substantively, it is one of preventive medicine, early detection, consistent and quality care for chronic conditions, and reasonable prices and service for common ailments.  Movies and Ron Paul lead us to believe that this was commonplace in the US at least prior to the 1960s or so.  Medicine has changed a lot since then, and most ailments are not most effectively cured by whatever fits in a lunch pail.  But how many times have you waited for an hour at a megaclinic only to be told that it was nothing serious and slapped with a prescriptions that should have been easy to get over the phone?  I can count the number of times that I actually needed to be in a doctor's office in the last ten years on one hand.  To a large extent, a handful of assholes screwed it up for the rest of us with irresponsible malpractice suits, and the courts didn't help with vomit-inducing rewards.  Another big factor appears to be the guilding of the medical profession, which has priced MD degrees plum out of the primary care market.  Finally, the separation from the consumer that mandated employer healthcare has brought about has made the whole process much more bureacratic for both sides... in the end, lawyers always trump doctors.

I lived in the Netherlands, where health care is run by huge government-corporate cartels.  It is a utility model, and seems to work okay for basic care.  You are legally required to buy insurance from a list of approved corporations.  According to my Dutch friends, those companies often try to get out of paying the bill, but I'm not sure if that is an exceptional thing or the norm, much as I'm not sure which is the case in the US.  I went to a clinic there for a tetanus shot, and it was pretty similar to my clinic experiences in America: 2 hour wait for a 5 minute consult, and 80 euro minimum charge.  Not terribly unreasonable considering tetanus would have killed me slowly and painfully 100 years ago - but then again, I was paying cash.  My wife-to-be claims that Britain's health care system is awesome; but she hasn't really lived in Britain as an adult so - she knows better than me, but her depth of experience is limited.

But what about socialized healthcare in America?  How does that work?  By all accounts, Medicaid has its problems, but it's hard to expect much from a program that caters to a relatively small, and unvocal voting bloc... yes, socialized healthcare will disproportionately screw over the poor too, probably even more than our current ER and patchwork program does (unless a lot more of us are poor, but I digress).  Medicare, from personal anecdotes, is a ton of paperwork and never pays for everything you need; but it does help quite a bit.  The VA, however, is underfunded and should be a national embarrassment, except Americans really don't seem to give a shit about their soldiers after all.  

One has to expect that a socialized system would be similar to all three in terms of primary and emergency care (I'm not getting into other aspects today, like the impact on innovation).  Since it would serve all but the richest among us (who would pay for better doctors and no waits), it would have to be responsive - at least to some groups.  The groups that vote disproportionately, like seniors, would probably benefit at the cost of others.  The companies that got in bed with the government and performed well on whatever blunt-instrument statistics the bureaucrats were paying attention to that year would make like bandits.  

Another model might be public education.  The poor would get screwed, similarly to how they get screwed by our current education system.  People would probably be required to go to the nearest hospital regardless of quality, or else spend extra for private care.  Doctors and nurses would have to defer to bureaucrats like teachers must defer to curricula, but that's not terribly different than what is happening today with HMOs and PPOs and the rest of the alphabet soup.  By all accounts of socialized systems, waits for treatments, surgeries, consults, and everything else would go to insane levels - not a problem, unless you have a degenerative or debilitating illness.

Overall, we've been pretty well primed for crappy primary care in this country from 40 years of partially-socialized healthcare already.  There is some choice of company, but the regulations and judicial record have forced the hand of most health insurers and providers so that the product is uniformly meh all around.  So, going from 5 or 6 huge politically-driven corporations to 1 huge politically-controlled agency probably won't be a devastating jump, but it won't fix people's primary-care complaints either.  So it's pretty much a wash.  I think, if people had the choice, they would prefer to keep primary care private - it's still the most affordable part of the system, and it's an elastic good in that people can choose to skip this year's physical or flu shot.

Then again, as Baz says, "The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind.  The kind that blindsides you at 4 pm on some idle Tuesday."  The whole thing gets more complicated when you introduce Really Bad Things.  That's next time: catastrophic care.  Or will it be medical innovation?  Wait and see.

Meet the new boss... (#3)


Now comes "The Detainee Episode." No, not Brooks again. He learned his lesson. Liberal bloggers and columnists who are wringing their hands dry over Obama's continuation of George Bush's policies with regard to enemy combatants (now "detainee who lent substantial support to al-Qaeda") and other aspects of the war on terror (now "overseas contingency operation") such as electronic eavesdropping. 

This is too easy.  In a sad, soul-sucking, faith-destroying way.


...And YOU'RE Owin' and Payin'


Funny stuff.  "Picking up the girls at accounting school" ... right.

Meet the new boss... (#2)


Now, with yet another slap in the face of social justice advocates, who had been led to believe that Obama's campaign of change would mean something other than escalation and militarization of the same old drug war, the administration promises more marijuana possession arrests at the federal level.
You can't make this stuff up!

Meet the new boss (#1)


The District Court dismissed the complaint because then-President Bush and Vice President Cheney argued that state secrets would be exposed if the case were litigated. During oral argument before the 9th Circuit, Obama echoed the state-secrets argument made by Bush and Cheney. Similarly, the president who promised "change" is wielding the tool of state secrets in aiming to dismiss, without the gathering of evidence, challenges to the National Security Agency's Terrorist Surveillance Program, which entailed warrantless phone or e-mail interceptions of American citizens on American soil in contravention of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978.
UPDATE:  Just a word to people who would make me out to be a hater.  I hate.  But note the title of this series of posts.  I hated W, too.  I just want to make sure people who voted for Obama realize that, when they said he was different, they were mistaken.

Lancaster Tea Party; is regulation really the panacea it's made out to be?

Well, I made it to the Lancaster, CA Tea Party this morning at about 11:40 am, just as they started popping balloons.  I went mainly to see what was going on, but since I don't have a car I had to bike the 26 miles - a great workout in any case, on a nice crisp spring desert morning.  Since I got there so late, there wasn't much to do but sign my name to be counted, throw my tea bag in the Washington box, and head to the bus stop.  The event appeared to include a few Republican politicians, which is a bit against the spirit of the Tea Parties, but then again the spirit of the tea parties is pretty broad since it's grass roots.  I would love to get out of Mojave on Wednesday and head down to the real LA county.

On another topic, I keep hearing about how regulation is the end all response to this.  Whether or not you think the current rules for financial institutions are too lax, do you really think that bringing in government regulators will help?  Or will congresspeople be bribed into creating loopholes for their friends and benefactors?  Will bureaucracy keep track of everyone on a level playing field?  Or will it only slow down the rule-followers while the rule breakers launder their money and find new financial instruments that operate outside the rules cough! mortgage backed securities!  

Revisiting Planet Money

I'm really starting to like this blog.  I stand behind what I said yesterday - they pull too many punches.  But, in doing so they manage to get really shocking stories out.  If they went after every piece of drudge they dug up, they would be instantly painted as fiercely partisan by both sides.

I'm talking today about a graph I pointed to yesterday.  It is a "picture worth a thousand words," truly.  File this under "things not to do during a credit crisis, exhibit A:" prey off investors fear and suck up all the credit.

Also file under "fighting the last war."  I just read Amity Shlaes' excellent book about the Great Depression, The Forgotten Man.  The Depression was brought on by a number of things, but the real disaster at the beginning was deflation, brought on by the stock market crash of 1929 and the closing of foreign markets due to Smoot-Hawley, as well as the all-too-familiar "Fed getting called out after keeping interest rates too low for too long."  The New Deal was either a godsend in tough times that went on too long, or else a disaster that prolonged a sharp downturn into a decade-long depression, depending whom you talk to.  But, whatever else you say about Roosevelt, he at least forced himself to balance the budget from time to time.  Roosevelt did this through a series of arbitrary taxes on rich, corporations, and consumables.  The effect may not have been so bad if the structure had stabilized at some point.

What the early Great Depression did not have was a credit crisis - in fact, gold was pouring into the country from Europe in 1929 after the crash, and if Hoover hadn't stepped in the money supply would have probably inflated and we could have avoided the deflation problem and probably the whole Depression.  Unfortunately, the current depression does include a credit crisis.  Really, I think the danger of deflation has been grossly overstated - the housing market is still above historical trends, and the stock market is a poor indicator of short-term money supply.  The problem is liquidity, brought on by too much credit being locked in unmovable assets.  The market solution would be to re-balance these - banks and lenders who have low-risk portfolios would essentially feed off the carcasses of high-risk institutions in a buyer's market.  To balance portfolios, they would use a similar amount of cash to buy up low-risk debt in the form of corporate and municipal bonds in order to balance their portfolios.  This would fund capital and infrastructure improvements, making construction jobs available, decrease layoffs, etc.  

The problem is illustrated by Planet Money's chart.  The federal government has flooded the low-risk debt market.  That money is no longer available for corporations and local governments to buy at low interest rates.  In the middle of a credit crisis, the federal government is sucking up all the credit!  They're fighting the current depression with Great Depression tools, completely ignoring this fatal flaw.


COP report that will be ignored by treasury...

Or, why conspiracy theorists are nuts.  This is a part of the government trying to be rational and responsible, and getting ignored in the process:

“Allowing institutions to fail in a structured manner supervised by appropriate regulators offers a clearer exit strategy than allowing those institutions to drift into government control piecemeal,” the report said."
This is from a congressional oversight panel for the TARP bailout.  

Why rich people are good for the economy... even filthy rich people

One thing that annoys me about the current tax debate is, of course, people like Joe Biden who shout admonishments like "It's time to be patriotic."  I think most people can see past the us vs. them bullshit on that one, at least eventually.  I mean, it just has too much of a Nazi ring to it I hope.  You might not think it's fair that people are paid a lot more than others; but throwing around words like "patriotic" just seems so... Dick Cheney.

That is not what annoys me most though.  It's the complete unwillingness or inability of most commentators, and the rich themselves, to stand up for themselves.  The replies are always on the defensive... like the current Economist debate about highly "progressive" tax rates.  The argument is mainly founded on assumptions about effects of high taxes on productivity, but the antagonist, Cato's Chris Edwards finally flesh-wounds a point almost by accident:
It still makes no sense to impose high taxes on them because those entrepreneurs are more likely to use the cash productively than the government. Indeed, from the beginning of Silicon Valley, wave after wave of millionaires have funded the next wave of business successes through angel financing and venture capital. Obviously, that would not have been possible under Piketty's 80% tax rate.
It's an expanding pie, which Edwards says repeatedly.  But who expands the pie?  Many people would like to think government does, and there is some evidence that infrastructure is a net good.  But looking at the proportion of medical advances and high-tech companies that come out of countries with relatively stable and liberal (that's classically liberal, sorry) governments one has to ask: who expands the pie rapidly and efficiently?  A comment on the sidebar:

Picketty [the tax proponent] tends to ignore the hardly theoretical expanding pie, like the expanding universe, which is accomplished only by these driven, high-earning individuals who, through no altruistic intent, do not get enough credit for their socio-economic contributions. 

It's people with lots of extra cash, and I would argue quite vehemently that, since these people are also the greatest charity-givers and philantropists, it is not all with lack of altruism.  A friend of mine who should know better dropped some comment about how the rich hoard all the money, like a) it's some fixed-size thing and b) they're stuffing it in a mattress.  Rich money goes into stocks and other investments, which directly leads to employment.  Hence the high unemployment in places like New Deal America, where the rich were taxed at extremely high rates near 80%; and modern-day Europe, with similar levies.  As a "poor" employee of a start up that is financed by millionaires, I see this every payday.  Rich buy things, things that the middle class makes.  Ask any small businessman, and he will tell you he aims to get rich clients.  Rich clients are early adopters and luxury buyers, so they fund the development of mass-market goods.  

People balk at all this money going through the rich man's hands, but not at many times that amount going through a politician's hands.  The argument is also made by a lot of pro-government people that it should be channeled for the good of society.  But nobody really knows what that is, and I trust a million investors and philantropists to address problems efficiently much more than I trust bureaucrats and politicians... if only because the investors and philantropists are spending their own money.  The rich are not black holes where wealth goes to die; indeed quite the opposite.  They are by and large where wealth goes to make babies.     

The rich need to re-cast themselves as great redistributors of wealth.  Get the focus off how they deserve their money or how they earned their money - even a stout libertarian like myself knows that much of it is a product of luck.  Get the focus on the people that money flows to - the charities, the churches, the small businessmen, the zero-interest tuition loan, the blue-collar job saved by the investor with the wherewithal to buy low in a recession.  Above a certain point, it stops being personal wealth and becomes something much bigger and more inclusive... after all,  most rich people are well aware they can't take it with them.  That point is made by a commenter whose conclusion I disagree with:
Dear Sir, If you were to decide for ANY system, rich ,poor tax, social giving, war machine, what each of us have to ask, if I put X dollars into it, what will be the end product. If the STATS ,shows that one group gain with no limits, then it is wrong. if however, it balance itself i.e for example if the poor have enough to eat, send their kid to a good school, be able to see a doctor when they are sick,without losing the roof over their headhave a roof over their heads, the rich can have ALL THE GOLD ThEY WANT ,they can eat it, sleep in it and die in it, however since this not the case, we need to tax the rich.
There is certainly a level beyond which a "poor" person has no right to complain.  This commenter, like most of what I call the 80/20ers, employs a moving scale for which nothing will ever be good enough as a floor.  For instance, show a poor Briton to a middle-class Angolan and I guarantee who will switch places with whom (a great thing about immigrants... again, another post).  And I can understand that, as a society gets richer, it is moral to move the floor up as well... just because American bums live like Haitian kings, doesn't mean it's a good life.  But the poster makes the usual 80/20 failure of imagination by implying that it is the government that must do this.

In fact, government is quite bad at getting people out of poverty; especially when compared with accountable charities and, um, corporations that offer jobs for unskilled labor.  That's a topic for another post.  It is the rich who fund charities at by far the highest rates, except when you tax them for doing so.  It should be no surprise that they are not all or even mostly evil people.  

Taking the blog challenge

Alarmed by the samed-ness of the blogs I've been frequenting lately, I threw down the gauntlet on some of friends to switch blogs for a week.  I gave three of my long term favorites, which I have frequented for a couple years at least:

Reason's Hit & Run - multimedia-intensive, well argued, not belligerent
Cosmic Log - Good site for pop science updates
Reiss's Pieces - My model for a great sports team blog

Since my long-term favorites don't exactly reflect the now, and I usually have some standbys for what seems like no other reason than getting really angry at my government and fellow citizens, I also threw in Instapundit.  

In return, I got:

ichoosetofightwhiskey (his personal blog, mainly marathon training)

Free Darko is a basketball strategy blog.  Entertaining, but a little too eggheady for me.  I prefer the more dumb and absurd Truehoop and Ball Don't Lie.

First impressions of each:  Huff Post reminded me of Instapundit.  Lots of mudslinging, which is their foremost similarity - if you just took out the articles and posts based on poorly substantiated attacks on the other side from either of these blogs you would not have much left.  The articles that did actually argue a point did so with tired arguments that only sometimes fit the case and then only by coincidence; again very similar to Instapundit.  There was some substance in some articles, but I have to conclude that this blog is mainly useful for inciting righteous fury.  Has anybody coined the term "soap-blopera" yet?  If not, I just did.

Planet money was another thorn in my side, this one much stickier.  Because it is a pretty darn good blog.  For some reason NPR is the best thing on radio and also one of the best news portals on the internet.   Unfortunately, while it does look for new and slightly deeper angles, the reports are typical NPR neuter - I wish they would combine some of their thoroughness in chasing a story with skepticism in questioning the people they find to give it to them... for instance, a recent story asks the question "do banks need the FDIC?" and then goes straight to an FDIC pr person for the answer.  Duh.  On the other hand, it asks questions like "What is the new normal?" and post charts that show (my interpretation) the federal government sucking up all the credit in a credit crisis.  In other words, good questions, but too timid with the answers in some cases.

As an example, here's a quote from Robert Reich in one of the posts:

This is still not the Great Depression of the 1930s, but it is a Depression. And the only way out is government spending on a very large scale. We should stop worrying about Wall Street. Worry about American workers. Use money to build up Main Street, and the future capacities of our workforce.
It would be nice to get a counterpoint, or at least some critical questions.  Like, why didn't massive government spending work in the New Deal to lower unemployment?  Or, how will you give main street jobs without investment ("Wall Street")? 


The View from Up Here

The topic of the view from space is an interesting one. You are paying a lot of money, so you really want to be able to see things that you can't see from, say, an airplane. I put some thought into the topic after I read a post about the relative merits of Scotland as a launch site for suborbital rides. I think it would certainly be worthwhile for a space tours provider to employ someone to work up a detailed profile of the effects passengers can expect to see during a flight from any given location. It would also probably command a premium to schedule launches during interesting events - certain rare ones like eclipses, but also more common ones like sunsets and storms. It also speaks to subsidiary markets for experience enhancers, like head-up display goggles with pre-programmed sight cues.

I'm more and more convinced that I would choose to have my flight at night or twilight for a number of reasons. It would be nice to get the flight during a rare or beautiful celestial event - say, a lunar eclipse or a planetary conjunction. A comet would go from being faint and washed-out by the atmosphere, to being sharp and colorful in space. If you don't mind having slightly more pea-sized bullets whizzing around you at orbital velocities than usual, a meteor shower would go from being above you to all around you to below you. Same with the aurora. Another interesting phenomenon would be to aim near the space shuttle or ISS as it passes over - it would go from a bright dot to a detailed set of shapes as you get closer. Stars and planets would become brighter, more colorful, and more numerous. Bring a pair of binoculars along to scope out Jupiter's moons, or our moon, or maybe even large man-made satellites. Looking back at Earth, you would want to get a sense of the scope of the view below you. From 100 km up, things like individual mountains and even medium-sized mountain ranges will not be terribly spectacular unless they are lone, massive peaks or they delineate biomes - you are looking for a place where there are very obvious color and pattern differences between different geological areas over a greater-than-human scale. To illustrate with a few ideas - imagine taking off from Aspen Colorado. During the first part of the flight, you are surrounded by snow-capped mountains. As you get up to, say, 100,000 feet, the individual mountains become distinct ranges. The sharp delineation of front range with the prairie is visible, as well as the string of cities from Cheyenne down to Pueblo. On the other side, the land gets brown and cut by deep canyons. Another illustration would be Kiruna in Sweden. You would launch from a deep-green and rolling boreal forest. As you rise the mountains and fjords of the Norwegian coast would come into view, and you would have a unique view of three oceans - North Atlantic, Baltic Sea, and Arctic. The tundra and pack ice in and around Lappland would be visible too near the top. A related concept is fractal phenomena. The advantage of these is that you not only have large scale features, but you pass through similar small-scale features on the way, in a nice progression that would be very good at getting across a sense of the distance travelled. This is the kind of thing you get when you go up in an airplane, where you go from seeing details of the front doors of houses, to lights in individual windows, to more abstract and linearized blocks and neighborhood patterns. We experience these in a plane, but only one or two scale transitions; whereas suborbital hops might see 3 or 4. One thing I can think of is taking off from the shores of a bay in Wisconsin or Michigan. As you go up, the bay becomes a sea, and then the sea becomes a lake, and by the top you can see parts of all 5 great lakes and all the cities and farmlands and forests around them. Highways and cities at night are something we experience from airliners, but you might see Cairo out the right window and Alexandria shining off the clouds to the left - imagine if the entire Nile Delta became a globular lump of white light (at night) or deep green (during the day). Busy freeways would go from the airliner level of seeing individual cars, to impossibly thin sinews of white and red light, and maybe to nothing. Downtowns of large cities would resolve from 3D pop-outs to 2D flat photos to closer stippling of lights to higher intensity white in a blob.  You would also see subtle changes looking up into the black sky. Major airplane routes would be visible as relatively quick-moving strings of lights. Rocket launches would be absolutely spectacular from a suborbital spaceship - White Knight Two, for example, could loiter outside restricted airspace in Western Florida, and release SpaceShipTwo as the Space Shuttle's ignition started.

Light angles could also make common phenomena take on a new quality. I imagine taking off from east Florida in the afternoon, and seeing a long streak of reflected sunlight, like you see sitting on a dock, only this streak would stretch over Lake Okeechobee, through the entire Everglades mangrove swamps, and past the Keys. The full moon would create a similar vision, and it would also work at night, only reflecting off a solid layer of clouds instead of water. Sundogs might get clipped in half if the sun angle was low. And passing through more atmosphere would make the sunset and sunrise look like a bloody yolk on the horizon. I would personally book my flight just after sunset or before sunrise - you would get to see the sun go up and then down again during the flight. I think this would be enhanced significantly if the sun was over the ocean, or perhaps over a tall mountain range. You could also see the day-night terminator, and maybe even see sunbeams from above.
Finally, atmospheric phenomena are something that most of us exist in, rather than observe. Flying through a North Sea storm is pretty drab, but flying above it - where you can see the comma-shaped frontal boundaries - would be spectacular. This speaks well for Scotland, Seattle, Kodiak Island, Kiruna, and so on. The logistics would be tougher, but I can imagine that it would be possible with air launch or point to point to start the boost phase on the outskirts of a hurricane, fly over the rain bands and the eye, and land on the other side. Noctilucent clouds near sunset would look like ghosts over the void from above. Thunderstorm fronts are one thing Oklahoma has that are probably just as spectacular from space as they are from Earth, but in different ways. Rating the venues

The horizon is at the following distance from various altitudes. A participant can expect to see details on the ground at maybe half this distance during the day, but city lights, mountains, and atmospheric phenomena might even be visible slightly over the horizon due to the light bending and the altitude.

65 km (XCOR's Lynx MkI) : ~900 km
100 km (X Prize definition) : ~1100 km
150 km (probably the upper limit on SpaceShipTwo's possible range) : 1400 km
250 km (many sounding rockets get this high, also the lowest orbits stable over the period of months, so some satellites are around here) : ~1800 km
1000 km (really powerfull sounding rockets; this is nearing the Van Allen belts so it is probably close to the limit for suborbital tourism): ~3700 km

All these descriptions assume the 100km altitude unless otherwise noted.

Oklahoma Spaceport, Oklahoma, USA:
Celestial: nothing special
Geography: very little until the very crest of the flight. Mostly it's just farmland, but the Gulf of Mexico and the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and New Mexico are visible above about 50 km. The problem is that things on the far horizon are very blurred by the atmosphere, so that most of the good stuff will be hard to see. No major lakes, and the Mississippi and Missouri rivers are far enough away that participants won't be able to make out their traces.
Man-made: Dallas should be clear even during the day. Other cities visible at night include Houston, San Antonio, Denver/Front Range, Kansas City, St. Louis, Memphis, and New Orleans depending on peak altitude. Oil rigs and ships in the Gulf of Mexico.
Lighting effects: Sunsets behind thunderstorms and/or the distant Rocky mountains; maybe a distant reflection off the Gulf of Mexico a few days a year
Atmospheric: There is a lot of weather in Oklahoma. The snow line will probably be somewhere within the view during most of the winter. Strong cold fronts will be very interesting, because participants could see a full 2000-km sweep of storms, and during the warmer months these will usually included major thunderstorms. A more rare possibility is a hurrican or tropical storm in the Gulf - for instance, there would have been a day or so window for viewing the structure of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita before their weather and winds affected the spaceport itself.
Verdict: C-. This is about as pedestrian as spaceports go. Most of the interesting stuff on the ground is near the horizon at the peak, when you'll want to be looking up. Go when there is a hurricane in the northern Gulf or a strong cold front on the plains. Try to get a night or twilight flight.

Spaceport Florida, USA: (also applies to nearby Cecil Field)
Celestial: nothing special
Geography: Lots, and it just keeps getting better as you go up. Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades are interesting from an airliner, and it will be interesting from a spaceplane. Florida is a peninsula, so you would see two oceans (GoM and Atlantic) from basically airliner level up. As you went up, the Bahamas and Cuba would loom large. You may be able to make out the continental shelf to the east. Near the peak, your view would include the Mississippi Delta, the Outer Banks of North Carolina, most or all of Cuba, the Cayman Islands, and the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula. The Appalachians probably wouldn't be tall enough to see their relief but you will probably see a change to darker greens from the farmland across most of Georgia.
Man-made: Nearby cities include Orlando, Tampa, Miami, Jacksonville, Havana, and Nassau. You might also glimpse lights of New Orleans, Atlanta, Nashville, Kingston, and Cancun near the horizon. Orlando airport is one of the busiest in the world, as are shipping lanes around the Straits of Havana. And of course, there are the regular orbital launches from Cape Canaveral.
Lighting effects: You can't go wrong with either sunset or sunrise - either way it will happen over an ocean. The afformentioned reflection of light in mangroves and swamps should be visible if the sun is at the right angle.
Atmospheric: Thunderstorms hit the sunshine state almost every afternoon in the summer. In the fall, hurricanes are a common occurence, and many track south or east so that the launch and glideback might be reasonably safe.
Verdict: A-. It lacks a lot of biomes and ground relief, but it more than makes up for it with water, islands, weather, and people. Any flight from Florida will be spectacular, night, day, or twilight. If you can catch a tropical storm, great; otherwise just aim south and watch the Caribbean unfold.

Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazahkstan:
Celestial: Baikonur is located at 45 N latitude, so there is a very slim possibility of auroras.
Geography: The only interesting feature within the clear-viewing area is the Aral Sea, which is visible from about 10km up. The Syr Darya valley is heavy agricultural green among the golden steppe. Further away, near the very peak of the flight, the Caspian Sea will fill much of the western horizon, and the 5000-meter Tien Shan and Hindu Kush mountains the southeastern. North and south are pretty boring, until about 500 km height when the Bay of Bengal, Black Sea, and Persian Gulf become visible.
Man-made: The area is sparsely populated. Smallish cities like Astana and Tashkent will be visible at night. Rocket launches from Baikonur occur regularly.
Lighting effects: Takeoff well before sunrise will give a sunrise and sunset over the high mountains to the east, and well after sunset will give a sunrise and sunset over the Caspian Sea. The relative flatness and monotony of the land should make the day-night terminator quite clear. Bring sunglasses in the winter, because the area is probably covered in snow.
Atmospheric: Not much weather as far as I can tell. There are probably thunderstorms in the summer, but due to the location in the middle of Asia the area is quite dry.
Verdict: D. Appears to be the only place on Earth more boring than Oklahoma.

Mojave Air & Space Port, California, USA: (also applies to nearby California Spaceport)
Celestial: nothing special.
Geography: Take your pick, the area has a little of everthing. Almost from the start the Pacific Ocean comes into view around Malibu, and then expands to show the coastline up Big Sur and Cape Mendocino, all the way to Oregon and down to the Gulf of California and Baja California. The beautiful and mountainous Channel Islands will stand out sharply in the water, being only a couple hundred km away. High mountain ranges virtually cover the view in the other three directions, including the High Sierra only 200 km away, and they vary from bone-dry and brown to snow-capped and deep green. The giant glaciated volcano Mt. Shasta should be visible for the top half of the flight or so. The land patterns and biomes are also extremely varied. The Central valley is flat and delineated agricultural land, the desert below is brown with isolated mountains, the Sierra Nevada are cut by dozens of deep granite canyons, and the desert ranges to the south are scrubby but rise suddenly. Lake Tahoe is about 500 km away (visible at 20 km altitude), the Salton Sea, Lake Mead, and the Grand Canyon of the Colorado are in spitting distance, and the San Andreas fault system should be readily apparent from early on in the flight. Winter views will be more varied, because the mountains will be covered in white, and the coastal areas will be much greener than in the summer.
Man-made: Mojave wins again in this area. Several major cities are quite close, starting with Los Angeles. LA will be visible almost from the get-go, during the day or at night. It is close enough that you can make out individual buildings early in the flight, and so expansive and well-delineated by freeways and blocks that the fractal effect will be unlike just about anything, anywhere, especially at night. Other tantalizing possibilities are Las Vegas - the strip casinos should stand out brightly well into space, notably the beam from the Luxor. San Francisco will be no less impressive. Its footprint is almost as large as LA's, and the bridges and islands in the Bay will make it unmistakable. Other cities in the horizon are San Diego, Tijuana, Phoenix, Tucson, Salt Lake City, Albuquerque, and Reno. If you go a little higher (225 km), you get Seattle, Portland, Vancouver, and all of Baja California down to the tip. If you have a spare minute, you can try to find the California Aqueduct, or trace the headlights of the 5 freeway up the Central Valley, pick out Hoover Dam, or look for the night skiing runs at Big Bear and Mountain High. I don't want to jam this thing too full, but I would be remiss not to also mention the huge military installations and airports at Edwards, and China Lake; some oft the busiest ports in the world at Long Beach, San Pedro, and San Diego, the oil rigs off Santa Barbara, and the space launches from Vandenberg.
Lighting effects: Pacific sunsets are outstanding, and by taking off just after sunset you can be one of the few people who can say they saw the sun rise over the California coast.
Atmospheric: California is known for its clear weather, and that is mostly true. However, winter storms off the Pacific can be fierce, and they usually have the classical highly-occluded comma shape typical of temperate storms. Fog also often socks in the coast, leaving a flat blanked of white over the ocean that is sometimes only a few km wide - it is especially beautiful from an airplane when the full moon is out over the ocean. In the Bay Area, fog pours through the Golden Gate and evaporates, often leaving half the city covered by underlit clouds that look like a frozen explosions, and bridges piers that seem to float on smoke. Many years in the summer months a monsoon develops over Arizona, forming massive isolated thunderheads.
Verdict: A+. Mojave sets the bar for everywhere else. Pretty much any time you go you will be overwhelmed, but try for twilight to see the sun rise and set over the Pacific, and the lights of LA blink to life.

Spaceport Sheboygan, Wisconsin, USA:
Celestial: Sheboygan is at 43 N latitude, and it is on the magnetic pole side of the planet, so you might catch an aurora if you are lucky.
Geography: The American midwest has a reputation for being rather dull, but there is plenty to keep you occupied for your 5-10 minutes of flight in the area. First, you are launching from an inland sea (Lake Michigan). Throughout the climb, all 5 of the Great Lakes gradually become visible, and you might even see parts of James Bay, Lake Winnipeg, and the Atlantic Ocean off New Jersey if you go a little higher than 100 km. The upper Mississippi and Ohio rivers are almost certainly close enough to see on at least part of the trip, and you might even see Niagara Falls lit up at night. The biomes are pretty standard and monotonous farm and forest, and there are no mountains to speak of within view. Wisconsin, however, has an ace in the hole: winter. During winter, most of the area is covered in snow, and the lakes ice up. This offers a slew of possibilities. If you go during an advancing blizzard, you might see vast swaths of white and green, with a dynamic weather system - maybe even thunderheads - in between. Go during spring to see the lakes at various stages of ice melt and breakup. Fall foliage would be writ large, with macro gradations from brown in the north to warm colors in the middle to green in the south.
Man-made: As you lift off looking south, you get the Russian doll/Murderhorn effect as cities get bigger, from Sheboygan to Milwaukee to Chicago. The opportunity to "see your house" is very good, if you live in any of a couple dozen cities: Detroit, Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Toronto, London (Ontario), Rochester, Lexington, Nashville, Memphis, St. Louis, Kansas City, Des Moines, Indianapolis, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Sudbury. The horizon to the east will be even brighter at night, the Megalopolis from Richmond up to New York City is just at the edge of your vision, as is Albany, Syracuse, Ottowa, and Montreal. Chicago is one of the busiest airline crossroads in the world, and there is a great deal of shipping in the Great Lakes. It may be possible to pick out individual landmarks like the Sears Tower and Mackinac Bridge during at least part of the trip.
Lighting effects: Reflection off one, two, or even three or four of the Great Lakes around sunrise, or full moon.
Atmospheric: All the weather for Oklahoma applies here as well: nasty thunder storms and sharp cold fronts.
Verdict: B. It lacks relief and variety, but the Great Lakes make it more than just a city finder trip. Go during a low full moon on a cold clear night, when the lakes and the countryside are covered in snow and ice, for a surreal and breathtaking view that will change the way you think about the Midwest forever.

Kiruna Spaceport, Sweden
Celestial: Kiruna's biggest advantage is its latitude of 67 N. This means aurora borealis is fairly common. Also, since it is far away from population centers and above the Arctic Circle, there is close to zero light pollution.
Geography: You get water on all sides, with the Arctic Ocean to the north, North Atlantic the the west, and Baltic Sea to the South. There will also be a great view of the Norwegian coast, with its rugged mountains and long fjords. On the northern horizon, higher launches might see Svalbard, Novaya Zemlya, or even Iceland and Greenland.
Man-made: Not much. Helsinki, St. Petersburg, and Oslo might shine a dimly on the horizon near the apex of the flight, as well as some of the northmost North Sea rigs.
Lighting effects: Midnight sun is an interesting possibility - in spring and fall, one can take off in midnight twilight, watch the sun rise brilliantly to the north over the pack ice in the Arctic Ocean, and then descend back down. Sundogs from ice crystal suspended in the atmosphere.
Atmospheric: North Atlantic storm fronts and arctic cold fronts.
Verdict: B-. It would be a very unique experience, but if you are planning to only do this once, you might want more variety. Also, it's a bit of a crap shoot - you might see the aurora, but probably not. You might see the arctic pack ice, but chances are it will be covered in clouds along with everything else. Go in late spring for the iceberg season and the midnight sunrise, or else a full moon flight during the winter.

Kodiak Spaceport, Alaska, USA:
Celestial: Auroras, low light pollution
Geography: First off, the launch complex is on an large, mountainous, wilderness-covered island. The Aleutian, Alaska, St Elias, and Chugach mountain ranges are all within view, and they all have glacier-covered mountains well over 3000m tall. The south coast of Alaska is sprinkled with islands and peninsulas, and you can see from Juneau all the way to Nome and Unalaska Island. Dozens of volcanos along the Aleutian Archipelago and up near to Anchorage would be visible, many of them active and venting steam and gas clouds. You would be able to see North all the way up to the tundra of the Brooks Range, and the Yukon River and Delta may be visible as well. Icebergs and pack ice in the Bering Sea.
Man-made: Not much. There is a lot of shipping from Valdez and Anchorage, and Anchorage and Fairbanks are large enough to be more than just points from space, but that is about it.
Lighting effects: Midnite sunrise would be a possibility throughout most of the winter. Reflections off the ocean, especially if it was looking down the Aleutian chain, would be impressive.
Atmospheric: Sundogs, and auroras. The Gulf of Alaska is one of the stormiest places on Earth, so it's a pretty good bet that you can see a nice cyclonic storm spinning up, with tall mountains rising out of the clouds.
Verdict: B. Kodiak has similar strengths and weaknesses to Kiruna, but the with a more varied and majestic landscape.

Hawaii Spaceport, location TBD, USA
Celestial: nothing special, but there is probably less light pollution than most places even with Oahu.
Geography: At first check it seems like a slam dunk because it's Hawaii, but at apogee your view will be about 99.9% featureless water. That said, the islands are probably beautiful from any altitude. The volcanoes on Hawaii don't steam or smoke, and they aren't steep, so the probably don't add a whole lot to the experience.
Man-made: Honolulu, and not much else. The harbor is busy, but it's so wide open that there won't be any shipping lanes to speak of. Same with airliners.
Lighting effects: Hawaii would be one of the few places where a daytime flight is obviously better than a night time flight. Watching the day-night terminator over the ocean would be a unique experience.
Atmospheric: The islands generate their own weather in the the prevailing winds, with windward clouds and leeward clear. You might also see wind eddies curling away from the islands by the patterns they make on the surface of the ocean. You may see tropical storms in the intertropical convergence zone to the south.
Verdict: B. On the one hand, there is not a whole lot to see. On the other hand, it's Hawaii, and the sheer sense of isolation from seeing tiny pieces of land in so much water is interesting in its own right. Fly during the day and then party all night.

Chugwater Spaceport, Wyoming, USA:
Celestial: nothing special
Geography: Chugwater is located at a pretty striking transition zone, being just east of the front ranges of the Rockies. Further west, a good view of the Grand Tetons, Great Salt Lake, and Great Basin are available. To the east you might see the Missouri River valley and the Black Hills. At the right time of year, you have a good chance of seeing a snowline snaking across the midwest.
Man-made: All the Front Range cities are visible to the south, extending from Cheyenne at takeoff to Albuquerque and El Paso at apogee. Kansas City, Minneapolis-St. Paul, and Oklahoma City are also at the edge of the view. Denver International is a trans-continental air hub, and I-25 is a major north-south route.
Lighting effects: The steep wall of mountains rising two kilometers high to the west may provide for some interesting low-angle sun effects with reflections, occlusions, and shadows. The day-night terminator over the great plains.
Atmospheric: The area is quite dry, but there are blizzards in winter and thunderstorms in summer.
Verdict: B-. There is a lot of variety, and some human artifacts, but nothing really jumps out.

Spaceport Singapore:
Celestial: southern constellations
Geography: Outstanding. Singapore is at the tip of the Malay Peninsula, and it is surrounded by innumerable islands, most of which have very high mountains and volcanoes on them. The western horizon will be filled with Sumatra, the sixth-largest island in the world, and the eastern horizon Borneo, the third largest The western tip of Java is also visible. The Malacca Strait, just below the flight path, is littered with small islands, as is the sea west of Sumatra, and the sea between Singapore and Borneo, the sea north of Singapore... you get the picture. With so many versions of the same geographic feature available, the fractal effect will be very apparent - one minute you're looking at an island the size of your thumb that you can see individual houses on, and two minutes later an island the same apparent size has mountain ranges and cities with millions of people.
Man-made: Singapore is one of the great cities of the world, and it shrinks from around you to below you to a light fringing a dark sea and sending tendrils into the surrounding forests. Kuala Lumpur is close by, while Ho Chi Minh City and Jakarta are a little farther off center, but should be visible during parts of the trip. The Malacca Strait is one of the busiest shipping routes in the world.
Lighting effects: Little islands would stand out of the reflected sunlight well. The sunset/sunrise over the mountains and coast of Sumatra or Borneo would be breathtaking, and watching the terminator's interplay with the steep mountainous islands as it advanced across the sea would be interesting.
Atmospheric: The area is very rainy, and in a predictable way because it is in the tropics. Plan on thunder storms somewhere in your field of view every afternoon.
Verdict: A. Spectacular setting just about any time, but near sunset when the thunderhead are booming, with the terminator chasing across the sea and islands lighting up behind it, would show the mixture of people and geography unique to this part of the world.

Kourou Spaceport, French Guyana: (also applies, somewhat loosely, to Alcantara Launch Complex in Brazil)
Celestial: Southern constellations.
Geography: Kourou lies on the north coast of South America, fronting the tropical Atlantic and backed up against thick rain forest. The most distinctive feature of the flight would undoubtedly be the Amazon River, whose mouth is located 650 km south. The river drains huge amounts of sediment into the Atlantic, which should be visible from space easily. The course is also wide enough to be visible from orbit in many places. The Orinoco River in Venezuela may also be visible. The Lesser Antilles are just outside the 100 km view, so higher altitude craft will have an advantage here. The table-top plateaus in eastern Venezuela and Guyana may be visible, but they will be near the horizon so probably not.
Man-made: The area is sparsely populated and poor. The city of Belem in Brazil is near the horizon, but no other cities of size are close by. Orbital launches from Kourou are a regular occurrence.
Lighting effects: Sunrise over the Atlantic, and sun glinting through the trees during Amazon flooding.
Atmospheric: Thunderstorms every afternoon.
Verdict: B-. The coastal location is nice, and the vast Amazon Rain Forest and River are worth the trip. A higher launch which could see some of the Caribbean islands, tropical storms, and cities like Caracas and Manaus would improve things. Ride in the afternoon, when the thunderheads form with the sun behind them.

Spaceport Scotland, Lossiemouth, UK:
Celestial: Auroras. Somewhat decent light pollution, especially if England is overcast.
Geography: Near the northern tip of Scotland. The lochs and fjords of Scotland would recede quickly, opening to the Orkney, Shetland, and Faroe Islands and Ireland. All of England and Wales would come up gradually during the burn, and you would see across the North Sea to southern Norway, across the Atlantic to Iceland, and across the Channel to France and the low countries. No huge mountains, but the deeply-cut coast line and multitudes of islands will help give a sense of scale and a fractal effect. Northern Scotland is also close to the terminus of the North Atlantic Current, so the ice-free line may be visible at some times of the year.
Man-made: Not much at first... and then England rises. First with Manchester/Liverpool, then London appears. Soon after that, the coast of North Europe comes up, covered in light from Brittany all the way to Copenhagen and Berlin. The North Sea shipping lanes and oil rigs should be visible, as well as the line of airplanes connecting Heathrow with North America.
Lighting effects: Midnite sunrise during winter, full moon over pack ice to the north.
Atmospheric: North Atlantic storms often have a classic occluded front shape that is only apparent from space. The low angle of the sun would provide for longer and redder sunsets and sunrises.
Verdict: B+. Scotland is beautiful, especially if you can get it on a sunny, or as the rest of us say, "mostly cloudy" day. The contrast from the great cities of Europe to the icy depths of the North Atlantic would be a little eery if you could see the spread; and in all but the worst weather you will probably be able to see enough to get the picture.

Spaceport America, New Mexico, USA: (also applies to nearby Blue Origin Launch Facility)
Celestial: Decent light pollution
Geography: There are som smaller mountain ranges to the east, along with White Sands. The Rio Grande River also flows nearby. Further north, still early in the boost phase, the Colorado Rockies come into view, and they should eventually be pretty clear as you go higher. The entire Gulf of California will also be visible, slow extending on the southwest horizon, and most of Baja California as well. Participants will have a decent view of the Grand Canyon and Mogollon Mtns in Arizona. Near the apex, the view will span from Great Salt Lake to the Channel Islands of California, down Baja to the tip, and across northern Mexico. With the right light and maybe a few dozen extra kilometers, the view will truly be sea to shining sea, as the Gulf of Mexico will appear near Corpus Christi, Texas.
Man-made: The immediate area is sparsely populated. El Paso-Juarez is the first big city, and probably the only one that will be obvious until the highest altitude due to atmospheric haze. Phoenix is the closest really big city, and San Antonio, Austin, Dallas, Denver, Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Diego, Tijuana, Monterrey, and Hermosillo should be visible at night at least.
Lighting effects: Nothing special.
Atmospheric: Thunderstorms during monsoon seasons, possibly snowstorms in the Rockies and Utah, and tropical systems after they come on shore in Texas.
Verdict: B. My first reaction was that this is a bad place for a spaceport, because it is surrounded by desert and somewhat underwhelming desert mountain ranges. However, it may have a good progression to it, where it keeps showing new things as you go higher at a good pace to take it all in.

Gulf Coast Regional Spaceport, Texas, USA: (also applies to nearby South Texas Spaceport)
Celestial: nothing special.
Geography: The Gulf Coast Regional Spaceport is aptly named. During the flight, the entire western gulf from Yucatan to Alabama would be visible. Part of the Mexican Pacific coast might be visible to the west near apogee as well. In between are the Sierra Madre of Mexico, including the great volcanoes around Mexico City. The north and west are a lot of plains and desert. The Mississippi delta birdfoot and its attendant sediment should be visible on the horizon during the day. The landscape transitions rather gradually from dark green in the American Southeast, to grassland prairie, to brown deserts in Mexico.
Man-made: There are a number of great cities under this flight envelope. San Antonio, Austin, Dallas, Houston, and Monterrey are good bets to see during the day. The lights of El Paso, Memphis, New Orleans, Merida, Veracruz, Puebla, Mexico City, and Guadalajara are all within the horizon at apogee. Gulf shipping lanes around Galveston and the Mississippi should be visible.
Lighting effects: The GoM presents a big mirror to the east for spectacular sunrises.
Atmospheric: The flat blue water to the east would make for a very red sunrise. The area has regular thunderstorms during warm months, and it is a good candidate to have a tropical storm pass during a given year. You also have regular cold fronts pass, usually to the north somewhat.
Verdict: B+. The GoM would be stunning during sunrise. However, the land side is somewhat underwhelming, and the best parts are near the horizon. The lights of Texas cities are not distinct in the way Singapore or San Francisco are.

Spaceport Dubai, UAE
Celestial: Nothing special.
Geography: More than trackless desert, thankfully. Dubai itself has created some shapes that would be visible a good part of the trip with its offshore construction projects. The Persian Gulf, Straits of Hormuz, and Arabian Sea are recognizable water bodies, and the Gulf has a distinct color to its waters. The Qatar Peninsula and Bahrain Island would rise about halfway up. The mountains in Oman are large enough to show some relief for at least part of the trip, as are the coastal ranges of Persia, which have a very distinct striated pattern from above that probably is not obvious from an airplane. The Euphrates River delta may also be visible at the apogee during the day. Because of the barrenness of the Arabian Peninsula, large-scale geologic features would be quite obvious.
Man-made: The most unique part of the Dubai launch is almost certainly the oil industry. First, the tanker traffic in the Straits of Hormuz and up and down the Gulf - and if you are lucky the occasional carrier battle group. Every oilfield would be alight at night with gas flares, perhaps even brighter than the cities. The cities are much more delineated than in other areas of the world, with close, intense concentrations across a bleak background. Dubai itself would be the most impressive city from above, but Abu Dhabi, Muscate, and Doha would also be easy to pick out. Near the apex, the lights of Riyadh, Kuwait, Shiraz, and possibly even Karachi may be visible.
Lighting effects: Nothing special
Atmospheric: There is not much in the way of weather in this part of the world. There may be a Cyclone in the Arabian Sea on rare occasions, or thunderheads over Iran.
Verdict: B. The oil fires and tankers, and the patterns on the barren land, will make this one interesting. Go at high noon or midnight. For muslims looking for a unique prayer opportunity, a craft that goes up to 250 km altitude can see Mecca on the horizon at apogee.

Spaceport Washington, USA
Celestial: May be high enough latitude to see auroras.
Geography: A good mix of mountains, ocean, and high semiarid plateau. The Spaceport is only 100 km east of the Cascades and 300 km west of the Rockies in the Great Basin. Directly below is the Columbia and Snake River Gorges. In view just after takeoff are the great Cascade volcanoes: Rainier, Adams, Hood, Baker, Shasta, St. Helens, all the way up to Mt. Waddington in British Columbia. All of the Puget Sound, Straits of Juan de Fuca, and Vancouver Island are visible, and the Great Salt Lake and Bonneville Salt Flats are just on the Horizon to the southeast.
Man-made: The string of pearls - Portland, Seattle, Victoria, and Vancouver, are large cities that border water, and have bridges and tall buildings and other interesting features. Seattle, Tacoma, and Vancouver are busy harbors. Inland is mostly mountains and basins, but Calgary and Salt Lake City should be visible at night.
Lighting effects: Sunset over the layered ranges of the Cascades and Olympics, with alpenglow on the glaciated volcanoes.
Atmospheric: Smoking or steaming volcanoes, big blows off the pacific piling up against the mountains and evaporating over the desert, localized weather systems in the ranges of the Canadian Rockies.
Verdict: A. A beautiful part of the globe, with all the elements of nature and mankind laid out below.

Spaceport Virginia, USA
Celestial: Nothing special. Lots of light pollution.
Geography: Wallops Island is on the barrier Islands between the Delaware and Chesapeake Bays. There are no large mountains nearby to speak of, but the crenellated coast of North America is a classic fractal of barrier islands, inlets, and glacial moraines. Just off the coast is the continental shelf, and this is right around the area where the warm Gulf Stream meets the cold Labrador Current. Also, try to spot Bermuda on the southeast horizon.
Man-made: Wallops is really unparallelled in terms of human imprint on the globe. You rise up from a dark barrier island, but almost immediately your western horizon fills with the Megalopolis. Cities rise in progression northward, from Norfolk to Richmond to Washington, Baltimore Philadelphia, New York, and Boston. At first the cities will resolve in some detail - you will probably see the Capitol and Washington Monument, aircraft carriers docked in Norfolk, the Ben Franklin Bridge in Philly, and maybe even some of the relief of Manhattan's skyline. As you go up, the whole will become more apparent, with transit routes thickly lit by suburbs and coast lines and rivers delineated with lights. Further up, parts of Lakes Ontario, Erie, and Huron should be falling away on the horizon, as well as the lights of cities like Atlanta, Nashville, Cincinnati, Detroit, Toronto, and Montreal. Shipping lanes and air routes will stand out like luminescent ants. I may also be possible to see parts of a space shuttle launch, but the time would have to be perfect.
Lighting effects: At sunset, the sun's reflection will make a sharp fractal shape out of Chesapeake Bay. Sunrises over the Atlantic.
Atmospheric: The Atlantic seaboard has its storms. Lift off while a nor'easter or tropical storm is parellelling the coast. Summer thunderstorms are common, and winter cold fronts often sharply delineate white behind them and green/brown ahead.
Verdict: B. Not much in terms of natural or climatic diversity, but there are not many places where you can look down on more people. Many of the sights are common or guaranteed, so this area is less of a crapshoot than some others.. Take this trip at late dusk so you can see both the coastline and the city lights clearly.

Woomera Spaceport, South Australia, Australia
Celestial: Southern constellations, low light pollution
Geography: Woomera is stuck in the Australian interior, but it is only a couple hundred km from the Indian Ocean to the south. The north is a massive swath of desert, and to the east lies Australia's breadbasket, the Murray-Darling river system. Ayers Rock may be visible for parts of the flight during the day.
Man-made: Adelaide is nearby, and Melbourne will also be visible for a good part of the flight. Sydney is just over the horizon, but travellers may be able to pick out Canberra.
Lighting effects: Nothing special.
Atmospheric: Antartic fronts to the south marching in succession.
Verdict: C+. There's a whole lot of empty land here, but there is also a coastline and some cities.