Saturday, September 30, 2006

Abortion Politics

Friday evening, the Senate was hurrying to wrap up business on a number of issues before the election. The Child Custody Protection Act, originally passed the Senate in July by a vote of 65-34.

The purpose of this bill was to prohibit an adult from transporting a minor across state lines for the purpose of her having an abortion without notification of her parents. Polls have shown that ~80% of the public supports parental knowledge and involvement in an underage girl's abortion decision. Many people who would describe themselves as 'pro-choice' on abortion in general agree that this is a reasonable requirement. This would have been a good law that would have saved some unborn lives and protected some young girls from a most tragic experience.

Anyway, the Senate Democratic leadership then refused to appoint members to a conference committee to work out differences between the Senate bill and a similar House bill, effectively blocking action on the bill without going on record. Then the House passed a revised bill which included the Senate language thereby eliminating the need for a conference committee, but requiring one more Senate vote. Friday night's vote on 'cloture', required to end debate on a bill being filibustered, was 57-42, three votes shy of the 60 needed to go on to vote on the bill itself.

So what happened? Eight Democratic Senators who voted for the bill in July flip-flopped and effectively voted against it Friday night. (I guess they voted for the bill before voting against it.) Why? While I haven't seen any public statements and I cannot read their minds, I can only assume that the pro-abortion lobby that has so much influence in the Democratic Party pressured them into switching.

The eight who flip-flopped were Ken Salazar (Co.), Tom Carper (De.), Bill Nelson (Fl.), Daniel Inouye (Hi.), Evan Bayh (In.), Kent Conrad and Byron Dorgan (both ND), and Herb Kohl (Wi). Four of these: Carper, Nelson, Conrad, and Kohl are up for re-election this November.

The best outcome would have been for the bill to become law but, at least for now, it hasn't. So was this a smart move politically for the Democrats, or have they handed a hot issue to the Republicans? Of course, the Old Media is not going to bring the issue up, but whether the GOP raises it or not, the grassroots prolife movement surely will.

Thursday, September 28, 2006


The Soyuz TMA-8 spacecraft carrying Anousheh Ansari, Pavel Vinogradov, and Jeff Williams has landed safely in Kazakhstan.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Handover and Return

It's hard to believe the flight of Anousheh Ansari is almost over. The crew of Expedition 13 handed over control of the International Space Station (ISS) to the incoming Expedition 14 crew before returning with Mrs. Ansari to Earth tomorrow.

Anousheh Ansari has inspired people around the world as shown by the many hundreds, if not thousands, of comments to her blog. CNN reports that she has especially inspired and encouraged women in Iran.
Space enthusiasts gathered Saturday at the Zaferanieh Observatory in Tehran were rapt as they followed the progress of the craft, visible to the naked eye for about two minutes, as it streaked across the sky.

"Anousheh is my hope," said teenager Delagah Dadbeh, watching the spacecraft as tears of joy rolled down her cheek.

"She will shine in Iranian history as a woman who broke barriers and succeeded in conquering space with her endeavor," Dadbeh said.

"Ansari has shown Iranian women the road to progress. We only need to believe in ourselves," Dadbeh said, as another woman, Homa Parvaei nodded in agreement.

Dennis Wingo also pays tribute to Anoushesh's accomplishment in this commentary, describing her as a 'Woman of Mass Instruction'.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Dynamic Politics

The winds in the political atmosphere of the mid-term elections are shifting. For much of the year, the pundits and prognosticators have been describing a possible Democratic takeover from the Republicans in Congress. While the gap has not been entirely closed yet in the all of polls , the GOP has been gaining ground these last few weeks. Larry Kudlow describes how a re-energized W is leading the charge on national security and the economy.

A particularly interesting situation is emerging in Maryland this year, according to Russ Smith at the WSJ, where I am active locally in the campaigns. Of particular national consequence is the race for U.S. Senate. Lt. Governor Michael Steele threatens to upset some of the political conventional wisdom.
...should Mr. Steele win the seat--he's currently several points behind in the polling--he'd be the first African-American senator from Maryland, and only the sixth in Senate history. That possibility sticks in the collective craw of local Democrats, who don't like Mr. Steele's cultural conservatism, for one, and are petrified, for two, that the next Barack Obama could be a Republican.

By the way, check out some of the Steele campaign's unconventional video ads.

Needless to say, nobody is getting complacent on either side, nationally or in Maryland. Events could still tip things either way. Looks like another nail-biting election season.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Growing Space Enterprise

This past week, while the Shuttle Atlantis returned safely to Earth and Anousheh Ansari and the rotating crews continued their International Space Station (ISS) activities, some really big space news came out of an AIAA conference in San Jose, California. (Sometimes I really wish I could get paid to go to conferences!)

Robert Bigelow, founder and President of Bigelow Aerospace announced plans that include accelerating development and flight of inflatable commercial human space habitats and that he is collaborating with Lockheed Martin to study use of the Atlas V launch vehicle for commercial human transport to his facilities. LM has already been considering use of the Atlas V for commercial human spaceflight.

This is big! The entrance of one of the traditional large aerospace corporations into the emerging commercial human space travel industry, blurring the difference between 'old space' and 'new space' activity, could really accelerate the emergence of commerce in space and all of its impact on the future of humanity.

(Disclaimer: I am employed by Lockheed Martin. Any comments posted here are purely my own personal views and do not claim to represent my employer.)

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Space Travelers Coming and Going

Space Shuttle Atlantis is set to land tomorrow morning after a day's delay to check out the vehicle and the debris spotted nearby.

Meanwhile, the Expedition 14 crew plus paying passenger Anousheh Ansari arrived at the International Space Station (ISS) this morning. Among her other accomplishments, Mrs. Ansari is contributing to a blog during her trip. (I don't know if she's the first space blogger, but it was inevitable that the blogosphere would extend beyond the Earth's biosphere.)

Meanwhile, her trip is causing a split among media in her native Iran. A hardline newspaper worries that enthusiastic coverage by state media provides a role model inconsistent with the strict Islamic party line. Here's hoping their fears are correct and that this venture does inspire the flame of freedom in Iran.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Enraged Christians Riot, Burn Rosie O'Donnell in Effigy

No, there has been no such reaction to the celebrity's outlandish remarks. I couldn't resist this headline as a parody of the very serious situation involving the continuing reaction in parts of the Islamic world to words of Pope Benedict XVI in quoting Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus, a historical figure.

Here is the controversial statement of the Holy Father and, most importantly, his following paragraph.
Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the "Book" and the "infidels," he turns to his interlocutor somewhat brusquely with the central question on the relationship between religion and violence in general, in these words: "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."

The emperor goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. "God is not pleased by blood, and not acting reasonably ("syn logo") is contrary to God's nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats.... To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death...."

These paragraphs were part of a scholarly address at the University of Regensburg in Germany, in which BXVI was discussing the relationship between faith and reason and the role of Greek culture.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Mid-Term 'Super Tuesday'

Primary elections were held in a number of states yesterday as the campaign for the November mid-term elections heats up. Here in Maryland, the race for U.S. Senate is set as Democratic Rep. Ben Cardin won his primary bid to face Lt. Gov. Michael Steele. I'm active locally in the Steele campaign, which is upsetting the conventional wisdom about politics in Maryland and could play a key role in the national political outcome.
Griffin on Science, Exploration and NASA Issues

NASA Administrator Mike Griffin addressed an all-hands meeting yesterday at Goddard Space Flight Center which I attended. His primary focus was on addressing concerns in the science community about NASA, including funding and the advisory process.

Just a few highlights:

On the Hubble Space Telescope
There has been a strong, visible, clear intent by NASA management to restore the previously cancelled Hubble servicing mission, if it is technically possible to do so. A final decision and an accompanying announcement should be made by November.

On the NASA science program funding situation
The Science Mission Directorate (SMD) FY07 budget request is $5.33 B, up from FY06 by 1.5%. And we have an Administration (not just NASA), that is committed to preservation of SMD funding in FY08-10, albeit at a lower growth rate, 1%, than we all would like. In FY11 and beyond, SMD funding tracks Agency top line growth.

On NASA and White House support for science
Science today comprises a larger piece of the NASA portfolio than ever before; 32% today as compared with 24% back in the mid-90s.

There's more, indeed much more, but my point is, I think, clear. These are not the actions of a science-hostile NASA, OMB, or President. Quite the contrary.

And on the broader view of the purpose of space exploration
But, as always, there is another view, best and most tersely captured by the President's Science Advisor, Jack Marburger, in his March '06 speech at the AAS Goddard Symposium. Jack noted that the Vision for Space Exploration is fundamentally about bringing the resources of the solar system within the economic sphere of mankind. It is not fundamentally about scientific discovery. To me, Marburger's statement is precisely right.

So a key point must be made: Exploration without science is not "tourism". It is far more than that. It is about the expansion of human activity out beyond the Earth. Exactly this point was very recently noted and endorsed by no less than Stephen Hawking, a pure scientist if ever there was one. Hawking joins those, including the Chairman of the NASA Advisory Council, who have long pointed out this basic truth: The history of life on Earth is the history of extinction events, and human expansion into the Solar System is, in the end, fundamentally about the survival of the species. So to me exploration is, in and of itself, equally as noble a human endeavor as is scientific discovery.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

In Remembrance of September 11, 2001

U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Michael W. Pendergrass

Five years ago tomorrow morning, I overheard a coworker down the hall from my office telling someone else about planes hitting the World Trade Center. I checked in on the Internet and on news radio for reports on what would develop into the the modern era's day of infamy. We know of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, but there was also the attack that did not occur because of the heroic actions of the passengers on United Flight 93.

Five years of daily living, along with increasing domestic rancor, may have dimmed the feelings of shock, horror, and outrage and the response of prayer, compassion, and resolve that united the people of America and most of the world.

This audio/visual Internet presentation developed by a New Yorker shortly after the attacks recaptures all of those experiences. The sequence is ~15 minutes long and some of the images and sounds are quite disturbing, others are inspirational. (I've also added the link to this video to my sidebar.)

It is important that we remember, not only to honor those who died and those who acted heroically that day, but to remain constantly aware of the ongoing dangers, of the presence of real evil in the hearts of some men, and to maintain constant vigilance and a determination to defeat this evil.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Atlantis Aloft!


After numerous delays, today was the day for Shuttle Mission 115 to launch on a quest to add new truss and solar array components to the International Space Station (ISS). The addition of these components will make the ISS an even brighter object in the night sky. This NASA site and Heavens Above, a private site, are good resources for finding out when you can view the ISS, Shuttle, and other spacecraft from your local area.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Attempted Censorship of The Path to 9/11

The ABC mini-series The Path to 9/11 has certainly caused an unusual uproar over issues of accuracy and bias. As I've haven't seen it yet, I'll reserve judgment on the accuracy of the series' portrayal of events and the surrounding controversy. The accuracy and fairness of a Media presentation on public affairs is certainly fair game for public debate.

But the Senate Democratic leadership has crossed a line when they issued a letter to Robert Iger, CEO of Disney (ABC's parent company), implying they would use the power of government to punish Disney for airing a program containing content they don't approve of. Censorship by 'progressive', 'enlightened', and 'compassionate' liberal Democrats? I thought that was only expected of 'evil', 'mean-spirited', 'right wing extremist' conservative Republicans.
To Boldly Go...

Unfortunately, the Shuttle Atlantis Mission 115 launch was scrubbed again today (for the umpteenth time), because it would have been an auspicious occasion for a launch, the fortieth anniversary of the premier episode of Star Trek. I recall as an eleven-year old being excited about this new prime-time space show.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Rachel's Field

Forest and Aileen Graul, local friends of mine, are attempting to use their property here in the Maryland suburbs of DC for a noble and compassionate outreach to post abortive parents who mourn the loss of their children. The project will stand as a witness to the sacredness and dignity of every human life and is being implemented through Life Principles Trust. They've run into opposition from the local bank which is attempting to prevent this vision from happening.

The background page is the place to start to understand this situation and, if nothing else, pray for the Grauls and their vision. One way to do that is through their audio novena(wma file). I've also added the Life Principles Trust link to the prolife section of my sidebar so that it will be readily available long after this post has scrolled off the main page and into the archives.