The Long View 2003-08-28: Buckets of Bile

Sadly, I find that I missed a couple of images John included in this post when I used wget to download his entire website. The Internet Archive also lacks them, so I think they are lost forever.  Darn, I think they would have been doozies. 

As for the purpose of going to space, I think the T-shirts Greg Cochran made up in 2013 sum up my attitude nicely.


Buckets of Bile

Anyone in immediate need of a Bush-denunciation site should take a look at Too Stupid to Be President. It has superior multimedia (by which I mean my middle-range PC can handle the animated cartoons easily) and it alludes to every failing of the current Administration, real and imaginary. The odd thing is that, though the Bush Administration provides ample occasion for humor, the site is consistently unfunny. This is true about the opposition to GWB in general. The Democrats seem to have decided that they have exhausted the matter by calling Bush a lying moron. If nothing else, this is a debilitating artistic error. The invective against Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon was memorably hilarious, precisely because it demonized them, indeed Satanized them, rather than belittled them.

Actually, for an Administration whose opponents say has been caught in a series of bald-faced lies, the Bush people are disconcertingly serene. It is not at all like the Carter Administration, when the wheels began to fall off the White House under less pressure than Bush is experiencing now. It wholly lacks the disorder of the Nixon and Clinton Administrations, with their routine defections and backstabbings. The Bush White House looks like nothing so much as the Eisenhower White House: solid as a rock and boring as a brick.

Could it be that they know something we don't? The chief blow to the Bush Administration's prestige has been the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Some of the principal contenders for the Democratic nomination have based their primary campaigns on the charge that the Administration deliberately misled the country about the weapons before the war. This is almost certainly giving hostages to fortune. One notes, for instance, that the World Herald Tribune is reporting that critical equipment and materials, as well as weapon stocks, were trucked out of Iraq to Lebanon's Bekaa Valley in January. Other reports suggest that there is quite a lot of documentary evidence about a concealment and diversion plan.

Again, there is no hard public information on this subject yet. Nonetheless, it is a good bet that the Bush people will be in a position to credibly embarrass their opponents when the time comes.

* * *

If you want tall tales from the Middle East, you cannot do better than MEMRI (The Middle East Media Research Institute). This site provides translations of stories from Arabic and other languages in the region. The serious use for the site is as a source for local perspective, which is often sober and thoughtful. I suspect, though, that a lot of their traffic is generated by people who view the site for the same reason shortwave listeners used to tune into the news broadcasts from Communist Albania: the reports say the damnedest things.

For instance, as I write this, there is a featured piece on military cannibalism by American forces in Iraq. (Islamists read stories from Liberia too, apparently.) All through the Afghan and Iraq wars, there were reports of amazing Taliban and Baathist victories, indicative of a level of systematic self-delusion not to be found outside the BBC. My favorite recent report is about an Islamist group (Abu Haf's Brigades) taking credit for the recent blackout in the northeastern United States and in Canada. They claimed to have knocked out the grid by attacking two power stations; then they claimed credit for looting and chaos. They seem to have simply reused old reports from the Bad Black out of 1977, when there was considerable disorder.

I myself was briefly blamed for the Good Blackout, by the way, the one that happened in 1965. If not precisely a precocious child, I at least aspired to be a mechanically inclined one. At that time, I was trying to build a radio transmitter, though I succeeded only in causing a little static on one or two TV channels. When the blackout occurred, it did not affect my neighborhood directly, but it did knock out all radio and television (no cable then, of course). I was, I believe, the first on my block to suspect that something big was happening. I called a friend and told him to turn on his television.

"What channel?" he asked.

"Any channel," I answered.

A few moments of silence passed. Then he pounded back to the phone and demanded, "What have you done!?!"

I denied everything. I still do.

* * *

Speaking of bad engineering, I see the new report on the Colombia disaster blames the culture at NASA. This is not as nebulous an accusation as it sounds. I recently saw an otherwise unmemorable movie, Mission to Mars. The mission goes wrong, of course, but the astronauts display prodigies of ingenuity. One does an unscheduled spacewalk to repair a hull breach. In fact, they all abandon ship and move to a supply craft, using a can of hairspray as propellant, or something like that.

The screenplay seems to have been written essentially as an advertisement for NASA. The NASA of Apollo XIII really was something like the NASA in the film. The crew and Ground Control saved the mission through improvisation, which meant mostly using the abilities of the human beings on the spot. The NASA that guided Colombia to destruction, in contrast, had all the daring and flexibility of a social welfare agency under investigation for the death of a foster child.

Congress is debating, once again, what NASA's mission should be. They all seem agreed that manned space flight is useless and yet must be maintained. The difference of opinion is whether it should be spectacularly useless, as a there-and-back-again mission to Mars would be, or parsimoniously useless, as continued make-work micro-gravity experiments in LEO would be.

Might I suggest that the real reason, and the only popular reason, for having people in space is for purposes of colonization? If you want to do that, you spend money in ways different from the ways you would spend it on pure science, or even on the economic exploitation of space. For one thing, it means that you don't send expeditions, but colonists. Within the limits of current physics, settlement can occur only on Mars and the Moon. That is the extent of the Final Frontier; it's perfectly manageable, and should not be unbearably expensive. Can we please get on with it?

* * *

Finally, returning to the subject of artistic error, I was recently prevailed upon to do a poster for a 911 memorial concert. "Do us something eschatological," they said, "perhaps a contemporary version of the New Jerusalem."

Okay: so I did Poster One.

Then they said, "That's very good, but isn't it a little, well, scary?"

"Of course it's scary," I replied with dignity. "It's the the friggin eschaton!"

No doubt they will use it, but they also sent me some traditional imagery to work with. This resulted in Poster Two.

That poster has cherubs. Pudgy, useless cherubs. 

Copyright © 2003 by John J. Reilly

 

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