Saturday, May 29, 2004

Rescuing Columbia

Also in the New York Review, Timothy Ferris sums up what the board investigating the space shuttle Columbia disaster came up with as potential rescue scenarios:

What might NASA have done to rescue the astronauts, had it recognized the peril they faced? Columbia could not have retreated to the International Space Station—it lacked sufficient fuel to move to the station's radically different orbit—but an analysis conducted at the Gehman board's request came up with a list of other options. Here is how things might have been:

(1) Responding to launch-film images of the foam impact, NASA promptly obtains high-resolution ground-camera imagery of the orbiting shuttle. If the images show damage or are inconclusive, two Columbia crew members put on spacesuits and go out of the orbiter to get a firsthand look at the wing, taking pictures of it for analysis on the ground. (The strike occurred at a part of the wing too close to the shuttle fuselage for the astronauts on board to see it without first leaving the craft.) Having confirmed that there is a hole on the leading edge of the left wing, the crew adopts a minimum-exertion schedule, canceling the performance of nonessential tasks and sleeping as long as possible to prolong the time they can remain in orbit before their oxygen and CO2-scrubbing supplies run out. These steps can extend the mission to Flight Day 30. It is now Flight Day 5.

(2) The shuttle Atlantis is put on a rush flight-preparation schedule to launch a rescue mission with a skeleton crew consisting of a commander, a pilot, and two astronauts trained in spacewalking. (Twenty-three such astronauts were available at the Kennedy Space Center.) They are advised of the situation, apprised of the danger that a second foam-related launch accident could doom their mission as well, and invited to volunteer. (How many would have volunteered? My guess is that all twenty-three would have volunteered.) NASA estimates that Atlantis could have launched at least five days before Columbia's crew ran out of air.

(3) In case Atlantis cannot reach them in time, members of Columbia's crew again go out into space, cramming the hole in the wing with tools and pieces of metal and filling it with water, which freezes into ice in the cold vacuum of space. This step, in addition to jettisoning extra weight and adopting a sashay-style reentry flight path to minimize the heating of the left wing, might hold the shuttle together through thermal reentry. Then, at an altitude of around 30,000 feet, the crew could activate their emergency escape system and bail out—since the wing and left landing gear might not hold together on landing—leaving the empty shuttle to crash in a "disposal area" in the Pacific south of Fiji.

(4) Atlantis launches safely, however, and docks within thirty feet of Columbia. Escorted by the two spacewalking astronauts, the Columbia crew crosses over to Atlantis, which returns safely to Earth with all eleven men and women aboard—a mission well within its capacities. Once they are back on Earth, Columbia, which cannot be landed by remote control, is de-orbited and ditched. Seven lives have been saved, at an acceptable level of risk to four others.

NASA now says that when shuttle missions resume next year, a second shuttle will always be kept at the ready in case a rescue is required. That may save lives some day but it does little to reduce the sorrow and shame one feels when considering that NASA could have pulled off the greatest rescue in the history of spaceflight rather than presiding over one of its worst disasters. The officials directly at fault deserve to be held responsible, and have been, but as the Gehman board notes, the crash resulted from "persistent, systemic flaws" in NASA management, and problems of this magnitude cannot be solved just by changing the nameplates on office doors. "Both accidents were 'failures of foresight' in which history played a prominent role," the board concluded. By "history" they meant the dangerous habit of becoming complacent about a persistent hazard. NASA managers knew they had problems with flying foam prior to the Columbia crash—just as, seventeen years earlier, they knew they had problems with the O-rings that held parts of the shuttle together, before an O-ring failure blew up the Challenger.

The board also recommended transformations in NASA's "culture," but conceded that "the changes we recommend will be difficult to accomplish— and will be internally resisted." In other words, don't hold your breath. If manned spaceflight is going to get substantially safer, the best hope is not a sociological revolution at NASA but to "replace the shuttle as soon as possible" with a new and safer vehicle. Bush didn't have much choice about axing the shuttle.

Amongst everything else currently going, here's yet another thing to make us sad.

Ed Fitzgerald | 5/29/2004 11:32:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Hannah Arendt and 9/11

This is from an article about Hannah Arendt by Samantha Power in the New York Review of Books:

In the United States since September 11, 2001, Americans have begun asking, "Why do they hate us?" The response tends to fall between two extremes. Bush administration officials say, in effect, they hate us for who we are. As President Bush has put it, "They hate progress, and freedom, and choice, and culture, and music, and laughter, and women, and Christians, and Jews, and all Muslims who reject their distorted doctrines." Adherents of this view ignore the devastating impact of specific US policies on those who have learned to hate. At the opposite extreme stand those who insist that young men and women are flocking to martyr themselves exclusively because of what the United States has done. They cite uncritical US support for Israel, its backing of corrupt and repressive Middle Eastern states, and its exploitation of the world's natural resources. But adherents of this position often ignore the role played by a variety of other social, political, and economic factors in contributing to local misery.

[Hannah] Arendt would likely avoid both rigid views and summon us to do three things simultaneously: meet the threat abroad, preserve essential freedoms at home, and be unafraid to explore the motives and aims of the enemy. In meeting the threat, she would argue that lethal collective movements cannot be met with words alone, but must also be met with force. As one disgusted by the convenient patience and wishful thinking of European statesmen before and during the Holocaust, Arendt would undoubtedly urge us to rid ourselves of our "common-sense disinclination to believe the monstrous" and make all necessary sacrifices to guard against chemical attacks, dirty bombs, and other atrocities that our imaginations can hardly dare to broach. But while Arendt valued what today is termed "hard power," she also knew firsthand the danger of state overreaching in the name of self-defense, and the prospect that a merciless "counter-ideology" could emerge. Today, in the name of fighting a war of infinite duration, it has again proven far too tempting for our liberal democracy to give security absolute priority over liberty, slighting or scrapping the values so central to American constitutionalism, and surrendering before a new ideology of counterterrorism.

[The] Origins [of Totalitarianism] shows that Arendt would not be satisfied with a policy that aimed to violently crush today's threat without seeking to understand it. In the preface to Origins, she set out "to discover the hidden mechanics by which all traditional elements of our political and spiritual world were dissolved," leading to a situation "unrecognizable for human comprehension." We have landed in a similarly unimaginable place today. Yet thus far, in their desire to avoid legitimating a murderous cause by considering its origins, our leaders have refused to try to understand the hidden mechanics of how we got to where we are. Arendt used the phrase "radical evil" to describe totalitarianism, and this is an idea that has been brought back into circulation. Yet while Arendt did not allow such branding to deter her from exploring the sources of that evil, the less subtle minds who invoke the concept today do so to mute criticisms of their responses. (Who, after all, can be against combatting evil?)

But sheltering behind black-and-white characterizations is not only questionable for moral or epistemological reasons. It poses a practical problem because it blinds us from understanding and thus undermines our long-term ability to prevent and surmount what we don't know and most fear. "Evil," whether radical or banal, is met most often with unimaginativeness. Terrorism is a threat that demands a complex and elaborate effort to distinguish the sympathizers from the militants and to keep its converts to a minimum. Terrorism also requires understanding how our past policies helped give rise to such venomous grievances. Origins is chilling to read today because it reveals that even the most radical evils, Nazism and Stalinism, were driven by an internal logic and a self-perceived morality. It simply has to be true, given the human costs and nuclear stakes of the contemporary showdown, that we can never know too much about terrorist movements, and that we can never try too hard to alleviate the indignities and inequalities that may help fuel the threat.

Ed Fitzgerald | 5/29/2004 11:27:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Billmon's back!

Oh, by the way, much more important than whether I'm posting or not, Billmon is back, and in great form:

So this is what failure looks like – and, realistically, it’s much too late to look to the UN or NATO or our Arab “allies� to save us from the consequences of the administration’s folly.

Strategic failure on such a grand scale is obviously going to have huge repercussions, not just in Iraq, not just in the Middle East, and not just for the war against Al Qaeda. Much more than 9/11, a U.S. defeat in Iraq (or, at least, an outcome that is perceived as a strategic defeat both at home and abroad) has at least the potential to change, if not everything, then lots of things -- from the U.S. political balance of power, to the future of NATO, to the health of the global economy.

Old debates – about the limits of U.S. power and the consequences of U.S. decline – may be resurrected. America’s attractiveness as a destination for foreign investment – the main prop beneath our current prosperity – could be undermined. But the ultimate consequences of the Iraq fiasco are really almost impossible to predict. In other words, while we may not be looking into the abyss (to borrow Gen. Hoar’s phrase) we are certainly peering out over a dark and fog-covered landscape.

Ed Fitzgerald | 5/29/2004 02:15:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Lighting the pickle

Our first performance was tonight (Friday) here in Charleson, S.C., and was also the first official performance of the entire Spoleto Festival -- it went well. They have an odd tradition, though, which I don't recall from the last time I was here. Before the first performance at each of the various venues around town where the festival performances take place, they light up a pickle. That is, they take a pickle that's been well soaked in brine, and run current through it until it lights up. This is done to the chant of "pickle, pickle. pickle" after an "inspirational" reading from a cheap feel-good book of quasi-poetry (you know "The best thing about / a good love / is that when you have it / you don't have to spend time / looking for a good love").

Strange, really. Undoubtedly thought up by some wacked out stagehand who liked to play with electricity as a kid.

I'm taking some time off from posting to take it easy and look around Charleston. I'm still reading the blogs, but not with the usual intensity. I should be back to regular posting by the middle of the week, when I'm back in New York.

Ed Fitzgerald | 5/29/2004 02:05:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Kerry Google-bombed

Kerry's been Google-bombed so that a search on "waffles" brings up the Kerry for President website as the first hit. The article says that the Kerry campaign is countering:

The campaign has purchased Google AdWords, sponsored links that come up beside results when certain words are searched. The short links also refer to Kerry's website, but suggest users "read about President Bush's Waffles."

When I checked, the only ad that came up was one from which said:

George W. Bush
Committed to big business
No waffling there.

Another check confirmed that Googling "miserable failure" still brought up Bush's official bio, the result of a previous Google-bomb.

Ed Fitzgerald | 5/25/2004 04:55:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE



Can someone explain referrals to me?

When I look at my Sitemeter page, I understand when I get a referral from, say Whiskey Bar or Legal Fiction, since those blogs (and a few others) have links to unfutz in their blogrolls. I understand when I drop a link in a blog comment, and so referrals show up as coming from that comment page. I understand the Google searches in which unfutz comes up as a search result, but what I don't understand is the referrals that come from sites that don't have any apparent link to this blog.

How, for instance, did someone go directly from Eschaton to here, when there's no link to unfutz anywhere that I can find there? Or from a political cartoon page on Slate? If someone is sitting on those sites and types in this site's URL, does it somehow register as a referral from that site?

I have to say that I'm a little baffled.

Ed Fitzgerald | 5/25/2004 03:42:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Facts and analysis

Here's a quote I'm fond of:

[S]cience writing, like every other endeavor, comes in many forms. There is good science and good writing (Stephen Jay Gould), good science and bad writing (Stephen Hawking), bad science and good writing (Oliver Sacks) and, finally, bad science and bad writing.

Michael S. Gazzaniga
"All Mixed Up"
New York Times Book Review (10/24/93)

Let me first say that I've read pretty much everything Oliver Sacks has written, and I love his writing, so I don't necessarily accept Gazzaniga's judgment in that respect, and also that over the years I've begun to have some doubts about how good Gould's science is, but I still like the kind of categorization presented and want to extend it to the political realm.

My experience with amateur or semi-amateur political analysts is that there are those who have a strong hold on the facts and wrestle from them relevant and trenchant analyses which are useful and help others to see more clearly the shape of the situation under examination, then there are those who somehow (rather mysteriously, sometimes) see shape and form of the forest despite not having much real knowledge of the trees, and finally, and most confusingly, there are those who are brimming over with facts, objectively true and verifiable information, more facts than one could ever hope (or want) to have, and yet somehow cannot seem to manage to put together a useful or true picture of what the facts mean.

The failure of the third type of analyst is, to my observation, primarily a failure of ideology. That is, these folks, although they can toss around an encyclopedia's worth of facts related to the question at hand (and often even more facts that are completely unrelated or only of the vaguest significance), can't arrange them into a coherent and useful whole because the template they use to build their analysis is sullied by ideology. (This is the same problem, clear-thinking clouded by dogmatic ideology, which plagues the neo-cons, although I can't speak for their command of the facts.) And I'll tell you, with this type of analyst, sister, one is best advised to accept the facts as true, and reject the conclusions, because they rarely prove to have any relationship to reality.

Since I myself am, by virtue of this webblog, an amateur political analyst, it's legitimate to ask which kind I see myself as. All I can say is that as I don't have a fabulous command of a great number of facts about a myriad of subjects, all I can do is hope that I am of the second type, the kind that sees the forest despite knowing little about trees -- but it's just as likely (even more likely, I guess) that, more often than not, I'll turn out to be of a fourth type, the kind that doesn't know facts and can't see the forest either.

But at least it should be easier to smell that out when it happens.

Ed Fitzgerald | 5/25/2004 03:10:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Off to Spoleto (USA)

I'm off to Charleston, South Carolina, in the morning for a week of performances at the Spoleto Festival. Blogging may be light as I renew my acquaintance with that beautiful city after a 27 year absence. (I was last there in 1977 for the first Spoleto USA, stage managing a play by British playwright Simon Gray, "Molly", for which I got my Actors' Equity card.)

Ed Fitzgerald | 5/25/2004 01:59:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Danger, danger, Will Robinson

Bloomberg News reports:

The Federal Bureau of Investigation warned law enforcement agencies to be on the watch for suicide bombers who may strike within the U.S., Time magazine reported in its on-line edition, citing unidentified FBI sources.

A lightly classified intelligence bulletin headlined "Possible suicide bomber indicators" was sent electronically to 18,000 law enforcement agencies Thursday warning police to look out for people wearing heavy, bulky jackets on warm days, smelling of chemicals, trailing wires from their jackets or tightly clenching their fists to hide a detonator, the Times reported.

Sounds like good advice to me.

D'ya think local police departments would be inclined to overlook guys smelling of chemicals and trailing wires from their bulky jackets on hot humid days, and needed the FBI to remind them about that potential danger?

(And, BTW Bloomberg, was that report from Time magazine or from "the Times"?)

[via Roger Ailes]

Ed Fitzgerald | 5/25/2004 01:33:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


All over but the shouting?

Chris Bowers, whose election projections I've been highlighting here, takes a very big step and calls the election:

In 162 days, John Kerry will defeat George Bush in a landslide, probably winning more than 400 electoral votes. 79 days later, John Kerry will become the 44th President of the United States. Then, it will finally be time for a Democrat to govern again.

In the 1960's, Bob Dylan wrote "The Times, They Are A-Changin'." In 1990, Tim Robbins aptly and astutely wrote, "The Times Are Changin' Back." Right now, I see no reason not to conclude the times are changing once again. Bush is facing imminent collapse, and wholesale public rejection of him, his policies and his ideology. The pendulum is swinging in the other direction; the dialectic is starting to rebalance itself. We are at the brink of a turning point in the history of this country, and from twenty-five years of ashes there will arise a new, progressive phoenix.

I am calling the election right now. Considering the numbers I see, there is no reason to do otherwise.

Every single historical precedent points to a big Kerry victory.

Chris isn't gazing into a crystal ball or consulting a Ouija board or making a half-baked prediction based on his political desires -- read his entire post to see the evidence he presents to back up his conclusion.

For myself, I'd be ecstatically happy should his prediction turn out to be true, but I'm not going to jump on the bandwagon just yet. Just as Chris has followed his methodology to the ultimate conclusion, I'm going to do the same myself; as half-baked and seat-of-the-pants as my "methodology" may be, it makes sense to me and I'll wait until it leads me (I hope) to the same conclusion.

Update: For the sake of completeness, here's a link to Chuck Todd's essay in Washington Monthly predicting a Kerry landslide:

There are perfectly understandable reasons why we expect 2004 to be close. Everyone remembers the nail-biting 2000 recount. A vast number of books and magazine articles describe the degree to which we are a 50/50 nation and detail the precarious balance between red and blue states. And poll after poll show the two candidates oscillating within a few percentage points of one another. There are also institutional factors that drive the presumption that the race will be tight. The press wants to cover a competitive horse-race. And the last thing either campaign wants to do is give its supporters any reason to be complacent and stay home on election day.

But there's another possibility, one only now being floated by a few political operatives: 2004 could be a decisive victory for Kerry. The reason to think so is historical. Elections that feature a sitting president tend to be referendums on the incumbent--and in recent elections, the incumbent has either won or lost by large electoral margins. If you look at key indicators beyond the neck-and-neck support for the two candidates in the polls--such as high turnout in the early Democratic primaries and the likelihood of a high turnout in November--it seems improbable that Bush will win big. More likely, it's going to be Kerry in a rout.

I've gotta add that when I saw the Zogby results, the thought occured to me that I may well look back on this day as the day it became apparent that it was all turning around, and that the tipping point had been passed. That remains to be seen, but it's a comforting thought nonetheless.

Ed Fitzgerald | 5/25/2004 12:02:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Monday, May 24, 2004

EC look ahead: Zogby speaks

Via Daily Kos I learned about the Zogby battlground state polling. There's some concern about the accuracy of the poll because it's being conducted on the Internet, but I'm going on the assumption that Zogby wouldn't make the results public if they didn't stand behind it.

The overall result looks very, very good. Of the 16 states they covered (AR, FL, MI, MN, MO, NV, NH, NM, OH, OR, PA, TN, WA, WV and WI), 12 went for Kerry, and all but two of those (Missouri and Florida) by margins outside of the margin of error. Of Bush's four wins (AR, IA, TN and WV) only Arkansas and Iowa were by a large enough amount to be statistically valid.

I've been waiting for some confirming data before I made a number of changes in my Electoral College predictions, and, at least until I hear otherwise about their accuracy, Zogby has provided that. The moves include some very big states. As of now, I've:

  • moved Missouri (11) from GOP to in play
  • moved Iowa (7) from DEM to in play
  • moved Ohio (20) from in play to DEM
  • moved Oregon (7) from in play to DEM
  • moved Pennsylvania (21) from in play to DEM
  • moved Wisconsin (10) from in play to DEM

That means that the current totals are:

DEM: ME-4, MI-17, MN-10, NH-4, OH-20, OR-7, PA-21, WA-11, WA-10
(104 swing + 168 safe = 272)

GOP: AZ-10, AR-6, CO-9, LA-9, NV-5, TN-11, VA-13, WV-5
(68 swing + 148 safe = 216)

IN PLAY: FL-27, IA-7, MO-11, NM-5 (50)

DEM 272 / GOP 216 / PLAY 50

With 270 electoral votes needed to elect, Kerry is currently sitting just over the line. Zogby's results in Florida were good (Kerry +1.4), but not quite enough to convince me to move the state into the Democratic column. One more positive result would do it, especially if it was outside the margin of error.

By way of comparison, Chris Bowers latest Cattle Call results (from Sunday), were:

(May 19 Results in Parenthesis, cross-posted at MyDD)

National Two-Party Vote Popular Projection
Kerry: 51.9 (52.4)
Bush: 48.1 (47.6)
Status: Lean Kerry

Electoral Vote Projection:
Kerry: 311 (337)
Bush: 227 (201)
States Changing Hands: FL, NH, OH

Bush is closing the gap. The race is now teetering on a return to "too close to call."

Update: I somehow missed Zogby results for Iowa (which caused me to move it from DEM to in play), so I've updated the entry with that.

Update: According to Political Wire, Zogby's response to the question about the accuracy of the battleground state polls, due to their being done over the Internet, was:

"Participation in the polls is controlled and the results are weighted to make them representative of what a poll of the overall U.S. voting population would find."

Ed Fitzgerald | 5/24/2004 09:21:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


"Whiskey Bar" Closed?

I went, as usuual, to check out what Billmon had to offer on Whiskey Bar, only to find a "Closed" sign on it. In his last post, from a couple of days ago, he sounded a little depressed:

For some reason I just can't seem to get into the mood for blogging. Maybe it's a lingering after effect of my trip [to a Davos conference on the Dead Sea], or maybe it's just because the news has been so particularly, bleakly, Kafka-ish lately. Or maybe, after more than a year of virtually nonstop writing (1485 posts and counting) I'm just running out of steam.

I can certainly understand if he feels burned out, or depressed at the state of our country and the world, as I've had those same feelings myself. I just hope that after he's had a little time to recuperate, he comes back and posts again. I've found his stuff to be extraordinarily perceptive, and well-written to boot. "Whiskey Bar" has been, to my estimation, one of the very best blogs around for some time now.

Ed Fitzgerald | 5/24/2004 08:12:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Ed Fitzgerald

Clowns to the left of me,
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Here I am...
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03/23/2008 - 03/30/2008
03/30/2008 - 04/06/2008
06/01/2008 - 06/08/2008
09/21/2008 - 09/28/2008

search websearch unfutz

Bullshit, trolling, unthinking knee-jerk dogmatism and the drivel of idiots will be ruthlessly deleted and the posters banned.

Entertaining, interesting, intelligent, informed and informative comments will always be welcome, even when I disagree with them.

I am the sole judge of which of these qualities pertains.

All e-mail received is subject to being published on unfutz without identifying names or addresses.

I correct typos and other simple errors of grammar, syntax, style and presentation in my posts after the fact without necessarily posting notification of the change.

Substantive textual changes, especially reversals or major corrections, will be noted in an "Update" or a footnote.

Also, illustrations may be added to entries after their initial publication.
the story so far
unfutz: toiling in almost complete obscurity for almost 1500 days
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the proud unfutz guarantee
If you read unfutz at least once a week, without fail, your teeth will be whiter and your love life more satisfying.

If you read it daily, I will come to your house, kiss you on the forehead, bathe your feet, and cook pancakes for you, with yummy syrup and everything.

(You might want to keep a watch on me, though, just to avoid the syrup ending up on your feet and the pancakes on your forehead.)

Finally, on a more mundane level, since I don't believe that anyone actually reads this stuff, I make this offer: I'll give five bucks to the first person who contacts me and asks for it -- and, believe me, right now five bucks might as well be five hundred, so this is no trivial offer.

original content
© 2003-2008
Ed Fitzgerald


take all you want
but credit all you take.

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