Archive for July, 2011

Mr. President – Call me…

July 24, 2011

I have a plan – no – THE plan to fix our current budget crisis. With two sides unable to agree on how to fix the impending debt ceiling debacle, a plan that meets both sides criteria must be found. One side says don’t touch medicare, medicaid and social security and the other says we can’t afford all those entitlements and asking anyone for another nickel is sinful. How can we fulfill the criteria proposed by both? Easy! We have two and half wars that are being funded without issue and this is the key to the best plan ever.

Everyone agrees that the military must protect our borders and our interests abroad. Everyone agrees this is important work. Our current, all volunteer military does a remarkable job, they have the most advanced technology on the battlefield and the some best services and training a nation has ever provided. In the service you are provided with free medical, dental and housing along with three squares. All we need to do is shift many of the jobs of this new, advanced army to the same folks who will be losing their Social  Security and Medicare. It’s a win-win! We don’t have to worry about paying for all the entitlements because they can earn their keep while in further service to their country. And service is something we don’t mind paying for, in fact, it’s downright patriotic.

We would still need the muscle of youth for the actual “boots on the ground” aspects, but much of the work of the modern military can be done remotely, everything from controlling Predator drones to fulfilling a quartermaster’s supply allocations can be done by computer from the comfort and safety of home. Some estimates show that for every actual soldier in combat there are ten support personnel. Some of that support could be perfect duty for all those government teat sucking old folks.

Now I know what your saying – How could they run the military of the 21st century? I have seen my mother try to navigate her email with great difficulty, but with constant training she does OK. And that’s the other part of this brilliant plan – The services can hire the unemployed youth of America to constantly train the new geezer garrisons. This makes it a jobs plan so the Democrats can vote for it.

So my plan not only solves the debt crisis, eliminates unemployment for our youth, and restructures our costly entitlement programs, it improves our overall military readiness by freeing up our fighting men and women to do just that. Now if this is the success I think it will be, I have a solution to our problem with illegals. Build some elder housing units along the border with a window facing the right way. Give them a phone and nothing else to do. They won’t miss a thing…

Washington, I await your call!

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The Long and Short of It

July 13, 2011

Why are men’s shorts long? Who decided this was a good idea? It’s over 90º out and all the shorts I have are only a foot shorter than my regular pants and have twice as many pockets. Fifty years ago I had shorts that went below my knee without all the extra pockets, but only because my mother expected me to grow into them.

When women have pants that are just short of their ankles they don’t call them shorts they get a new name – capris. A women’s wardrobe includes pants, capris, shorts and the offshoots – culottes and skorts. Age determines the length of women’s shorts, starting with very short for the very young and adding length with age. Men’s pants also come in three styles – jeans, work or funeral – and, like the ladies, the length of men’s shorts is also based on age, but in the inverse. Male toddlers shorts are so long they interfere with their unsure walk and aging baby boomer shorts barely contain their happy bits (this last item is only true if the boomer has no lady friend to keep him fashion forward otherwise men wear whatever they have until it is in tatters).

And how did this come to be? A pox on the house of Michael Jordan. Just because a guy was so superstitious that he had to wear his winning UNC team shorts under his Chicago Bulls shorts the rest of us have to suffer. His slightly longer shorts hiding his college history were the start of the long slide to shorts down below our knees.

Now if I can just figure out who thought I need more pockets in the summer than I do the rest of the year…

You Don’t Know What You’ve got ‘Til It’s Gone

July 8, 2011

Does anyone think of Spain or RCA as a world leader? Both are settled comfortably into second or third tier status these days, but that was not always the case. Spain made a bold move to fund Columbus and supplanted Portugal as the leader in world exploration and exploitation. RCA , the world’s leader in radio broadcasting, saw the potential in the technologies of Farnsworth Radio and Television, licensed them and was able to set the standards for American TV for the next fifty years. Both lost their leadership roll to short-term financial considerations and a lack of unifying vision.

The United States has been the world leader in space exploration since we took over from the USSR with Project Apollo. Since 1961 we have been able to launch people into space and today, 50 years later, that comes to end with the final shuttle launch. Budget cuts and a lack of vision now make us dependent on Russian launch vehicles to reach the International Space Station (ISS). Until we will our wallets to make one small step for funding a next generation space vehicle it will stay that way. But is there vision or the will to spend some of our money? I ask my students what they want to be when they grow up and no one wants to be an astronaut – Too dangerous! What’s the point? It’s not looking good for Team America.

In a two-nation race, we won because of a focused effort on a clear goal and the benefits were obvious and enormous. Everything from miniaturized electronics to pantyhose spun off from the early space program giving us iPhone/Pods/Pads and new aerobic excercises. We won the race and then we got bored. Other nations have kept up their research. China has launched its first astronauts. India, Japan, the European Union and Iran are all working diligently to do the same. The expertise of working through the myriad of problems of creating the complex machinery that can hurtle humans into space and return them alive can only be developed by doing it. Sometimes the journey is more important than the destination. Other nations are gaining the skills that we will soon lose.

The shuttle Atlantis that was launched today began its life in 1980, the same year I got married. In thirty-one years I have gone to college, raised two kids, one of whom is about to be married to start her own family, and changed jobs and houses a few times. In that same period NASA has launched a shuttle 135 times and had its replacement programs scrapped almost as often. Only Charlie Sheen would call that winning.

Our greatest growth as a nation, our greatest expansion of the middle class, our greatest increase in college graduates came at a time when we felt challenged as a nation. Eisenhower, then Kennedy and Johnson saw the best way to meet that challenge was to fund research and engineering so the nation would have the skills to lead in an increasingly technological world and we all benefitted. The National Defense Act of 1958 funded education at all levels to assure that we kept pace with the Soviets, to close an education gap. This was the stimulus that landed us on the moon. The next step, geosynchronous space stations and lunar outposts, was killed by Nixon in a budget constraint move.

The shuttle, the transport system designed to assist in these beginning steps into our solar system, was allowed to live, but with its original mission excised. With some creativity and muscle, the shuttle became a space tug that hauled into orbit the Hubble telescope (and updated it!), much of the International Space Station, and released, retrieved and repaired a hundred satellites. The shuttle has brought us new insulators, biosensors, tracking systems, and two tragic losses, Challenger and Columbia. All this experience is worth thousands of white papers. Right thought is no substitute for right action or, as Yoda said, “Try not, do!”

Right now we have a challenge before us. We are rapidly losing our middle class and our technological lead. We are becoming politically polarized. We need to unite behind leadership that will fund research and education because those are the elements that rocketed the U.S ahead of the world. We are about to become that fat rich kid nation that the other nations play with only because we have cool toys our parents bought, but soon they will break and we will have no idea how to fix them.