• August 15, 2004 | 11:26 PM ET
FORGET THE OLYMPICS
Forget the Olympics. There's another competition going on that is likely to mean more for the future of humanity than the one going on in Athens. It's called the Ansar X-Prize competition, and I've written about it before. (You can read more about it here, and, of course, at the X Prize Web site.)
The competition seems to be heating up. Here's the latest development:
The still waters just south of Centre Island were transformed yesterday morning into Cape Canaveral North, as a Canadian entry in the $10 million (U.S.) Ansari X Prize competition carried out a splashdown test of its crew cabin. It looked like something from the early days of NASA, except the cabin was unmanned. (Oh yes. And the U.S. navy wasn't there.) Nonetheless, the test takes Canadian Arrow one small step closer to making its first manned suborbital flight before the end of the year, and to eventually carrying passengers who'll pay good coin to kiss the cheek of space.
"This is kind of like that last of six tests before you put human beings on board the vehicle," said the team's leader, Geoff Sheerin.
The other Canadian entry in the X Prize, Toronto's da Vinci Project, plans to fly Oct. 2 over Kindersley, Sask. The acknowledged front-runner, Burt Rutan's SpaceShipOne, is set to make its first X Prize flight Sept. 29 in California.
As I said before, a lot more people remember Lindbergh's transatlantic flight than remember the 1928 Presidential election. It may well be that who wins this competition, and who follows it up, will be more important to humanity's future than who gets elected this November, too.
Meanwhile, if you're interested in something farther out, this article by Keay Davidson discusses the prospects for interstellar travel using antimatter propulsion. Star Trek? Not quite:
Howe and his colleagues have calculated that with 17 grams of antimatter -- barely enough to hold in your hand -- a robotic space probe could get to Alpha Centauri in 40 years. To get there in a decade, the rocket would need at least four times as much antimatter.
"Interstellar flight requires quantities of antiprotons that we can't even imagine producing at this point," acknowledges Howe, whose firm is largely funded by the NASA Institute of Advanced Concepts. But time might change everything; he notes that in the early 1940s, there were only "micrograms of enriched uranium (for nuclear bombs) available to the world.
"At that time, if you said you'd need a ton of it, it would have seemed impossible. But nowadays, we have so many tons of it, we've quit making it."
It's easy to get wrapped up in politics. But the real changes in our world are coming from a different source.
• August 13, 2004 | 3:12 PM ET
A STRONG WIND BLOWS
As I write this, Hurricane Charley is bearing down on the coast of Florida. Some bloggers are covering it from the scene, too -- here's one of them, and here's another. That'll work as long as their Internet connections hold out, anyway.
This reminds me that it was just about a year ago that people were doing real-time blogging from the New York blackout. And it also reminds me that all sorts of disasters -- natural and man-made -- can happen, in all sorts of places.
The government will do its best, of course, but you should be prepared to help yourself. Be sure you have (at least) a several-day supply of food, water, and any essential medicines, along with things like flashlights, batteries, battery-powered radios, etc. Being unprepared in an emergency not only puts you at risk, but puts others at risk, too, by increasing the burden on emergency services.
The U.S. Government's site, Ready.gov, offers a lot of information on ways to prepare for disasters -- not only in terms of supplies, but in terms of acquiring useful skills, like first aid. (New York City has been encouraging its residents to keep a "go bag" at all times, and that's good advice for the rest of us, too.) And here's more advice from the American Red Cross.
The life you save may be your own. Or your neighbor's.
KERRY'S CAMBODIAN CONFUSION CONTINUES
Despite John Kerry's repeated claims over the past 25 years that he spent Christmas of 1968 in Cambodia, and that it was a turning point in his life that was "seared" in his memory, his story has now changed. It seems he wasn't in Cambodia that day after all:
The biographer of John Kerry, the Democratic presidential candidate, said yesterday there was no basis for one of the senator's favourite Vietnam War anecdotes - that he spent Christmas 1968 in Cambodia, a neutral nation which U.S. leaders vowed was off limits for American forces.
He said: "Kerry went into Cambodian waters three or four times in January and February 1969 on clandestine missions. He had a run dropping off U.S. Navy Seals, Green Berets and CIA guys." The missions were not armed attacks on Cambodia, said Mr Brinkley, who did not include the clandestine missions in his wartime biography of Mr Kerry, Tour of Duty.
Whether this is believable or not, it raises two troubling questions.
One is whether Kerry can be trusted -- he's peddled a story for decades that had great political resonance, only to now admit that it wasn't true. (Who could forget where they were on Christmas Day, 1968? I remember, and I was still wearing pajamas with feet. And Kerry has claimed that the day was "seared" into his memory.) Even more troubling is how the major media have chosen to ignore this story. The accusations that George W. Bush was AWOL from his National Guard service got lots of ink, but this story has yet to be covered by the New York Times or Washington Post. It's as if they're letting their desire for Kerry to win influence their coverage.
• August 12, 2004 | 7:03 PM ET
John Kerry's Vietnam experience was supposed to be his greatest strength, so much so that it's been the main (some would say the only) theme of his campaign. And reports were that he was planning to use it as a cudgel against Bush in the debates. But things don't seem to be working out that well. Questions are coming up regarding his service, and his spokesmen -- since Kerry has been keeping mum so far -- haven't been answering them very well. As ABC's political newsletter The Note observes:
Let's face it: there is something squirrelly and unsettling and not quite right about the way Michael Meehan answers the media's Vietnam-era questions — something that makes nearly every member of the Gang of 500 think there is still something there.
(The "Gang of 500" is The Note's term for the most influential establishment journalists, pundits, etc.) The questions about Kerry's Vietnam service are being raised by a group of fellow veterans who served in Swift Boats with him. I've mentioned the television commercial that they're running before. There's also a book about to come out, called Unfit for Command, that's currently number one on Amazon.
But the biggest questions don't have to do with Vietnam, but with Kerry's repeated claims that he spent Christmas of 1968 in Cambodia, while the government denied that he was there. In 1979 Kerry wrote in the Boston Herald:
On more than one occasion, I, like Martin Sheen in "Apocalypse Now," took my patrol boat into Cambodia.
In fact, I remember spending Christmas Day of 1968 five miles across the Cambodian border being shot at by our South Vietnamese Allies who were drunk and celebrating Christmas. The absurdity of almost being killed by our own allies in a country in which President Nixon claimed there were no American troops was very real.
In 1986 he spoke on the Senate floor:
Mr. President, I remember Christmas of 1968 sitting on a gunboat in Cambodia. I remember what it was like to be shot at by Vietnamese and Khmer Rouge and Cambodians, and have the President of the United States telling the American people that I was not there; the troops were not in Cambodia.
I have that memory which is seared-seared-in me.
Kerry has repeated that story, with variation, in a number of settings, over the past couple of decades. The only problem is, it's not true. In fact, the Kerry campaign has admitted that it's not true. And the response was pretty flabby. First we had this:
The Kerry campaign first asserted that the Massachusetts senator never said that he was in Cambodia, only that he was near the country. But when presented with a copy of the Congressional Record and asked about Kerry's letter in the Boston Herald, the campaign said it would come up with an explanation. After repeated phone calls, there was still no clarification.
Then, a while later, we got this:
The Kerry campaign responded, initially, that Mr Kerry had always said he was "near" Cambodia. Then a campaign aide said Mr Kerry had been in the Mekong Delta "between" Vietnam and next-door Cambodia - a geographical zone not found on maps, which show the Mekong river running from Cambodia to Vietnam.
Michael Meehan, a Kerry campaign adviser, told ABC Television: "The Mekong Delta consists of the border between Cambodia and Vietnam, so on Christmas Eve in 1968, he was in fact on patrol . . . in the Mekong Delta between Cambodia and Vietnam. He was ambushed, they fired back, he was fired upon from both sides, from the Cambodian side of the border and the Vietnam side during that day in 1968."
Well, so what? So Kerry has been peddling a bogus story for decades, in various versions -- sometimes he was being shot at by the Khmer Rouge, sometimes by drunken South Vietnamese celebrating Christmas, sometimes while engaged in covert activities -- but what does that have to do with the election today?
The answer might be "not much," if Kerry's campaign weren't so heavily reliant on the four months he spent on the rivers of Vietnam, instead of the almost two decades he's spent in the Senate. (Or, even more problematic for Kerry, the couple of years of anti-war activity when he first returned from Vietnam).
But Kerry has invited people to judge his character based on his service, as reported by Kerry. Now those reports are looking a bit dubious. He'd better get ready to start talking about something else. Or, perhaps, to start talking about the Vietnam months in a bit more detail, and with a bit more backing.
• August 10, 2004 | 11:32 PM ET
TWO PLACES WHERE KERRY IS RIGHT
Despite claims by the Democratic Left that the Iraq war happened only because "Bush Lied" about weapons of mass destruction, John Kerry knows better:
GRAND CANYON, Ariz. (Reuters) - Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry said on Monday he would have voted for the congressional resolution authorizing force against Iraq even if he had known then no weapons of mass destruction would be found.
That's kind of hard to square with Kerry's remarks at the Democratic Convention about being "misled" into war, but at least he's saying the right things now. In fact, in an interview with Stars and Stripes, he characterizes the Iraq invasion as a "brilliant military strategy, which we all adopted and supported." Can't get much clearer than that.
The Belmont Club has an explanation for this war talk: "The truism that victory has many fathers while defeat is an orphan may partially explain why the Democratic Party sought to rebrand itself as the War Party during its recently concluded convention in Boston."
In other words: We're winning, and he knows it. In fact, the Kerry spin is that the waffling on the war was all because of Howard Dean.
Off the record, he did it because of Howard Dean. On the record, he has an elaborate explanation.
Interestingly, that's the thesis of this video on Kerry's shifting positions. I guess it was right.
Kerry's thesis now is that the war was justified, and waged brilliantly, but that the Bush Administration didn't have an adequate plan for "winning the peace." This may well be true, though there are skeptics. Stephen Green is one of them, arguing:
Nobody ever has a plan for the peace. Or if they do, it will prove useless.
We certainly entered World War Two without a plan to "win the peace" -- in fact, the Marshall Plan wasn't conceived of for years after VE day. Could the Bush Administration have done better? Probably. Would a Kerry Administration do better? We'd all love to see the plan. Still, it's good to hear Kerry admitting that the Iraq invasion was justified, and abandoning the paranoid fantasies of the Michael Moore crowd.
ANOTHER PLACE WHERE KERRY IS RIGHT
Kerry's also right about stem cell research. The Bush Administration's position is wrong:
Democratic presidential hopeful John Kerry Saturday carried his "help is on the way" theme to those affected in some way by diseases and conditions that could be improved by stem cell research, pledging to lift a partial ban President Bush put on the research three years ago.
. . .
"The is not the way we do things in America," Kerry said in the Democrats' weekly radio address. "Here in America we don't sacrifice science for ideology. We are a land of discovery, a place where innovators and optimists are free to dream and explore."
"We know that progress has always brought with it the worry that this time, we have gone too far," Kerry said. "Believe it or not, there was a time when some questioned the morality of heart transplants. Not too long ago, we heard the same kind of arguments against the biotechnology research that now saves stroke victims and those with leukemia."
The Bush Administration's ban on federal funding for stem cell research does real harm. As scientist-reader Travis Smith e-mails:
As a scientist, this is a very important issue to me.
The promise of stem cell research has been well chronicled. However, I still don't think that many people understand what the Bush Administration's restrictive rules about this topic really mean to scientists and medical research. The list of 60 or so stem cell lines that are approved for use by federally funded researchers turned out to be only about 12 useful cell lines, severely limiting potential for research in this area.
This has also been well chronicled. I think the thing that most people don't understand is how important the term "federally funded researchers" is. As a scientist at a public or private institution, the most common way to fund your research is to apply for a grant from the National Institutes of Health.
And when I say most common, I mean nothing else is close. NIH grants are the lifeblood of science in the United States. And these are just the grants that are not available to researchers that want to investigate using non-approved cell lines. Not only does this prevent important medical advances, this impacts the economy. If we don't do it in the U.S., other countries will. Biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies are fueled by science and discovery conducted by federally funded researchers, and limiting federally funded academic research will not only affect the progress of modern medicine, but also the health of our economy.
Travis K. Smith
Department of Cell Biology
Stahlman Cardiovascular Research Laboratories
Vanderbilt University Medical Center
Whenever I write about this, lots of readers tell me about the promise of using adult stem cells rather than embryonic stem cells. It's my own belief (though I'm not a scientist) that we'll probably be able to do everything we want with adult stem cells, eventually. But I'm not sure of that, and it may well be that we'll need research on embryonic stem cells to show us the way. I don't want to miss out on that.
Those who believe that every fertilized egg is a human being may feel differently, of course, but I'm not one of those people. I think that Kerry's right on this. And -- while I have severe doubts on whether to believe him about the war -- I think he's serious on this point. If it weren't for the war, it might be enough to get my vote. With the war, though, I'll need a lot more convincing before I'll consider it.
• August 9, 2004 | 12:21 AM ET
KERRY TALKS TOUGH ON IRAQ
Knowing then what he knows today about the lack of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Kerry still would have voted to authorize the war and "in all probability" would have launched a military attack to oust Hussein by now if he were president, Kerry national security adviser Jamie Rubin said in an interview Saturday. As recently as Friday, the Massachusetts senator had said he only "might" have still gone to war.
I guess that their polls were telling them the same thing that I was, so they decided that they needed to firm up their message. Which is nice, except that Kerry's message hasn't always been so firm. This analysis of recent Kerry statements suggests that he plans to cut and run. (He should read this first!)
As this montage of Kerry statements going back to 2001 indicates, Kerry has had this problem before. It's hard to know what to make of it.
Meanwhile, speaking of videos, the ad on Kerry that I mentioned last week, by some of his fellow veterans, continues to get attention. The veterans have responded to Kerry's legal threats, and are continuing to press for more attention to his Vietnam record. You can read more on that subject here. And a reported retraction by one of the veterans of his criticisms of Kerry's war record was itself retracted.
The story's moving fast, but so far Big Media outlets seem to be ignoring it or explaining it away. And, of course, it may be that there's nothing to it -- but I feel certain that if President Bush were being denounced by an equivalent number of people who served with him, we'd be hearing a lot more about it. As Evan Thomas noted: "Let's talk a little media bias here. The media, I think, wants Kerry to win."
It's becoming more obvious every day.
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