- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Kinder and gentler

Holding court in a corner of JD’s Tavern in Manchester, N.H., MSNBC host Chris Matthews managed a few grins as a “Saturday Night Live” rerun aired over the pub’s three television sets — mainly a sketch of impersonator Darrell Hammond lampooning the usually feisty “Hardball” host.

But the host appeared “chagrined,” according to our source, when at the conclusion of the skit JD’s patrons erupted in applause. After all, in broadcasting from Iowa and New Hampshire, Mr. Matthews has made a concerted effort to tone down his brusque demeanor, actually permitting some of his guests — or at least the men — to finish their sentences.

Luntz’s line

It’s amazing how somebody so poorly dressed can command so much respect in the political world.

Then again, few pollsters have hit the nail on the head as often as the casual Frank Luntz, whose focus groups with swing voters — seen on MSNBC’s “Hardball” and “Scarborough Country” — have been an early fixture of the 2004 election, mainly because of the pollster’s impressive forecasting.

Take Iowa, where Mr. Luntz — early on — predicted the outcome of the Democrat caucuses, even as Howard Dean was apparent king of the cornfields. The focus sessions not only graphically illustrated the collapse of the Dean juggernaut, but the phoenixlike rise of the Sen. John Kerry and Sen. John Edwards campaigns.

This week, in New Hampshire, the rumpled Republican-minded pollster was pulled aside by some of the most senior Democratic strategists eager to glean the latest voter trends and reactions. Going into the Granite State primary, Mr. Luntz had Mr. Kerry well in the lead, Mr. Dean second, with Mr. Edwards (rising) and Wesley Clark (falling) battling it out for third.

D.C. mission

Researchers from George Washington University associated with NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., played a major role in Sunday’s successful landing of the Opportunity rover on Mars by studying atmospheric entry and trajectory data from the earlier landing of Spirit.

GW researchers analyzed accelerometer and gyro readings from Spirit’s trip through the Martian atmosphere and found NASA’s temperature predictions for the Martian atmosphere to be “right on track” in the hope of duplicating conditions the second time around.

“These are two very significant tasks, obviously, getting Spirit and now Opportunity safely on Mars [was] critical to the Mars Exploration Rover mission,” says Bob Blanchard, lead research scientist for the GW group.

The phase in which GW researchers were involved is the entry, descent and landing portion of the mission. It begins when the spacecrafts reach Mars’ atmosphere at approximately 80 miles above the surface of the planet and ends when the landers are safely on the surface.

The descent takes approximately 6 minutes, during which time the spacecraft slows from approximately 12,000 to zero miles per hour.

Grim either way

No wonder it’s so icy in Washington — the world, or at least a good chunk of it, is headed into an ice age. And get a load of the culprit.

“Britain is likely to be plunged into an ice age within our lifetime by global warming,” writes Geoffrey Lean, environment editor of the London Independent, citing a study “being taken seriously by top government scientists.”

The U.S.-based Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute study has uncovered a change “of remarkable amplitude” in the circulation of the waters of the North Atlantic, the story goes.

“Similar events in pre-history are known to have caused sudden ‘flips’ of the climate, bringing ice ages to northern Europe within a few decades,” notes Mr. Lean. “The development — described as ‘the largest and most dramatic oceanic change ever measured in the era of modern instruments’ — threatens to turn off the Gulf Stream, which keeps Europe’s weather mild.

“If that happens, Britain and northern Europe are expected to switch abruptly to the climate of Labrador — which is on the same latitude — bringing a nightmare scenario where farmland turns to tundra.”

Still, before you rush to cancel summer vacation plans in London, Iain Murray, senior fellow at Washington’s Competitive Enterprise Institute, directs readers to Mr. Lean’s final paragraph for a “worst case scenario” disclaimer:

“Some scientists say that this is the ‘worst-case scenario’ and that the cooling may be less dramatic, with the world’s climate ‘flickering’ between colder and warmer states for several decades. But they add that, in practice, this would be almost as catastrophic for agriculture and civilization.”

John McCaslin, a nationally syndicated columnist, can be reached at 202/636-3284 or jmccaslin@washingtontimes.com.

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