Saturday, March 19, 2005

It's limerick time again

From Anonymous:

It's limerick time again.

When our Pete got in on the act
All our best upper hands got sacked
He was truly berserk
To keep us from work
Seven months to be exact!

Now the town’s really started hummin’
Over a company name of Grumman
We all like UC
With its very low fee
Without them we’ll surely be bummin’

I guess UC’s fee was too little
And it’s truly a puzzling riddle
Why they’ll pay so much more
Then go on to ignore
That our work will become second fiddle

The Ambassador who we call Brooks
Has one point which he overlooks
If you fine them so much
Over barcodes and such
Why expect more than just dirty looks?

Now Congress wants hundreds of millions
Or even perhaps in the billions
For one big cl***
Who shut us down
When we should be run by civilians

But if Cheney gets in it’s for certain
We’re really going to be hurtin’
They’ll dream up their ploys
And send in their boys
Our bosses will be Halliburton

In the late seventies when I joined the Lab, I just loved the place. being given the opportunity, the support, and the trust to work on problems essential to national security was wonderful. By 1996 I had seen the Lab deteriorate to the point I declared it would not continue to be a serious first class research facility. I got out as soon as I possibly could.

But even when I first came to the Lab the old timers wistfully told tales of the Old Lab. They told of how much more support the staff got and how important their work was viewed to be. They pointed to snow plows rolling out at 2:00am and Bill Ogle's picture on the front page of TIME.

Well Bethe and Fermi are long gone. The single combat by demonstration in the south pacific is done. The Soviet Bear is dead. The Nevada Test site is shut down.

There are important missions that the Lab could do, or could do a lot better, but the deterioration has been going on for a long time. Nanos or one just like him was inevitable. No one stood up when Hecker wasted the intellectual capital on NIF or ATW etc. When Sig promoted a phalanx of sycophants, people just muttered under their breath.

The Bush bashers who want to blame the current status on the present goverment are just blinded by hate. No one hurt the Lab more than Clinton and O'Leary, but a lot of past Republicans didn't help much.

Maybe the Lab of the Glory Days never really existed. Poe wrote the poem ELDORADO about seekers of gold in 1849. Maybe this says more than a clever limerick.


Gaily bedight,
A gallant knight,
In sunshine and in shadow,
Had journeyed long,
Singing a song,
In search of Eldorado.

But he grew old-
This knight so bold-
And o'er his heart a shadow
Fell as he found
No spot of ground
That looked like Eldorado.

And, as his strength
Failed him at length,
He met a pilgrim shadow-
"Shadow," said he,
"Where can it be-
This land of Eldorado?"

"Over the Mountains
Of the Moon,
Down the Valley of the Shadow,
Ride, boldly ride,"
The shade replied-
"If you seek for Eldorado!"
A previous poster wrote: "The Bush bashers who want to blame the current status on the present goverment are just blinded by hate. No one hurt the Lab more than Clinton and O'Leary, but a lot of past Republicans didn't help much."

Well, I'm one of those "Bush bashers." I'm not so much blinded by hate, as having had my eyes opened by facts. I used to be an independent, voting roughly 50/50 between the two parties, voting for individuals instead of parties, until the Republicans apparently went insane. Now I am a registered (and financially contributing) Democrat, because I cannot, will not, support the bizarre, destructive agenda of today's GOP.

As for the effect on LANL, my recollection is that the last time morale and productivity had sunk nearly to the current level was during the Tiger Team debacle. We didn't have an official shut-down lasting months, but the atmosphere of fear was such that a de facto multi-month stand-down of experimental work occurred. That was inflicted upon us by Admiral Watkins (what is it with admirals, anyway?), the DOE secretary under the first Bush administration.

Yes, Hazel O'Leary did some stupid things that we're still paying for, but after the Tiger Team episode, the Clinton years seemed a breath of fresh air. What a novelty to have a president and vice president who actually appreciated and supported science. Enough to actually tour the lab, not once, but between Clinton and Gore, several times. Sure, these were just photo-ops, but wasn't it nice to have LANL highlighted on national TV in a positive light?

"Blinded by hate?" It seems rather shakey logic to be blaming our current problems (which came on rather suddenly) on Clinton, who has been out of power for over four years now, or on O'Leary, who has been gone for eight (if I recall correctly). I'm wondering who is really the blinded one here.

I will blame O'Leary for some of our ongoing underlying problems, but these are less urgent and could be addressed if only we can get out from under our more recent, crisis-level set of problems.

Let's look at the timeline for our current mess (which is almost synonymous with Nanos):

January 2001: G. W. Bush innaugurated

Feb. 2001: Spencer Abraham, former Michigan senator, known primarily for having introduced legislation to eliminate the DOE, and to privatize, terminate, or transfer to DOD all work at the national labs -- is named DOE secretary. (You can read his bill here . Scary stuff. Note that the Library of Congress website , is a wonderful resource for checking up on what our politicians are really up to.) If you have any doubts about the attitude of this administration toward DOE, LANL, and science in general, read Abraham's bill and consider the implications of Abraham being chosen as Energy Secretary.

Early 2002: Walp and Doran hired to investigate supposed inproprieties at LANL

July 2002: Nanos hired as deputy ADTR (already accompanied by rumors that he was being groomed as the next director)

July 2002: JCI is replaced by KBR/Halliburton as the primary LANL support contractor, over the objections of the review committee. Support services slow to a near stand-still and massive overcharging begins. Also, KBR/Halliburton (the K in KSL) begins doing really stupid things like driving cranes into powerlines and mucking around with energized high voltage boxes.

Fall 2002: Bussolini/Alexander theft incidents come to light.

Nov. 2002: Walp and Doran fired, immediately go on national television (Fox News' "O'Reilly Factor," a Republican mouthpiece) and declare "overall conclusion: UC is incapable of managing this laboratory."

Jan. 2003: John Browne ousted; Nanos installed as acting director.

May 2003: Nanos named permanent director, without national search. Declares war on "culture of arrogance."

Well, you know the rest. My point is, bad things, far worse than anything we had seen under previous administrations, began happening to LANL as soon as Dubya took office, and have continued unabated ever since. And these bad things have all had a rather mysterious, illogical flavor to them, a flavor that screams "really nasty behind- the-scenes politics going on here." It seems pretty obvious that our current problems, the really serious ones that came out of left field and hit us like a ton of bricks, are the direct result of the actions of our current government. The "Blame it on Clinton" theory just doesn't stand up to examination.

Oh yeah. To the original poster: Nice limericks.
Where does Wen Ho Lee fit into the above timeline?

The Wen Ho Lee incident was in 1999, of course. Yes, pre-G. W. Bush. There is a big difference between Wen Ho Lee and what we're experiencing now, however.

Wen Ho Lee did egregiously mishandle classified material. Much as we may hate to admit it, LANL and UC deserved some of the criticism leveled at them over this. (The FBI's screw-up of the case deserves more of the blame, IMHO, however.)

Contrast that real security lapse with the bogus, trumped-up incidents that LANL has been hammered for since the Republican takeover: the supposed financial scandal with "millions of dollars worth of equipment missing" (reality: almost nothing was missing, as shown by an exhaustive wall-to-wall inventory), the Mustang credit card purchase that never actually happpened, and of course last summer's barcode mix-up blown out of all proportion to justify Nanos's stand-down. These more recent "incidents" all have the ring of political hay-making. Molehills promoted to mountains (together with outright lies) to promote someone's political agenda.

Also, even though Clinton was still in the White House at the time, recall which party was advocating draconian retaliation against LANL over the Wen Ho Lee affair.
There's another important point regarding the Wen Ho Lee affair and the political fallout surrounding it, that contrasts starkly with our present dilema.

Because at that time we had a Democratic president (and DoE secretary) and a Republican congress, the heat for Wen Ho Lee fell to large extent onto the Democratic-run DoE, and much less so onto UC. Remember DoE secretary Bill Richardson being grilled before congress? At one point, I remember a Republican congressman berating Richardson in an extremely personal and insulting manner. A rough quote goes something like this: "Mr. Richardson, you are a disgrace to this country, to the office of Secretary, and to this hallowed house. If it were up to me, you would never be allowed to set foot in these halls again." (This is the sort of berating that Nanos should have gotten last week).

Now, of course, DOE is controlled by the same party that controls the rest of the government. Therefore, DOE can do no wrong and will never be held accountable. So the buck passes downward to UC and to the LANL scientists in the trenches.
My recollection was that was Sen. Byrd, Democrat from W.Va., who said something like that to Richardson.
To 9:21 PM:

OK, I did some searching to jog my memory. The best account of the June 21, 2000 Senate Armed Services Committee grilling of Bill Richardson I could find was from .

I stand corrected. It was definitely a bipartisan thrashing in this particular case. And the comments I remember probably were from Byrd, who was irate about Richardson's refusal to appear before the committee earlier.

From CNN, here is how it went:

In his opening statement, Armed Services Chairman John Warner (R-Virginia) lined Richardson himself up for accountability, saying that although Richardson has worked to change the security culture at the Energy Department and the national laboratories, ultimately, responsibility for ongoing lapses rests with him.

Mr. Secretary," Warner said directly to Richardson, "On June 23rd of last year you told this committee, in this room: 'The secretary of Energy,' and I quote you, '...must be accountable and must be responsible" for such security failures.

" ... We are holding you accountable," Warner said. "These incidents happened on your watch. Like the captain of a ship, you must bear full accountability."

Appearing at the hearing, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Alabama), chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, repeated his earlier calls for Richardson's resignation, saying, "I think it's time for you to go."

Harsher still was the criticism leveled by Sen. Robert Byrd (D-West Virginia), a member of Richardson's own party, who said Richardson's pledges to get to the bottom of the case would not sway the opinion of the Senate, whose trust he had lost permanently.

"The horse is out of the barn," Byrd said. Referring to Richardson's refusal to testify last week, Byrd said, "You've waited and shown contempt of Congress that borders on supreme arrogance."

Speaking directly to Richardson, a one-time congressman and former Ambassador to the United Nations, Byrd said, "You had a bright and brilliant career, but you will never again receive the support of the U.S. Senate for any office you seek. You have squandered your treasure."

Richardson, who at times looked stunned by the tone taken by many committee members, sought to defend himself -- arguing that he wanted to have "all the facts" in hand before making a congressional appearance. He added that he had made vast changes in the security culture at the department and in the nation's weapons laboratories, and had put off a good many longtime employees as a consequence."


But this still begs the question of why it was Richardson who was in the crosshairs back then, not UC. Abraham was never taken to task for any of LANL's current supposed failings; all the approbrium now falls upon U.C. and the LANL staff.
Hmmm. Strange. My link to the didn't come through correctly. Well, here it is again.
Sorry about that. Blogger is doing something weird with html tags. Looks fine in preview, but then they don't appear in the final version.

What I meant to post was a link to the full CNN story on the 2000 Senate hearing in which Richardson was grilled. Here's the URL in plain text:
11:58 pm.

To be honest, I remember it only because I was flipping through the channels late one night back then and happened upon it and thought I would watch it since it was about LANL.

Then Secy Richardson took an ass-whipping to put it mildly. I remember Sen Byrd's comments because his tone seemed the harshest.

To now NM Gov Richardson's credit, you have to ask how many Governors would go hat in hand to another state to beg someone to bid for an entity like LANL because they lack the resources to do so in their own state? That's what I like about Gov Bill Richardson, he knows where NM stands in the scheme of things and he's not ashamed of it. In fact, he capitalizes on it very effectively.
To 3:56 poster: I agree on your points about the GW Bush administration. Also it's too bad much of the LANL upper management ascribes to the neo-conservative movement in America. True, a lot of the Lab's troubles can find their origins with Sig Hecker's period of running the place. Sig was a bully and wouldn't tolerate any dissent among division leaders or other top managers, and to echo someone who posted many weeks ago, Sig hired a lot of morons who had no interest in scientific affairs and the well-being of the Lab and its employees.
Don't stop at Sig's administration. This problem began with Don Kerr and his matrix management system.
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