Monday, December 31, 2007

Now We Are One

It's hard to believe it's been a year. In some ways, it feels longer.

This lovely critter's name is Belle, and she lives somewhere in Australia at St. Bernard Kennel Ablenath. Or so the page said that I, ahem, borrowed this picture from. I hope they let me keep it up here, because if there's one thing that's hard to find on the Internet it's pictures of St. Bernards near birthday cakes. So if you ever need to board your St. Bernard in Australia, give these folks a look.

Here at SnS, we strive to be your one stop for information you'd never thought you'd need, whether it's boarding your St. Bernard in Australia, finding the right button on a DSL connection, or fixing a stuck fuel gauge on your space shuttle.

Usually, this is the time for some sort of retrospective and planning for the future. Unfortunately, I'm not all that good at either. This year started out being a year that I'd learn how to do this thing. Needless to say, not long after a job opportunity appeared that I couldn't pass up. So this has become a sort of second job and hobby. Even so, I've managed to write a bit.

I do check the Sitemeter pretty often though, because I'm interested in how people find their way here, and what they read when they do. Other than the obvious, which is my mentioning a post at some bigger blog like Firedoglake or someone linking to an article, there are a few themes that keep cropping up.

One, of course, is slobber and spittle. As I've mentioned before, I'm one of the Internet's foremost experts on the subject, at least according to my Google ranking. I've always regretted not making the effort to satisfy all those queries of the "what is slobber?" sort, so here goes:

If it hits you in the eye, it's spittle. If it hits the floor, it's slobber.

I'd like to thank this country's medical schools for enrolling such inquisitive students. Heaven knows there was a time I didn't know that stuff, either. I'd also like to thank Scott Adams for his wino spittle reference. That must have generated half the traffic here in October.

Another big draw has been my article about Washington and the Hessians, partly, I assume because there are lots of folks interested in whatever became of them. While I'm sorry there aren't many details about that in the story, at least they had a chance to think about how differently we're led these days.

Lots of people are also drawn to the Joker graphic in "Maverick" Folding His Cards, which was about Senator Hagel's decision to retire.

For a while, lots of people from France came by to read Street Corner Memorials On A Flat Earth. I have no idea why. Those French are so inscrutable.

Other than that, people just wander by for various reasons. Put enough keywords in your posts, and anyone could drop by. Even if they just want to read about turtle heads.

So, thanks for wandering by, and have a wonderful 2008.

Iowa: Down To The Wire

This is Pollster's trend chart for the 2008 Iowa Democratic Presidential caucus for today, December 31:

This is the same trend chart from December 27:

The important thing is the change in the trajectory of the yellow line. That line is Barack Obama's line. Over the long weekend, Obama has stopped gaining strength and started to lose it. One might say that's because he and his campaign lost it this week.

Before we get to the explanations, another set of numbers that are interesting, and not often reported by the various partisans:

Research 200012/26-27/07282929
Strategic Vision (R)12/26-27/07292830

Three polls conducted in the last few days show this thing to be a dead heat. I'm not too sure about the quality of the Research 2000 poll, but it does seem to have a consistent result, which is a good thing. It also tracks with other polls, which some do not.

When you add in the fact that this is a caucus, not a straight election, it makes this race look wide open.

Meanwhile, Obama's momentum has been fading. The reason is that he and his campaign keep making big mistakes. As I've mentioned before, rival campaigns aren't going to get too many chances to make mistakes against Hillary Clinton. She's polished and very good at the political game. She also has a terrific advisor in her living room. Obama and his people have been shooting themselves in the foot all week, only pausing to reload.

First, there was the aftermath of the Bhutto assassination. While most of the other Democratic Presidential candidates managed to say something that was either profound or serious, Obama seems to have impressed no one. His top political strategist, David Axelrod, started things off with this statement regarding Hillary Clinton:

“She was a strong supporter of the war in Iraq, which we would submit, was one of the reasons why we were diverted from Afghanistan, Pakistan and al-Qaeda, who may have been players in this event today, so that’s a judgment she’ll have to defend,” Axelrod said. “I know Woody Allen said that 80% of life is just showing up but there’s actually more to being proficient in foreign policy than just having been around for a long time. You also have to have good judgment. Obama was willing to split with the conventional wisdom on Iraq and many of these other issues and I think events have borne out his judgment.”

Axelrod on Bhutto Assassination, and Clinton Team Response

While Clinton's vote was certainly a mistake, it was a small blunder compared to those committed by President Bush in lying about the threat Iraq represented, and then starting the war without consulting the U.N. Security Council, which was part of what the bill Clinton voted for required. You can also lay some of the blame at the feet of a whole Capitol full of legislators, including Obama, who haven't impeached him for it since. Obama didn't help matters by clumsily defending Axelrod on CNN.

The next thing that doesn't seem to have helped him is a series of robocalls purportedly supporting Obama, making some questionable assertions about the Clinton health care plan. While I disagree with some of the counterarguments, and think that the idea that they are a product of Obama's campaign is questionable, it still is a sore point with many Democrats. I haven't noticed any denials of responsibility coming from the Obama camp, either. That either means they don't want to, or they're not getting the word into the right ear, which seems unlikely.

Finally, today Obama's campaign really stepped in it. In a press briefing today, the campaign asserted that Obama's campaign was in better shape than Edwards' because it had more money. Edwards' campaign communications directory Chris Kofinis jumped on this quickly:

“The Obama campaign has spent over $9 million to our $2.6 million on television in Iowa and by all accounts we have the momentum. Their pre-occupation with money instead of the power of a strong message speaks volumes to a flailing campaign. And it may answer the question why the campaign premised on hope is closing with hopeless attacks."

"We’ll put our message of fighting corporate greed up against Obama’s and Clinton’s mega millions any day of the week, in any state. The bottom line is this is an election, not an auction. Democrats win elections when they address the real issues facing the lives of Americans. John Edwards is the only Democratic candidate who won office in a 'red' state, defeated a Republican incumbent, and he is the one candidate who will contest every state and win states thought lost to Democrats.”

Obama camp still feeling confident

As if the obvious problem with the Obama campaign's focus on money weren't enough to turn off voters, there's also the question of why are they telling us this?. As Chris Todd noted:

The memo ticks through a series of numbers the campaign believes proves they are the candidate with momentum. But coming on the eve of the release of the final Des Moines Register poll (due out tonight), one can't help but also see the memo and call as a bit defensive. Overall, this was a presentation that a few months ago we might have expected from, say, Clinton rather than Obama. The campaign wasn't necessarily downplaying Iowa but they certainly were trying to leave the impression that Iowa's only the beginning, not the end.

Obama camp still feeling confident

Short version: This is how losers talk. As you can see from the polls, I don't think Obama's out of the race, but politics is partly about perceptions.

Speaking of perceptions, Obama himself provided this one today, also about Edwards:

During a Des Moines speech Sunday night to a heated crowd of 1,500 supporters, Obama vigorously rebutted statements made earlier in the day by Edwards that Obama was "too nice" to be an effective President. "I have to say, I've been doing this my whole life," Obama said, referring to his long record of personal political activism. "When you talk about change, you might just want to try the guy who's actually done it before," Obama said, implying that Edwards is a Johnny-come-lately to the arena of social reform.

Obama said that as a young man he was offered many lucrative choices but turned them down in favor of low-paid work as a community organizer and as a civil rights lawyer, a theme he has sounded repeatedly on the stump over the past weeks. For the first time, and in a direct shot at Edwards, Obama said one of the big bucks options he turned down was to work as a "trial lawyer."

Edwards has made millions as a trial lawyer and boasts of how he has used that position to take on bog [sic] corporations.

Obama Slugs Back At "Trial Lawyer" Edwards

Sometimes, how someone chooses to insult someone else tells you as much about him as it does about the other person. As I've mentioned, Obama's own career as a civil rights attorney has been less than spotless. I doubt anyone would have written this about him:

In certain ways, Edwards's history as a medical malpractice lawyer ought to have a positive moral valence for Americans -- who are deeply attached to the idea of personal responsibility. By working within the system of American tort law, Edwards not only represented his client honestly, he also showed that he subscribes to mainstream American values - and that is an important thing in a Vice President.

Should Doctors Vote Against John Edwards?

That was from an article in FindLaw back in 2004. Edwards' cases, like Lakey v. Sta-Rite Industries, were often against large corporations, some of which repeatedly refused to fix the things that injured his clients:

[Five]-year-old girl was disemboweled, but survived, after being caught and suctioned by wading pool's defective drain. Despite 12 prior suits with similar claims, manufacturer continued to make and sell drain covers lacking warnings.

Findlaw Profile: John Edwards (summary of Lakey v. Sta-Rite Industries)

Edwards, in short, made much of his fortune by fighting for the little guy. Not too many people can make that claim, either, no matter what line of work they're in.

To make a long story short, this has been a bad week for Barack Obama's Presidential hopes. Many of these moments seem borne of desperation and inexperience at real campaigning. That, perhaps, is one of the biggest reasons he should be losing.

UPDATE: Fixed attribution of the quote from the Edwards campaign concerning Obama's emphasis on campaign money. Originally, I'd attributed the quote to Edwards, not his communications director.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

David Broder: Slobbering Half-Wit

Image credit: Screenshot of Cujo by Echte Tunus

David Broder took a break from sniffing Hillary Clinton's pantie drawer today to impart this bit of wisdom on us:

New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, a potential independent candidate for president, has scheduled a meeting next week with a dozen leading Democrats and Republicans, who will join him in challenging the major-party contenders to spell out their plans for forming a "government of national unity" to end the gridlock in Washington.

Bipartisan Group Eyes Independent Bid

Yep. Gridlock. It's a bipartisan problem, according to Broder. Broder's clearly lost what little was left of his mind. There's nothing bipartisan about gridlock. As usual, Digby's way ahead of him, and me, on this:

They [Republicans] use their time out of power to grow their movement and one of the main ways they do this is by obstructing anything positive the Democrats want to do. They are organized around the principle of being insurgents --- outsiders --- victims. It is not in their interest to cooperate with Democrats.

Maybe Broder and Evan Thomas and the rest of the bipartisan brigade think that all of that is in the past and we can begin a new era of good feeling with the red and the blue bleeding into a lovely shade of mauve. But from where I sit, even with the best of intentions, the onus is on the Republicans to prove that after more than two decades of non-stop razing of decent political discourse and partisanship so fierce they are willing to take down the government if necessary, they are finally willing to work with Democrats to "get things done."

I don't think they're there yet, do you?

Bipartisan Zombies

Digby then showed this graphic from McClatchy:

I don't know if they kept to that breathtaking pace or not, but they've obstructed far more bills than any other opposition ever has in the Senate. How many times has Harry Reid, the Democratic Majority Leader called them on this tactic? Once. Just once, in all that time. Reid, for reasons best known to himself, decided to let this happen without a fight. Presumably, he felt that was the way to break that gridlock thing. As anyone with the least bit of sense could have predicted, that didn't work out too well.

And yet Broder, the raving little putz, seems to think that there's a bipartisan problem. I'll let Digby handle that one:

Isn't it funny that these people were nowhere to be found when George W. Bush seized office under the most dubious terms in history, having been appointed by a partisan supreme court majority and losing the popular vote? If there was ever a time for a bunch of dried up, irrelevant windbags to demand a bipartisan government you'd think it would have been then, wouldn't you? (How about after 9/11, when Republicans were running ads saying Dems were in cahoots with Saddam and bin Laden?) But it isn't all that surprising. They always assert themselves when the Democrats become a majority; it's their duty to save the country from the DFH's [Dirty Fucking Hippies] who are far more dangerous than Dick Cheney could ever be.

Bipartisan Zombies

These guys were nowhere to be seen while the Republicans didn't even allow amendments by the opposition in the House, for twelve smegging years. Yet, when the Democrats decided to retain those rules for a few days to get the budget passed after the Republican Congress had been unable to pass it for four months, the only thing you heard from these guys was how unfair it was that the Democrats used their own rules against them to finally get the government unstuck. In short, they got past the gridlock. The Broders only come out when it looks like the progressives might take charge.

To me, their dishonesty is so patently obvious that it's depressing. This is all going on in Broder's town, on Broder's beat. There's no way he couldn't be aware of it, short of some sort of very selective case of amnesia.

Yet there are folks, if this crew of snake oil salesmen is any indication lots of them, who seem to think that this sort of discussion is reasonable. In fact, science fiction writer Orson Scott Card has written a book based on this ridiculous idea. I think these people need to sit down for a while, shut up, and read something about American history. Whether it has to do with slavery, the gold standard, Social Security, or workers' rights, this has always been a country that has seen bitter divisions. Yet, in the end, we managed to work out compromises that worked more-or-less acceptably. Even in the case of slavery, that compromise lasted for almost a century before it erupted in a war that seems inevitable in retrospect.

That's how we do things here - we argue, we fight, loudly, boisterously, and often to the great annoyance of those uninterested in the outcome. In the end, though, we figure out how to work things out. Frankly, that's mostly because there are always people who'll do whatever they can get away with, and the rest of us inevitably have to stop them. Right now, those people are winning, and people like Broder just enable them.

If you don't like partisanship, I suggest you move to Russia, Saudi Arabia, or Pakistan. They don't have problems with partisanship there. Not for long, anyway. It's nice and peaceful in cemeteries. Nobody argues with your ideas there, no matter how unfair, sadistic, or insane they might be.

Meanwhile, I'll stick with the living.

Friday, December 28, 2007

A Sense Of Perspective

Image credit: The Pennsylvania State University

It's amazing that this lesson comes from the world of football, where so much attention is paid to a game that mostly involves large people pushing each other around in the mud, but nevertheless, it does.

My alma mater's football coach, Joe Paterno, is eighty-one years old, and has coached the team since long before I entered Penn State. He's also one of the true class acts in sports. The other day, someone at Texas A & M, whom PSU will be playing in the Alamo Bowl tomorrow, made a rather unkind remark:

SAN ANTONIO - Texas A&M apologized to Penn State after a student leader mocked Joe Paterno by telling a crowd that the 81-year-old coach needs “a casket.”

Yell leader said at Alamo rally that Penn State coach ‘on his death bed’

Paterno's response was succinct, as usual:

“I think everybody has to take things with a grain of salt,” Paterno said. “Some young guy went up there, trying to be funny. Maybe he’s accurate, I don’t know.”

Yell leader said at Alamo rally that Penn State coach ‘on his death bed’

In a week that's seen the usual craziness over a holiday that's supposed to be about charity and giving, and ended with one of the world's largest country's political leaders being assassinated, maybe we all need a reminder not to sweat the small stuff. And sometimes that perspective requires that one have a sense of humor about oneself.

Thanks, JoePa.

UPDATE (Dec. 29): As the New York Times observes, Joe Paterno had the last laugh:

[W]ith the Nittany Lions trailing by two touchdowns after the first quarter of Saturday’s Alamo Bowl, it did not appear that the Aggies would be so easily dismissed. Then Penn State scored 24 of the game’s next 27 points on the way to 24-17 victory before 66,166 fans at the Alamodome.

The victory came in the 81-year-old Paterno’s 500th game as Penn State’s coach and was his 23rd win in 34 bowl games. He is the career leader in bowl victories.

Paterno Has Last Laugh Against Texas A&M

Congratulations on number 500, Joe. Believe me, I'd be writing that even if I were an A & M fan.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Benazir Bhutto Assassinated

Image credit: Wikipedia; IFaqeer

[updated Dec. 28]

From Forbes:


Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was shot dead Thursday at a political rally by an attacker who then set off a blast that left 20 others dead.

In a year of increasing violence in Pakistan, Bhutto returned home from exile in October to contest parliamentary elections. Analysts said the viability and legitimacy of the Jan. 8 elections have dimmed with her death.

Pakistan's Bhutto Assassinated

That last sentence, to me, is an understatement. Bhutto was a charismatic and influential figure. There's certainly been doubt about her ability to be independent of the military, which in Pakistan controls not only the principle armed force in the country, but also runs much of the economy. Nevertheless, as an opposition voice she must have been valuable.

I don't know much about Pakistan, but I knew who Benazir Bhutto was. That fact alone should give you some idea how important she was there.

SusanUnPC over at No Quarter has republished statements from our own Presidential candidates on this event. Senator Joe Biden has probably summed things up best:

Biden: “This is a terrible day. My heart goes out to Benazir Bhutto’s family, friends and followers.

“Like her father before her, Benazir Bhutto worked her whole life – and gave her life – to help Pakistan become a democratic, secular and modern Muslim country. She was a woman of extraordinary courage who returned to Pakistan in the face of death threats and even after an assassination attempt the day of her return, she did not flinch. It was a privilege to know her these many years and to call her a friend.

“I am convinced Ms. Bhutto would have won free and fair elections next week. The fact that she was by far Pakistan’s most popular leader underscores the fact that there is a vast, moderate majority in Pakistan that must have a clear voice in the system. Her assassination makes it all the more urgent that Pakistan return to a democratic path.

As the Forbes article notes, blame has quickly been cast on Pakistani President Musharraf:

Blame for the assassination was quickly cast on Musharraf’s government.

“Everyone is saying that this army has killed Benazir. There is going to be more bloodshed,” Asma Jehangir, chairperson of the Pakistan Human Rights Commission, told news media. Spokespersons for Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party accused the army of not providing adequate security for her.

Pakistan's Bhutto Assassinated

This act has certainly made Musharraf's political future much brighter, at least for the moment. How all this will play out, I have no idea. For that kind of information, Juan Cole's a good guy to turn to:

The Pakistani authorities are blaming Muslim militants for the assassination. That is possible, but everyone in Pakistan remembers that it was the military intelligence, or Inter-Services Intelligence, that promoted Muslim militancy in the two decades before September 11 as a wedge against India in Afghanistan and Kashmir. The Pakistan People's Party (PPP) faithful will almost certainly blame Pervez Musharraf, and sentiment here is more important than reality, whatever the reality may be. The PPP is one of two very large, long-standing grassroots political parties in Pakistan, and if its followers are radicalized by this event, it could lead to severe turmoil. Just a day before her assassination Benazir had pledged that the PPP would not allow the military to rig the upcoming January 8 parliamentary elections.


The military government of Pervez Musharraf was shaken by two big crises in 2007, one urban and one rural. The urban crisis was his interference in the rule of law and his dismissal of the supreme court chief justice. The Pakistani middle class has greatly expanded in the last seven years, as others have noted, and educated white collar people need a rule of law to conduct their business. Last June 50,000 protesters came out to defend the supreme court, even thought the military had banned rallies. The rural crisis was the attempt of a Neo-Deobandi cult made up of Pushtuns and Baluch from the north to establish themselves in the heart of the capital, Islamabad, at the Red Mosque seminary.

Pakistan's 2007 Crises Come to a Crescendo;
Benazir Assassinated

[emphasis mine; link from original]

All of which is enough to make one suspicious that even if Musharraf wasn't the one who made this happen, someone in the government probably did. Both the ISI and the military had reasons to want her out of the way. It's also possible, I suppose, that Islamists were responsible. That bunch of mysoginists are bound to be none too pleased with the idea that a woman would be running their country. Still, as Prof. Cole, wrote, there's a close relationship between the radicals and certain elements in the Pakistani government.

Cole's associate Manan Ahmed writes:

Riots are being reported in various cities. Rawalpindi is in chaos. Cable and cell phone services has been suspended in most of the country. Rumors are flying of curfews. No word from Musharraf, yet.

Benazir Bhutto, 1953-2007

Sounds like rocky times are ahead in Pakistan. It's certainly a sad day. That's particularly true for Pakistan, not only for what they've lost, but for what it says about how things go for anyone who stands up to those in power there.

UPDATE (Dec. 28): Lotus offers a Who's Who in Pakistan for those not familiar with the subject.

Via Kevin Hayden, I found an article written about Bhutto a couple of months ago called Be careful of Pakistan's 'Ms. Liberty'. While it's mainly a collection of impressions and rumors, it does suggest that there was more to Benazir than met the eye. That's often how things are in politics.

Looseheadprop offers this anecdote about Benazir Bhutto as a young woman.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Thought For The Day

Thought for the day, courtesy of Bustednuckles:

If you can read this ... [t]hen you have survived yet another Christmas in the Bush era.
Pat yourself on the back.

Yep. Could be worse. We could all be as poorly educated as Bush's remaining supporters, or what we like to refer to as the shadowy side of the bell curve.

Where Does The Money Go?

Image credit: The Oxford [Mississippi] Heritage Society (see Note 1)

Quite a few folks who celebrate Christmas are no doubt asking themselves this question about now - Where does the money go? If you're Mississippi attorney Dickie Scruggs, you'll be glad to know someone's been keeping track.

Over at her blog Folo, Lotus has been doing a great job of keeping up with the tale of Scrugg's legal woes. I commend you to her for those details. But what I've found fascinating this morning is something she just threw in at the end of a story.

One of the things we've noticed over the years about campaign financing is that many big givers give to both parties. Scruggs and his co-defendants appear to have a pattern of giving that I find particularly odd:

Even though the North Dakota Republicans are taking aim, Scruggs hasn’t donated just to Democratic causes. He’s on record giving $2,000 to the Mississippi Republican Party in 2002; $2,000 to Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Arlen Specter in 2004; $2,300 to the Republican Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign in 2007; $5,000 to Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran’s Senate Victory Fund PAC in 2003; and $2,000 to Florida Republican Sen. Connie Mack in 2004. Part of his joint fundraising contributions – $4,200 – went to Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins’ campaign.

First District Rep. Roger Wicker of Tupelo also has benefited from the Scruggs’ weal, the FEC database shows.

Scruggs’ troubles spur political finger-pointing

Altogether, the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, Scruggs has given $163,450 since 2000. So, at least $38K of that apparently went to Republicans, despite Scruggs' reputation as a Democratic fundraiser.

While most of the folks he's given to are "moderates", rhetorically, at least, they sure don't seem to have any other connection to each other. Perhaps a look at their records would shed some light, but I don't think they've been especially resistant to "tort reform", the rubric for limiting how much corporations can be punished for malfeasance, fraud, and negligence. Presumably, Scruggs' interest would be in trying to limit that effort.

One of Scruggs' co-defendants, former Mississippi state auditor Steven Patterson also gave to Republicans:

Patterson, a long-time Democratic operative, is not without his GOP favors: $1,000 to Kentucky Sen. Jim Bunning’s campaign and $250 to Indiana Rep. Mark Souder.

Scruggs’ troubles spur political finger-pointing

You have to wonder at these choices, particularly Bunning. I realize the pickings are mighty slim on the Right side of the aisle these days, but I'm sure I could have picked a better candidate to support than Bunning, whose mind seems to have died along with his fastball.

A quick survey of this report(PDF) by Common Cause and Tobacco-Free Kids Action Fund shows that both Democrats and Republicans have received contributions from one of Scruggs' nemeses, the tobacco industry. The list of Congressmen who have received funding from this group is depressingly long, and seems to include the majority. Both Republicans and Democrats, incidentally are among those who have received no contributions. Clearly, for this lobby at least, influence can be peddled on both sides of the aisle.

Wonder why your cable rates are so high, and the service so bad? This quote from a Common Cause paper explains:

Since 1991, big cable has given $13.8 million to congressional candidates, nearly $7.7 million to Republicans and a little more than $6 million to Democrats. In addition, since 1998, the first year for which federal records were available, major cable interests spent more than $92 million lobbying in Washington.

Ask Yourself Why ... Cable Rates Got So High

[emphasis mine]

Anyone who recalls last year's debate on Net Neutrality knows just how little difference it makes if your legislator is a Democrat or a Republican. On this issue, the support cuts across party lines.

This is why I keep saying that fixing what's wrong with government isn't about electing Democrats. It has to be primarily about electing good people. If we don't improve the quality of the people in office, and clean up the elections process, then just changing the brand won't change very much at all.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Shuttle Launch Update: Fuel Sensor Problem Isolated

Image credit: NASA/George Shelton

The caption reads: Space shuttle Atlantis stands on Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Now that it's Christmas Eve, no doubt you're wondering what's been going on with the space shuttle launch that was delayed due to problems with a fuel sensor, right? As it turns out, they're still working on it.

The fueling test NASA performed last Tuesday revealed a problem with a feed-through connector:

During today's tanking test, sensors 2 and 3 showed open circuit failure indications for a few seconds before returning to normal operation. Sensor 1 failed shortly thereafter and stayed that way for the duration of the test. Sensor 2 worked properly throughout the tanking test but sensor 3 failed several hours after recovering from its initial open circuit indication.

The wiring to all four ECO sensors, as well as the 5 percent level sensor, pass through the same feed-through connector.

"Today we had problems on three of those sensors and we captured the data," Hale said. "And the data is indicating we have a problem at what we call the feed-through connector that leads the wires from the inside of the liquid hydrogen tank in the cryogenic fluid to the exterior of the tank. That's a multi-part connector and our time domain reflectometry instrumentation has indicated that is where our open circuits are occurring at these very cold temperatures.

Atlantis fueling test points to source of sensor trouble

Time domain reflectometry is radar for wiring - send precisely timed electrical pulses down a wire, and what is reflected back tells you where breaks and discontinuities exist in the conductor. In this case, it found a break at the feed-through connector that leads from the external sensor processors to the sensors themselves.

A feed-through connector is a device that leads electrical signals from a cable into the interior of an enclosed space.

NASA's shuttle mission site reports today:

Foam removal operations are scheduled to be completed over the weekend at NASA's Kennedy Space Center as part of the plan to remedy failed readings on space shuttle Atlantis' fuel sensor system. The foam is being removed from a small section of Atlantis' external fuel tank so technicians can get to a pass-through electrical connector that testing pinpointed as the likely source of the sensor issue.

Shuttle Mission Main Page, Dec. 21, 2007

Damaris Sarria, who works at Cape Canaveral for Boeing and has a blog called How I Am Becoming An Astronaut, writes:

[A]t least now we know that the cause from the last couple of scrubs was due to a critical three-part "feed-through" connector. The feed-through connector leads the wires that carries the sensor data from the inside of the liquid hydrogen tank in the cryogenic fluid to the exterior of the tank. We're hoping to find out today how long it would take to fix this issue.

The Infamous Feed-Through Connector ...

The problem with these feed-throughs is that they're in parts, and that some of those parts are at very different temperatures at various times in a mission. To the left is a NASA drawing of such a feed-through larger version here. Before the tank is filled, all parts are at ambient temperature. As the tank is filled with liquid hydrogen and oxygen, the interior is chilled to something like -200 degrees. The outside part will remain at ambient, and will cool more gradually. Meanwhile, the cases the feed-throughs are mounted on will also be changing temperatures, and so will be contracting and distorting their shapes somewhat. As you can see from the drawing, that means the parts connected to one case will be rotated, possibly to the point where the electrical connections no longer meet. Just imagine the dark gray section shifting up or down relative to the light gray section and you'll get the idea. Now imagine that at the same time the electrical leads (in yellow) are also getting shorter, since they are also getting colder, and you'll understand why this thing could go bad.

The good news is that they've found the problem. The bad news is that they have to figure out how to fix it by January 10:

NASA mission managers will meet on Dec. 27 to further discuss plans to fix the fuel sensor system that postponed two launch attempts for mission STS-122 in early December.

The next opportunity to launch Atlantis will occur no earlier than Jan. 10.

Shuttle Mission Main Page, Dec. 21, 2007

Sarria mentions that this launch window closes on January 13, so there isn't much time.

To repair the connector, or even to reach it, is not a simple task:

By the end of the weekend, foam will be removed from around a suspect feed-through connector near a strut on the aft of Atlantis' external tank. Diagnostic tests Tuesday indicated the connector caused intermittent low-fuel sensor readings that scrubbed launch attempts on Dec. 6 and 9.

Foam being removed to reach connector

The link has a photo of someone cutting through shuttle tank insulation, just to give you an idea. Spaceflight Now elaborates:

The connector in question can be accessed at the launch pad but how much time it might take to replace suspect components will depend on whether the fault is found to be inside or outside the tank.

"Some timelines have been developed to change out those parts that can be reached from the outside, and they are on the order of a week to 10 days kind of work," [shuttle Program Manager Wayne] Hale said. "However, the part that's difficult to get to is the socket connector on the inside of the tank and that would be more invasive. You would have to go inside the tank through the manhole cover we've got at the bottom or some other access point and that obviously would be a longer-term operation."

Atlantis fueling test points to source of sensor trouble

I'm sure that what they'll be discussing at the Dec. 27 meeting will include whether the connector design is reliable enough to trust it in another launch attempt, or whether they can test it before they fill the tank to ensure that it will be reliable. At least, those are the questions I'd be asking.

On a much sadder note, International Space Station astronaut Dan Tani's mother was killed in a car-train crash last Wednesday. My sympathies go out to him and his family. I know it's tough being away when these things happen.

UPDATE (Dec. 26): When I read this sentence that I wrote here:

The problem with these feed-throughs is that they're in parts, and that some of those parts are at very different temperatures at various times in a mission.

I can't help but cringe. To somoene who doesn't work with these things, it might seem that I'm saying that the fact that the feed-throughs are in separate parts is a design flaw. I want to emphasize that's not so. It's just part of the problem that the designers have to address. The thing must of necessity be made of separate parts, each of which has its own rate of heat expansion or contraction, and will contract or expand in its own direction. That's the problem.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

New 9/11 Debunking Video Released

Screw Loose Change notes a new video by Mark Roberts. It carefully explains why the idea that the World Trade Center was demolished using controlled explosive demolition, is, without trying to put too fine a point on it, fracking nuts. It explains how controlled demolition is done, what it looks like, and why it couldn't possibly have been used in the manner that the raving half-witsthe "truthers" say it was.

The image is a screen shot from the movie. It's a construction worker cutting a beam so that explosives can be placed on it prior to demolition. You'd think someone would have noticed these guys working in the WTC, wouldn't you?

So, watch it. Enjoy. Even if you don't learn anything you'll have seen lots of explosions.

Richard Dawkins To Tour Bible Belt

According to The Independent, Oxford biology professor Richard Dawkins will be touring the Bible Belt next year to promote his book The God Delusion:

Richard Dawkins, the scourge of pseudo-science, Christianity and homeopathy, is to step up his campaign for rational thinking with a series of high-profile lectures deep in the heart of the American Bible Belt.

The Oxford University professor travels to the US next year as part of his battle to promote evolutionary theory in the face of a backlash against the concept in the world's most-advanced industrial nation.

Dawkins to lecture in US Bible Belt

By my count, that's at least two religions he's up against, and maybe three. It mostly depends whether you consider pseudo-science a religion or just a sign that someone's taken religion too far.

He has said that it is in the US, where 50 per cent of the population believes the universe is less than 10,000 years old, that the Enlightenment is most threatened.

Dawkins to lecture in US Bible Belt

I guess the spectacle of two Presidential candidates debating whether Christ and Satan are brothers on national TV might have clued him into that, if he wasn't aware already. I've mentioned before how scary Republican debates have been for rationalists lately. Dawkins isn't getting here a moment too soon.

However, he said he did not expect audiences to be too tough on his atheist beliefs and that many thanked him for speaking out. "The Bible Belt is a lot less monolithic than it portrays itself. I have a feeling that there is rather a large groundswell of people who agree with me," he said.

Dawkins to lecture in US Bible Belt

There is, although I think that just makes the bigots all the more vocal. This isn't Dawkins' first tour of the Bible Belt. He toured the U.S. in 2006 and 2007 to promote the book, as well. The image above is from a lecture at the University of Kansas.

I wish him luck. I'd hate to think the Enlightenment was coming to an end so soon.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Do They Know It's Christmas Time?

[Updated December 24]
[Updated December 23]

In case you don't recognize it, that's the title of a song from a charity event called Band Aid back in 1984. That's the cover of their twentieth anniversary single, by the way. Part of the first stanza is:

But say a prayer - pray for the other ones
At Christmas time, it's hard, but when you're having fun
There's a world outside your window
And it's a world of dreaded fear
Where the only water flowing is a bitter sting of tears
And the Christmas bells that ring there are the clanging chimes of doom

Well tonight thank God it's them instead of you

Do They Know It's Christmas Time Lyrics by Band Aid

Here are just a few things people less fortunate than we are doing this Christmas, and a little that you can do to help.

First, in Iraq, our soldiers are learning to cope with new rules for convoys. In the past, they were allowed to rule the road - warning Iraqis driving near them to get off the road, and even shooting at them on occasion. Now that the violence has ebbed there a bit, they have been issued new orders:

CAMP TAJI, Iraq — In the first month that they were in Iraq, someone threatened, shot at or tried to blow up the soldiers of the Kentucky National Guard's B Battery, 2nd Battalion, 138th Field Artillery 12 times. Last month, there were only three such incidents.

But confirmation that the roads have become safer came a few weeks ago when a flier went up in the 2-138's office at this base 20 miles north of Baghdad.

"Effective immediately," it read, "assume all civilian vehicles are friendly."

The order admonished soldiers throughout Iraq to yield to civilian drivers, allow vehicles to pass and avoid firing their weapons as they escorted convoys of concrete barriers, generators, water and food to U.S. military outposts.

U.S. convoys struggle to adjust to policy change

Now, both our soldiers and Iraqi drivers are having to sort out the new rules:

On the road, most civilian drivers still pulled over, darkened their lights and made room for the long stretches of U.S. military vehicles. Soldiers of the 2-138 followed orders and used their spotlights to urge them back onto the road.

"You have to change your whole mindset," said Little, a bank employee from Radcliff, Ky., who holds a degree in anthropology. "Makes you a little nervous."

U.S. convoys struggle to adjust to policy change

The Iraqis now have to decide if they want to share the road with people who were shooting at them a month ago. The soldiers have to worry that they're sharing the road with someone driving a car bomb. I don't envy either group.

Even though they're well equipped, there are many things our soldiers in Iraq don't have. One thing is a way to phone home. Working Asset's CREDO is accepting donations for calling cards for wounded veterans. They might not get the cards by Christmas if you order them now, but as someone once said, the spirit of giving shouldn't be confined to one day a year. See UPDATE

[ is still accepting donations for phone cards for the holidays.]

What about the soldiers who have come back from Iraq? As Joe Galloway wrote a couple of weeks ago, some of them might be sleeping on a steam grate:

Consider this:

* An average of 18 veterans commit suicide each and every day of the year, according to recent statistics from the Veterans Administration (VA). That’s 126 veterans who kill themselves every week. Or some 6,552 who take their own lives each year. Our veterans are killing themselves at twice the rate of other Americans.

* One quarter of the homeless people in America are military veterans. That’s one in every four. Is that ragged man huddled on the steam grate in a brutal winter wind a Vietnam vet? Did that younger man panhandling for pocket change on the street corner fight in Kandahar or Fallujah?

For the past four years, the Department of Veterans Affairs has been insisting that it’s doing everything it needs to for the nation’s veterans. That's simply not true, particularly when it comes to the VA's treatment of mental health issues.

The disgraceful treatment of our veterans

I've written about these issues before and so have numerous others, but this is something that these veterans live with every day. Galloway sums this situation up eloquently:

The same people who don’t blink at spending $3 billion a week on their war of choice in Iraq were the ones who cut the VA budget and privatized maintenance at Walter Reed Army Hospital and opposed every attempt to expand benefits for veterans old and young.

They're the same people who turned a blind eye as their corporate sponsors and private donors looted billions of dollars from the Treasury with no-compete contracts and bloated bills for everything from food for the troops to fuel for their tanks and trucks.

As a wave of wounded troops suffering brain injuries from the blasts of roadside bombs and landmines poured into military hospitals, these people, posing as fiscally responsible budget makers, were cutting in half the money spent on research into brain injuries.

These frauds who love to pose as wartime leaders sat back and did nothing as a cruel bureaucracy sent bill collectors out to harass double amputee veterans for thousands of dollars because they neglected to turn their armored vests and other gear in to the supply sergeant after they were blown apart on the battlefield.

The disgraceful treatment of our veterans

Of course, since Galloway wrote this, Congress has chucked another $70 billion into the black hole that is our campaign in Iraq, with no preconditions. To quote my favorite Air Force colonel at his most sarcastic, "Thanks for putting up a struggle, guys."

Meanwhile, the Iraqis have suffered in even greater numbers. The number of refugees, according to Juan Cole, has grown in just the past few months:

How the US 'surge' drove almost one million Iraqis to Syria last spring and summer is a great mystery, and casts severe doubt on its political success. A significant proportion of these one million Surge Victims appear to have been Baghdad Sunnis, since from January of 2007 through July 2007 the US military admits that Baghdad went from being 65% Shiite to being 75% Shiite. Since another 500,000 left between July and October, depending on what proportion of those were Sunnis, Baghdad could now be even more than 3/4s Shiite.

Surge Exiled One Million Iraqis to Syria where they Face Starvation

A U.N. report Prof. Cole cited on Iraqi refugees who have fled to Syria says that of the sample interviewed, 78% of them came from Baghdad. It also says that among the interviewees, 5% of the members of their households they reported on to the U.N. in 2003 are now missing or dead. Of those that are dead, 78% of them were murdered.

Unfortunately, I know of no charities set up to help Iraqi refugees. As I've explained before, the security situation in Iraq has made it almost impossible to help those still in the country. Giving to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) may help, but then again it may not.

Speaking of refugees, nothing's gotten any better for the Sudanese refugees. Talks, thanks to a lack of motivation on the part of the Sudanese government, a cease fire is looking very unlikely at this point:

18 December 2007 – A senior United Nations envoy has issued an appeal for all sides to the Darfur conflict to cease their hostilities on the eve of the deployment of a hybrid UN-African Union peacekeeping force (UNAMID) to try to quell the violence and suffering in the war-wracked region of western Sudan.

Rodolphe Adada, the AU-UN Joint Special Representative for Darfur and the head of mission of AMIS, the current AU mission to the region, launched the appeal yesterday after holding talks with a senior Sudanese Government official in Khartoum.

Mr. Adada said a cessation of hostilities would help create an environment conducive to the success of the peace process between the Government and the many rebel groups in Darfur, where they have been fighting since 2003.

Darfur: UN envoy calls for cessation of hostilities on eve of force deployment

The deployment of the U.N. peacekeeping force is being obstructed by them as well.

You can help, by ordering a Berkeley cookstove through The Hunger Site. Twenty dollars will buy a cookstove for a Sudanese refugee family. It won't get there by Christmas, of course, but, well, we covered that already.

If none of these charities appeal to you, The Hunger Site has a whole list of things you can give that you don't have to wrap and give to someone who doesn't want it. Have a look.

Meanwhile, as Band Aid said, be thankful you can give these people your time or money, and you're not the people who need the help.

Happy Holidays.

UPDATE: Knew I should have checked that link - the CREDO calling card program has been discontinued. According to the page I was redirected to, The VA administration let us know that they cannot accept any more cards at this time. Thanks to everyone that donated to make this project a success. I've removed that link. I'll try to find a replacement.

UPDATE 2: Added a link to UNICEF.

UPDATE 3 (Dec. 23): I need to read my e-mail more often. I received this from the other day:

It's inspiring—in less than 24 hours, MoveOn members like you have given over $250,000 to help our troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, and around the world call home. Men and women who are separated from their families this holiday season will be a little closer thanks to your generosity.

They are still accepting donations for phone cards for the holidays. It's something that the soldiers over there will really appreciate.

UPDATE 4 (Dec. 23): I haven't found any good links for aid to veterans - there are plenty of them, but I don't know of any I could recommend personally. Veterans for Peace provides a resource page of organizations that are concerned with helping veterans adjust to civilian life, help them in their dealings with the government, and to help homeless veterans. There's plenty to investigate there.

Meanwhile, CREDO, who ran the phone card drive for veterans I mentioned earlier, wrote this in their blog recently:

They are lying in beds, two to three to a room. Many have no use of their limbs. One young man paralyzed from a combat injury in Iraq used a computer through a device attached to his forehead. Photos of his young son covered a wall next to his bed. Still, as a group of donors and staff from CREDO Mobile moved through the spinal-cord injury ward at the VA Hospital in Palo Alto, the military veterans were cheerful, polite and all smiles.

We were there to deliver calling cards to military veterans. Hundreds of other volunteers fanned out across the country in person (and other hospitals received cards by Federal Express) so veterans can call home and connect with their families over the holidays. Through its donation-based program, CREDO Mobile ( has partnered with Veterans For Peace to distribute long distance calling cards to military veterans at 150 VA hospitals nationwide. CREDO Mobile and Veterans For Peace have raised over $100,000 to distribute 30,000 cards this year, totaling 3.5 million minutes of talk time.

Veterans in California Appreciate the Support

We already covered that bit about charity not being a Christmas-only thing, right?

UPDATE 5 (Dec. 24): Just in time, Taylor Marsh found a charity that aids wounded veterans. It's Operation First Response. Presidential candidate Bill Richardson sent out an appeal on their behalf, so I think we can assume it's legit.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Happy Solstice

This is a picture of sunrise over Strangford Lough, Ireland. It looks a little like it does in my neck of the woods this time of year. Image credit: Photos from Ireland

Nearly every major religion has a celebration this time of year - Jews have Hanukkah, Buddhists have Sanghamitta, and Christians have Christmas. What we're really all celebrating, though, is that the days will start getting longer soon. Tomorrow, or late tonight depending where you live, is the Winter Solstice. As Infoplease explains:

Sat., Dec. 22, 2007, 1:08 A.M. EST (06:08 UT), marks the solstice—the beginning of winter in the Northern Hemisphere and summer in the Southern Hemisphere

In astronomy, the solstice is either of the two times a year when the Sun is at its greatest distance from the celestial equator, the great circle on the celestial sphere that is on the same plane as the earth's equator. In the Northern Hemisphere, the winter solstice occurs either December 21 or 22, when the sun shines directly over the tropic of Capricorn; the summer solstice occurs either June 21 or 22, when the sun shines directly over the tropic of Cancer. In the Southern Hemisphere, the winter and summer solstices are reversed.

Winter Solstice

Pagans and other religions celebrated the winter solstice because the days stopped getting shorter:

Astronomical events, which during ancient times allowed for the scheduling of mating, sowing of crops and metering of winter reserves between harvests, show how various cultural mythologies and traditions have arisen. On the night of Winter Solstice, as seen from a northern sky, the three stars in Orion's belt align with the brightest star in the Eastern sky Sirius to show where the Sun will rise in the morning after Winter Solstice. Until this time, the Sun has exhibited since Summer Solstice a decreasing arc across the Southern sky. On Winter Solstice, the Sun ceased to decline in the sky and the length of daylight reaches its minimum for three days. At such a time, the Sun begins its ascent and days grow longer. Thus the interpretation by many cultures of a sun reborn and a return to light. This return to light is again celebrated (at the vernal equinox, when the length of day equals that of night.

The solstice itself may have remained a special moment of the annual cycle of the year since neolithic times. This is attested by physical remains in the layouts of late Neolithic and Bronze Age archaeological sites like Stonehenge in Britain and Brú na Bóinne (New Grange) in Ireland. The primary axes of both of these monuments seem to have been carefully aligned on a sight-line framing the winter solstice sunrise (New Grange)and the winter solstice sunset (Stonehenge). The winter solstice may have been immensely important because communities were not assured to live through the winter, and had to be prepared during the previous nine months. Starvation was common in winter between January to April, also known as the famine months. In temperate climates, the midwinter festival was the last feast celebration, before deep winter began.

Wikipedia: Winter Solstice

The farther north you live, the more you have to celebrate. In the Pacific Northwest, the days are only eight and a half hours long this time of year. There's not much opportunity to walk in the sunshine, even on days when it's not raining.

There are, of course, lots of Christians who seem to think they invented the holiday. That's not quite true:

Christmas or Christ's Mass is one of most popular Christian celebrations as well as one of the most globally recognized midwinter celebrations. Christmas is the celebration of the birth of the God Incarnate or Messiah, Yeshua of Nazareth, later known as Jesus Christ. The birth is observed on December 25th, what was the winter solstice upon establishment of the Julian Calendar in 45 BC. Banned by the Catholic Church in its infancy as a pagan, or non-Abrahamic, practice stemming out of the Sol Invictus celebrations, Christians revitalized its recognition as an authentic Christian festival in various cultures within the past several hundred years, preserving much of the folklore and traditions of local pagan festivals. So today, the old festivals such as Jul, Коледа and Karácsony, are still celebrated in many parts of Europe, but the Christian Nativity is now often representational of the meaning. This is why Yule and Christmas are considered interchangeable in Anglo-Christendom.

Wikipedia: Winter Solstice

The first war on Christmas, in other words, was waged by Christians. Actually, I think it was the only war on Christmas, but some morons disagree.

It's a special day. No matter how you choose to celebrate it, Happy Holidays.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Pulling Out All The Stops ...

Apparently, if you don't have a recent web browser, you needn't bother trying to enlist.

Over at his place, Eli was wondering why Tagg Romney's enlistment window was so small:

“At the time I would have joined the military…” Interesting. So, apparently - and I was not aware of this - there’s a very specific and narrow time window during which you can enlist. And if your services are not required at that time, well, that’s it for you, your chance to enlist is gone forever. Frankly, I’m a little surprised that none of the other young Republicans who didn’t serve have ever brought this fact up.

Feel The Taggmentum!

Suspecting that the window for enlistment was a bit longer than the first few months of a national emergency, I decided to try to find out what that window was by going to the Army's recruiting site. There, I was confronted with this message:

Please upgrade your Web Browser. is viewable using
Internet Explorer 5.0 and higher or
Netscape 7.0 and higher.

Apparently, it's really hard to join the Army these days. Not only is there a very short period of eligibility, but clearly only the most wired need apply.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Finally ...

It appears that my ISP finally found the right button to push, and my DSL is now working at full speed.

Meanwhile, Lotus has some new twists in the Dickie Scruggs saga. It appears the government has everyone on tape conspiring. Or so they say.

Meanwhile, if you haven't heard, the dreadful version of the FISA update bill that was before the Senate has been shelved, at least for now. This is largely due to the efforts of Chris Dodd, who deserves thanks and then some. His website is over here if you want to contribute to his campaign, or just say thank you for being one of the few Senators willing to live up to his oath of office.

UPDATE: Lotus has more about the evidence in the Scruggs case. To quote her: I don’t envy the lawyers who’ve taken on the defense of the Scruggs accuseds.

UPDATE: (Dec. 19): Added the words in italics to explain what the bill was before.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Stand Your Ground Award: Chris Dodd

It's not often we give one of these away. I much prefer giving the "Stand Your Ground" away to giving one of this award or this award. Sadly, so few politicians earn this one. Today, though, Chris Dodd stood up and was counted.

As Senator Dodd's campaign site explains:

Majority Leader Harry Reid has just pulled the FISA bill from consideration in this session. It will be brought up at some point next month.

Without Senator Dodd's leadership today, it is safe to assume that retroactive immunity would have passed.


Throughout the day Senator Dodd stood on the Senate floor and spoke out against the Bush administration's abuse of executive powers. He spoke out against granting retroactive immunity for telecom companies who helped the Bush administration spy on Americans without warrant - noting that if we grant immunity now, we may never know the full extent of what happened behind closed doors and what arguments were used to justify warrantless surveillance.

Constitution Protected...For Now

With little outward help from his fellow Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, Dodd stood up to this foolish bill. He has, with the help of many blogs, progressive groups, and previous SYG awardee Russ Feingold, shaken the Democratic "leadership" in Congress up enough that they've tabled the bill, at least for now.

I have no illusions that this is over, but it is a good sign. Hopefully, the pebbles will once again be allowed to vote.

(h/t Taylor Marsh)

UPDATE: Eli explains what would happen if we had a sane Congress:

I would love to see the Democrats now adopt a minimalist, take-it-or-leave-it position now, along the lines of, “Okay, Dubya, we’re going to pass a bill that resolves the foreign-to-foreign-via-the-US problem… and absolutely nothing else. If you don’t want to sign it, we’re perfectly happy to let the Protect America Act lapse in February, and we don’t think anyone will notice the difference. Your move, tough guy.”

FISA Update

That's about what should happen, but this Congress could screw up a sunny day. I think the best we can hope for is that they just forget what they were doing and go home.

UPDATE (Dec. 18): Matt Browner-Hamlin's blog at Sen. Dodd's website has several entries today about the FISA bill. Here he quotes the Senator as he was speaking on the floor of the Senate yesterday:

No more blowing through the laws. Not here. Not tonight. Not this member. Not on this bill. No more blowing through the bills. You don't get granted retroactive immunity - not as long as I can stand here and fight this. And I intend to do just that.

No More Blowing Through The Laws

Dodd spent ten hours on the floor yesterday to stop this thing. Without him, I think there's little doubt it would have passed.

In contrast to Senators Clinton and Obama, who have used their influence as candidates largely to bolster their own campaigns and have avoided taking difficult stands whenever possible, Dodd did something useful with his - he prevented a horrible bill from passing. Clinton and Obama had to be repeatedly goaded into making even tepid statements in support of this stand. That contrast alone makes this a special moment in what's been a very dark year.

As I've mentioned before, talk is often cheap in politics. Actions like Chris Dodd's, which back up those words, are the things that are really noteworthy.

What Does This Say About Us?

Image credit: Associated Press

While researching another issue, I ran across this in the New York Times:

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton apologized personally to Senator Barack Obama on Thursday for a top adviser’s public suggestion that Republicans would go after Mr. Obama for his youthful drug use.


William Shaheen, a co-chairman of Mrs. Clinton’s national and New Hampshire campaigns, told The Washington Post on Wednesday that the Republicans would probably go after Mr. Obama for having used marijuana and cocaine, indiscretions that he wrote about himself. Mr. Shaheen went on to suggest that Republicans would probably also question whether Mr. Obama ever shared drugs with others or was a dealer.


Mrs. Clinton, a Democrat from New York, apologized to Mr. Obama on Thursday morning when they ran into each other at Reagan National Airport in Washington as they were both headed to Iowa for the last Democratic debate before the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses.

Later in the day, Mr. Shaheen announced that he had quit the campaign.

Apologies From the Heart (of Darkness?)

As anyone who's read this blog for a while knows, I'm not a big fan of either Senator Clinton or Senator Obama. One might say, in fact, that there are at least a couple of people I'd rather see win the nomination. But what this says about us as voters, or about politicians' attitudes about us, is rather fascinating.

A short version of this question is "Are we really that stupid?"

Barack Obama didn't have the most ideal childhood. His father wasn't around very much, his mother seemingly a driven professional, and for a while young Barack was raised by his grandparents. I'm sure he had abandonment issues, at least on occasion. And while I can't cite statistics, my own experience would suggest that casual use of drugs was rather common among folks of our generation. That Obama was savvy and tough enough to avoid becoming a drug addict or a casualty is one of the few things that recommend him as a candidate.

What's more, Obama has admitted his use of drugs already. It's not going to have much potential as blackmail.

Why then do politicians think this is important? Is it really true that most voters don't remember what they or their acquaintances did when they were young? Why aren't we focusing a bit more on the character issues that matter, like whom these two candidates (and the others) are beholden to, and whether they've done their previous political jobs well and honestly?

Maybe the answer to those questions isn't something they want to contemplate.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Wrong Version of FISA Bill To Be Brought To Senate Floor

Image credit: National Archives

I received this e-mail today from Senator Chris Dodd's campaign:

Today, that FISA fight we've all been waiting for begins -- and it's time to separate the leaders from the capitulators.

In a few hours, Majority Leader Harry Reid will ask for something called a "motion to proceed" on FISA, effectively disregarding Chris Dodd's "hold" on the bill.

It's unfortunate that he chose to go this route, to introduce a bill including retroactive immunity when another route could have been chosen just as easily.

So ... that means Chris Dodd will start by introducing an amendment to strip retroactive immunity out of the bill.

But if that doesn't work, he will do all he can to stop this bill that threatens our security, and that may include a "filibuster."

Remember when this all started playing out? A lot of people rushed to send out strongly worded press releases about how committed they were to "supporting a filibuster."

They'll have a chance to show they are true to their word.

Call or email the Senators that pledged their opposition to this bill to support the Dodd Amendment and a filibuster if necessary. And ask them to be there with Dodd when it counts.

You don't demonstrate leadership in the footnotes of a press release, or parroting responses from focus groups.

Leadership is demonstrated through action.

Tim Tagaris

[bold emphasis mine]

I can't really make it any clearer. There are two version of this bill, one from the Intelligence committee, which is the one being brought to the Senate floor over Sen. Dodd's objections, includes both immunity for the telecoms that helped President Bush break the law, and "basket" warrants, which are basically no warrant at all. If all of this is new to you, click on the domestic surveillance keyword and read.

I'll be on the road tomorrow, and so cannot call my Senators about this development. If you value freedom, please contact yours and urge them to support this filibuster.

UPDATE: According to the Senate's website, the FISA amendment will be considered Monday, at 10:00 AM EST. Still time to call, especially if you're on the East Coast.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Shuttle Launch Delayed Until January

Image credit: NASA (hi-res version)

Caption: Space shuttle Atlantis stands on Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The shuttle's launch has been delayed until at least January 2. Meanwhile, according to CNN:

NASA will fill the space shuttle Atlantis' fuel tank next week in hopes of cracking a vexing fuel gauge problem that led to back-to-back launch delays, the agency said Tuesday.

The trouble could be anywhere in the 100 feet of wiring between the four gauges at the bottom of the fuel tank and the shuttle itself, in any of the connectors or even in the sensors themselves, said shuttle program manager Wayne Hale.

NASA to fill shuttle fuel tank

This is a big and costly operation. Sometimes, the only way to figure out why something is failing is to repeat the conditions exactly. This time, they'll be using some additional instrumentation, though:

A centerpiece of the evaluation is scheduled for Tuesday when technicians will fill Atlantis’ external fuel tank with liquid hydrogen and watch how the fuel sensors behave. Special instruments will be used to relay pulses through the wiring of the sensor system to pinpoint the location of the problem

NASA: Latest Shuttle News, Dec. 12, 2007 (no permalink)

Of course, even if they isolate the part that's the problem, they still have to figure out why it's failing:

At the same time, engineers will conduct other tests, mostly in laboratories, to try to figure out what is causing the gauges in Atlantis' tank to malfunction every time they're exposed to the super-cold liquid hydrogen that fuels the shuttle.

NASA to fill shuttle fuel tank

They've been looking into this problem for quite a while, and they still haven't sorted it out. It looks to me like it's going to be weeks before they figure out when they're going to launch.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Greenwald on Joe Klein and FISA

image credit: Parody cover by Cujo359

Glenn Greenwald refuses to let go of the disgraceful performance of Time magazine in the issue of Howie Klein and FISA. I can't say I blame him. Even by the pitiful standards of today's press, this is shameful. He wrote this from behind the curtain at Salon:

Sen. Russ Feingold submitted a letter to Time protesting the false statements in Klein's article. But Time refused to publish it. Sen. Feingold's spokesman said that the letter "was submitted to TIME very shortly after Klein's column ran but the letters department was about as responsive as the column was accurate."

Just to reveal how corrupt that behavior is, The Chicago Tribune -- which previously published the factually false excerpts of Klein's column and then clearly retracted them -- yesterday published Feingold's letter. As Feingold details -- but had to go to the Chicago Tribune's Letter section to do it -- "Klein calls the Democrats' position on reforming the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act 'well beyond stupid' but without getting his facts straight." Feingold also said that "Klein is also flat out wrong" in his false claims that there was some "bipartisan agreement" on a bill to vest "new surveillance powers" that House Democrats ignored.

Time magazine refused to publish responses to Klein's false smears

[emphasis and links from original]

It's difficult to imagine more boorish behavior than Time has already exhibited on this issue, but they seem determined to outdo themselves. As it turns out, not only had Sen. Feingold written them a letter, but so had Sen. Chris Dodd, as well as Reps. Rush Holt, John Conyers, and Sylvestre Reyes. Conyers and Reyes are chairmen of the Judiciary and Intelligence committees, respectively. All of them helped draft the legislation now before both chambers. Yet Time did not see fit to publish the letters of any of them.

As Greenwald relates, they also ignored the letters of a few other people:

at least 100 individuals wrote letters to Time's editors protesting Klein's article and responding to its claims. I know this because that's how many people (at least) cc'd me on their letters, forwarded them to me, and/or copied their Letters to the Editor in the Comment section here. Managing Editor Rick Stengel's voice mail and email box overflowed with responses.

Nonetheless, Time -- while publishing 15 separate letters on a whole array of topics in its print edition this week -- did not see fit to publish a single letter about the Klein falsehoods. At every step, they sought to hide from their readers -- and continue to hide from their readers -- just how outrageous and severe were Klein's false statements by suppressing all responses.

Time magazine refused to publish responses to Klein's false smears

[link from original]

Not to be outdone as a Republican shill, the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz also refused to answer any questions about le Affaire Jokeline:

Yesterday, at least 15 people submitted questions to Kurtz on the Time/Klein scandal -- again, I know this because that's how many people emailed me their questions or left them in comments -- and not a single one was chosen. Kurtz, however, found time to address multiple questions on such pressing matters as the new Don Imus Show and football.

Time magazine refused to publish responses to Klein's false smears

Glenn then posits that the content of this graphic may have something to do with it. As if CNN wasn't already doing its best to rid itself of all vestiges of journalism.

If there's any good news in all of this, it's that if you were under the impression that CNN was trying to imitate Fox "News", you can tell yourself you're not crazy. The alliance with the Republican propaganda organ Time, together with their behavior here, is certainly further evidence of that shift.

Since Greenwald's contributed quite a bit of verbiage to this article, I suppose he should get the last word on why all this matters:

Time published blatantly false statements from Klein, refused (and refuses) to retract them, and then bolstered those false claims with a further false claim that Klein had a solid basis for making them. Worse still, they refused to allow even a Senator and a Congressman on the Intelligence Committees -- who were the targets of Klein's smears -- to defend themselves and explain in Time why Klein's accusations were false.

And they (and their corporate minions such as Kurtz) are taking every step possible to ensure that their readers never become aware of what happened. Is it time yet to hear more about how dangerous bloggers are because they operate with no standards?

Time magazine refused to publish responses to Klein's false smears

I can't help but agree.