Monday, July 20

Here's $150 Billion. Call Someone Who Cares.

NASA flag-waving-in-zero-atmosphere technology would later make it possible
for NASCAR to put headlights on stock cars.

Tom Wolfe, "One Giant Leap to Nowhere". July 19

FIRST, the housekeeping: the Guy with the Seaweed is the late Lowell George, an angel who flew too low, not a callow youth with wings of wax, and, according to Rolling Stone, the self-styled US News and World Report of the Counterculture, not one of the 100 Greatest Guitar Players of All Time, a matter which I've yet to hear death-penalty opponents address.

Speaking of executing the mentally incompetent: thanks to the beneficence of AT&T, and their keen corporate appraisal of my wants and needs, for sending us free Showtime, et. al., for the summer, though my own unlettered marketing opinion is that if they want people to subscribe, and pay money for the thing, they're better off not showing it. But that's not the death penalty issue. Two words: Beowulf. Let me tell ya, you're better off reading the book--and, no, I've actually read the book and still think so--as the worst that will happen is the periodic urge to blind yourself. This may not sound like much of an improvement, but I remind you I said periodic, and blind; it would not include the subsequent hammering of sharpened #2 pencils down both auditory canals--unless someone was reading it out loud in Old English, maybe--plus you will not be tempted to hunt down everyone even remotely connected with it and flay them to death.

Finally, if you're CBS, and you want to honor Walter Cronkite, maybe you could have done so by continuing to report the news these past thirty years instead of turning it into infotainment, emphasis on the final two syllables.

I admire Cronkite, certainly, and not just because he single-handedly invented opposition to the Vietnam War--in fact, what I will miss most about Uncle Walter was his post-retirement disgust of Million-Dollar Anchor Syndrome--and CBS is certainly entitled to turn over its remaining "news" programming to his memory. But, again, is there no one left with any notion of taste or good sense? Cronkite covered everything from WWII to the ascension of That Hollywood Actor. Emphasis on covered. That goddam CBS Sunday Morning News for Shut-Ins was like watching a remake of Zelig. Or, god help us, Forrest Gump. Misty monochromatic mem'ries of Civil Rights and the Kennedy assassination, and washed-out video recollections of Vietnam, Be-Ins, and Nixon send-offs as told to you, in the main--even on CBS Sunday Morning Festival of Late Middle Age--by people who have no recollection of them, no interest in them other than as a sort of nostalgia reel racked up during a rain delay, and no talent for doing anything about it if they did. So thank you, Katie Couric, for your touching recollections of a man who retired four years before you became a local teevee news stringer, and thank you, Charlie Gibson, for the obsequies to a man, and an era, of which both you and ABC are the antithesis. If either of you respected the man so much, why didn't you stick with the morning news shows, which had already been debased by the time you arrived?

Oh, and the Moon Landing, the Fortieth Anniversary of which gets Tom Wolfe to stop contemplating belly shirts for a moment, long enough to bemoan the fact that NASA has been insufficiently hucksterish since:
NASA’s annual budget sank like a stone from $5 billion in the mid-1960s to $3 billion in the mid-1970s. It was at this point that NASA’s lack of a philosopher corps became a real problem. The fact was, NASA had only one philosopher, Wernher von Braun. Toward the end of his life, von Braun knew he was dying of cancer and became very contemplative. I happened to hear him speak at a dinner in his honor in San Francisco. He raised the question of what the space program was really all about.

It’s been a long time, but I remember him saying something like this: Here on Earth we live on a planet that is in orbit around the Sun. The Sun itself is a star that is on fire and will someday burn up, leaving our solar system uninhabitable. Therefore we must build a bridge to the stars, because as far as we know, we are the only sentient creatures in the entire universe. When do we start building that bridge to the stars? We begin as soon as we are able, and this is that time. We must not fail in this obligation we have to keep alive the only meaningful life we know of.

Unfortunately, NASA couldn’t present as its spokesman and great philosopher a former high-ranking member of the Nazi Wehrmacht with a heavy German accent.

Yeah. How come it couldn't find a nice domestic Nazi spokesmodel? Alternately, didn't Operation Paperclip turn up anyone without an accent?

Look, I've read The Right Stuff three times; I probably prefer Of a Fire on the Moon, but in terms of rereading it's sipping a frothy chocolate soda through a colored bendy straw vs. wrestling the guy who broke your nose, and your glasses, last time out. And that doesn't mean I bought into the Single Combat gag, and it doesn't mean that any of the times I finished it I came away thinking I'd been wrong, and maybe that $150 billion We Know Of in 1960s dollars really was well spent. Opinions vary; mine is that the last time anything connected with engineering was of more than passing interest, or particularly beneficial, the Romans still ruled the West, or what the West refers to as "The World".

I mean, please, On to Mars! didn't die simply because we'd run out of money to feed all those other military programs that killed people cheaper and more manageably. It died because it's damned near at the edge of what we might accomplish provided we threw everything we've got into it (and if we haven't learned from doing that several times over that the main thing it accomplishes is bankruptcy, then we've been paying even less attention than we appear to be), and means fucking nothing whatsoever to anyone above the mental age of eleven, by which we mean the mental age of the eleven-year-old male, since females are much too smart for that sort of thing even at puberty. Powered, heavier-than-air flight is but a century old; human beings have been pondering Tricky Moral Problems, in print, for eight millenniums. If we really think, in 2009, that handing over the keys to future human development to engineers is a good idea, without first arranging to provide every citizen of Earth a double dosage of potassium cyanide, then our time here has been wasted. Which sorta begs the question of our Reaching for the Stars then, donnit?

Not to mention the fact that at this point--I'm unsure where we stood when The Right Stuff was published in 1979, but suspicions were not exactly unknown--we're well aware that the Eisenhower administration knew the Soviet space program was pretty much a joke--they were tied to tube technology, fer chrissakes, which is great if you're trying to put an amp on the Moon--and we continued to play up their ham-fisted propaganda routines just to separate the Rubes from their tax money. Incidentally, what's even more curious than the fact that the Public has swallowed this stuff hook, line, sinker, bobber, and elbow, is just how bad the goddam Soviets were at propaganda, despite practicing it constantly. It's sort of like trying to figure out Hugh Hefner's taste in women.

Anyway, here's a thought, Tom: why don't you pay for the next round if it's so important? Gin and Tang for you, Booker Noe's with a splash of recycled urine for me. And $3 trillion for the Brainiacs Without Boundaries down there in Florida. And Texas. Neither location can be a coincidence, by the way.


riffle said...


Free enterprise is the greatest gift the world has ever known.

Why can't free enterprise pony up and make itself a gift to other worlds, too?

Let the government that money for health care in America.

rageahol said...

A rat done bit my sister Nell.
(with Whitey on the moon)
Her face and arms began to swell.
(and Whitey's on the moon)
I can't pay no doctor bill.
(but Whitey's on the moon)
Ten years from now I'll be payin' still.
(while Whitey's on the moon)

Tim Fleming said...

But don't you see? We had to beat those commie rat bastards to the moon...otherwise, we would have been subjected to a moon-gap disadavantage. And we had to find work for our Paperclip Nazis. We saved them from Nuremberg for a reason. Von Braun and Dorberger, et al. Swell fellows, really.

heydave said...

And no revival of Space Food Sticks, if you please.

oops, too late:

guitarist manqué said...

Well, I remember space food sticks and tang too. Funny I didn't recognize the Fat Man in the Bathtub 'cause I saw him play a couple of times which means I saw him more than any of the other icons excepting RST of whom I've lost count of the shows. Oops, that's not true, saw Tom Waits a bunch a times too. While I enjoyed Little Feat back when they had a front man I can never forgive him for his production of Shakedown Street. He fecked that one up good.

Captcha sez: humbri, something Lowell never had.

Uncle Omare said...

Wait a minute!! You mean that after 50+ years there are people who haven't figured out Hef's taste in women. What part of blonde, dumb, and pneumatic don't they understand?

Veritas78 said...

You're a Lowell George fan, to boot? No wonder I lurk here.

lawguy said...

You read The Right Stuff three times? Why for god's sake?

TM said...

Well here's where I disagree with you. The Soviet space program was hardly a joke.

The success of the program should be judged on what it achieved, not on the technology it used. If anything, I find it more impressive that they did so much with so little in the way of technology.

The most useful space technology today (launching satellites) owes more to the Soviets than to Nasa (who thought a fragile and complex shuttle full of people was a better means of launching a satellite than a simple rocket).

Give the poor Russians their due. The bare bones efficiency of their program served as the template for the space programs around the world.

bjkeefe said...

I'm a big believer in continuing to put humans in space (if not necessarily according to how we've been going about it lately (and certainly forget about people on Mars for the near term)), but this was a funny post nonetheless. Great title and opening paragraph, especially.

Solius123 said...

"Anyway, here's a thought, Tom: why don't you pay for the next round if it's so important? "

How many times have your philosophical opponents used the same argument to crap on the NEA, HUD, EPA, etc., etc.?

The majority decides the priorities via elections...isn't that the way it works?

Well, supposed to, at any rate.

Anonymous said...

How come it couldn't find a nice domestic Nazi spokesmodel?

Ann Coulter is probably available.

Dave Kielpinski said...

when the soviets had their tube-based space program, we were still using tubes too.