two presidents, two speeches, one astronaut

First, a bit of history. On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched a satellite into orbit around the Earth. This was what scientists call ‘a big fucking deal’. It caught the U.S. entirely off guard, and it took about a year for us to get our shit together.

That really began when President Dwight Eisenhower created the National Space Council, with the idea that the nation really needed an agency dedicated to developing policies regarding space. You have to remember, this was back when the idea of human space flight was still pretty much science fiction.

Three years later, the Soviets launched Yuri Gagarin into orbit around the Earth. And once again, the U.S. was standing around with its thumb up its collective butt. But this time President John Kennedy sat down with the National Space Council and they came up with the most audacious policy goal ever. They decided “You guys, you know what we should do? We should totally go to the goddamned moon.”

“Our hopes for peace and security, our obligations to ourselves as well as others, all require us to make this effort, to solve these mysteries, to solve them for the good of all men.”

At that point we were still having trouble putting folks in orbit. Sending them to the moon was completely nuts. But Kennedy liked the idea and announced the policy in a speech given in (I’m not making this up) Texas. It was a terrific speech. Kennedy quoted William Bradford, one of the founders of the Plymouth Bay Colony:

“[A]ll great and honorable actions are accompanied with great difficulties, and both must be enterprised and overcome with answerable courage.”

And Kennedy was just getting started. He said:

“[T]he eyes of the world now look into space, to the moon and to the planets beyond, and we have vowed that we shall not see it governed by a hostile flag of conquest, but by a banner of freedom and peace. We have vowed that we shall not see space filled with weapons of mass destruction, but with instruments of knowledge and understanding.”

“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.”

What’s equally astonishing is that Kennedy told the American public that it was going to cost them to send people to the moon. He flat-out told them “all this costs us all a good deal of money” and informed them their taxes would be raised to pay for it. That’s not all; he also told them there wasn’t any way for them to know if it was going to be worth it. “I realize that this is in some measure an act of faith and vision, for we do not now know what benefits await us.”

And hey, the people responded and said “Dude, let’s go do it.” And we did. We went to the goddamned moon, inspired by a president who was adventurous and thoughtful and wicked smart. Over time, the idea of space exploration became less interesting to people, and we returned to the practice of standing around with our thumbs up our collective butt.

“Our journey into space will not only make us stronger and more prosperous, but will unite us behind grand ambitions and bring us all closer together. Wouldn’t that be nice? Can you believe that space is going to do that?”

Until a few days ago. That’s when Comrade Trump signed an executive order that re-established the National Space Council. Like Kennedy, Trump gave a speech.

“The future of American space leadership — we’re going to lead again. It’s been a long time. It’s over 25 years, and we’re opening up, and we are going to be leading again like we’ve never led before. We’re a nation of pioneers, and the next great American frontier is space. And we never completed — we started, but we never completed. We stopped. But now we start again.”

Yeah. We’re starting again. With another crazy idea. Not inspirationally crazy — actually crazy. Trump asked NASA to conduct a study to see if we could put astronauts on the first test flight of the agency’s new rocket and crew capsule. Got that? He wanted to put living people in the first test flight of a new rocket. Because he feels strongly about space and security.

“I’ve felt strongly about it for a long time. I used to say before doing what I did — I used to say, what happened?  Why aren’t we moving forward?

And security is going to be a very big factor with respect to space and space exploration.  At some point in the future, we’re going to look back and say how did we do it without space?”

I’m pretty sure at some point in the future, people will look back and say ‘What the fuck is wrong with this guy?’ I’m pretty sure people were saying that even while Comrade Trump was ad-libbing from the remarks some speechwriter wrote for him.

Buzz Aldrin, fondly remembering the days when they sent monkeys into space.

“It is America’s destiny to be at the forefront of humanity’s eternal quest for knowledge and to be the leader amongst nations on our adventure into the great unknown.  And I could say the great and very beautiful unknown.  Nothing more beautiful.”

Nothing more beautiful than the unknown. What a fucking idiot. Buzz Aldrin, the second person to walk on the moon, attended the signing ceremony and stood near Comrade Trump while he spoke. After his speech, Trump made a show of signing the executive order. Aldrin, who was clearly unimpressed, looked over Trump’s shoulder and said “Infinity and beyond” — the catchphrase of Buzz Lightyear, the buffoon-hero character from Toy Story. Trump’s response?

“This is infinity here. It could be infinity. We don’t really don’t know. But it could be. It has to be something — but it could be infinity, right? Okay.”

It has to be something. It could be infinity. Right? Sweet Jeebus Galileo, this guy is actually the president. I weep.

HAL, close the pod bay doors, please.

i blame einstein

It all makes sense now. Day dawns in the rock garden. I see the light. I thought a lot of Republicans — like, say, Marco Rubio — were just stupid. I thought they were tossing out bullshit political statements, trying to justify why nothing was their fault. Why nothing was ever their fault.

A peek into Marco Rubio's brain.

A peek into Marco Rubio’s brain.

I mean, c’mon. How else can you explain this, by Rubio:

“I do not believe the president should appoint someone. It’s been over 80 years since a lame duck president has appointed a Supreme Court Justice.”

A ‘lame duck’ is, of course, a politician who is near the end of his term of office. Now, you may think that President Obama, with eleven months of service still ahead of him, isn’t really a lame duck. But wait a moment. Here’s more Rubio:

“The responsibility of 9/11 falls on the fact that Al Qaeda was allowed to grow and prosper and the decision was not made to take out the leader when the chance existed to do so. [President Clinton] made a decision not to take out its leader, which I think ended up being there, the situation that happened with 9/11. And my argument is, if you’re going to ascribe blame, don’t blame George W. Bush, blame a decision that was made years earlier, not to take out bin Laden when the opportunity presented itself.”

Now, it may appear that Rubio is talking out of his ass. You may be asking yourself ‘How is it possible that Bill Clinton’s responsibility as President of These United States extends eight months into George W. Bush’s term, but President Obama’s responsibility as president ends eleven months before his term expires?’

I’ll tell you how it’s possible. Albert fuckin’ Einstein.

Blame this crazy motherfucker.

Blame this crazy motherfucker.

A hundred years ago, this Einstein fellow predicted gravitational waves would result in a distortion of the space-time continuum. As the waves move through the universe, space and time would contract and expand. Clearly, the collision of two massive black holes in space a billion years ago caused Clinton’s term in office to expand, which resulted in the contraction of Obama’s term.

It’s science, you guys.

standing in the doorway to scientific progress

First Guy — So then, did you hear about this guy from Georgia?

Second Guy — Which guy from Georgia?

First Guy — Him, the guy that’s opposed to human-jellyfish hybrids.

Third Guy — The fuck?

First Guy — Kirby, that’s his name. Tom Kirby. He’s in the Georgia legislature, if you can believe it. Says the people of Georgia are opposed to the mixing of human embryos with jellyfish cells to create glow-in-the-dark humans.

Second Guy — He wouldn’t be a Republican, this Kirby fella, would he?

First Guy — He would.

Third Guy — Can they do that? Can they, the science johnnies? Jam some jellyfish muck into a human embryo and create a…

First Guy — Pffft, don’t be an idjit.

Second Guy — Would this be the same nitwit who wondered if a woman could swallow a wee camera and let doctors do a gynecological exam over them internets?

First Guy — No, that nitwit is from Idaho. Also a Republican, though.

Third Guy — Be cool, though, wouldn’t it, if they could. Totally cool. Except for the poor bastard who was out there glowin’ in the dark like some fuckin’ human exit sign.

Second Guy — This wouldn’t be the same nitwit who said parents with sick children shouldn’t be forced to get them medical treatment, would it? The one who said if the children die they’d be with god and all his bright angels?

First Guy — No, that’s an entirely different nitwit. Also from Idaho, though. And yeah, a Republican.

Third Guy — His electricity bills would go down, though, wouldn’t they. The human jellyfish, I mean. Wouldn’t need a readin’ lamp, would he. Be handy for him, though, if he was one of them guys, the ones who explore caves and all? Them plunkers or whatever? Handy for that, glowin’ in the dark.

Second Guy — Would it be the same nitwit who thinks cancer is some class of fungus, then?

First Guy — No, that nitwit is from Nevada. Also a Republican, though.

Third Guy — He’d be rubbish as a ninja, though, wouldn’t he.

Second Guy — Would it be the same nitwit, then, the one who thought food workers shouldn’t be forced to wash their hands after using the toilet?

First Guy — No, that nitwit is from North Carolina. And yeah, before you ask, also a Republican.

Third Guy — D’ya reckon he’d be able to sting folks too, this guy, the human jellyfish? Tentacle-thingies at the ends of his fingers. Make it hard to be wearin’ gloves. And countin’ out change? Or playin’ at cards? Screw everything up, that would.

First Guy — Will you shut the fuck up? There isn’t any human jellyfish. There aren’t any glow-in-the-dark humans.

Third Guy — No, and there won’t be so long as your man in Georgia keeps standin’ in the doorway of scientific fuckin’ progress.

Editorial note: The aforementioned nitwits, in order, are Tom Kirby of Georgia, Vito Barbieri of Idaho, Christie Perry of Idaho, and Thom Tillis of North Carolina.

yay engineers, mostly

Okay, if we’re so amazingly smart that we can land a spacecraft on a comet (You guys! We totally landed a spacecraft on a comet!), why can’t we convince guys that wearing a “fun shirt” with “illustrations of glamorous women” is…well, completely fucking stupid? Let me amend that. At best it’s completely fucking stupid.

The European Space Agency just accomplished one of the coolest engineering feats ever. All over the world, men and women and boys and girls who love space and science were watching this astonishing event. And Dr. Matt Taylor, the Rosetta Project Scientist with the cool tattoos, shows up on live television wearing a shirt that basically says “I place great value on women who have big tits and wear skimpy outfits.”

Dr. Matt Taylor

Dr. Matt Taylor

 

I mean, yeah, they didn’t make him the Rosetta Project Scientist because of his sensitive social awareness. They made him Rosetta Project Scientist because he’s an expert in space plasma physics (whatever the hell that is). He’s clearly good at his job, and yeah, that’s what counts when it comes to landing spacecraft on comets. Nobody would dispute that. But lawdy, wasn’t there anybody at the European Space Agency who might have said “Dude, maybe change shirts”?

And if the shirt isn’t bad enough, what does Dr. Taylor say about the spacecraft’s mission to lad on the comet? He says:

“This is sexiest mission there’s ever been. I said she was sexy, but I never said she was easy.”

Taylor’s stupid sexist shirt and his stupid sexist comment doesn’t minimize what ESA accomplished. They landed a spacecraft on a fucking comet! But this sort of bullshit has to be discouraging to women and girls who might also want to work in a field where they’d have a chance to land spacecraft on various orbiting objects. It’s got to be disheartening for women and girls who want to be engineers and scientists to see that the Rosetta Project Scientist — the person in charge of this really amazing enterprise — has the emotional age of a 13-year-old boy.

Really good job on the comet landing, Dr. Taylor. Fine work and congratulations on a truly marvelous engineering and scientific achievement. Now please, just grow the fuck up.

Addendum: Dr. Taylor truly seems to have had one of those learning moments. Today he apologized for the shirt, and seemed genuinely distressed by the furor he created. You can see the apology here at about 15:30 into the interview.

It also turns out the shirt was given to him by a women friend for his birthday. And yes, it was a clueless choice of clothing and words, but good on Dr. Taylor for learning from the experience and making a sincere apology for it. Having seen so many phony non-apologies, it’s gratifying to see one that’s genuine.

blood simple

The National Review Online — which, despite all the similarities, is NOT the Onion — just published a classic Conservative editorial. By that I mean it’s almost completely devoid of fact and overstuffed with wrong-headed opinion fueled by free-floating anxiety and unfocused anger over a problem that doesn’t exist. It’s titled Kari Hickox, Selfish Hero.

Strictly monitored house quarantine — de facto house arrest — is undoubtedly an abrogation of civil liberties. But 21 days of it — lavishly state-funded — to be followed by perfect liberty assuming no problems, seems like a minimal sacrifice to ask of those who put themselves voluntarily in danger. When it comes to a disease that liquidates your internal organs and pushes blood out your eyeballs, “Better safe than sorry” would seem a dictum to which everyone could agree.

Where to start? Maybe with the fact that doctors and nurses have been volunteering to help in the West Africa Ebola outbreak since August (which is when the World Health Organization declared the epidemic to be an international public health emergency). Most of them did their volunteer work then quietly returned home to the U.S., where they went on with their lives. Without being quarantined. And they didn’t infect anybody.

kaci hickox

Or maybe with the fact that even if Kaci Hickox was infected with the Ebola virus, she wouldn’t be contagious until she became seriously symptomatic. Even if she developed the earliest symptoms — headache and fever — the risk of contagion would be extremely low. You’d have to lick the sweat off her forehead AND have a cut on your tongue before you’d be at risk (which shouldn’t be taken as an endorsement for licking Ebola patients).

But as stupid and offensive as the editorial is, the comments — well, you can guess. Stupid and offensive on steroids. For example:

Let’s be honest, anyone this self-centered went to Africa to prove how wonderful they are. Everything is about them.

This woman is a perfect example of the I, I, I, me, me, me, first person. She and her desires are more important than anyone else’s well being or health.

Every once in awhile you see a woman that makes you involuntarily think, “I pity the guy that marries her.”

She is a Democrat and an Obama supporter, whu [sic] works for the CDC. Yes, she is an Obama operative. She is challenging state governor’s on behalf of Obama. She speaks about science, just like the Obama people are doing. They are taking a superior position, backed by science, and everyone else is just hysterical. I do not know what Obama hopes to gain from this game, but it is a dangerous one.

Lawdy. It’s been three weeks or so since Eric Duncan died. That’s more than enough time for the American people to have educated themselves about Ebola. Three weeks. In three weeks you can teach a flatworm to follow a path in a maze. A fucking flatworm — a simple bilaterian, soft-bodied, unsegmented invertebrate. But can conservatives learn the actual level of risk involved in dealing with Ebola in that same period of time? No. Can elected officials learn the actual level of risk? No.

Why? Because they’ve gone blood simple. That’s a term coined by Dashiell Hammett in one of his early novels, Red Harvest. It describes the addled, irrational, conspiratorial, violent mindset of people who are exposed to long-term, escalating, chaotic fear.

“This damned burg’s getting me. If I don’t get away soon I’ll be going blood-simple like the natives.”

I know the feeling.

ebolapalooza

Are you ready for this? An elementary school teacher in the small town of Strong, Maine attended the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium — an educational conference held at the Hilton Anatole hotel in Dallas, Texas. Dallas is the city in which Texas Health Presbyterian is located. Texas Health Presbyterian is the hospital in which Thomas Eric Duncan was treated for (and died from) the Ebola virus. The Hilton Anatole hotel is almost ten miles from Texas Health Presbyterian hospital.

On her return to Maine, the teacher was placed on a 21-day leave of absence. It takes between two and twenty-one days for a person infected with Ebola to exhibit symptoms.

Strong Elementary School -- Strong, ME.

Strong Elementary School — Strong, ME.

That’s right. The administrators of Maine School Administrative District 58 have placed a teacher on paid leave for being in the same city as an Ebola patient. Why? Because a local parent, Matt Dexter, has a child who is in that teacher’s class. I don’t want to say that Matt Dexter is a complete fucking idjit.

But he is. He complained to the school board:

“[Y]ou sent (this teacher) to a potentially harmful area for exposure, and then to come back and jump into the classroom on Monday seemed a little bit reckless.”

Matt Dexter apparently believes the Ebola virus is very clever — the McGyver of viruses. He seems to think if a patient in an isolation unit coughs or sneezes, those wily Ebola viruses will find a way to escape isolation, sneak out of the hospital, travel ten miles to a nice hotel, infiltrate the hotel’s HVAC ducts, find its way to the room of a visiting teacher from Maine, infect her, then bide its time until she returns to her classroom in Maine, at which point it will leap out and assault his child. Did I mention Matt Dexter is a complete fucking idjit?

“I’m really tired of people telling everyone, on the news, starting at the national level, ‘zero risk, low risk.’ The bottom line is that there is risk. Are we more capable of handling this than Africa? Sure, but why walk around blind and jam people into hot spots we can’t control? It all comes down to personal responsibility.”

You know, maybe the reason everyone is saying there’s a low risk is because there actually is a low risk. And c’mon, ‘low risk’ is an exaggeration. The risk is infinitesimal. Consider this: we had a guy with active Ebola symptoms at large in Dallas for two days, then hospitalized in a facility completely unprepared to treat Ebola — and yet only two other people have tested positive for the virus. The four people who actually shared living quarters with Thomas Eric Duncan while he was symptomatic — the period when he was most contagious — are about to be released from quarantine; they’ve shown no sign of being infected. Why? Because Ebola, despite being incredibly infectious, just isn’t very transmissible.

Possible route taken by wily Ebola virus intent on infecting teachers from Maine

Possible route taken by wily Ebola virus intent on infecting teachers from Maine

And yet Matt Dexter, of Strong, Maine, is about to piss his pants in panic because his child’s teacher happened to spend a few days in the same city as an Ebola patient. But hey, he’s right — it DOES all come down to personal responsibility. Matt Dexter is personally responsible for educating himself before panicking — and he failed in that responsibility. He’s personally responsible for teaching his child the difference between rational fears and irrational fears — and he failed in that. He’s personally responsible for being a role model for his child — and guess what, he failed at that too. Matt Dexter has a personal responsibility NOT to be a complete fucking idjit. Failed.

I feel sorry for the teacher. But even more, I feel sorry for Matt Dexter’s child. All children are, at some point, embarrassed by their parents. But few children have such a legitimate reason to be embarrassed.

just stop already

I declare. It’s no wonder folks fret so much about Ebola. In the last couple of hours I’ve seen three or four magazine and newspaper articles with variations of this deeply stupid headline:

Ebola ‘could become airborne’: United Nations warns of ‘nightmare scenario’ as virus spreads to the US

Anthony Banbury, chief of the UN’s Ebola mission, says there is a chance the deadly virus could mutate to become infectious through the air

I’m not including any links to those articles (I’ll explain why in a bit). Here’s the quote from which the headline above was taken:

The longer it moves around in human hosts in the virulent melting pot that is West Africa, the more chances increase that it could mutate. It is a nightmare scenario [that it could become airborne], and unlikely, but it can’t be ruled out.

Sure. There’s also a chance we could resurrect a T-Rex from DNA extracted from a mosquito trapped in amber 66 million years ago. Unlikely, but it can’t be ruled out. I could be bitten by a radioactive spider and develop superhuman strength, perfect balance and a spider-sense that would alert me to great danger. Adam Sandler could win an Oscar in the Best Actor category. Unlikely, to be sure — but it can’t be completely ruled out.

Also, Adam Sandler gives emotional acceptance speech at Academy Awards ceremony

Also, Adam Sandler gives emotional acceptance speech at Academy Awards ceremony

Here’s a true thing: there have been exactly the same number of viruses that have mutated from transmission through contact (like Ebola) into airborne respiratory viruses as there have been T-Rexs cloned from DNA obtained from amber-trapped mosquito guts.

In the entire history of epidemiology, it’s never happened. Not once. Ever. And there are a LOT of viruses that can be transmitted through contact with bodily fluids. HIV, for example, or Hepatitis B. Have those viruses mutated? Sure. Have any of them suddenly become airborne? Nope. Will Ebola become airborne? Nope.

Will we see more headlines like this? Absolutely, because scary headlines draw readers and readers draw advertisers and advertising keeps newspapers and magazines alive. It may make them sick, but it keeps them from dying.

Adam Sandler in his Oscar-winning role of an Ebola-infected T-Rex

Adam Sandler in his Oscar-winning role of an Ebola-infected T-Rex

And you know what? That’s exactly what an effective virus does. It infects a host, replicates itself, and finds a way to infect other hosts in order to perpetuate itself. But an effective virus does NOT kill the host; it just keeps it sick. A dead host is of no use to a virus; a sick host allows it to continue to replicate and spread itself, infecting as many new hosts as possible.

If you’ve read any of the articles I mentioned at the beginning, you could have been infected with advert-borne stupidity. That’s why I didn’t include links. Think of the absence of links as a form of prophylaxis — a measure to prevent infection, as opposed to treatment after being infected. But happily, there IS treatment available if you happen to become infected. The treatment isn’t always easy, but it’s widely available.

All you have to do is learn some facts. Facts won’t make you immune to advert-borne stupidity, but it’ll decrease the odds of infection and any long-term effects.

Oh, and wash your hands too. Can’t hurt. And avoid contact with Adam Sandler.