Safety First and other ways to be sure you’ll fail

NASA has grounded the shuttles again. That’s because they saw some more foam fly off during take off the other day. You remember what happened the last time foam flew off, don’t you? That was a tragic day, and NASA doesn’t want to be responsible for more such tragedies. Considering that they’re a tax supported organization that’s a good policy. One way or another, our taxes pay for enough death and destruction to satisfy most people’s need for, well, for death and destruction. Unfortunately, trying to keep everyone safe will only ensure that nobody will ever go anywhere. Which is why private enterprise is going to start exploiting our neighboring planets rather than NASA. You can bemoan the commercialization of space all you want, but it’s going to happen, because the first explorers will be privately funded, and they’ll assess the risks and decide that the downside (they’ll die if they fail) is far outweighed by the upside (they get all the plutonium on Mars, or whatever.)

Whatever slack private companies leave will be taken up by the space programs from countries with less to lose, countries such as India or China. They’re not on top of the world, neither is the world’s only superpower, neither has any international position of authority to protect (at the moment, that is) so either will be much more willing than the USA to risk citizens’ lives in pursuit of an outer space dream. It may sound crass to consider that a country with over a billion citizens can afford to risk a few, but it’s the truth. So the private companies planning on grabbing a piece of the solar system had better hurry up or the best asteroids will all be taken. One thing there probably won’t be is much of an actual “American” presence in space per se. In the twentieth century we went to the moon several times, but the twentieth century was the “American Century.” This is the twenty-first century and nobody can tell yet who it belongs to. That’s a fact that gives Americans pause when we bother to think about it, but what the heck?

Consider the dominant power of the nineteenth century: Great Britain. Are the citizens of this no longer imperial nation better off or worse off than they were under Victoria? Consider that they live longer, healthier lives, jet around the world, use the latest technology to communicate and entertain, eat international cuisine (almost anything is a step up from traditional English food, trust me), drive nice cars, and so on. The Victorians didn’t have a single one of those advantages. The poor saps. What I’m saying is that the evidence suggests that we may well be better off when somebody else takes on the mantle of world Kahuna. It will be the latter half of the century that truly tells the tale of course, just as it was with the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Will India rule from a base on the moon? Will China impose chopsticks on a reluctant world? We’ll just have to wait.

The only way for America to stay on top would be for us to give it all up and start over. Anybody for that alternative?

That’s what I thought.

My First Bushism Post

Bush said last week, “I think it’s best that people wait until the investigation is complete before you jump to conclusions. And I will do so, as well.” — Associated Press

Yes, by all means, once the facts are all in, then jump to conclusions.

Harry Potter Redux

I read Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince over last weekend, and here’s my review. I doubt if I’ll spoil anything, but if you’re worried about finding out things you’d rather read for yourself, just go someplace else. There are some links to the left for your convenience.

First and foremost, it’s tighter than volume 5. Heck, a laundry list is tighter than Volume 5, but I mean that it’s a lot more pleasant to read. If you’re a writer and you know (from advance leaks) that somebody dies in this book, I’m betting you can figure out who it is (no, not Harry for heaven’s sake) just because you know about what happens when in a successful story. Yes, that’s who dies. Harry takes over his own destiny at last, naturally. The identity of the half-blood prince isn’t revealed until the penultimate chapter. I figured it out on page 25, again because I know how stories are structured. If you’re a fiction writer, you’ll figure it out, too. But I’d hate to have anyone’s sister upset with me (see the previous post about “rights”) so I won’t say anything more about that.

All our old friends are here save one at the end, but He Who May Not Be Named (except by Harry of course) never shows up. His minions do, though, and it’s a more mature and emotionally tough story than any that preceded it in the series. With just one book left there are still a few things to contemplate, such as will Harry get to settle down to a “regular” life (for a wizard) or be more like Frodo who had to find another world to move to? It could go either way at the end of this book.

The Half Blood Prince, by the way, is a former student who made a lot of notes in the margins of a Potions textbook which Harry uses for various purposes. Oh, and Ron and Hermoine seem to be together by the end. If you’ve read the other five, you’ll probably love this one.

An Icon Passes

I was watching the web cam on Times Square, the one that streams and pans around, when I noticed that the Howard Johnsons on the corner of 46th and Broadway (and almost 7th) is closed and empty. I never particularly cared for Howard Johnsons, mind you, but it seems odd to see such a once pervasive icon of American travel reduced to what is, according to one site I visited, five restaurants and no ice cream shoppes. Now we know where decades of serving so-so food at ordinary prices will get you. Right at the same place that pretty much any thing else gets you, except that there will be people with fancy web sites mourning your passing. Odd, it is.

This pretty much completes the transformation of Times Square from the gritty underworld portrayed in the movie Taxi Driver into what is just an upscale, urban version of an average suburban mall. That vision you see in DiNiro’s classic film was true to life. I know because I visited New York quite a few times in the seventies. There were peep shows competing with hookers and adult movie theaters all over the place. There was a great deal of trash and garbage strewn about. It smelled bad, even for Manhattan. Is what the locals call the “Disney” version of Times Square any better? Tell you what: hop a plane, train, or automobile and visit New York City and decide for yourself. There, a free plug for a city where I don’t even live, and the only real competition that the city where I do live has in this country to boot. In fact, in all honesty, New York is number one, and the original. When you’re done seeing New York City, come to Vegas and see how it compares. (Hey, we do have better water shows.)

Meanwhile, the heat wave has broken, although you’d probably say it’s still pretty hot here, so life got a lot more pleasant today. The monsoon has started, helped by a hurricane, so we even got some nice rain. It is, as I write, well below ninety degrees Fahrenheit in Las Vegas, an unheard of chilly spell that we’re all welcoming. So, to sum up, come on out and visit: the weather’s fine.

First, We Kill All the “C” Students

Okay, here’s the CYA: I don’t mean the title literally. Take it like that Zen saying about killing the Buddha if you meet him in the road; I mean we should not listen to any more “C” students on any topic whatsoever.

The current trend of mediocre students actually running things reminds me of an old joke:
Three guys get to heaven. St. Peter interviews each one in turn. He asks each the same question, “What is your IQ?” The first guy answers, “145.” “Great,” says St. Peter, “You go over with that group that’s currently discussing the Unified Field Theory and Where Einstein Went Wrong.”
Then St. Pete asks the second guy, “What’s your IQ?” and the guy answers, “110.” “Okay,” says Pete, “you go over with that group that’s talking about sports and lawn care and family matters.”
Then St. Pete asks the third guy, “What’s your IQ?” and the third guy answers, slowly, “ummmm, 82.” And St. Peter says, “How ’bout them Broncos?”

That joke would be funnier if it weren’t for the fact that the “how ’bout them Broncos” guys are in charge. Why else would we be stuck in Iraq where the “quick war” was begun with no clear plan to ever end it, not to mention with no clearly justifiable excuse for starting it, and where “leadership” was made to be a synonym for “decicisiveness” even though the decisions made were, as is easy to see now and as was pointed out at the time, inappropriate and unnecessary? Why else would there even be a debate anywhere on whether something called “Intelligent Design” or “Scientific Creationism” should be taught in schools? Those are mediocre concepts, all three of them, but we’re deep into it all.

For example:
Saddam Hussein needed removed from office, that’s certainly true. But he could have been removed for a whole lot less money and effort if we’d been sneaky and quiet about it. For that matter, from the point of view of the USA, he didn’t need removed right then: it could’ve waited until after we captured Bin Ladin, which we might’ve done if we weren’t pouring so many resources into making Iraq over in our own image. (Not that that’s a bad thing, it’s just that we’re doing it at a time when it would be better for us to concentrate our efforts on, oh, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia, just to pull a couple examples out of my ear.)

Hussein and Bin Laden dream of a similar thing: Pan-Arabic unity and world influence. The big difference is that Hussein envisions a secular Arab state, whereas Bin Ladin pushes for the ultimate Jihad and triumph of Islamic law. The meetings between Hussein and Bin Laden’s people were almost certainly called by Hussein, and almost certainly came to nothing so far as he was concerned. He may even have been willing to budge a bit, but Bin Ladin, being the idealist that he is, was not and is not willing to concede a millimeter of philosophical ground. Thus, as was predicted by those evil leftists two years or more ago, we now have a fertile breeding ground for religious extremists in Iraq where before there was no threat from that quarter at all. This is all because we have been listening to “C” students instead of thinking for ourselves.

Another bad thing about “C” students is that they can’t really win by honest competition, so they resort to one form or another of cheating. In the past couple of decades this cheating has been in the form of disinformation, doublespeak in fact, promulgated primarily by one faction of one party. They got so good at it that they managed to almost elect their man once (they had to get the Supreme Court to finish the job) and then to actually elect him four years later. Note that the guys in charge of the disinformation aren’t “C” students, but “B” students with questionable ethical codes. They work for the “C” students, though, enabling the mediocrity to continue unabated.

There is some hope. Heck, there is always some hope. There have been articles recently about it now being cool to be a nerd. Harry Potter, best selling character of all time, is, as he says himself, “not cool.” He’s got brains though and he’s a role model for many millions. But that’s only a glimmer of hope. I was disheartened today to hear the congressional speeches given in regard to the recent Supreme Court nomination. None of the speakers could put words together in any compelling way. They all, on both sides, sounded either overly strident or, frankly, dead. I’m not sure how I know how a dead white guy sounds, except there are those examples in government that you can see every day on the news. Maybe they’re not really dead, but they look dead, and that’s all I have to go on. I remembered the great words from the founders of the Republic, and from Lincoln, Roosevelt, heck Kennedy (not much of a President but a great speaker) and Reagan (same as Kennedy, current deification campaigns notwithstanding.) Bill Frist couldn’t raise interest if he was reading a list of next year’s Triple Crown winners; Harry Reid is a bit better, but only a bit, even if he did grow up just down the road from where I live. It seems like anyone wanting to be a leader in government should learn to express himself or herself well, but obviously those who enter that sort of service don’t agree with my assessment.

I don’t know, but maybe that’s because they’re “C” students.

What’s Wrong With Rights?

Here is a quote from an article on the release of the latest Harry Potter volume, from someone concerned about “spoilers” published on the Internet.

“While free speech is important, Amazon should put a warning on this set of comments so that the rights of others are not trampled upon,” he wrote. “At the very least, reviews here should be moderated for the next few days. That way I wouldn’t have an inconsolable 14-year-old sister to deal with right now.”

Now, really. “Rights” being “trampled on?” I there a right, in the Constitution, Declaration of Independence, or body of case law built up since the Magna Carta not to be disappointed? How about you teach your 14 year old sister to be careful what she reads? I haven’t read the book yet but if I had and I felt like it I’d publish whatever details I wanted to in a review. Nobody forces your sister, or you, or anyone else, to read anything, or watch anything, or go anywhere in particular. So, lay off about “rights” that have never existed and never will in a rational world.

Great googley Moogley!

Question

Why are the same people who impeached Clinton for having sex in his office trying so hard to protect a guy who may have compromised the life of a CIA agent, not to mention our national security interests?

Roving Karl and the Truth

Karl Rove is really good at what he does. I’ve mentioned in various humorous (I hope) articles in the past that I do admire the Republican information apparatus (that being largely Karl Rove) for it’s ability to distort reality to suit its purposes without appearing to have deviated a whit from the facts. It’s an amazing thing, it is. I admire his ability that is, not the results, but I’m not as worried as, say, Paul Krugman, who writes for the New York Times. Mr. Krugman thinks that Karl Rove spells the end of American civilization. Well, with all due respect, hogwash Mr. Krugman.

It’s hogwash not because Mr. Rove is innocent of what he’s alleged to have done vis-a-vis releasing the name of a CIA agent. Maybe he is, but frankly I doubt it. It’s hogwash because while the truth may not matter in politics as practiced inside the beltway these days, it never the less comes out sooner or later. You can lie yourself blue in the face with great success for a while, but whatever is, is, and as such what is will become apparent, or if not that, the lies will become so apparent as to render them ineffective, after which something closer to the actual truth will become the official story.

You remember the fall of the Soviet Union? You may recall that the hard liners staged a coup, but were brought down by the ease of information transfer over the Internet. We are the most wired nation on the planet, and have been since the Internet consisted of two computers in California. In spite of the erroneous dreck on blogs and rant sites all over the place, in spite of ridiculous “news” such as the cable news services (Fox is the worst, but not by a lot), the actual facts are floating around and sooner or later will either settle out on the bottom or rise to the top, to strain a couple of metaphors at once. Or, put simply, the truth will out because we can freely exchange information, even if some of it is unpleasant.

Speaking of unpleasant information, Michael Moore was granted a summary judgment in his defense against a lawsuit from Terry Nichols’ brother. It seems that the court found that he told the truth, and the truth, as a lawyer will tell you, is an absolute defense against charges of libel or defamation. The propaganda mill had it that this suit was more evidence of how un-American and money grubbing Michael Moore is, implying that the brother of a terrorist would never resort to filing a frivolous lawsuit for personal gain, so the charges must be true. As I said, the truth does come out eventually.

You’d think those folks who lie for a living would benefit from reading Macbeth?

Nah. Facts don’t matter, do they?

I’m Baaaaack. Didja Miss Me?

Well, maybe not, but for the record I’ve figured out that FrontPage thing and you can read my updated funny page once again. There is a link to the left of this post if you’re interested.

I was off line because, after working six days in a row, I was off for six days in a row. During that time I flew to Detroit, drove to Tiffin Ohio, attended a memorial service for my mom where my macho image was sorely tested, drove back to Detroit, flew back to Las Vegas (if you fly here, parachute in — the airport’s not all that much fun), got a bit of sleep, and installed an air conditioner in a laundry room that’s about to be converted into an office/guestroom with a small laundry room off to one side. Also we got the electrical service upgraded. Oh, and I figured out how to use FrontPage 2003 and posted my web site again. Short story, there was no time to write anything in an diary, online or otherwise.

Meanwhile, of course, life has gone on. Scientology is doing rather well, thanks to Mr. Cruise. This in spite of eyewitness accounts available of the bogus founding of the religion, but what the heck, people apparently need to believe in something, right? Then there’s Karl Rove, who I never would trust enough to buy a used car from, and his problems. Yesterday the President did not defend Mr. Rove at a news conference, which is an interesting development. I may not always like Mr. Bush, but I think he’s at least honest, which is more than you can say of his older brother Neil, but that’s another story for a previous decade. If I ever get back to the 80s I’ll write it up.

NASA is so cautious that I’m wondering if anyone will ever fly in that thing again, and if maybe that’s a good thing. I thought I’d be visiting Mars by now, but all I have is the pictures sent back by some robots. It’s an interesting looking place, if you like bleak desert landscapes. The blue sun setting in the orange sky is, to say the least, very odd. And, I have no hovercraft or personal flight apparatus. What gives?

Back to my website for a minute, if you please. I gave up making it for slow connections when the percentage of people with broadband passed 50. The front page takes about a week to load at 28.8kbps, or about half a second at the 4mbps that I get from my cable company. (They were right on time with installation, too.) I have a page that’s very low graphics that takes, supposedly, four seconds at 28.8. I can’t verify that because I have no dialup capability any more. This is all by way of saying that if you want to visit my website and have a slow connection, use http://www.stevefey.com/index2.htm rather than the link at the left. Everything else is still graphic, so, as a favor, I’ll tell you that if you go directly to the archives, then the current year, you can read the current article without any excess graphics from there as I always archive the article at the same moment that I first post it. Lazy? You be the judge.

Sorry about the lack of rants, if that’s what you’re looking for. I’m just too mellow tonight. But you never know, maybe tomorrow I’ll have dyspepsia or something.

Ciao!

Terrorism

Okay, I’m still at work, but I’ve just got to put in my three or four cents worth about this topic. First, it’s bad. I’m not trying to comfort any terrorists. Osama Bin laden is the only person I hate enough to kill outright. He’s unique. I wouldn’t but only because I’d want to know what he knows. Okay, so, on to the topic.

Terrorists want to terrorize other people to get them to bend to the terrorists’ will. There are two ways to go in response: one is to let your fears tell you what to do, to try not to be afraid, and to try to feel safe. That, of course, is just what the terrorists want you to do. The other thing is to acknowledge that you’re afraid, but to go about living your life even though you might get killed by a terrorist at some unpredictable time. That way the terrorists have lost. They can kill some of us, but the rest of us will continue to mock what they consider to be their core reason for living. I’d like to say that they’d die as a result, but the will, when nothing happens, sooner or later quit killing people.

The truth is that the terrorist named time will take you out in some unknowable way at some indefinite but definitely going to happen time. You’re no deader, your kids are no deader, nobody is any deader, dying now or in fifty years. It happens to us all and there’s nothing anyone can do about it, ever. The thing is, fear is a wonderful thing, telling you when to be careful. But you can’t decide what to do based on fear. In fact, any life lived fully will result in some damage, and why not, since you can’t take anything with you. Better scars than never being fully alive.

So, go ahead and be afraid of the terrorists; they’re pretty scary. But once you let that happen go ahead and live your life. Otherwise, well, it pains me to say this, but our President is right: the terrorists will win.

(Inspired as if you didn’t know by yesterday’s events in London.)