Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Barriers broken

A good new, bad news story for the modern era. More good or bad ? Well, if it's about an underrepresented group, always emphasize the good part.

The headlines proclaimed exultantly, 'First woman to lead a Spacewalk'. Another glass ceiling broken !

Then many initial news reports about one of the astronauts who had 'lost' a toolbag during the Spacewalk, threatening the success of the mission. No mention of gender. Or race. Or religion. Or country of origin.

Certainly don't want to associate any underrepresented group with anything negative.

Now the details emerge and we have another barrier broken. The first woman to lead a spacewalk is also the first astronaut to lose equipment during a spacewalk. And no mention of her country of origin, her religion or the color of her skin?

November 19, 2008

Lost Tool Bag Forces Changes to Planned Spacewalks

Filed at 6:30 a.m. ET

HOUSTON (AP) -- Flight controllers were revamping plans Wednesday for the remaining spacewalks planned during space shuttle Endeavour's visit to the international space station, after a crucial tool bag floated out to space during a repair trip.

The briefcase-sized tool bag drifted away from astronaut Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper on Tuesday as she cleaned and lubed a gummed-up joint on a wing of solar panels on the space station. She and fellow astronaut Stephen Bowen were midway through the first of four spacewalks planned for the mission. The tool bag was one of the largest items ever lost by a spacewalker.

As Stefanyshyn-Piper cleaned up a large gob of grease that seeped from a gun used to lubricate the joint, the tool case somehow became untethered from a larger bag and floated away along with a pair of grease guns, wipes and a putty knife attached to it.

''What it boils down to is all it takes is one small mistake for a tether not to be hooked up quite correctly or to slip off, and that's what happened here,'' said lead spacewalk officer John Ray.

Stefanyshyn-Piper and Bowen finished the spacewalk in almost seven hours by sharing tools from Bowen's bag. Ray noted that Stefanyshyn-Piper showed ''real character and great discipline'' by continuing on. She was the first woman to be assigned as lead spacewalker for a shuttle flight.

''Despite my little hiccup, or major hiccup, I think we did a good job out there,'' Stefanyshyn-Piper said after returning to the space station.

Flight controllers are considering having the two spacewalkers share Bowen's pair of grease guns for the three remaining spacewalks on Thursday, Saturday and Monday. They could also use caulking guns meant for repairing the space shuttle. Another option is to have one spacewalker clean the joint while the other uses the grease gun to lubricate it.

For more than a year, the joint has been unable to automatically point the right-side solar wings toward the sun for maximum energy production.

Officials weren't worried the bag would hit the space station or the docked space shuttle because by late Tuesday it already was 2 1/2 miles in front of the orbiting complex, said flight director Ginger Kerrick.

''It is definitely moving away with every orbit,'' Kerrick said.

Inside the space station, crew members were so ahead of schedule in moving equipment delivered by Endeavour that shuttle flight planners were contemplating skipping an extra day at the outpost orbiting 220 miles above Earth.

The equipment includes a recycling system that converts urine into water, an extra bathroom, kitchenette, two bedrooms, an exercise machine and refrigerator that will allow space station residents to enjoy cold drinks for the first time. And the extra gear will allow the space station's crew to double to six next year.

The water recycling system was to be hooked up late Wednesday, and the first batch of urine would run through the system later in the week. Samples will be flown back to Earth for safety tests before astronauts can use it.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Job screening in the Obamanation

Change! Here it comes ... I guess my >$50 parking fines in D.C. last year will prevent everyone in my family from ever getting any gov't related job ... no NASA work for the son ... goodbye Smithsonsian internship for the daughter ...

Sorry about that kids !

And if my brother had a bad tax audit 10 years back I guess that ends it for me . Mom's sister probably hasn't paid her taxes in years (due to that newly defined medical condition, 'tax avoidance syndrome') so mom is out.

You might think that associating with American terrorists and radical America-hating preachers would also prevent someone from getting a gov't job, but it appears these screenings are only for those who are not being considered for executive positions. One rule for the rich and powerful, another for the great unwashed. Change is here at last!

The same political platform that believes it is invasive to check criminal suspects to see if they are illegal immigrants is now requiring job applicants to give every detail of themeselves, their family and their associations with friends on their application.

Where's the ACLU when you need it? Probably busy defending those illegal immigrants

November 13, 2008

For a Washington Job, Be Prepared to Tell All

WASHINGTON — Want a top job in the Obama administration? Only pack rats need apply, preferably those not packing controversy.

A seven-page questionnaire being sent by the office of President-elect Barack Obama to those seeking cabinet and other high-ranking posts may be the most extensive — some say invasive — application ever.

The questionnaire includes 63 requests for personal and professional records, some covering applicants’ spouses and grown children as well, that are forcing job-seekers to rummage from basements to attics, in shoe boxes, diaries and computer archives to document both their achievements and missteps.

Only the smallest details are excluded; traffic tickets carrying fines of less than $50 need not be reported, the application says. Applicants are asked whether they or anyone in their family owns a gun. They must include any e-mail that might embarrass the president-elect, along with any blog posts and links to their Facebook pages.

The application also asks applicants to “please list all aliases or ‘handles’ you have used to communicate on the Internet.”

The vetting process for executive branch jobs has been onerous for decades, with each incoming administration erecting new barriers in an effort to avoid the mistakes of the past, or the controversies of the present. It is typically updated to reflect technological change (there was no Facebook the last time a new president came to town).

But Mr. Obama has elevated the vetting even beyond what might have been expected, especially when it comes to applicants’ family members, in a reflection of his campaign rhetoric against lobbying and the back-scratching, self-serving ways of Washington.

“President-elect Obama made a commitment to change the way Washington does business, and the vetting process exemplifies that,” said Stephanie Cutter, chief spokeswoman for the Obama transition office.

Jobs with the mortgage-finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have served as lucrative incubators for Democratic and Republican administration officials. But those affiliations have become potentially toxic since the government seized both companies after years of financial irregularities that have stoked the economic crisis.

Not surprisingly, then, Question 18 of the Obama application asks whether “you, your spouse or any member of your immediate family” have been affiliated with Fannie, Freddie, American International Group, Washington Mutual and any other institution getting a government bailout.

Under “Domestic Help,” the questionnaire asks the immigration status of applicants’ housekeepers, nannies, chauffeurs and yard-workers, and whether applicants have paid the required taxes for household employees. (Those questions reflect controversies that tripped up President Bill Clinton’s first two nominees for attorney general in 1993.)

“Every transition is cumulative,” said Michael Berman, a lawyer and lobbyist who worked in the transitions of both Mr. Clinton and President Jimmy Carter. After reviewing the Obama application, Mr. Berman added, “I am very happy I am not seeking a job in the federal government.”

A former Clinton White House official who insisted on anonymity said in an e-mail message, “I believe it is considerably more detailed than we had to fill out in ’93. Interesting that they want spouse information on everything — means lots of folks are going to have to list the very prominent — and controversial — companies that their spouses work/lobby for.”

The first question asks applicants not just for a résumé, but for every résumé and biographical statement issued by them or others for the past 10 years — a likely safeguard against résumé falsehoods, one Clinton administration veteran said.

Most information must cover at least the past decade, including the names of anyone applicants lived with; a chronological list of activities for which applicants were paid; real estate and loans over $10,000, and their terms, for applicants and spouses; net worth statements submitted for loans, and organization memberships — in particular, memberships in groups that have discriminated on the basis of race, sex, disability, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation.

There are no time limits for some information, including liens, tax audits, lawsuits, legal charges, bankruptcies or arrests. Applicants must report all businesses with which they and their spouses have been affiliated or in which they have had a financial stake of more than 5 percent. All gifts over $50 that they and their spouses have received from anyone other than close friends or relatives must be identified.

Just in case the previous 62 questions do not ferret out any potential controversy, the 63rd is all-encompassing: “Please provide any other information, including information about other members of your family, that could suggest a conflict of interest or be a possible source of embarrassment to you, your family, or the president-elect.”

The answer could duplicate the response to Question 8: “Briefly describe the most controversial matters you have been involved with during the course of your career.”

For those who clear all the hurdles, the reward could be the job they wanted. But first there will be more forms, for security and ethics clearances from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Office of Government Ethics.