Monday, March 31, 2008

Cubans Allowed to Stay at Hotels - Finally

Finally by imperial decree, the government of Cuba condescends to allow its own citizens the right to stay in hotels they earn their livelihoods in. How generous. Tourists need not mix with the local riffraff was the attitude strictly enforced under Fidel. Cuba, under the hand of almost octogenarian president; Raúl Castro is enacting a series of reforms meant to dispel certain cobwebs that cover aspects of the isolated island's freedoms of associations. Not that a cell phone is a human right, but buying them would produce a new source of revenue for the government from its own cash starved citizenry. (National Hotel in Havana, AP Photo/Javier Galeano)

Castro has enacted multiple reforms since succeeding his ailing older brother, Fidel, on Feb. 24. He has ended a ban on private ownership of cellphones, done away with rules that required farmers to buy materials from state-run stores, voided a rule that forced residents to pick up prescriptions at inconveniently located pharmacies and lifted a ban on purchases of electronics.

The electronics reform, which also goes into effect Tuesday, will let Cubans buy computers, microwave ovens and car alarms, among other items. Several stores were stocking shelves Monday. At La Copa in Miramar, a fancy Havana suburb where many foreign embassies are located, computers were prepared for purchase. Electric bicycles were displayed at Galer¿as Paseo, a store on the Malecon, the avenue that runs along Havana's famed seawall.

The catch of course being who can afford these new swanky privileges with wages dictated by the state, severe price controls and payment for premium services in only cold hard cash. Hotel management is a public-private partnership between the Cuban military and certain international conglomerates. State run stores are mandatory shopping places for many staples in Cuba. Cuba entices rich tourist and their money, but the economy is not set up for underpaid workers to benefit openly from their own industriousness. Havana is one of the priciest tourist spots in the region with tremendously spectacular beaches.

Unfettered access to the internet would be a bridge too far. The real issue is the property rights are temporary in Cuba and wiring homes was not in the top 1,000,000 things to be done under the guise of Revolucion. Human Rights is something China is getting re-educated about as a boycott is fomenting in the wake of its crackdown on Tibet. Cuba doesn't have a military crackdown as much as an economic one that equates to the same evisceration of Human Rights.

Most Cubans are estimated to earn between 400 non-convertible (Cuban) pesos (eg a factory worker), to about 700 (eg a professional) - the equivalent of between $17 and $30, or £9 and £15.

Non-convertible pesos are good for buying the subsidised official rations of rice, cooking oil and other perishable goods.

Tourist Apartheid is the name given to the practice of making the Hotels and their amenities TOURIST areas only. Usually it is Europeans that spend freely at the resorts like Varadero Melia, as they are not under the half-century old sanction issues that US citizens must abide by. The amazing juxtaposition of world class luxury available for those with means residing next to workers who arrive by bicycle or a 1950's made in America car relic as new cars are for tourists and not allowed to Cubans.

Brian Lattell, a former CIA analyst assigned to Cuba & Latin American, writes in his interesting book, After Fidel: Raul Castro and the Future of Cuba's Revolution updated in light of recent events, but still with its major emphasis on Fidel and his despotic rule of Cuba.

More Muslims than Catholics

Not quite sure what one is supposed to make of that, other than a good portion of the world's religious folks are monotheistic. The historical imprint is shifting. In 1095 it was Pope Urban number 2 who enraged his followers to start the First Crusade into the Holy Land to take or recapture Jerusalem. The fall of the Roman Empire turned into the Dark Ages resulting in a religious fervor sweeping across Catholic Europe, setting the stage for one of the most brutal invasions in History. Fast forward to today, and now three Faiths tensely live upon the powder keg sharing the Holy Land with intermittent outbreaks of violence between all.

Demographics show Islam grows across the world with higher birthrates from its practitioners. Europe is no longer strictly Catholic what with the Anglican Church breaking off under King Henry to sanction his serial marriages, the Reformation and other events. Overall, there remains more practicing Christians in the world with Islam making a steady rise. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia met with the Pope recently after his call for interfaith dialogue.

Tensions in the relationships between Islam and Europeans, blew up last month when the head of the Anglican Church made an argument for incorporating Sharia law into England's legal system enraging the normally stoic Brits. Last week during Holy Week, Pope Benedict made a great show of the conversion of a former Muslim into a Catholic. This week, the Vatican says they are outnumbered and Islam is now the world's largest religion.

"For the first time in history we are no longer at the top: the Muslims have overtaken us," Formenti told Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano in an interview, saying the data referred to 2006.

He said that if all Christian groups were considered, including Orthodox churches, Anglicans and Protestants, then Christians made up 33 percent of the world's population -- or about 2 billion people.

An excellent book written in 2003 in the wake of 9/11 by Thomas Asbridge is The First Crusade: A New History. The Islamic scholar, Akbar S. Ahmed appreciates the his new perspective in examining the events of the past shaping the events of today.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Hillary's Upcoming Fun Concession Speech

When Hillary finally gets around to delivering her concession speech, she should have fun with it. After all, it will be in all the history books. Who wants to be remembered as the first viable female presidential candidate that was clueless on when to leave. Finally, when she does it, the atmosphere will be in a fanfare of huffiness, broken crockery, vile insults, supporters in tears and a pugnacious staff breathing heavy sighs of relief they could get their résumé or CV's over to the Obama camp post haste. Some of them seem to have their heart-shaped envelopes ready for 3 am special deliveries to John McCain - yes, I am talking about the insignificant Mark Penn, Hillary's self-styled "Chief Strategist" rather than just her campaign's pollster chief geek. Jonathan Alter, of Newsweek, was right saying Penn had an abysmal emotional intelligence quotient.

Hillary could say stuff like, I contacted the Ghost Guru I used in the White House to communicate with Eleanor Roosevelt. Eleanor is urging me to stay in there and fight for it and make Puerto Rico my new beachhead. But patience is now on the wane with her.

For once in her life, Hillary is going to publicly acknowledge a skinny, six foot, black speed bump with big ears caused a motorcade sized pile up into her presidential fortunes. Guessing there will be something in that future goodbye speech acknowledging retaining her delegates until the convention, just in case folks want to change their minds at the last minute because women understand that sort of thing. Talk about the Audacity of Hope. Mind you, it is the junior senator from New York & Bill donning the matching red martyr capes saying its because she's a girl being bullied by the "big boys" into giving up her inheritance, presidential campaign. Hillary's first rate education obviously did not include real people's math or the logic of the ancients. Her former pundit buddies are now getting brave, saying out loud its time for her to say so long. How do you declare victory by saying the states she won are hers exclusively and nobody else can win them in a general election and have a Clinton smitten press corps take it as a Gospel from Hillary?
Mrs. Clinton told aides that she would not be "bullied out" of the race, and in a conversation with two Democratic allies, she compared the situation to the "big boys" trying to bully a woman, according to interviews with them.

Mrs. Clinton's campaign, in a fund-raising e-mail to supporters, noted a pattern to calls for her to withdraw.

"Every time our campaign demonstrates its strength and resilience, people start to suggest we should end our pursuit of the Democratic nomination," said the note, which made no mention of Mr. Leahy. "Those anxious to force us to the sidelines aren't doing it because they think we're going to lose the upcoming primaries. The fact is, they're reading the same polls we are, and they know we are in a position to win."
Her upcoming concession speech should show some truthful wit. I took a few minutes to scribble a thoughtful narrative for her. Hillary can take what she feels comfortable sharing to make this work for her.
Goodbye or rather Good Evening, America - It is hard, very hard to soldier on when you lose three elections in a row and have to tout your website addy to get money and then go on to lose some more in a Fourth-of-July fireworks spectacular fashion. By the eleventh loss in a row, I was numb, shocked and awed, but still sentient enough to seek more money. I elevated losing to an art form with the new Penn math science. That's the American way. Do not give up in the face of being able to get votes from Rush Limbaugh Liberals for A Day to the helpful tune of 125,000 votes. They liked me, they really liked me, because they knew John McCain wanted me by his side in the race.

I saw a chance to be there for America, especially at 3 am, when if the phone rang and it was a general from somewhere saying something bad happened, it would be a violent breach of the military command structure, but for purposes of my brilliant red phone ad, Americans did not need to know that. Of course, the president is supposed to choose from options. I chose to continue my quixotic campaign out of an obligation to garner a historical sympathetic nod to how badly and soundly I had my presidential seal, watercress sandwiches and rightful Black supporters taken from me in a comedy of errors committed while under the influence of campaigning, Clinton style.

My rehab will go well. I shall write a book outlining how the Forces of Evil align and make you say stuff under duress that made my mom call me at 3 am, tsk tsking. My repeated good statements about the lovely Keating 5 McCain displayed my heartfelt presidential crush. I am sorry that became public - Bill and I shared many a TV dinner watching the Sopranos discussing how wonderful he was running for president at such an advanced age, with no stamina to fundraise and representing an Emperor Bush Third term. We were doing our part to make it an even contest and during the primary, it was wrong, way wrong, but it felt so good to share that small piece of myself with the world.

Repairing my friendships with my colleagues and Bill's former cabinet members who publicly rejected me, will be part of my cognitive therapy. Those shallow relationships meant the world to me until they decided the other guy was actually qualified to be president. It's hard being atop Mount Inevitable, where no female has been before, then realizing the super delegates that got me up there mutinied by greasing my bottom and shoving me down the slick slip'n slide melting mountain. I slid further and faster than any presidential female candidate ever and shall make it my new life's work to prepare others for that kind of ride. Hitting bottom, back among the real mortals, is going to take a period of adjustment.

Please give me and my family some privacy during this difficult time. It's going to take a lot out of me when I go to Colorado to say all those wonderful things about Barack Obama that will contradict everything I said earlier this year. My therapist will help sort through in which speeches I may have been shading the truth because of my inner wannabe president. Alas, my real trembling moment will come on January 20, 2009, as I watch Michelle Obama hold a family Bible, then Barack natters on about something that will make the pundits, my former friends, cry with Hope. As a member of the Senate, I will then have to call him Mr. President. That's gonna be tough, much harder than telling you all I am now exiting the presidential arena after standing there taking sniper fire and hearing the roar of the crowds after the Lions were released as I brought Peace to Northern Ireland. Those heady moments in the campaign will live on in Perpetuity.
Hillary has a role in History, but will she live up or down to it? On February 24th, I said Hillary had a choice. So much water under the bridge now makes for even harder feelings from those that supported her bid, but its not yet too late for redemption. Hillary needs to display a sense of humour. And no she should not be his VP as some part of a consolation booby prize or mythical press invention of a "Dream Ticket". Hillary would make an outstanding jurist as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of The United States.

In case Hillary wants to catch up on some advance reading on the current happenings at SCOTUS, I highly recommend Supreme Conflict: The Inside Story of the Struggle for Control of the United States Supreme Court by another University of Chicago trained lawyer, Jan Crawford Greenburg.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

A Day and a Year Dedicated to Water

Water holds the meaning of life. March 22nd is an annual dedication from the UN for World Water Day. A nation's quality of life and measure of economic success depends on how big and how clean is their water supply. Few understand where their water originates, whether the source of it is an ancient aquifer or the cool fridge dispenser with cube or chip ice options.

Clean water is increasingly difficult and expensive to find consistently across the entire planet. Just last year in the US state of Georgia, the Governor held a Prayer Vigil to seek God's help in granting Rain as 3,000,000 people in Atlanta were down to the last month of their water supply. Lake Chad was once a vast visible water source on 4 nations' borders, now it is a dilapidated and polluted puddle, virtually inaccessible from war torn Darfur where potable water is everything in maintaining power during a drought. The United Nations states more than 1 out of 6 people on Earth have little to no access to clean drinking water. Where is our political will to make clean water a human right?

Mighty nuclear power nations are finding water issues that are close to making them helpless in the face of shortages that will put the economy in shambles. China literally moved the Yellow River so their would be enough water in Beijing just for the 2008 Olympics. The US has a looming crisis in the Western region as one governor proposed taking water from the Great Lakes which have been hit with severe drought conditions. Pakistan is desperate to build dams for urban dwellers, industry and power supply, but it diverts water away from farms, livestock and its indigenous peoples. Every dam project or public private partnership involving water touts dramatic water improvements and smaller operating costs which never quite turn up as rate decreases; see China's Three Gorges Dam or Libya's multitude of Islamic Green pipes for an underground river that trickles along at best.
Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA) member Muhammad Mushtaq Chaudhry said that the Mangla Dam raising project would be completed by September 2008. He said that the construction of Mirani Dam, Gomal Zam Dam, Subakzai Dam and Satpara Dam would be completed by 2009.

He also claimed that the country would overcome the water-shortage problem if the new government announced that it would construct three new mega water reservoirs.

Only a few decades ago, Pakistan was considered to have an abundance of quality water, but a recent World Bank report stated that Pakistan was among the 17 countries that were currently facing a water shortage and its reservoirs would drastically decrease in level by 2025. Moreover, Pakistan is currently close to using all its surface and ground water, but it has also been projected that over 30 percent more water will be required over the next 20 years to meet the increased agricultural, domestic and industrial demand.
Causes are many on the looming water crisis. It takes 100 tons of water to produce one ton of grain. Mix in droughts that are shredding the US, Africa and Asia and food security for the world is at stake. Saltwater seeps into fresh water supplies rendering valuable agricultural lands worthless as oceans infiltrate inland. This occurs at faster clips in Florida, Louisiana or Indonesia after the tsunami and other locales bordering Oceans or where wetlands are eroding due to over development or global warming. No one is immune.

The crucial need for fresh water and better sanitation led the UN in 2006 to make 2008 The Year of International Sanitation. Access, just access, to clean water is one of the Millennium Goals. Over 2.6 billion people do not have acess to adequate sanitation leading to waterborne diseases or diarrheas, reduction of clean water and blindness. In impoverished war torn places, women seek privacy late at night for toiletries, leaving them open to repeated violent attack or harassment during daylight hours when fetching water filled with animal waste for their families. Something as simple as toilets protect so much more and give people a sense of their dignity back. Sanitation would be an investment that immediately pays off in increased standards of living and protection of precious water supplies.

Diarrhoeal disease is a leading cause of death and illness, killing 1.8 million people each year. Poor hygiene and lack of access to sanitation together contribute to 88 per cent of all deaths from diarrhoeal disease, with children paying the highest price: 5,000 deaths a day. Hundreds of millions of other children suffer reduced physical growth and impaired cognitive functions due to intestinal worms.

Improved access to sanitation would also lead to very high avoided health sector costs, according to UN research.

On a typical day in sub-Saharan Africa, for example, half the hospital beds are occupied by people afflicted with faecal-borne disease. Treating preventable infectious diarrhoea consumes 12 percent of the region's total health budget.

Around the world, an estimated 200 million tons of human waste and untold millions of tons of wastewater are discharged uncontained and untreated, into watercourses every year. As a result, humans are regularly exposed to bacteria, viruses and parasites -- spread through direct or indirect contact with these watercourses. Such exposure is the leading cause for diarrhoeal disease (including dysentery and cholera), parasitic infections, worm infestations and trachoma.

A burden are burgeoning populations where water is scarce. In the Middle East and other developing areas where the population is younger with more people of child bearing age are putting tremendous pressure on shrinking resources. Water is more precious than oil and as nations hurry to develop more water is required - but at what expense?

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Comic Cat of Anime is Official Diplomat for Japan

Hello Kitty, then Pokémon (Poketto Monsutā) as a Nintendo game, later a movie and TV series, swept the island nation of Japan. The allure and lasting popularity of theses comic and cartoon characters spawned official recognition from Japan that a comic ambassador of their ilk was urgently required on the diplomatic cultural front.

Enter the doryaki (red bean pastry) eating cat Doraemon (b. 1969) to take on the awesome responsibility of making lifelong animé pals worldwide for Japan. The Land of the Rising Sun takes their cartoon cats very seriously, indeed. Hello Kitty is pretty tough to beat in Japan and other Asian markets for branding, but A-list celeb Doraemon is another type of cartoon cat, a giant teal blue one this time, that has special characteristics with wonder gizmos in a stomach pouch and competencies enabling purring pontifications about Japanese animé. Doraemon brooks no competition from American cartoon staples. Doraemon is beating some sixty year old mouse from Disney and a pudgy bear cub with a honey fetish who has a cute ass as a friend with optimism issues for popularity. Duh, from a ten year old Bart can't even beat Doraemon.

Using the political lexicon of the esteemed Joseph Nye of Harvard, Doraemon is using "soft power" to gain trust currency with audiences rather than "hard power" or trade imbalances caused by the sinking US dollar or the tremendous amount of Japanese manufactured goods coming onto the rest of the world's shelves and showrooms. Japan is making a strategic shrewd move and using a comic cat to ensure they touch each generation of consumers of manga or animé. It is a huge market opportunity and comic book readers, gamers and other students of the art form the world over are growing in economic power. Japan is branding themselves as the anime leader to reach out, not in an ordinary flesh and blood boring human way, which would just ruin the relationship effect and the drama of the art form.

In the Doraemon stories, the clever kitty is sent back from the future to live with and help his youthful master, Nobita, a helpless nerd who routinely avails himself of his pet's special powers. Doraemon normally reaches into his tummy-drawer, which is full of magical gizmos, to find something to help his pal out of each new jam - often stirring up new problems in the process. Doraemon stories often pack an educational or moralistic punch, offering lessons about honesty, perseverance, loyalty or history. In Japan, they have been collected in nearly 50 volumes that, to date, have sold some 80 million copies. Doreamon comics have also been translated into dozens of languages from the original Japanese.

Now, Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs will dispatch a "human-sized likeness of Doraemon" that will "participate in events hosted by overseas embassies and other diplomatic establishments to help introduce Japanese society and culture" to foreign audiences. (Yomiuri Shimbun) The Guardian's Tokyo-based correspondent reports: "Doraemon's charm offensive will begin with the screening of his hit film, Nobita's Dinosaur 2006, at Japanese diplomatic offices in several countries, including China, France and Spain." At this week's press conference in the Japanese capital, the "feline envoy - whose voice was provided by an actress hidden behind a sliding paper screen - promised to use his roving role to convey 'what ordinary Japanese people think, our lifestyles and what kind of future we want to build.'"

Anime has elements to the final product. It is usually hand drawn with some help from computer programs these days. Giant robots are a popular genre. Manga essentially translates into comics and has a pre-post World War II influence seriously studied. Many popular manga artistes were born in 1949 having a different perspective than some of the other comic artists of today. There are some gender differences in the art form. In 2007, manga or comics drew in almost 407 billion yen or $3.7 billion US, just in Japan. Bringing us back to Doraemon, the helpful ambassador, who is introducing and branding Japanese anime. It is all about the yen.

American audiences may not be as familiar yet, but that is changing. Fujio Fujiko authors this sample of the comic book, Doraemon in Japanese.

And to think you thought my knowledge of comic books was microscopic - Hi Ken!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Exploding Star Makes History

The bright flash of a star exploding reached Earth after jumping on the Cosmos Express Shuttle that travels at the speed of light, and arrived 7.5 billion years later. The glowing gamma ray star remains were visible for an hour to the naked eye on Wednesday night. Regular earthlings stayed up or saw it by accident. Professional NASA astronomers observed the stellar death through the Swift Telescope at Penn State. Swift is dedicated to observing gamma ray outbursts where ever they can find them within range of the known universe. A more inventive scientist was not yet on duty, because the second cherry red and orange star burst of the day received the boring official scientific moniker, GammaRayBurst 080319B.
GRB 080319B, located more than halfway across the visible universe, crushes the previous record holder for most distant object visible without assistance by three orders of magnitude. That would be the galaxy M33, located just 2.9 million light-years from Earth.

"This burst was a whopper," Swift principal investigator Neil Gehrels, of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said in a statement. "It blows away every gamma-ray burst we've seen so far." (Photo NASA)

Gamma rays have lethal designs upon living cells, remapping the DNA and other insidious maneuvers. Star explosions are what happens at the end of a stars life when nuclear fusion cease, sending a star into supernova mode. GRB 080319B was the result of an epic explosion signaling a massive star's demise that crossed galaxies and deep space before being viewable on Earth. That is amazing because about 1% of stars end in a gamma ray spewing explosion. The Milky Way has a supernova event average about one every fifty years. The super nova process is the main means of dispersing the heaviest elements from the periodic table throughout the surrounding areas. In other types, all that remains is black hole from which no light escapes beyond the event horizon. (artist rendering)

Four bursts in total were put in the history books from the exploding mega star so far, far away. Every time one looks at the stars in the night sky, its history as their illumination just reached Earth when seeing celestial stars.

Flash: The Hunt for the Biggest Explosions in the Universe
by Govert Schilling is going to need a serious update as the order of magnitude of this explosion dwarfs the others.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Race, Reconciliation & American Unity: Barack Obama Speaks

From his heart to ours in the fullness of all that he is or ever will be comes, THE Speech only Barack Obama could give in this time or place. It will keep for Posterity and will be the Foundation for America to become that More Perfect Union as described in the Founding Documents. It calls to account white, brown and black hurts and grievances, while diminishing none, as it seeks a way forward, Together.

Listen, rejoice, then work to make his Vision of America yet to Come, Become Real - for each of Us no matter our station in life, at this time or in this place.

Peace be unto you, Barack Obama.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Our Incredile Shrinking Glaciers

Sound the Earth warning sirens, fresh water supplies are drying up because the world's glaciers are melting at a rate commensurate with the fire sale at Bear Stearns today. Millions of people are dependent on glaciers for water to drink, water farms or livestock, bathe and deliver supplies along river routes. Glaciers held a tremendous amount of water in reserve to keep flooding from happening in lowlands. There is not as much water in reserves, lakes or waterways, but there are millions more people who continue to put strain on existing water resources. The UNEP, United Nations Environment Programme is screaming dire warnings as glaciers advance inexorably towards a crisis melting point.
"Millions if not billions of people depend directly or indirectly on these natural water storage facilities for drinking water, agriculture, industry and power generation during key parts of the year," said Achim Steiner, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

The culprit is climate change, according to data from the World Glacier Monitoring Service (WGMS), based at the University of Zurich and supported by UNEP.

The centre drew its findings from nearly 30 glaciers in nine mountain ranges revealing that in 2004-2005 and 2005-2006 the average rate of melting more than doubled.

"The latest figures are part of what appears to be an accelerating trend with no apparent end in sight," said Wilfried Haeberli, director of WGMS.

An agency funded by the UN exists solely dedicated to measuring glaciers and compiling analytical reports is the World Glacier Monitoring Service or WMGS. Glacier watching is at least a century old, but this agency reviews the top 100 glaciers on the globe. Grim Swiss scientists announced they do not see an end to the present accelerated rate of melting, with Norway suffering the most damage, and the culprit is the same as it ever was, Climate Change produced mostly by humans and greenhouse carbon emissions, specifically three nations - China, India and America.

There is a small beacon of hope on ice, Green economy measures may assist in slowing the destruction of these natural resources with the advent of alternative or renewable energies. However, corn based solutions or ethanol, is precipitating other crises because of the biofuel indu$try resulting in facilitating part of the sharp rise in food prices because of corn, a water sucking crop if there ever was one. Endangered wildlife, like polar bears and seals live on the ice shelves and are sloshing around in dwindling areas with their food supplies perishing as alarming rates.
Since 1980, glaciers have thinned by about 11.5 metres in a retreat blamed by the UN Climate Panel mainly on human use of fossil fuels.
The thaw could disrupt everything from farming - millions of people in Asia depend on seasonal melt water from the Himalayas -- and power generation to winter sports. The thaw could also raise world sea levels.

UNEP said glaciers were among the clearest indicators of global warming. "There are many canaries emerging in the climate change coal mine. The glaciers are perhaps among those making the most noise," said Achim Steiner, head of UNEP.

The WGMS monitors about 100 glaciers in total.
The dwindling and WOW- gone Himalaya ice pack...

December 11, 2009 is a meeting of the minds to garner global committed political action on Climate Change in Copenhagen. The crippled and addled Bush Administration have slithered out of office and America will have a real president-elect (Obama) who will ensure America is at the conference to affirm and lead on this issue alongside a Nobel Peace Prize winner, who shall not be swayed from a course of painful actions that could save our overheated planet and the People of Earth.

Six Degrees: On A Hotter Planet is an order of magnitude of what happens with each degree of global warming. Million and potentially billions would perish in the very real risk scenario. Just saw the author, Mark Lynas on C-SPAN. He was quite lucid and chillingly logical while describing Doomsday on Earth due to Climate change.

Space: Canada's Robot & Japan's Room of Hope

American astronauts on STS 123 brought the Canadian super robot to the International Space Station in erector set pieces aboard Endeavor. Today, spacewalkers spent seven hours attaching Mr. Dextres' mechanical robotic arms. Saturday, the robot had his hands attached to eleven foot arms. No space high fives or hugging just yet between the over 12 foot bot with human attributes (no legs) and his much shorter ISS assembly team, but nice Canadians in the frozen tundra of North America are beside themselves with joy.

Sans billowing cape for his almost two tons of weightlessness, Mr. Dextre, short for Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator, will be able to fly around Earth in 90 minutes, bend at the waist, do ISS household maintenance chores among other super powers about which we have no knowledge. First though, Dextre's hydraulic 'oil' pressure, flawless "hearing" and obeying of parental computer commands and basic circuitry motor skills need checking to get a clean space bill of health from Mission Control. (AP Photo/Canadian Space Agency via THE CANADIAN PRESS)
"Dextre's getting a checkup," Pierre Jean, acting program manager of the Canadian space station program, told a mission status briefing after the spacewalk.
He said the arms each had seven joints for movement along with brakes to hold them in place and that the crew would be checking these and essentially "breaking the brakes in."
"When you get a new car you don't slam on the brakes, you ease them in. This is sort of what they will be doing with the brakes in Dextre's arm," he said.
The robot can be mounted on the station's crane to transport equipment and handle routine maintenance chores, such as replacing electronics boxes.
Japan is still shrieking from their turn in joy as their ISS room addition, christened Kibō or Hope, is officially added and begins opening day on this mission too. Of course, like construction on Earth, delayed end results, but one conveniently forgets frustrations once the project adds its first natable component - a round storage bin. Ironically, given notorious space issues in Japan, the new addition will become the largest of all of the space station additions. It will be the size of a London Double decker bus, with all the tourists on it.

A spacewalking Takao Doi was weightless though filled with national pride as he added his country's contribution to space history.

Last month, Europe had their addition bolted on during the last mission.
"This is a small step for one Japanese astronaut, but a giant entrance for Japan to a greater and newer space program. Congratulations," Doi radioed to Japan's new space control center outside Tokyo.

The cylinder is basically a storage compartment for the main segment of the three-piece Kibo, scheduled for delivery on a May space shuttle flight.

The final piece will be flown up in early 2009.
It follows the installation in February of Europe's lab on the ISS, which is now truly a global affair.

The opening of Kibo marks the first time in the 10 years of space station construction that equipment from all 15 partner countries is operating together in orbit.

I think Mr. Dextre needs a robotic dog.
A design flaw in an electrical circuit has left the $209 million robot, named Dextre, without heaters to protect its systems from the minus 200-degree Fahrenheit temperatures of space.

Understand the history of robots and spaceflight in the detailed background book of Robots in Space: Technology, Evolution and Interplanetary Travel, released in January 2008. Roger D. Launius and Howard E. McCurdy touch upon the science fiction components of melding human biology with human physiology. This publishing effort is from the new NASA History Series.