NASA has been hit with another scandal. Intrigued, I watched the CNN coverage today only to repeatedly roll my eyes at all the references to the “Right Stuff”. God who writes this copy? Kind of makes me sorry for Wolf Blizer who has to read that swill. Well maybe not that sorry.
It appears there is a Russian connection in all this. According the NASA report’s findings, one American astronaut flew on a Russian spacecraft after some heavy pre-flight drinking. You guessed it. The Russians have a little toasting ceremony several hours before being shot into space like monkeys. Here is how Dr. Ellen Ochoa described the ritual during Friday’s press conference:
There is a ceremony in Kazakhstan that happens about 7-1/2 hours before launch. I don’t know if crew members have actually ever drank alcohol. I have even been in the ceremony, and I still don’t know the answer to that. It is really a situation in which there is a chance to say a few parting words, and the Russians who, of course, manage and sort of control the practices of that, for them it is a great tradition. In their society, it was done with Yuri Gagarin went and flew, and they had a few parting words.
Really, the intent of the ceremony is to share a few special moments with a crew that is about to go off on a mission. I actually don’t know if any crews have ever had a sip of the champagne that is handed around or not. That is a potential situation, though, in which alcohol is present in that 12 hours. I don’t believe there is any –well, I know I don’t have any concern about there being a crew member under the influence or effects of alcohol.
The policy that I have put out explicitly states the 12 hours. I am going to be having discussions with members of the Russian Space Agency to talk over this and to talk with our Expedition crew members, to talk about how we can respect the culture and traditions of the Russian Space Agency and making sure that we are doing everything that complies with our practice and our desire to make sure that everything is safe and that we have no issues with safety or mission success.
Well if Gagarin could do it then why not? Plus what’s a few shots 7 1/2 hours before a space flight? Especially since it’s now clear American astronauts aren’t the poster children for sobriety. Also could there be a better way for NASA to put that $19 million Russian toilet that turns piss into drinking water to use? Much ado about nothing. I gotta say, if was going to be shot into space. And be sure it wouldn’t 7 1/2 hours before the flight. It would be about 7 1/2 minutes.
Well if Gagarin could do it then why not? Plus what’s a few shots 7 1/2 hours before a space flight? Especially since it’s now clear American astronauts aren’t the poster children for sobriety. Also could there be a better way for NASA to put that $19 million Russian toilet that turns piss into drinking water to use? Much ado about nothing. I gotta say,be sure I’d down a few beforehand
if was going to be shot into space. And be sure it wouldn’t 7 1/2 hours before the flight. It would be about 7 1/2 minutes.
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By Sean — 11 years ago
I promise to get on to other topics but with all the drama, which I am an avid sucker for, I feel compelled to continue. I am the moth to the flame.
It appears to be Berezovsky-fest in the Western press. A Google News search reveals hundreds of articles on the alleged assassination plot against BAB. Unfortunately, there few concrete concrete details. RIA Novosti is reporting that British police lacked enough evidence to arrest the would be killer. According to an article published in the Independent, “One reason why the man was not charged was because he was not armed,” the paper said. “Although intelligence had led the security agencies to believe that a plot was being organized against Mr Berezovsky, there was not enough presentable evidence to put before a court, according to security sources.” The man police detained is said to be in his thirties and British intelligence had been tracking him for a week after his arrival in the country. Suspicion heightened when the man attempted to buy a handgun. Police detained him for two days and then handed over to immigration services. He’s since been deported. Nothing more has been said about the alleged kid the assassin was to use as a human shield. Too bad. I thought that was the most compelling part.
My question if there was not enough evidence to charge this man with attempted murder, then what evidence do the British have? Do they even have any?
No one, and I mean no one, is surprised that some powerful people want Berezovsky dead. Even Edward Lucas admits that he “wanted to strangle him.”
Whether the plot was real or not, what it has done is given BAB yet another platform to mouth off. I mean could this guy be even more of a narcissist?
“I am one of the most important witnesses in the Litvinenko murder. They are trying to reach me because I concentrate a group of people who create real opposition, an opposition able to act, and I have enough money to support this opposition.” He then admitted that he’s dumped $300-$400 million into it.
Kommersant claims that in an interview with the French paper Le Figaro, Berezovsky is claiming that he “pioneered Russian capitalism.”
Sure if by Russian capitalism, you mean crony capitalism. Hey BAB, checkity-check yo’self before ya wreckity-wreck yo’self. Is this what Chappelle meant by when keepin’ it real goes bad?
BAB did say in an interview with RFE/RL that he would accept being tried in a third country. “There are actually many countries that fit that description, such as Denmark, Norway, Germany, and one can name at east five or six other such countries in Europe,” he said. One country chomping at the bit is Brazil, whose Public Prosecutor, Rodrigo Di Grandis, issued an arrest warrant yesterday for BAB if he enters Brazil.
In other related news, Russia has expelled four British diplomats and promises to “act reciprocally” on visas in response to the British move. This tit-for-tat reminds me of “I know you are, but what am I . . .” To think that these countries are actually considered world powers.
I must say the repeated statements that “cooler heads will prevail” is getting stale. If they will, will someone please say were the hell are those cool heads gonna come from? Certainly not the US or the EU. US Secretary of State Rice and the EU are just fanning the flames with their categorical statements that Russia cooperate with the British. The EU statement evoked “unpleasant surprise” says Russian Permanent Representative to the EU Vladimir Chizhov. “We would not like the principle of European solidarity to be applied selectively to Russia. That will inevitably harm Russia-EU relations,” he added. This doesn’t bode well for Rice’s doublespeak about not “isolating Russia.”
This, of course, doesn’t mean that Russia can stand there innocent and perpetually play the deck of victim cards it appears to have. Consistently claiming “russophobia” and “western plots” sounds more pathetic everyday. I think the Russians would have done well to just listen to Andy at Siberian Light and respond by giving no response to claim the moral high ground. Or they can take some advice from Don Corleone, who told a whining Johnny Fontaine, “You can act like a man! What’s the matter with you? Is this how you turned out?” But the Russians didn’t, to virtually no one’s surprise.
As many will point out at issue here is law and politics. And it is no surprise that when one side claims law, the other charges that it is really politics. True, Britain does have an obligation to solve a murder committed on its soil, especially one involving radioactive material. And Russia does have an obligation to follow its Constitution and protect its citizens from extradition.
But since Russia is certainly tired of being damned if they do and damned if they don’t, I think that they are going to hold to their guns and test how far Britain is willing to take this. Putin’s mantra is sovereignty and it appears there is no compromise on that. Considering this, we should remember whose audience Russia is more interested in addressing here: its own citizenry. Russia clearly has enough geopolitical clout to thumb its nose at the illusion that is the “international community” with little repercussion. Losing a bit more international capital is nothing compared to the domestic political capital gained from telling your people, “Look we are no longer a defeated nation and we aren’t going to take it any more.” Putin’s on a roll and with Parliamentary and a Presidential elections coming up, he’s not going to change course for anyone, let alone the British. Plus it all seems to be working. According to a recent poll conducted by VTsIOM, 90 percent of Russians polled approve of his foreign policy. Perhaps there is some Russian muzhestvennost’ at play here after all.
By Sean — 10 years ago
“I’m out of it for a little while and everybody gets delusions of grandeur.” Now I understand how Han Solo felt after being defrosted from carbonite. I go into the basement for two weeks and there are rumors of me being in a post-election hangover, or worse, murdered. Well, I assure you dear readers that I’m alive and well. Los Angeles may be ablaze (again) but I’m safe from the rings of fire, that is until I kick the bucket and meet the dark lord.
For the past few weeks I’ve been devoting my Bolshevik will and strength to finishing a dissertation chapter. “Bolsheviks can storm any fortress” read the Stalinist slogan, and I did. I do have to finish this damn dissertation at some point. And well if I have to pick between you my dear reader and my career, well my petite-bourgeois sensibilities win out every time. Just don’t hate the player, hate the game. So over the next few months expect more periods where I go underground . . .
But the delusions of grandeur aren’t about me and my rumored doom. They have more to do with what’s been going on in Russia over the last few weeks. Well, not in Russia exactly, but more how it’s being interpreted by the gatekeepers of English language reporting. As we know, Obama was elected President of the United States, and Dima Medvedev instead of showing the proper deference to the new Emperor decided to address the Duma where he blamed the US for the global economic crisis (he’s right) and threatened to put missiles in Kaliningrad to match American intentions of putting missiles in Poland. Was this the challenge to Obama’s “lack of experience” that everyone predicted? The New York Times thought so. It called Medvedev’s move “a cold-war-tinged challenge for President-elect Barack Obama.” After all, the Times reasoned, “Russia’s leaders know full well that the American missile defenses pose no real threat to their huge nuclear arsenal. But playing the victim is an easy way to divert attention from Russia’s shrinking democracy, and now from declining oil prices.” A new President but the Times plays the same old record. So much for hope and change. Russia’s just the same old big bully, they say. Sigh.
But digging at the US wasn’t all, or even the real focus of Mr. Medevev’s speech. Sorry to disappoint my fellow Americans, but sometimes you aren’t at the center of everyone’s existence. To quote the NY Times again, “The dark flashbacks didn’t end there.” Surprise! Medvedev isn’t the liberal everyone hoped, prayed, and sacrificed small animals and virgins for. He’s a Putinist of perhaps a lighter shade, but still a Putinist. Dima’s most recent affront to Western democratic sensibilities was his proposal that the Russian presidential term be extended from four to six years. Immediately, pundits cried “authoritarianism” and revived the corpse of Putin’s impending return to Russia’s top job. The logic goes that since Putin didn’t want to risk international condemnation for changing the Constitution when he was President (as if there wasn’t enough condemnation already), he sent is little bear to do the dirty work.
The changes were submitted to the Duma on Friday and they passed without a hitch. No surprises there or in the Guardian‘s Luke Harding usually predictable analysis: The changes entrench “the Kremlin’s grip on power and paving the way for an early comeback by Vladimir Putin.” In fact, rumor has it that Putin will be back as early as 2009! For the life of me, I can’t figure out why this signals Putin’s “early comeback” especially since people like Harding believe that he never went anywhere in the first place. After all, isn’t Putin the de facto President anyway? Is Medvedev Putin’s puppet or not? Make up your damn mind.
In addition to extending the presidential term, Medvedev also proposed extending the terms of Duma reps from four to five years. This will certainly make representatives of United Russia happy. Since the majority of Duma seats are based on lists and not direct candidate elections, this will solidify their place for one more year. Rest easy, comrades. But not too easy . . .
Medvedev also made some other interesting proposals in his speech that went virtually unnoticed in the Western press. One is to change appointments for governors. Instead of being appointed by the Kremlin, candidates for governor would chosen by their parties and be elected by a majority vote in their respective provincial Dumas. Ekspert called this move “the most radical of all presidential initiatives.” If this is implemented, governors would be more accountable to the regions they represent rather than to the Kremlin. True, the Kremlin will certainly have a hand in the process via the back door–United Russia, after all, dominates every regional parliament–but it is a move toward some semblance of political decentralization.
The question, however, is why? Why extend terms of President, Duma reps, and propose altering regional politics? Many have pointed out that it’s all about the boys in the Kremlin tightening their grip. Perhaps, but I have a different take.
Taken together, Medvedev’s proposals are a gift and a check to bureaucratic power. Extending Duma terms gives reps a bit more time to rest on their laurels. Score one for the national political elite. Making governors accountable to locals is feather in the cap of local elites. Score one for them. Extending the presidential terms to six years, however, is a potential check against this transfer of power. The President will be in power longer than any one Duma member and given more time to put pressure on regional governors and their parliaments.
Extending the presidential term also suggests something else. In his speech, Medvedev spoke of “effective government.” In one sense, his proposals are exactly about effective government. They potentially, and I say potentially, increase the President’s effectiveness in influencing governance. But this doesn’t mean that it’s about the Kremlin strengthening itself. Quite the opposite, in my view. Extending the top dog’s term says to me that the center still can’t trust its regions to implement its agenda. Therefore the President needs two more years to ram it down their throats.
Political power in Russia is indeed centralized because the history of regional politics from the Tsars to Putin have been one of autonomy, localization, stonewalling, foot dragging, or worse, exploiting the center’s directives. Russian rulers’ solution has been to centralize its power. But here is where the inner contradiction of centralization rears its ugly head. The center must weaken the periphery to run the country as effective as it can, but in that weakening it makes itself the only real political force of reform, negating the power local need to prosecute the center’s policies. The center is thus weakened by its very effort at becoming more effective. The question then becomes how do you rule effectively and subordinate the machinations of regional boyars without giving them too much power to muck up your agenda? It sounds as if Medvedev, with his proposed changes, is faced with the same conundrum. Whether they will provide some semblance of an answer remains to be seen.
To think people believe that Putin wants this job back?!
By Sean — 12 years ago
Note to Readers: I’m veering away from Russia for a bit to revisit Florida’s Education Omnibus Bill.
For the last few days I’ve been looking for more media coverage of Florida’s Education Omnibus Bill (House 7087) which, among many things, provides standards for teaching history in Florida public schools. I first addressed the issue a few days ago here. Upon further research and thanks to a column written by David Davisson posted on George Manson’s University’s History News Network, it seems that Jonathan Zimmerman’s opinion on the matter is not entirely accurate. Davisson notes that Zimmerman’s quote, which I also quoted, “The history of the United States shall be taught as genuine history and shall not follow the revisionist or postmodernist viewpoints of relative truth…. American history shall be viewed as factual, not as constructed,” does not appear in the final version of the law. (Davisson also does us a service by providing us a link to the law so we can read it for ourselves. Readers can find it here. For the legislative history of the bill you can go here for the Florida Senate and here for the House.) This above quote appeared in earlier versions of the law, but was deleted from the final version. The LA Times has also printed a correction to Zimmerman’s column on this matter. The paragraph in question comes from this draft of the law. The entire paragraph reads:
“(g) The history of the United States, including the period of discovery, early colonies, the War for Independence, the Civil War, the expansion of the United States to its present boundaries, the world wars, and the civil rights movement to the present. The history of the United States shall be taught as genuine history and shall not follow the revisionist or postmodernist viewpoints of relative truth. American history shall be viewed as factual, not as constructed, shall be viewed as knowable, teachable, and testable, and shall be defined as the creation of a new nation based largely on the universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence.” (italics mine)
This paragraph was added by Florida State Senator Mike Fasano (R). The italicized sentence above was removed from the paragraph and reads in the final version like this:
“(f) The history of the United States, including the period of discovery, early colonies, the War for Independence, the Civil War, the expansion of the United States to its present boundaries, the world wars, and the civil rights movement to the present. American history shall be viewed as factual, not as constructed, shall be viewed as knowable, teachable, and testable, and shall be defined as the creation of a new nation based largely on the universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence.” (Section 1003.42, p. 22-3)
As both Davisson and Zimmerman note, all history is constructed. Historians gather evidence, interpret it and assemble it into a narrative. So to say that American history is factual is correct in the sense that something we call “facts” are used to write it. But to say that it is not constructed is a complete misunderstanding of a historian’s craft. People need to remember, history is not a science and historical narratives are not without interpretation. What one historians interprets in a text (and here I mean text in the broadest sense), may be interpreted differently by another. It is rather ironic that legislators, who spend hours arguing over the minutia of legal texts, can believe that texts, whether they are legal or otherwise, can stand above interpretation. All one needs to do is look at the legislative history of amendments and deletions of this law.
The fact that “postmodern” and “revisionist” are removed from the bill also doesn’t mean that they are not implied in the final version. To say that American history is not constructed is a veiled attack against those, like myself, who look at historical phenomenon as a result of contingency, power, ideology, culture, economics, politics etc, etc. To say that any history is based on incontrovertible facts suggests that facts stand outside of historical processes and matrices of power. To practice history the way Florida is suggesting is to essentially make history ahistorical. While people brandish “postmodernism,” “revisionist,” and “relativism” as political bludgeons, the truth of the matter is that those very people they accuse with such polemics are looking for, in my opinion, a deeper truth. It is not that so-called “postmodernists” say that there is no truth. They are saying that there is no truth without power, and mostly importantly these truths have very real material and ideological effects.
There is more in the law that suggests what I alluded to in my last piece with my reference to Louis Althusser and the role of education in maintaining hegemony of a particular class. In his seminal essay “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes towards an Investigation)” Althusser writes,
“[I]t is by an apprenticeship in a variety of know-how wrapped up in the massive inculcation of the ideology of the ruling class that the relations of production in a capitalist social formation, i.e. the relations of exploited to exploiters and exploiters to exploited, are largely reproduced. The mechanisms which produce this vital result for the capitalist regime are naturally covered up and concealed by a universally reigning ideology of the School, universally reigning because it is one of the essential forms of the ruling bourgeois ideology: an ideology which represents the school as a neutral environment purged of ideology . . .” (Lenin and Philosophy, 156)
This ideological concealment is found in sections of the law such as the following:
“(r) The nature and importance of free enterprise to the United States economy.” (Section 1003.42, p. 23)
“(t)(r) In order to encourage patriotism, the sacrifices that veterans have made in serving our country and protecting democratic values worldwide. Such instruction must occur on or before Veterans’ Day and Memorial Day. Members of the instructional staff are encouraged to use the assistance of local veterans when practicable.” (Section 1003.42, p. 24)
We shouldn’t pretend, whether you disagree with them or not, that these two sections are in any way ideologically neutral. To teach students the importance of “free enterprise” (they can’t even bring themselves to say capitalism) is to reproduce it as a foundational truth of American economy and society. It is to maintain the belief that there is no other “truth” but that one. It also functions to reproduce, as Althusser suggests, “the relations of exploited to exploiters and exploiters to exploited” since social relationship capital forms between those two groups is at the heart of “free enterprise.”
Such is also the case for the second quoted section. Not only does it sit well with the first since we are always taught that free enterprise and democracy have no contradiction, it serves to maintain, perpetuate and veil American foreign policy for the last century as an essentially selfless and virtuous enterprise committed to spreading “democratic values.” In addition, this ideological message is to be made real by employing those who have sacrificed for us and the unstated Other. American policy is not just for us; it is “worldwide.” As Althusser argues throughout his essay, the coordination of institutions (veterans organizations, the school), ritual (holidays mediated by the State like Memorial Day and Veterans Day) and ideology interpellates subjects making them into “concrete individuals” that embody the dominant ideology (for the discussion on interpellation see Althusser, p. 170-183).
There is more in this bill. Some of which is horrendous like “(3) Any student whose parent makes written request to the school principal shall be exempted from the teaching of reproductive health or any disease, including HIV/AIDS, its symptoms, development, and treatment” (Section 1003.42, p. 24) Sex education whatever, but HIV/AIDS!? The bill also places sexual abstinence under “comprehensive health: “(n)(m) Comprehensive health education that addresses concepts of community health; consumer health; environmental health; family life, including an awareness of the benefits of sexual abstinence as the expected standard and the consequences of teenage pregnancy” (Section 1003.42, p. 23). I guess students can’t get a written parental exemption to avoid being subjected to the tortures of abstinence rhetoric.
Some of the bill is good. It calls for including African-Americans, “Hispanics,” women’s contributions of the United States. It also includes a provision against Holocaust denial. And many other provisions stress community, charity, tolerance to religions, races, culture and ethnicities (though tolerance to different sexualities isn’t included). There is even a provision for teaching “kindness to animals.” Even with all this included in the history curriculum, we should be clear: they are present because they are part of or have been subsumed into the narrative of American history, a history where even with its paeans to tolerance, diversity, democracy is constructed to reproduce, not challenge the dominant ideology of the ruling class.