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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