Monday, January 30, 2012

Giant Steps Are What You Take

Newt Gingrich knows how to play to an audience, and in the upcoming Florida primary, there is no better group to pander to than the thousand along the Space Coast, home of Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center. The roll out and roar of the Space Shuttles is now a dim and fading memory, and while commercial payloads and scientific exploration may still find harbor there, the heyday of America's spaceport seems to be behind it. Gingrich stood before them and proclaimed that he would put America back on the Moon, building a lunar colony in only eight years from the time he took office.

Bombast and braggadocio are Gingrich trademarks, and anyone who has any inkling as to what was required to even put Neil Armstrong and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin's boot-prints on the lunar surface in 1969, would have worked very hard to suppress a guffaw. Even with bits and pieces of previous promises percolating still trough NASA, to go from essentially a cold start to a full-blown lunar colony in eight years is a cup of tea even Jack Kennedy would have not dared to sip from.

Those of us who listened to the brash pronouncement could not also help note the timing, coming as it did during the week of NASA's Remembrance Day, when the space community and the nation pays respects to the crews of Apollo 1, Challenger, and Columbia. Their deaths are reminders that even the most noble goals come at a cost, a payment we must be willing to make if we are to continue the tradition of exploration that marks humanity's history.

Many pooh-poohed Gingrich's remarks out of hand, and how can you not? It was just another election-year promise, after all. Strip it, though, of an unreal timeline, unreasonable expectations, and self-indulgence, and the goal is not as absurd as one politician made it. After all, even before the creation of the Saturn V rocket, Werner von Braun had space stations and lunar colonies on his mind. It was his hope that the Moon program at NASA would not become a crazy, flash-in-the-pan leap to beat the Soviet Union, but would instead be a continuous and growing series of step to lead humanity into space. His dream was not realized, with political expediency pushing aside long-range thinking, and he would die a frustrated man.

Plenty of people still miss the point of the exercise. They will go on-and-on about the things undone on Earth, as if we cannot work on more than one thing simultaneously, and as if the technology built to accomplish such a goal would have no application here on the ground. They will go on about the waste of money, even though NASA's budget is a tiny fraction of the money spent on wars, subsidies, legal wrangling, and political campaigns. They will complain about how few will be able to make the journey, as if the Mayflower were comparable to the Queen Elizabeth II. There are a thousand reasons not to invest in a lunar colony, and only one reason why we should, but it is a big reason: survival.

Our home seems a solid, reliable, and vast place, but we are beginning to see that it is not so. Resources that seemed unlimited are approaching their limits. The systems that protect us are breaking down. The weather is slowly changing in ways we could not fathom a hundred years ago. We are only now realizing our total interdependence on even the most insignificant life forms and their by-products. As we look outward, we see a universe filled with not only wonder, but danger. Our planet is not invulnerable, it is not enchanted, it is not incapable of being done harm by any of a myriad of natural forces extant in the great spaces around us. Our species is not immortal, and right now, all our eggs are in the one basket.

Imagine if we could tap the Moon for its mineral resources, its energy, it's pristine conditions, and turn it into the workhorse that supplies us. Imagine no longer filling our skies with pollutants, our water with poisons, and restoring the natural environment to a level where it could support the teeming billions. Certainly this would not happen in fifty or a hundred years, but it will not start at all if we do not take the steps, even the first step. Every giant leap of humanity begins with but a single step, and that first step having already been taken, how long until the next? A virgin world awaits, if we have the willingness and the foresight to go.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Pointing Fingers

When is it acceptable to dress down a President?


Governor Jan Brewer of Arizona has joined a long list of her Republican compatriots, who have sought, at one time or another, to grab a moment in the spotlight (Remember Joe Wilson?) at the expense of President Obama. An intemperate wag of a finger at the sitting President, over his disagreement with the contents of her book, and she has taken her rightful place if the Hall of Political Ignominy.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Womb Of The Unknown Woman

You did not know her, and if you did, you did not know of her. Her life appeared in the broad view of passing time as a smooth, flowing continuum, wearing a path through the world along well-worn channels, but the quantized fragments of that path at the level below the skin and behind the eye were an unknown universe of misery, heartache, doubt, and uncertainty. The end point of her journey was at a place and time unforeseen in the delta streams of motion through her life and the world around her, but that end point was no less certain for being unknown.

A point before the end came, and that moment was either quite well illuminated or somewhere in the murk of human interaction, but cell met cell, and triggered a sequence of predetermined events that, unchecked, would lead to an irrevocable altering of her life. The product of the merger of many functions collapsed into a certainty, and with that, a potential new being was formed, consisting at first, of undifferentiated bits, merely dividing and expanding to fill space, mindless and automatic. Straight replication gave way under coded signals and altered to become differentiation, and at this point, still an insignificant and insubstantial mass, it settled down in a new home, tapping into the environment surrounding it, and drawing on the power it found there, accelerated its growth.

She was pregnant.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Blackout In The Age Of Information

If you are reading this today, January 18th, 2012, then you are lucky. These words, saved on a server somewhere, accessible by typing a name into or clicking a link on your web browser, which sends a request to that server for the information over the various interlinked computers that comprise the Internet, are being displayed before you for your perusal, having survived an arduous journey at incredible speeds through various and sundry networks and via any number of different types of wires or conduits. To you, the user, the reader, it is virtually instantaneous, and you are left unaware of the sequence of events that must transpire for this information to reach your eyes.

As Arthur C. Clarke once noted (paraphrasing), any sufficiently advanced technology would appear as magic to us. No doubt, the Internet and all the things that are on it, appear to arrive magically at the window that sits before you now, with just a few mouse clicks or keystrokes or swipes of a finger on glass. Not unlike a car, the mechanics of what transpires do not enter in to our minds when we turn the key on the Internet. It is just there, ubiquitous, waiting for us.

What if it that were not so?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Believe It Or Not

It becomes clear that a great schism wracks human society with spasms of outlandish idiocy, foments titanic battles between groups of otherwise normal people, and leaves the foul stench of hypocrisy lingering on the breeze, like the wisps of Winter wood smoke. On one side, the fervent religious believers, who take their scripture to heart, using the very words to conjure up visions of how secular society will doom humanity to an ignominious fate. On the other, the rationalists, believers in unbelief, clad in the armor of science and pointedly against anything that even hints of human invention, determined to expose the machinations of religious zealotry in committing us all to a hideous fate.

I tire of them both. As usual, the answer to it all lies in between.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Stop. Listen. Think.

On this day, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, the will be many an unfortunate attempt to turn Dr. King into something or someone he is not, or to claim a reading of his legacy as reality where it it lies far from actual fact. This is nothing new; it is an extension of the need of some in this society -- read, Caucasians -- to put their imprimatur on something.

While I, as a Caucasian male, may strive to interpret Reverend King's dream in terms that match my world view, and take from his words the motivation to create the world he envisaged, it is beyond my purview to interpret the events and happenstance of his life beyond my limited understanding of it. I was not a black person living under the thumb of Jim Crow laws in the South of the 1950' and 1960's. I was not subject to depredation and degradation of white Americans seeking to enforce an ignorant and bigoted view of the world. I certainly did not have to fear for my life simply walking down a street or staying at a motel.

Flash forward to the 21st Century and I still have no reason to fear. My privilege -- though I am not desirous of it nor wish to be party it -- still shields me, for fifty years is not enough time for centuries of inequity to be so simply erased, even by the powerful and righteous words of one black man. Though I strive to treat others as the human beings they are, though I work to eliminate the prejudices that society has attempted to build into me, though I try and live my life as an honest a decent man, I am no more subject to the vicissitudes of my race than any before me. I may live in poverty, I may lose my job, I may be required to make sacrifices to keep my family safe and warm, but no matter how badly my life may go, I will not have the added burden of fighting against stereotypical and bigoted behavior.

As such, while I may promote and hope to encourage the vision of a world that Dr. King revealed to me and others through his actions and words, I have no greater claim to know exactly what he went through to reach the point of that vision, nor can I truly understand the forces that shaped that vision for him. I cannot and should not assume that I can read the history of black Americans at that time and be able to fully commiserate with them in their misery and fear, no matter how palpable it may feel to me.

The legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. is not in the events themselves, but what caused the events to come to be and how the man responded to them, and how he encouraged others to respond to them. If I wish to be true to his legacy, it us up to me not to impose my will upon it, but to stop, listen, and learn. In that way, I can do my part to bring Dr. King's dream to fruition.

Dream Catcher

There are no more words to adequately express the meaning of the life and death of Martin Luther King, Jr., beyond the billions already spoken by far greater luminaries than I. This man, this sweet, kind, gentle, fiery soul, has been at once enlarged and mitigated by the run of years from his heyday. A holiday bears his name, America's soul bears witness to his touch, but American society has not quite caught up with his dream. That a black man sits in the highest office in the land is not an accomplishment, but a step, one plodding footfall toward a higher and holier world that this black Southern preacher saw from his vantage point on the mountain top.

While he may continue to be lauded -- or reviled -- even to this day, it is not the man but his dream that should interest us more, for his revelation to us of his vision, a day when no person would be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character, was just that: a dream. It was not a fully-formed thing sprung deep from within the recesses of a man's heart and soul, but a tapestry of the wishes and hopes and prayers of millions, woven into a transformative vision by this man's conviction and his belief in God. It was a thing built of the words and actions and history of the people around him, absorbed by every touch of a hand or every earnest conversation or every horrific scene of racial intolerance. The man took those skeins of human misery and hope and knit them into panoramic tableau, then shared it with us all, and we recognized ourselves in it even as his words spilled into the air.

It might be too much to ask that everyone who has heard his words has been so moved as to be changed at heart. In the pits of some, the darkness is too deep, and even the stirring words of a Martin Luther King, Jr. bring scant illumination. Many of us, however, have been transformed. We seek that world he showed us, a world where our humanity counts for more than the skin we were born with, the faith we were raised with, the gender we follow, or any of the myriad differences we impose on others. Having caught the dream is not the same as creating it, though; the vision outstrips reality, where no matter how delightful and empowering and righteous it seems, not all share our enthusiasm for its establishment.

On this day, let us remember the man who placed the hope for a more peaceful and just world at our feet, by doing what is necessary to pick up that hope, make it our own, and carry it forward. Though the man is no longer here to help carry the burden, may his spirit enrich us and help us to shoulder the load.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Losing Your Religion

Her name is Jessica Ahlquist, she is 16-year-old, lives and goes to school in Cranston, Rhode Island, and is one of the braver people you will meet. Why? Because she dared to stand up and demand that the First Amendment be respected in her school.

The problem: a banner, hanging in Cranston High School West since 1963, which starts with the words  “Our Heavenly Father” and concludes with the word, “Amen,” and is headed with the phrase “School Prayer.”

Ms. Ahlquist took exception to such a blatant Christian display in her school. She sued the school. And on January 11th, 2012, Senior U.S. District Court Judge Ronald R. Lagueux ruled in her favor, in a detailed ruling which outlined the genesis and the course of the banner and the subsequent public squabble over it. In the end, Justice Lagueux made it clear that the whole history of events pointed to a clear and distinct attempt to use Christian religion in a public school in a manner inconsistent with the First Amendment prohibition against government establish or endorsing a religion.

Perhaps it goes without saying, those of Christian faith have been less than charitable in their disagreement.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Unbearable Continuation Of Bigotry

Her name is -- as far as we know -- Taylor. She is -- apparently -- a Girl Scout. She is fourteen-years-old and is apparently concerned by the direction the Girl Scouts of America is taking, specifically with the admission last Autumn of a seven-year-old transgender child to a troop in Colorado. She is calling for a boycott of the sale of Girl Scout cookies, to send a clear message of disapproval over the inclusiveness that the organization is supporting by sanctioning such a move.

She is a bigot.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Blind Squirrel

Congressman Ron Paul of Texas has a unique ability to find the one thing you care about, speak to it, get you to rabidly follow him, all the while ensuring that you don't notice the full panoply of pernicious and quixotic positions he holds. His brand of what I term "Constitutional nihilism," combined with his ethical hypocrisy and Libertarian leanings should be enough to disqualify him from becoming county dog catcher, let alone President of the United States.

And yet, as we saw in New Hampshire, there are those who would boil out of the woodwork to worship at the feet of the man, as if he were some political messiah, sent to them by providence to restore the balance in government. They are attracted by the relatively healthy ideas he has, legalizing marijuana, stopping wars, etc., but most are none too familiar with his remaining cavalcade of rather troubling ideas, banning abortion, eliminating the Environmental Protection Agency, returning to the Gold Standard, etc. Perhaps, as is said, ignorance is truly bliss? To find a candidate who seems -- on the surface -- to care about the one thing you truly care about is enough for these people?

His obstreperous supporters aside, the litany of political claptrap that is the building material of the Ron Paul campaign platform, while snaring those who choose to focus on minuscule portions that warm their soul, is a wholly unsupportable and rickety mass with a limited lifespan outside the Republican/Libertarian womb. While he may have youthful enthusiasm on his side, it is aged guile that will be the undoing of his campaign. The 'Baby Boom' generation, now starting to reach the time of Social Security and Medicare, will not support someone whose intent is to dismantle those entitlements, no matter how much marijuana they would be allowed to smoke. The Military Industrial Complex will certainly not be in hurry to promote someone seeking to mitigate their profit flow through the cessation of American combat and non-combat involvement overseas. Decent, rational Americans, will not hand the reins of power to someone who talks about reducing the influence of Federal government, even as he is using it to force women into gestational slavery and removing the programs that have attempted to create equity in an inequitable, WASP-centered society.

In short, if you wish to be the leader of a Republic, stating that your avowed goal is to strip that Republic of everything that makes it worthwhile, and will do it in the name of the document -- the Constitution of the United States -- that is actually antithetical to your stated intentions, while reducing nearly seventy-five percent of its citizenry to second class status (if they are not, in fact, already there), invalidates your claim that you would make the best candidate for President. A Republic cannot -- and should not -- be run by a man whose stated intention is to tear it down. No patriot, living or dead, would stand for it.

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Glass Campaign

I am unemployed, yet again. This is only really a failure on my part, to be in a field (IT) where the business model is to hire a "hired gun" to come in and do work until they are done or prove themselves incapable of working to the company's time-lines. I certainly don't blame the President of the United States for my fate -- he has little to do with whether companies actually hire or fire people, despite what you may hear in the popular media.

So as I while away the hours searching for work, fielding recruiting calls, answering questions, setting up interviews, I have the time to absorb the goings-on here in my home state of New Jersey, and the one thing that catches my ear is the constant talk of our Governor, Chris Christie, out on the campaign shilling for his Republican compatriot, Mitt Romney. Governor Christie's favorite subject at these events is President Obama and his "failure" as President, especially when it comes to jobs and taxes. To hear our Governor tell it, the President has single-handedly deprived the economy of labor and shackled the wealthy with draconian taxation in an attempt to keep killing jobs.

As you might have guessed from the title of this tract, those who live in glass houses...

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Editorial Note

If you've wondered at the relative scarcity of posts here, it can be chalked up to the vicissitudes of life, the exigencies of maintaining home and providing for family, and the fact that writing is hard to accomplish in  a whirlwind atmosphere. As events unfold, I am stirred to write, but often cannot find the time or peace to allow me to do so as coherently and cogently as I wish. I prefer to put out a quality product rather than simply throw up words in a fit of pique or as rage or dumbfoundedness consume me.

One thing I have meant to do, and have decided to start this year, is a compilation I hope to put into book form, on the problems of our nation, and how many groups are working to leverage an ill-educated electorate to hand them power on a level that was never meant by the Founding Fathers. It is my intent to outline where America came from, the real motivations of our founders, and how we have managed, subtly and with ill-considered judgments, allowed their vision to be corrupted in their name.

I have named my effort Defending Liberty, Defeating Idiocy, and it is my intent to undo, in whatever way I can, the rush toward the chasm that stands before us, a chasm formed by allowing power-mad political parties and self-described political soothsayers and corporately-run media outlets to chip away at the bedrock of our nation. It is an attempt to set right the misperception that there is something wrong with our nation, that those who know what's best for us intend to put right at the expense of the very thing they choose to venerate: the Constitution of the United States. It will also be my way of showing what is actually wrong with our nation, and how our energies are being spent in such a scatter-shot and ineffective fashion that we stand on the brink of wrecking the best nation in the world and the best hope for humanity, all in the name of what is "right."

So, I enjoin you to read my new efforts, and to continue to read my writings here, for there are still things happening that require addressing regularly, especially now that we are in a Presidential election year. Honest, decent Americans all, we must continue to be vigilant, for the same forces that have been operating to secure a stranglehold on political power in this nation will use this election to tighten the noose, if we do not continue our efforts to cut the rope. Stay informed, my fellow countrymen, that we may continue to enjoy the blessings of liberty.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Turn The Page

The Earth turns about its axis, pirouetting through its orbit about the Sun, which swings its partners in their reel about the center of the Milky Way galaxy, which itself waltzes among its brethren in the local group, part of the march of galactic clusters that mark the expansion of the universe. The whole elaborate dance in choreographed by the forces of nature, by physics seen and unseen, in a whirl of motion so complex, it defies comprehension.

That we tie our short and relatively insignificant lives to the patterns and rhythms we see around us, from the rising and setting of the Sun, to the monthly sweep of the Moon through the sky, and the procession of our world in its orbit, is only natural. Through millions of years of evolution, as our distant ancestors worked their way up from simpler organisms, the change of seasons, tides, and environment drove their continued transformation into the species we are today. That we hearken back and carry around those predilections, that the changing Earth is both without and within, is a truly remarkable thing.