Houston, you are “go” to stop whining

Yes, it was disappointing that NASA decided not to retire a space shuttle to Houston.  But a “snub?”  That’s the default formulation here at home, the assumption that the intention behind yesterday’s announcement was “to treat [us] with contempt or neglect so as to humiliate or repress.”  Is no one ready to consider that, perhaps, the other places made better offers?  Even Houston’s Leading Information Source surprised with an un-hometown-ish editorial today: Houston, don’t take it for granted that we’re Space City; we have to work harder and smarter.

What, you say politics played a role in this decision, and a Congressional investigation is called for?  Why, I am shocked—shocked—to think that politics is involved in any way in the operations of an agency of the federal government.

NASA’s denial that politics influenced the decision is…probably a bit disingenuous.  I can believe that the bureaucrat who oversaw the collection and review of the applications did not have a political axe to grind when she made her recommendations; I can also believe that political considerations were taken into account farther up the food chain.  If you saw NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden making the announcement at the Kennedy Space Center yesterday, it was clear he was not happy about the words that were coming out of his mouth.

And sure, I can understand how, in the category of “close historical ties” to NASA, the New York City museum on board the USS Intrepid—which recovered the crews from one (1) Mercury mission and one (1) Gemini mission—clearly wins out over the facility at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, which has trained every American astronaut who ever flew and has controlled every American manned spaceflight since Gemini 4.  No contest.

Sorry, guys, but anything beyond “oh golly isn’t that disappointing” is just being a sore loser.

Political opportunists exploit Ground Zero, and not in a good way

September 11 is right around the corner, and this year it is likely to spike the hysteria over the planned construction of a community center two and a half blocks from the World Trade Center site.

Doesn’t that sound a lot less creepy and threatening than “a mosque at ground zero”?  That’s the gist of the problem.

A Muslim group in New York City wants to build a community center, including space for religious observance, at 45-51 Park Place in lower Manhattan, a site near the hole in the ground where the Twin Towers stood.  Google the address to see the distance between it and the pit.  There have been complaints from people who find the idea of a mosque at ground zero appalling and insensitive, and in some cases a symbolic victory for the people who carried out the September 11 attacks (and who are, it is true, still at war with the United States and plotting our destruction).  It’s not been made clear (to me) if there are objections to the swimming pool and meeting rooms in the plan, or just that there would be areas for Muslim religious activity.

I don’t follow how building a community center shows insensitivity to the victims of a terrorist or criminal act, unless you blame the builders of the center for the attack.  The man behind the Cordoba House has some questionable beliefs, but no associations with Osama bin Laden or Al Qaeda.  If the people behind this proposal aren’t directly connected to the 9/11 hijackers, is the objection some sort of guilt by association?  I’d like to believe that association with Islam is not the cause of the opposition, since Islam didn’t attack us—that was done by some people with a perverted interpretation of Islam.  They’re no more representative of Islam than the (insert name of your favorite religious fringe group here) are of Christianity.

People who commandeer passenger jets and use them as missiles deserve our attention.  The last president let his administration turn that attention into fear, and enough of the fear became irrational enough to be exploited as a wedge to grab power and start a war that had nothing to do with finding the people who attacked us, merrily ignoring civil liberties along the way.  It’s not too big a leap to say that irrational fear, and political opportunism, are pumping up the volume in this case.

Charles Krauthammer makes a compelling point about preserving sacred ground, although he doesn’t say how far away would be far enough, and Ross Douthat has an interesting column about how the constitutional America and the cultural America are in conflict on this issue, and I see his point.  But I’m no culture warrior: no one’s made an argument that the proposed construction is illegal, the necessary governmental authorities have approved the plan, neighborhood and business groups approve, we’re not religious bigots…and it’s two blocks down and around the corner, for crying out loud.  Let’s move on.

Want more?  William Saletan does a skillful job taking down the anti-mosque arguments on their face, and their proponents with them.

How about a joke?  This is ridiculously close to a real news item:

The Statue of Liberty was briefly evacuated today after a faulty sensor in an elevator shaft falsely indicated smoke. While there were no immediate reports of injuries, the very idea that someone might build a Muslim community center just across the water from the site of that undamaged sacred ground was compared to a stab in the heart by a bunch of racist yahoos.

Dear Michael Berry…

Really?  Really?

I confess I don’t listen to your radio show, but if Houston’s Leading Information Source is to be believed you said on the air Wednesday that you thought it’d be a good thing that any mosque built near the site of the September 11 attacks in New York City be bombed:

“I’ll tell you this — if you do build a mosque, I hope somebody blows it up.” Berry added: “I hope the mosque isn’t built, and if it is, I hope it’s blown up, and I mean that.”


I see that you posted a message online the next day insisting

“I did NOT advocate bombing any mosque.”

and provided the audio there so people can listen for themselves.  Good.  But the words say what the words say: “I hope it’s blown up, and I mean that” do not convey the same message as “I hope the mosque isn’t built.”  And

“I hope the mosque isn’t built, and if it is, I hope it’s blown up, and I mean that.”

teeters right on the edge of encouragement.  I expect better from someone serious about the responsibility attendant to using the public airwaves.  (Yes, I know there are plenty of others who aren’t…but if Johnny jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge…)

I respect your apology for the poor word choice, but what’s really beneath you is playing the victim: accusing the Council on American-Islamic Relations of trying to intimidate you?  Telling your audience, “If that means I have to go off the air because I have an opinion that offends them, then that’s what that means.”?

(Does that kind of thing really sell on the air these days?  Really?)