NASA, American exceptionalism, and me: older, and less viable

Fourth in a series

As a child turning teen in the late 1950s, the black-and-white RCA in the living room received only three channels … well, four, but we didn’t watch PBS. So I read. Newspapers, of course (after Dad finished sports and Mom finished news). And books. The library was only two blocks away, so I spent afternoons there sampling the stack. I was a small-town boy at the end of the idyllic “Father Knows Best” decade of Eisenhower placidity, a geeky kid feeling the first pangs of puberty.

I longed for adventure beyond being a Boy Scout or tossing a football with neighborhood pals. In the library I found adventure stories set in space, spun with well-chosen words and exquisitely crafted plots.

I discovered Arthur C. Clarke’s “Childhood’s End.” Then Robert A. Heinlein’s “Methuselah’s Children,” Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451,” and Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation and Empire.” Science fiction (or, in Clarke’s case, science prediction) captivated me. I became a sci-fi cognoscente.

Then, in 1957, came the shocker: Sputnik. Continue reading

RIP, Dr. Death

Dr. Jack Kevorkian has died at the age of 83.

Kevorkian, who claimed he had helped about 130 people to kill themselves between 1990 and 1999, died at William Beaumont hospital in Michigan, close friend Mayer Morganroth said.

Nicknamed Dr Death, Kevorkian came to prominence in 1990 when he used his homemade “suicide machine” in his rusted Volkswagen van to inject lethal drugs into an Alzheimer’s disease patient who sought his help.

He had been hospitalised since last month with pneumonia and kidney problems, Morganroth said. An official cause of death had not been determined, but Morganroth said it was likely to have been pulmonary thrombosis. Continue reading

“How to build your own industrial civilization”

So, what sort of machines do you need to create an industrial civilization—kind of like the ones we have now, but more sensibly sourced. I remember taking a sociology course years ago where we started out with a similar question, although we conceived the question more broadly—what does civilization as we know it rely on? The answer then (decades ago, before the impact of The Whole Earth Catalog had been felt) was something along the lines of “technology.” But this is a much better question. We rely on machines for all sorts of stuff, still. Yes, yes, we tell ourselves we’re in a post-industrial economy and all that. Right. These guys have thought about this question, and you know what? You need 50 machines—“The Global Village Construction Set.” A Meccano or Erector Set for grown-ups, with some further but important constraints: “Open Source – Low-Cost – Modular – User-Serviceable – DIY – Closed-Loop Manufacturing – High Performance – Heirloom Design – Flexible Fabrication.” No Tech Magazine has the scoop. Here’s who they are. And here’s their blog. Now get to work.

ht—Climateer Investing

"Light this Candle"

It’s been a big week for the USA.

First, American troops raided Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan and killed al Qaeda’s leader.

And today is the 50th anniversary of America’s first manned space flight. On May 5th, 1961, Alan Shepard lifted off from  Cape Canaveral for a 15 minute flight that got America on the board against the hated Soviets, whose hero Yuri Gagarin had not only already flown in space but had orbited the earth some weeks earlier.

While Shepard’s flight was only a jog compared to Gagarin’s, it had plenty of drama. The US was trailing the Soviets in rocket technology and the previous two launches (one with a dummy astronaut) had gone off course and subsequently  had to  be destroyed.  No one at NASA could say for certain that Shepard might not go the way of his mannequin predecessor.

In fact, Shepard’s flight was delayed three days as NASA technicians tried to solve potential flight problems. Continue reading

The American Parliament: our nation’s 10 political parties

Part two in a series.

Forgive me for abstracting and oversimplifying a bit, but one might argue that American politics breaks along the following 10 lines:

  • Social Conservatives
  • Neocons
  • Business Conservatives
  • Traditional Conservatives (there’s probably a better term, but I’m thinking of old-line Western land and water rights types)
  • Blue Dog Democrats
  • New Democrats
  • Progressives Continue reading

Conservatives, Progressives and the future of representative democracy: what would an American Parliament look like?

Part one in a series.

A little thought experiment for a Monday morning…

Over the past few years I have tried to make as much sense as I could out of the American political landscape. By nature, I’m a theoretically minded thinker, and the point of these exercises has been to try and articulate the structures, shapes, motivators and dynamics the define who we are so that I might develop better theories about why so that I might then think more effectively about how we might be nudged in a more productive direction. Facts → Theory → Action, in other words.

I have observed a few things along the way.

Skepticism vs. Denialism and how to tell the difference

I suppose, as a general rule, the human animal is built to prefer knowing to not knowing, but I have been struck over the course of the past decade or so at how much worse our society has gotten at tolerating uncertainty. It’s as if having to say “I don’t know” triggers some kind of DNA-level existential crisis that the contemporary mind simply cannot abide.

Perhaps this is to expected in a culture that’s more concerned with “faith” than knowledge, reason, education and science, but even our extremely religious history fails to explain the pathological need for certainty that has come to define too much of American life. Perhaps it’s due to fear. America is currently being slapped about by one hell of a perfect storm, after all: Continue reading

What would a progressive society look like? The Tricentennial Manifesto

The Tricentennial ManifestoOne of my lists is currently engaged in a fairly dynamic discussion about “what is a progressive?”

In thinking about the issue, I realized that it might help to ask the question a slightly different way: what would a progressive society look like? Maybe I can better understand what it means to be progressive in 2010 if I reverse-engineer the definition from a vision of the future where things work the way they ought to.

I have argued that the success of the progressive movement hinges on seriously long-term thinking. It’s not about the 2012 elections or the 2016 elections or even the 2020 elections – those fights are about the battle, not the war.

Instead, if we do things properly, if we concentrate on and win the war, what does America look like on our Tricentennial? The following 40 articles suggest some ideas. Continue reading

Psst! Mamasita Presidente! Laura Chinchilla strikes a blow for Ticas everywhere

by Shelley Jack

Mamasita! Mamasita! Psst! Psst! Psst!

Taunting, yet playful faces of men passed me by on uneven sidewalks, working diligently to make eye contact. I was lost, again, on a street in downtown San Jose, Costa Rica, walking quickly, head down. Only a few months in to my year-long stay as a business English teacher in the country, the unpredictability of the road and transportation systems continued to challenge even my most adventurous side. When I finally arrived at my destination, three hours into what should have been a 30-minute walk, I sat down and cried one of those long, cleansing cries. I felt dirty from a steady stream of what we North Americans might refer to as aggressive cat-calling or ogling. I was drenched in sweat and tears, and I was painfully conscious of my light skin, blue eyes. Worst of all, I was immersed in a kind of fear that most of my countrywomen never have to face here on the streets of America. Continue reading

Nota Bene #99: Heed the Peace Gnome

“You just pick up a chord, go twang, and you’ve got music.” Who said it? Continue reading

Predicting the 21st Century: Nostraslammy's ten-year review

Ten years ago, at the turn of the millennium, Nostraslammy took a stab at predicting the 21st Century, with a promise to check back every ten years to see how the prognostications were turning out. Odds are good I won’t be able to do a review every ten years until 2100, but I figure I’m probably good through 2030, at least, barring some unforeseen calamity. And if you’re Nostraslammy, what’s this “unforeseen” thing, anyway?

Let’s see how our 22 articles of foresight are holding up, one at a time.

1: Researchers will develop either a vaccine or a cure for AIDS by 2020. However, it will be expensive enough that the disease will plague the poor long after it has become a non-issue for the rich and middle classes (although this is one case where political leaders might fund free treatment programs). The end of AIDS will trigger a sexual revolution that will compare to or exceed that of the 1960s and 1970s (unless another deadly sexually-transmitted disease evolves, which is certainly a possibility). Continue reading

Gore says ‘tipping point’ close for public push on climate change

Tom & Gore SEJ
SEJ member Tom Yulsman
asks a question of Vice
President Gore in Madison.
Photo: Anne Minard.

The fate of the earth could end up determined by which tipping point is reached first: a physical shift that ushers in abrupt climate change with catastrophic consequences, or a social one, in which public attitudes rapidly coalesce around a mandate to address climate change. Or, neither could materialize, at least not imminently.

Al Gore believes the U.S. is on the brink of a political tipping point on the climate issue. Speaking to the Society of Environmental Journalists annual conference in Madison, Wisc., last Friday, the former vice president said, “The potential for change can build up without noticeable effect until it reaches a critical mass. I think that we are very close to that tipping point.” Continue reading

There's a statue in it for you, Mr. Obama

While still on the lookout for the significant change that i was told to believe in, my innate – but well cultivated – cynicism has gotten the upper hand. We’re not leaving Iraq anytime soon; we’ll probably hang around almost as long as the depleted uranium munitions we use. Afghanistan is just heating up, but that was to be expected. Our first minority president seems intent on solving the gay rights question with a separate but equal answer. The automotive industry will, apparently, be righted by an investment banker. And Vegas has the insurance industry favored heavily to come out on top in health care “reform”.

So be it. If Americans believed every advertising campaign that was rolled over us, we’d picture ourselves as a land of skinny, white-toothed celebrities consuming the latest thing as if it would make our existence complete and wonderful…oh, yeah, well, um…never mind.

Not that Mr. Obama is concerned with winning my good graces, but if wants them then he need only make a simple declaration:

Continue reading

There's a land that I see, where the children are free…

freetobeBy Jennifer Angliss

When I was a kid, I listened to the “Free to Be… You and Me” album incessantly. We had it on vinyl (not 8-track!) and I probably came close to wearing it out. At the time, I didn’t really care for the track “William’s Doll”. The chorus of “A doll! A doll! William wants a doll!” grated on my nerves–actually, it still does. But the song tells a story that I think is really important. William is a 5 year old boy who wants a doll. Unfortunately, everyone seems to think that this is a terrible thing for a little boy to want. His dad gets him all sorts of sports equipment instead, which he also enjoys, but he still craves that doll. Finally, Grandma hears about this and gives him a doll. Continue reading

Tiller assassinated: anybody want to make a bet on who did it? – UPDATED

Note: Relevant updates will posted to the bottom. By all means, read all the way to the end, where it gets interestinger and interestinger.


Dr. George Tiller was murdered at his church this morning. According to the New York Times:

Dr. Tiller, who had performed abortions since the 1970s, had long been a lightning rod for controversy over the issue of abortion, particularly in Kansas, where abortion opponents regularly protested outside his clinic and sometimes his home and church. In 1993, he was shot in both arms by an abortion opponent but recovered.

He had also been the subject of many efforts at prosecution, including a citizen-initiated grand jury investigation. Continue reading

Let the economy die?! Rushkoff's goals are noble but his plan needs work

A couple of weeks ago author and NYU media theory lecturer Douglas Rushkoff penned a provocative essay for Arthur Magazine. Entitled “Let It Die,” the essay explains why we should stop trying to save the economy.

In a perfect world, the stock market would decline another 70 or 80 percent along with the shuttering of about that fraction of our nation’s banks. Yes, unemployment would rise as hundreds of thousands of formerly well-paid brokers and bankers lost their jobs; but at least they would no longer be extracting wealth at our expense. They would need to be fed, but that would be a lot cheaper than keeping them in the luxurious conditions they’re enjoying now. Even Bernie Madoff costs us less in jail than he does on Park Avenue.

Alas, I’m not being sarcastic. Continue reading

The Scholars & Rogues Manifesto: what are we doing here?

It has been alleged that Scholars & Rogues is not, strictly speaking, a political blog. Sure, we write about overtly political issues and devote our share of time to things like media policy, energy and the environment, business and the economy, and international dynamics. Yes, we were credentialed to cover the DNC, but we don’t really do hard, insider, by god politics. Daily Kos is a political blog. Firedoglake is a political blog. Little Green Footballs, The Agonist, Politico, The Seminal – these are real poliblogs.

S&R, on the other hand, writes about music. About literature and poetry. About art. Education. Sports. Culture and popular culture. The Ramsey case and what it tells us about the state of media. And now that the election is over, S&R is writing about politics less than ever.

So really, what is S&R? Continue reading

Mapping American progress

About three weeks ago, Jim Moss over at The Seminal laid the 2008 electoral results map over maps of poverty and income inequality. The visual comparison was illuminating, and Jim’s post got me to thinking – what if you did the same thing with a wider range of measures and rankings? What kind of picture would emerge? (Jim has himself expanded on the exercise in a couple follow-up postings here and here.)

So I spent some time digging, looking for data that may tell us something about how America is constructed at our current moment in time. Continue reading

The contradiction of Left and Right politics

A person consists both of their being and of the works that their being produces. Whether those works are physical or as intangible as the time spent on a particular task.

A traditional Westminster approach to politics, with a typical Left / Right political duopoly, has become the gold standard of democratic representation. It is also conflicted and inherently incapable of resolving its core contradiction. Continue reading