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.

Selfie…

So apparently last night Ellen DeGeneres posted a selfie of a ragtag band of Hollywood A-list celebrities that thundered across Twitter faster than any tweet in the history of the universe. That’s an interesting factoid, but while I’m sitting here getting caffeinated, I’m left mostly wondering why we care.

I like movies as well as anyone else, but I don’t lionize those who make them or endow them with super-human, superlative qualities beyond them being good at acting. That’s great. I’m glad they’re doing what they do, but I don’t want to get on the band wagon of anyone who thinks the biggest names in Hollywood are spending their days doing anything particularly heroic. They’re doing their job and that makes them professionals, not demi-gods.

It’s good that a professional organization like the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences pauses for a few hours and recognizes member achievement. People should be recognized when they’re reached the top of their chosen field of endeavor. What I don’t particularly understand, though, is why anyone outside that field pays attention to what those individuals are wearing, who they’re screwing, or what they have to say about politics or current events. It’s a little like looking to the best dentist in America to give me fashion advice or to tell me how to build a suspension bridge. Sure, he might have an opinion, but it’s the furthest thing from his professional area of expertise.

There’s no real point to this little ramble aside from my own continued curiosity about why we collectively make a big deal about watching other people put on formal ware and sit in an auditorium for hours. I hate putting on so much as a tie whenever I can avoid it, so the idea of making an event out of watching other people wear uncomfortable clothing simply defies any kind of logic I can muster.

Gone secesh…

I hesitate to say the idea of Western Maryland seceding from the rest of the state has started to gain traction, but it has recently garnered some interest from at least one of the local Baltimore newscasts. I’m a contrarian by nature and generally tend to come reverse2down on the side of rebels, troublemakers, and malcontents, but on the issue of a free and independent Western Maryland, I’m not sure the concept is fully baked.

The idea of a small, less obtrusive government sounds delightful (and in line with my own general beliefs about the just and proper role of the state), but there are issues no one is discussing. They’re the issues of how such a new state would raise revenue and on what its economy would be based. Maryland writ large has tax money flowing from the defense industry and federal government, the Port of Baltimore, financial services, and yes, agriculture, aquaculture, and a host of other large and small businesses. I have to ask what are the equivalent economic drivers to make Western Maryland viable as an independent state? Tourism, agriculture, and scenic beauty aren’t going to get the job done by themselves. Ask Allegany County how well the “tourism gambit” has worked out for them over the last 30 years.

The state has an obligation to provide a host of public services – police, education, infrastructure, protection of natural resources, to name a handful. Until those who seek to cleave off the western five counties of the state present a clear plan for how they will govern rather than simply offer the complaint that “Annapolis doesn’t listen to us,” I can’t even consider the idea, let alone endorse it.

But despite my misgivings about this plan, it comes down to this: Even when the fortunes of work and responsibilities led me far afield, I’ve always considered myself a Marylander, a loyal son of the Old Line State. I’ve risen and slept my entire life under the quartered banner of Calvert and Crossland. I’ve been duly awed by the majesty of the old Wye Oak and rightly impressed by the tenacity of the St. Mary’s settlers who carved their colony out of Maryland’s primeval wilderness on the lower shores of the Chesapeake. Anyone who wants to throw that legacy over the side will need to make an awfully compelling argument for why 382 years of history should be turned on its ear.

To my brethren in Western Maryland, all I can say is we hear your cry on the Eastern Shore. They hear it in southern Maryland too. Annapolis no more listens to us than it does to you… but I can’t quite bring myself around to thinking the best we can do is slice off the three corners of the state and leave them to their own devices. Would it not better serve us all to unite the three rural sections of this state against the middle rather than continuing to let the middle play us off one against the other?

As for me, I’d rather go down fighting under the cross bottony than have the colors of any other state, old or new, raised above my head.

Sensational…

As if anyone who’s paying even a modest amount of attention to the world doesn’t already know, the media are a sensational bunch. And I don’t mean that they’re really terrific and should be applauded for their hard hitting journalistic ethics.

CNNCase in point, I give you the banner headline from CNN.com, proclaiming “Historic, crippling, catastrophic ice” for Atlanta.

I don’t mean to minimize the grave trauma the American south is surely about to face, but it seems to me that description might be a bit of a stretch. Sherman burning Atlanta, that’s historic. An asteroid slamming into Stone Mountain, that’s probably catastrophic. And staying home for a day or two until it warms up enough to melt the mess, doesn’t quite equate to “crippling” at least in my lexicon. Wintry precipitation falling from the sky just doesn’t seem to rise to that level of noteworthiness – especially since it’s happening in the middle of the actual winter. If it were happening in August, well, there you’ve got some news for yourself.

So there you have it. Hide your kids. Hide your wife. Buy up ever loaf of bread and roll of toilet paper in the state. Fasten all seat belts. Seal all entrances and exits. Close all shops in the mall. Cancel the three ring circus. Secure all animals in the zoo… because what we’re most likely to see here is nothing more than a classic American shitshow and a corresponding media overreaction. At least that’s what we’ll see until the power goes out and we’re all plunged into the inky mid-winter’s darkness.

May God have mercy on our souls.