Semi-Hiatus

Posting will be light/non-existent today, at least until much later. I’ve got some major dental work scheduled this morning. Hopefully the painkillers will make for some interesting posts this evening…

Not A Rocket Scientist

Veteran space reporter Beth Dickey has a long and comprehensive look at Sean O’Keefe and NASA’s problems in Government Executive magazine.

O?Keefe is in a better position than any administrator since Webb to prime NASA for spectacular achievements. ?O?Keefe may not particularly dream at night of sending astronauts to Mars. But he may leave NASA structured in such a way so that, at a time and circumstance in which the country can support that, we actually will be able to accomplish such a goal…?

More Commencement Speaker Outrage

It’s going to be a wonderful day in the Dartmouth neighborhood–Mr. Rogers is going to give the commencement speech.

Not all the students are happy about it.

“It’s like Barney the dinosaur speaking at our graduation,” said history major Michael Weiss. “We’re 22 years old and we’re getting lectured by a guy who plays with puppets for a living.”

Fox News Feedback

My column is up, and I’ve gotten quite a bit of email response already, most of it positive.

But this is my favorite so far. It’s such a novel and entertaining experience for me to be called a socialist, I had to share.

A reader (I don’t know if he wants his name used) rants:

Your article on the NBA and NASA is further proof that America is headed down the dirty road to socialism. If kids aim high and fall short, they still learned the value of hard work, and the talents and skills gained will help them to develop other careers. The fact that making the NBA or being sent to space is a long shot HELPS kids work harder because they realize that only a select few – the very best make it. This encourages competition, which breeds creativity and ingiuity. Writing a column on Foxnews.com is a long shot, so are you hurting the poor children? How about the doctors who everyday perform life saving surgeries? Are we better off without them? I have an idea! Lets all become plumbers and sanitation workers so that no kid sets his sights too high in life and ends up dissapointed! Then we can ALL be equally miserable! Better yet, we’ll keep things as they are, and I have a perfect place for you just south of here – tell Fidel I said hello!

Boy, write a little opinion piece stating that kids might be able to find some better things to do than shoot hoops, and that their space education could be broadened beyond science and NASA, and that NASA could do a leetle more to create a payoff for them, and I become a compadre of Fidel.

Quite a logical leap, there, and without a net. I’m impressed.

[Update at 5:14 PM PDT]

I haven’t had this much entertaining email since the Cancer On the Face Of The Universe Column.

Here are some more.

Scott D. Abercrombie writes:

I agree 100% with you about the NBA and that idiot Steiner. But this anti-NASA fixation you have is really starting to make you sound like a disgruntled employee. Not that your completely wrong. NASA does have its problems, but they are not the end-all-be-all reason that our progress with space exploration has slowed.

Well, I’m glad that I’m not completely wrong. That would be quite a feat. But actually, I’ve never claimed that NASA is solely responsible.

John Yonchuk writes:

Being both a basketball fan/player and scientist, I somewhat agree with your views on the NBA, however I miust take exception to your views on science. Science is a complicated field, and there is no one correct view or any absolute rules. Considering the state of space travel however I fell it is vastl important to focus most of our energy on researching space in a scientific manner. We are not even sure life on the moon or mars would be feasible so why should we be designing “fantasy resorts” there? This is just as irresponsible and unrealistic as telling kids they have a real shot at being an NBA superstar. What good is a fantasy resort on the moon if we can’t build it or actually live in it? Leave the fantasies to the science fiction writers, the scientists will continue trying to find out if the fantasies can ever become reality.

Mr. Yonchuk, determining whether or not resorts on the Moon are feasible is the job of engineers, not scientists. There are no laws of physics that preclude us from living or vacationing on the Moon (if you’re aware of any, please let me know ASAP), any more than there are laws of physics preventing us from building Las Vegas in the middle of a desert. It is simply a matter of economics–is the cost of doing so worth the revenue that can be gained from it? One of the things that will enable it is the amount of interest in it, to provide necessary market.

If both being an astronaut and building a lunar resort are fantasies (as they are, given current government policies), I’d rather they be working on “fantasies” that at least excite the imagination. If they’re going to fail anyway (you seem to have a pretty pessimistic outlook on life), I’d rather they fail at something that can provide space experiences for the masses, rather than a few elite government employees.

Pam Kennedy has a suggestion re: Professor Steiner:

I suggest we experiment by sending Professor Steiner and all the proponents of a Utopian world, no greed, no lust, no industry, no pollution, to the moon (or Mars) and track their progress, or lack thereof, in building and maintaining a real Utopia.

Ooooohhhh, here’s one hot off the press from Mitch Bronson (subject is “stop your racist attitude):

I am so sick of white intellectuals who think all black kids are mindless hip-hoppers who need to be protected from the allure of winning life’s lottery as basketball stars. It’s as if he’s saying “those poor ignorant negroes don’t know any better.” They think they’ll get to be stars and in their quest forget to go after other goals. Stop professional basketball! He goes on to indicate that “we white boys knew we didn’t have too much chance of becoming astronauts” (but we didn’t disintegrate into 40% population with police records).

If white intellectuals would stop treating inner city blacks like mindless fools, maybe we’d have less mindless fools with black faces in th einner cities, but i forgot, how else can white intellectuals show how “progressive” they are?

Yeah, Mitch. I’m sick of them, too. Damned “white intellectuals.”

Maybe next time, he’ll tell us what relevance this has to me or my column.

David Kierstead writes:

You write a very interesting and thought provoking article. I am a basketball coach and father of an eleven-year-old rising star. His dream is to play in the NBA. Originally it was to be a doctor, dentist, missionary, etc. But for now it’s the NBA. I tell him that’s fine, as long as he makes A’s and an occasional B in school (his capability level). I agree with you whole heartedly that the NBA misguides millions of youth each year down a deadend street. There are all kinds of evils and distractions that can turn our childs head, but parents can beat mass media and the NBA–unplug the TV and take the ball away.

P.S. Parents usually cannot unplug the TV because they need it for a pacifier for themselves, but that’s another issue.

This is a common theme, and I agree. It’s not the league–it’s the parents.

Allison Knoch is worried:

I am all for mining the moon and developing it if it means better lives for humans. The only thing I would worry about is destroying the gravitational pull it has on the planet. If it turns out that mining it has disastrous effects on the tides and it kills all the fish or makes Antarctica break off and smack into a populated continent or something, it probably would be best if we leave the moon alone and go straight for Mars.

It’s hard to argue with that. If it turns out that way, Allison, we’ll all be in your corner. Off to Mars!

Scott Cox also says, “It’s the parents, stupid!”:

I must disagree with your views on professional basketball, although I’ll agree with at least some of your input on NASA. Let’s not blame aspirations and the NBA for what responsible parents should be resolving. Poor parenting and leadership at home is the basis for lost dreams, potential, and direction. As well, being labeled as “smart” is fine, but determination, heart, and guts are what gets you through life and enables one to maximize their potential to reach milestones and dreams. I would hope you can plainly see these traits in some of the past and current NBA players, however few.

Well, I’ll confess, if you haven’t already guessed, that I’m not a basketball fan, but I’m sure that there are many NBA players worthy of emulation.

I wish there were more, and I wish that they were emulated for their character, rather than simply their basketball ability or propensity to outrage. We have a very warped notion in this society of what constitutes a hero, which came into very sharp contrast last September, when we saw firemen going into a building that was on the verge of collapse, to save lives, mindless of their own.

Unfortunately, the Worms of the world get too much attention, and imitation of their beyond-Bozo hairdos, and those who are attempting to set a good example much too little.

Dan Purdy writes:

You?re surely right about one thing?you?re likely to get many reader responses because you dissed the NBA. Before I continue, let me tell you a little about myself. I?m 42, male, married, four kids, Christian, mostly conservative, with a few libertarian ideas. Enough about me. What these kids who aspire to be NBA players need to be taught, is they should practice hoops during the day, and study at night. In other words, have a back-up plan in case you get cut. I disagree the world would be better off without b-ball. In my opinion, the NBA is the best game on TV. NBA players have perfected their skills in the game/art of basketball more so than any other professional sport. That?s why it?s so awesome to watch.

I can personally relate to the odds of becoming an astronaut, because at age 10, after seeing Neil Armstrong walk on the moon, I wanted to be an astronaut. Long story short, I didn?t make it, but did retire as an officer from the US Air Force. I?ve always been fascinated by space. And the moon is a critical step in getting there. Should anyone or any government ?own? the moon? Why not? Unless agreed upon by all governments on Earth that no one or no government will ever own the moon (sorta like Antarctica), individuals, corporations, and/or governments should own, or administer, portions of the moon. It will never be commercially developed if it isn?t owned by somebody. Give that project to kids (and adults too), i.e., figure out how to parcel the moon for commercial endeavors. Who would get the money from initial sales? How would taxes be collected? What could we build there? Now you got me thinking about this?

Keep on thinking, Dan, and keep checking into the site with your thoughts.

Drew Thomas, radio program director guy, opines:

Ryne, you’re forgetting the most important piece of the puzzle concerning children…THE DAMN PARENTS! Why are we blaming everyone else in the world except parents? At what point did we decide to remove the parental responsibility away from the parents and put the onus on the government and the corporate world? Stop blaming the NBA for ruining the lives of millions of children that don’t make it to the NBA. Stop blaming NASA for ruining the lives of millions of children who can’t afford to go into space; by the way, there’s a lot more to going into space than being able to AFFORD it. I’m sure there are some physical, mental and physiological requirements to be met.

Drew Thomas
Program Director – MAJIC 105
Clear Channel Lexington

Rhyne? I think that’s a different sport.

Yes, parents are a problem, and not just in this area.

Of course there are physical, mental, etc. requirements to be met. Fortunately, contrary to NASA’s “Right Stuff” mythology, they can be met by the vast majority of the population.

Mike Spring weighs in with a common theme, apparently borne from reading some other column than mine:

Only 8 individuals will have the chance to be a President during their life span…should we squash that dream for a kid too?

Gee, I think I missed the part of the column where I said we should squash kids’ dreams. In fact, I was calling for just the opposite. Thanks for writing, though.

Tom Blandford is short and sweet:

You are too bitter to be trying to influence people.

Bitter? Moi? As you wish.

For bitter foods, salt is recommended, Tom. Try a grain or two.

Bonnie Green (PhD) says:

I was one of those kids who was told because I was good in math and science I certainly could become an astronaut. Interestingly enough, though I have a little acting talent, I was dissuaded from pursuing such a career given that it was such a long shot.

What do I do know? I’m a statistician, so I can explain to people what a real long shot is!

You tell ’em, Bonnie.

Paul Hamilton agrees with me:

I am one of those “people” who is entitled to an opinion…I certainly would opt for resources to improve things over a pristine moon. Jerry Pournelle wrote a few years back that “we must get off the planet sometime in the next century or we will lose the ability to do so…” He was talking about having the resources to be able to get to and exploit the resources in the solar system. I agree with him, and we have wasted the first third of that century.

We are never going to conquer space until we do it with private enterprise. Governments are not motivated or set up to do things efficiently, and efficient use of resources is what is required if we are going to make a profit on space. Hate to tell all these liberal “do-gooders”, but the profit motive has generated far more benefits for mankind than all the “best intentions” in history. I am encouraged by the news of an American company that is offering weightless rides and near space excursions for any who can pay the cost. While I am worried about those who would say “Don’t exploit space resources”, I think there is still hope.

Thanks for an interesting article.

And thanks for your interest.

Donna Dorsey (obviously a rabid NBA fan) was my most entertaining correspondent. She sent me three emails in rapid succession. All three were apparently written either with a stuck shift key, or in her rage, she just held it down. Or maybe she can’t afford a keyboard with lower case–who knows? Her keyboard also apparently lacks a key for question marks…

Email one, titled “STOP HATING”:

WHY DO SO MANY OF YOU HATE NBA PLAYERS. AS THE SAYING GOES, ‘STOP HATING’. DO YOU TELL THE OWNERS OR THE COACHES TO STOP ASPIRING TO OWN OR COACH. YOUR JEALOUSY IS QUITE OBVIOUS. YOU WOULD HAVE DONE BETTER

Yup, Donna, you can see right through me. I’m jealous.

Now for number two (no subject):

YOU WOULD HAVE COME OUT BETTER IN YOUR STORY TO JUST WRITE ABOUT THE POSSIBILITIES OF SPACE AND ENGINEERING. I’M JUST SICK OF YOU PEOPLE ALWAYS DOWNING THESE ATHLETES BECAUSE THEY ARE WHO THEY ARE. NO ONE HAS THE RIGHT TO TELL ANYONE WHAT THEY SHOULD ASPIRE TO BE.

Hmmm…”DOWNING”

Makes it sound like I’m knocking Migs out of the sky.

I thought that the First Amendment gave me the right to tell anyone anything that I want. But maybe Donna is smarter than me.

Anyway, here’s the payoff email, number three, subject “WHY” (for this one, she invested in a new keyboard–it still doesn’t have any lower-case letters, but it apparently does have a question mark, presumably above the forward slash key):

DO YOU TELL ASPIRING SINGERS TO STOP SINGING? IF A PERSON HAS A DESIRE WHO ARE YOU TO DICTATE THAT THEY SHOULD NOT. YOU PEOPLE ARE ALWAYS DOWNING THE NBA AND ITS PLAYERS – WHY DON’T YOU DOWN THE COACHES AND OWNERS OF THESE

It’s a big world, Donna. I’m just one weblogger. I can’t do it all.

But if any of them read this weblog, they’ll get the message.

I got a more thoughtful response from Ben Gum:

In your recent article, you say “I think that the NBA is contributing to a national tragedy. There are millions of kids of school age, particularly in the inner cities. There are a few dozen job openings for NBA players in any given year.” From this you conclude that the world would be a better place without the NBA.

Before you jump to such a conclusion you need to look at the whole picture. While it is true that only about 50 people enter the NBA each year, hundreds of talented players who do not make it go on to make a good living playing overseas or in minor leagues in the US. Furthermore, thousands of people every year get basketball scholarships to go to colleges that they may not otherwise have been able to afford. Many of them go on to graduate and get better jobs than they otherwise could without college. Even those who do not get college scholarships, often stay in and graduate from high school because of the draw of basketball. All of this is a lot of positive from the lure of an NBA career.

Certainly there are kids who attain none of these benefits from all the of the time they spend shooting hoops. If these kids believe that becoming an NBA star is a more realistic goal that becoming a doctor, lawyer, scientist, perhaps it is because they see more people around them going to college on basketball scholarships than academic scholarships. If so, then there are more serious problems with schools, the community, and their family, which certainly cannot be blamed on the NBA.

Yes, it was probably unfair to lay all the blame on the sport itself. It is a deep cultural problem.

Purge The System

Joe Farah (an Arab-American, for what it’s worth) has some harsh words for the FBI. He claims, based on its own internal reports, that it missed 911 because it had been politicized by the Clinton Administration, because it was focused not on Islam as a source of terrorism, but on white Christians.

As I’ve noted before, that was a political position that resurrected Bill Clinton’s presidency after the 1994 election loss, and the Oklahoma City bombing, in which any evidence leading to McVeigh’s getting help from the Middle East was ignored, so as not to distract from the demonization of “militias” and “right-wing hate radio.”

Farah thinks heads should roll at the FBI. I agree.

Still Need New Blood At NASA

Fox News has an article about space tourism.

Mostly it seems to be a free ad for the company “Space Adventures.”

But there were some amazing quotes in it from a NASA spokesman.

“In general, the agency supports private commercial efforts to utilize space,” said NASA spokesman Ed Campion.

There’s a word for this, well, two. It’s called “lip service.” In fact, NASA has been undermining private commercial efforts for many years, at every opportunity.

In fact, the department has been working with private industry for years on some of its projects, including preparing the space shuttle for flight and conducting its missions.

This is disingenuous. They’re calling a captive aerospace contractor, whose only income is a single cost-plus NASA contract, “private industry.” It’s about as far from private enterprise as you can get and not actually be a government agency.

Still, NASA has some trepidation about privately-run space tourism companies.

“Still”? I just love the wording here. Oh, NASA is totally supportive of private activities, and does everything they can to help, even letting them process their precious Space Shuttle, but, you know, they’re concerned. They just might not be up to the job. There might be problems.

“We?ve voiced concern that space exploration doesn?t become an expensive joy ride for people who have big bucks, while the rest of the world gets left out,” Campion said.

Oh, isn’t this rich.

This is the agency that has elevated space travelers to the heights of supermen and women, that has slots for a few dozen, at best, spends billions of our tax dollars to send these superheros into space so we can watch on teevee (while they do things that bore us to weeping, to the point that most stations don’t carry it), but now they’re worried that, because some people want to spend their own money to go themselves, that the world might “get left out”?

That, my friends, is chutzpah with a capital chutz.

Memo to Sean O’Keefe. If you’re going to pretend to want to open up space, at least get someone who can say things that should be on the network news, instead of the comedy channel.

And now, of course, for the coup de grace.

“And we still think space travel is a risky endeavor. You don?t shy away from risk, but you don?t take it blindly.”

Hear us, investors? Better be careful about those private companies–they’re really risky, and they may just jump off a cliff with your money. After all, space is hard, dangerous, and expensive. We’ve been proving it for years…

Bleating Up On The Whiners

Lileks is in fine form. Fortunately for all of us, not rare form–it’s typical, but very fine.

Got that? An American Muslim from Somalia who lost her husband or sister or wife or child is going to be alienated because the government wants to fingerprint a 24-year old unmarried Yemeni with an Interpol jacket as thick as a Clancy novel.

I don?t believe it. I don?t believe most Americans who practice Islam are going to be offended by this. And if some are, let me be honest: I don?t care. I am way past caring. I have not a jot of the care-sauce left in my bones. The care tank is empty. There?s no one home in Careville. The dog ate my care. The Care Crop didn?t come up this year. Self.com/care comes up as a 404.

Biting Commentary about Infinity…and Beyond!