Archive:

February 2003, Part 1

Jim Miller on Politics



Pseudo-Random Thoughts



Barbara Dafoe Whitehead,  best known for her influential Atlantic article, "Dan Quayle Was Right" (about the value of marriage), thinks that the popularity of the The Bachelorette shows that young women want romance.   She argues that the old courtship rituals no longer apply to an age in which later marriages are more common, and that we need new ones that do.  We may be able to learn something from a century ago, when late marriages were almost as common for men as they are now.  From The First Measured Century by Caplow, Hicks, and Wattenberg, I learned that the median age for first marriage in 1900 was 26 for men and 22 for women.  The ages fell for 60 years, reaching 23 for men and 20 for women in 1960, and then rose to 27 for men and 25 for women in 1996, the last year for which they had data.  So, the early marriages that Whitehead describes from the 1960s were actually the exception, historically, rather than the rule.
- 9:16 AM, 10 February 2003   [link]


William Shawcross  is another Strange New Hawk, as you can see in this column published in the far left Independent:
I hope that Saddam can be disarmed or removed without war.  If it does happen, Mr Bush and Mr Blair should be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.  If there has to be war, it will cause suffering and innocent deaths.  (Many innocent Iraqis who have died since 1991 would have been saved if the world had long ago compelled Saddam to obey its rules.)  But the consequences of appeasing Saddam yet again risk much more death and destruction.
(If you are not familiar with Shawcross, he is probably most famous for his book, Sideshow: Kissinger, Nixon, and the Destruction of Cambodia, where the subtitle accurately summarizes the thesis.  He has moved toward the center in recent years, though not so much that he can not be published in the Independent.)
- 8:25 AM, 10 February 2003   [link]


Mark Steyn  has the most interesting commentary I've seen on Phil Spector, after Spector's arrest on murder charges.  Steyn argues that rock stars are especially likely to be crazy, because they are valued by how dangerous they are, or appear to be.  (In rap, they often are actually dangerous.)  And he makes an argument about Spector's music that will interest audiophiles.  It was made, Steyn claims, to sound best on really lousy transistor radios and sounds worse on good equipment.  (I still love "River Deep, Mountain High" and some other Spector productions.  Would better equipment change my mind?)
- 8:05 AM, 10 February 2003   [link]


Growing Number of Opponents to War With Iraq?  Ray Lane of Seattle's King 5 TV station claimed this morning that a growing number of nations oppose a war with Iraq.   He also claimed that Australian Prime Minister Howard was a "rare ally".  Here are the facts for Mr. Lane and King 5.  I know of no nation that once favored liberating Iraq and now opposes it.   Even France, which once opposed even inspections, is now supporting aggressive inspections and has not ruled out force.  They have even moved forces toward the Gulf.  Nor do I know of any significant nation that was undecided and now opposes liberating Iraq.  The leaders of eight European nations, representing more than 240 million people have backed the United States with an open letter, which Mr. Lane can find in the Wall Street Journal.  The leaders of ten more Eastern European nations (the Vilnius group) have backed the United States with an even stronger letter and are offering military support.  A number of Middle Eastern countries, including Turkey, Jordan, and Kuwait, are giving us practical help.  One count, which you can see here puts the total number of nations supporting us at thirty-four, and growing.

That this misleading story would be broadcast by a major TV station is troubling.  I am sending them an email, asking for them to broadcast a correction.  If they do not—and I don't expect them to—that will be worse than troubling.  King 5 has every right to oppose the liberation of Iraq, but they have an obligation to get the facts right in their stories.
- 7:40 AM, 10 February 2003   [link]


The Cynical Président Chirac:  The French government is apparently going to call for more inspectors in Iraq and a more agressive inspection process there, according to the next to the last paragraph in this article.   There is something wonderfully cynical about this latest ploy from Chirac, because, until very recently, the French were opposed to any inspections at all:
In 1999, when the Security Council took up the measure that would reconstitute a U.N. weapons-inspection regime after the previous inspectors were sent packing in 1998, the French abstained.  Get that?  The French—who convinced the Chinese, the Russians, and the Malaysians also to abstain—refused even to create the new inspection team once the old one was disbanded.
They were also opposed to sanctions during much of this time.

This is not because the French (or the Germans) do not know about Saddam's weapons programs.   As former CIA analyst Kenneth Pollack notes in this column, members of the UN Security Council know all about those weapons:
In truth, all council members already know that Iraq retains weapons of mass destruction and is deceiving the inspectors.  As a former CIA analyst and National Security Council director on the Persian Gulf, I never met a foreign government official—not even from France, Russia or China—who argued that Iraq did not still have weapons of mass destruction.
(Annoying LA Times registration required)  In fact, the French and Germans may know more than we do about parts of that program because they sold so much material to Saddam over the years.

Now then, what to do about this cynicism?  As I argued here, we are confronting not "old" but adolescent behavior from France.  And so I think we should respond with the patience of a parent dealing with a difficult teenager.  We can't take away their keys or ground them, but we should explain the facts of life to them patiently, and avoid the temptation to respond with name calling.  Hard as that may be for Secretary Powell and President Bush, it's the right policy for the long run.  (The rest of us can enjoy, privately, bits like this nasty sketch of Chirac from Christopher Hitchens.)
- 10:03 AM, 9 February 2003   [link]


Space Shuttle Columbia Was the Worst:  Space shuttle Columbia had ten times as many tile problems as the other three shuttles.  Columbia was the oldest of the shuttles, and there have been proposals to retire it for some time.  The difference between the Columbia and the other shuttles suggests that the shuttles can be made safer in the short term, even if the best long range plan is to find a replacement, as I argued here.  Greg Benford, a scientist and science fiction writer, has some practical suggestions for the replacement here, along with some thoughts about what our goals in space should be.

Though the Columbia had the most safety problems, we can not yet conclude that those problems caused its loss.  As this article mentions, radar showed material conming off the shuttle a day after launch, perhaps from a meteoroid hit, as I speculated in this post.
- 9:13 AM, 9 February 2003   [link]


Kudos to Jake Tapper  for this critique of Oliver Stone's whitewash of Fidel Castro.  Tapper thinks that Stone chooses to ignore Castro's brutality and despotism.  I would go farther.  I think Stone, and others like him who have cuddled up to dictators, are often so attracted to the dictator's power that they approve of his brutality, at least in part.
- 7:58 AM, 9 February 2003   [link]


Withdrawal From Heroin  is no worse than a case of flu, claims Theodore Dalrymple.   As a prison doctor for many years, he has seen heroin withdrawal many times and says that withdrawing addicts rarely require medication for symptoms, and that "Even the heaviest abusers of drugs are surprised by the mildness of their experience".
- 9:32 AM, 7 February 2003   [link]


Strange New Hawks:  In the last few weeks, people on the left have begun to conclude that, however much they may dislike George Bush, removing Saddam by force may be a better policy that leaving him in place.  Here are five examples, in alphabetical order:

H. D. S. Greenway of the very liberal Boston Globe is "terrified of imperial overreach in a postwar Iraq", but concludes that:
My fear is that containing Iraq is a failed policy and that if we choose containment over war, we will still get war, and a worse war when Saddam has achieved his clandestine weapons goals.
Johann Hari of the far left Independent describes the progress made by the Kurds in northern Iraq, argues that, though imperfect, the United States has sometimes acted in good ways, and concludes that:
I wish there were a pristine, perfect state with no oil interests and the military power to help the people of Iraq, but there isn't one.
Mary McGrory, one of the Washington Post's most liberal columnists and no fan of the Bush administration, found Powell's speech persuasive, and concludes that:
I'm not ready for war yet.  But Colin Powell has convinced me that it might be the only way to stop a fiend, and that if we do go, there is reason.
Matthew Miller, a fierce partisan who worked in the Clinton administration, says that:
As fiercely as I oppose President Bush on domestic policy, I simply can't understand Americans—and there seem to be millions of them—who sincerely believe that George Bush is a greater threat to the world than Saddam Hussein.
He argues that the risks of giving Saddam time to develop nuclear weapons are greater than the risks of dealing with him now and ends with this:
We know France is not serious.  Soon enough we'll know whether the United Nations is.
Martin Woollacott, who is not my favorite journalist, criticizes the optimism about outcomes he sees in the Bush administration, but agrees that overthrowing Saddam, for all the risks, may prove a step toward improvements in that oppressed region, just as our intervention in the Balkans, for all its missteps and blunders, did, finally, help the people there.
- 9:16 AM, 7 February 2003   [link]


Every Province in China Is Above Average  in their economic growth, notes this Telegraph article, which illustrates why "reliability of Chinese statistics has long been debated by financial analysts".
- 8:12 AM, 7 February 2003   [link]


More On Meteors And Space Junk:  Here's some more information on the risks to the shuttle from meteors and space junk in this article from the space.com site.

(The article also has a reminder about the sometimes confusing difference between meteoroids, meteors, and meteorites.  The same small rock can be all three, in turn.  In space, it would be a meteoroid, in the atmosphere a meteor, and on the ground a meteorite.  For example:   The meteoroid was detected by radar as it passed the moon.  The meteor glowed brightly as it entered the atmosphere.  Scientists have found many meteorites on glaciers in Antarctica.)
- 8:07 AM, 7 February 2003   [link]


Fifty-Three Per Cent  now think the Internet is a reliable source of information, a slight decline from a previous poll.  I think the Internet is a reliable source of information in the same way a supermarket is a good source for healthy food.  Careful selection will give you reliable information from the Internet and healthy food from the supermarket.  Careless selection will give you junk from both.  Disturbingly, 2.2 per cent of Internet users and 4.7 per cent of non-users think that all the information on the Internet is reliable.  The same people may think all the food sold in supermarkets is healthy.

Since the article is about the reliability of information on the Internet, I must mention a couple of errors I found.  Given the errors and omissions I find in the New York Times, it is perhaps not the best example of accuracy.  And the claim that "the information on a newspaper Web site is the same information as that printed in the newspaper" is a bit simplistic.  Many newspaper Web sites now have information that does not appear in the newspaper.  (Some could not, like the videos that some newspapers now post on their sites.)  Big newspapers usually print a series of editions each day.  Each edition may differ from the Web edition in some ways.   In a few cases, newspapers have followed an admirable policy of correcting mistakes on their Web site immediately, rather than following the print edition.
- 7:39 AM, 7 February 2003   [link]


Not a Joke:  The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has written to Yasser Arafat, asking him not to use donkeys in suicide bombings again.   Their president, Ingrid Newkirk, has nothing to say about suicide bombings using men, women, and even children, telling the Washington Post, "It's not my business to inject myself into human wars".
- 11:06 AM, 6 February 2003   [link]


The Washington Post Is Serious  about Iraq, as you can see in this editorial, but the New York Times is not, as you can see in this one, which reviews the evidence presented by Colin Powell, and concludes that we "have an obligation to study Mr. Powell's presentation very closely and very seriously".  And, after we studied it closely and seriously?   Apparently they have no idea.  The contrast between the Post and the Times should, but won't, embarrass the latter.
- 10:38 AM, 6 February 2003   [link]


The Other Occupation:  The occupation of the West Bank and Gaza by Israel after the Six Day War in 1967 has drawn endless attention and almost endless condemnation.   The occupation of Lebanon, an entire country since 1976, by Syria has drawn neither attention nor anything more than the most perfunctory condemnation.  Claudia Rosett tells the sad story of how this promising, democratic nation was ruined by Arafat's PLO, and the Syrian dictatorship.
- 9:54 AM, 6 February 2003   [link]


"A human tragedy of hellish dimensions continues in North Korea".   That's how Norbert Vollertsen, a physician who worked there for eighteen months, summarizes the disaster created by Kim Jong Il and his regime.  Refugees from North Korea tell Vollertsen that "the long-suffering people of North Korea cheered" George Bush when he included North Korea in the axis of evil.  Their neighbors in China have been less humane in their attitudes than Bush, forcibly returning the starving refugees, or exploiting them brutally.  And their kin in South Korea have mostly refused to look at what is happening next to them.  The government there has been even worse.  Vollertsen has been working with other humanitarians to help North Koreans escape, but "South Korean authorities worked actively to foil our attempts to bring North Korean refugees to freedom".  South Korean students, under the influence of propaganda from the north, and perhaps more direct influence, spend hours denouncing the United States, while ignoring their starving Korean kin.
- 9:34 AM, 6 February 2003   [link]


Iman Warith Deen Umar  believes that the 9/11 hijackers were martyrs, that United States risks terror attacks by oppressing Muslims all over the world, and that more terrorist attacks are likely to come from men converted to Islam in American prisons.  On the last point he has some inside knowledge, literally:
For about 20 years until he retired in 2000, Imam Umar—the title means prayer leader—helped run New York's growing Islamic prison program, recruiting and training dozens of chaplains, and ministering to thousands of inmates himself.
That was after he had been an inmate himself for plotting to kill police officers.

It will not surprise many to learn that he was trained in Saudi Arabia, and had assistance from that nation in this hateful ministry, which he continues, though he is no longer employed by New York state.  Nor will it surprise you, if you have read my earlier posts on Muslim criminality, to learn that the "200,000 to 340,000 Muslim inmates" make up "10% to 17% of the prison and jail population, according to estimates by corrections officials and Muslim organizations".  The best estimates that I have seen put the total Muslim population in the United States at about 2 million, at most 3 million.  Since the US population is approaching 300 million, that would suggest that Muslims here are far more likely than non-Muslims to commit crimes.  Or that, at the very least, the religion of Islam has a powerful attraction for criminals.  Time to clean up the Big Houses of the nation.  Here's the full Wall Street Journal article, with many disturbing details.
- 2:29 PM, 5 February 2003   [link]


Bush Supporters Will Be Pleased  that their side won the snowball fight with anti-war protestors.  I am not sure whether the protestors will hurt that they lost.  If they are true pacifists, would they want to be good at something as martial as a snowball fight?
- 2:02 PM, 5 February 2003   [link]


McDermott Is Not Convinced:  Just heard part of an interview with Seattle Congressman Jim McDermott on the Dave Ross show.   Naturally, McDermott found the Colin Powell speech to the United Nations unconvincing.  McDermott still sees any military action by the United States as essentially unilateral, despite the many nations that will be supporting us with military forces.  (Ross himself is a little behind the curve on this, thinking that just ten nations are now supporting us.  I think the number is closer to twenty by now, and will probably include the French.)  Ross did not ask the question that always comes to my mind, given McDermott's blind partisanship:  Is there any evidence from this administration that would change McDermott's mind?  I think not.
- 9:49 AM, 5 February 2003   [link]


Did Natural Causes Destroy the Shuttle?  Although I know that the odds are against this, it is possible that the shuttle was destroyed by natural causes, specifically by a meteor hit.  The shuttles have been struck more than once by micrometeorites.  (I believe one almost penetrated the front.)  And, if I recall correctly, some satellites have been disabled by meteor hits.  Again, I repeat, I think the odds are against this scenario, but it is not, by any means impossible.
- 9:08 AM, 5 February 2003
Update:  Jay Manifold found my question interesting enough to write this detailed answer.   Briefly, a meteor hit is exceedingly unlikely, but there is a small probability of a hit from space debris.  In fact, one of the shuttles in a previous mission got a cracked window from a paint chip, and there have been other space craft that we know or suspect were damaged by space debris.  From his figures, one can see that, had the shuttles met their original planned schedule of 50 or more flights a year, rather than the current 4 or 5, there would be a serious risk of losing one to debris.  A smaller human carrying ship would be safer, for obvious reasons.

As Rand Simberg notes, one strong argument against a hit by either an improbable meteor or an unlikely piece of space debris is that the astronauts would probably have heard the hit.  Some of that energy would have been turned into sound.  I don't know enough about the acoustic properties of the shuttle and the background noise as it enters the atmosphere to decide whether this completely rules out a hit as the cause of the disaster, though it certainly makes it less plausible.

(I should have thought of the possibility of a hit from space debris before I put up the original post.   Some years ago, there were studies that argued that the hazards from debris were increasing and might put a real crimp in the space program.  I'm not sure whether NASA decided the studies were wrong, or whether, not being able to do much about the problem other than reducing debris in the future, they just put it aside.  About the time I saw these studies, I recall reading a science fiction story about a planet whose inhabitants had trapped themselves by putting up so much debris around their planet that they could not longer send space ships up safely.)
- 7:12 AM, 6 February 2003   [link]


No Apathy Here:  As you can see from this article, there is no problem with apathy in the California city of South Gate.  At her final city council meeting, a mayor rejected by the voters for corruption, goes out swinging.
- 8:57 AM, 5 February 2003   [link]


Which President Cut the NASA Budget?  Here is the budget graph for the last seven years.
- 8:52 AM, 5 February 2003   [link]


Intelligence Failures:  This New Yorker article, by Jeffrey Goldberg, has drawn most attention for its concluding sections, which summarize the substantial evidence of links between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda.  To me, the general lessons in the article are even more important.  Our intelligence organizations have often been deceived.  Perhaps the most humorous example is the CIA's prediction that the Indian government would not resume nuclear testing—even though the winning political party had, in effect, promised to do so during its election campaign.  We are most likely to be deceived, as we were at Pearl Harbor and on 9/11, when our imagination fails, when we think that our enemies will act as we would, according to our own understanding of what is rational.  Save this article, read it, and think about it.   The most powerful lessons generally come from failures.
- 8:41 AM, 5 February 2003   [link]


Hasbians  are women who used to date women but now date men, I learned from this article.   Though the word is new, to me at least, the phenomena is not.  Years ago I read about college students who were "lesbian until graduation", implying that their lesbianism was not something fixed but part of the experimentation common in colleges.  And, although this fact doesn't receive much coverage in the press, studies show that most lesbians, and most homosexuals, have relations with the opposite sex some time during their lives.
- 8:13 AM, 5 February 2003   [link]


The Modern Language Association  is always good for laughs, and Mark Goldblatt gets a bunch at their expense in this column, while making a serious point.  The same English professors who claim in the classroom that there is no objective truth, claim at protests that they know the objective truth on our foreign policy.  (Students in their classes may not want to call attention to this contradiction—at least until the grades are out and recommendations are written and sent.)
- 2:15 PM, 4 February 2003   [link]


The Adlai Stevenson Moment,  when he confronted the Soviets during the Cuban missile crisis, convinced only those who trusted the CIA, writes John Mueller.   (Full disclosure: I once took a graduate class in international relations from the author.)   The photos did not interpret themselves, after all.
To the ordinary person, the photos presented by Stevenson, chief U.S. delegate to the United Nations, simply showed a bunch of trees and tubes.
As Mueller argues, many at the time did not accept Stevenson's evidence and many would not, even now, if the Soviets had not confessed.
- 1:53 PM, 4 February 2003   [link]


Dick Morris  thinks that, for France, it's all about oil.
- 1:42 PM, 4 February 2003   [link]


The Cheerleader Yells,  but the Arab crowd doesn't respond.  In this column, far left Eric Margolis is outraged that the Arabs have not united against the United States to protect that fascist dictator, Saddam Hussein.  Would have been equally outraged, in 1944, to find that many Arabs (and even some Germans) were backing the British and Americans against Hitler?

Since this is a Margolis column, we expect a certain carelessness with facts, and he does not disappoint:
Though 99.99% of Arabs bitterly oppose an American-British attack on Iraq, their authoritarian regimes, which rely on the U.S. for protection from their own people and their neighbours, are quietly digging Iraq's grave.
A majority of Arabs probably, but 99.99 per cent?  No poll shows that.  And it is not Iraq's grave, but Saddam's that is being prepared.  There is every reason to believe that the majority of Iraqis want him removed, even if that must be done by foreign armies.

Like Margolis, I would like to see the Arabs cooperate, but I would suggest different goals than saving a fascist dictator.  They might begin by condemning the brutal anti-Semitism and bigotry against Christians so common in the Arab nations.  And they could take an important practical step by urging Sudan and Libya, both Arab nations, to give up the capture and purchase of black slaves from the southern part of Sudan.  This kind of Arab cooperation will not, I predict, interest the "Contributing Foreign Editor" of the Toronto Sun, a once respectable newspaper.
- 8:21 AM, 4 February 2003   [link]


Racism, Regardless of the Target, Is Wrong:  Not an unusual argument, but it is good to find it in an unexpected place, this column by one Yasmin Alibhai-Brown in the far left British paper, the Independent.  Alibhai-Brown thinks racism is wrong even when it is directed against whites, and religious bigotry is wrong, even when directed against Christians.  It would be too much to expect that the Independent will extend that argument to condemn the anti-Semitism found in their recent cartoon, or the anti-Americanism that is the newspaper's staple fare, but this is a welcome first step.  (Not everyone will welcome it, as you can see in this attack on the Labour MP whose comments started this discussion.)
- 7:32 AM, 4 February 2003   [link]


Worth Reading:  Part 1 of Josh Marshall's interview with Kenneth Pollack, a former CIA analyst and author of The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq.   Here is the point I found most disturbing.  At first, as Pollack says:
I was under the same impression: that we had a very good grip on their nuclear program and there really wasn't much of a nuclear program well into the 1990s.  I was constantly being assured that by the IAEA and by the intelligence community.
Wrongly, he learned:
And Khidhir Hamza comes out and says "No, the nuclear program in 1994 was bigger than it had ever been before".
The Iraqis had figured out ways to fool the inspectors, ways that introduced inefficiencies, like "short track cascades" for concentrating the U235, but ways that worked.  The UN inspectors, the intelligence agencies, and the International Atomic Energy Agency were all completely fooled.
- 7:21 AM, 4 February 2003   [link]


"The Welfare State Killed Victoria Climbié":  Daniel Kruger's account of the sad death of a little girl from West Africa is not easy to read.  She was sent by her parents to live with her great-aunt, Marie-Thèrèse Kuoao, in Britain, where her parents hoped that she could receive better schooling.  The great-aunt, along with her live-in boyfriend, Carl Manning, tortured the little girl to death over a period of months.  During this time, the social service agencies were told about the abuse, again and again, by neighbors, by hospital workers, and by relatives of the girl.  They failed, again and again, to recognize the abuse and take actions to save her.  What was the staff doing while Victoria was being abused?  The manager at one agency responsible for her case had lost her own child and suffered a near breakdown.   Others there were no help because they
. . . were variously dabbling in an African form of black magic, called obi, and also in more orthodox but no more conventional forms of Christian worship, all quite openly in the office—perhaps unsurprisingly, office relations were said to be dire.  The lawyer for Victoria's parents told the inquiry that her clients found all this 'truly bizarre: witchcraft in one corner, religious fanaticism in the other, and in the middle absolutely nobody reading a file'.
Kruger thinks that it was not just the incompetence of the social workers that led to Victoria's death, but the assumptions at the heart of the welfare state, like the "multi-cultural" thinking that oftens leads social service workers to conclude that "black people cannot be expected to behave as decently as white folk".  And, he points out that:
The only people who acted at all sensibly in this dreadful saga were those unconnected with the system: the relative who phoned Brent social services to warn them of Victoria's impending death, and the child-minder and her daughter who took Victoria to hospital on their own initiative, to similarly little avail.  Meanwhile her 'case' must have been 'handled' by more than 100 public servants in more than a dozen public agencies.
Kruger calls for the social service agencies to be replaced by private organizations with the values that would lead them to protect little girls.
- 7:32 PM, 3 February 2003   [link]


Hezbollah, Meth, and the Mexican Drug Cartel:  Yesterday, Seattle TV station KOMO 4 had a shocking story on its evening news program.  The story is not on their web site, which does have items about breast enhancement through herbs and equally important matters, so I will have to summarize it from memory.  According to the report, Hezbollah operatives are now smuggling the raw materials for meth into the United States from Canada, and selling them to the Mexican drug cartel.  This large scale supply enables the cartel to set up large scale labs in the United States to produce the meth.  The report cited several government sources in the story, but I do not recall a direct statement on the most explosive part of the story, the connection of the drug trade to Hezbollah terror.  KOMO claimed that Canada imports or produces ten times as much of the cold medicine commonly used as raw material for meth as it would require for colds.  And, it is certainly true that for years Hezbollah has found a welcome in Canada.
- 7:57 AM, 3 February 2003   [link]


The Best Tribute  to the astronauts that I have seen is this one from Natalie Solent, explaining why we should go into space.
- 7:32 AM, 3 February 2003   [link]


Kudos to the Instapundit  for this neat refutation of the foolish talk about the significance of explosion occurring over Palestine, Texas.  
- 7:16 AM, 3 February 2003
Update:  Tacitus adds an old but pertinent Texas joke.
- 6:54 AM, 4 February 2003   [link]


Shuttle Flaws:  Gregg Easterbrook summarizes the system design errors in this Time magazine article.   The shuttle is too large for people, too small for cargo, underpowered for many tasks, far too expensive, and too dangerous for routine use.  The flaws are not fixable with minor design changes, since the basic system design is wrong.  It can be made a bit safer as was done after the Challenger disaster, but it can not be changed to make it inexpensive enough to fill its intended role.  These system design flaws have been known for years, in fact, decades, as you can see in this 1980 Easterbrook article.   (The Time article was a rush job, and Easterbrook makes several minor errors, as Andrew of the "Pathetic Earthling" explains here.)

If all this has been known, why hasn't the problem been fixed?  For the most prosaic of reasons.   The very cost of the system makes it profitable for aerospace contractors and supports a large NASA bureaucracy.  Building and designing a new system to take people into space, however much it would save in the long run, will cost more in the first few years.  That was the reason, as you can see from the 1980 article, that the shuttle is only partly reusable.  We have been unwilling to spend money in the near term to save money in the long term.  One result is the loss, again, of seven astronauts.
- 7:07 AM, 3 February 2003   [link]


Citizens or Clients?  The panel drawing up a proposal for a citizenship test in Britain seems to think that immigrants should be clients, rather than citizens.   Their proposal does not require immigrants to learn anything about British history.  Nor did the panel think immigrants should "all applicants should reach a certain level of competence in English, Welsh or Gaelic", an idea they specifically rejected.  Instead, they simply required some progress in one of those languages.  The panel did require immigrants to have some knowledge of the following six topics: where to find help, how to find a job, everyday needs like paying bills, basics of the law, politically correct multi-culturalism (though, of course, they did not call it that), and British institutions.  In all these requirements, the panel saw the immigrant as a client, not a citizen with both rights and duties.  That many immigrants will feel no loyalty to Britain after they gain citizenship this way should not surprise anyone.  You can read the details here.  They do plan to introduce a ceremony like those commonly held in the United States.
- 2:02 PM, 2 February 2003   [link]


Worth Reading:  These two columns, with differing views on a war with Iraq, are among the best statements I have seen for either side.  Matthew Parris makes the case against the war in this unusual argument, where he begins by refuting, one by one, the most common arguments against the war.  After that, he ends with this:
I am not afraid that this war will fail.  I am afraid that it will succeed.

I am afraid that it will prove to be the first in an indefinite series of American interventions.   I am afraid that it is the beginning of a new empire: an empire that I am afraid Britain may have little choice but to join.
This is a fear I share, but I think that Bush has the right principles to avoid that trap.  As I have said before, one of the reasons that I voted for Bush, over both John McCain and Al Gore, is that he proposed a less activist foreign policy than either of his opponents.  I especially admired his argument that we needed to be more humble in our approach to the rest of the world.  The conduct of the war in Afghanistan shows that Bush has not changed, fundamentally.  The campaign was conducted in a minimalist way, relying mostly on the Afghan resistance.  Since then, in spite of the usual bureaucratic tendencies to get more involved, the Bush administration has done its best to keep our involvement there to the necessary minimum.

David Aaronovitch comes to the different conclusion from Parris in this column, observing from the cases of Bosnia and Rwanda, that inaction has its costs, as well as war:
If leaders must take responsibility for these terrible failures, then so must those who always urge inaction.  Over Bosnia, Kosovo and over Afghanistan, voices on both the Left and Right have been consistently raised to object to the use of force.  Where these voices have belonged to pacifists, they have my respect, but most often they have belonged to the purely selfish, the pathologically timid, or to those who somehow believed that however bad things were in Country X, the Americans were always worse.
Aaronovitch shares the worry Parris describes, and so he wants to limit future interventions by "establishing some set of rules" for them.  For that reason, he would support war if it is authorized by the United Nations.  If the UN does not authorize it, he would not oppose a war, because of the hope it offers to the suffering Iraqi people.

Finally, one oddity you may have already noticed.  The argument against the war was published in the conservative Times of London, while the argument for it was published in the leftist Observer.
- 8:34 AM, 2 February 2003   [link]


Usual Suspects, Usual Complaints:  For some, the loss of the seven astronauts and the shuttle was important only because it gave them another opportunity to beat their favorite drums.  Damian Penney, who has a stronger stomach for this than I do, found that conspiracy theorists on the left were already accusing Bush and Sharon of causing the disaster, as you can see by following the links in this post, and this one.   Tim Blair finds an example showing that the right has its own nuts, who are blaming Hillary Clinton for the disaster, as you can see by following the Free Republic link in this post.   The Guardian, this time staying away from the paranoia that sometimes infects that newspaper, blames Bush, but makes the charge neglect rather than murder, in this article.   Note that no mention is made in the article of the Clinton administration's neglect of the shuttle, but Democratic senator Bill Nelson of Florida does get to wear a white hat.  Bureaucrats in the Washington Post blamed both Congress and the Clinton and Bush administrations for stinting on safety in this article, which is plausible, though unproved.  In his reply, Mickey Kaus argues that the design of the shuttle, particularly its reliance on the the fragile tiles, may be more at fault.  In my humble opinion, both Kaus and those he criticizes are right.  The design of the shuttle is faulty, and we have not spent what we should to make it safer.  Finally, Rand Simberg damages his own cause, reforming our space program, by his callous argument that "it could have been worse" in this post
- 8:05 AM, 2 February 2003
Update:  Rand Simberg does not quite apologize, but does say some of the right things in this this post.
- 7:03 AM, 4 February 2003   [link]


Seven Remarkable People:  The loss of the shuttle Columbia is terrible, not because of the loss of the aging spacecraft, but because of the loss of the seven remarkable people that made up the crew.  These brief Washington Post biographies of commander Rick Husband, pilot Willie McCool, payload commander Michael Anderson, mission specialist David Brown, mission specialist Kalpana Chalwa, mission specialist Laurel Clark, and payload specialist Ilan Ramon, give us some sense of how great that loss is.  There are very few who have the character, intelligence, physical fitness, and bravery that these seven people did.  We were right to be inspired by their lives, and we would be right to continue to be inspired by them now that they are gone.
- 7:17 AM, 2 February 2003   [link]