Monday, June 23, 2008

Decision 08... Oy!

Are we too dumb to vote? I’m not talking about intelligence, I’m referring to knowledge. The valedictorian is equally as likely to be mired in the minutia of political rhetoric as the 8th grade dropout who couldn’t make heads nor tails of them books what gots them squiggly lines in ‘em. We are once again on the precipice of a presidential election. I know! Hard to believe since they started campaigning just after the ball dropped on the new millennium, but it’s really almost here. We are about to grant someone a position of unmatched power, and responsibility, whose decisions can and will directly affect our daily lives, and our children’s future. Second only to the President’s power and responsibility, is ours as Americans, to make an informed decision regarding who that person should be, and to make our voices heard by casting our vote. So how do we do it? How do we maneuver through all the pages, ads, blogs, slogans, sound bites, web sites, speeches, news clips, and scandals and come out the other side with a definitive choice? Why do we vote for who we vote for?

A lot of people liked George W. Bush because he seemed like the kind of a guy you’d like to have a beer with. There are plenty of people I know who are fun to have a beer with. None of whom I would give the launch codes for NORAD! How about a war hero? Washington, Grant, and Eisenhower fit that bill. FDR was the great motivator. He took office while the country was at one of its lowest points, and convinced its citizens they could overcome, and accomplish anything. Ironically, political experts agree that had we known at the time, we never would have elected a man in a wheelchair… especially for 4 terms. And then there’s TV. JFK was the first good TV president. He could deliver a great speech, and he looked good doing it, as did Reagan, and Bill Clinton. The problem is, substance can be overlooked, for good or bad, when we simplify someone down to ‘looking good’ speaking well’ or being a hero. After all, we are human. We get vibes from people. The most insignificant, miniscule detail can make us like, or dislike someone immediately.

We now have our Democratic, and Republican candidates, officially. John McCain, and Barack Obama. I must admit, I did like McCain 8 years ago. I liked how he had no problem going against party lines if he believed in something. Now, his stance on our continued presence in Iraq, and his surprising opposition to the new GI bill just screams of more ‘Bush years’. Plus, he just looks like your frail old uncle. Can’t you just picture him walking into the oval office wearing and old zip-up cardigan sweater, and Tom Mix pajama bottoms, and asking Vladimir Putin if he knows where he left his apple juice? And then there’s Barack, who admittedly has the ability upon opening his mouth to turn grown men into 13 year old girls at a Jonas Brothers concert. Even Tim Russert, (over whose passing I’m truly sad), admitted to being a little ‘weak in the knees’ after hearing Obama speak. But is he saying anything different, or saying the same thing in a different way? The Democrat’s platform is always “change”. Maybe we’re just paying more attention because change is something we really need right now. But what will he change, and how? This is my question… Do we know what we’re voting for? Again, a lot of us, yours truly included, walk into the voting booth not as informed as we should be for the decision we are about to make. So who’s to blame?

While I think it’s ultimately our responsibility to keep ourselves informed regarding what’s best for our country, - after all, we are ‘the people’ – I think the candidates should lay out plainly, and simply, what they are planning, and how each item will be executed, and paid for. Don’t go to a nursing home and talk about health care, or go to GM and talk about keeping jobs here. Lay out everything for everyone. They raise tens of millions of dollars for their campaigns. I think they should be required to spend the first of that money on an hour of TV time – talk to us about how you’re going to do the job. They can even use a pretty slide show, or Victoria’s Secret models, or a Robert Smigel cartoon… Whatever acts as a shiny lure for our ever shrinking attention span. It should be carried on every network… then the people will have no excuse. Hey – Ross Perot was a bit of a loon, but he did it, and after that half hour, you knew exactly where he stood… In the middle of a poppy field with the rest of the Lollypop Guild… Still, it was a good idea. It would be campaign money well spent, as opposed to yard signs, bumper stickers, and t-shirts. Which are nothing but advertisement for the uninformed, and undecided.

The bottom line is, we should know what we’re voting for. This is an awesome privilege that was fought for, at great length, and loss, 230 years ago. Now, in 2008, we are born with these rights, so it’s easier to take them for granted. We require great knowledge of our country’s history, and the inner workings of our government and its people, from immigrants looking to become American citizens. They are tested on this information. Should we require more from those looking to become an American citizen, than we do from ourselves? Sure… this election is a little different because 78% of the country is unified in wanting Dubya out! Retirement will be good for him… No more worrying about 'nucular' threats, and he can spend more time on the 'internets'. But wanting someone out is one thing. Someone has to take his place, and they’ll have big shoes to fill… You’ve seen clown shoes, they’re huge! We will need an exceptional person at the helm to steer us out of the eye of this storm. And it’s up to us to put a little time in, and decide who that person should be. If it helps, we could look at this process as practice, so our voting skills will be well honed for the next season of American Idol.

"Inside every cynical person, there is a disappointed idealist."
-George Carlin (1937-2008)

You will be missed...

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

One giant leap

As I’m typing this, at the dizzying rate of about 18 words per minute, 210 miles above Australia, Mike Fossum, and Ron Garan are doing some final safety checks for the first space walk of Space Shuttle Discovery mission STS-124, at the International Space Station. This particular mission will deliver the 37’ long, second module of the Japanese Kibo laboratory. Most of you probably didn’t know this, and let’s face it… probably don’t care. We Americans really don’t pay a lot of attention to the space program anymore. It’s just not something that excites us. If we could only make it a reality show... 'Survivor: Sea of Tranquility' or 'Dancin in the Stars'... it may get more ratings. I have to admit to being a bit of a space geek. I watch the launches, the docking to the ISS, space walks, landings, all of it. I’m still amazed we are able to execute these missions with such precision. Everything like clockwork, from the launch, to docking two objects orbiting the earth at 17,500 mph, to having the wheels touch down 2 weeks later at Edwards AFB within a minute or two of when the mission plan said they would months earlier.

The allure has waned quite a bit from the days of the space race in the 60’s, and early 70’s I’ll admit. It was exciting. Not that I was around for much of it. I was 3 in July, ’69 when Neil Armstrong stepped off the pad onto the moon’s surface. I was probably just annoyed that Sesame Street wasn’t on. But for those of you who were more cognizant, and not fresh out of diapers, it must have been terrifying in 1961 for our adversaries, the Russians, to be first out of the gate when Yuri Gagarin first orbited the Earth. Then John Glenn caught us up in ’62… Then back and forth from there like an aeronautical ping-pong game. It was more of a time of heroes, and the mystique that surrounded them. Seven men, (originally), literally testing new technology on the job, in extreme harms way. Aside from the technological milestones, and giant leaps forward, these extraordinary risks unfortunately resulted in the Apollo 1 tragedy, where Gus Grissum, Roger Chaffe, and Ed White, who coincidentally executed the first space walk 43 years ago today, died in a fire on the launch pad. Sadly, they would not be the last. We would later suffer the loss of Space Shuttles Challenger, and Columbia.

So why do we still do it? What do we get out of the risk, and the expense? Initially... We had to… It’s the human spirit. Why cross an ocean 500 years ago? Why venture West 200 years ago? We do it to see if we can, and to see what happens if we succeed. I always hear people say, “we should put that money to better use!” The current NASA budget is only 1.2 cents of every tax dollar spent, and there is a return on investment... With the military at 42.2 cents, and free health care, free food, and free housing programs totaling 33.3 cents, I’m thinking there is another column or two in the federal budget where we could cut, and reallocate funding… Especially where education is apportioned a pittance of 4.4 cents, and Law enforcement 3.9. Thanks for making good on all those 911 promises George!

Well, what are the benefits? What do we get for our $17 billion a year? The results are all around us: CAT scans, critical care monitoring, the jaws of life, advances in food storage, Velcro, the technology to analyze a smaller biopsy sample so they can be taken with a needle instead of a scalpel. Airbag triggers, pacemakers, hydrogen fuel technology, the reversal of bone density loss, hydroponics, (which also helps Taco Bell’s late night sales), and EVERYTHING you do that has anything to do with a satellite. I could go on, but you’re probably bored enough.

The shuttles are to be retired in 2010. I’m really hoping to get to Florida before then to see a live launch. I’m not sure what it is that makes it exciting for me. The countdown hits t –10, the igniters light the main engines, then 3… 2… 1… And the massive solid rocket boosters fire, and up it goes. Amidst the shear violence of millions of pounds of thrust, it rolls gracefully, and slowly disappears above its long, white vapor trail. It’s one of those things with me that makes me feel like a kid again. And with all the crap adults have to deal with every day… What’s wrong with that?