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February 20, 2005 - Mars and Venus and Technology

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Frequent contributor to Just Above Sunset, Ric Erickson of MetropoleParis, in Paris, whist in Paris, sometimes watches television.  And he discovers these French people are not playing along with how we on this side of the big blue pond see the world - even now that we've decided we might forgive them for being right, if they agree to behave themselves.  At least that seems to be what Bush’s trip to Europe this week is about.


Of course, from Ric’s comments other ironies follow – like how their rockets work and ours don't.  Really.  Read on.


Bonsoir Alan –


Paris, 15 February: With no advance notice ARTE-TV broadcast a documentary entitled 'Why We Fight' tonight.  The 2005 film was made by Eugene Jarecki and took its title from a propaganda series made in WWII.  In 95 minutes the film featured President Eisenhower's speech, warning Americans of their military-industrial complex.  A host of other witnesses, including Richard Perle, William Kristol, Chalmer Johnson, John McCain, Dan Rather and Gore Vidal, carried the narrative along to reinforce the notion that few Americans could remember Eisenhower or his warning.


A retired New York City policeman recalled wanting revenge for the death of his son in the World Trade Center attack.  On a whim he sent an email to the Pentagon asking if they could decorate a bomb with his son's name.  As the war broke out in Iraq he received a return email saying his wish was granted.  The documentary suggested that this bomb was the first dropped on Baghdad, and showed that its precision aim was wide of the mark.  A later video clip showed President Bush saying that there were no WMD in Iraq and denying that he ever said there was.  The retired policeman was not happy.  The documentary featured Donald Rumsfeld, shown visiting Saddam Hussein during the Iraq-Iran war, and Dick Cheney as a government agent, as Chairman of Halliburton, and as Vice-President.  The film also featured people working in the armaments industries, including ladies working in 'smart-bomb' factories.


Woven throughout the narrative was the attack on Baghdad by 'stealth' bombers.  There were clever intercuts showing President Bush saying, "When our country is attacked..." and video made in Baghdad, waiting for the attack.  It was like Pearl Harbor, but with a warning, without defense for civilians.


The first film was followed by a shorter documentary that presented a sketchy story about the mercenaries working for various clients in Iraq.  The names of nine contractors were mentioned but only one of their representatives agreed to be interviewed.  The film said there was great demand for mercenaries in Iraq and suggested that some of the candidates were not of the highest caliber.


However, the conclusion of the two films suggested that US taxpayers are not only paying for the occupation of Iraq by the military, but paying for the protection of private companies operating there as well.


Odd.   Such things don’t air over here.  We’re at war and need to be united, so anyone who airs such things undermines our will to win?  That’s seems to be the idea.


And the first film has not been released.


"Why We Fight" 

Release Date: TBA 2005 (limited)

World Premiere: January 23rd, 2005 (Sundance Film Festival in Documentary Competition)

Distributor: Currently seeking distribution in the USA

Production Company: Think Tank

Running Time: 98 min

Director: Eugene Jarecki

Premise: This film places the Iraqi war in a historical context and examines the forces - economic, political and ideological - that drive American militarism.

Sundance Festival Summary here and the “official web site” of the film here.  (The site will be on line 21 February)


Ric also points out that on the same day David Brooks posted an op-ed item in the New York Times (much of which is reprinted in the Times’ Paris spin off The International Herald Tribune a day later) titled 'Back From Battle.’


On a stopover in Ireland, returning from a conference in Munich –


This unit had lost 22 men, including several in the last weeks. I talked to one kid who had a craggy scar running across the side of his skull. He was proud of how Election Day went and said Iraqis were working harder to take care of their own streets.


About the conference in Munich…


Instead, what you heard were pretty specific, productive suggestions on winning the war against Islamist extremism. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham lobbied for ways to use NATO troops to protect a larger U.N. presence in Iraq. Democratic Representative Jane Harman was pushing the Europeans to classify Hezbollah as a terrorist group. Hillary Clinton suggested ways to strengthen the U.N., while also blasting its absurdities. Clinton affirmed that the U.S. preferred to work within the U.N., but she toughened her speech with ad-libs, warning, "Sometimes we have to act with few or no allies."


The second thing I'd tell them is that the politicians were willing to talk bluntly to the tyrants. McCain sat on a panel with officials from Russia, Egypt and Iran. He began his talk with suggestions on how to use NATO troops in the Middle East. Then it was time for a little straight talk. He ripped the Egyptians for arresting opposition leaders. (The Egyptian foreign minister held his brow, as if in grief.) He condemned the Iranians for supporting terror. (The Iranian hunched over like someone in a hailstorm.) He criticized Russia for embracing electoral fraud in Ukraine. In the land of the summiteers, this was in-your-face behavior.


Then I'd tell the marines about the European speeches. Let me say straight away that I covered Europe for four and half years and I'm no Europhobe. I'm glad trans-Atlantic relations are improving.


But I'd tell the marines that I didn't hear too many Europeans giving specific ideas on how to make Iraq a success. Instead, I heard too many speakers evading this current pivot point in history by giving airy-fairy speeches about their grand visions of the future architecture of distant multilateral arrangements.


I heard the German foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, in his soaring, stratospheric mode, declaring that we need the "creation of a grand design, a strategic consensus across the Atlantic." We need a "social Magna Carta" to bind the globe. His chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, proposed a vague commission to rebuild or replace NATO. His president, Horst Köhler, insisted, "Unless we tackle global poverty, long-term security will remain elusive."


Fine, let's tackle global poverty and have new arrangements. But maybe democracies should be contributing to Iraq now. That's called passing the credibility test.


It occurred to me as we left Shannon that it's always been true that American and European politicians have different historical experiences and come from divergent strands of the liberal intellectual tradition. But now there's something else different. American politicians meet combat veterans all the time. They make the calls to bereaved families.


Ric comments –


The Europeans could not have had a documentary only shown tonight in mind, but maybe they do remember Eisenhower's speech and the Americans don't.  As long as the US is calling all the shots in Iraq - both the government and its friendly corporations - it seems pretty unlikely that NATO or the United Nations will be willing to get their hands dirty there.  What's Dick Cheney got to offer?


Good question, that.


Not that we’re not trying – as we see from Friday’s night television programming in Paris – as Ric notes:


Bush Speaks to the French?


Paris, Friday, 18. February - Trumpeted as a surprise 'exclusive,' President Bush was apparently interviewed tonight on the evening's France-3 TV-news. 


The interview, lasting about five minutes, was conducted by a France-3 political commentator - possibly speaking in English.  As is common, both questions and answers were overridden by a voice-over translation in French.


President Bush was shown sitting, relaxed, in a comfortable chair in a room not overly lit.  The French commentator, filmed with a different camera, was in a similar room, somewhat more brightly illuminated. The two men were not shown together by one camera.


Contrary to usual French practice, the questions put by the journalist were brief. President Bush responded at length, occasionally taking up to a minute for his replies.  As far as could be gathered from the translation, his remarks were clear and coherent, rich with nuance and detail, some wit and charm.


The evening's national France-2 TV-news that began when the France-3 national news ended, made no reference at all to its sister channel's surprise 'exclusive' interview with the American president during its 45-minute broadcast.  Normally the two channels share common sources.


Maybe this is some sort of “equal time policy” thing worked out among France-2, France-3 and Arte.  Can’t be too hard on the Americans, after all, so one of the three ought to show Bush as a pleasant, reasonable fellow.  But wit and charm?   Perhaps when his words are recast in French that language itself adds the wit and charm.   I believe to smirk, in French, is pour sourire d'un air affecté – while to sneer is pour ricaner.  He did neither?  Il était plein de l'esprit et du charme.  Yeah, right.  Perhaps he was humbled.


Ric mentions the story from early in the week - how our new missile defense system suffered its third straight test failure when an interceptor rocket failed to launch last Sunday night from its base leaving the target rocket to splash into the Pacific Ocean.  That news was released by the Missile Defense Agency at the Pentagon Monday.


The irony?  This from Ric –


PARIS, Saturday, 12. February - The European Space Agency's modified Ariane 5 ECA rocket lifted off perfectly today, putting two satellites weighing eight tons into orbit.  The hopped-up rocket is designed to lift ten tons into space, compared to the six-ton payload of its original version.


Backers of the program are satisfied because Arianespace has orders to launch 40 more satellites, 90 percent of them private.  One of the satellites launched on Saturday was the American SLOSHSAT-FLEVO, and the other was a European model.


Their rockets work, and ours don’t?


And from Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta –


I wonder if that's true.  Yes, we had that failure with the Star Wars thing the other day, but that's a specialized case.  And we've had problems with our shuttle program, but that, too, is specialized. (Do the Europeans/French even have a manned-space program?)


But I would guess their success with conventional satellite launches is probably not significantly better than ours, if at all.  Do you know what the comparative record is in recent years?


Do we know?  Who is winning the technology race?  It doesn't seem to be us.


Regarding conventional satellite launches....  Since I used to work at Hughes Space and Communications Group, I guess I'll answer Rick's query.  By the late eighties more than half of everything in orbit, other than the moon, was Hughes' payloads from the El Segundo plant.  That meant most of the telecommunications satellites - phone and television - all the weather satellites or their payloads (Hughes had a lock on the CCD devices for imaging) - and some of the spy satellites.  Just down the street, in Manhattan Beach, TRW had that spy thing Keyhole and the successors to that, but Hughes had MilStar, an array of satellites connecting all the armed forces in real time.  Getting everything into orbit was getting harder and harder as the Boeing Delta launch system had some major failures, so, in spite of the government bitching, more launches were done with the European (mostly French) Ariane.  It hardly ever failed, and launch insurance was getting really expensive - sometimes more than the value of the payload.  By the time I left Hughes in the late nineties, almost all Hughes commercial launches were from the French site - the Guiana Space Center in South America, using the Ariane.  The Delta is back and working better now, and more folks are in the launch business, but the leader, far and away, is the Ariane.  And last Saturday, the 12th, the first Ariane 5-ECA - bigger and better - lifted off.  See this for that.  We've fallen way behind.  The Frogs did it right.


Note, while I was Canada in late 1998 Hughes sold the Space and Communications Group to Boeing - so now Boeing makes the payloads and the launch vehicle under one roof.  Well, not exactly.  The satellites still come from El Segundo down by Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) - the complex where I used to work.  The Boeing Delta operation is headquartered down in Huntington Beach, Orange County, thirty miles south.  The consolidation helped with launch costs, but the Delta is still second choice for non-military launches. 


Boring details, yes, but the facts of the matter.  If only the French could master the automobile.  No, wait.  Renault bought controlling interest in Nissan, so something is afoot here, if "afoot" is the right word.  Keep an eye on the business news and technology stories.  What technology, what markets, do we dominate?  Ah, but Jesus in on our side.


The Europeans took a pass on manned spaceflight.  French and Italian geeks were always at the Hughes site in the late eighties and nineties, as they provided major components, as did the Brits and Canadians.  But manned stuff?  No.  They had other priorities.


And over the last several years we've been pissed at the Europeans as they are developing their own satellite mapping systems and their own Global Positioning Satellite System (GPS) - Galileo, sponsored by the European Commission.  Their GPS works just fine.  China signed up to use it.  And it seems Pentagon officials have indicated they would be prepared to shoot down Galileo if they came up against it in enemy hands during hostilities.  (See this.) http://openflows.org/article.pl?sid=04/10/24/006239&tid=14)  We see it as a security threat in our War on Terrorism.  We should have to only system, and keep it under our control.  Same thing with satellite mapping.  The resolution is too good - so the bad guys might use it.


Oh well. 


And now, if Bush has his way, we're off to Mars, and the Hubble telescope falls out of orbit as that's "pure science" and not very interesting - so we cut all funding to keep it up there.  Leave pure science to the Sons of the Enlightenment in Old Europe.  We neo-puritans of the New World are off to Mars.  Manifest Destiny?  Something like that.


Ric in Paris –


I think it's clear that Ariane is a civilian effort, not a recycled war launcher.  Despite all the talk about commercial fall-out from military programs, it seems that a purpose-built launcher is superior. Ariane - the key part of the

Paris space program!


Europeans complain about American arrogance - and why not?  If the Euro satellite is too good, shoot it down!  If the Euro launcher is big enough, use it.


Rick in Atlanta replies -


Well, I guess that about answers it.  By the time I left my job as head of the Satellite desk at CNN in the early-1980s (where one of my tasks was to keep track of what new satellites I should be trafficking our news video on), there had been some Delta failures, but also a number of Ariannes that never made it into space.  I hadn't paid attention to the fact that the Europeans having been doing so well since.


But to note an irony of world history:


I do find it interesting that Europe, which centuries ago was dominated by an anti-science religious theocracy that threatened the man who popularized the telescope (Galileo) with death if he didn't renounce his belief that Earth is not the center of God's universe, is now naming space programs after him while seemingly beating the pants off a formerly-great space and scientific power that is announcing indefinite plans to go to Mars while it abandons one of the greatest telescopes ever built (Hubble) as just so much space junk.  (Ah, history!  You can't live with it, you can't live without it!)


PS: Today, there's a story out that discoveries of methane and water under the surface of Mars may mean life is there right now, and that we will know more about this after peer reviews are completed in the next few months or maybe years.


So I wonder what finding real science on Mars will do to our plans to go there? Will we have to cancel?  Science sure does have a way of taking the fun out of things, doesn't it?


Well, the ironies abound.  We may be from Mars.  I guess we’re going there.







The business about attitude, or worldviews, about Europeans being from Venus and Americans from Mars is reviewed in these pages here in detail. 




Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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