Thursday, September 29, 2005

---Coming Back After Rita, Griffin: ISS & STS Were Mistakes, Delay Indicted, Osprey to Production, Spirit From the Top of the Hill 

Hurricane Rita: The Way Back
Just about everyone in the extended family has made it back to base now. We endured somewhat less misery during the evacuation than many others, mainly because we left a day earlier than many of them. We still had a 12-hour trip from Houston to San Antonio, brake problems after hours of crawling along freeways in the heat, and about a week in San Antonio in daily temperatures up to 105ºF. By Monday, we were almost as desperate to leave SA as we were to leave Houston earlier.
What went wrong with the evacuation ( which I am officially referring to as The Way Out )? Houston city officials were slow to convert inbound freeway lanes to contra-flow---outbound only---lanes. They were still trying to collect tolls from the massively gridlocked traffic parked on the tollways until well after we passed by at 2 or 3 miles per hour. Officials and news media had a fling with blaming the horrific traffic jam on all the greedy, self-centered people who evacuated with more than one vehicle. Houston's dysfunctional mayor, fishing desperately for someone else to blame, added his criticism of those inconsiderate people who evacuated while not under mandatory orders to do so, despite his earlier insistence that residents interpret the boundaries of the evacuation orders as liberally as possible---to err on the side of safety.
In the aftermath, the Way Back threatened for a while to be almost as bad as the original evacuation. Houston's dangerously incompetent mayor responded with a "plan" for the return which divided the city into quadrants and stipulated days when the inhabitants should return. The quadrant south of IH 10 (E-W) and east of IH 45 (N-S) was marked "Stay Away". This included the Clear Lake area where we live. Returning Houstonians generally responded to the preposterous "plan" by heading home whenever they got ready. While there were reports of backups on Sunday and Monday, everything was moving smoothly after that.
We got back to our house about 2 am Wednesday. The "damage" consisted of a layer of small, leafy oak branches everywhere, an overturned container tree (looking a little bedraggled after several days on its side), and a van which had to be left in San Antonio because no one could diagnose the hydraulic problem with its extremely complicated ABS brake system. Of course, no one could possibly be sure the hurricane was going to turn off into East Texas at the last minute. It would have been beyond irresponsible to stay in the face of such potential for catastrophe. ( We were terribly dissappointed---when I have to evacuate for an expected natural disaster, I expect my house to be gone when I get back! )
East Tesas and Western Louisiana, as we now know, didn't fare as well ( My Way News). The eye of the storm passed up the Sabine River (that's suh-BEAN, Geraldo, not SAY-bine), over Beaumont, Port Arthur, Orange, and Lake Charles, along with numerous small communities. Some of the smaller coastal towns have apparently been all but erased.
We saw electronic road signs on the Way Back saying that motorists were forbidden to exit the freeway in Jefferson County ( which includes Beaumont). We also saw a convoy of hundreds of indentical Budget rental trucks leaving San Antonio at high speed which occupied the entire left lane of IH 10 eastbound from horizon to horizon. The next lane was occupied by their escort of Texas DPS troopers.
Most of the worst affected areas can expect to be without electrical power ( Click2Houston.com ), drinkable water, and sanitation for weeks. It has been reported that about 85% of the trees in Orange County ( which lies on the Sabine River and the border with Louisiana ) have been torn down by the winds---many now lying on roads, roofs, and power lines. It is taking a massive effort just to clear passible lanes through the heavy debris on the roads.
My grandfather used to say that he believed that the man-made flood control lakes in East Texas somehow protected the Sabine drainage region from hurricanes. ( Orange County didn't even get a hit from a tropical storm in my lifetime, up until now. ) Unfortunately, it looks like he was wrong.
Elsewhere, FEMA officials had to close a just-opened relief center when they were "caught off-guard" by the number of people who showed up for help ( Click2Houston.com ). I think "Caught Off-Guard" should become FEMA's new agency motto. It's how they explain pretty much everything they've done, or failed to do, through these two unprecendented disasters. Or maybe "Who Cares?" or "It's Somebody Else's Problem"....
Other government officials have begun to do what U.S. bureaucrats do best ( My Way News ); squabble about who's in charge, who has to pay the bills, and what should be done to decide what should be done.
Meanwhile, the redoubtable mayor of New Orleans ( My Way News ), determined not to learn anything from recent events, has resumed his incomprehensible "plan" to repopulate the city. What will he do next, threaten the former inhabitants at gunpoint to get them back?

Griffin: STS, ISS Were Mistakes [ Florida Today ] [ Space Daily ]
Okay, I should probably have warned everyone to sit down first, but since virtually no one reads this weblog, it should be okay on a percentage basis. If as one of my favorite characters from the extended
Star Trek™ series once said, the truth is just an excuse for a lack of imagination, Mr. Griffin is probably about to exhaust the collective attention spans of his Federal benefactors.
In any case, Michael Griffin, recently appointed NASA chief, appears to agree with what many of us have been protesting for years; that the Space Shuttle and the Internation Space Station were monumentally expensive, technically deficient, inexcusably misguided wastes of thirty years of the agency's time and effort, the will and patience of the American people, and the U.S. taxpayers' money.

Delay Ousted as Head of House After Indictment [ FOXNews.com ]
Delay's response to the criminal indictment was to fall back on that old, tired, boring, "innocence" defense. Boooooring. It will never work. We Americans expect entertainment from our criminal justice system.

The Osprey Makes a Comeback [ FOXNews.com ]
Another story buried in all the other news: they’ve not only brought back the often-fatal tilt-rotor Marine transport, but authorized it for full production.

Spirit Rover on Top of Martian Hill [ NASA: JPL ]
From one of NASA's space exploration efforts that wasn't dropped on the floor, crashed into the atmosphere of another planet by grade-school math errors, "landed" in thin air at 4-5000 feet, or built exactly to the wrong specifications---the included photo shows the incredible view from the top of Husband Hill, which the “Spirit” rover has been climbing for the last several months.

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Friday, September 23, 2005

---Rita Update 

Putting earlier comments into practice: We're in San Antonio, Texas, posting on a wireless hotspot in the lobby of the extended stay hotel. Most family and friends accounted for, including dogs and cats. We took 12 hours to travel the 250 miles from Houston, and we were lucky to have left early. Stories of people sitting on the road for that long, and travelling 5 or 6 miles are becoming common. Many finally ran out of fuel on the road, idling in the heat. Others gave up and went home to contend with the weather. The National Guard has attempted to establish refuelling points for the evacuees. It seems that the arrangements for contra-flow lanes, converting inbound freeway lanes to outbound, took much longer to implement than expected, making the situation worse. For future reference, the concept of evacuating over a million people in individual vehicles doesn't work.
As of this post, it appears that hurricane Rita will track toward the Texas-Lousiana border, Beaumont, Port Arthur, and Orange. <FoxNews.com><NOAA> It appears that the 15-20 foot surge will not strike Galveston Bay, an unimaginably catastrophic scenario. Wherever it lands, extreme damage is expected. Port Arthur is one of the largest refinery centers in the nation. There won't be a good place for this huge, category 4 storm to land.
Elsewhere: a bus loaded with elderly evacuees from Houston has exploded and burned in Dallas, with the possible loss of 20 or more of the passengers. <FoxNews.com > Rains from outer storm bands of the monstrous storm have already reached New Orleans, where an overstressed levee in the 9th Ward has failed. Now we're hearing that water is running over the stricken Industrial Canal levee. <CNN.com> Tropical storm winds are expected to reach New Orleans later this afternoon.
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Monday, September 19, 2005

---U.S. Deals with North Korea, Titan's "H", Hayabusa Arrives 

In case you didn’t see it go by, the U.S. government announced that it had made a deal with one of the most hellish extant regimes on the planet to end its production of nuclear weapons. As any average eight-year-old could have predicted, North Korea yanked back on the chain this week.

Titan: The Giant "H" Up Close[NASA-JPL]
The photo-mosaic also shows a possible crater, complete with apparent ejecta rays.

Japanese Probe Arrives at Asteroid[MSNBC.com]
The Hayabusa probe has reached its target asteroid, where it will attempt to land a extract a sample of material for return to Earth later this year.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2005

---Hurricane News, Iraq News, Berger Fined, Palestinians Celebrate, Shuttle Out For a Year, and Other Stories 

Hurricane Aftermath, Continued:
Astoundingly, some people in New Orleans, despite the danger to themselves and the would-be rescuers who apparently feel obligated to try to help them, still refuse to leave their homes [FOXNews.com]. Elsewhere, the political squabbling has set in [FOXNews.com], and is not confined to allocating blame for the wretched failures of the government relief effort. If Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco had been nearly as fervent in her pursuit of the welfare of the people of her state as in jealously guarding the prerogatives of her office, a lot of this misery might have been avoided.
The effort to attribute the blame for the hurricane itself to U.S. Executive policies continues as well. The Boston Globe editorial, cited here earlier, is also referenced in Milloy’s “Junk Science” column [FOXNews.com].

Malaria may manipulate host to improve infection rates[TheStar.com]
[ found on BlogsNow] The Toronto Star article makes an unattributed reference to somebody’s (“a team of French and Kenyan scientists ”) questionable medical study suggesting that the malarial parasite can manipulate the host’s body chemistry to make the unfortunate victim more appetizing to mosquitoes. If remotely accurate, this would be adequate material for sci-fi stories.

Report on Oil-for-Food Scandal Embarrasses Annan[FOXNews.com ]
The report of the independent investigating committee of the U.N. Security Council criticized Annan, the Council, and others, citing "illicit, unethical and corrupt behavior" . Annan called the report “deeply embarrassing”, but is still in his accustomed position of authority.

Iraq Closes Border with Syria[FOXNews.com ]
Now why didn’t anyone else think of that---several years ago?

Berger Fined [FOXNews.com ]
Sandy Berger, former national security adviser to the Clinton administration, has admitted that he improperly removed classified documents from the National Archives, took them home, and destroyed some of them. The implication of “Pants-Gate”---so named because Berger smuggled the documents out by stuffing them down his trousers--- is that Berger found documents which would have implicated former President Clinton in the massive intelligence failures leading up to the devastating September 11, 2000 terrorist attacks, removed, and eliminated them. As his punishment, Berger was fined $50,000 and excluded from access to sensitive documents for three years---apparently some kind of “tough love” application to government or something. I personally will feel much better when Berger can finally resume his presence at the National Archives---you know, closure, and all.

Palestinians Celebrate Israeli Withdrawal from Gaza[FOXNews.com]
---by burning the abandoned synagogues. They further presaged the legitimacy of the coming Palestinian administration of Gaza by storming the Egyptian border, which was supposed to be secured by the Egyptians against infiltrators, and dancing with flags of Hammas and “Islamic Jihad”.

Shuttle Probably Out for a Year [Oberg, MSNBC.com]
RTF was in serious trouble before Katrina hit an area which includes both the Michoud External Tank facilities and Stennis Space Center. In addition to the failure of two and a half years of RTF effort to resolve the critical safety problems which destroyed Colombia, NASA is now faced with relocation of a homeless work force, and reallocation of the ET production to other facilities. One of the tanks was damaged at Michoud by the hurricane, and the rest will have to be moved somewhere else. Wayne Hale concludes: that “Launch dates before the fall of 2006 may not be credible."

Sci Fi Udates:
StarGate” is settling back to business as usual with all-new enemies and cast members. “Atlantis” is foundering in a series of predictable genetic mishap stories and a few episodes which were essentially unwatchable. “Galactica” continues to make good command-and-control crisis intrigues, but it isn’t clear how long it’s going to hold up after the “big story” becomes more evident. Meanwhile, at Unofficial Battlestar Galactica Blogs, an arguement rages over whether the monotheistic Cylons are Lutherans or Muslims.

State of the Blog, Update
I swear, I’m not making this up. The sophistication of web-crawling ‘bots is now officially in question. I made a reference several weeks back to a FoxNews.com story about a bad literature contest, in which the “winner” likened the Indian subcontinent to a wet washcloth “hanging from the towel rack of Asia”. Now, I find that this weblog has been cited as a reviewer of wholesale paper towel accessories.

"Gilligan" dies[FOXNews.com]
Bob Denver, who starred in the sappy ‘60’s comedy “Gilligan’s Island”, has died at 70. I watched this fluffy-headed foolishness back in elementary school. My first reaction to the news was, “Bob Denver was 70”?!

Shirley Temple Black Honored by SGA[FOXNews.com]
The Screen Actors Guild has awarded the former child star with its Life Achievement Award. Since her legendary career in film, Shirley Temple Black has gone on to a distinguished diplomatic career as U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Ghana and the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic. It was her later career that inspired Lorraine Newman’s comedic rendition on “Saturday Night Live”, which for some inexplicable reason is my all-time favorite SNL skit.

Alec Baldwin Honored by PETA[FOXNews.com]
Baldwin, on the other hand, has apparently taken a break from his interminable film career to harrass Burger King and push PETA’s veggie burgers.

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Friday, September 02, 2005

---New Orleans 

The situation in New Orleans is growing worse by the hour. The presence of flood waters contaminated by sewage, toxic materials, and the unclaimed bodies of the dead, the collapse of civil order, and the lack of food, water, and medical, hygienic, and sanitary facilities have become catastrophic in themselves.
No one has explained in any detail why the relief efforts of government agencies at all levels have apparently collapsed to such a degree. It is as if nobody really has any idea what to do. Civil authorities are overwhelmed to an unprecedented degree. Surely our military logistical systems---trained and equipped to provide for armies of hundreds of thousands under battlefield conditions, could do something to bring this situation under control.
Maybe this situation really is unprecedented in human history. The near-total destruction of transportation, communications, power systems, and civil institutions may truly exceed the capacity of any conceivable relief effort to respond---or maybe, as various experts on news shows tell us, we should have known this would happen years ago. Maybe the support capabilities of the reserve and regular military are needed elsewhere for other contingencies.
It doesn’t matter anymore, guys, because you’re losing the war, right here.
If you let New Orleans defeat you, you may very well not have a country to defend later----because people are watching. Some, to be sure, are watching to see which of our national weaknesses they may exploit next, while others---criminal gangs, for example---want to see what they can get away with. Most importantly, though, many people are watching to see who they can trust.
Stop whatever else you’re doing, and throw everything at your disposal at the relief of New Orleans, the Gulf coast. and other affected areas and their people, or there won’t be much point to defending democracy or free trade---or whatever---elsewhere. The life or death of the American nation is in the resolution of this breach of trust and confidence.

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Thursday, September 01, 2005

---Hurricanes, 1900 and 2005 

The comparison of the aftermath of 2005 hurricane Katrina in Louisiana, Georgia, and Alabama with The storm which struck Galveston, Texas in 1900 is becoming inevitable, but for some reason it hasn’t happened yet. No one would have expected to ever see such devastation again. Modern satellite and aircraft reconaissance and computer-assisted prediction methods, together with incredible advances in transportation and communications technology would seem to make a repetition of the worst disaster in American history all but impossible.
The true loss of life in the 1900 Galveston hurricane was never known, but estimates range from 8000 to as many as 10,000 dead. The hurricane’s approach was predicted quite accurately, but both local officials and the general public dismissed the danger and stayed around to watch or go about their routine business as something just short of Hell on Earth descended on the island.
Earlier in one of the longest weeks in memory, public officials did everything imaginable to demand or beg people to leave the threatened coastline as a gigantic monster loomed in their modern radar and satellite images. For reasons which can only be guessed, thousands of people---including literate, mobile, otherwise apparently reasonable people---across the southeastern Gulf coast stayed in their homes---men, women, children, infants, dogs, and cats---as the monster fell upon them. According to both New Orleans Mayor Naglin and US Senator Landrieu, the death toll of the 2005 hurricane will also be in the thousands. Many more in the devastated areas are at risk from disease, lack of food and water, and exposure. Whether the numbers who died Moday morning and afterwards will ever be accurately known is not clear.
There are other ways, however, in which the two disasters are profoundly different. There is no record, for example, that anyone on Galveston Island in 1900, of any ethnic, religious, social, or economic background, stole guns and fired on those sent to rescue them.

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