1 June 2001
1. CONGRESS: THIS WAS THE WEEK THAT WASN'T.
With the Democrats
preparing to take over the Senate officially next Wednesday, last
week's Congressional Calendar consisted largely of disruptions,
chaos and cancellations. On Thursday, the Senate Committee on
Energy and Natural Resources heard Energy Secretary Abraham make
the Administration's case for 90 minutes. Then, it suddenly
adjourned, sending packing a bevy of industry VIPs, who had just
flown in to testify on the Price-Anderson nuclear reactor
liability issue. Fortunately, former White House Science Advisor
and APS president D. Allan Bromley, who had been scheduled to
speak about the R&D budget shortcomings, had received a head's up
the day before and was able to cancel his trip in time.
Witnesses beware: next week probably won't be any better.
2. MISSILE DEFENSE: THESE DAYS, YOU CAN'T EVEN BUY SUPPORTERS.
The Kremlin this week reiterated its opposition to scrapping the
1972 ABM Treaty. The White House, however, is trying to arrange
an arms deal with Russia, which has a way of changing minds
(WN 18 May 01).
Not surprisingly, Russia is interested in selling S-300 missiles
to the United States. Intended to intercept
aircraft, the S-300 has been compared to the US Patriot. Do we
really need another Patriot? In any case, persuading Russia to
abandon the ABM Treaty is likely to be easier than selling the
idea to our NATO allies, many of whom regard the ABM Treaty as
"the cornerstone of strategic stability." But the real problem
will be getting the support of a Senate controlled by Democrats.
When the Democrats take over next Wednesday, Carl Levin (D-MI)
will chair Armed Services. Levin stresses the need for R&D and
predicts that a missile defense could not be deployed by the end
of 2004. He scoffed at what he dubbed "the scarecrow defense." A
White House spokesman had explained that a missile defense need
not really work, but only create uncertainty
(WN 4 May 01).
3. SPACE RACE: RUSSIA LEADS THE WAY IN COMMERCIALIZING THE ISS.
"Space," they liked to say in the Reagan administration, "is just
another place to do business." But who imagined it would be the
Russians that would do it? Alas, it's hype, not science, that's
being beamed back to Earth. With Space tourism, Pizza Hut and
now Radio Shack, the cash-starved Russians are showing the
Americans that there really are ways to turn a buck on the ISS.
4. THE BELIEF GENE: IS CREDULITY ENCODED INTO HUMAN DNA?
It's happened again. A notorious believer in cold fusion has revealed
that he knows that magnet therapy works. At a meeting on UFOs,
you'll find yourself in a room full of believers in everything
from mental telepathy to homeopathy. Did belief confer some
survival advantage on our primitive ancestors? Perhaps the
Pleistocene forest was too scary to face without a belief in
magic. The belief gene may cause more trouble than "fat gene."