Wednesday, March 31, 2004

A Catholic Takes on Mel

Garry Wills is, among other things, an expert on St. Augustine and the author of numerous books, including several on Catholicism (Papal Sin, Why I am a Catholic, among others). This week he takes on Mel Gibson's gory The Passion of the Christ in the New York Review of Books:

If you relish the sight of a healthy male body being systematically demolished, beyond the farthest reach of plausible endurance, The Passion of the Christ is your movie. It is not simply the scourging scene that is at issue, though that deals out an unspecified number of stripes—more than sixty and still counting, half of them inflicted by whips that have been made into multiple-hook tearing instruments. Even earlier, at the arrest of Jesus, he is chained, beaten over and over, thrown off a bridge to crash below. He arrives at his first legal hearing already mauled and with one eye closed behind swollen bruises. From then on, he is never moved or stopped without spontaneous blows and kicks and shoves from all kinds of bystanders wanting to get in on the fun. On the way to execution, he is whipped while fainting under the cross. A soldier says to lay off or he'll never make it. But the crowd just keeps whipping and beating him all the rest of the way.

My wife and I had to stop glancing furtively at each other for fear we would burst out laughing. It had gone beyond sadism into the comic surreal, like an apocalyptic version of Swinburne's The Whipping Papers.

No kidding! It's insanely over the top. Christ is merely a punching bag in this film. People go to the theatre, watch in shocked silence, and go home, unaware that they've been exposed to much that is not even Biblical; as Wills points out, much of the bloody detail comes from the visions of a nineteenth century German nun, Anne Catherine Emmerich, who was herself an anti-Semite. Gibson, of course, argues that his film is not anti-Semitic.

In Gibson's film the union of the divine and human in Jesus is not explored or explicated. He is just a sponge for punishment. Which makes one wonder why so many call their viewing of the film a conversion experience. From what, or to what, are they being converted? From Christianity to philoflagellationism? Some fear that the real conversion will be to anti-Semitism, but Gibson says that he cannot be anti-Semitic because he killed Christ himself. All sinners did. To emphasize the point, he publicized that the hand in the film holding the first nail driven into Christ's palm is Gibson's own. But as we sinners watch the killers in this movie—the insane glee of those plotting against Jesus, lying about him, beating him, demanding his death, inflicting his death—do we really feel that they are our surrogates? We might, because of our sins, feel that we should empathize with them, but we cannot actually do so—the manipulation of the situation does not allow for that.

It's well worth reading, like anything by Wills.

Important to Remember

They love us. They will greet us as liberators. Yeah, right.

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

They Can't Handle the Truth

One of the creepiest features of modern medieval Repug-ism is their inability to accept the truth. Whenever someone says something true that disturbs their tenth-century worldview, they get in line and start to yap yap yap like brainless mop dogs. It doesn't even appear to be organized; they all fall into line like the soldiers they've never been. The Democrats, God knows, are an arguing, rather heady mob. The Repugs are a bunch of not over-bright robots. Paul Krugman comments this morning:

Some journalists seem, finally, to have caught on. Last week an Associated Press news analysis noted that such personal attacks were "standard operating procedure" for this administration and cited "a behind-the-scenes campaign to discredit Richard Foster," the Medicare actuary who revealed how the administration had deceived Congress about the cost of its prescription drug bill.

But other journalists apparently remain ready to be used. On CNN, Wolf Blitzer told his viewers that unnamed officials were saying that Mr. Clarke "wants to make a few bucks, and that [in] his own personal life, they're also suggesting that there are some weird aspects in his life as well."

This administration's reliance on smear tactics is unprecedented in modern U.S. politics — even compared with Nixon's. Even more disturbing is its readiness to abuse power — to use its control of the government to intimidate potential critics.

This is really to be expected from this administration. What's more dangerous is the obvious unwillingness of Republicans outside the administration to think for themselves anymore and their enthusiastic, inane defence of the President no matter what he does. I swear you'd see them lining up to cheer at the gates of a Bush-constructed death camp. Where's it going?

Where will it end? In his new book, "Worse Than Watergate," John Dean, of Watergate fame, says, "I've been watching all the elements fall into place for two possible political catastrophes, one that will take the air out of the Bush-Cheney balloon and the other, far more disquieting, that will take the air out of democracy."

Please God let it be the former, but I fear it may be the latter.

Monday, March 29, 2004

John Kerry and the Epistle of James

John Kerry took a shot at President Caligula by quoting from the New Testament Epistle of James:

"The scriptures say, what does it profit, my brother, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?" Kerry told the congregation at New North Side Baptist Church. "When we look at what is happening in America today, were are the works of compassion?"

Indeed, indeed. Of course fundamentalist "Christians" like Bush don't take the Epistle of James very seriously, in spite of the fact that it is credited to Jesus' brother James the Righteous, who was the head of the church in Jerusalem until he was martyred. The emphasis of James that faith without works is dead bumps up against the claims of Paul that faith alone is sufficient, so mostly fundies ignore James. Too bad. I suspect James knew what he was talking about....


Protesters have been, in the words of the Washington Post, "swarming" around Karl Rove's house. Too bad they're whining about illegal immigrant "rights."

Shortly thereafter, sirens shot through the neighborhood and Secret Service agents and D.C. police joined the crowd on the lawn. Rove opened his door long enough to talk to an officer, and the crowd serenaded them with a stanza of "America the Beautiful."

Still, it must have been a blast.

There's Always Money for this Kind of Crap

Even while civic services crumble as Dubya's economic miracle beggars the country, Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York, in between guest spots on Law and Order, finds the cash to build the Jets a new stadium, which undoubtedly will then be named after a private company who will come up with a fraction of the money necessary to build it. The redoubtable Bob Herbert coments:

I guess it's a matter of priorities. The mayor can't find the money to pay the city's cops or teachers what they deserve, but he can sure come up with the cash for a stadium.

"If you don't have a smile on your face today," said the mayor, with the Jets' billionaire owner Woody Johnson looking on, "you're never going to have one."

He then proceeded to outline a West Side development plan that would include a 75,000-seat stadium for the Jets, complete with a retractable roof and a halo of full-service cocoons (known as luxury boxes) for the very rich and famous.

One of the things that didn't come up during the announcement was the fact that the city can't afford to fund some of its most basic services.

For example, the bathrooms in many of the public schools are a scandal. Toilets are broken and filthy. Ceilings leak. Toilet paper is often nonexistent. The Times's Elissa Gootman wrote in January that youngsters at Abraham Lincoln High School in Brooklyn use the toilets down the road at Coney Island Hospital.

A student at a high school in Manhattan, Diola Castillo, said, "I just try to wait till I get home."

Amazing. Let me give the city of New York some advice. When the powers that be here in Columbus demanded that the taxpayers fund a hockey arena, we told them to go to hell. Amazingly enough, the wealthy parasites then found the money to build the arena themselves.


Another NASA Success

Even as the Mars rovers add new laurels to NASA's record of accomplishments and the Cassini probe approaches Saturn, the successful flight Saturday of the X-43A scramjet test vehicle points the way forward for the oft-troubled agency. A test flight in 2001 failed, but Saturday's flight appears to have been trouble free.

The unpiloted vehicle's supersonic combustion ramjet, or scramjet, ignited as planned and operated for the duration of its hydrogen fuel supply, which lasted about 10 seconds. The X-43A reached its test speed of Mach 7.

"It's been a great, record-breaking day," said Larry Huebner, NASA Langley Research Center's Hyper-X propulsion lead. "We achieved positive acceleration of the vehicle while we were climbing, and maintained outstanding vehicle control. This was a world-record speed for air-breathing flight," Huebner said.

And it's an important leap ahead, with implications both for future air travel and orbital space flight. A third test flight is planned for this fall.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Get Yer Free Shrimp!

Long John Silver's, last January, made the announcement that they'd treat everyone to free shrimp if NASA discovered evidence of a sea on Mars. Guess what - Long John's is coming through!

"This is the big announcement that Long John Silver's has been waiting for since January - that there is evidence of a past salty sea on Mars," said Mike Baker, Chief Marketing Officer for Long John Silver's, Inc. "We can't wait to celebrate NASA's out-of-this-world success, and there's no better way to recognize their giant accomplishments than with free Giant Shrimp for America."

On Monday, May 10, between the hours of 2 p.m. and 5 p.m., customers can stop by any participating Long John Silver's restaurant and enjoy a free Giant Shrimp (one piece per customer).

Long John Silver's President Steve Davis sent a personal letter to NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe, congratulating NASA on their discovery.

"We've been following the Mars Exploration project since the beginning," Davis wrote, "and we've been anxiously awaiting word of evidence of an ocean on Mars. The rovers have been extremely busy since they arrived on Mars - they've had 'plenty of things on their plate.' Now, with the discovery of ocean water, America can add one more thing to its plate - free Giant Shrimp."

Davis ended the letter by writing, "This is one small step for man, and one giant leap for Giant Shrimp." He also again expressed interest in Long John Silver's becoming the first seafood restaurant on Mars.

Baker added that the Giant Shrimp giveaway is the perfect way to celebrate NASA's historic discovery, which has taken place at the same time Long John Silver's Giant Shrimp introduction has been one of the most successful product launches in company history.

"NASA is making history on Mars and Long John Silver's is making history here on earth," added Baker. "Our faith in NASA has paid off. Their giant accomplishment calls for Giant Shrimp."

There you go! This is just as wacky, but unlike the Long John's announcement, is satire:

PASADENA, CA—The Coca-Cola-sponsored Real Rover has discovered evidence that the surface of Mars was once partially covered by free-flowing Dasani, scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory announced Monday.

"The Real Rover's instruments found signs that cool, refreshing Dasani once drenched the surface of the Red Planet," said Dr. Marvin Chen, NASA space-science administrator and temporary liaison to Coca-Cola. "This discovery is so exciting, because it indicates that the Red Planet may have once hosted a healthy, active, fun-filled microscopic life. You see, Dasani would have been as vital to Martian lifeforms as it is to their terrestrial counterparts."

Check it out; it's hysterical.

Who Cares if You Serve?

Phil Carter writes about a case in which a returning National Guardsman's employer is refusing to reemploy him in defiance of Federal law. This kind of shit seems to be happening a lot. Here in Columbus just last week a city employee who was an officer in the Army National Guard shot himself after being refused a promotion on the specious ground that he failed to sign the correct paperwork before he was shipped out. No apologies yet from our city government. Phil writes:

Are you disgusted yet? I am. Employment law issues are never pretty -- there are usually unclean hands on both sides. But this looks like a pretty clear case of bad corporate citizenship, and I personally hope that Securitas gets slammed by DOL with an enforcement action that costs them thousands of dollars in legal fees and many more thousands in damages. I find this company beyond contempt for its actions -- how dare it serve as government contractor, taking taxpayer money, profitting from our national security budget, when it can't deign to treat a reservist fairly and lawfully upon his return from combat? I would be plain mad if this were a normal case of a normal reservist who did his duty -- I'm absolutely disgusted because this company is acting like this towards a combat disabled veteran who wants nothing more than to do his job and support himself.

I'm disgusted. We all should be.

This Doesn't Explain Jay Leno

Scientists theorize about how human ancestors developed big brains:

They discovered that a fault in a gene called MYH16 in modern humans happened at about the same time that their skulls started to change in shape from other primates, allowing their brains to increase in size.

But the trade-off was a smaller, less powerful jaw.

"The coincidence in time...may mean that the decrease in jaw muscle size and force eliminated stress on the skull which released an evolutionary constraint on brain growth," said Nancy Minugh-Purvis, a member of the team at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, that made the discovery.

Wacky, but plausible.

Flame Lit!

Hey, they've lit the Olympic flame, which will now be carted all over hell and gone before returning to Athens for the Olympics (the flame for Salt Lake came through Columbus a block from my house. Weird!). I'm sure a lot of us think this is a hoary tradition from the beginning of the modern games. Wrong-o! Guess who came up with this little publicity stunt?

Adolf Hitler.

What Is Going on at NPR?

I'm not the only one who's noticed that NPR has been slipping badly lately. The first signs of rot came with Cokie Roberts drifting off to right wing la la land; now we have reporters like Juan Williams who let conservative figures slide when they tell obvious untruths in interviews. The most recent straw breaking the camel's back is the firing of Bob Edwards, a man I've never met but who, like millions of other Morning Edition listeners, I consider a good friend nonetheless. Richard Cohen comments in the Washington Post this morning:

NPR Executive Vice President Ken Stern told The Post that the firing of Edwards was part of a "natural evolution" that had "to do with the changing needs of our listeners." What "natural evolution"? What does that mean? And what "changing needs"? Listen, Ken, my needs haven't changed. I still want news in the morning. I still want smart features. I do not want interviews with air-headed celebrities a la Matt and Katie or, worse, interviews with the latest humorless person Donald Trump has just fired from "The Apprentice."

In explaining why Edwards had been given the boot, Stern said it was "about the right sound." What sound is that, Ken? Too loud? Too soft? Too much bass? I always thought that Edwards had just the right "sound" and that, anyway, NPR and "Morning Edition" were not -- to use a Sternism -- about "sound" but about information -- facts and such things. "It's not about Bob," Stern continued with the standard line of any boss who has ever fired anyone, it's about "who are the right people to meet these needs."

All good questions. What are they thinking?

Wednesday, March 24, 2004


Keith Cowing of NASA Watch has a long and very good piece on the recent Mars discoveries over at Space Ref.

In their opening comments both Squyres and Office of Space Science associate Administrator Ed Weiler made mention of fossils and that this location would be a good one to go looking for them. I asked if Opportunity had the ability to detect fossils (assuming of course there was life that died to leave fossils to begin with). Squyres was reluctant to speculate beyond saying that the rovers were unlikely to be able to provide evidence at the microscopic level of small fossils. Since this is what is commonly found in such deposits on Earth this suggest that fossils, if they are present, will have to be much larger to be seen. While not saying "Yes", Opportunity could detect larger fossils, Squyres did admit that if something is large enough you are going to see it.

Check it out; it's the best piece you'll find on the important discoveries made by rover Opportunity.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

The War on Vets

Stewart Nusbaumer, the editor of Intervention and a Marine Corps vet of Vietnam, where he lost a leg, comments on the Repug war on those who served, and makes some very good points about aWol and the Chickenhawks.

"They're trying to make Kerry into some type of hero," Joe says bitterly.
"Well, he was in Nam," I reply, "wounded three times, has several medals. That's the truth."
"And now they're trying to say George Bush didn't perform his duty in the military," the World War II veteran says, his mouth twisting.
"Did he?" I ask.

Many World War II veterans have a problem with Vietnam veterans, always have. It's not surprising that when returning home from Vietnam few of us joined traditional veterans groups such as the VFW and American Legion. We just didn't get along. Maybe the older veterans blamed us for not winning the Vietnam War, or maybe they blamed themselves (subconsciously) for sending their children to a war that was not winnable. Maybe Vietnam veterans were oversensitive to their victory and our, well, not victory. I don't really know, but I do know Joe’s voice carried that old animosity when dismissing John Kerry's Vietnam War record and defending George Bush's less than stellar military record. It resonated with a past war that I thought was finished. It's not.

"He wasn't any damn hero, I can tell you that!"Joe is really heating up.
"So George Bush was a hero for getting drunk every night?" I retort, my voice straining.
"That's just liberal propaganda."
"And it's liberal propaganda that Kerry was wounded three times in Nam?”"

According to the New York Times, on Friday Republican John McCain, a fellow Vietnam veteran, and a POW for 5 years, came to the aid of John Kerry, criticizing the coordinated campaign to smear his reputation. It's very unusual that during a presidential election year a Republican steps forward to defend the reputation of the leading Democratic nominee. But this is not a normal presidential election.

Max Cleland is a man who lost a lot in Vietnam. Disembarking from a helicopter, a grenade -- either his or another soldier’s -- exploded, ripping off most of three limbs. That's right, three: two legs, and one arm.

I lost one limb in Vietnam, a leg. I can tell you that for years the mental pain was excruciating. Forget the physical pain; mental pain is the real terror. I can't image how a man can put himself back together after losing three limbs.

That did not stop Ann Coulter from publishing a vicious piece on Max Cleland that is being widely circulated and celebrated on the political Right. Entitled Dropping Political Grenades - a reference to the dropped grenade that crippled Cleland, she writes, "But he didn't 'give his limbs for his country,' or leave them 'on the battlefield.' There was no bravery involved in dropping a grenade on himself with no enemy troops in sight. That could have happened in the Texas National Guard -which Cleland denigrates while demanding his own sanctification."

First, it did happen on a battlefield, one called Vietnam. Hasn't Ann Coulter heard of the Vietnam War? Second, Max Cleland did give his limbs for his country, everyone who loses limbs in a war does. And regardless of the war, popular or unpopular, right or wrong, because youth fight wars and lose body parts, if not their lives, it is others who create the wars and profit handsomely from them.

Let's not forget, unlike liberal antiwar opponents of the Vietnam War who on principle refused to fight in Vietnam, such as Bill Clinton, which I find an honorable position, Ann Coulter's older Right-wing hawks approved of the Vietnam War yet very few of them went to Vietnam. The young George Bush was certainly a strong defender of fighting the war, as long as he didn't have to do the fighting. That is not being brave, but giving in to one's weaker impulses. Yet, when Max Cleland showed up in Vietnam, and stepped off that helicopter in the Southeast Asian jungle, that was being brave. Bravery, evidently, is something the Right has problems understanding.

As for Coulter's statement, "That could have happened in the Texas National Guard." Again she is wrong. The Texas National Guard did not carry live grenades; it was removed from the violence by half the planet earth. This is why George Bush was in the Texas National Guard. It is also, maybe, why today George Bush has all his limbs, while Max Cleland and I as well as tens of thousands of other war veterans don't.

All you can say is, "How in the hell dare they?" The Coulters, the Bushes, the Cheneys, the lying bastards who never went and have the gall to denigrate the men and women who went and served - their treament of veterans is beyond contemptuous and it is past belief that so many Americans who believe themselves to be patriotic vote for them.

Check Out Your Neighbors!

Check out this site; it's a cool way to search who's given what to which presidential candidate. Punch in well-known zip codes! 90210 is a particularly fun search.

What More Does it Take?

A vote for Bush is a vote for treason, no doubt about it. Phil Carter extensively analyses the most recent revelations at Intel Dump here:

Don't you think it's odd that the White House counter-terrorism czar would be out of the loop when it came to meetings about counter-terrorism policy? And doesn't it say something about the war with Iraq that the counter-terrorism advisor was not part of the decisionmaking process? (Josh Marshall comes to this conclusion too.) To me, it says three things. First, that Ron Suskind's reporting is right -- this White House really is run by its political offices (instead of its policy people). Second, that the opinions of professional policy people are probably less valued in this White House than is the norm. Third, that terrorism per se was not the raison d'etre for Operation Iraqi Freedom -- and that it never was a significant part of the decision to go to war.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan still isn't rebutting any of the assertions made by Mr. Clarke -- he's merely trying to impeach his credibility. The White House has yet to make a defense of its actions on the merits. Even if we take the White House's salvo at face value -- that Mr. Clarke is political, is trying to sell his book, and is buddies with Sen. John Kerry -- we still have nothing from the White House to refute what Mr. Clarke is saying. The only credible White House charge is the one about why Mr. Clarke didn't speak up sooner. But maybe he did... he resigned in March 2003 from the White House, just as Operation Iraqi Freedom was being launched. What message do you think Mr. Clarke intended to send by his resignation?

One of the most hilarious aspects of the current White House campaign of Slime and Defend is Vice President Cheney's assertion that Clarke was "out of the loop." Uh, Bunker Boy, exactly what does it say about your administration when your top counterterrorism guy is "out of the loop?" Insert monkey hooting here....

A friend of Mark Kleiman truly says it all over at Mark's blog:

Just checked in with one of my pro-war, pro-Bush national security expert friends. Here's what I learned:

1. Clarke is the real deal.

2. What he says is convincing.

3. What he says makes the Bush team look very bad.

4. What Cheney says about Clarke is a pack of lies.

My friend's parting comment: "Do I really still have to be for these guys?"

Whew! Meanwhile, here's what Richard Clarke, still learning just what a "shitstorm" is, has to say:

On Limbaugh's program Cheney said Clarke "wasn't in the loop" on major decisions and may hold a personal grudge against Rice. He said Clarke may have wanted a more "prominent position." Clarke has denied any such motive for his book.

Clarke called Rice's contention that he never offered a plan against al Qaeda "counterfactual." "We presented the plan to her ... before she was even sworn into office," Clarke said.

Rice has characterized as "ridiculous" Clarke's statement in his book that she seemed unaware of al Qaeda until he told her about it.

"I wasn't born yesterday when Clarke briefed me," she said Monday. "This wasn't an issue of who knew about al Qaeda, but what we were going to do about al Qaeda."

Actually, Clarke is probably right that Ms. Oil Tanker didn't have a clue, because if it ain't Cold War, Condi don't know jack, which begs the question of what she's doing as the President's National Security Advisor in a post-Cold War world.

As for our President-Appointee, he says that if he had known an attack was imminent, he would have done something about it. Well, Dubya, perhaps you shouldn't have slept through that briefing in August that talked about al Queda attacks on the US using airplanes - or maybe you should explain why and when you suddenly decided to be as far as possible from Washington on September 11.

Too Late for Hubble?

Problems recently discovered with the shuttle orbiters' speed brakes tend to suggest that a mission to save Hubble would be too late even if NASA was willing to do it.

Gears were installed backward on the speed brakes in Discovery's tail section and could have failed under the stress of an emergency landing, said William Parsons, the shuttle program manager.

"The bottom line was, it was not good," said Parsons, who told reporters the Discovery had flown safely 30 times since 1984 without the gears causing a problem.

The most likely scenario for a disaster would have come if the shuttle had needed to make an emergency landing at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida after an aborted launch, when the aerodynamic stress on the gears would have been greatest.

The reversed gears were found in an actuator that works the speed brakes, which are essentially flaps that flare out from the tail section to create aerodynamic drag and slow the shuttle. Small cracks and some corrosion were also found, surprising NASA engineers.

After the original actuators were replaced, NASA also tested extra replacement parts built 17 years ago, and found that one of the spare actuators also had the gears reversed.

This is obviously going to add delay to the Return to Flight, and NASA has yet to announce when an estimated first flight might take place.

In other NASA news, a major announcement is expected from the Mars rover team today. UPDATE: They've identified sedimentary rock on Mars. A big discovery - and a hole in one for rover Opportunity, which landed in just the right spot to make this find. Yes, NASA sometimes does it right!

At Last

Paul Krugman celebrates that fact that we have public servants brave enough to come out and tell the truth about what's going on in the Naked Emperor Administration.

...something remarkable has been happening lately: more and more insiders are finding the courage to reveal the truth on issues ranging from mercury pollution - yes, Virginia, polluters do write the regulations these days, and never mind the science - to the war on terror.

It's important, when you read the inevitable attempts to impugn the character of the latest whistle-blower, to realize just how risky it is to reveal awkward truths about the Bush administration. When Gen. Eric Shinseki told Congress that postwar Iraq would require a large occupation force, that was the end of his military career. When Ambassador Joseph Wilson IV revealed that the 2003 State of the Union speech contained information known to be false, someone in the White House destroyed his wife's career by revealing that she was a C.I.A. operative. And we now know that Richard Foster, the Medicare system's chief actuary, was threatened with dismissal if he revealed to Congress the likely cost of the administration's prescription drug plan.

The latest insider to come forth, of course, is Richard Clarke, George Bush's former counterterrorism czar and the author of the just-published "Against All Enemies."

Indeed, and thank God for people like Clarke, Wilson, General Shinseki, and Paul O'Neill, who Krugman fails to mention. The truth is coming out, it's not pretty, and this administration needs to be shown the door.

Monday, March 22, 2004

The SA Lives

David Neiwert has a report about an anti-war rally that was attacked, with the apparent cooperation of the police, by a mob of Freepers who evidently left their brown shirts at home. David suspects we're going to see a lot more of this garbage this year as American politics continue creeping towards the fascist side of the spectrum:

So expect to see a lot more of these kinds of open provocations this coming year: Bush supporters invading and disrupting Kerry rallies; threats of violence directed at anyone supporting the "traitors" and "appeasers"; and eventually, the eruption of actual violence. It's hard to say which side will shoot first (the right-wingers are more likely, since they have the guns, but you never know how these things will play out), but it's looking increasingly like someone's going to get hurt.

Worst of all, it's also looking like law enforcement is going to be part of the problem.

Cripes, my Doors albums are starting to make sense again....

If Bush was Clinton

How often does it occur to you that if Bush was Clinton, there would be a positive roar of Repug demands for his impeachment? Yeah, me too. The fact is, the Repugs are willing to overlook anything in one of their own, up to and including treasonous incompetence. The list is long and getting longer, and now former White House security advisor Richard Clarke has joined the chorus claiming that the Bushies had such a hard-on for Sodamn Insane that they utterly ignored the threat of al Queda.

A former White House security expert has accused President Bush of doing a "terrible job" of tackling terrorism.

Richard Clarke said Mr Bush ignored warnings of the threat from al-Qaeda before the 11 September 2001 attacks.

He said the US president later tried to show links between al-Qaeda and Iraq, despite being told none existed.

Mr Clarke said it was "outrageous" Mr Bush was running for re-election on his record fighting terrorism, when in fact he had "ignored it" before 9/11.

"He ignored terrorism for months, when maybe we could have done something to stop 9/11. Maybe. We'll never know."

He also told the US broadcaster CBS that the day after the 11 September attacks, Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld called for retaliatory strikes on Iraq, even though al-Qaeda was based in Afghanistan.

He said he was so taken aback by the comments, he initially thought Mr Rumsfeld was joking.

No joke, unfortunately, and although Afghanistan was the first - and just - target, the Bushies were salivating at the chance to go after Iraq and create their very own quagmire.

Judith Miller in the NYT has more details about Clarke's book, which is scheduled to release today:

Condoleezza Rice, Mr. Bush's national security adviser, gave Mr. Clarke "the impression she had never heard the term" Al Qaeda "when she first took office." She also downgraded the position of counterterrorism adviser soon after taking office.

Less than a day after the attacks, Donald H. Rumsfeld, the secretary of defense, said at a cabinet-level meeting that "there were no decent targets for bombing in Afghanistan and that we should consider bombing Iraq" instead because it had "better targets." A spokesman for Mr. Rumsfeld said the secretary would not comment on a book no one in the administration had been able to read.

Paul D. Wolfowitz, Secretary Rumsfeld's deputy, repeatedly "belittled" the Qaeda threat and argued after the 9/11 attacks that Iraq was responsible for the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center and must have helped Al Qaeda carry out 9/11 because the attack was "too sophisticated and complicated" for a "terrorist group to have pulled off by itself." In an interview, Charlie Cooper, Mr. Wolfowitz's spokesman, said that Mr. Wolfowitz regarded Al Qaeda "as a major threat to U.S. security, the more so because of the state support it received from the Taliban and because of its possible links to Iraq, including Iraq's harboring of one of the 1993 World Trade Center bombers, Abdul Rahman Yasin."

As counterterrorism adviser, Mr. Clarke said he had only three meetings with Mr. Bush before the attacks in which he set the agenda, and was never given the "chance to talk with him about terrorism" until after the attacks.

There's not a lot the Bushies are going to be able to do to discredit this, I suspect; Clarke has worked for three previous Republican administrations as well as for Clinton. Now the real question is, will Kerry be able to take this and run with it?

Friday, March 19, 2004

More Astronauts Weigh In

Joining their Apollo-era colleague Walt Cunningham, former shuttle astronauts are expressing dismay at Sean O'Keefe's stupid decision to abandon the Hubble Space Telescope:

They risked their lives for the Hubble Space Telescope and did so gladly.

Now, many of the astronauts who worked on Hubble hundreds of miles above Earth are dismayed, bewildered or both by NASA's decision to pull the plug on the mighty observatory.

"I just think it's a huge, huge mistake," says Greg Harbaugh, who performed Hubble repairs during a pair of spacewalks in 1997. "It is probably the greatest instrument or tool for astronomical and astrophysical research since Galileo invented the telescope, and I think it is a tragedy that we would consider not keeping the Hubble alive and operational as long as possible."

Though the decision is not absolute, there appears to be little chance NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe will change his mind about a Hubble servicing mission, deeming it too risky to astronauts in the wake of Columbia.

That would mean a premature death for the 14-year-old observatory whose latest snapshot -- revealed last week -- showed the deepest-ever view of the universe, a mishmash of galaxies dating almost all the way back to creation.

Tom Akers, part of the spacewalking team that restored Hubble's eyesight in 1993, also favors another mission.

"I definitely think that's an asset that we shouldn't throw away," says Akers, who teaches college math in Missouri. "That's my position and they know it."

NASA has been fending off heavy criticism ever since O'Keefe decided in January to cancel the last servicing, set for 2006.

Last week, at congressional urging, O'Keefe agreed to ask the National Academy of Sciences to study the issue from all perspectives, including using robots to install new cameras or augment battery power.

But he does not expect to reconsider sending up astronauts despite the outcry.

An Internet petition has collected thousands of names, O'Keefe's e-mail system is clogged with complaints, members of Congress are demanding reviews by independent groups, and the chief Columbia accident investigator is urging a public policy debate on the Hubble gains versus shuttle risks.

Even John Glenn has weighed in, telling President Bush's commission on moon and Mars travel that another servicing mission is necessary "to get every year's value out of that thing."
Astronauts -- Hubble repairmen included, who say they would do it again -- like to point out that a ship is safe in the harbor, but that's not what ships are built for.

Says Bruce McCandless, who helped deliver Hubble to orbit and now works in industry: "John Paul Jones is also reported to have said, 'Give me a fast ship for I intend to sail in harm's way.' He wasn't going to sit in the harbor, either."

Time for O'Keefe to turn in his resignation and let someone with courage and vision lead NASA into the future.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Astronaut Weighs in on the Wrong Stuff Hubble Decision

Former astronaut Walt Cunningham (Apollo 7) weighs in on NASA's "We're scared!!" decision to abandon the Hubble Space Telescope:

In Tuesday's Outlook article ("How scales tipped against mission to Hubble"), NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe defended, once more, the decision he announced in January to cancel the last Hubble repair mission. O'Keefe claimed it was too risky, citing compliance with the safety recommendations of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board. But nothing in the CAIB report precludes flying a mission not associated with the International Space Station, the only destination on O'Keefe's shuttle itinerary.
I do not know a single former astronaut in agreement with O'Keefe's obstinate stand on abandoning the Hubble. If we fail at something, it should be because we are unable to do it, not because we are unwilling to try it in the first place. Our attitude in that golden age of flying to the moon could be summed up in the thought, "If this mission fails, it won't fail because of me!" Now, the administrator seems to be saying, "If anyone dies in space, it won't be because of a decision I made."

Is this one more example of the same flawed decision-making that got the agency into its current state? Fix the insulation and fly, while other improvements are in process.

It's true; some missions are marginally more risky than others. But there will be no return to flight until NASA believes the problem that destroyed Columbia is fixed. This will certainly reduce the need for an ISS safe haven, and will work to equalize any differences in risk profiles.
We should continue to improve the safety of our missions and our spacecraft, but we should not let failures paralyze our ability to move ahead. It is time that NASA management took a more pragmatic approach to the technical, political and the emotional issues of spaceflight. Yes, we lost a crew, but it wasn't the end of the world. If NASA insists on avoiding risk at all costs, it can sound the death knell of manned space activity.

Whatever happened to the right stuff? Is it going out of style?

Apparently so, both at NASA and at Keith Cowling's website NASA Watch. Cowling's response:

Either Mr. Cunningham has not read the report or does not understand what it says - or he simply does not grasp just went wrong and how it needs to be fixed - in today's world.

Oh, really, Keith? Let's look at the CAIB report and, as Keith proclaims, "what it says":

R6.4-1 For missions to the International Space Station, develop a practicable capability to inspect and effect emergency repairs to the widest possible range of damage to the Thermal Protection System, including both tile and Reinforced Carbon-Carbon, taking advantage of the additional capabilities available when near to or docked at the International Space Station.

For non-Station missions, develop a comprehensive autonomous (independent of Station) inspection and repair capability to cover the widest possible range of damage scenarios.

Accomplish an on-orbit Thermal Protection System inspection, using appropriate assets and capabilities, early in all missions. The ultimate objective should be a fully autonomous
capability for all missions to address the possibility that an International Space Station mission fails to achieve the correct orbit, fails to dock successfully, or is damaged during or after undocking.
(my emphasis)

CAIB never intended to ban non-station missions: O'Keefe is the culprit. In fact, CAIB has required NASA, as a "Return to Flight" requirement, to develop an inspection and repair protocol independent of the International Space Station - a requirement that NASA deliberately appears to be blowing off. Cowling, O'Keefe, and the others may want to repaint NASA's blue meatball logo yellow, but the CAIB report was never intended as an excuse to kill the Hubble.

Mom Wants Son's Memento Back

A bereaved mother has learned that an FBI agent attached himself to a chipped crystal globe taken from the ruins of the World Trade Center - a memento that once sat on her dead son's desk.

Adele Milanowycz said in an interview that her son, Gregory, 25, received the globe as a gift from his girlfriend and kept it on his desk on the 93rd floor of the South Tower. She said her family has not been able to recover any other items that belonged to her son, who worked as an underwriter at Aon Corp., an insurance company.

"Anything, anything at all, would be nice to have back," said Milanowycz, who lives in Cranford, N.J. "This has a connection, because I held it in my hand and my husband held it in his hand."

The chipped Tiffany paperweight, valued at $350 when new, is at the center of controversy over the handling of debris at the Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island, where investigators sorted and classified World Trade Center rubble. The globe turned up in 2002 on a secretary's desk at the FBI's Minneapolis field office. J. Daniel Nesbit, an FBI agent, has been named in a Justice Department report as having taken the globe from the landfill.

Amazing. Our public servants, who failed to prevent this disaster, evidently felt free to souvenir. This agent should be fired, and the globe given to Mrs. Milanowycz.

And while they're at it, let's get the plane pieces off Rummy's desk as well.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Contempt for Democracy

Jonathan Freedland argues convincingly today in The Guardian that the US reaction to the Spanish election shows a breathtaking contempt for democracy:

The first mistake is the more surprising, for no word is invoked more often in support of the "war on terror" than democracy. Yet these insults hurled at the Spanish show a sneaking contempt for the idea. For surely the Spanish did nothing more on Sunday than exercise their democratic right to change governments. They elected the Socialist party; to suggest they voted for al-Qaida is a slur not only on the Spanish nation but on the democratic process itself, implying that when terrorists strike political choice must end.

It comes from the same mentality that prompted Republicans in 2002 to run TV ads against the Democratic senator Max Cleland, who lost three limbs in the Vietnam war, placing his face alongside those of Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. It is the same thinking that led one Republican congressman to quip recently that a vote in November for John Kerry will be a vote for Osama. It is a bid to reshape the political landscape, so that parties of the right stand on one side and all the rest are lumped in with al-Qaida. The tactic is McCarthyite, the natural extension of the bullying insistence that, in President Bush's own words, "You are either with us or you're with the terrorists". If that is the choice, then there is no choice: it is a mandate for a collection of one-party states.

But this is not the heart of the matter. The right's greater error is its failure to distinguish between the war against al-Qaida and the war on Iraq. About 90% of the Spanish electorate were against the latter; there is no evidence that they were, or are, soft on the former. On the contrary, there have been two mass demonstrations of Spanish opinion in the past few days: let no one forget that 36 hours before the election, about 11 million Spaniards took to the streets to swear their revulsion at terrorism. It takes some cheek to accuse a nation like that of weakness and appeasement.

All very true. This is going to be an exceptionally ugly election - at least as bad as some of the early ones - and the Repugs are already trying to lump John Kerry with Osama bin Laden who, after having been forgotten for two years, is suddenly getting a new revival as the terrorist du jour. What's truly frightening is that millions of Americans will fall for this.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Conservative Hysteria

There's a great deal of conservative hysteria over the election results in Spain, which many are proclaiming a "victory" for terrorism. Interestingly, the Spanish police are busily arresting suspects, not patting them on the back, and a withdrawal of Spanish troops (all 1500 of them) from Iraq is hardly a disaster for the "coalition" and in fact fits the mood of the Spanish people, who have always opposed Spanish involvement in Bush's terrorist-hunting-distraction war. Some have even announced that al Queda will now try other bombings to influence other elections. This is almost laughable. If al Queda are stupid enough to pull off another terrorist atrocity in the US, Bush's reelection is guaranteed. If they try something similiar in the UK, Labour may be replaced by the Tories, who will hardly be gentler on terrorism. This is no time to overreact, but as usual the right wing are going way over the top.

Monday, March 15, 2004


Lots of links over at NASA Watch this morning about the's going to be very interesting to see how this plays out. As the NYT says, proper caution need not mean paralysis. Brian Wilson on Fox comments "I'll bet if you polled the astronaut corps there would be overwhelming support to fly this mission. Mr. O'Keefe: Even if you no longer have the right stuff, our astronauts still do", which I suspect is absolutely the case.

Sunday, March 14, 2004

Is This Man a President or a King?


Bush arrives for a fund-raiser at a restaurant in the park. That is indoors and he doesn't have to worry about his feet there. But he has to go over ground to an administration building where he is to meet with families of 9/11 victims. After that, he has to go over more ground to get to the site of a memorial to the victims.

He doesn't want his feet on the ground and he will be at a groundbreaking ceremony.

The 9/11 memorial is not up. Someday it will be a site by a pond. What happened was that Bush was coming in for this big fund-raiser. The county executive, Suozzi, a Democrat, heard about it and rushed an invitation to Bush to be at the dedication to the memorial and also to meet the 9/11 families.

There was no way for Bush to turn this down. So he appears today for a local Democrat. The county Democrats fell all over themselves to have a memorial site and the paths around it following the Secret Service regulations.

Yesterday, a big guy, who had been fixing serious pipe leaks in the county executive's building, was on the walkway unrolling wooden storm fencing that would create an alley for Bush to walk down.

"When you get the fence up, what do you do?" he was asked.

"Cover the ground so his feet don't touch it."

"Is that true?"

"My boss told me that. If he says so, it's true."

"That sounds crazy."

"It sounds like I get paid every week," he said.

Hoo Boy

Everyone else see sociopathic Condolezza's performance on Face the Nation? Will someone get that woman a shrink?

Saturday, March 13, 2004

Hubble Again

The NYT prints an editorial today that will probably once again prompt Keith Cowling over at NASA Watch to ballistic indignation, but as usual, the NYT's approach to the Hubble situation is balanced and intelligent:

Harold Gehman Jr., the retired admiral who was chairman of the board that investigated the Columbia accident, suggested in an advisory opinion that NASA had more latitude than Mr. O'Keefe let on. The admiral said his board did not expect the same robust inspection and repair capabilities available at the station to be provided on shuttles headed elsewhere. In other words, he said, NASA should simply "do the best you can" on a Hubble mission.

Indeed. The rules NASA has put in place after the Columbia accident go far beyond anything CAIB required they do, and in fact are utterly hysterical and backward looking. Hubble can and should be serviced, and it can be done safely.

Maybe it's time for Sean "Roadblock" O'Keefe to go back to some other position in his friend Dubya's administration where he can do less harm.

UPDATE: Sean O'Keefe responds here.

Friday, March 12, 2004

How Do You Say "Preznit Giv Me Turkee" in Spanish?

This is bloody incredible:

President George W. Bush arrived on schedule. He gave his speech. He moderated a panel of five people on a makeshift stage in front of a sign that said "Strengthening America's Economy." He wove their stories seamlessly into the fabric of his re-election campaign. He engaged in self-deprecating humor that even a detractor might find charming.

And then he left -- to a standing ovation -- shaking hands all the way to the exit door of U.S.A. Industries in Bay Shore, where his campaign made this first of three stops on Long Island yesterday.

Security people kept reporters from interviewing the workers at U.S.A. until the president was on the way to his next stop.

But when workers were finally interviewed -- these people who made up the bulk of the president's cheering audience in New York -- Bush's performance turned out to be, if anything, even more impressive.

"No speak English," said the first worker, smiling apologetically.

"No speak English," said the second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth workers way-laid in the crowd.

But you think the tax cuts should be made permanent, as he says?

"Sorry, no English," said another.

It is possible that President Bush could have drawn a crowd of several hundred at lunchtime on the streets of Bay Shore to cheer his economic policies, which can be summed up in two words: tax cuts.

But if that crowd is ready-made -- the work force of a small auto parts factory whose owner has received tax breaks from the Republican-run state and town governments, and who employs large numbers of non-English speaking immigrants happy to work for $6 to $9 an hour with few benefits -- why bother?

"I understand him a little bit English," said Nubia Guzman, a packer who said she earns $7.50 an hour after four years on a job that Bush had described in his speech as evidence of the success of his tax cutting economic policies. She has no health coverage.

What did you like about him? she was asked.

"He nice," she said.

"He nice." Jesus. He keeps letting people like this in to take your jobs and lower your wages and benefits, too.

SFTT Looks at the Neocons

Soldiers for the Truth has an interesting piece by conservative defense analyst William Lind, who takes on Bush's pals the Necrocons:

Haiti is in fact a fair test of the neo-cons’ thesis, a thesis we are now putting to further trials in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their core argument is that history and culture simply don’t matter. Everyone in the world wants American-style “democratic capitalism,” and everyone is also capable of it. To think otherwise is to commit the sin of “historicism.”

The argument is absurd on the face of it. History and culture don’t matter? Not only do the failed cultures and disastrous histories of most of the world argue the contrary, so does our own history and culture. Democratic capitalism first developed in one place, England, over an historical course that goes back almost a thousand years, to the Magna Carta. America was born as an independent country to guarantee the rights of Englishmen. If England had possessed the culture of, say Mongolia, can anyone with the slightest grasp on reality think we would be what we are today?

While the neo-cons’ thesis says nothing about reality, it says a great deal about the neo-cons themselves. First, it tells us that they are ideologues. All ideologies posit that certain things must be true, regardless of any evidence to the contrary. That evidence is to be suppressed, along with the people who insist on pointing to it. Sadly, the neo-cons have been able to do exactly that within the Bush administration, and the mess in Iraq is the price.

Second, it reveals the nature of the neo-con ideology, which has nothing whatsoever to do with conservatism (as Russell Kirk wrote, conservatism is the negation of ideology). The neo-cons in fact are Jacobins, les ultras of the French Revolution who also tried to export “human rights” (which are very different from the concrete, specific rights of Englishmen) on bayonets. Then, the effort eventually united all of Europe against France. Today, it is uniting the rest of the world against America.

Finally it reveals the neo-cons as fools, lightweights who can dismiss history and culture because they know nothing of history or culture. The first generation of neo-cons were serious intellectuals, Trotskyites but serious Trotskyites. The generation now in power in Washington is made up of poseurs who happen to have the infighting skills of the Sopranos. If you don’t believe me, look at Mr. Wolfowitz’s book. Or, more precisely, look for Mr. Wolfowitz’s book (hint: he never wrote one).

Definitely worth reading; he makes a number of good points.

Bloggers Hit the Big Time!

Check out the new Vanity Fair. Lots of good stuff as usual plus a great article on blogging.

Stupid Silence

Javier Marias reveals how the Spanish respond to terror attacks:

Spain has developed a customary response to these morning attacks. At noon, the local officials in every Spanish city stand outside the doors of their buildings, in heat, cold or rain, for a minute or two of silence. They're joined by anyone who wants to join them, whoever happens to be nearby. It makes a strong impression, this silence of mourning and condemnation, a collective hush maintained by people who interrupt their tasks or their errands to stand wordlessly in the middle of the street. Any curse or outcry against the murderers is usually quieted, because at those moments true condemnation consists of saying nothing. And no matter how many times the tradition has been repeated over the course of far too many years, it loses none of its force.

Good God, no wonder ETA is running wild. Silence doesn't work, friends. To borrow a line from Kipling, Order the guns and kill.

Hubble Study

Still trying to do the bidding of his master Dubya, NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe told a Senate committee yesterday that he is willing to study the Hubble Servicing Mission, but it's obvious he's dead set against it, in spite of not getting the support from CAIB's Admiral Hal Gehman he unquestionably was expecting.

In late January, under pressure to reconsider, Mr. O'Keefe asked Harold W. Gehman Jr., the retired admiral who was chairman of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board, for an opinion on the mission. At the hearing on Thursday, Ms. Mikulski released a five-page letter from Admiral Gehman saying that all shuttle flights are risky and that a Hubble mission would be only "slightly more risky" than one to the International Space Station.

"I suggest only a deep and rich study of the entire gain/risk equation can answer the question of whether an extension of the life of the wonderful Hubble telescope is worth the risks involved," he wrote.

O'Keefe, of course, was hoping for vapors from Gehman, but having read much of the CAIB report and the transcripts of the public testimony, I'm not surprised that Gehman is more equivocal.

UPDATE: Read Admiral Gehman's letter here.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

This Shoe Fits

The Repugs are whining and crying and just about beside themselves because John Kerry said:

"These guys are the most crooked, you know, lying group of people I've ever seen."

Which, of course, is absolutely true. The average Repug operative wouldn't know the truth if it hit them in the face, and the average garden-variety Repug voter has to believe a number of impossible things.

Considering that this is happening after various Repugs have claimed that a vote for Kerry is a vote for bin Laden, that Kerry is endorsed by Kim Jong Il, have produced doctored photos claiming to show a young Kerry at an anti-war rally with Hanoi Jane...this is kind of funny. But only kind of.

God Hates Shrimp

You bet he does! Just read your Bible. God hates lending money at interest, too! He really dislikes cloven hooves. Fish without scales? Uh uh. Clothes made of two fabrics mixed? Verboten. Men, do NOT round the corners of your heads!

Who Needs al Queda...

...when you have the human garbage known as Basque separatists hanging around? Or, for that matter, our own home-grown idiots like Timothy McVeigh?

Sometimes we forget that the most dangerous people are those who are closest and know us best.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Is the Shuttle Unsafe?

Clearly it isn't perfect and in fact is badly compromised, although no one talks about this any more, by military requirements set at the beginning of the program. But is it a killer as some would have it?

Assumptions that the space shuttle is dangerously unsafe would be easier to accept if the loss of Columbia had been a killer freak. Unfortunately, like the loss of Challenger, the events that led to the loss of Columbia had telegraphed themselves for years - in fact, since the seventh flight of the shuttle system.

The External Tank is the large, orange object familiar to viewers of space shuttle launches. It fulfills two important functions: it contains liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen to fuel the Space Shuttle Main Engines, and serves to tie the entire vehicle together. The two solid rocket boosters are fastened to opposite sides of the External Tank and the shuttle orbiter is attached to the tank's "back." The orbiter is fastened to the tank in three places: by two struts on each side of the tail end of the orbiter, and by a bipod structure under the orbiter's nose (fuel lines also attach to the orbiter, but these are not structural connections). The bipod is a V-shaped metal strut that fastens in two places to the ET, and has a single attachment to the orbiter. The attachments of the bipod to the fuel tank are actually designed to rotate slightly so as the tank is filled with supercold propellents the slight change in tank size does not affect the orbiter. Each of these attach points is insulated and aerodynamically faired by a foam ramp called the bipod ramp.

The entire ET is covered by an orange foam insulation to prevent the formation of ice on the tank that might fall off during launch and strike and damage the orbiter. This foam is so effective that when the tank is full it is only slightly cool to the touch. Much of the foam is applied by automatic sprayers, but a few areas with complex shapes need to be sprayed by hand and one such area is the two bipod ramps.

Although the foam insulation on the ET has overall been very successful, it has been prone over the history of the shuttle system to shedding. Most shedding events are small, and result in tiny pieces of foam coming loose, mostly to fly into the airstream and be lost. Occasionally these pieces hit the orbiter, sometimes causing damage to the tiles on the orbiter's underside. Changes have been made in the foam over the years that have lessened the loss of foam and in fact have been continuing all through the period before and after the loss of Columbia.

The most dangerous foam loss, however, is associated with the bipod ramps. According to the report of the ET Working Group to CAIB, "Of the 113 STS space shuttle flights, 79 flights had usable imagery of the +y axis," and of those 79 flights, five are known to have had foam loss from the left (- y) bipod ramp (the right, or +y bipod ramp, has never been known to shed foam. It appears to be protected by the liquid oxygen feed line that runs beside it), loss that appears to be correlated, according to the ET Working Group, to "sideslip angle, q-beta, and out-of-plane wind velocity." Again, the right bipod ramp appears to be shielded by the large fuel line routed alongside it.

Loss of foam from the bipod ramps is especially dangerous because it has a good chance of striking the vehicle, and because the pieces tend to be much larger and heavier than foam loss events elsewhere on the ET. Charts reproduced on the ET Working Group report's page 41 demonstrate this.

Before Columbia's loss, these are the five known instances of left bipod ramp shedding:

STS-7/ET6 Size of foam: 18" x 12" Estimated weight: 0.6 lb. This instance of foam loss was attributed to a repair on the left ramp and following this incident the ramp repair criterion was changed to limit the size of repairs to less than 3 square inches. STS-7 flew in 1982. It was the seventh shuttle flight.

STS-50/ET50 Size: 26" x 10". Weight: 0.98 lb. This loss "encompassed the majority of the bipod ramp" and in fact may be similar in size to the foam that doomed Columbia. This instance was attributed, according to the ET Working Group report, to "voids/debonds in the Isochem bond layer of the non-vented two-tone TPS area. ET50 was the last ET built with this intertank TPS configuration." Clearly, once again someone thought the problem might have been fixed.

STS-52/ET55 Size: 8" x 4" Estimated weight: 0.02 lb. This small loss appears not to have caused any alarm in spite of the fact that this happened shortly after the insulation was changed.

STS-65/ET62 Size: 3" x 1" Estimated weight: 0.001 lb. This smallest known bipod shedding event was referred to as a "small divot in the after face of the ramp."

STS-112/ET115 Size: 7" x 12" Estimated weight: 0.3 lb. STS-112 was the flight directly before STS-107 (flights are not uncommonly flown out of order). This particular loss of foam caused damage to one of the solid rocket boosters. Interestingly, photos of this damage or detailed descriptions of its nature are totally absent from the CAIB report. After this occurrence, even NASA sat up and took notice and "initiated plans to evaluate the materials, design, and processes used for the ramps." The final corrective action was to have been presented on February 6, 2003 - five days after the Columbia disintegrated during reentry.

And finally...

STS-107/ET93 Size: unknown. Weight: estimates are from 1.19 to 1.72 pounds. This instance of foam shedding struck the leading edge of Columbia's left wing causing damage that led to the loss of the orbiter on reentry.

This was not a killer freak. The shuttle is not particularly unsafe - the culture that operates it is, and has been, the problem, and I think the evidence proves that. For future ETs, the bipod ramp will be completely eliminated and replaced by heaters that will prevent ice from forming. The shuttle has flown safely, and can continue to fly safely, and damn it, it can fly to Hubble.

More on Hubble

Looking on the bright side, the groundswell of anger at the stupid decision to cancel the servicing mission continues to grow. There are a number of useful links today over at NASA Watch to check.

It may not be as done a deal as Sean "Budget Chopper" O'Keefe thinks it is.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

The Face of God

Reach out today and touch the face of God.

And then remember that the Bushies are doing away with this marvelous instrument....

Tell Travelocity to Take Their Indian Workers and Shove Them

One way to fight outsourcing is to refuse to give our business to companies that outsource. If you've been using Travelocity, stop and tell the bastards why:

A new day seemed at hand in 2001 when online vacation company Travelocity signed a six-year lease to operate a call center in the abandoned Nexus building. It brought tech-age jobs and endeared itself by co-sponsoring the Fourth of July celebration.

Now Travelocity is pulling up stakes, too.

Last month, the Fort Worth-based company announced that it would close its Clintwood call center by the end of this year. In the future, it will route more calls through India. About 275 employees will lose jobs paying $8 an hour and higher, plus benefits, pushing double-digit unemployment up a few more notches.

Thanks for your patriotism, Travelocity.

Are They Still Going to be Republican When They Land in a Camp?

Gay Repugs are truly like Jews for Hitler. They continue to pine after Bush even after our President-Appointee has shown his true colors.

"There are so many more issues involved," said Jim McFarland of Milwaukee, a member of the Pro-Life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians and one of the gay Republicans who met with Mr. Bush in Austin. "I think he would handle foreign policy much better, he would handle fiscal policy much better. I certainly don't want that big tax cut reversed that he passed. There are other issues that have a big impact on my life."

Isn't it incredible that this idiot believes that Bush will "handle fiscal policy much better"? Jesus, where has this guy been?

A lot of gay men tend to vote economic issues, believing that the Repugs are the party of a stong economy, in spite of the fact that the economy goes into the shitcan every time they're in power. It's really scary to see lesbians, who tend to be a lot poorer than gay men, falling into the same trap:

Ingrid E. Barnes, a lesbian who is associate director of undergraduate admissions at Pace University in New York and a Republican, said she was shaken but not necessarily deterred from voting for Mr. Bush.

"I believe in small government," Ms. Barnes said. "I believe in taxpayers holding on to their money. I believe in individual responsibility."

She added, "I think we need to work against this amendment passing, and I think we have to stand with our president on the national level."

Huh? Here's another example of how incredibly deluded these people are:

Brett Robben, another gay friend of Ms. Cheney's in Denver, who used to work in Washington, said he learned to discount antigay statements from politicians. "Those stands were more for the constituents back home," he said. "It wouldn't be that offensive because it was just, you know, politics."

In the early 30s, a lot of Jews thought that Hitler was just parroting anti-Semitism to keep the base happy. Guess what - they found out the hard way that he really believed was he was parroting. Over six million found out the hardest way possible.

I'm sorry, but if you're gay and Republican, you are a traitor to your brothers and sisters - me included. Pure and simple.

UPDATE: Jesse discusses this over at Pandagon.

Monday, March 08, 2004

October Surprise

There is already strong suspicion that the Bushies plan an October Surprise regarding the capture of Osama bin Laden. In fact, Pakistani journalists have accused the US of already having bin Laden in custody and a few editorial cartoons have begun appearing suggesting the same thing. Today's leader (notice bloggers - LEADER, not LEDER) in The Guardian takes up the theme:

In order to save time, the following article is being printed several months ahead of schedule as a service to readers and nascent conspiracy theorists.

The capture of Osama bin Laden, while warmly welcomed around the world, raises several questions about the interface between the war on terror and the US election cycle. The most worrying of these is the suspicion that Mr Bin Laden had already been in custody for a considerable period. George Bush's official spokesman has vehemently denied charges that the al-Qaida leader was actually apprehended in December 2001. But there is more than a hint of a "non-denial denial" about the White House's rejection of claims that news of Mr Bin Laden's capture was timed to coincide with the climax of the Democratic party convention. It is not just die-hard cynics who found the White House spokesman Scott McClellan's "Where'd you get a crazy idea like that?" less than frank.

Further, it is hard to be convinced by the explanation that Mr Bin Laden's tanned and robust appearance was because "he worked out a lot", given that Mr Bin Laden is said to have been living in caves for almost three years. Similarly, Mr McClellan's description of the site of Mr Bin Laden's capture as "Pakistan, Afghanistan ... around there" was dangerously vague and left the White House vulnerable to troubling suspicions.

There has still been no official comment on the Los Angeles Times's leak of a draft agenda for the Republican convention, with a curious entry: "Sept 1, 18.45-18.55 EST, main floor: OBL to support ban on gay marriage." And the fact that Fox News was the only television crew on hand to witness his capture cannot only be "good old-fashioned journalism", as its management asserts, a scepticism strengthened by reports in March of Mr Bin Laden attending the News International management conference in Cancun. None of these discrepancies adds up to hard evidence - but the idea that US special forces capturing Mr Bin Laden also found George Bush's missing national guard records in a Tora Bora cave is simply too much to swallow.

Too true to be funny, isn't it?

The Real Economy

Of course the Secretary of Commerce (see below) claimed that everything is just ducky with the economy. Bob Herbert tells the truth:

Among those having a particularly hard time finding work, according to the report, are job seekers with college degrees and people 45 and older.

"The new data," said Sylvia Allegretto, one of the authors of the report, "show us an economy that is just not generating enough high-quality jobs to get highly educated and highly experienced workers back to work."

The nation is in an employment crisis and the end is not in sight. The Bush administration has no plan, other than a continued ludicrous reliance on additional tax cuts. The White House continued to say on Friday that making the president's tax cuts permanent would be an important step toward solving the employment problem.

What is happening in some sectors of the black community is catastrophic. The Community Service Society studied employment conditions among black men in New York City. Using the employment-population ratio, which is the proportion of the working-age population with a job, it found — incredibly — that nearly one of every two black men between the ages of 16 and 64 was not working last year.

In the current environment, even apparent good news can have its troubling aspects. An article in The Wall Street Journal a couple weeks ago indicated that Latino workers have been doing well, taking a "disproportionate share" of new jobs, especially in the construction and service sectors, since the economy began its recovery.

The article referred to a demand for young, male Latino workers.

It then went on to say: "Typical of them is Jorge Alberto, a 22-year-old Guatemalan, who doesn't speak English, didn't complete high school and had never held a job — until he slipped across the border into California from Mexico last year. In Los Angeles, `I found a job almost immediately,' he says, pushing a cart through the muddy lot where he and five other Hispanic men are laying the foundation for a house."

Herbert also points out that unemployment among 16-19 year olds is at an all time high. The reason is pretty obvious to me: why would a restaurant or grocery want to hire a 16-19 year old American who expects to make seven or eight bucks an hour when they can hire a Mexican who will work under the table for minimum wage and no benefits and as many hours as the employer wants?

Juan, Juan, Juan

Once again this morning NPR's Juan Williams had the unenviable task of interviewing a Repug - in this case Secretary of Commerce Evans - and once again Juan let obvious Repug lies go unanswered. Juan asked what the problem with the economy was, and Evans promptly replied that - get this - the problem is the Democrats! Of course! After all, they keep saying mean (i.e. true) things about our Naked Emperor and that brings down consumer confidence! And of course Juan just let that one go. Sigh.

Sunday, March 07, 2004

Immigration: It's Time to Stop Being PC About It

It's too bad that otherwise smart lefties like David Neiwert go off the deep end whenever someone suggests that the flood of immigrants into this country should be slowed or better yet stopped. Yes, the vast majority of us are descended from immigrants. That doesn't mean we have to be brainless on the issue and continue letting everyone who wants in to force down wages and benefits and in the long run destroy our environment. David talks about people he believes are righties trying to take over the Sierra Club and force a non-immigration agenda. Well, one of those "righties" is former Colorado governor Dick Lamm, a Democrat. David accuses Lamm of "going off the deep end" on immigration. Well, David, maybe Lamm just got smart.

This shouldn't be a PC, untouchable issue. It should be a wake up and smell the roses issue, and then close the gates. Read David's piece here and then think about it. Read the comments too; many are thoughtful and cover all sides of the issue.

Saturday, March 06, 2004


Will someone, anyone, make sure that everyone who blogs knows that a lead article in a newpaper is just that, a lead, not a LEDE? I don't know who started using it, but Josh Marshall uses it all the time and now Jo Fish has picked it up! LEAD, LEAD! Not lede. Cripes! "Lede" is not a newspaper term, it's fake Latin intended to look pretentious.

Useful dictionary of newspaper jargon here.

UPDATE: Sullywatch argues that it's a printer's term used to indicate the difference between "lead" as in lead story, and "lead" - pronounced led - which is the term used in printing for line spacing, from the old days when type was indeed cast in hot lead. This may well be true, but if so it's not in the dictionary or in any dictionary I've found of newspaper terms - which use "lead" (leed) and "lead" (led) as the spellings for the two terms. I suspect it's a misspelling that got picked up by people because it looks like a Latin term. If anyone can find a dictionary or list of printer's terms that uses "lede," let me know and I'll mention it here and then go hide.

They Lie, They Lie, They Lie

George Ochenski has a great piece in the Missoula Independent:

Ask anyone if politicians lie and they will likely answer in the affirmative. Why? Well, because they do. Sure, it’s often a matter of scale, but spinning the truth is so common in political circles that sometimes the difference between tiny white lies and wholesale distortions is lost. The problem with lying, of course, is that once you’re caught in a lie, no one can ever know again when or if you’re telling the truth.
The classic lie of the ’90s was President Bill Clinton’s blatant denial that he “had sex with that woman.” Unfortunately for Clinton, Monica Lewinsky’s semen-stained dress carried his DNA and blew his phony claim to smithereens, destroying the reputation of a president who had otherwise done a great deal of good for his nation.

The classic lie of the new century, at least so far, is the Bush administration’s insistence that Iraq possessed dangerous weapons of mass destruction that were not only armed and ready to go, but supposedly pointed at the United States.

The rap on the street says: “When Clinton lied, no one died.” And that’s the truth. The same thing, however, cannot be said of the Bush administration, which lied from the very top down to the very bottom on Iraq’s WMDs. Based on those lies, which by the way happened to be diametrically opposed to the evidence gathered by U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix, our nation launched an unprecedented preemptive invasion and occupation of another sovereign nation. So far, that action has taken the lives of more than 500 American soldiers and countless thousands of Iraqis, and cost billions of dollars—and the losses and deaths continue to mount.

Closer to home, our own former Gov. Marc Racicot was recently caught in a bold-faced lie on National Public Radio. During a Feb. 23 interview with NPR’s Juan Williams, Racicot stated: “He (i.e. the president) signed up for dangerous duty. He volunteered to go to Vietnam. He wasn’t selected to go, but nonetheless served his country very well.”

It's a good piece, and happy proof that not everyone in Montana is a gun toting militia lunatic.

Looking Bad for the Bushies

Even while Marc Racicot invites the jobless to eat cake and Dubya retires to his ranch for the weekend, things just are not looking good for the Treason Administration:

The White House said on Friday that it had received subpoenas in late January in the investigation into the leak of an undercover C.I.A. officer's name and that it was complying with the demand for an array of information, including records of phone calls to and from Air Force One during President Bush's trip to Africa last summer.

Confirming a report published Friday in Newsday, the White House spokesman, Scott McClellan, said the White House had received the subpoenas from a federal grand jury looking into how the C.I.A. officer's name came to appear in a syndicated column by Robert D. Novak last July 14.

Mr. Novak attributed the information to two "senior administration officials." Knowingly disclosing the name of an undercover C.I.A. officer can be a crime.

It "can be a crime?" No, friends, it is a crime - it's treason. We used to stand people up in front of a wall and shoot them for that.

The Houston Chronicle has more:

A transcript subpoenaed in the CIA leak investigation reveals the White House media operation began efforts to personally discredit former Ambassador Joseph Wilson days before a columnist blew the cover of his CIA-officer wife.
The efforts to discredit Wilson came after he went public July 6 with criticism of President Bush for mentioning the uranium rumor in January 2003 in his State of the Union address, which helped make a case for the Iraq war.

In the subpoenaed July 12 transcript of a briefing in Nigeria, then-press secretary Ari Fleischer called Wilson a "lower-level official."

Meanwhile, many of the journalists on the subpoena's list have reported various attempts by the Bush administration last year to discredit Wilson by suggesting his wife arranged for the CIA to send him to Niger.

In fact, of course, Wilson was right - but his info just didn't fit in with Dubya's necrophilous wish to start a war in Iraq. All of this is going to make wonderful history one day, but damned hard for those of us living through it.

Martha Stewart Guilty!

Couldn't have happened to a nicer person....will she change the name of her mag to Prisoner #405330451 Living?

Friday, March 05, 2004

NYT Whacks Back

Former NASA astronaut and now head of NASA's science programs John Grunsfeld wrote a whiny letter to the NYT yesterday in which he fell into line and parroted NASA's claims that servicing the Hubble space telescope - after three such missions that were completely safe and successful - is suddenly a deadly threat (after, mind you, a space shuttle accident that telegraphed itself for years and really is an example of criminal negligence within NASA, but I digress). Well, the NYT gives Grunsfeld a damned good and well deserved thrashing today:

What a difference a few months makes. Last July, John Grunsfeld, an astronaut, waxed enthusiastic about the value and sheer pleasure of participating in servicing missions to upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope, one of the most productive scientific instruments of all time. In testimony prepared for an expert panel, Mr. Grunsfeld called Hubble missions "highly coveted assignments" and said his own two Hubble flights had been the most important achievement in his life. Despite the tragic loss of the space shuttle Columbia, he said, he judged Hubble missions as little more risky than other shuttle flights. "I can say without hesitation that traveling to space to upgrade the instruments and ensure the future of the Hubble Space Telescope was worth the potential risk to my life," he testified.
Mr. Grunsfeld, now NASA's chief scientist, has changed his tune. He has become a defender of NASA's recent, and wrongheaded, decision to cancel the next servicing mission, thereby sentencing Hubble to a slow death. Suddenly, the mission he deemed worth the risk of his own life has to be canceled for safety reasons, as he explained yesterday in a letter in The Times. Mr. Grunsfeld has acknowledged more candidly than most officials that other factors were also at work — namely, the demands of the Moon-Mars program and the complications of meeting new safety requirements. Although the shuttles should be safer than before once they are upgraded for their return to flight, he says, any Hubble mission would require repair and rescue options that are not readily available.

The implication, of course, is that if a self-described Hubble-hugger like Mr. Grunsfeld is comfortable with killing the telescope, that decision must be the right one. The only question is whether he is speaking from the heart, as he clearly was last July, or is simply a good soldier ordered to front for the premature curtailment of a great instrument.

No kidding. It really is pathetic to see otherwise smart people - Grunsfeld, Keith Cowling over at NASA Watch - fall for this bullshit.

Thursday, March 04, 2004

One of Dubya's Professors Speaks Out

At Harvard Business School Professor Yoshi Tsurumi had the misfortune of trying to teach the man who would become the dumbest president in American history. His dumbness is suggested by the fact that he hasn't learned anything in the 30 years since, much less at Harvard:

At Harvard Business School, thirty years ago, George Bush was a student of mine. I still vividly remember him. In my class, he declared that "people are poor because they are lazy." He was opposed to labor unions, social security, environmental protection, Medicare, and public schools. To him, the antitrust watch dog, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Securities Exchange Commission were unnecessary hindrances to "free market competition." To him, Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal was "socialism." Recently, President Bush's Federal Appeals Court Nominee, California's Supreme Court Justice Janice Brown, repeated the same broadside at her Senate hearing. She knew that her pronouncement would please President Bush and Karl Rove and their Senators. President Bush and his brain, Karl Rove, are leading a radical revolution of destroying all the democratic political, social, judiciary, and economic institutions that both Democrats and moderate Republicans had built together since Roosevelt's New Deal.

In June 2003, Bill Moyers said that "Karl Rove has modeled the Bush presidency on that of William Mckinley (1897-1901) and modeled himself on Mark Hanna, the man who virtually manufactured McKinley. Mark Hanna saw to it that Washington was ruled by business, railroads, and public utility corporations." President Bush's tax cuts have given over 93% of their benefits to large corporations and well-to-do households with over 250,000 dollars of annual income (about 10% of the U.S. households). Moreover, President Bush's tax cuts are abolishing taxes on such asset-based income as stock dividends and capital gains. He is opposed to taxing management aristocrats' self-dealt stock options (salary payment in kind). He is opposed to requiring the corporations to treat such stock options as their personnel expenses. More than anything else, management aristocrats' stock options are encouraging many corporations to abandon manufacturing-and-supply procurements at home and switching to imports from China and other lower-wage countries. He is phasing out estate taxes. All these measures are transforming the past "potbelly flower vase" shape of the U.S. income distribution to the "bottom-heavy hour glass" shape.

This was the same kind of income distribution that the U.S. built during the McKinley-Gilded Age. There was no Securities Exchange Commission to check "creative accounting" and Enron-WorldCom like malfeasance of corporations. America had poor public schools and medical care. There was no minimum wage or labor standard. Both federal and state governments and courts were hostile to labor unions and civic groups protesting the "injustices" of the society. The natural environment was ravaged by railroads, mining, lumbering, and newly emerging oil and gas firms. Abortion was illegal. Women did not even have the vote. In the South, Christian fundamentalists were pressuring public schools to stop teaching Charles Darwin's evolution theories. During the McKinley-Gilded Age, America's democracy atrophied. And America embarked on her imperialistic expansions of colonising Cuba, Panama, and the Philippines.

Check it out; it's interesting.

Bush: Unhappy that it's 2004, not 1004

Sidney Blumenthal writes in The Guardian today that Dubya's war against the present alienates as many as it attracts:

But Bush's instigation of religious wars in America, while it mobilises the evangelical Protestant faithful, is also unexpectedly thwarting him. The born-again Bush, who reconstructed his self-image after 9/11 as a messianic leader, assumed that the agendas of the neocons and the theocons were one and the same. However, Bush outsourced his foreign policy on the Middle East and Israel to the neocons in part for an electoral purpose, hoping to capture the Jewish vote, which will not be fulfilled because of his anxious devotion to the theocons.

I don't know if it's original with Blumenthal, but the term "theocons" is wonderful. Bush is betting that more than 50% of Americans are both prejudiced and stupid. Will he be proven wrong or right in November? The future of the republic lies in thrall to Know Nothings.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004


Our Vice-President-Appointee shares his economic wisdom:

If the democratic policies had been pursued over the last two or three years, the kind of tax increases that both Kerry and Edwards have talked about, we would not have had the kind of job growth that we’ve had.

All together now: WHAT job growth?!!

No More Stupidsizing?!

McDonald's is wisely getting rid of some of its more inane portions of fries and drinks:

The hamburger giant has started phasing out its trademark Supersize fries and drinks in its U.S. restaurants as part of an effort to simplify its menu and give customers choices that support a balanced lifestyle, a company spokesman said Tuesday.

By the end of 2004, Supersize will no longer be available at the nation's 13,000-plus McDonald's outlets except in certain promotions, McDonald's spokesman Walt Riker said.

The move comes as the world's largest restaurant company, and fast-food chains in general, are under growing public pressure to give consumers healthier food options in a nation that has suddenly become aware of its bulging waistline and the health dangers that come with it.

This is a good move, and let's hope other fast food joints follow suit.


In spite of Keith Cowling's sneers over at NASA Watch (his attitude is both annoying and mysterious), the NYT's Sunday editorial about NASA's stupid plan to abandon the Hubble space telescope drew a couple of letters from experts today. Harvard science professor Robert Kirshner wrote:

Your analysis of NASA's decision not to service the Hubble Space Telescope ("Premature Death for the Hubble," editorial, Feb. 29) rings true. Hubble has been the most productive scientific enterprise NASA has ever sponsored: revealing new truths that range from the solar system to the dimly glimpsed edge of our accelerating universe.

NASA's carefully considered road map for science for Hubble and beyond has been suddenly altered by an executive decision to provide shuttles only to the space station and to devote future resources to a possible manned mission to Mars.

NASA has been a leader, fueling a passion for ideas in America's schoolchildren, inspiring interested citizens around the world and engaging the best efforts of a wide band of creative scientists. NASA needs to balance the real risks of spaceflight against this widely shared joy of finding out what the universe is and how it works.

Well said. Ohio State University astronomy professors Andrew Gould and David Weinberg wrote:

We were pleased to read your strong endorsement of the Hubble Space Telescope ("Premature Death for the Hubble," editorial, Feb. 29). However, Hubble is merely the canary in the coal mine.

NASA has an extraordinary science program, with planned missions that range from detecting the ripples in space-time produced by merging black holes to probing the mysterious "dark energy" that is accelerating the expansion of the universe. Its smaller missions draw on the best ideas from the scientific community. All of these are slated for delay or cancellation to pay for the Moon-Mars initiative.

Whatever one thinks of the president's ambitious but expensive vision, it is doomed to fail unless it first acquires broad public support and scientific backing through extensive discussion.

The administration's blunderbuss approach to reforming the space program threatens to repeat the failures of the space station, squeezing out an enormous range of exciting science while creating nothing of value.

Yep. And again, it amazes me that NASA and very smart people like Keith Cowling are falling for this.