Friday, July 29, 2005

The Politics of Hope, and the Hope of Politics

Act I: On the Wings of Discovery

While the launch of the Space Shuttle Discovery went smoothly this week, it now appears that a piece of foam may have struck the wing of the orbiter, causing damage similar to that which caused the breakup of Columbia two and a half years ago. After countless modifications to the design, this just shows how much of space travel is beyond our control. NASA is traveling in a medium that we only have half a century's experience in. Clearly we have a long way to go and a lot left to learn.

But the crew of Discovery is not afraid. They are inspecting the shuttle for serious damage, testing new procedures, and conducting the mission that they were sent into space to conduct. They are following in the footsteps of great men and women who traveled into space before them, and carry the hopes of every child who wants to grow up to be an astronaut. The world is watching, and I am confident NASA and the crew of Discovery will rise to the occasion and the crew and the orbiter will return safely to the Earth.

For more on Discovery’s mission, go to NASA's "Return to Flight" page.

Act II: Frist's First

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist announced on the floor of the Senate today that he has changed his previous position and now supports opening more lines and allowing more federal funding for stem cell research. This marks a major break between Frist and President Bush, who adamantly opposes any increases in federal funding for this groundbreaking and critical research. Frist, a surgeon by trade, has realized that research on stem cells is a moral imperative, and that, as a physician, he has no other choice than to help people live longer, healthier lives any way he can.

President Bush has threatened to veto any modification to his 2001 limitations on funding for the research. But in losing his strongest ally on the matter on Capitol Hill, he now has to rethink his position. Senator Frist has taken a brave step, and while some might question his motives, as he is a potential 2008 presidential candidate, I do not. Instead, I see this decision as a doctor staying true to the oath he took, and I commend Senator Frist on his declaration of support.

Act III: Hope Springs Eternal

And, finally, we come to Great Britain. In the wake of the terrorist attacks in London, the Irish Republican Army has announced that it will completely disarm and has asked its volunteers to turn over weapons. After 35 years of armed conflict to try to force Northern Ireland out of Great Britain, the IRA has formally ended its armed campaign and will engage in negotiations. The prospects for peace on the Emerald Isle are better now than they have ever been, and the work done and the accords signed in recent years are finally coming to fruition.

The peaceful end to this long and bitter struggle gives hope to those of us who look forward to the day when all similar armed struggles will end, and the prospects for peace everywhere are improved and their potential realized. This goes for Israel, Sri Lanka, and everywhere else in the world where violence, war, and terrorism are daily facts of life. Hopefully the IRA disarmament is not the exception, but instead that we can look forward to peace in all of these areas soon, so that everyone can go about their daily lives without the fear of terrorism and without the strain of civil war.