Julian Mack (WASHINGTON POST) reports today:
When the James Webb Space Telescope unfurls itself and travels nearly a million miles away from Earth, the observatory will peer billions of years into the past in search of the universe’s first galaxies and stars.
For cosmologist Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, the $10 billion project has been worth every dollar and every minute of the 25 years it took to develop. “It is a phenomenal instrument,” she said in an interview with The Washington Post. “I am so excited to see baby galaxies.”
But Prescod-Weinstein, who teaches both physics and women’s studies at the University of New Hampshire, fears the telescope’s Dec. 18 scheduled launch is arriving under a cloud. And not the dazzling nebulae of the beyond, but the legacy of the former NASA leader for whom the telescope is named — James Webb. Prescod-Weinstein and other critics argue that Webb was complicit in the discrimination of LGBTQ employees in the ’40s, ‘50s and ‘60s — both as undersecretary in the U.S. Department of State and as the top administrator at NASA.
“It is unfortunate, therefore, that NASA’s current plan is to launch this incredible instrument into space carrying the name of a man whose legacy at best is complicated and at worst reflects complicity in homophobic discrimination in the federal government,” Prescod-Weinstein and three other scientists wrote in a Scientific American article in March.
The scientists — along with hundreds of graduate students, enthusiasts and astronomers — urged NASA to rename the telescope. But following an investigation into Webb’s history, the agency recently announced that the name will stay.
“NASA’s History Office conducted an exhaustive search through currently accessible archives on James Webb and his career,” NASA spokeswoman Karen Fox said in a statement to The Post. “They also talked to experts who previously researched this topic extensively.
[. . .]
LGBTQ groups, including the Human Rights Campaign and GLAAD, have recognized Webb’s history as complicated and say there are better names for the telescope. Both told The Post that Sally Ride, the first American woman in space — and the first lesbian in space — would be a better namesake for the telescope.
“When considering how we represent the best of what NASA — an organization with a legacy of inspiring people around the world to look above and dream of something better — is and has to offer, we must recognize that there is power in naming things so that they best reflect our values,” Laurel Powell, a Human Rights Campaign spokeswoman, said in an email.
Adrian Lucy, an astronomer at Columbia University who recently called attention to the 1950s-era memorandums pertaining to Webb, acknowledged that the scientific community may never agree on the former NASA administrator’s legacy.
“We can argue forever … about Webb’s motivations, goals, or tactics, about the complexities of moral responsibility, about whatever,” Lucy said. But “at the end of the day [the James Webb Space Telescope] needs a name that hurts less.”
Michael Banks (PHYSICS WORLD) reports that Lucianne Walkowicz has resigned from NASA's Astrophysics Advisory Committee over the naming and over the 'investigation' into Webb's homophobia which resulted in a single-sentence 'declaration:'
In June, NASA said it would begin an internal investigation, which would examine historical documents and interview historians who had studied Webb. While officials at NASA said the agency would be “transparent” with the decision, on 27 September NASA administrator Bill Nelson issued a single-sentence statement to selected journalists stating: “We have found no evidence at this time that warrants changing the name of the James Webb Space Telescope.”
The news angered astronomers. “What I hear as a queer scientist and a member of multiple NASA collaborations is, ‘The homophobic terror that Clifford L Norton was subjected to doesn’t matter’,” noted Prescod-Weinstein on Twitter. “I find NASA’s single sentence statement about the evidence to be gaslighting, constituted by the sin of omission, and most troublingly, unsupported and thus unscientific. They do not make the case for their claim in light of the publicly available evidence.”
The news also surprised many who sit on NASA advisory committees, who said they only learned of the news from press reports. In an open letter announcing their resignation from the 12-strong committee, Walkowicz criticized NASA’s lack of transparency and called NASA’s response “flippant” and “pathetic”.
“After the past year and a half we’ve had with not only the pandemic, but also national grappling with issues of racism and human rights, it boggles the mind that NASA has so little insight into its own participation in systematic oppression,” Walkowicz writes. “I’m not the first and won’t be the last driven out of a NASA space, where evidently straight people’s opinions are valued and taken more seriously than queer people’s experiences.”
Prescod-Weinstein adds that the logic behind naming the telescope after Webb is that he is responsible for NASA’s successes during the Apollo era. “At the same time, NASA says he is not responsible for the homophobia that occurred at NASA,” says Prescod-Weinstein. “How is he responsible for all of NASA’s successes during his time as administrator but none of its failures? Real people were harmed by those failures. That matters.”
"Iraq snapshot" (THE COMMON ILLS):
Wednesday, October 13, 2021. As the vote count in Iraq is still 'preliminary,' distrust grows.
Sunday, elections took place in Iraq. Sinan Mahmoud |and Mina Aldroubi (THE NATIONAL) write:
Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission has confirmed that the manual count for a sample of polling boxes matched the initial results released on Monday.
It has moved to reassure sceptics of Sunday’s national election result, which were based on an electronic tally.
[. . .]
The turnout, 41 per cent, was the lowest participation in any Iraqi election since 2005, underlining the growing disappointment among Iraqis towards a political system that is widely seen as broken.
In the 2018 election, the turnout was 44.5 per cent.
Was the turn out even 41%? Who knows. It wasn't a fair and free election. For example? You have mainstream outlets reporting the purchasing of votes. You have Human Rights Watch calling -- for weeks -- for efforts to be made for the disabled and challenged to vote -- the Iraqi government did nothing to adopt the recommendations HRW made. You had some candidates who were intimidated into not campaigning due to threats that only increased when they attempted to report them. Some point to one group of militia members not being allowed to vote in early voting (which was last Friday). The regulations forbade them from early voting because they did not have the right paperwork. If you were the security forces, you were dispersed throughout Iraq on election day (Sunday). If you did not early vote on Friday, you had to travel to wherever you were stationed on Sunday, work your full shift and then return to your home to vote. This was not possible for some and that is the reason security forces are among the groups allowed to early vote.
All of this and much more has led to a growing distrust of the results. CNA notes:
Two days after Iraq's legislative election, pro-Iranian Shiite Muslim parties and armed groups on Tuesday (Oct 12) denounced early poll results as "manipulation" and a "scam".
Sunday's election - the fifth in the war-scarred country since the 2003 US-led invasion toppled dictator Saddam Hussein - was marked by record low turnout of 41 percent.
I see the image above all over MENA social media. I do not, however, see it at the High Electoral Commission's website. Doesn't mean it's not there. (And I only traveled through the Arabic version, I didn't go into the English portal.) I do see this page. It notes that, as of April 2020, there were 24,907,679 registered voters in Iraq.
I'm not saying the above image didn't (or doesn't) exist at the commission's website. I couldn't find it. Maybe I missed it. Maybe it was pulled as it began to trend on social media. Or maybe it is a fake.
That it is being spread so widely goes to the fact that the public does not trust the results or the government.
In the US, the elections are being downplayed by the press. Government press briefings either have no questions about Iraq or just one.
For example, yesterday's US State Dept press briefing by spokesperson Ned Price:
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) First, do you have any comment on the Iraqi parliamentary election? And how do you view that – that Moqtada al-Sadr won and the defeat of popular mobilization forces?
MR PRICE: So when it comes to the Iraqi elections, we congratulate the Iraqi Government on having fulfilled its promise to hold early elections. We are pleased the – we are pleased that the election days were largely conducted peacefully. We have seen the preliminary results announced by the Iraqi Independent High Electoral Commission, and we’re awaiting for the final certified results. So we’ll – we will omit judgment until then. But these elections included hundreds of international monitors and observers from the UN and the EU, in addition to thousands of domestic observers. We look forward to reviewing their reports.
Once the final results are certified, we hope that the new Council of Representatives members will form a government that reflects the will of the Iraqi people, and which can work to address Iraq’s governance, security, and economic challenges.
When it comes to Moqtada al-Sadr, again, we’re waiting for final results. We don’t want to prejudge the outcome. But we do look forward to working with the new government once it is formed.
And yesterday's White House press briefing by spokesperson Jen Psaki:
Q What does it take -- what does it take -- sorry, quick question: What
does it take for the White House -- on the Iraqi election, there’s a lot
of changes. Some Iran -- pro-Iran groups are saying this is not a fair
election. So, what is the take of the White House?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: So, we congratulate the Iraqi government on having fulfilled its promise to hold earlier elections. We are pleased that the election days were largely conducted peacefully. We’ve seen the preliminary results announced by the Iraqi Independent High Electoral Commission yesterday and are waiting for the final certified results.
These elections included hundreds of international monitors and observers from the U.N. and EU, in addition to thousands of domestic observers. We look forward to reviewing their reports.
Once the final results are certified, we hope that the new Council of Representative members will form a government that reflects the will of the Iraqi people and which can work to address Iraq’s governance, security, and economic challenges.
It was only at yesterday's John Kirby's press briefing at the Defense Dept that a follow up question on Iraq existed.
Q: John, I want to ask a question about Iraq in light of the initial results of -- of the elections? And this is not a, you know, political question. It's related to the security of Iraq and the security of U.S. forces. So the so-called Iraqi Resistance Coordination Committee, basically groups that -- some of the groups that were targeting the U.S. forces in Iraq, are claiming that the elections have been manipulated...
MR. KIRBY: That had been?
MR. KIRBY: OK.
Q: And that the elimination of the BMF will "only serve," quote-unquote, the American occupation.
MR. KIRBY: Thelevation?
Q: The elimination of the BMF.
MR. KIRBY: Elimination.
Q: Based on -- on this statement, and the -- and the initial result -- results, are you concerned that this could usher a new wave of -- of targeting U.S. forces in Iraq?
MR. KIRBY: Well, I mean -- so a couple of thoughts. First, we congratulate the Iraqi government on having fulfilled its promise to hold early elections. And we're pleased to see that the election days were largely conducted peacefully. We've seen preliminary results announced by the Iraqi government. I'm sorry, the Iraqi Independent High Electoral Commission, and we're waiting for the final certified results. Once those results are certified, it's our hope that the new Council of Representatives will form a government that reflects the will of the Iraqi people and will work to address Iraqi's governance, human rights, security, and economic challenges. We, from a security perspective, we are still partnering with the Iraqi government and the Iraqi security forces in an effort to continue to put pressure on ISIS. That's the focus. That's what we're there for. And we are still in technical talks with Iraq about what that looks like going forward.
As a part of our presence there, yesterday, as today, we still maintain the right of self-defense. And so we obviously don't want to see, as a result of these elections or any other event, we don't want to see violence increase. We certainly don't want to see attacks or threats on our troops. But our commanders have the right of self-defense; they have the capabilities to defend themselves if they need it. Again, they're there predominantly to -- to help the Iraqi security forces improve their capabilities against ISIS. That's the mission.
Q: (OFF-MIKE) and since you talk policy and politics...
MR. KIRBY: I did not. I was just congratulating the...
Q: No, no, you said more than that. I love it to ask this question. Clearly, the -- some of the militias and -- and political groups were associated with -- with Iran or supported by Iran. And some of these groups were targeting the U.S. forces. They didn't do well in -- in the elections based on that preliminary results. Is that -- is that a message from the Iraqi people to the -- to Iran and the militias that -- that resulting to violence is not the answer inside Iraq...
MR. KIRBY: Well, it should never -- it should never be the -- the answer. Violence should never be the answer. But again, as for the exact results and what they mean, we're not going to prejudge those results because they're -- they're still -- the preliminary results -- all we've seen, they have not been certified. OK?
Preliminary results were stressed at all three. For any who missed it, the ballots were supposed to be counted and complete by the day after voting. Even now, the votes are still not all counted (the estimate as this is dictated is that 90% of the ballots have been counted).
This rejection of the count is a major story. FRANCE 24 reports on it.
ALJAZEERA also reports on this as well.
Nouri al-Maliki is questioning the vote and were it just him? You could dismiss it. This is his pattern. But the other officials questioning? This is something new for them. The Iraqi people are also more suspect of the count than they have been in previous elections since the US-led invasion of 2003.
MIDDLE EAST EYE's Nabil Salih discussed the election on yesterday's DEMOCRACY NOW!:
The following sites updated: