Saturday, April 04, 2009

Potpourri XII

Let's see what sort of weirdness is lurking around the Internet today...I'm all a-quiver (or a-Twitter, as it were).

Oh, yeah: today is the anniversary of the wedding of my friends Tim & Gwen: 12 years, imagine that! They decided to get married at 4:04 on 4/4, just to mess with people's heads. I wonder what the numerologists would say about that. Happy anniversary, guys!

Fedora tip to Hu for this one: some ingenious folks in New Jersey set up an elaborate UFO hoax just to mess with people's heads. I'm amused.

Another reminder: the International Space Development Conference (ISDC) is coming May 28-31. The last time the event was in Orlando, they recruited me into the space business after I was convinced that I was stuck in the tourism business forever. How might it change your life? Attend the event and find out for yourself!

Nick Skytland posted this item regarding NASA's aim to hire up to 50% of civil servants as "fresh-outs" (meaning kids fresh out of college. Keith Cowing is doing his usual hatchet job of the idea. If you look at things logically, though, Gen Y is or soon will be 50% of the national workforce anyway, so this just makes sense. However, the average age of employees at NASA is 49 (with me being on the young side of the average, imagine that!).

The question continues to be asked: how does NASA make itself over into a place where the next generation of the best and brightest will want to work? I provided my thoughts here awhile back. There will no doubt need to be changes top to bottom, but the more practical questions about change, IMHO, need to focus on ideas that:

  • Keep us exploring space and advancing technology
  • Make sense from a cost, budget, and schedule perspective
  • Will not compromise U.S. technological secrets
  • Are acceptable to older, crankier generations like the Boomers and my cohort of Gen Xers
As proof that the first critic is the next volunteer, I made the mistake about griping about the format of one of the meetings I attend. Now I've got to find a "team building" activity that is high in content, low on foolishness. Ideas welcome.

Consider this quotation from Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451...

"They run us so ragged by the end of the day we can't do anything but go to bed or head for a Fun Park to bully people around, break windowpanes in the Window Smasher Place or wreck cars in the Car Wrecker Place with the big steel ball."

Then check out this place: Ray gets it right again.

Scads of pictures of the Orion crew module test article undergoing water recovery testing at Carderock Test Facility in Maryland.

The following extended quotation from H. G. Wells' Things to Come was included in a recent email I received from Apogee Books:


(The writer is speaking about Democracy.)
The people, it was imagined, watched, listened, spoke and wisdom ensued. The Common People became therefore a mystical sympathetic being, essentially a God, whose altar was the hustings and whose oracle the ballot box. A little slow and lumpish was this God of the Age but, though his mills ground slowly, men were assured that they ground with ultimate exactitude. And meanwhile business could be carried on. You could fool some of the people all the time and all the people some of the time, said Abraham Lincoln, but you could not fool all the people all the time. Yet for such crucial purposes as bringing about a war or exploiting an economic situation, this was manifestly a quite disastrous degree of foolability.

And the situation naturally evolved a Press of the very highest fooling capacity. This belatedly inevitable Divinity (the electorate) proved now to be altogether too slow-witted for the urgent political and economic riddles, the massive resistance in every national legislature to any but the most narrow egotism in foreign policy, the inability of the world as a whole to establish any unanimity of action in face of swift economic collapse, revealed the final bankruptcy of Parliamentary Democracy.

The inability of the world's nominal rulers to shake off their lifelong habit of speaking to, or at, a vaguely conceived crowd of prejudiced voters and their invincible repugnance from clear statement, frustrated every effort towards realism. They recoiled from any suggestion of definitive or novel action on the plea that their function was purely representative. Behind them all, the reader feels the sprawling uneasy presence of that poor invertebrate mass deity of theirs, the Voter, easily roused to panic and frantic action against novel, bold or radical measures, very amenable to patriotic claptrap, very easily scared and maddened into war, and just as easily baffled to distrust and impotence by delays, side issues and attacks on the personalities of the decisive people he might otherwise have trusted. An entirely irresponsible Press, mercenary or partisan, played upon his baser emotions, which were so easy to play upon, and made no appeal whatever to his intelligence or his conscience.

The Voter, the Mass, which was neither educated nor led, the Voter without any sincere organisations of leadership anywhere, is the basal explanation of the impotence of those culminating conferences. The World Economic Conference in London was by far the more significant. Armament and disarmament are symptoms and superficial, but economic life is fundamental. This London gathering has been made the subject of a thousand studies by our social psychologists. Many of its contradictions still perplex us profoundly. The men who assembled had just as good brains as anyone today, and, as an exhaustive analysis of the various projects advanced at the Conference proves, they had a substantial understanding of the needs of the world situation, yet collectively, and because of their haunting paralysing sense of the Mass and Press behind them and of their incalculable impulses and resentments, they achieved an effect of fatuity far beyond the pompous blunderings of (The Treaty of) Versailles. Primarily the London Conference was a belated effort to repair the vast omissions of that earlier gathering, to supplement the well-meaning political patchwork of (Woodrow) Wilson by some readjustment of the monetary and economic dislocations he had been too limited to foresee or too weak to avoid. Wraith-like conceptions of some vague monetary League of Nations and some Tariff Council and Assembly, drifted through the mists of the opening meeting. And History, with its disposition to inexact repetition, made one of the principal figures of this second world assembly also a President of the United States, belonging also to the Democratic Party and according to the ritual of that Party invoking the name of Jefferson, as the Communists invoked the name of Marx or the Moslim Mahomet. (F)or some months at least before and after his election as American President and the holding of the London Conference there was again a whispering hope in the world that a real 'Man' had arisen, who would see simply and clearly, who would speak plainly to all mankind and liberate the world from the dire obsessions and inepti¬tudes under which it suffered and to which it seemed magically enslaved. But the one thing he failed to do was to speak plainly.

Everywhere as the Conference drew near men were enquiring about this possible new leader for them. 'Is this at last the Messiah we seek, or shall we look for another?' Every bookshop in Europe proffered his newly published book of utterances to gauge what manner of mind they had to deal with. It proved rather disconcerting reading for their anxious minds. Plainly the man was firm, honest and amiable, as the frontispiece portrait with its clear frank eyes and large resolute face showed, but the text of the book was a politician's text, saturated indeed with good will, seasoned with much vague modernity, but vague and wanting in intellectual grip. 'He's good,' they said, 'but is this good enough?'

Nevertheless hope fought a stout fight. There was no other personality visible who even promised to exorcise the spell that lay upon the economic life of the race. It was (The President's) Conference or nothing. And in spite of that disappointing book there remained some sound reasons for hope. In particular the President, it was asserted, had a 'Brain Trust'. A number of indisputably able and modern-minded men were his associates, men whose later work played a significant part in that reconstruction of legal and political method which was America's particular contribution to Modern State ideas. This 'last hope of mankind', it was credibly reported, called these intimates by their Christian names... He was said to have the modesty and greatness to defer to their studied and matured opinions. Observers, still hopeful, felt that if he listened to these advisers things might not go so badly after all. He was at any rate one point better than the European politicians and heads of States who listened only to bankers and big- business men.

But was he listening? Did he grasp the threefold nature of the problem in hand? He understood, it seemed, the need for monetary inflation to reduce the burden of debt and over-capitalisation; he was apparently alive to the need for a progressive expansion of public employment; and so far he was sound. Unless, which is not quite clear, he wavered between 'public' and 'publicly assisted', which was quite another matter. But was he sound upon the necessity that these measures should be world-wide or practically world-wide?

He made some unexpected changes of attitude in these respects. Were these changes inconstancies or were they tactical manoeuvres veiling a profoundly consistent and resolute purpose? Was it wise to be tactical when all the world was in need of plain speech and simple directive ideas? His treatment took on a disconcertingly various quality. He listened, it seemed, to his advisers; but was he not also listening to everybody? He was flirting with bi-metallism. No medicine, it seemed, was to be spared.

The Conference opened with a stout determination to be brilliant and eventful; the hotels were full, the streets be-flagged, the programme of entertainments were admirable, and even the English weather seemed to make an effort. The opening addresses by the (British Monarch) and the Prime Minister make very curious reading. They express an acute recognition of the crucial condition of human affairs. They state in so many words that the failure of the Conference will precipitate world disaster. They insist upon the necessity for world co-operation, for monetary simplification and a resumption of employment; and in all that we admit they had the truth of the matter. But they make not the faintest intimation of how these desirable ends are to be obtained. They made gestures that are incomprehensible to us unless they had an inkling of the primary elements of the situation. And then immediately they turned away to other things. That mixture of resolve and failure to attack is what perplexes us most. If they saw the main essentials of the situation they certainly did not see them as a connected whole; they did not see any line of world action before them.

(T)he chief of the United States delegation, was equally large and fine. The grave and splendid words - shot with piety in the best American tradition- that he inscribed upon the roll of history were as follows: 'Selfishness must be banished. If-which God forbid! -any nation should wreck this Conference, with the notion that its local interests might profit, that nation would merit the execration of mankind.'

But after this much of lucidity, the Conference fell away to minor issues. Apparently it could not keep at so high a level of reality. The pressure of the Mass and the Press behind each delegate began to tell upon him. The national representatives began to insist with increasing explicitness that national interests must not be sacrificed to the general good, and in a little time it became doubtful if there could be such a thing as the general good. The World Economic Conference became by imperceptible transitions a World Economic Conflict just as the League of Nations had become a diplomatic bargain mart. All the fine preluding of the first seances withered to fruitlessness, because the mind of the world had still to realise the immense moral and educational effort demanded by those triple conditions that were dawning upon its apprehension, and because it was still unwilling to accept the immense political pooling they indicated. The amount of self - abnegation involved was an insurmountable psychological barrier in the way of the representatives present. It would have meant a sacrifice of the very conditions that had made them. How could men appointed as national representatives accept a pooling of national interests? They were indeed fully prepared to revolutionise the world situation and change gathering misery to hope, plenty and order, but only on the impossible condition that they were not to change themselves and that nothing essential to their importance changed. The leading ideas of the Conference were cloudily true, but the disintegrative forces of personal, party and national egotism were too strong for them.

Taken from "The Shape of Things to Come" by H.G. Wells (1933) Writing about Franklin D. Roosevelt. Nothing in this email should be construed by our loyal readers to mean that I (or anyone else at Apogee Books) endorse or sanction any of the preceding opinions. A very small amount of abridgement has been undertaken.


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