Distinctions…

I saw a Facebook post this morning that mentioned a “lethal mix of heroin” making it’s way around some part of the country. Now I’m a simple guy and try not to use 20 words when ten would do, so it strikes me that saying lethal mix of heroin economizes words about as much as saying toxic nuclear waste. Regardless of how you phrase it, what you’re trying to say is “if you ingest this shit, there’s a good chance you’re going to end up dead.” Easy peasy, no?

The second thing that occurred to me, is basically so what? I’m not sure why I care that some locality is inundated with this “lethal mix of heroin.” I’ve always sort of figured that if you’re loading something into your bloodstream that you bought in an alley, you’re reasonably well aware of the potential risks you’re facing. Knowing the average heroin user has a higher propensity to drop dead versus the average Joe Sixpack goes with the territory. You make your decisions and you take your risks. If every now and then a bad batch makes its way through to distribution, that’s in the nature of the business.

Addiction is a hell of a thing and while I feel bad for those who are impacted by it, that sympathy doesn’t extend far enough to make a distinction between a good dose and a bad one. Personally, I’d rather see the police rolling up the distribution channels than running “no questions asked” turn ins in an effort to get the Really Really Bad version off the street in favor of the Really Bad variety. It feels a little disingenuous to try making that type of distinction.

Anteres…

I was logged in to the NASA public affairs web stream to watch the launch of an Anteres rocket from the Wallops Island facility this evening. In my part of the mid-Atlantic region, about 60-90 seconds after liftoff, if they weather cooperates, you can watch the craft scrambling for altitude. Tonight what we saw was what is generously described as a catastrophic systems failure – an explosion six seconds after launch.

The launch was unmanned, its payload resupply materials for the International Space Station. Although there was apparently no loss of life, its a stark reminder that no matter how commonplace it’s come to seem, hurling manmade objects into orbit is an inherently difficult and dangerous activity. The fact that it almost seems normal is a testament to the ongoing hard work and dedication of the men and women of NASA and its contract partners.

P.S. You’re welcome, Jess.

Tinfoil hat society…

Let’s take a minute and look at the headlines tonight: Ebola is loose in the United States for the first time in recorded history, they’re protesting for democratic reforms in China, Europe’s economy appears to be at stall speed, and it wouldn’t take much more than a stiff wind to push ours in the same direction, the Secret Service is letting armed felons within arms reach of a sitting president. In general, civilization seems to be beset and besotted at every turn.

300px-Tin_foil_hat_2I’ve never been a dues-paying member of the Tinfoil Hat Society, but I do think the world we live in bears a closer look. Two things immediately jump to mind: 1) It doesn’t matter if it’s the local station, the cable networks or the internet, bad news makes people want to look and generates revenue from advertising sales; 2) Most of the asshattery I see in the world more or less confirms my preconceived notions about people as a group; and 3) Just by virtue of the law of large numbers, even paranoid people have to be right occasionally.

I could probably get a thousand new views a day if I gave this site over to ranting and raving about global conspiracies. The fact is, after having spent my adult life in public service I have my doubts about any organization being able to pull together a grand scheme to sap and impurify our precious bodily fluids. More importantly, I throughly doubt their ability to do it in anything approaching secrecy. I mean I’m not allowed to build a 10 slide PowerPoint briefing without soliciting input from at least 14 other people, so you can understand how I might doubt the ability of an unknown global organization to rig the economy, unleashing a pandemic, and engineer a catastrophic war between East and West in complete secrecy.

I tend to think the long laundry list of things that go wrong are attributable to not much more than our collective bad decision making catching up with us. It feels like a simpler and more rational explanation than a transcontinental conspiracy bent on controlling everything everywhere. I’m pretty sure I’m right about that.

Then again, my assumption of being right won’t keep me from picking up a box of latex gloves, a few bottles of alcohol, and some surgical masks. Just in case.

Civis Americanus…

I’ve just started seeing reports of a second American citizen, a journalist covering the war in Syria, being beheaded by Islamic extremists.

Two Americans are dead at the hands of these thugs and still there is a deafening silence from the White House. We don’t have a strategy. The American president has so much as said he doesn’t want to engage and that his administration doesn’t have courage to lead this great Republic in a war of retribution against those who would do harm to our countrymen.

I’m reminded of a first season episode of The West Wing, when President Bartlett notes how Rome responded when a citizen was killed. He said, “Did you know that two thousand years ago a Roman citizen could walk across the face of the known world free of the fear of molestation? He could walk across the Earth unharmed, cloaked only in the protection of the words civis Romanus — I am a Roman citizen. So great was the retribution of Rome, universally understood as certain, should any harm befall even one of its citizens… Where was the retribution for the families, and where is the warning to the rest of the world that Americans shall walk this Earth unharmed, lest the clenched fist of the most mighty military force in the history of mankind comes crashing down on your house?!”

I’m sick of hearing that the United States doesn’t have the stomach to be an occupying power. We’ve been occupying Germany and Japan since 1945. We’ve been occupying Puerto Rico since 1898. Our warships patrol every seaway across the globe. We’re already an occupying power in fact if not in word. It’s time we get over the self-denial and self flagellation about that. A hundred years from now keeping the lid on a batshit crazy world will be someone else’s problem, but today it’s ours.

As such, if I were President this afternoon my statement of strategy would be simple: I have directed the Secretary of Defense to begin offensive military operations using overwhelming force against Islamic radical elements in Syria and Iraq and in any other location where they harm or threaten to harm the interests or citizens of the United States. I have directed my Secretary of the Treasury to seize all assets and freeze all accounts held by or known to support terrorist elements. I have directed my Secretary of Commerce to place an immediate trade embargo on all countries known to support terrorism or those doing business with countries known to support terrorism. I am invoking Article 5 of the NATO Charter and calling on our allies to take immediate steps to place themselves on a similar war footing. Those countries who shirk their long standing treaty obligations are no longer considered strategic allies of the United States. I am calling on Congress to vote an immediate declaration of war and directing every resource of the United States government towards eradicating the threat of radical trans-national terrorism by stem and root. There are no terms except unconditional surrender.

To do anything other than rise to this challenge is an act of cowardice and wholly unworthy of the United States of America.

What a difference…

Forty-five years ago today Americans walked on the moon. Let that sink in for a minute. Three guys strapped themselves on top of the largest rocket ever built and were blasted away from the surface of the earth, traveled three days, and then landed for the first time on an alien world. Every other human being alive or who had ever lived was 238,900 miles away. If that’s not the stuff heroes are made of, I don’t know what is.

Today, we can’t even get a man into orbit without bumming a lift from a country who seems determined to start World War III. Seriously. What happened, America? In the last century we freed Europe, decisively crushed the Japanese Empire, and then raced into the heavens as a victory lap. Today, we can’t seem to find our collective ass with both hands and a flashlight. What happened?

This country has done great and remarkable things. We can do them again. If only we could find a leader or two who weren’t out playing small ball while Rome burns.

Sweet Jesus what a difference 45 years makes.

Sore loser?

The talking heads are making quite a deal about California Chrome’s co-owner this morning. I’m not entirely sure dismissing Steve Coburn as a sore loser tells the whole story, though. Taken on the merits, the guy does seem to make a pretty valid argument. Having fresh horses ready to step in at Belmont to act as spoilers isn’t something new for Triple Crown contenders. It explains a lot about why there hasn’t been a winner in 36 years.

Is it time for a rule change to limit the field at Pimlico and Belmont to only those horses who started at Churchill Downs? Maybe, maybe not. But sticking a camera in a guy’s face three minutes after the most likely contender for the crown in a decade misses the mark and then being surprised when he has an emotional response feels a little like a manufacture story.

All things considered, he probably handled it better than I would have – not that I’d dare to hold myself up as a exemplar of great sportsmanship. Waking up this morning, Coburn might or might not be a sore loser, but I suspect the sting of loss will be tempered somewhat by the millions in stud fees that will surely follow. If you can’t have the nice shiny trophy, a stack of cold, hard cash isn’t a bad consolation prize.

Deeply unsatisfying…

I’m not a conspiracy theorist by any stretch of the imagination. As a rule, I favor a liberal application of Occam’s Razor to most points of confusion. Given the current wall to wall coverage of Flight 370, it feels a bit like world needs to take a breath and let the razor do its thing.

So far I’ve heard or read every conceivable explanation from terrorism to extra terrestrials. Bird strikes, hijacking, space-time disturbance, you name it and the crackpots are out in force making their respective cases – even when those cases are long on supposition and very, very short on actual facts.

From what I’ve been able to gather, the facts in evidence are fairly stark: Forty minutes after takeoff, at an altitude of 35,000 feet, and traveling at a speed of 471 knots, Flight 370 lost communication with the ground. Monitored by military radar, the flight changed heading and descended until radar contact was also lost somewhere over the Straits of Malacca. There were no distress calls and no automatic alarms triggered. As I write this, those meager bits appear to be the sum total of what is “known,” or at least the facts as they are being reported.

I know we’ve all been hard wired to look for boogiemen under every bed, but if I may be so bold, it feels a bit like the simplest explanation available is being thoroughly ignored… and that explanation is that sometimes complex systems just fail. When they do, especially when traveling at a high rate of speed and at altitude, those failures tend to be catastrophic. A cascading systems failure of multiple components on that airframe feels unlikely, but not more so than any of the other plausible alternatives the media has jumped on.

As for the issue of being “lost without a trace,” well, a Boeing 777 is a pretty big jet, but in comparison to the size of something like the ocean, it’s the kind of thing that makes seeking out needles in haystacks seem like amateur hour. Flight 370 will turn up somewhere… Eventually. When it does, we’ll get some of our answers. Even then, I suspect they’ll be deeply unsatisfying.