Friday, January 16, 2004
1. NUCLEAR PROLIFERATION: NORTH KOREA POSTS "BEWARE-OF-DOG" SIGN.
What does a developing country that can't feed its people have to do to get the attention of the world's superpower? A year ago North Korea pulled out of the 1970 Non-Proliferation Treaty and began flaunting its nuclear weapons program. Preemptive strike? Nah, the U.S. was busy looking for Iraq's nonexistent weapons. But that's winding down (WN
9 Jan 04), so North Korea must have decided it was time to try again. An unofficial delegation of U.S. nuclear weapons experts, including Sig Hecker, former Los Alamos Lab director, was invited to view North Korea's "nuclear deterrent" against a U.S. attack. They were shown a substance the North Koreans said was plutonium. There was no way to verify the stuff was really plutonium. An empty cooling pond was said to have contained 8,000 spent fuel rods before being reprocessed. We still don't know. Is there really a dog, or just a sign?
2. SPACE EXPLORATION: PRESIDENT BUSH PROMISES THE MOON AND MARS.
Why now? Well, it's not "now." To pay for all this, the program depends on money made available by phasing out the shuttle over a period of six years, and completing our commitments to the ISS.
After decades of telling the public that these two programs are essential to space exploration, we discover they're just standing in the way. None of this will happen on Bush's watch. Whether he's reelected or not, the big bills won't start coming in until Bush is safely out of office. In fact, it's unlikely to happen at all. Even as the President spoke, the Spirit rover on Mars appeared to be working perfectly. It doesn't break for lunch or complain about the cold nights. Long before a human could land on Mars, there won't be much left to explore. Politicians tend to underestimate the public. An AP poll found 57 percent favor having robots explore the moon and Mars; 38 percent said humans.
3. PEER REVIEW: A NEW WAY TO BLOCK ENVIRONMENTAL REGULATIONS.
Citing President Bush's commitment to "sound science," a new administration proposal would block the adoption of new federal regulations unless the science on which they're based passes a centralized peer review overseen by the White House Office of Management and Budget. Under the current system, individual agencies typically invite outside experts to review the accuracy of the science. The proposed change would lay out specific rules regarding who can sit on peer review panels. Participation of academic experts who have received agency grants is explicitly discouraged, but there is no equivalent warning against experts with connections to industry. Moreover, the executive branch has final say as to whether the peer review process was acceptable.