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February 07, 2007

No stopping now

For those of you who were wondering whether the standards used to select astronauts were being lowered for women, the recent sad story about Lisa Nowak (a Rockville native, by the way) may show that they were not.

She prepared for the 950-mile drive from Houston with the discipline of someone who had flown 13 days in space. The steel mallet, folding knife and rubber tube were all catalogued on a handwritten list, police say. She had maps, she had bus schedules and she had a disguise. Thinking like an astronaut, she brought diapers to avoid bathroom stops.
The little detail about her using diapers to avoid having to stop has been the subject of jokes that are so dumb even I wouldn't use them. But the key to this detail is that not wanting to stop is a very male characteristic.

A friend once told me about his father's fanaticism on the subject. When he was young, whenever his family went on long car trips, his father would make my friend and his brothers use coffee cans so that they didn't have to stop.

There is a point, however, at which the unwillingness to stop crosses over into sadism. Ms. Novak's mission may be a reflection of a sadistic tendency. But what I was actually thinking of was this: Congressman John Dingell, during the Democrats' previous period in the majority, was known for his abusive hearings in which he mercilessly attacked people he felt were wrongdoers. Once, I've heard -- though I haven't found a written source for this -- he insisted that the hearing continue without break, knowing that all the witnesses would have to squirm for lack of a bathroom break. According to the story, hidden behind the desk, Dingell himself was using a catheter. (I have a source for a similar but less grotesque story about Strom Thurmond's infamous filibuster.)