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Monday, July 30, 2007

Changing Minds

An article concerning the changing situation in Iraq is gaining a lot of attention, given its source. Michael O'Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack are two writers at the Brookings Institution, a liberal leaning think tank, who have been sharply critical of the Bush Administration's policy in Iraq. Their article published today in the New York Times describes the improvement they saw during their latest visit to the war-torn country from the situation they saw on earlier visits.
Here is the most important thing Americans need to understand: We are finally getting somewhere in Iraq, at least in military terms. As two analysts who have harshly criticized the Bush administration’s miserable handling of Iraq, we were surprised by the gains we saw and the potential to produce not necessarily “victory” but a sustainable stability that both we and the Iraqis could live with.

After the furnace-like heat, the first thing you notice when you land in Baghdad is the morale of our troops. In previous trips to Iraq we often found American troops angry and frustrated — many sensed they had the wrong strategy, were using the wrong tactics and were risking their lives in pursuit of an approach that could not work.

Today, morale is high. The soldiers and marines told us they feel that they now have a superb commander in Gen. David Petraeus; they are confident in his strategy, they see real results, and they feel now they have the numbers needed to make a real difference.

Credit is due to the authors for being open-minded about the changing Iraq situation and to the NYT for publishing this piece which challenges their own gloomy editorial position.

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Saturday, July 28, 2007

Troubled Time for the Space Community

The last couple of days brought several pieces of bad news for the space community.

The reports of astronauts departing drunk on space missions are certainly not acceptable, but so far there is still too little information to know what actually occurred and whether these were two isolated incidents or part of a more widespread pattern.

The report of the deliberate sabotage of equipment bound for the International Space Station (ISS) is certainly disturbing. While the identities or motives are not yet known (at least publicly), this incident will certainly call attention to the need for security in the whole process of preparing systems for spaceflight.

Of course, the most tragic and heartbreaking development is the explosion at a Scaled Composites plant in Mojave, CA that killed three workers who were testing a propellant flow system for SpaceShipTwo, the passenger carrying suborbital spacecraft being built for Virgin Galactic. May the Lord grant mercy on those who have died, healing to the injured, and comfort to their loved ones.

The Space Frontier Foundation issued a statement reminding the public that opening the frontier always involves risk and that this tragedy will be overcome. (Not yet up on the Foundation's web site, but currently posted here at HobbySpace.)
"We are reaching for the stars, and it is not easy. Accidents happen. Good people die. And we move on. We move on to reach the goal they died for, because to do less would be to dishonor them and their sacrifice, concluded Tumlinson. "Tonight, in dark skies above Mojave, there are three new stars. Let us wipe our tears, pick up our wrenches and tools and get back to work, and now and then as we move ahead in this quest, look up to them and smile - as they are smiling at us."

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Anniversaries


NASA

Friday is the 38th anniversary of humanity's first expedition to the lunar surface. Check out Rand Simberg's ceremonial commemoration of that epic event.

I'll be off to attend the Space Frontier Foundation's NewSpace 2007 Conference being held this year in Washington, DC (well, actually in nearby Crystal City, VA).

Friday is also the fourth anniversary ('blogiversary') of the launch of this humble blog. Here is the inaugural post (Note that I was too inexperienced to think of giving it a title.) on Life at the Frontier.

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Friday, July 13, 2007

New Catholic News Web Site

A website which provides news links from a variety of Catholic and secular sources (including news contributions from individuals), PewSitter.com was just launched. I've added this site to my sidebar on the right. The site's debut is very timely, as two major pronouncements came from Rome in the past week.

Pope Benedict XVI issued his Motu Proprio allowing more general use of the traditional Latin Mass while maintaining the post-Vatican II form of the Mass commonly said today. See Catholic News Service report here.

Also, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith released a papal approved document titled Responses to some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church, which describes the Church's doctrine on the unique role of the Catholic Church.

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Give Surge a Chance

The debate is raging in the nation and particularly in Congress as to what path to take in the Iraq War. Kimberly Kagan writes in the Wall Street Journal that the 'surge' strategy launched recently is making a serious difference.
Reports from the field show that remarkable progress is being made. Violence in Baghdad and Anbar Province is down dramatically, grassroots political movements have begun in the Sunni Arab community, and American and Iraqi forces are clearing al Qaeda fighters and Shiite militias out of long-established bases around the country.

J. D. Johannes says pretty much the same thing at TCS Daily, but goes on to analyze how media reports shape public perception and knowledge, or lack thereof, about the war.
But in the flush of battlefield success, public perception of American military progress continued its calamitous decline. According to Pew Research, the percentage of Americans who opine that America's military operations are "going well" slid from 38% in May '07 to 34% in June; those who believe our military operations are "not going well" increased from 57% of respondents to 61%.

The same Pew poll found that only 30% of the public could identify General David Patraeus and only 27% could identify Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. 59% of respondents were unaware that Shi'ites constitute the majority religious group in Iraq. Precise knowledge of the war's progress is obviously scarce. Yet 95% of respondents have defined opinions on the success of our arms.

It is tragic that this strategy might have saved much bloodshed if it had been implemented several years earlier, But this would not be the first war in history that an effective strategy was only taken after tragic and frustrating stalemate.

If you think you really know what is going on in Iraq, check out the continuing dispatches from independent journalist Michael Yon, embedded with US and Iraqi troops. These reports convey the harsh daily reality of war along with the increasing successes, and most of all, the horrific consequences of failure.

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Wallops Spaceport and Surroundings

Daniel Schmelzer provides a photo-essay describing the Wallops Island Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport and some nearby natural and man-made attractions. He comments on the potential and questions surrounding the possibility of SpaceX launching its Falcon 9 booster from the spaceport.

Here is my post from my visit to the area in April to watch the Minotaur/NFIRE launch.

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Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Happy Independence Day!

As we join in the festivities of the Fourth, let's strive to keep to the values proclaimed in the Declaration that make it worth celebrating.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Power Line Blog links to a speech given by President Coolidge on the 150th anniversary of the Declaration and highlights a paragraph very relevant to the social and political issues in today's society.
About the Declaration there is a finality that is exceedingly restful. It is often asserted that the world has made a great deal of progress since 1776, that we have had new thoughts and new experiences which have given us a great advance over the people of that day, and that we may therefore very well discard their conclusions for something more modern. But that reasoning can not be applied to this great charter. If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final. No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions. If anyone wishes to deny their truth or their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule of the people. Those who wish to proceed in that direction can not lay claim to progress. They are reactionary. Their ideas are not more modern, but more ancient, than those of the Revolutionary fathers.

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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

What We're Fighting Against

Michael Yon is an independent journalist embedded with American and Iraqi forces. His latest dispatch reports on the discovery of a horrific massacre of children, women and men by al Qaeda in a village in Iraq's Diyala Provence.

Warning: Some of the photographs here are pretty disturbing. Here is the link to the dispatch.

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