Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Challenger... and other disasters

The incomparable driftglass remembers the Challenger disaster and introduces me to Richard Feynman.
Richard Feynman: A physics genius with that rare, mentor’s gift for communicating the often exotic intricacies of the scientific world with admirable plainness and clarity.

It was Feynman who, during the hearing -- live and on-camera -- used the simple props of a C-clamp, a glass of ice water and a chunk of O-ring material to demonstrate irrefutably that the stuff they used as gaskets on the shuttle would fatally lose its elasticity when the temperature fell below freezing.


Who wrote this in his appendix to the “Roger's Commission Report on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident”.

(emphasis added)
"It appears that there are enormous differences of opinion as to the probability of a failure with loss of vehicle and of human life. The estimates range from roughly 1 in 100 to 1 in 100,000. The higher figures come from the working engineers, and the very low figures from management....

“Finally, if we are to replace standard numerical probability usage with engineering judgment, why do we find such an enormous disparity between the management estimate and the judgment of the engineers? It would appear that, for whatever purpose, be it for internal or external consumption, the management of NASA exaggerates the reliability of its product, to the point of fantasy.”
And then driftglass draws some driftglassian parallels:
Substitute "White House" for "NASA" and "Iraq" for "Challenger", and if Richard Feynman were alive today and making the same kind of clear, rational observations he would be flogged as a traitor on Fox, or as a terrorist-sympathized in the Wall Street Journal, or as a disloyal American who refuses to support the troops by Tony Snow.

Every Fucking Day.

There are a thousand ways to remember tragedy, and I can’t think of any way sadder than to realize that that subspecies of Rodenta Republicana Americanus whose political hubris and contempt for science authored the Challenger tragedy have, over the years, proven themselves time and again to be uniquely incapable of learning a single god damned thing from their own failures.

That, as Iraq and Katrina have now made abundantly clear, unless they are stopped cold, this particular mutant breed of political animal will rampage on, unchanged and unrepentent.

Continue to frantically scramble for more and more power regardless of the long-term toxicity of the means.

Continue to loudly dismiss experts and analysts and thoughtful critics in favor of their imbecile dogma and the dictates of their corporate masters and their science-hating Christopath fellow travelers.

Continue to misuse the power they grab by taking ever-crazier long-shot gambles with other people’s money and other people’s children.

Continue to fail, serially and catastrophically.

And continue to try to blame the bloody results of their own murderous incompetence on their critics and betters.

That is the lesson for our time. That in the Age of Dubya, the Modern Republican Party as it is currently constituted is beyond salvation and beyond redemption.

That since their ideology renders them incapable of self-correction, they will continue destroying all that they touch until they are electorally torched back into the ideological sewers that spawned them.

And not a moment before.


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