Internet movie time! Internet movie time!
Never mind what this is. Just click
and watch the movie. Let me know your thoughts.
Dwingeloo to the rescue!
Hmmm ... slowly but surely I am figuring out how to work this Blog Thang -- please note the PHOTO OF MOI down below! That's me in the red suit I wear when I ride the Zeta Beam to Vleeptron, the planet I like to hang on in the nearby galaxy of
Notice I am also packing a mean-looking Space Ray Blaster Gun. Here is a True Thing about me: I have one of the world's finest collections of Space Ray Blaster Guns. Whenever I'm allowed to roam unsupervised through the Big Box, sooner or later I end up in the toy department, looking for any new Space Ray Guns, and there's always a hot new model calling to me from the shelf.
They're cheap, they're plastic, they go oooooooWEEEEEEEEooooooooo, and have bright colored lights flashing in weird patterns. By the time I noticed I'd collected about a dozen of them, I started feeling a compulsion to build one of those wooden and glass Great White Hunter Bwana Sahib Gun Cabinets to display them in the living room, but the feeling passed, and then I got married, so my collection sits in a blue plastic Rubbermaid bucket in a corner of my office.
I love all of them except one. When "Star Wars" was re-released a few years ago, they issued an official Imperial Stormtroopers rifle ray blaster, and I snapped that sucker up, 'cause it looked very mean and intimidating and had this nifty faux Space Rust all over it.
When I got it home and stuck the battery in it, I discovered its blast noise was surprisingly and disappointingly quiet and muted -- a polite, civil, thoughtful space blaster gun. At first I thought it was defective, but then I realized the noise circuit was intentionally designed with Parents in mind, so kids can run around the house blasting the crap out of each other, but it doesn't bother Mom and Dad. REAL space ray guns are LOUD and annoying and drive adults crazy.
From now on I am only buying cheap, sleazy, generic-brand space ray guns that are LOUD!
Isn't Dwingeloo 2 a silly name for Vleeptron's galaxy? Well, don't be so quick to chuckle. It really exists, it's really there, not far from our Milky Way, and Dwingeloo 1 is also in the neighborhood.
What kind of screwy name is that? Who would name a galaxy that?
Well, if you build a large radiotelescope in the tiny town of Dwingeloo in the Netherlands, you get to name any galaxies you find, and the University of Leiden (est. 1575) built and operates such a nifty gizmo in Dwingeloo, and when their astronomers found a couple of very interesting new galaxies, they named them Dwingeloo 1 and 2.
That's how Naming Space Things works: You find a new thing in space, you get to name it anything you want. If you find a New Space Thing all by yourself, you get to put your own name on it.
Dwingeloo is your basic one-horse dorp in the north of Holland, and was chosen because it's surrounded by a large national park of forest and wetland, so the radiotelescope wouldn't be bothered by radio interference from nearby cities or industrial centers, because there aren't any near Dwingeloo.
And Dwingeloo just got Very Famous, which is how I first heard about it, and why I have been wandering around muttering "Dwingeloo, Dwingeloo, Dwingeloo" ever since.
In mid-January the robot spacecraft Cassini, cruising around the neighborhood of Saturn, dropped a probe called Huygens on a long parachute descent through the atmosphere of Saturn's moon Titan. Astonishingly, almost everything worked, Huygens made a soft landing, and sent back tons of experimental data and actual photographs of the surface of Titan!
The scientists and engineers who designed Cassini, Huygens and the experiments inside them had been continuously working on these projects for about eighteen years.
Would you like to hear the winds of Titan's atmosphere?
There was only one heartbreaking glitch. Due to a human error (Errare humanum est), a channel for receiving Huygens' signal wasn't switched on. At first it seemed that all data from one particularly amazing experiment, which measured Titan's atmospheric winds, would be lost forever -- the experiment worked fine, but its data would be lost in space and never received back on Earth.
Huygens' signal was about as strong as a cell phone's signal. There was no chance for a re-broadcast. It's minus-292 Fahrenheit (minus-180 Celsius) on Titan, and Huygens had a life expectancy of just a couple of hours.
Dwingeloo to the rescue!
Besides its nifty radiotelescope, Dwingeloo is also the headquarters of JIVE, the Joint Institute for Very Long Baseline Interferometry in Europe.
Okay, so, like, what the heck is that?
One radiotelescope is Good.
But two, separated by a very big distance, but both aimed at the same Space Thing, are Better -- much more powerful, much more sensitive.
JIVE coordinates a network of 18 radiotelescopes all around the Earth. As soon as the European Space Agency realized the atmosphere experiment data might be lost, JIVE jumped in, and aimed every possible Earth radiotelescope at Titan, to try to directly "hear" Huygens' incredibly weak signal.
And they got it! It now seems that the Doppler Wind Experiment will be a complete success!
Next time I go to Europe, I'm going to visit Dwingeloo.
I hope they sell a JIVE t-shirt (adult large). The surrounding parkland seems gorgeous. It would be really nice if somebody would rent me a horse for the day. I want to tie my horse to the radiotelescope and go knock on the door and ask if I can come in and look around.
So. Like, who cares? Who cares about Very Long Baseline Interferometry? Who cares about the atmosphere of Titan? Who cares what things look like on the surface of Titan?
You know what else was going on in mid-January?
Human beings were blowing and blasting the living crap out of each other in Iraq and Afghanistan. Something about Freedom and Democracy and Weapons of Mass Destruction and Regime Change and Terrorists.
I used to be a soldier during a war. Now I watch CNN and I see me and my buddies back in 1970 peeing in our boxer shorts -- it's deja vu all over again, as Yogi Berra used to say.
I thought Vietnam would have had some value if we learned anything from it -- like, not to do such a fucked-up thing ever again, not to throw away the lives of our children.
Clearly, we learned nothing. We are winning the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people, and introducing them to American Values, by blasting the crap out of them, and photographing them naked, on all fours, on a leash.
Today was Election Day in Iraq. So, how did that go? Will we be withdrawing our troops now?
Nope. We're stuck in this one deep and long. No exit strategy.
Please forgive me if my focus seems a little odd or unpatriotic.
But there ARE women and men doing amazing, wonderful things on Planet Earth Right Now! Things that human beings will remember and be awed at for a thousand years!
We're building amazing, clever robots and sending them on Great Voyages to other Planets and Moons. We're learning amazing new truths about other Space Places! We're learning how planets were formed, and pre-biologic large organic molecules evolved. We're learning how We came to be Here!
And Not a Single Human Being, Animal, or Alien was harmed in the Cassini/Huygens Voyage to Titan! No one was shamed or humiliated or intimidated! No one was terrorized or put in fear!
Humans are good at this kind of stuff. We should do a lot more of it.
We're really shitty at Ruling the World. We make a lousy Roman Empire Nouveau. We should do a lot less of this kind of loopy, violent, psycho, foot-shooting crap.
America will be so embarrassed and ashamed about these wars, which have accomplished nothing, and made half the world hate and dread us. (Seymour Hersh of The New Yorker reports that the Bush administration is preparing for our next war -- against Iran. We'll show them!)
me riding the Zeta Beam to Vleeptron
This is me, riding the Zeta Beam that takes me from Earth, which is a real mess these days, to Vleeptron, a planet which has its head screwed on straight in the nearby galaxy Dwingeloo 2.
The cool thing about the Zeta Beam is that it takes about 3 seconds to get from Earth to Vleeptron. The annoying thing is that the Zeta Beam picks me up on an odd, inconvenient schedule, from a different spot each time, so if I want to go to Vleeptron, I have to travel somewhere new each time -- a glacier, a volcano, a desert, a Piggly Wiggly, a cheese shop -- and be ready for it. If I miss it, another Zeta Beam won't come around for a couple of months.
Notice my space laser blaster phaser pistol. I never know where the Zeta Beam will dump me on Vleeptron, and there are often unexpected dangers waiting. Once I was set down in the middle of a convention of mutual fund sales representatives, once I was in a backyard with a flock of geese, and another time there I was surrounded by not-for-profit social service providers.
Vleeptron, & some technical matters
One of the first nice people to welcome me to Lake Blog asked me what the heck Vleeptron is, and I'm delighted to tell you about Vleeptron.
Vleeptron is a planet, about the size of Earth, that orbits a sun very much like our sun, in the galaxy called Dwingeloo 2, not far from our galaxy, the Milky Way (or Melkweg, in Dutch -- also the name of one of the hottest music clubs in Amsterdam).
As I've grown into a Junior Geezer, I've become very self-indulgent, and I've been spending more and more time on Vleeptron, because, in the words of the geezer band the B52s,
This Planet's a Mess!
Let me tell you about Vleeptron.
* There is no capital punishment on Vleeptron. There are nasty, violent Vleeptroids, a few of them, and there are, I am sad to report, murders now and then.
But most Vleeptroids are nothing at all like that, and never do things like that. About 604 years ago (on a Thursday), they decided that they didn't want murderers to turn THEM into murderers. So when a Vleeptroid kills a Vleeptroid, the horrified, angry, surviving Vleeptroids don't kill him back. This makes for a very clear, crisp distinction between Murderers and Good, Decent Citizens. You can say you've never murdered anyone, and the government doesn't have documents that say "We the People of Vleeptron, and we mean You, order the Execution of So-and-So," which cloud the issue.
If you would like to see a remarkable movie about this, check out "Dance With a Stranger" starring Miranda Richardson, and written by Shelagh Delaney ("A Taste of Honey"). If you would like to make it a double feature, also rent "Let Him Have It." That ought to clarify Vleeptron's position regarding capital punishment.
* If you get messed up with drugs on Vleeptron, you can call a doctor, or a nurse, or a pharmacist, and this health professional will provide you with Treatment on Demand -- no waiting list, a place is always available. Like all health care on Vleeptron, it's free. Well, no, it's not free. It's paid for by everybody's taxes. But health care is distributed to all people, and life and health are not commodities exclusively for the wealthy or the well-to-do.
On Vleeptron, if you should confess to a cop that you're all messed up with drugs, the cop will immediately drive you to the hospital so you can get treatment. Then the cop will return to her "Protect and Serve" duties.
* Education is free on Vleeptron. If you can keep your grades up, you can get free education at the University of Vleeptron all the way up to a Ph.D., and beyond. That's one of the reasons that Vleeptron is prosperous and has a dynamic, booming economy -- it has a highly skilled and educated labor force.
* Passenger trains and ferries are heavily subsidized by the government, so people can get around the planet inexpensively.
As other topics come up, I will tell you how Vleeptron handles them.
Someone also said my type font is too large. I don't think so. I'm very interested in typography, and I like to play around with it, but I like to write in a larger-than-standard font so that just about everyone of any vision condition can have an easy time reading what I have to say. This is a sneaky way of making them think the stuff is better than it actually is.
Today is Election Day in Iraq. I think maybe later I will have something to say about that.
But right now I have to catch the Zeta Beam to get me to Vleeptron. There's a Kurt Weill festival tonight. I brought a Kurt Weill CD ("The Unknown Kurt Weill") with me on my first trip to Vleeptron, and everybody just went apeshit over his stuff. Within three months they'd put on an amateur production of Der Silbersee -- they're just wild about Kurt Weill.
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!
The Solicitor General is the cheese at the U.S. Justice Department who represents the federal government in cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. As I stick my toe into Lake Blog for the first time, the acting cheese's name is Paul Clement, and I'm having a frabjous day because he's just announced he's NOT going to represent the federal government before the Supreme Court in an ugly pissing match between skunks called ACLU et al., v. Norman Y. Mineta.
Norman is the Secretary of Transportation, and he was dragged into this mess because he doles out federal funds to mass transportation systems -- or not, as Congress directs him to, or not.
And last year, Congress ordered him not to dole out any federal funds to any subway or bus or commuter rail system that runs ads which advocate legalizing or decriminalizing or liberalizing or reforming our nation's marijuana laws.
Here's one of the ads the ACLU et al tried to put up in Washington DC's subways:
Oh, wait! For God's sake, don't open this ad if any kids under 30 are looking! Okay, have all the kids left the room? Are you sure? Okay, you can open the ad now.
Norman was just doing the bidding of U.S. Rep. Ernest Istook, Republican of Oklahoma, who stuck this little bonbon into the Transportation budget because he was outraged that subway-riding citizens might see, and think about, suggestions that making criminals of pot-smokers, and sending them to jail, and branding them with a lifelong criminal record -- well, that these laws really suck, and that sane people who don't like to stab themselves in the thigh with a fork should think about changing these laws.
Did you open the ad? Well, there you have it: The ACLU et al clearly wants to abduct your children, strip them naked, tie them to chairs, and force them to smoke pot, which they distribute free to children.
Actually, no. Nobody's smoking pot in the ad. Nobody's advocating pot in the ad. Nobody says Pot Is Good in the ad.
The ad urges voters to think about our state and federal pot laws, to think about the damage these laws have done over the past thirty years.
Maybe pot's bad. But the laws that make pot a crime are much worse.
That's what these ads said. And that's why Istook wanted to punish any subway system that sold space to display these ads. Display these ads, lose million$ in federal grants.
There is, of course, a teensy-weensy problem with that.
Every mass transit system in the USA is currently plastered with government-sponsored ads that merrily describe marihuana as the Demon Weed From Satanic Terrorist Hell, which is destroying our nation's Youth, and causing Todd and Tifani to dance the hootchy-koo, have sex, and then murder their parents.
If you want to take the bus to the mall, you MUST see the government ads. But Istook et al passed a law to make sure you can NEVER see ads that say the government ads are just loopy propaganda crap.
As ACLU et al., v. Norman Y. Mineta climbed its way up the federal courts, Acting Solicitor General Clement could see the handwriting on the wall, and knew how the Supreme Court would decide this First Amendment jalapeño. So he just broke Rep. Istook's heart: He announced that the Justice Department will not appeal a lower court decision that declared the Istook Amendment unconstitutional.
Let the reeform ads begin! Let there be light! Let the citizens read, and ponder, and think, and dialogue, and contemplate!
The banned ads aren't like liquor ads, which urge cool people (who look suspiciously like teenage hotties and buff preppie Todds to me) to buy Blatz and Schlitz.
The banned ads urge people to vote against idiots like Istook, and ponder this business of reforming or repealing state and federal marijuana laws.
And that's Constitutionally protected political speech. One side says "Keep busting everybody for smoking pot forever! It's the American way!"
So the other side has the right to say, "Stop busting everybody for smoking pot. Get real. Lights on in your heads. Straighten up and fly right."
If one side can plaster its advocacy message in a public bus or subway system, so can the other.
There's a guy named Joe White about 20 miles north of me. We've never spoken or met, but I think I want to buy him a big pastrami sandwich on pumpernickel. He runs Change the Climate, the outfit that started this skunk piss festival. Change the Climate creates and tries to buy subway and bus space for marijuana law reform ads.
The Boston "T" subway system refused. Change the Climate et al sued. I loved The T's argument for banning the ads. Boston, they argued, has an ancient and well-known historical tradition of banning things -- books, theater, movies, the hootchy-koo -- and "Banned in Boston" is enshrined in the American vernacular. So the T's lawyers asked the federal judge to respect this local cultural heritage of censorship. (The judge, who is dumb as rocks about the First Amendment, respected this local heritage, and ruled the T could keep banning the ads.)
Looks as if these marijuana law reform ads will soon be on the T anyway, and on the DC Metro, and MARTA, and BART, and (I hope I hope) my Pioneer Valley Transit Authority buses.
American Free Political Speech lives! O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!