I am against what my government is doing in the Middle East and elsewhere. I fucking hate this shit, and now another one of my friends is headed off to fight and possibly die for pathetic American Interest and Oil. Never mind all the innocents in Iraq, Afghanistan etc..that we have killed, are killing, etc.

And Tony Blair is exactly what Nelson Mandela referred to him yesterday as, the new foriegn minister to the United States..not the "leader" of the United Kingdom...anyway..

It's strange how so many things in life bring me back to the same film, that I always end up referring to in my daylogs...good old Waking Life.

Now for those of you that haven't seen this film, please sit down for an hour and watch it...it is incredible on so many different levels...it's mind blowing.

But the moment that I am reminded of right now,for those of you that have seen the film, is the guy with the red face, that was driving around in the car, shouting into a microphone about freedom, and human dignity, choice...

And, well, I don't think we have any of that now. I don't know freedom, at least not here. All I know is control, domination, and that I am a prisoner to a system that is set up to allow some to profit, and most to settle. And people justify it left and right, and people settle.

That's why a revolution of any kind is almost impossible in this country, because too many people are conditioned to settle for next to nothing. Some could look at it as being thankful for what one has...but I can't help but start to feel sick, when I see the ridiculous distinctions between rich and poor. I would hope that we could be stronger than that, that we could rise above violence and death in the name of business and greed.


Sometimes I wonder what the world is going to be like in 30 years, and you know....it scares the shit out of me.

There's no way to start off a good February besides fucking drowning kittens. "What the hell?" you ask. "And what's up with you using this same 'QUESTION, you ask? EXTENSION OF QUESTION' format every time you make a writeup?" The answer is that I don't know. What I do know, though, is that's it's wrong to drown kittens.

Duh. I mean, vegetarian or vegan or ruthless carnivore or whatever, you still probably agree that drowning poor, helpless kittens is morally wrong. Maybe there are some reasons why you could get away with it. Say:

  • You are an evil and hateful person.
  • You just really hate cats.
  • They're about to gently lick you to death.
  • Hell, I don't know. There's no good excuse for killing kittens.
So, why did I bring this up? Well, my uncle just came to visit, and was discussing the exploits of my cousins over a refreshing game of Grand Theft Auto. He happened to mention "Actually, my kids drowned kittens this week."

The three of them all work on a farm in Natick, Massachusetts, selling pies or something. But apparently some kittens had been getting into the slaughterhouse (which apparently exists) and stealing meat.

They kept coming back. So they drowned them.

Isn't there a more humane way to deal with this? Like, say, NOT KILLING BABY KITTENS? Maybe sealing up the door to the slaughterhouse? Maybe bringing them to the pound? Maybe donating them to owners in another part of the state? Maybe, if you are going to kill them, doing it in a kinder manner than suffocation?

Ye gods. Is there no civility left in this world?

Time not wasted

After today, 204 days remain to me until I must teach full time again. I'm on leave, and have already described my state of mind somewhat, in recent day-logs. My sense tonight, after many hours of work, is that no matter how hard I apply myself, I still tend to feel I'm not getting enough done, and my time is slipping away. I vowed, when my leave started, not to have any reason to feel that way!

All my life, there have been few things I've hated more than wasted time. In the 1970's, when New York was nearly bankrupt, I remember waiting endlessly for buses that had been canceled without public notification, and I can still feel a kind of residual bitterness at those lost minutes and hours. After a quarter century, the memory is so bitter that it still sometimes makes me want to gnash my teeth, and occasionally I actually can't resist doing so. I suppose most people don't share this particular hang-up.

On reflection, I see I have to remember that my perception of a day's work doesn't necessarily include the long-term gains I am making. Tedious little tasks can sometimes amass great results, and I mustn't judge myself too harshly. But I also have to ask myself, as I find myself undertakeing any small, repetitive task, whether it will really help me get the larger work done or not. It's too easy to fall into the mindless pleasure of some simple mechanical project without considering that my time is limited. Why? I guess because it's frightening to remember that my time really is limited.

In the end, I always think back to the E.B. White essay, "The Ring of Time". After watching a teenaged circus performer practice standing on horseback as the horse runs in in a circle, White says that she is young enough to believe that she is the same age at the end of one circuit as she was at the beginning. But he himself has become aware of the unrecallable fleeing of time; he can no longer feel himself the same age after even one circuit. It's a short essay (actually half an essay), and I've never seen it anthologized, but it is some of his very best writing.


The main work I have been doing is looking up fanqie for rare Chinese characters and adding them to a huge database of medieval Chinese phonology that I began assembling about four and a half years ago. It's awfully tedious work, and probably a lot of it is wasted work, because the fanqie in this rime-book are not very good. (I'm using the Jiyun, newly noded.) I have a lot of other pressing tasks, but this one is a matter of completeness with me - certain of these rare characters make their first known appearance in this particular book, so even if most of the entries themselves are more or less garbage, there is still some meaning in noting their first appearance. The danger is that a certain compulsive part of my mind would like me to enter the whole Jiyun into the database, and that would be great labor for minimal gain. I have to remember to keep a part of my attention on what I'm really trying to do. Forestall regrets by thoughtfulness.

The database is already complete enough that I have been able to begin using it for research more interesting than mere database entry. Last summer, I used the material I had then to assemble and publish a 250-page reference volume on medieval phonology, which my colleagues in the field seem to be finding useful. (Or maybe they're too polite to say they don't understand it!) I've also begun serious work on a long-delayed transcription system for early Chinese, for which the database was a necessary first step.

In the mean time, I am still getting a lot of pleasure out of reading the Jiyun, and appreciating all the little details that the compilers put into it, almost a thousand years ago. I think very few people ever do anything with this book, other than Chinese majors attacking the occasional phonology homework assignment. It must have been a horrific amount of work to assemble - and remember it was all done by hand, all 800 pages and 51,000 characters and their definitions, all copied and proof-read by hand, all carved onto woodblocks by hand, each copy bound by hand. It was written by committee, as were most official scholarly projects in the Song dynasty. Did the compilers, a thousand years ago, ever wonder if their time was being wasted by their committee chair? Anyway, in my eyes they created something intricate and beautiful, and after all these centuries it hardly matters what hardship they and their families may have endured to make it possible. In the year 2003, in the town of Silver Spring, all memory of that hardhip has evaporated away and left only a faint, sweet smell, like the aroma lingering in the morning from a glass emptied of sherry the night before.


last day-log entry: January 30, 2003 | next: February 7, 2003

The Island of Lesbos, crabs, and three idiots in a Pet Smart.

I am seeking kittydom. Anyone who has visited my homenode will know of this..or think I'm a pervy girl placing a personal ad under the guise of seeking a kitten. In pursuit of my dream to own a kitty of my very own to name after some obscure goddess or god with strange and mystical powers..or just Pete I went to the local Pet Smart. I'd been told there were two orange kittens waiting for a good home. I was told wrong. They already have good homes. Still, I was there and Christa needed a plecostomus so we meandered to the wall-o-fish.

We went through the dozens of tanks and pointed out our personal favorites, then waited for the fish guy to help us...

...and waited...

...and waited. Then we looked for amusement. We found it at the crab tank. I'm not talking about Hermit Crabs, I'm referring to those mini side-walking creatures that look like what I sprinkle Old Bay on at restaurants. We watched the twenty-odd crabs scuttle about..and witnessed the drama that unfolded.

Big-Daddy-Crab, named thusly because he had the largest claw in the tank which he presented menacingly to the others, was stalking the women folk. He scuttled sideways into the water and chased a young male from One-Eye and No-Claws. These two ladies were stacked one on top the other, they were getting their freak on. One look at Big-Daddy had them scrambling in fear of crabby-rape. One-Eye managed to get away, but No-Claws was thrust against the glass, her back to her attacker. He played it cool...holding her in place with a few legs while casually picking food from the gravel and nibbling on it. He waited too long though and No-Claws escaped to the Island of Lesbos.

The decorative rock in the middle of the tank was surrounded on all sides by water. It was also covered with female crabs and observed closely by the male crabs. We figured there was some hot, erotic S&M club under the rock, as the boys kept sneaking under there and out of sight. One was repeatedly expelled from this cubby, probably too young. That or the ladies were laughing at him and he was booted by the bouncer, cus lets face it..he had a rather small claw.

Watching The Island of Lesbos, our new instore, live soap opera entertained us for a good fifteen minutes until fish guy got around to noticing us.



Yes..my friends and I are weird.

Its over

You say it, not really believing it, it’s not something you have said to yourself very often, except maybe in the darkness of 4 AM. If you can't see a future together, then there is no point to the present. Right? At least that is what you will tell yourself as the night grows cold, and the heat of her body can comfort you no longer.

I know

She says, and there is finality to the statement. But you know she doesn't believe it either. That she shares that ache in her center with you. The there will always be a hole in your being. That some spaces cannot be filled. And even if they could, you wouldn't want them to.

Thank you so much, for loving me

And across the distance, the cold space between each other, you know she can feel your hot tears, spilling slow upon her skin. There are many reasons to shed tears of mourning. It is up to us to make them tears of joy. But questions like this can never be answered. Strength is necessary to learn from this sorrow.

I will always love you, you know that, silly

And the laughter is bitter behind the sobs, but joyous. Even here she knows how to touch you, how to give your soul fire through the sadness. A part of you may be gone, but she will always hold it close, keep it safe. For that, you are ever grateful.

You have changed me so much, I will never forget.

"Houston, we have a problem."

NASA flight control has lost contact with the space shuttle Columbia on its reentry in the Earth's atmosphere. This is not a good sign. It has burned up on reentry. My sympathy goes out to the family and friends of the astronauts.

Weather radar animation from Abilene, TX. Watch the red streak. Nuff said. http://www.srh.noaa.gov/radar/loop/DS.p20-r/si.kfws.shtml (No longer current, maybe archives contain that morning's pictures.)

Next

April 12, 1981

I was young but remember watching it. It's one of the world events that I remember best from when I was a child, and whose date I can always remember without having to look it up. The whole world watched as the space shuttle Columbia, pride and joy of American space technology, blasted off from the the Cape, half a world away from me, and launched a new era in space travel. NASA were proud and earned the world's admiration. Technology was making things happen.

January 16, 2003

10:39. I stand on US-1 in Titusville, Florida, on a cool and sunny morning. On the opposite side of the Indian River, Columbia makes a picture-perfect lift-off. People applaud. As I walk back to the house, and for a few minutes after it's disappeared into the bright, blue sky to the east, I can still hear the rumble as it ascends above the Atlantic. Looking behind me, I see the trail left by the blazing engines tower into the sky, hardly ruffled by the light wind.

Today, 05:10

The local morning news shows the anticipated landing time. 09:16, or 10:50, if it has to circle once more. I grumble about its double sonic boom being bound to wake me up. I sleep.

Today, 09:30

Columbia was lost during re-entry. As of now, it's thought that the loss of some thermal insulation on its way up may have been fatal. Communication was lost shortly after 09:00 local time. Reports are coming in of pieces of the shuttle falling from a height of 60 km over Texas. Someone captured it on video. Those are images that will travel around the world.

The Kennedy Space Center web site still says:

Next Shuttle Landing:
Columbia, STS-107
February 1, 2003
9:16 a.m. EST

Challenger happened a world away from me and my angry youth had no time for it. I didn't realise the impact it had on ordinary Americans until I came to live among them. This time I am here to witness it. I am surrounded by tears and disbelief. I have become a Floridian.

I have two colour prints from NASA press releases. They show Columbia departing on flights STS-55 and STS-60. I take them out and put them on my desk. I suppose that's all that's left of a favourite childhood memory, when technological achievement could still leave me wide-eyed and dreaming of being part of it one day.

I grew up in Titusville, FL only a few miles from the Kennedy Space Center. Space science and travel always fascinated me and I watched every launch as a kid. When the Challenger disaster happened 1986 I was watching the launch and the subsequent tragedy. I was almost six years old at the time, so I didn't understand all that was going on except that what I was seeing was not supposed to happen. Seeing the footage of the Columbia disaster on TV this morning brings back all those bad memories and sickening feelings. I cannot imagine the sorrow that friends and relatives of the astronauts are feeling today.

Rest in peace, explorers.

I had my first baby moment this morning. My first yearning for a child. It was weird and deep and full. I was cleaning up because our apartment was a huge mess of clutter. Things everywhere. I realized that since Scoresby and I decided that we want to have a kid, I have been buying baby clothes. Not just any baby clothes, but cool baby clothes. A tiny orange outfit with a pink octopus and the words “Happy Octopus” on the front, a toddler t-shirt that says “Pandas Poo A lot” that I designed myself, a vintage Cookie Monster sweater picked up at the thrift store. I gathered all of these things together and started to fold them to put them away. Noticing how small the octopus outfit was, I just felt this amazing surge of emotion. It was really wonderful and scary at the same time; that such a small thing could make me yearn for a child like this. The scary part is that these kinds of feelings are so foreign to me, and I wonder how much hormones have to do with it.

I was about to tell Scoresby about this first baby moment when I heard on MSNBC that NASA had lost contact with the space shuttle. I sat down on the couch wide-eyed. It only took minutes for them to start showing us the debris. It reminded me of the first shuttle explosion, I was in the seventh grade and they wheeled the t.v. in to let us watch the footage. My seventh grade teacher had been friends with the teacher who died on that shuttle and I remember her bursting into tears and running from the room.

It has been an emotional morning. I have been watching the news about this for two hours and it only feels like minutes have passed.

One of the few things I remember about being nearly 3 was the Challenger disaster; it had a huge impact on me, despite my young age and lack of knowledge.

Today I woke up unusually early for a Saturday; and immediately turned on the T.V. I watched the orange ball divide into about five, with a hand of contrails behind it. It was beautifully horrible. All I could think about was that horrible event 16 years ago.

Not only is this event very close to the Anniversary of the Challenger disaster, but of the Apollo disaster as well. These were the only other two failed manned american space missions resulting in death.

Today marked the end of this shuttle launch, and should have marked the safe return of 6 Americans and the first-ever Israeli to be launched into space. My thoughts go first to the families of these brave men and women, and second to Israel.

With all the horrible things the Israelis are dealing with, all the violence and racism, it seems unfair for this to happen to them. Ilan Ramon was not only the first Israeli in space, but a national hero. Losing him under these circumstances must be devastating.

The debris is small and toxic, scattering all over east Texas. It will really be a horrific investigation.

The government has said that it is extremely unlikely that this was a terrorist attack. A piece of insulation foam that came off of its external fuel tank shortly after liftoff. It has not been determined as the cause.

Here is some info on the people aboard (yes its cut and paste, so sue me!)

Commander Rick Husband, 45, Air Force colonel from Amarillo, Texas. The former test pilot was selected as an astronaut in 1994 on his fourth try. He made up his mind as a child that that was what he was going to do with his life.

"It's been pretty much a lifelong dream and just a thrill to be able to get to actually live it out," he said in an interview before Columbia's launch, his second spaceflight.

Pilot William McCool, 41, Navy commander from Lubbock, Texas, and father of three sons. He graduated second in his 1983 class at the Naval Academy, went on to test pilot school and became an astronaut in 1996. This was his first spaceflight.

Payload commander Michael Anderson, 43, the son of an Air Force man who grew up on military bases. He was flying for the Air Force when NASA chose him in 1994 as one of only a handful of black astronauts. He traveled to Russia's Mir space station in 1998. The lieutenant colonel was in charge of Columbia's dozens of science experiments. His home is in Spokane, Wash.

Kalpana Chawla, 41, emigrated to United States from India in 1980s and became an astronaut in 1994. On only other spaceflight, in 1996, she made mistakes that sent science satellite tumbling out of control. Other astronauts had to go on spacewalk to capture it.

David Brown, 46, a Navy captain, pilot and doctor. He joined the Navy after a medical internship, went on to fly the A-6E Intruder and F-18. He became an astronaut in 1996. Columbia's mission was his first spaceflight.

Laurel Clark, 41, a Navy diving medical officer aboard submarines, then flight surgeon who became an astronaut in 1996. On board Columbia to help with science experiments. Has 8-year-old son. Her home is in Racine, Wis.

Ilan Ramon, 48, a colonel in Israel's air force and the first Israeli in space. His mother and grandmother survived Auschwitz death camp. Father fought for Israel's statehood alongside grandfather. Ramon fought in Yom Kippur War 1973 and Lebanon War 1982.

He served as a fighter pilot 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s, flew F-16s and F-4s. He was chosen as Israel's first astronaut in 1997, then moved to Houston the next year to train for shuttle flight. His wife and four children live in Tel Aviv.

Associated Press

Being a college student, I was out until about 2 AM. Waking up at 10:45 (ugh) for a meeting, I rolled out of bed and went online. I generally check CNN.com once a day, but, oddly enough, I decided to check my e-mail first. Deleting all my spam, I headed over to a blog I read frequently. There I saw a joke about NASA, which struck me as a bit odd. But, then again, the guy who runs that site is what people in the medical profession refer to as a sick fuck, so I didn't think much of it. I was getting ready to take a shower when I finally switched on the TV. My roommate, who went home for the weekend, has a serious addiction to Spanish soap operas. It was there I saw the images of some sort of explosion for the first time. Not knowing Spanish, I quickly flipped over to CBS, and the calming presence of Dan Rather.

There, I saw the words Space Shuttle Crash on screen, and, remembering the Isreali astronaut, my immediate knee-jerk reaction was, "Oh my God, please don't let this be a terror attack". I sat for ten minutes, watching these horrible images of fire in the sky. I realized then I was running late, and hastily showered and got dressed for my appointment, and left.

I got back from the meeting at about 1:15. I sat down and watched the repeated showing of the photographs of the astronauts. I put faces to them, learned more about them as people. I realized they had families. There are children who won't have their Mom or Dadwhen they graduate and get married. I George W. Bush speak to the nation, his voice quivering has he asked God to continue to bless America.

Today is the sixth anniversary of the death of my Mom. I spent last night helping my drunk friends back to the dorm as they were having trouble walking. One of my best friends got picked up by the cops and taken to the hospital last night. I was not in a good mood when I woke up today. And then this. At about 3:30, I turned of the TV, put on some Badly Drawn Boy, sobbed, and drifted off to sleep.

/me misses Columbia

I was fifteen and at school in Webster Groves, Missouri.

A couple of my geeky friends and I were cutting class to watch the launch, it was kind of a tradition and our teachers didn't really seem to mind that much. Challenger blew up, seperated and went down. I was only fifteen, but at that age I already wasn't supposed to cry in public. I was stunned for hours. The rowdy who was making jokes about the tragedy, and then started hassling me for my tears, ended up having to kick my ass when I attacked him. I didn't get in trouble.

I'm 32 and at work in Pennington, New Jersey.

My coworkers and I are glued to CNN and the web. All work has stopped. It's a good thing that we're not being slammed by a worm this week. I'm stunned again. Why does this seem more tragic than the WTC attack when only a handfull of people have died? Now that I'm 32, I'm still not supposed to cry.

It's going to be a tough day.

Some ramblings about time travel.

As I sit and read A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking my mind wanders to time travel and the possibilities contained therein.

Time travel is a ‘hobby’ of mine. I am very much interested in the field in both a scientific and sci-fi manner. I am reading the Time Ships by Stephen Baxter. This is the authorised sequel to The Time Machine by H.G. Wells, a master of the art of sci-fi. Other books I am currently reading are Hyperspace, a pop sci book by an author whose name I can’t remember and am rereading A Brief History of Time.

I went to the cinema to see Donnie Darko for the third time on Thursday and time travel plays quite heavy in it. A Brief History of Time is mentioned, as is the Delorian from Back to the Future. I am reminded of an episode of The Outer Limits in which a man studies the causes and effects in a simple scenario which he then rewinds and plays over an again. I am also reminded of an episode of Disney’s Ducktales in which Huey, Duey and Luey somehow get hold of a watch which can slow time, pause it and rewind it.

With the ability to control time, one could stop bad things happening and allow good things to happen. Pausing time would give you more ‘time’ (non-time?) to do the things that needed doing. It would allow you to travel faster than the speed of light, relative to a viewer, which means that you could ‘break’ Einstein’s famous E=mc² equation.

You see, as an object moves closer to the speed of light (c) it’s mass (m) gets closer to infinity and the energy required to move this object (E) also moves closer to infinity. To travel at the speed of light an object has infinite mass and therefore the energy required to move it is infinite, i.e. impossible.

I don’t know who proposed it, but, if you distort the space in front of an object so that it is compressed, then an object could essentially move across this space faster than the speed of light. The craft actually travels less than the speed of light, but the distortion in space makes it seem faster.

Gravity causes distortion in space and pulls light and, theoretically time towards the object creating the gravity. All objects create gravity and interact with each other.

In an episode of Red Dwarf, the crew find a ‘stasis leak’ and step through to a former version of the ship. This is like the idea that two Black Holes could be connected to form a wormhole, which could be traversed. This wormhole could link two parts of space, which could be moved between instantly, or they could link separate parts of space-time, allowing time travel.

In Stephen Baxter’s book ‘Time’. A message is received from the future. The characters build a machine to receive messages from the future based on a theoretical means of sending the signal. In the future the theory turns into reality and a message is sent back.

Possibilities, Endless. Where would you go and what would you do? I have a great number of things I would like to see. JesusSermon on the Mount is an obvious choice. I’m not a religious person at all, but I do believe that Jesus existed. I think that he was probably a radical Jewish revolutionary and I would like to have met him and even tell him about the wars and stuff that would be done in his name.

I would like to fast forward through time from x B.C.E. and watch the evolution of the species. I could meet some heroes of mine. Leonardo Da Vinci, H.G. Wells, Edgar Allan Poe. Watch the building of the pyramids and the fall of the Berlin Wall. See the Beatles play in Hamburg 1960. Watch some of the great scientific advancement’s: - Structure of DNA, Discovery of Penicillin. See where the world is going and if the species survives much longer (after all we are losing the war with bacteria).

Is time travel possible then? Well, it appears not. If you could travel back in time then why doesn’t anybody know about it? If there is an infinite future ahead of us, then somebody is bound to have come back and told us. Or somebody will have warned us about many things. So this leaves travelling forward in time, which is very uncertain. If will have free will (an assumption of course) then we can choose any number of different futures for ourselves, therefore there cannot be one definitive future to travel to.

Anyway, that’s enough rambling from me. Just remember this saying : - “Time is an illusion. Lunchtime, doubly so” – Ford Prefect, The Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy.

Thoughts on Space and shuttles spending of money.

Today, Nasa lost one of their space shuttles. It was reduced to debris as it exploded somewhere over Texas. There was mourning over the lost astronauts, 7 in number. And there was panic - what kind of debris was raining down over people as the shuttle was unelegantly reduced to shrapnel? What kinds of chemicals and other dangerous things were falling from the sky?

Incidents like this make me wonder. They make me think and re-think the Big Questions In Life. Not because a crashed space shuttle makes any impact on my life whatsoever (sad about the astronauts, and I do understand the pain of their families and friends, but Perspective Must Be Attained). The NASA gets 14,511,400,000 US Dollars a year (equal to 5.2 % of the US military budget, or 0.14 % of the US GDP). Not a lot, you might say. Comparatively, however, NASA has nearly ten times more money to spend every year than the UN World Food Programme. (The WFP gets 1,269M USD a year.)

My question becomes: do we really need to explore space? Isn't there enough trouble on Earth that might be worth having a look at? The money that is spent on sending rockets into orbit, and visiting lumps of ground many thousands of miles away, couldn't it be used more wisely? Personally, I could think of several handfuls of causes needing that money a lot more.

Of course, the next question that seems to make its way into my mind is the question about weapons technology. Especially, because - as The Custodian says in his writeup on the topic - "the shuttle is perhaps the most-inspected piece of hardware in human history every time it flies". Kinda makes you wonder. Do we feel safe trusting a country that cannot keep a peacetime vessel in one piece with nuclear weapons?

And now that we, more than ever, need to keep our eyes on the situation between UK / UN / USA / Iraq, this event will allow the US to use - and most likely abuse - the publicity made from the shuttle, to hide the current developments on the war front? Because - and no matter how much grieving the world will do over these 5 lads and 2 women, the incident happens at a time a little too convenient to not be used in the infinitely cynical world of media spin.

Note: (added later) I am not implying that the US staged this accident. I am not saying there is a conspiracy (there might be one, but the thought hadn't occured to me until a fellow noder accused me of seeding conspiracy theories). I am saying, however, that anyone who is interested in anything happening on the international political front, it would be strongly advisable to keep an extra good look out on what is written in the media the next few weeks. It is a fact that many important, but little popular, news items get buried under sensational news. (See spin doctor and spin for some ideas as to how this is done.)

People have very strong feelings around this writeup. Which is a good thing. I am happy that I manage to stir some feelings, and I am happy that I perhaps manage to start a thought process. To those I have offended: I am sorry. To those who disagree: You are entitled to your opinion. Life would be boring if we all shared the same thoughts and ideas.

sources:
http://ifmp.nasa.gov/codeb/budget2002/03_multiyear_budget.pdf
http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/us.html
http://www.wfp.org/index.asp?section=1
Look, I know that "writeup" does not mean "reply", but SharQ's writeup above really pisses me off, and I can't let that be.

He asks, "Do we really need to explore space?" The answer, as far as I'm concerned, is a resounding "yes!" There is a tremendous amount of scientific research on topics from shear-dependent viscosity in fluids to material science including the production of aerogels, which would be impractical or technically impossible to carry out outside the microgravity environment in orbit. But even apart from that, it is important to explore, just for the sake of exploration. 14 billion dollars a year would a small price to pay for the opportunity to just go and see what's out there... the research is a bonus.

What really makes me angry, though, is SharQ's insinuations with respect to weapons systems. For one thing, it's a hell of a lot easier to build a nuclear weapon with all its failsafes and keep it secure than it is to bring the shuttle back from orbit. We're talking about an aircraft frame with an aluminum skin and a thin protective coating, hurtling through the atmosphere at 12,000 miles per hour, reaching temperatures of 2500 degrees, and nevertheless maintaning some degree of aerodynamic control to guide the craft to its landing. It's a hard thing to do right, and an impossible thing to do perfectly every time -- NASA builds in all the safety margins it can, but at the end of the day, it's a dangerous job to be an astronaut, and that didn't stop any of the crew from wanting to go. But what's really offensive about SharQ's loaded nuclear-weapon question is the fact that he's engaging in the same sort of activities he accuses the media and the Bush Administration of -- spinning a tragedy to advance unrelated causes. There is no logical connection to be made between the dangers of traveling in space and the safety of a nuclear stockpile; that part of the writeup is simply offensive rhetoric.

Look, NASA still serves a purpose in carrying out scientific research in orbit and, hopefully, eventually manned missions to other planets in the Solar system. Their safety record is fantastic, considering the complexity of the missions with which NASA is tasked. It would be absurd to pass judgement on the entire space program, simply on the basis of one tragedy.


I've gotten a lot of feedback on this writeup... it was mainly just my personal reaction to the fear that the space program would suffer horribly as a result of this accident. Challenger set space exploration back 10 years at least; some programs, like the manned missions to Mars, have never recovered. Thanks to those who have expressed support. My worst fears were at least temporarily allayed, as Bush has stated that he is committed to continuing space exploration.

I feel, on a deeply personal level, that space exploration is a worthwhile goal. Who didn't want to be an astronaut when they were growing up? Some part of me, I think, still does. Remember that it was these people's lifelong dream to go into space; they died living the dream. To me, that makes it all feel somehow okay.

This morning I went to the bar mitzvah of a friend of my brother. I greatly enjoyed being part of a Jewish shabbat service, as I generally do on the rare occasions I have an excuse or feel religious enough to go. A family friend left at some point to make a phone call, and came back and said something to me and the few people around me about "the shuttle exploding," or something like that. I didn't think much of it at that point.

There is a part of the shabbat service called the mourner's kaddish, a prayer for the dead. Immediately before the kaddish, members of the congregation who are mourning are asked to stand up and name those they are mourning. One man stood up and said, "I heard on my way here that the space shuttle Columbia exploded on reentry this morning." From the reaction of the congregants, it was clear that most had not heard the news. We said the kaddish, for people's relatives and friends, but also for the six astronauts that died over Texas this morning.

For me, at least, the rest of the bar mitzvah was not as happy as a bar mitzvah should be.

/me misses Columbia too

I was watching the landing live today. We watch all the launches and landings at the Great Lakes Science Center where I work.

On January 16th I got to get in front of 200 kids and do a speech about shuttles, science and gravity in front of the live launch It was pretty much a "make this up as we go along" thing. The kids were so excited. They did a countdown and a huge cheer when the shuttle launched. They were third - fourth graders, which was the age I was when the Challenger exploded.

And i thought that they wouldn't have to share that same sadness.

The problem now is the same as the problem 17 years ago this week and 36 years ago this week: not only a loss of life but a loss of faith.

Faith in science and faith in ourselves.

The Challenger accident put a moratorium on launches for 2 and a half years. They have already delayed the March 1st launch of ISS parts till this summer, and they may bring down the current residents. It could be a delay in a wonderful time of science and discovery. Even worse then that, it takes away a large part of NASA's already-dwindling support from the government and the people. So instead of getting reports on how NASA is sorely under-funded we have to be assured that it was not a terrorist attack. We are turning into a nation of war and ignoring our once unrelentingly curious nature.

I mourn for the astronauts lost today. I feel for their families. I am saddened by the loss of a historic vessel. I also mourn for yet another blow to the spirit of science and discovery.

The Columbia first flew in April 18, 1981. That maiden flight of the space shuttle inspired me to write what became my first publication, a guest column in the Springfield News-Sun, complete with my picture and everything. I saw the shuttle as the beginning of a new age, ushering an era where men and women lived and worked in space. Though budget cuts diminished the shuttle, and left it less than ideal, it was our first space truck. Trucks aren't glamorous vehicles, even in this era of cowboy chic. Trucks are work vehicles, devices that do the mundane work of getting stuff from point A to point B, so even more important work can be done at B.

Space needs a truck. Lots of trucks, because we have work to do in space. Humanity born of this Earth, and as we have matured it has passed into our stewardship. How we handle our power and responsibility has yet to be written, but the Earth is our nest. Ducklings were not meant to live their entire life in the nest, or even the neighboring pond. We too must fly from our nest and reach out into the stars.

Columbia, the first of those unglamorous trucks, died today, taking her crew of seven with her. Few paid attention to her launch. 2003 isn't the late fifties when Mercury-Redstone rockets always seemed to blow up on the pad. Or the sixties when mankind took brute force and discrete transistors to place a man on the moon. Space was an adventure then, as men sought to go where no man had gone before. Today, most of us our bored with shuttles that are sometimes delayed, but always seem to work. There is no glamour in building a space station, or an experiment on growing chips in zero gravity. Just simple nuts and bolts work and science for a world full of people who can't explain a covalent bond, yet would die without the fruits of science.

Today we all were reminded that exploring is dangerous. Space is a forbidding place. No atmosphere, none of the gravity that keeps coffee in our cup. Cold unheard of at the poles and temperatures hotter than the meanest autoclave. Just getting into orbit is dangerous: The Challenger explosion proved that in 1986, today Columbia proved that re-entering a gravity well is pretty dangerous too, particularly at high mach numbers.

But then exploring has never been easy. The seas are littered with the wrecks of ships. Magellan's team may have circumnavigated the world, but Magellan himself died doing it. The men Christopher Columbus left in the New World disappeared without a trace. It's a risky business being first, or even nearly first.

Of course, we could stay home and avoid risk. Die of cancer and alzheimer's. Or watch humanity obliterated when an asteroid finally blunders into terra firma, or the sun exhausts its fuel and swallows us in the process of ballooning into a supergiant.

If we must die, should we not die trying? If we do not reach for the stars, we will never reach them. If we aspire to mediocrity, then that's all we'll achieve. Today we remember the great explorers, and not the sensible folk who stayed home. Columbia and her crew died trying. I should hope to die half so well as they.


Lost Explorers


Hey Mac, see you down the Dolce Vita!
Get back, we don't have time.
Cos I hear we're sending off the heroes,
When the year goes, (they're) out the bay,
Trying to find a way,
To make it alive.

"So long," said poor men to their families,
"Be strong 'til we get back home.
"And if not, take care of all the children,
"Until then just hope and pray,
"We're gonna find a way,
"To make it alive."

You guys are crazy.

They shout and then we leave the harbour.
In doubt, they're acting weird.
And the sea is whipping up a welcome,
If hell come we're all easy prey,
Trying to find a way,
To make it alive.

You guys are crazy.

The captain's hand shook for the guys to get in place,
He said, "Let's look behind your face."

With each corner covered, they were all around,
Waiting for the midnight bell to sound.

"Out of sight," cried Aeron through his glasses.
"Don't fight," said Gorham's smile.
All the while his hand was on my shoulder.
I was scared of being easy prey,
Trying to find a way,
To make it alive.


Down the Dolce Vita
-Peter Gabriel-





Oh glorious death.

A star streaking across the heavens, brilliant as sunlight.

Oh miraculous life, that some of us would stand and charge imagination. To float in the infinite. To hold one's hand aloft and know all of earth to disappear behind it.

Earthbound, we saw them. Earthbound we imagine the cabin in flames, incinerated in the free fall. Earthbound we wonder what they felt, what questions they had that we could never conjure, our minds small, the perspective of children born and raised on the ground.

We invent our reasons. Through these eyes we paint the stars with bad and good, and intuit the asteroid's motives through our experience, enriched in broadband by pundits consumed with the fear of noncomformity.

We hold aloft our holy books. We claim the gears that spin the planets and presume to know what we have only imagined, the inventions of the terrified.

But to feel within the heart the joy of knowing what for others faith must satisfy. To be blessed and step into the dream. To reach and with the last measure, touch with one's own hands.

Oh to be with them on that ship. To feel the mind stripped barren of earthy notion. To have seen. To yearn for the answers to questions asked by the brave. To honor God by ascending the rocks and ice and sitting at his feet.

No one loves life as much as one who would give it up to explore. No one loves humanity as one who takes us further.

Blessed forever in prayers.

In a moment. A heartbeat.

Oh to have that death as dearly as to love each other,

And the magnificent lives we share.

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