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Germany’s Outspoken Grass Wins Nobel Literature Prize


The Swedish Academy credited Guenter Grass’ first novel, “The Tin Drum,” by awarding him with the Nobel Prize for Literature

In the emotionally repressed years that followed the war’s end, Grass’ unflinching stories of Germans who cooperated with the Nazi terror were greeted as courageous and wise.

Grass and his wife Ute Grunert celebrated the nearly $1 million award by drinking sparkling wine with friends at a wine shop beneath his office. Grass said he planned to keep a dentist’s appointment later in the day: “That will help calm the nerves,” he said.

He is the first German author to win the award since Heinrich Boell in 1972 and only the second since Thomas Mann in 1929.

The book tells the tale of Oskar Matzerath, a young dwarf who, like Grass, grows up in Danzig and experiences the German attack on Poland, whereupon the 3-year-old boy refuses to grow up, pining instead for the security of his mother’s womb.

Beatty Pictures a Liberal Presidential Campaign


Actor Warren Beatty sketched out the script for a liberal presidential campaign Wednesday night -- but did not say whether he would play the leading role himself.

Before a huge turnout of reporters and Southern California liberal activists, Beatty offered few clues on whether he intends to launch a long-shot bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. Instead, he called for sweeping campaign finance reform, lashed President Clinton’s record, and portrayed both of the current contenders for the Democratic nomination as cautious centrists in thrall to large contributors.”

In a dizzying testament to the media fascination with celebrity, the 62-year-old actor and director drew more than 150 reporters from around the world. The media turnout dwarfed the attendance at any of the major policy speeches by the leading candidates in either party this year; earlier Wednesday afternoon, Democratic hopeful Bill Bradley drew a press corps roughly one-tenth as large when he visited a community health care center just south of downtown Los Angeles.

Amid all the frenzy, Beatty delivered an exhaustive and self-deprecating speech. Apparently nervous at first, he rattled off facts and figures and touched on a long list of liberal concerns from globalization, to universal health care (he called for a government-run single-payer universal system), to the gap between rich and poor, to the fees charged for lumber and mining resources on public lands.

Indeed, for all his celebrity, it was uncharacteristic for Beatty himself to be standing in such a spotlight. Though he has been active in liberal Democratic politics since campaigning for Robert F. Kennedy in 1968, Beatty has not extensively appeared in public for a political candidate since George McGovern in 1972; almost uniquely among Hollywood celebrities, he’s preferred to operate as a backstage adviser. But even in that role, Beatty hasn’t been heavily involved in a presidential campaign since Gary Hart’s bid in 1984.

English-Metric Mixup Is Blamed For Loss of Mars Orbiter


NASA lost its $125 million Mars Climate Orbiter because spacecraft engineers failed to convert from English to metric measurements when exchanging vital data before the craft was launched, space agency officials said Thursday.

A navigation team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., used the metric system of millimeters and meters in its calculations while Lockheed Martin Astronautics in Denver, which designed and built the spacecraft, provided crucial acceleration data in the English system of inches, feet and pounds.

As a result, JPL engineers mistook acceleration readings measured in English units of pound-seconds for a metric measure of force called newton-seconds. In a sense, the spacecraft was lost in translation.

The loss of the Mars probe was the latest in a series of major spaceflight failures this year that destroyed billions of dollars worth of research, military and communications satelittes or left them spinning in useless orbits. Earlier last month, an independent national security review concluded that many of those failures stemmed from an overemphasis on cost-cutting, mismanagement, and poor quality control at Lockheed Martin, which manufactured several of the malfunctioning rockets, but National Aeronautics and Space Administration officials and Lockheed executives said it was too soon to apportion blame for the most recent mishap. Accident review panels convened by JPL and NASA are still investigating why no one detected the error.

None of JPL’s rigorous quality control procedures caught the error in the nine months it took the spacecraft to make its 461 million-mile flight to Mars. Over the course of the journey, the miscalculations were enough to throw the spacecraft so far off track that it flew too deeply into the Martian atmosphere and was destroyed when it entered its initial orbit around Mars last week.

Scientists are anxious that the conversion error does not affect a second spacecraft, the Mars Polar Lander, now approaching the red planet for a landing on Dec. 3. The lost orbiter would have served as a radio relay for the lander before beginning its own two-year survey of the Martian atmosphere and seasonal weather.

Data exchanges for the Global Surveyor, which has been orbiting Mars since 1997, have been conducted exclusively in the metric system, Hinners said. Mission controllers expect to use the Surveyor as a relay station in place of the lost orbiter.

If found formally at fault by an accident review board, Lockheed will face financial penalties. But it was not certain Thursday whether Lockheed’s contract with JPL actually specified the system of measurements to be used, as many aerospace agreements now often do.

Whatever the contractual consequences for the aerospace company, the loss of the Mars orbiter might have a lasting effect on public confidence in NASA, space analysts said.