Posts tagged ‘headlines’

In Defense of the Final Frontier

10 February, 2018 | | 1 Comment

A friend pointed out to me an article by a Luddite, who derides the recent SpaceX launch as frippery, Elon Musk as a modern-day Louis XVI, and the entire idea of space exploration as something humanity shouldn’t be allowed to play with until we clean up our room.

After some consideration, I’m not going to link to the article.  I’m sure you can find it if you go looking.  I disagree with the author completely.

His main point is that since the space program hasn’t ended war, poverty, or famine, it’s worthless.

The 1969 moon landing didn’t end the Vietnam War.  That’s true. Also true is that space programs like the International Space Station (ISS) foster cooperation between governments, helping to build mutual understanding as a result of international cooperation among nations. So far, more than 63 nations have worked together on the ISS. That kind of visible, public teamwork among potentially rival nations may not end the current wars, but can help prevent the next one.

Investment in the Apollo Moon exploration program in the 1960s also correlates with the level of technical education later attained by students, suggesting that the program’s high public profile positively influenced the level of US technical education. Having a visible space exploration program encourages young people to pursue STEM fields. So far, more than 43 million students from 49 countries have participated in experiments and activities associated with the ISS – building a generation of scientists and engineers who could help with the world hunger problems the author describes.

The assertion that “nothing of substantial worth was gifted to humanity as a result” of the space program is patently false. Even aside from the intangible truth that new knowledge has inherent value to humankind, there are thousands of examples of terrestrial benefits of the space program.

Healthcare is a great place to start.  Do you worry about osteoporosis? Prolia, a prescription drug to treat it, was developed in space. How about laser eye surgery? The technology now commonly used to track a patient’s eye and precisely direct the laser scalpel came from the space program.

Have an inoperable tumor? The robotics that have made inoperable tumors operable, with a robot arm capable of performing surgery inside an MRI machine, came from the space program. For that matter, MRI technology itself was based on innovations from the space program as well.

Do you drive? Goodyear improved the strength and durability of their radial tires in 1976, after developing a material for NASA to parachute the Vikings to a soft landing on the Martian surface.

Firefighters wear a lot of gear when they run into your burning building to save you. A lot of that gear – from the breathing system, face mask, frame, and harness; to the air bottle itself, which is made of an aluminum composite material developed by NASA for use on rocket casings – was initially developed for the space program.

Better baby food. Better solar panels. Better food safety systems – solutions for growing crops in space have lead to solutions for mold prevention on Earth.  Safer bridges, cars, and roller coasters because of structural analysis software built for the space program. Memory foam, in your helmets as well as for your heinie.  UV sunglasses. The camera on your cell phone.  Portable cordless vacuums, god help me. Custom-fitted exoskeletons to help paraplegics walk, derived from space robotic systems. Implantable heart monitors and LED?based anti?cancer therapy.  Water purification technology built for space exploration now purifies millions of cubic meters of water every day, in hundreds of towns.

The author of this article is so myopically focused on the trees of poverty and famine that he misses the forest of humanity’s impending overpopulation crisis.  “If Elon Musk wanted to do something spectacular, he’d have given the money to the poor instead of a spaceship to nowhere.” He offers no concrete solutions for *how* Musk should have used his money to alleviate poverty. “Give the money to the poor” is a child’s answer. Part of the importance of the launch was the cost – SpaceX spent $90 million (OK, plus the cost of Musk’s car), which is about $300 million cheaper than anyone else can do it.  There are an estimated 43.1 million Americans living in poverty (or were, in 2015, per the Census Bureau’s estimates).  At $90 million, Musk could have given each of them enough money to cover a cup of coffee at Starbucks, which would have impacted their lives… Not at all.

Stephen Hawking said that “to confine our attention to terrestrial matters would be to limit the human spirit.” Elon Musk’s Telsa Roadster has people looking at the stars again, and I think that’s a very good use of his money.

Well-Oiled Machines

10 February, 2018 | | No Comment

If this were a food blog, I’d be telling you about the wings we made for dinner last night while we watched the Opening Ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics.  Luckily for you, it’s not, and I won’t, save to say they were awesome, if not actually historic.

History and awesomeness, though, were on our minds as we watched the people, pageantry, and parades at PyeongChang last night.  Athletes from Russia, without the Russian flag.  History.  Athletes from North Korea, marching side-by-side with their South Korean teammates, under a unified Korean flag.  History.  And, to the delight of the entire world, a well-oiled skier from Tonga, carrying a Tongan flag, shirtless despite the 28-degree weather.  Awesome.

Pita Taufatofua, a Tongan martial artist turned skier, will be only the 72nd person to compete in back-to-back summer and winter Olympics.  Mind you, 5 of those people have done that multiple times – Japan’s Seiko Hashimoto seems to hold the record for back-to-back Olympic games at 7, starting with the winter games in 1984 and participating in every subsequent summer and winter Olympics through 1996.  Terry McHugh of Ireland did it four times, from 1996-2002, as did Jaqueline Mourão of Brazil, from 2004-2010.

If the World’s Favorite Oiled Tongan makes it to Tokyo in 2020, as he’s said he hopes to, he will be one of only 15 people to have participated in 3 Olympics in a row.  He seems to be a bit of a nut, but I suspect you might have to be to compete at that level.  This is a guy who understands that he doesn’t need a medal at these games – he’s already won.

Speaking of winning, I am considering setting my sights on the Olympics as well.  Since I really don’t look that good in coconut oil, I’m researching curling – and I think I may have found my people!  They are – mostly – slow-moving, overweight, white people.  I could do this!  Some of the athletes at PyeongChang this year are older than I am.  Mind you, they’re setting records for it, but still – my dreams of Olympic glory needn’t fade yet.

Speaking of well-oiled machines, the dizzying, dazzling drone display was pretty damned impressive.  That was probably the best commercial for Intel that I’ve ever seen.  Between that and the fireworks, this Opening Ceremony was a clear and solid answer to the theatrical and technical masterpiece that was Beijing ten years ago.

On with the games!

 

 

A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Next Four Years

21 January, 2017 | | 4 Comments

Don’t Panic.

While I am certain that I do not speak for all Americans, which is these days mainly a question of decibels and volume, I feel comfortable speaking for some reasonable percentage of us when I describe how many of us feel this morning.

If you haven’t read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, you should.  There is a scene very early where Earthman Arthur Dent has just regained consciousness on a Vogon spaceship, where his friend has rescued him from what is now the smoking remains of what had been our planet.

“…There was no way his imagination could feel the impact of the whole Earth having gone, it was too big. He prodded his feelings by thinking that his parents and his sister had gone. No reaction. He thought of all the people he had been close to. No reaction. Then he thought of a complete stranger he had been standing behind in the queue at the supermarket two days before and felt a sudden stab: the supermarket was gone, everyone in it was gone! Nelson’s Column had gone! And there would be no outcry, because there was no one left to make an outcry! From now on Nelson’s Column only existed in his mind. England only existed in his mind. A wave of claustrophobia closed in on him.
He tried again: America, he thought, has gone. He couldn’t grasp it. He decided to start smaller again. New York has gone. No reaction. He’d never seriously believed it existed anyway. The dollar, he thought, has sunk for ever. Slight tremor there. Every “Bogart” movie has been wiped, he said to himself, and that gave him a nasty knock. McDonald’s, he thought. There is no longer any such thing as a McDonald’s hamburger.
He passed out.”

That’s how many of us feel right now.  The enormity of the situation, the magnitude of the mistake – there is no way for our imaginations to feel the impact of climate change denials and LGBT rights reversals and ACA repeals all at once.  It’s too big.   America has gone.  We can’t grasp it.  Many of us never seriously believed it existed anyway.

Don’t panic.  Yes, the Vogons control both houses of Congress, and we’ve elected The Donald to the White House, Zaphod Beeblebrox with one head and small hands.

I have learned a lot from having kids.  One of the most interesting things we noticed is that all of them – the Human Tape Recorder, Number One Son, and the Reigning Queen of Pink – all went through some of the same mechanisms of growth and development; parenting books and the internet tell us that most children do this as well.  When the kids were little, we’d watch them becoming older, more mature, and marvel at their independence – and then suddenly they’d be clingy and fearful.  It seemed they had regressed two years overnight.  Then, a few weeks or a month later, they bounced out and moved on, standing taller than ever, butterflies with new wings.  They had just needed that reassurance, that sense of touching home base, of being sure that there was a safe place behind them before they moved on to the next part of their broader world view.

That’s how I see America right now.

EIGHT WHOLE YEARS with a black president?  All that LGBT legislation protecting the dignity of all people?  The hard-line conservative core reacted like 6-yr-olds.  There was just too much change, too fast.  With this election, conservative America had a chance to regress for a while, to touch home base, and that’s the way the country voted.

Just like my kids at that age, though, we’ve *seen* the broader world.  The genie is out of that bottle.  We know it will be waiting for us; we know we’re going to go back to it.  America would just like a few more years under a fuzzy blanket, please.   Give us 8, 10, 15 years and we’ll be back where we were and then some; we will remember this episode as an embarrassing and brief blip in our history.

That’s my hope, anyway.  Don’t think it’s inevitable – it’s not.   Don’t think it won’t take a lot of effort – it will.  We need to do our best, as the parents of this still-young country, to keep prodding it to be better, to keep calling our elected officials, to keep yelling when yelling will help. to keep whispering when whispering works, to keep loving the country and the idea of the country.

It seems very dire right now, and many of my friends worry that the current spectacle is reminiscent of the Nazis.  They’re not wrong, and there is evil afoot in the world – it looks like intolerance, it looks like intransigence, it looks like the willful suspension of belief in facts, and we must speak against it when we see it.   Fascism is a scary specter, but don’t think it’s inevitable – it’s not.

America may not have been ready for the social progress that it made, but it will be.  This is a road we’re paving slowly, and the pendulum will swing back toward education, toward tolerance, toward dignity and a more worldly world view.

That’s my hope, anyway.

In the mean time…

Don’t Panic.

 

Of Meteors and Voting

12 August, 2016 | | 3 Comments

Last night was one of the great days of summer, with the chance to lie on the grass and watch stars shooting overhead, as the Perseids come streaking through our atmosphere, heating up and burning themselves out in a flaming blaze of glory as they crash.  The Human Tape Recorder and the Reigning Queen of Pink stayed up all night last night, on beach towels in the backyard, to watch one of natures great fireworks displays.  Around 1230, they woke me to join them.

I’ve always loved meteor showers, so I did as I was told, brought a blanket outside for a while, and stared up at the stars.  Within about 5 minutes, the score was Team Perseids 4, Team West Nile 3, and Team Zika was up to 7 with a hat trick.  Mosquitoes love me.  The girls were sad to see me go back inside, although that may just have been because I had been drawing fire from the flying vampiric plankton that flies around my back yard.  I itched my way back to my own bed and wished them well, but that’s not what I came to tell you about.

I came to talk about the draft election.

Are you on the fence about voting this November?  Let’s say you vote for Trump, and then let’s fast forward a few years into his administration with the current GOP platform.  (Go ahead, read it.  I’ll wait.)  Now, ask yourself these questions:

If your daughter wants an abortion, or worse, needs an abortion, and she can’t, legally, have one, how will you feel about having voted for a misogynist-in-chief? How will you look your daughter in the eye and tell her that you voted for this man knowing that he doesn’t believe she has the right to make decisions about her own body?

If your teen-aged child, maturing in this political environment, is conflicted about their sexuality and wonders about their possible attraction to their own gender, how will they ask you about it? Knowing that you voted for a party that holds hate in high regard, a party that has pledged to repeal laws allowing adults who love one another to marry, how will you look your child in the eye and tell them that you’re looking forward to their straight sibling’s wedding, but that you voted against their right to have one?  If your gay child should leave the nest to live with their same-sex soulmate, will you remind them that you’ve voted against their right to legally adopt your grandchildren?

When your Muslim friends ask about celebrating Eid in their public school and are laughed at, or worse, while walking past the Ten Commandments or the Christmas tree in the school office, how will you look them in the eye and tell them that you voted for a government that values “America’s Judeo-Christian heritage” more highly than America’s heritage of freedom? Will you remind your Hindu friends that you voted for a party that believes a good understanding of the Bible to be indispensable for the development of an educated citizenry?  Just the Bible, not the Koran, not the Talmud, not the Upanishads, or the Tao Te Ching.

When your neighbor asks you to attend their young son’s funeral, how will you look them in the eye and tell them that you voted for increased magazine capacities in automatic rifles?  That you voted for the right of anybody who hears the voice of god whispering in their ear to carry that gun anywhere they go, Linus with a 5.56-mm security blanket and a hundred rounds in the clip, a good guy with a gun until he saw that kid in the hoodie with his phone, wrong place, wrong time, his mom didn’t know he’d stopped taking his meds two weeks ago, our thoughts and prayers are with you?

When your neighbor asks you to attend a loved one’s funeral after they succumb to an anaphylactic allergic reaction because they ate something that wasn’t accurately labeled, how will you look them in the eye and explain that you voted for a party that has pledged to repeal federal mandates for food labeling?

When you look in the mirror in the morning, will you be able to look yourself in the eye knowing that you voted for a party that holds monochromatic monotheism in higher regard than modern medicine, a party that puts faith before fact, a party that will sideline science, social justice, and STEM schools because stem cell research might offend their narrow notion of God?

You don’t have to vote for Hillary Clinton.  I understand.  She’s a career politician, and she’s made the Faustian bargains that career politicians make.  She’s competent, she’s qualified, and she’s not cuddly and likable.  You don’t have to vote FOR anything.

Against, now – that’s another story.   When you go to the polls November 8th, don’t vote FOR anything.  Press the button that says Hillary Clinton.  You’re not really voting for her.  You’re casting your vote against.

Vote against misogyny.

Vote against racism.

The Trump campaign may flame out like a Perseid meteor long before November, a spectacular magnesium flare streaking across our political sky as millions stay up late to watch.  But it might not.

And if it doesn’t, and if in November you find yourself faced with the dilemma of decision, I urge you to cast your ballot for sanity and competence.   If it really bothers you, remind yourself that you’re not voting for Hillary Clinton.

You’re voting against hate.

 

 

 

 

 

Bathroom Break!

Dear Friend, Fond Relation, and Gentle Reader:  Welcome back!  I’ve been away a while. I’ve missed a few marks and notes; I missed commenting on my birthday.  Yes, I missed commenting on your birthday, also – sorry about that!

But I’ve been hearing a lot lately about the state of America’s underpants. We seem to have them twisted, bunched up, slightly damp, and certainly uncomfortable. We can’t stop talking about what’s in who’s pants and what we need to do about it – particularly in the bathroom.

So, in my capacity as the final arbiter of sanity, good taste, decency, and gender equality in this country, and speaking as a Real Man, I figured it was my civic duty to take a break from this semi-retirement and assist the country as it grapples with the deep, penetrating question of who should use which bathroom.  What could go wrong?

Without further ado, and in the interest of the complete objectivity for which I am known, I give you the answer to the Great American Bathroom Debate:

The men’s room is for Real Men.

It’s that simple. If you’re a Real Man, use the men’s room.  Now, I know that not everyone knows at a glance if someone is or isn’t a Real Man.  (Someone else, that is.  If you’re not a Real Man, you probably know that.  If you’re wondering whether or not you’re a Real Man, you’re not.  If you are a Real Man, the question just doesn’t occur to you.)

Just as a handy checklist, here are a few things that differentiate a Real Man:

  • A Real Man will ask what you need, not what he can do for you. There’s a difference.
  • A Real Man does not use the words “I promise” lightly.
  • A Real Man cries watching True Grit, but not at the part you’d expect.
  • A Real Man will have a 20-second imaginary conversation with his broker when a 3-yr-old child hands him a plastic phone and says, “It’s for you.” Even if he doesn’t have a broker.
    • This is a particularly American phenomenon:
    • An Real Italian Man will have an imaginary conversation with his mother.
    • A Real British Man will talk to an imaginary member of the aristocracy.
      • If he *is* a member of the aristocracy, he’ll talk to someone above him in station – a Baron will have received an imaginary call from an Earl, the Earl a call from a Duke, the Duke a call from the Queen.
        • It is unknown if the Queen has ever been handed a plastic phone by a 3-yr old, but I think it’s safe to assume she would answer it.  The Queen may or may not be a Real Man, but the Queen is a badass.  A very, very polite badass.
    • A Real Frenchman will have received an imaginary call from his cheese monger.
    • A Real Russian Man will pretend to listen to the phone in stony silence for 20 seconds, say “Nyet!” and hang up.
  • If he walks in and says, “I gotta take a piss,” he’s a Real Man.
  • If he walks in and says, “I gotta take a wicked piss,” he’s a Real Man from Boston.
  • If he walks in and says, “I gotta take a fuckin’ wicked piss,” he’s a Real Man from South Boston.
  • If he walks in and says, “I gotta take a fuckin’ wicked fuckin’ piss, get outta the way,” he’s a Southie and he’s drunk. You really don’t want to ask him about what’s in his pants, because he’s gonna fuckin’ show ya, ya chucklehead.
  • A Real Man is known for complete objectivity.
  • A Real Man walks in like he owns the place, regardless of where he is.
  • A Real Man is only interested in what’s in your pants if he’s hoping to get into them.

You can always tell a Real Man – he’s using the men’s room.  After all, it’s a guy thing.

You might notice that none of these things are affected by physiology, size or shape of genitalia, or sexual orientation. Those things don’t matter, any more than color or religious beliefs matter – not in the bathroom, and especially not to a Real Man.

So, if you’re in the men’s bathroom and you’re wondering if the person next to you is a Real Man, you’re the one in the wrong bathroom. Real Men don’t care.