Archive Page 2

I was told there’d be moon colonies

“Glow-in-the-Dark Plants are Highlight of International Space Station Science Briefing” reads my latest email alert from NASA.  And we’re de-funding this agency, why?

After decades of war and depression (the money kind), Americans needed something to rally around in the 1950s, and the answer was space flight (and polio vaccines). If for no other reason than to smite the Soviets, Americans enthusiastically pursued the once-impossible goal of flying to the moon. The moon moon, that everyone sees every night from everywhere around the world. People’s minds were literally (ok, maybe figuratively) blown forty years ago when man walked on the moon, which actually happened, despite what that guy who hangs around outside Union Station says. And on that day, our dreams of one day living on the moon–after we’d drained every last resource our planet had to offer and salted the earth for good measure–were born.

But those dreams were effectively dashed when President Obama’s budget came out on Monday. In it was a paltry (ok, ungainly in real-people terms, but we’re talking interstellar travel here) $6 billion over five years for NASA to oversee the development and construction of commercial space vehicles. For the first time since its inception, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration is taking a back seat, not the cutting edge, on space exploration.  

Of the many and varied programs the federal government takes my money away to fund, I object to NASA the least. I do admit, it’s odd that I am such an ardent supporter of one of the most massive bureaucracies our government has to offer. Even odder that the agency’s scaling-back was initiated not by a waste-conscious Republican (it was former president George W. Bush who challenged NASA to “gain a new foothold on the moon and to prepare for new journeys to the worlds beyond our own” in 2004 [and it was another Bush that said “The future lies in space travel”]) but a progressive Democrat. But space travel falls into one of those special categories, like national defense (and in fact, our research into space has regularly improved our defensive capabilities), that I believe are best suited to government spearheading.

First of all, barriers to entry into the space travel market are huge. Unlike air travel, which relied on a few physical principles and benefitted from the input of countless individual pioneers, the principles of space travel are prohibitively complex and expensive. What few commercial space travel outfits exist are funded by billionaires like Richard Branson, with little hope that small startups or even moderately sized aviation firms could join the fledgling industry at present. Deregulation that allowed for the birth of the commercial satellite industry was surely a step in the non-governmental direction, but while the technologies are in the same general ballpark, telecom satellites and trips to the moon are apples and oranges.

Second, privatization of space travel eliminates the patriotic component that drove scientific innovation in the first place. Government-sponsored projects aimed to beat the Ruskis, and the accountability for success was to the taxpayer, not private investors. If it turns into something like the military industrial complex, where private developers compete for government contracts and thus improve the overall quality and cost of each project, I would be on board. But if budget cuts prove to be the death knell to NASA, I fear for what private space travel will mean for scientific and public innovation.

Most importantly, and perhaps most morbidly, when things like space shuttles explode, it’s a big deal. Bigger than when planes crash, even though shuttles are generally smaller, because they’re hurtling in from outside Earth’s atmosphere and rain fire and debris across hundreds of square miles. These are national tragedies, and as a nation we come together and mourn, take stock of our losses, and fix what went wrong. Private companies are not beholden to the public trust, and so when things go catastrophically wrong, we would become that much more likely to suffer through coverups, finger pointing, and shady back-door transactions. To be sure, a government agency is far from immune to this sort of behavior, but there is inherently zero transparency and accountability in private firms. Look no further than Wall Street, circa September 2008, if you don’t believe me (not that I believe government intervention was the answer there, but the analogy is ripe).

When the Kanamits came and promised they were going “To Serve Man,” all the naive little 1960s high-trousered earth people destroyed their civil defenses and greeted their visitors with open arms. Then the aliens ate them. I can only hope this step towards commercial space exploration does not leave our government powerless in the face of competition, terrestrial or otherwise.

Why I need to get the hell out of DC

Politics.

No, I’m not going to leave the post at that, but I could, and wouldn’t be leaving too much more to the imagination.

The first, and perhaps most ironic, problem with my ever-intensifying hatred of politics is that politics occupies the vast majority of my job every day. It’s what we cover: the daily absurdities, the minute changes in polls and moods, the obscure politicians in obscure states whose success in their elections for some reason holds the key to the entire future of American politics, the charges and counter-charges and statements and counter-statements.

Five years ago if anyone had asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, there was a 99% chance I’d say something in politics. It was my trajectory. All of my friends, teachers, relatives knew that I was a government nerd, and my argumentative nature and contrarian style was suited for a life in politics. I studied Government in college, but after enduring the hatred of my peers in 2000 and the years following, I eschewed all but the most basic American Politics classes and concentrated instead on political theory.

In theory, politics is great. It’s human social interaction in its most raw, and simultaneously complex, form. Political theory is in part predictive–assuming a politician will (or should) behave or act a certain way based on their ideology–and in part reactive–ascribing schools of political thought to major events and government decisions in retrospect–and in whole it is a way of viewing and analyzing national and global governance patterns.

But in practice, politics is ugly, and on more occasions than none, painfully boring. At least seeing sausage get made is a little interesting, if gross. In order to do my job (and live with my roommates), I try not to care about liberal antics and conservative complaints. I try to divorce myself from my political beliefs, and not to get annoyed every time I see hypocrisy in action. But unfortunately, DC politics is just one massive game of Pin the Tail on the Hypocrite (so many of whom are Donkeys), an irksome cliche that holds so little relevance in the daily lives of those outside the beltway.

What it comes down to, why I need to leave DC, is simple, and admittedly childish: I’m tired of having my feelings hurt. The liberal bickering, haughty fingerpointing and name calling is hard to let roll of my back. It got so bad–as did the economy and perhaps the Obama agenda–that conservatives who found no support in the Republican party took to the streets. They started the Taxed Enough Already protests, marched on Washington, and ate out of the palm of Glenn Beck’s hand voiced their frustrations wherever they could. Conservatives don’t do that often. Liberals had a dozen “major” protests in DC in 2009, even after their No-More-Bush countdown reached zero on January 20th; conservatives had 2, and they became liberal enemy No. 1. John Kerry calls them “the far right wing, the out-of-state tea bagger crowd.” And the grassroots, on-the-ground marketing plan that got Barack Obama elected over an establishment Democrat (Hillary Clinton) was… neighbors knocking on each other’s doors to spread the good word?

I’m not part of the TEA Party movement. I’m a libertarian; we know that our ideals are frustratingly impossible to enact in the real world, so instead we talk political philosophy in our commiserable smoking circles and write blogs. I truly don’t know enough about their platform (see “hating politics,” above) to know whether they truly reflect my ideals or not. But to dismiss their ideas, passion, and ability to organize as an entity apart from the Republican Party (and you’re lying to yourself if you don’t think the GOP wishes it could rein in those TEA party folks and/or benefit from their fiery tenacity) as invalid is, unfortunately, liberal modus operandi: forcible tolerance of all ideas and ways of living, unless they run contrary to liberal ideas and ways of living.

The bulk of liberals might have reasonable ideals and good reasons for holding them. Many of the ones who are my friends certainly do. But the face liberals put forward is all too often that of the arrogant asshole, or snarky comedian from whom most liberals, despite their ministrations to the contrary, actually get their news.

For every Glenn Beck-tard who follows the TV host’s word as gospel there is a Jon Stewart worshiper who claims his jokes as their own “savvy” political observations. There are idiots on both sides, but forgive the Right if they don’t take every opportunity to publicly lampoon their liberal counterparts, use crass sexual jokes to describe opposing grassroots movements, or assume that their position is the default mood of the American people, and every view to the contrary is moot. Liberals actively hate me (even though traditionally I’m in the demographic they love), and I’m tired of it.

The grand scale of What DC Does matters. I would never suggest it didn’t. And perhaps if I got out of the bubble, I would appreciate it more. But I’d have to get out of the bubble to find out.

What an ass.

Facebook’s codependent relationship with me

you, facebook.

Apart from being scary and all-poweful and mercilessly flip with my privacy, Facebook has taken to suggesting I make the site better for someone who doesn’t have a lot of friends by writing on his wall. Aw, sad.

Ok. Folks who know me (/read my status updates) know how I feel about this “suggestion” widget, and know that I have taken steps on my home computer and the multitude of work computers I use to make it go the hell away. But every time I see it (before immediately disabling it), I can’t help but think about the deeper implications of a tool that suggests active participation within a tool that is inherently socially passive. You know, because I’m like that.

Facebook started as an experiment among elitist colleges to see just how elitist we could be allow us to rediscover friends from home we’d otherwise relegate to the 10-year-reunion, is she preggers? did he die? corner of our brains. It came at an interesting time for me and my class: Spring semester freshman year, word of this “thefacebook.com” spread around. Not an actual facebook (which evidently existed, although I didn’t buy one), but rather an online website you could join and poke people. Maybe the experience of meeting people in college would have been better the traditional way (which is not to say there weren’t plenty of keggers and “who the hell is this entry in my phone book?”s). Maybe “thefacebook.com” augmented the freshmen meet market by allowing us to catalog our acquaintances, instead of letting them disappear forever once Intro to Ethics ended.

Facebook evolved from an opportunity to find out the name of that guy you made out with last night those early years with limited information to share and find, where your home page was just your picture and tally of friends and you had to dig for updates, to its current form as a constant stream of information, musings, relationship news, shout-outs, and parties that 20 of your friends are invited to but you aren’t. The poke is a thing of the past, and so is your privacy (but that’s another post altogether).

Because facebook now does all the work for you, even adding a “Live Feed” in its most recent update, this social network–in itself a supremely passive form of social interaction–has turned us into self-interested idle sponges of human beings. (To be fair, an effect of the internet as a whole, not exclusive to facebook. Case in point.) Self interested because the majority of posts are about #1–what I’m doing and thinking, this party I’m having that you’re not invited to, and this blog I think you should read. Idle because one needs not contribute a single thing to facebook for it to work for them; if even a small percent of your long-lost friends take facebook up on its suggestion to write on your wall or add you as a friend, you are instantly popular.

At 14:42 today, I got a banner that suggested I add an Automatic Friend Finder feature. Here’s a quagmire: facebook wants you to be more active in certain friends’ online lives, but it’s perfectly willing make friends, for you, automatically. I’m left scratching my head.

But I will say this: I AM NOT GOING TO SUGGEST FACEBOOK FRIENDS FOR A DOG. I shouldn’t even BE facebook friends with a dog. Even though he’s cute. Come to think of it, I know a lot of people who might think he’s cute too. Maybe they’d like to be friends…

The war downstairs

Is it wrong to wish death upon your neighbor?

Not death, necessarily, but I’d be lying if I said this woman wasn’t far from death’s door when we moved in a few months ago.

To understand the backstory here, imagine this blog post as one of those really clever episodes of Mad Men or Alias (remember that?) when they start at the end, jump backward an indeterminate span of time, and show you in 42 minutes how the lead character winds up with a bloody nose or at gunpoint or something (in this case) less dramatic.

The folks who lived in our apartment before us moved out because they started smelling cigarette smoke wafting in through their windows and convectors. But the price was right and conditions prime for us to get the heck out of dodge (aka our dank pit downstairs (aka Tom Ridge’s house)), so we rationalised that the smoke probably wasn’t *that* bad, and the lady who lived here was preggers afterall and was probably being sensitive to smells… and we signed on the dotted line. The building manager told us that the source of the smoke was in all likelihood an older woman who was no longer healthy enough to go outside for her ciggy breaks. Id points out that *MAYBE* the ciggy habit has something to do with our downstairs neighbor’s fragile health, but far be it for downstairs neighbor–let’s call her Ashtray–to recognize irony this late in the game.

To add insult to injury, I received a phone call from our building’s front desk while shopping at Bed Bath & Beyond for grownup’s candy and toys new apartment essentials the day after we moved in, inquiring with me exactly when all the banging and loud noises would stop, because evidently it’s rather unneighborly to construct affordable Swedish furniture in one’s own apartment. (And because evidently I’m apartment mom, but that’s a whole other story.) Ego has rarely seen me more enraged. So less than 24 hours in our new abode and we’ve already opened hostilities against one (but, let’s be honest, probably several) of our neighbors.

Secret Sam watching football. Isn't he cute?

Ashtray lights up at around 4 or 5pm weekdays–quitting time for most adults with normal people’s schedules–then moves to one of the back bedrooms at around 8 or 9pm–bedtime for most adults without insomnia, which mercifully doesn’t describe me or Ego. The result is a predictable pattern of wafty smoke that governs by when we should close our windows and/or shut off our heating units. Overall, not the most annoying thing about living here, but still just annoying enough that it prompts stiletto dance parties and the smuggling of secret noisemaking dogs into our apartment.

We often find ourselves wondering when she’d just die already, give our lungs and linens a break. But until then we’ll just combat her stinky habits with an army of scented candles, an artillery of Febreeze, and the hope that when she goes, she doesn’t leave a lit cigarette behind. Because like smoke, fire rises.

We are the bodyscanners

You know what I like more than keeping my skivvies to myself? Not getting blown up.

Every now and then, the ACLU finds itself in agreement with some core conservative principles–personal property, opposition to government intrusion in personal lives, privacy. So it comes as only a mild surprise that the ACLU has come out in opposition to the use of electronic scanners as an additional measure of airport security. “Full body scanners present serious threats to personal privacy and are of unclear effectiveness,” their statement reads. While I agree that the effectiveness of such devices should be thoroughly evaluated and improved, the degree of threat to my personal privacy is highly dubious.

For one thing, the only secret I keep in my bra is some pretty great BioFit technology… but that’s just for show. I try not to walk around with high explosives strapped to my body, so I don’t mind in the slightest if someone takes a look-see to make sure. If it catches the guy next to me who does have more to hide than a flat chest, then I’m glad to have done my part.

Second, have you ever used one of those body scanners? Moderate claustrophobia aside, those things are pretty neat. Like a 5 second open MRI, shaken, not stirred.

“Body scanners produce strikingly graphic images, creating pictures of virtually naked bodies that reveal not only sexual organs but also intimate medical details such as colostomy bags and mastectomy scars,” the ACLU statement continues. Anyone who’s ever gotten a bikini wax has shared more with total strangers than these body scans reveal. But for more private people, I understand how someone looking at your virtual hoo-hah isn’t the most pleasant of ideas. Some pervy security workers might get a jolly from looking at these bizarre alien-like images, but one can only hope that if the system works as it is intended to work, they’ll be looking for–and will catch–bombs.

I’m sure the argument was raised when x-ray scanners were improved so TSA workers could see more than vague shapes inside your carry-on bags. “They don’t need to know I’m carrying a box of tampons with me!” “That’s bottle of pain pills is MY business!” But we’ve gradually learned to leave a little dignity at the airport doors in the years since 9/11, along with cans of mace and pipe bombs. We’ve learned to react not with fear and sorrow over terrorist efforts, but rather, as did the heroic citizens on board Northwest 253 Christmas Day, with outrage and hardened determination not to become statistics in a tragedy. Of course the fear of a slippery slope is legitimate, but if it’s one thing we can do to keep our travels safer, we should embrace it, however begrudgingly. After all, there is less revealed in a fleeting body scan image than your personal information on Facebook–and that stays public forever.

Project Runway recaps are all about vision and delusion

I have no intention of getting into the business of doing television recaps. I don’t have an entertainment department, and I usually take several weeks to catch up on most programs that aren’t re-aired in endless marathons on girly cable networks. Also, I have a deep rooted personal fear of spoilers, to the point that I don’t even want to hear people discuss Gossip Girl on Tuesday morning in case they spoil anything beyond the first disc of season one. That said, here’s my one-time SPOILER ALERT version of gawker’s recap of the Project Runway finale, because I’ve grown weary of gawker’s recaps and this is my opportunity to gripe at them in prose.

Things we hated:

  • That tragic model in Carol Hannah’s short gold dress who couldn’t walk to the bathroom at 7am, let alone walk down a runway as a model. Did she think she was playing dressup in mommy’s heels? Learn to walk in stilettos: it’s what you’re paid to do.
  • No, Marc Bouwer, you shouldn’t say strongest ever. Even last season’s snoozefest and winner (Jane? Sarah? I don’t remember, something vanillay) was more inspired than oversized knit sweaters and skinny pants, even if the crazy cat lady, Katy Perry or whoever, stole all her designs from real designers.
  • Althea’s politics Obama blah blah fashion on the streets blah. At least she didn’t send this overt monstrosity down the runway.
  • Harem pants. No girl wants her vag to look like it hits her knees. Ever.

Things we loved:

  • Suzy Menkes, fashion director for the London Daily Fog or whatever, bc ProjRun used up all its celebrity tie-ins throughout the season and now it’s time for real fashion people to judge the winner.
  • That Garnier Fructise commercial where the girl tied her hair in a knot, which I’m sure says something about Lifetime and our collective shame in having watched it each week since August.
  • ProjRun season 7 is in NYC again. Los Angeles is where fashion goes to die and get arrested for absurd dui’s.
  • That ninagarcia cautioned Irina against not using color three days before the final show and then called her out on the runway, as though she expected Irina to splatter dayglo paint on all her pretty black clothes as her 13th look. “We talked about that…” mmhmm. Like there’s anything I could’ve done, and besides, where were you all season long?
  • Jaslene “ChaChaDiva” Gonzales walking for Althea! It’s great to see ANTM alumni (except Saleisha) work, even if it is in the inbred circle of fashion reality shows, because, I mean, if Cindy Crawford can deign to be on ProjRun, maybe Jaslene’s not in such bad company.

In the end, Irina totally deserved to win. The other girls’ lines were ready-to-wear, and I would totally wear them (mostly), but I can see Irina putting in the work to be a real designer who actually makes her line happen. But I still hold out hope that one day I’ll be rich and fabulous enough for Christian Siriano to sew me a whole new wardrobe.

The opposite of “weblog” is “log”

The Oxford American Dictionary has given us the latest incarnation of what happens when the real world tries to grapple with online phenomena.

According to the Oxford University Press blog (which in itself is a quagmire), “unfriend” is the 2009 Word of the Year. Stiff competition? “teabagger.” I can’t wait until 2010 when “rimjob” might be in contention…

Anyway, the trouble here is, have you ever heard anyone use the term “unfriend?” I would think that word would be a derivation of the adverb, “unfriendly,” which is, afterall, a real word. eg: “The Id can be very unfriendly when she’s in a bad mood. She unfriended me last week by farting on my bed, although I’m not sure that was the result of a bad mood.” If her unfriendliness ever gets so bad that I want to cut all ties with her, I will “defriend” her from my facebook, and “stop being roommates with” her in real life.

Negative prefixes aren’t always perfect, but it makes more sense to think of “defriend” like “deactivate” (as if I would “deactivate” my facebook account) than “unfriend” like “undo” (as if I would Ctrl + Z our friendship).

UPDATE: Luke Russert agrees.

But the root of the matter, beyond the fact that Brits shouldn’t worry their pretty little heads about how badly Americans bastardise [sic] the English language, is that when the real world tries to make sense of and codify the random and natural evolution of the internet, something’s bound to miss its mark.

When you have the world at your fingertips, it doesn’t make sense to go to a dusty library, sort through shelves of books, and then put as much of the world as can be contained by 1,000 abridged pages at your fingertips. When there’s a .com version of a real-life thing, the online thing wins.

Dictionary.com > Dictionary.
Google Translate > Merriam-Webster’s Spanish/English dictionary. (For that matter, Google > Human brain)
Thesaurus.com>  Shift F7  > Thesaurus.

The one notable exception to this rule is virtual pets (and materialistic teenage girls, and farms). FooPets is on the list of websites I should not have access to. Because, on a Wednesday night with a little shiraz in my blood and an intense desire to play tug of war with my actual dog, a cute furry animated Shiba Inu who barks and sneezes and lets you rub his tummy (with your cursor) is a very reasonable alternative. Until, of course, these clever webmasters get you hooked and con you into paying electronic funds transfers real money for pet food, shampoo, and facebook birthday gift doodads that you can never actually touch. When the time comes that you actually consider PayPal-ing your money away for a jpeg birthday cake, you should probably just go to the library.


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