Sunday, July 31, 2011

A Nutter Haiku

Staredown with a squirrel:
Although I look away first,
I call it a draw.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


In the Trivial Pursuit "The 1960’s" edition, one of the cards asks the question “Who was the second American to orbit the Earth?” The answer given on the reverse of the card is “Wally Schirra”. That answer is wrong. The second American to orbit the Earth was, in fact, M. Scott Carpenter who, on May 24, 1962, orbited our planet three times in the Aurora 7 spacecraft. (For those of you keeping track, Wally Schirra was the third American in Earth orbit.)
Of the original seven Mercury astronauts, Carpenter is the one who fascinates me the most. Although he was a badass military test pilot (as were all the Mercury seven) there was an extra dimension to his personality. Whereas some of the others were so mission-driven they seemed almost caricatures of hard-nosed no-nonsense military types, Carpenter seemed fascinated with the human element of space flight. (And also of exploration in general, since he went on to participate in the Sealab underwater test project.) When one listens to the in-flight recordings from the Aurora 7 mission, one gets a more genuine sense of what it actually felt like to be on a Mercury flight. Suffice to say the Aurora 7 flight has always had a special place in my already space-loving heart.
For that reason, when our family decided to take a week long trip to Chicago for vacation, I knew that a trip to the Museum of Science and Industry was a must for me. The reason? The Aurora 7 spacecraft is there, located at the museum’s Henry Crown Space Center.
For me, this was more than a simple “Cool! There’s the space capsule!” trip. It was, in a very real sense, a pilgrimage. In the same way religious people are emotionally drawn to religious relics and artifacts (and in some cases artifictions – sorry, I couldn’t resist getting in a dig at religion) the Aurora 7 spacecraft, to me, represents a physical, tangible link to a powerful idea – that humans should use technology and science to explore the unknown - and a magnificent achievement in human history. It, to me, is my fragment of the One True Cross, my Holy Grail, my Ark of the Covenant.
And best of all, it’s real and I know where it is. And – last week – I got to see it with my own two eyes. (And I’d say I got to touch it, as well, but that’s not allowed so I’ll simply maintain silence on that point on grounds it may incriminate me. Suffice to say there’s a small space where the plastic shell doesn’t entirely cover the spacecraft and my fingers have been known to slip on occasion.) :-)
Chicago has a lot of wonderful things: skyscrapers, amazing deep-dish pizzas, Italian beef sandwiches, the fantastic evolution exhibit at the Field Museum, fish, fish and more fish at the Shedd Aquarium, but for me, the best thing in Chicago is a metal object 11.5 feet tall by 6.2 feet wide. Aurora 7 is what transformed my trip to Chicago from a vacation into a pilgrimage.

Monday, July 25, 2011


Just a quick observation on this, my final day in Chicago.

I've noticed there is a different dynamic between motorists and pedestrians depending on where you are:

In Flint, a motorist will run over a pedestrian without a second thought. The pedestrians realize this and there are no problems.
In Ann Arbor, pedestrians expect to be given the right of way. The motorists realize this and there are no problems.
In Chicago, motorists will, without a second thought, run over pedestrians who expect the right of way. This results in a type of meat-grinder traffic chaos I've seldom experienced.

How I look forward to my serene Davison Township subdivision. Nothing on the street but the occasional tardy mail truck...

Monday, July 18, 2011

Hitting the Pavement

There are times when arguments that sound good in theory are horrible when actually carried into practice. Like the Republican insistence that the Federal debt limit should not be raised without cutting the deficit. Sure, it sounds reasonable. The government is spending more than it’s bringing in already and it now wants to be able to borrow more. This, therefore, would appear to be a good time to examine spending priorities and to develop strategies both to contain future expenditures and to pay down the existing debt. Except the Republicans want to somehow magically pay down this debt without actually… uh... paying down the debt. They want to cut spending but not raise taxes. But without raising taxes, how can the debt be paid off?
Let me put it in personal terms. If my credit card debt were out of control, it wouldn’t be enough to simply say I’ll fix the problem by living on Ramen noodles and tap water because they’re cheaper. I would also have to – you know – actually make payments on the debt I’ve already racked up. If I fail to do that, any statement on my part that I really, really, really want to eliminate my credit card debt would be disingenuous. Munching Ramen, while symbolic in an ashes-and-sackcloth sort of way, does nothing to actually reduce my existing debt. The only way to do that would be to make the move of setting aside a larger share of my income and applying it toward paying it down. And while this would be painful for awhile, doing so would be beneficial in the long run. Since once I’m free from debt, I could actually start saving money for cool things I really want to do or buy.
But the Republicans don’t seem to get that. These same people who appear so eager to slash medical and Social Security benefits for the poor and working classes somehow find tax loopholes for gazillionaire oil companies, owners of corporate jets and racehorses sacrosanct. I may not be the brightest bulb on the marquee when it comes to figuring out politics, but when it comes to figuring out whose side these people are on, I sure as hell know it isn’t mine.
When pondering the Republican position on the debt ceiling, I couldn’t help but think of a recent incident in upstate New York. It seems there was a group of motorcyclists who didn’t like the state law requiring them to wear helmets while riding. They felt it was an infringement on their personal freedom. So they had a rally in which they defiantly rode their cycles without helmets. While on this protest ride, one of the cyclists lost control, flew over his handlebars and smashed his head on the pavement with fatal results. Had he been wearing a helmet, authorities stated, he likely would have survived.
Lofty-sounding pronouncements in favor of individual rights and liberties do little to alter the fact that riding a motorcycle without a helmet is a profoundly stupid thing to do. And that, to me, is the perfect analogy to the entire Republican/tea party platform: nice-sounding arguments which, if carried out, would lead to disastrous results.
The Republican willingness to let the US Government default on its loans rather than have the rich pay their fair share of taxes shows me that they’re not serious about deficit reduction. They’re only serious about protecting the rich. They like feeling the wind flow through their hair as they ride. It’s the feeling of freedom.
And if the poor and working classes get their heads splattered on the pavement as a consequence, they can console themselves knowing they were martyrs in the cause of liberty.