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Saturday, October 6, 2007

It's Alive!

I don't remember exactly when Idaho potato magnate J. R. Simplot moved from my mental living to dead folders. It's been so long since his oversized flag was sued out of existence because of its horrendous flapping noise twenty-four hours a day. When you think "flag", most folk think of the cloth emblem flying in front of the post office or high school. Simplot's American flag was more like the mainsail of an old square rigger, except bigger.

Simplot bounced back into my field of vision when Forbes Magazine ran an article on the oldest billionaires in the US. There was JR. At ninety eight the old cranky coot looks just like what one would think a crusty hyper right wing billionaire should look. Damn, he's still alive. Now I was raised in Dallas in the days when one of America's first billionaires, H.L. Hunt, wielded his oil money like a blunt political weapon from his pseudo Mount Vernon mansion.

We have a healthy population of kooks from sea to shining sea, and odds are some must be billionaires. Simplot, in the Daddy Warbucks tradition, felt himself above the law in his little puddle of Idaho politics. With a bit of jiggery-pokery he funded several house and senate campaigns in excess of federal and state limits. He was caught, prosecuted and convicted. As a convicted felon he lost his voting rights and right to own firearms. With the election of Reagan Simplot was quickly pardoned and by vote of congress, had his right to own firearms restored. Lets see a black kid busted with a with a couple of joints in his pocket pull off that little trick.

Anyway, he's not dead. He's breathing and still financing hyper right wing politics of the sort only found in Idaho.

Friday, October 5, 2007

I Don't Hate You

Oh religious friends and family. I hold you no ill will. Believe what you want I'm out to convert no one. I'm just not wired to accept anything without proof of some sort. I don't expect meaning in anything. Cause, Yes! Meaning? nope. All anyone has to do to convert me is provide scientific quality proof that the metaphysical exists. I don't know where your gods are hiding, but they are sure doing a bang up job of it.

I need to lay off the religious raves for a while and go back to politics.

It Only Took 700 Years.

The BBC reports that the long dead Knights Templar were innocent after all. Whoops! The Church of Rome has some secret archives documents from the thirteenth century that exonerates the order of Malta from heresy. That's nice. Now if they would work some of that magical Catholic voodoo to un-burn them at the stake. I sort of wonder what else is in those secret archives.

Spootnyk Or Sputnik

It's been fifty years since The Soviet Union launched the first earth orbiting artificial satellite, Sputnik. I was right in the space race sweet spot of eleven, going on twelve year old male. Sputnik had it all. It was hardware. It was in outer space. It made strange, incomprehensible noise. It was a surprise. It came from a strange exotic alien culture. It involved rockets. You could actually see it, if you knew where and when to look. I think I can speak for twelve year olds of 1957 everywhere when I say "COOL".

Looking back, of course the little basketball-ish sized polished aluminum sphere with curiously swept back antennas was a publicity stunt. It was an engineering feat to be sure, but science? Meh. Not so much.

The truth is that "rocket science" (as in engineering) isn't really "rocket science" (in the vernacular form). To be sure, scientists do use rockets and space hardware for their own ends, and the designers of rockets do use scientific theory in their design. Science and engineering walk hand in hand, but it can be a rocky marriage. Engineers like facts, scientists like questions. They both need data, and that's where they meet.

Seed Magazine has "Science Is Culture" for their tag-line. I couldn't say it better. Even with mistakes and false starts, science is the vehicle that drives human progress, and defines Western culture. Abuse of science can be a truly horrible thing, but science is materially neutral. The knowledge that made the fusion bomb also makes all modern electronics feasible. Science always runs the risk of telling you things you don't want to hear. Science can be used in the short term to validate conclusions that people want validated. Witnesseth "tobacco company science". Science has the imperative to correct itself. Once again we can look at the ultimate science of tobacco use.

America is challenged on all fronts today for scientific primacy. Our science and engineering grad schools are financed by off shore student bodies, while native Americans gravitate to the more lucrative educations in business degrees. Luckily many of those foreign born doctoral candidates have come to like the American lifestyle and freedom to explore science, and become citizens.

Fifty years on, Sputnik still means a lot to me. The Soviets didn't know what they were starting, but they made the modern West possible.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

You Just Knew This Was Coming

Let the backlash begin. The New Atheist movement has presented the fundamentalist a new enemy and fundraising opportunity. Something called "The Whistle Blower" has hit the street with the blockbuster announcement that there are people out there who don't buy into the whole god or gods game. Gentlemen, we have our New Communist Threat. Insidious, subversive, and, worst of all, they look just like us.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Bad Year In The God Business.

The Dallas based Baptist General Convention of Texas is laying off twenty nine of their minions. Short sell any hair spray stock or blow dryer debentures you own. Is this a ray of hope in the war against the holy rollers? Nah. As long as there is stupid there will be Baptists.

Look Over There! It's A Shiney Thing!

Salmond Rushdie was on Bill Maher's show week before last, and, while he was drowned out by the other guests, he made a salient point. Paraphrased it would be something like: "What are you people thinking? The subject is the war. Not ads. Not even Backwater. It's the war stupid." Bush's Iraq adventure has degraded our national defense capacity. That's what the former heads of the Joint Chiefs says, not some lefty peace-nick. Our military is barely capable of keeping up with the ever evolving improvised explosive device evolution. Apparently there is no defense against against the shaped copper charge. We are rapidly deploying half million dollar vehicles that are just as vulnerable as unarmored humvees to these simple homemade devices. We ignore the fact that we are occupying a country that doesn't want to be occupied with an inadequate force. The only question is, are we going to be run out of Iraq in an orderly manner or have a shooting withdrawal?

Now, like a crack addict trying to quit by taking up heroin, the neocons are flogging war with Iran. Great idea boys. Oil gets to $150 a barrel in a week, the economy goes in the crapper, to quell criticism we guantanimoize the opposition at home. If you think they wouldn't dare, you just haven't been paying attention to the Republican wing of the Republican Party.

We are about to deploy the Osprey aircraft in the Middle East. The Osprey has killed almost as many US Marines as Al Qaeda. The Osprey is a helicopter substitute that costs hundreds of millions per copy that bundles the unreliability of helicopters with flakey tilt wing technology. On top of those defects, the Ospry doesn't have the autogyro aspect that saves so many helicopter crews from death. The Osprey represents the finest in pork laden earmarks ever devised by the congressional military industrial complex.

I'm digging a hole for me and the dog. Dig your own damn hole.