On the Wings of Maybe …

29 11 2006

I am a huge fan of space exploration. I love watching spacecraft of all sorts take off. I read every article about spaceflight I can find. This does NOT make me a fan of NASA.

Back when the shuttle program was first getting started, I was overjoyed. I believed that the shuttle was merely the opening sequence of a long-term program for getting the US back into space in a big way. I knew that the shuttle was only good for Low-Earth Orbit missions, but it could have been an important first step to the proper exploration and exploitation of space.

Alas, it was not to be. Rather than using the shuttles as the work horses for building the near-Earth infrastructure of mankind’s eventual expansion through the solar system, the managers at NASA concentrated on short-term goals intended solely to keeping the shuttle program in business. Funding was yanked from pure science and research projects for this purpose, forcing long-term exploration and research programs to forego important missions and pare essential missions to the bone and beyond.  Granted that this was due to Congressional funding restrictions (what is the opposite of progress? Congress), the leaders at NASA never managed to develop or present a long-range plan to Congress to justify greater funding. Instead, NASA concentrated on talking up the supposed cost-effective measures of the shuttles. This gradually morphed into sustaining the shuttle program (which was very dramatic and therefore popular with the public) to the exclusion- and detriment- of actual space exploration and science.

This laser-focus on the shuttles- which became political issues due to their popularity- meant that engineers and scientists at NASA were gradually overshadowed by political hacks and accountants. The result was the total loss of two orbiters with all hands. The shuttles are replaceable (hardware- however expensive- can be replaced), the crews were not. The resulting political shitstorm shut down the shuttle program for years. This should not have been a serious setback- IF the shuttle program was only one of many projects underway at NASA. Since the shuttle program had become the be-all and end-all of the Space Program, this political witch-hunt effectively shut down America’s space program for the best part of a decade. We are still trying to recover from these setbacks.

Some people have rightfully questioned spending public money on the Space Program. The questions are valid- every citizen should question how public funds are spent. While the exploration of space has not yet become the exploitation of space (and is therefore still not returning the massive investment), the spin-offs from space exploration have more than paid for the entire program- several times over. It is nearly impossible to get away from products developed by and/or for the space program which have been adapted to civilian uses in this country. If you have ever been to a hospital or listened to the radio, you have personally benefitted from the Space Program. Space exploration spin-offs permeate our society.

Many years ago, I wrote a letter to NASA, describing a program for the gradual exploration and exploitation of the solar system using off-the-shelf technology. It would have been slow and expensive, but relatively safe. Gradual steps- such as building more launch facilities around the world (which would both enrich the nations where the facilities were built and improve the infrastructure in those nations); development of regular, reusable orbiters to build facilities in orbit; and building permanent, manned construction and research stations in orbit- would slowly but surely allow human expansion away from this planet.

It has been more than 30 years since the last human left the moon. I will repeat that: THIRTY F***ING YEARS. Managers at NASA have testified before Congress that a return to the Moon was impossible for at least another two decades. This is an inexcusable retreat from the (literal) heights reached by the Apollo program. We- as a nation- have been resting on our laurels for too long. Humans will indeed explore and exploit space. Humans will colonize and explore the solar system. But they almost certainly will not be speaking English. And the only Americans involved will be invited guests of other nations who aren’t ruled by short-sighted incompetents and will therefore reap the benefits of a useful space program.

Current Status: High Dudgeon

Music: Scotch on the Rocks, by the King’s Own Border Guards

Relevant reading: Mining the Sky





Pet Peeve

22 11 2006

It is the start of the Silly Season, which means it is also the start of the Drunk-driving season. Therefore, we are all about to be bombarded by alternating noise sources: Christmas Carols, Christmas sale ads, and anti-DUI campaign ads.

Before I get started, I want to make something clear: This is NOT a screed against alcohol. I am not advocating prohibition. I drink alcohol. I enjoy a “dram or twa o’ uisgebah” and the odd bottle of good beer. But I absolutely REFUSE to drive after having one drink. Just one. It’s called self discipline. I highly recommend it.

Where I work, a major anti-DUI campaign just kicked into gear. The Safety Department was told to get the word out about the perils of drinking and driving. And they tried. They made up posters, trucked in a wrecked car from a DUI fatality and planted it where everyone could see it, held special training sessions, and generally did their utmost to make sure everyone in the building was aware that drunk driving was a Bad Thing. But their efforts were immediately handicapped by the PC Police.

Yep. Political Correctness reared its ugly head and shut down a couple of facets in the anti-DUI campaign. One project involved several employees acting out what would happen during a DUI accident. They even had an ambulance, representatives of the local police departments, and a coffin for the “body”. When this campaign idea was broached, the upper management squelched the idea. “Somebody might be offended by the coffin.

Another idea was put forth, this time a mock courtroom and mock jail, where various employees would be hauled into “court” for DUI and subjected to a fire and brimstone lecture from the “judge” just before sentencing. “I don’t think so. It might make people uncomfortable.”

How far have we sunk, as a society, when concern over peoples’ feelings takes precedence over their actual physical health and life? “People might get offended.” Waaaaaaaaa! They have to be ALIVE to be offended.

It might make people uncomfortable.” Discomfort is something which can be lived with. Discomfort- especially the emotional sort of discomfort under discussion- is something felt by people who are still alive. The dead aren’t offended by anything. Neither do they get uncomfortable.

You want discomfort? How “comfortable” are the families and friends of the victims of a DUI accident? Their emotional comfort level is probably well into negative numbers. You want offended? I’m pretty sure everyone related to someone killed by a drunk driver is pretty offended.

As I wrote in a previous post, everyone dies. That does not diminish the tragedy of lives snuffed out just because some dirtbag thinks he’s a NASCAR driver after a few beers. How many men, women, and children are we willing to see killed, crippled, and maimed before we decide to stop tolerating drunk driving? Why is the completely preventable pain created by drunk driving less important than hurting someone’s feelings?

There IS something we can do about it. Something which does not require the assistance of anyone else. First, don’t drink and drive. Second, don’t tolerate people who do. Treat drunk drivers like the moral outcasts they truly are. Don’t make excuses for Uncle Edwin or Cousin Nancy when they get behind the wheel after bar-hopping all night. Avoid talking to them. Refuse to do business with them, if possible. If each and every person in this country makes it socially unacceptable to drink and drive, maybe we can cut down on some of the carnage on the roads. 

 And, don’t worry about hurting their feelings, either.

Current status: Peeved

Music: Entrance of the Gods into Valhalla by Wagner





Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?

20 11 2006

Can someone PLEASE tell me why the antics of so-called “celebrities deserves more air time than, say, Darfur, the secessionist movements in Georgia (the ex-Soviet one, for those of you who haven’t mastered the rudiments of geography), the political race for the Presidency of Venezuela, the resurgence of the Taliban in the “Tribal Areas” of Afghanistan, or any of several thousand other actual news stories- right down to how long it takes different varieties of paint to dry?

Believe it or not, there are simply SCADS of real news stories out there. Anywhere. Spin a globe and stop it at random with your finger, and right under your finger there will be a real news story which will have approximately one hundred gazillion times more impact on YOUR life than the nonsensical cavortings of the media-crowned “stars”.

With all of the ACTUAL news- important stuff that will have tangible effects on your life- going on all over the planet, what was the primary topic on the so-called “news” programs all weekend? A couple of over-hyped entertainment dweebs got hitched. Not “page twenty” or “entertainment section” news, either. This alleged “story” was the lead news item on every misbegotten channel and the front page headline on every unspeakable dead-tree newspaper.

In a rational world, no one would pay these attention-whores the slightest bit of notice away from the confines of a movie theater. In a world governed by intellect and reason, these self-aggrandizing intellectual and moral vacuums would merely be good for the occasional laugh when their off-screen antics finally elicit a police response. Given the wholesale pandering to these worthless parasites by the “mainstream media” over the past few months, however, any moron of average intelligence would be forced to conclude that Earth was devoid of any intelligent life.

Have you ever heard the word, “iota”? I believe it is a Greek word, and its general use is to indicate something extremely small- like an atom (another Greek word which means “indivisible” or “unbreakable”). If you took one ten billionth of one percent of an iota, it would STILL be several orders of magnitude greater than my interest in anything from Hollywierd.

So why am I being force-fed this swill masquerading as news? Why is there no escape from the endless stories about this or that “celebrity” and what he/she/it/they are doing to/for/about whatever? Why are mainstream media news outlets dominated by empty heads behind cheery smiles and vacant, soulless eyes? Why can’t these so-called “journalists” manage the simple tasks of spelling or pronouninge the English language correctly? Their whole reason for existence is to work with words, and they can’t even spell properly. I defy you to find any “news anchor” who has the vaguest idea of how to properly use an apostrophe.

My wife, bless her, opines that these “news anchors” are actually robots created for this purpose by the Sony Corporation with faulty translator chips. Tempting as the idea is, I am forced to disagree. I simply cannot believe that Sony is capable of the sort of sheer incompetence displayed by these creatures every night. And make no mistake, it is merely incompetence. There is no sinister agenda at work, no Macchiavellian plots. Just simple stupidity. And it’s being pumped into your brain by the TV.

As bad as the situation is, there is still hope. You, as a consumer of the tripe dished out each night on the television “news”, have the power to make changes. It’s very simple, and doesn’t even require that you leave the comfortable confines of your easy chair. Pick up your remote. There’s a button on it that says, “Off”. Push this button. That’s it. You have just exercised your power over the entire entertainment industry. I do it all the time.

So join me, brothers and sisters! Turn off the pernicious, babbling non-entities that reduce everything to the lowest common denominator. There’s a huge universe out there, waiting to be discovered. All you have to do is take off your blinders and see it.

And, having seen what the universe is like, ask questions about it. The essence of wisdom lies in understanding how little you really know.

Current status: Irked

Music: Skellig, by Loreena McKennitt





The Silly Season

15 11 2006

Next week is the oafishal start of what I like to call the Silly Season. Starting next Thursday, this country will go completely berserk for a month and a half.

There will be parties and meetings of friends and families. Thousands of liters of alcoholic beverages will be consumed, hundreds of tonnes of food will be devoured, and a wonderful time will generally be had be all.

 This “most wonderful time of the year” has devolved over time into a shameless orgy of consumerism and keeping up with the Jones’. Hollyweird is helping fan the flames of this wasteful expenditure of time and money by pumping out movie after saccharine-sweet movie encouraging the public to spend, spend, spend. The overarching message of the “holiday” season seems to be, “if you haven’t spent as much as your neighbors this year, there must be something wrong with you.

Humbug! Balderdash! Insert scatalogical epithet here! I refuse to get caught up in the hype surrounding the Silly Season. I rarely send presents, and do not expect presents from my friends and family. I send personal email messages to friends and family, but not greetings cards. I avoid malls like the plague, and generally hunker down and snarl at the television until the season is over. I see no reason to throw good money away on fripperies and frills (such as greetings cards, decorations, and other accouterments) just because “it’s the Holidays!” I genuinely do not care whether or not other people observe the holidays. If they want to waste their money, let ’em. But I refuse to follow suit just because everyone else is doing it. Freedom begins when you tell Mrs. Grundy to go fly a kite. When you refuse to allow yourself to get sucked in to the nationwide consumerism free-for-all, you discover that you have more spending money, more free time, and far fewer headaches (both physical and metaphoric).

Why is it that people only give a shrill soprano hoot in HELL about other people during a six week period starting in the middle of November? For 46 weeks a year, people generally treat their fellows with disdain and contempt. But that all magically disappears the morning after Thanksgiving. Back in the middle ages (when most of our “holiday traditions” were created), it made a bit of sense. When actual wolves would sometimes literally appear at your door during the winters, the humble traditions of sharing and caring and visiting neighbors were vital survival tools. This is no longer the case. When we talk about “the wolf at the door” in America today, we’re referring only to figurative hardships.

When the original foundation behind the traditions are no longer valid, the focus of the “holidays” changes from a communal means for survival through harsh winters to a religious observance to a quaint holiday tradition to a marketing ploy. I refuse to buy into the Hype, and I bitterly resent the nonsensical marketing with which I am constantly bombarded. All this advertising is insulting to my intelligence. In my opinion, it is insulting to the intelligence of chimpanzees.

Ookookookackaa aa aa aa aa! Shiny things! Oooooooo!

Current Status: Annoyed

Music: Space Lord, by Monster Magnet.





Shades of Darkness

13 11 2006

This particular post is pretty dark and murky- which is appropriate, as my thoughts are often dark and murky to others. The subject matter may be disturbing to some (assuming that I am not writing this to be read by the ether and one or two others).

Thus spake brave Horatius, the Captain of the Gate.

“To every man upon this Earth, Death cometh soon or late.”

Death is the lot of all that lives. It is the one inescapable fact of our existence- never mind the old joke. This thought is in my mind because another member of my family died recently. My father died too- about a year and a half ago, and my mother just over two years ago. With all of this dying going on, there are only five remaining family members from my parents’ generation still alive (out of twelve).

This brings me to a point I stressed during the family discussions about funeral arrangements. I hate funerals. Funerals are dreary and depressing and generally horrible affairs for all involved. I prefer a wake.

For those unfamiliar with this venerable Irish custom, a wake is a party where the friends and family of the deceased celebrate the dead person’s life and times. There is drinking, dancing, songs, and laughter. All in all, I believe this to be a far better way to send off a loved one than miserably bewailing the loss. I also think that this is a far more … adult … way of dealing with the inevitability of death. We are all going to die, sooner or later. It is far better, in my opinion, to deal openly and honestly with this fact and to focus on the dead person’s life– not the fact that the world will be a little less bright with that particular light snuffed out. There are other lights, and more arriving all the time. Celebrate the light that was, and celebrate how bright the world still is.

So when I kick the bucket, ring down the curtain, and join the bleedin’ Choir Invisible, I expect my friends and family to gather and make fun of me over drinks and food. I’d far rather be laughed out that washed out in a river of tears.

Current Status: Drug-induced torpor

Music: Territories, by Rush





Essence of memory

11 11 2006

Back in the depths of time, when I was in High School, my friends and I would play Dungeons and Dragons. Sometimes at one house, sometimes at another. We still keep in touch, and every few years or so we gather together from the far corners of the globe (literally, in some cases- several of us joined the military) to drink and talk and play another game. It’s been a quarter of a century now.

One of my friends has a problem, and I’m completely unable to help him out. His mother- one of the nicest people I’ve ever met- is gravely ill with cancer. Once the docs get the cancer under control, she’s going to need a bone marrow transplant. I can’t do this- various and sundry incidents in my medical past make me unsuitable as a donor. Assuming that more than two or three people are reading this, please contact your local hospital and find out what you can do to donate bone marrow.  I’ve been told that it doesn’t cost the donor anything.  You could give someone a new lease on life.

Move along folks. Nothing to see here.





Random Brain Squeezings

9 11 2006

No, I will not be doing the traditional post-election “analysis”. I’m not interested in “what it all means”- as told by the empty-headed dolts in the media. If any of you are interested, feel free to rot your brains in front of the TV.

I should probably write something witty and urbane, filled with polysyllabic words and references to obscure authors and historicl figures. Since I figure Dennis Miller pretty much sewed that market up before he turned into a drunken shill for the Repubelickans, I’ll pass.

Because my brain is pretty much turned to mush by the painkillers my doctor prescribed for me, I’ll just spew whatever random nonsense happens to be rattling around my skull.

Is it just me, or does The Weather Channel seem to be the place they send not-quite-cute-enough-for-network bimbos to get pregnant? What the hell do they do when they’re not on camera? It seems that one of those women is pregnant every other week.
Both of my cars are equipped with a heads-up display (HUD). This is very similar to the HUD used in combat aircraft. My HUD displays the current speed, turn signal, high/low beam, and will also flash basic warnings for problems detected by the car’s computer. In my opinion, this is the single greatest aid to driver safety ever developed. In lieu of taking one’s eyes completely off the road to check out the speedometer in the dashboard, the driver can see the current speed on the windshield itself. My question: Why is this not installed on every car manufactured or sold in the US?

Here’s another car-related topic. Using a cell phone while driving impairs the driver almost exactly as much as being legally drunk. According to several studies, it doesn’t even matter whether or not the driver is using a hands-free device. let us take this as a fact, for the purposes of argument. Assuming the preceding statement is a fact, why haven’t there been studies about carrying on a conversation with someone in the car with the driver? If it’s the conversation and not the device which is at fault, then talking with your passengers ought to be just as dangerous as talking on a cell phone.

Don’t get me wrong- like many people, I’ve been victimized by the mindless herds of drivers chatting blindly away on their phones when they should be paying attention to the road. I think that these idiots deserve whatever happens to them as a result of their idiotic compulsion to blather while they drive. Unfortunately, these chatty imbeciles rarely get into trouble by themselves- they usually crash into someone else. A pox on all their houses!

I like Monty Python. I’ve seen all of the movies, bought CDs and books, and memorized favorite sketches and scenes. Give me half a chance, and I’ll wear your ears out on the subject. I find it surprising that many people in the US can recognize famous Monty Python lines and sketches but have never seen the original material. When I was in the Navy, I gathered a few like-minded shipmates and we did the “Parrot Sketch” as part of the ship’s underway “Talent Show”. We got thunderous applause- and several people came up to us and gently chided us for making a few mistakes in the dialogue. What really stunned me, however, was the fact that few of the people who corrected us had ever seen the original. It’s remarkable that six whackjobs from a 1970’s BBC comedy have had such an impact on the lives of Americans who hadn’t even been born when the show was originally on the air.