Thursday, May 12, 2005

More NASA Cowardice. War On Drugs Update. Silly Superstitions for $400.

NASA Continues To Accept Lowered Expectations

The stagnation that has haunted the American space program since the mid-1970s continues with more mealy-mouthing by new NASA Administrator Michael Griffin.

Yahoo News excerpt:

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - NASA's new boss made an impassioned case Thursday for speeding up development of a new spacecraft so that the United States will not lose access to space when the shuttle is retired, but warned something else will have to be sacrificed.

Administrator Michael Griffin told a Senate subcommittee in Washington that to cover the cost of the shuttle replacement's accelerated debut, he may be forced to delay some space station and exploration research. "We can't do everything on our plate, and we have to have priorities and first things first," he said.

This is so goddamned typical of the way this country has dealt with the Final Frontier since the Apollo missions ended. We end up short-changing one program in favor of another one, and end up with compromises all around. A good example of this nonsense is the International Space Station. In the effort to squeeze every penny of funding for this important initiative we ended up with a huge orbiting ornament that has nowhere near the value it should have.

Done correctly, the ISS would serve multiple functions:
1. It would be a halfway point of delivery for spacecraft heading to the Moon and to other bodies in the Solar System. 2. It would also serve as a conduit for a well regulated space shuttle fleet to rotate scientists back and forth between Earth, the station and the Moon.
3. It would serve as a huge laboratory for conducting experiments and observations. Among these would be:
A. To observe the Sun's atmosphere.
B. To Observe the area around our planet for near-Earth asteroids.
C. To study the long-term affects of low gravity on humans.
And that's just off the top of my head!

But wait, there's more:

Griffin wants to fly the proposed new spacecraft as soon as possible once the space shuttle fleet is retired in 2010 — avoiding a four-year gap in which the United States would have no way to launch astronauts.

The current plan, which he inherited when he took over NASA last month, calls for the new vehicle to carry a crew into orbit by 2014 and be capable of traveling to the moon and Mars, with modifications, in the years beyond. Griffin said he finds that four-year launch gap unacceptable and hopes to have a plan for closing it by mid-July. The new crew exploration vehicle, or CEV, is a key part of President Bush's plan for returning astronauts to the moon by 2020.

Full story:

This is totally unacceptable. I was seven years old when Apollo 11 landed the first men on the Moon. This July that will have been 36 years ago, and we have little to show for it. The cheap Christmas toy of a space station is a joke. Sure, the Hubble Telescope has given us breathtaking views of the universe, but don't forget how we nearly fucked it up with shitty planning that resulted due to the very pussyfooting Griffin is proposing.

We should have at least a million people living on the Moon by now, with perhaps 100,000 living on Mars. In addition, we should have three permanent space stations in orbit in the Earth-Moon LaGrange points. Sound ambitious? Hell yes it is, but considering that we've been a space-faring nation, even with the recent compromised standards, for nearly 50 years, it stands to reason that we should already have made some progress in the areas I've detailed. Instead, it is sadly apparent that we have regressed in this vital area, and that we are likely to continue to do so as long as NASA is run by timid men like Griffin.

Perhaps the answer is to get billionaires like Bill Gates or Ted Turner involved with funding some of the projects I've discussed. That way, we'd be sure to eliminate certain members of Congress from the arena. Persons like the legendary William Proxmire, who, when representing Wisconsin, fought long and hard to gut NASA spending calling it wasteful, while accepting millions of dollars in dairy subsidy money that didn't do a thing to improve the lives of anyone for whom he claimed to stand. Mr. Gates, Mr. Turner, I eagerly await your correspondence to discuss some long-range plans...

FBI Nabs Troops, Officers in Drug Sting

The latest development in the War On Drugs gives us a case of corruption and smuggling that encompassed law enforcement personnel and some of our own soldiers.

Yahoo News excerpt:

TUCSON, Ariz. - Pretending to be cocaine traffickers, undercover FBI agents in Arizona snared 16 current and former law enforcement officers and U.S. soldiers who accepted more than $222,000 in bribes to help move the drugs past checkpoints, the government said Thursday.

Those charged include a former Immigration and Naturalization Service inspector, a former Army sergeant, a former federal prison guard, seven members of the Arizona Army National Guard, five members of the Arizona Department of Corrections and a police officer, officials said.

All 16 agreed to plead guilty to being part of a bribery and corruption conspiracy and were scheduled to enter pleas Thursday in federal court, said Noel Hillman, a Justice Department official.
Each faced a single conspiracy count carrying a maximum prison term of five years and a $250,000 fine, though all could be entitled to probation, Hillman said.

The defendants in the nearly 3 1/2-year-long sting were not arrested and agreed to cooperate with an investigation expected to bring more arrests and involve people from additional agencies, said Hillman and FBI Agent Jana D. Monroe, who is in charge of the bureau's operations in Arizona.

Hillman said the defendants drove cocaine shipments past checkpoints manned by the government while they wore official uniforms, carried identification and used official vehicles.

Full story:

So much for "To Protect And To Serve". This kind of thing is going to continue to occur as long as the types of drugs that were confiscated remain illegal. I'm not a drug user, but I favor legalization as a common sense answer to this problem that only seems to get worse every year.

By legalizing these drugs, we eliminate the black market effect and expose our economy to a HUGE amount of money that could be used to do an awful lot of things we need to be doing. Things like fully fund education for all students, provide universal health care coverage, pay down the nation's budget and trade deficits and ensure the viability of Social Security (above the level of solvency it currently enjoys, and is projected to provide).

Unfortunately, as long as drugs are viewed as a law enforcement issue rather than a medical one, we will continue to see countless lives ruined while crooked politicians, police and military personnel make illicit money off of the misery of those who become addicts.

I'll Take Silly Superstitions For $400 Alex.

Here's a bit a craziness from England by way of the Yahoo News Oddly Enough section:

LONDON (Reuters) - A schoolgirl told a British court Thursday she was put into a laundry bag and was going to be thrown from a third-floor apartment window into a river by her mother and aunt who thought she was a witch.

Prosecutors say the girl, brought to London from Angola by a woman claiming to be her mother, had been regularly abused by members of her family after they had become convinced she was putting curses on members of her family.

The court has heard the abuse culminated in a plan by her 38-year-old "mother" and another woman, Sita Kisanga, 35, who says she is the girl's aunt, to kill her.

"They put me in a bag and said they would throw me away," the girl, sitting next to a large teddy bear, told police in a videoed interview shown to London's Old Bailey court.

Full story:

Upon reading the first sentence I couldn't help but recall the scene in the classic film "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" in which a group of serfs claimed to have found a woman they claimed was a witch, and were eager to burn her until the local knight, Sir Bedevere stepped in to guide the process of determining whether she truly was a witch. The rest of the scene is comedic gold.

Bedevere asks several questions of these idiots, all of whom are dumber than President Useless. The final determination was that if the woman weighed as much as a duck, then she would float on water, which then would have made her a witch. So the woman is weighed on a HUGE balance scale against a duck, and lo and behold, the two weighed exactly the same! "It's a fair cop," says the poor woman as she is hauled away off camera, presumably to be burned.

Unfortunately, the story from the excerpt contains no humor. It is a sad example of superstition and cruelty. I don't know what life is like in Angola, where the family is from, but this looks like a combination of child abuse and religious insanity.

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