What's New | 4 May 23:37 2007

What's New Friday May 4, 2007

WHAT’S NEW   Robert L. Park   Friday, 4 May 07   Washington, DC

1. SUPREME COURT: ABORTION RULING PUTS WOMEN’S RIGHTS IN LIMBO.
Last month’s 5-4 decision upholding a ban on partial birth abortion 
ensured that the composition of the court will be an issue in the coming 
election.  The awkward fact is that all five justices in the majority are 
Catholic.  Stem cell research draws similar religious opposition from the 
Catholic Church and fundamentalists.  It’s based on the magical belief 
that a soul is assigned to the zygote at conception.  The zygote is 
certainly alive, with its own unique DNA, but that’s true of a bacterium.  
Based on a Genesis passage in which God breathes life into Adam, Jews and 
liberal Christians usually argue that the soul arrives when the newborn 
draws its first breath.  However, there is not shred of evidence that 
a “soul” even exists, and it certainly has no place in science or law. 

2. LIMBO: MAYBE THE COURT SHOULD HAVE CHECKED WITH THE VATICAN.
Ironically, just a week after the Court rendered its decision protecting 
the fetus from late-term abortion, a 30-member International Theological 
Commission appointed by the Vatican abolished limbo.  Limbo was where 
babies who died before being baptized were sent, including aborted 
fetuses.  Because they were saddled with original sin, they couldn’t go to 
heaven.  But now the panel has decided that because God is merciful, he’s 
going to let them into heaven anyway. It’s not clear what new information 
they have. Pope Benedict XVI agrees.  While still a Cardinal he wrote a 
report saying limbo was “only a theological hypothesis.”  Isn’t that all 
any of it is, Benny?

3. PROMISES, PROMISES: HAS THE PRESIDENT AGREED TO END THE WAR?
What a turnaround!  According to a tiny story in this morning’s NY Times, 
Bush told Congressional leaders yesterday in a 2-page letter that he would 
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What's New | 11 May 23:32 2007

What's New Friday May 11, 2007

WHAT’S NEW   Robert L. Park   Friday, 11 May 07   Washington, DC

1. MISSILE DEFENSE BUDGET: CONGRESS BALKS AT SILOS IN POLAND. 
The Bush administration wants to install 10 interceptors in Poland and 
tracking radar in the Czech Republic – like the type of system that 
doesn’t work in Alaska.  Congress is unlikely to provide the money.  The 
Safeguard ABM system was abandoned, the Strategic Defense Initiative was 
stillborn, and Bush’s National Missile Defense is turned off.  Ballistic 
missiles are easier to make than to stop.  The only meaningful defense has 
always been the threat of retaliation.  But a chilling article in today’s 
NY Times asks “retaliation against whom?”  Missiles carry a return 
address.  Bombs carried in by terrorists do not.

2. SCIENCE BUDGET: MAYBE WE COULD PRIVATIZE THE WAR IN IRAQ. 
At the annual AAAS Science and Technology Forum last week, one-time 
physicist Jack Marburger, told science policy wonks that prospects for 
increased science funding are poor.  Marburger observed that science has 
been held to a constant slice of the federal pie for the past 40 years, 
and he says it’s not going to change now.  He cited “competing societal 
priorities,” by which he must mean the war in Iraq. “New researchers will 
either find new ways to fund their work, or they will leave the field.”  

3. NASA BUDGET: CLIMATE EXPERTS WARN THAT EARTH IS GOING BLIND.
Seventeen years ago, Dan Goldin, then head of NASA, pushed hard for a 
major effort, called Mission to Planet Earth, to monitor changes in 
Earth’s environment from space.  The head of the Space Subcommittee, Dana 
Rohrabacher (R-CA), hated the idea, and transferred funding to the Space 
Station http://bobpark.physics.umd.edu/WN97/wn111497.html .  I recalled 
the episode when I read an op-ed in Wednesday’s Washington Post in which 
the heads of the three top climate/oceanographic labs warn that the shift 
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What's New | 18 May 23:36 2007

What's New Friday May 18, 2007

WHAT’S NEW   Robert L. Park   Friday, 18 May 07   Washington, DC

1. DOE POLYGRAPH PROGRAM: COUNTER INTELLIGENCE TAKEN LITERALLY.
A 30 Apr 07 memo notified Los Alamos employees that random polygraph tests 
of 8,000 personnel in high-risk categories will be conducted by the DOE as 
part of a new counter-intelligence program.  Three years ago, a National 
Academy of Sciences study done at the request of the DOE, The Polygraph 
and Lie Detection, http://bobpark.physics.umd.edu/WN03/wn041803.html 
concluded that the high incidence of false positives made the polygraph 
worse than useless. Nothing indicates it will work any better for randomly 
chosen personnel.  The polygraph, in fact, has ruined careers, but never 
uncovered a single spy.  If you have an orgasm while being tested and lie 
about it, the operator can probably tell.  For anything else, it’s a coin 
toss.  

2. COLLAPSING BUBBLE: PURDUE LAUNCHES A NEW PROBE OF TALEYARKAN. Our last 
episode in the continuing Rusi Taleyarkhan sonofusion mystery ended as 
Rep. Brad Miller (D-NC), chair of the Science Investigations Subcommittee, 
asked for the report http://bobpark.physics.umd.edu/WN07/wn032307.html . 
Last week, the subcommittee concluded that, although Purdue had bungled 
the investigation, the still-secret internal report reveals serious 
deviations from accepted scientific practices.  In today’s installment, 
according to Science, there are new allegations, as a result of which the 
University is undertaking a broader study, expected to take another 3 
months.  It’s already been a year.

3. INTELLIGENT DESIGN: CREATIONIST ASTRONOMER DENIED TENURE.  
Guillermo Gonzalez was denied tenure at Iowa State University.  The 
Discovery Institute was shocked at this blatant disregard of the cherished 
principle of “viewpoint diversity.”  With Jay Richards, a theologian, 
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What's New | 25 May 22:56 2007

What's New Friday May 25, 2007

WHAT’S NEW   Robert L. Park   Friday, 25 May 07   Washington, DC

1. RRW: HOUSE APPROPRIATIONS SUBCOMMITTEE NUKES NEW WARHEAD. 
The administration broke a leg coming out of the starting gate this week 
when a House panel eliminated funding for the Reliable Replacement 
Warhead.  First, the administration declined to ratify the Comprehensive 
Test Ban Treaty, and now proposes to develop a whole new generation of 
nuclear weapons, while at the same telling other nations not to develop 
them.  That might rank among the most dangerous strategies in history – 
unless the United States has an impenetrable shield against attack.  Let’s 
take a look at how that’s coming.

2. MISSILE DEFENSE: CONGRESS IS THREATENING TO NUKE THAT TOO.
A lot depends on a test of the antimissile shield in California and Alaska 
scheduled for this week. The shield hasn’t been exactly impenetrable in 
previous tests, though it’s alleged to have hit the target once in a 
highly choreographed test.  In Texas they say, "Even a blind sow will pick 
up an acorn occasionally."  Fred Lamb, a physics professor at the 
University of Illinois, who recently led a study of missile defense for 
the American Physical Society, is concerned that the new test might be 
another acorn.  He is quoted in the New York Times as worrying that a 
successful test would be cited as proof that "the system has a substantial 
capability in a real battle situation. That would be a gross exaggeration."

3. CREATION: VEGETARIAN DINOSAURS LINE UP TO BOARD NOAH’S ARK.
Jurassic Park it’s not.  The $27M Creation Museum in Petersburg, KY opens 
Monday.  Petersburg is across the Ohio River from Cincinnati, but it’s 
about 150 years behind.  I was in Cincinnati for a meeting a number of 
years ago.  It was a bright spring day, and I took the lunch period to 
walk in a pleasant park that ran a mile or so along the bank above the 
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