Category Archives: News & Politics

Perseverance Arrives!

A Blue Martian Sunset

I was raised in the San Fernando Valley. Sputnik 1 was launched exactly four months after my 10th birthday. I remember lying outside on our front lawn, watching it go over. It was exciting and mysterious at the same time. I have a vague memory of seeing the United States’ first satellite, Exlorer, go over and I have a real vivid memory of seeing Echo as it orbited our planet. Echo was a giant aluminum balloon that, when inflated in orbit, was 100 feet in diameter and reflected the Sun, making it the brightest object in the sky except for the Moon.

I also have vivid memories of rocket engine tests in the Santa Susana mountains, just slight northwest of where I lived. Many of the tests were conducted at night, and I could see the sky light up over those mountains. As I grew up, I had friends whose parents worked at Rocketdyne, the company that built just about every liquid-fueled rocket engine used to power America’s space program, including Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo, not to mention the Space Shuttle.

Little did I know that many years later I would, quite serendipitously, get sent on a temporary assignment to work at Rocketdyne. I had been working at a company that manufactured what were, at the time, high density hard drives. This was in 1986 – 1987, and high density meant something like 5 Gigabytes! It was, for some reason I still can’t quite fathom, a seasonal business and when demand dropped all the temporary employees got laid off. That was me. I lost my job on a Friday. Later that evening I got a call from Apple One, the organization I was temping through, telling me to show up at Rocketdyne’s Canoga Park facility the following Monday.

To make an exceedingly long story short, I started work on the FMEA-CIL (Failure Mode & Effects Analysis-Critical Items List) the document that would prove Rocketdyne’s RS-25, SSME (Space Shuttle Main Engine) was safe for the Shuttle’s return to flight almost a year to the day after Challenger exploded during the ascent of STS-51-L. (For clarity, I think it important to note those engines were not responsible for the loss of Challenger; they had worked just fine.) I had long been a space cadet (in far more ways than one) but I never imagined I could end up working there, as I wasn’t an engineer. Silly me. I just hadn’t realized it takes a lot more than engineers to run a business that large and complex.

I was hired in after a year as what they referred to as a “job shopper.” I was forty years old. I retired 23 years later and it was the best, most fulfilling job I ever had, though dealing with a huge corporation (and “the Rock,” as we called it, was part of Rockwell International, the Boeing Company, United Technologies’ Pratt & Whitney Division, and Aerojet) was why I left early. The Shuttle program was winding down and P&W offered everyone over 60 a severance package I just couldn’t refuse, even though it wasn’t terribly generous.

Nevertheless, I’ve remained deeply interested in space exploration. I have long believed it’s important to the survival of humanity we get off the surface of this planet. I believe we need to establish not merely a scientific, but also a cultural presence off-planet in case of an extinction-level event. Frankly, it’s my opinion if we don’t do something about climate change and our contribution to it, we may be the ones causing such an event.

At any rate, all this is to say I am happy Perseverance landed safely on Mars this afternoon (PST) and appears to be functioning as designed. I’m looking forward to learning more about the Red Planet. I’m especially keen on learning how well the Moxie instrument (see graphic, below) accomplishes its mission of producing oxygen from Martian CO2. Congratulations to JPL and the Perseverance team. Job well done!

PS – I’ve also posted a graphic depicting one of Perseverance’s scientific missions, the Ingenuity helicopter which, if successful, should dramatically improve our ability to send rovers to the most fruitful (scientifically) locations, after they’ve been scouted out by Ingenuity and its successors.


Why I’m Not a Journalist

In January of 1971 I was living in Berkeley (aka Berzerkeley), California. I was “working” at an underground radio station run out of the living room of one of the guys who lived in my building. The address of our building was serendipitously easy to remember; it was 1776 Leroy, just north of the UC campus. I had a one-room, no-water flat though, during that winter there were times when moisture dripped from the walls. I had to go down the hallway to get water, relieve myself, or take a shower. I had a hotplate in my room and, truth to tell, I don’t recall if I had a small refrigerator or we shared one in a common area.

Our studio put out 500 watts of power, but we only had a 1/10 watt transmitter our engineer had managed to sneak up and secure at the top of the Engineering Building on campus. We had dual turntables, a reel-to-reel tape recorder, and various other recording devices, microphones, etc. With that little of a transmitter we only reached about 5 blocks square, which was a substantial portion of the north campus community.

In addition to playing music, I thought it was important for us to report on local news, as well as national political news if it happened nearby. On January 5 of that year, the trial of Angela Davis began in the Marin County Courthouse, a little over 20 miles away. One of the devices we had was a boom box that had a cassette tape recorder and I decided to haul my ass over to the courthouse and cover the trial.

I later provided armed security for the McAfee family, whose farm was used for Angela’s bail, when they appeared at this concert.

When Angela Davis’s attorneys came out to speak to the crowd, they were inundated by reporters, journalists, and photographers. There were so many of them (in case you aren’t familiar with this case, it drew international attention) her supporters could not hear a word that was being said. I knew that my boom box could be used as a megaphone, and I knew how to make it happen. I offered her attorneys the use of what I had turned into a way to amplify their voices and reach her supporters. They gladly accepted.

So … everyone got to hear the update Angela’s attorneys provided. Unfortunately, it meant I didn’t get to record anything. I returned to Berkeley empty-handed, save for the memory I had of the event. I had nothing to report other than that. No audio at all. Though I later published the Los Angeles version of The War Bulletin, which was produced in Berkeley, and I’ve written and published several newsletter over the years, that was really the end of whatever career I might have had as a journalist. I wasn’t capable of detaching myself from the story (at least not THAT story) and recognized I didn’t have what it takes to “get” the story.

PS – Today is Angela’s birthday. Happy Birthday, Comrade. Wishing you many more.


I Do NOT Like These Feelz

I was born just after the end of World War II. The nation was heady with promise and I was raised immersed in what I later came to realize was propaganda; the belief that the United States of America was the greatest, most progressive country in the world. I’ve known for a long time that’s not true, but I find myself wondering how a country that speaks and thinks of itself as “exceptional,” can defend so many people coming this close to financial and, perhaps, physical ruin (see WaPo article in Tweet, below.)

Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would ever feel guilty about being on Social Security. I don’t get a lot (nobody does) but along with my wife’s social security and the income from our meager retirement savings, at least we’re not food insecure or in danger of being homeless. It doesn’t feel right, though.

Yet, I’m helpless to do much to assist other than support economic transformation that would alleviate these problems. If there are millions of families in this horrible situation, how can any of us do much about it, especially when doing so would bring us closer to the same kind of ruin. Losing one’s home, especially if you “own” it, is devastating and very difficult to come back from. Nobody deserves this kind of reckless abandonment, yet that’s exactly what Donald Trump is doing. I can’t think of much that would be a worse dereliction of duty than this.

I don’t know what’s going to happen in these next 28 days … and beyond. The fact that Trump vetoed the legislation and has left for Mar-a-Lago, the government closes down next Tuesday, and much of the help that had been made available for people who’ve lost their jobs to COVID-19 is drying up this week is not helpful. Maybe it’s time for:


A Well-Deserved BuhBye

I think we all can agree this year (2020) has been a real pain in the ass. So many things that dismayed, disappointed, and disgusted the majority of us. I just came across this short video with a Holiday Message for the past year. It conveys my sentiments exactly. Quite likely yours too.


Understanding Empathy

One of the ways I’ve been working on upping my writing game is by paying attention to what people are reading here on my blog so I might get an idea of what moves my readers. I have now posted well over six hundred times and about 90% of these posts are essentially essays regarding my thoughts about various things, e.g. politics, religion, life, the universe, and everything. The other 10% are tests and sharing things I’ve come across but have little to say about. I also occasionally have reason to look back myself, even if no one has recently read a particular post of mine I find interesting.

Suspension of Disbelief
To Open Up And Believe

Because there have been many highly emotional news stories lately, and emotions are high to begin with, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the role of emotions and, especially, how they relate to empathy. Turns out I had written about empathy over eight years ago, long before Donald Trump’s presidency. Since the reality has hit us that he is entirely without empathy, I would like to share a concatenation of the two posts I wrote in late September of 2012. It’s my hope these two are as pertinent today as they were when I wrote them; perhaps more so because I was only writing then about my feelings and now what I wrote seems so pertinent to what we’re all experiencing in the waning days of this disastrous presidency.


The willing suspension of disbelief. What a powerful, magical, and exceedingly frightening thing it can be – at least for me. Not always, though. It’s been quite a while since my last venture into the genre but, a long time ago – in a galaxy far, far away – I read a lot of Science Fiction. Reading it can’t possibly be enjoyable if you aren’t able to suspend your ability to think critically. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the hell out of what many an author hated being called Sci-Fi.

I’m normally somewhat cynical and am a fairly skeptical person, so I’m continuously surprised at how easily I can get sucked into a compelling story, especially if the characters are even moderately complex. I think it actually frightens me to realize how deeply I have disappeared into many a television drama.

This tendency has no doubt been exacerbated by my becoming a father at the ripe old age of 55, when my wife and I culminated a decision we had made a couple of years earlier and traveled to the People’s Republic of China to adopt our first child. We repeated the process four years later and, at the tender age of 59, I once again became a new father.

I now find myself immersed in shows where children are involved (it happens far more often than one might think) and I can’t help but identify with the parents, which sometimes brings me to tears – occasionally racking sobs of grief.

It has always been this way. I’ve been told the men in my family – many of them – were blubberers. Though I couldn’t have been older than five or six at the time, I recall the first time I saw my father cry. He had just received news that my Bubbie Jennie, his mother, had died. He hadn’t seen much of her since moving to Southern California. She had remained in Chicago, where both my parents were born. It was eerie, and not a little unsettling to see my father, a young boy’s tower of strength and resolve, break down like that.

It was made more difficult because I had only met her once, when she came to visit for a week, and she was unfamiliar to me. On the other hand, my maternal grandparents lived with us and I felt a strong emotional tie to them I could not summon up for her. She was by Bubbie, though. My mother’s mother was just Grandma.

I frequently ask myself, however, why I am so deeply and painfully drawn into these stories. I’m not entirely certain I have the answer, but I’m pretty sure it’s not so much the story itself as it is the relationship those stories bear to my own life.

Dictionary.com defines empathy as follows: the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another. That seems pretty straight-forward, yes? I am a fairly empathetic person and I tend toward the second part of that definition, i.e. I feel the pain of others vicariously. However, I don’t think this captures the essence of what is happening when I am fully immersed in a story.

Perhaps it’s too fine a point and the distinction isn’t all that great, but it seems to me what’s really happening is I’m overlaying the experience in the story onto my own life. I’m not so much experiencing the feelings of another as I’m experiencing the feelings I would have were I to be in that situation. I don’t think they’re the same. Then again, maybe that’s the mechanism that actually facilitates empathy.

This is a minor conundrum that comes to me most every time it happens and, usually, I forget about it within a minute or two. Lately I decided to try and get a descriptive handle on it and this is my first attempt.

Empathy is a valuable and deeply human trait. It is one of the five traits listed as characteristic of emotional intelligence which, in turn, is seen by many as a valuable business and leadership skill. It’s important to understand and to cultivate in order that we may better understand the people in our lives, whether at work, play, or home.

I want to understand what is moving me when this happens. On some levels it seems patently ridiculous to get so emotionally involved in a fiction story. On the other hand, perhaps it is really what makes us human. I’m wondering if someone with a more classical education than I have knows more of the thinking humans have brought to the subject. I’m sure some in the Arts (especially the Theater Arts) have tackled it. I’ll have to do more research. In the meantime, I’m glad there’s plenty of tissue in the house.

As it turns out, thanks to a friend I discovered an interesting answer through a wonderful TED talk by VS Ramachandran, a Neuroscientist who has studied the functions of mirror neurons. It would seem there is overwhelming evidence we humans are more closely connected than I was hinting at.

In his talk he says, “There is no real independent self, aloof from other human beings, inspecting the world, inspecting other people. You are, in fact, connected not just via Facebook and Internet, you’re actually quite literally connected by your neurons.” I find this resonates in many ways with my understanding of Systems Dynamics, Quantum Theory, and Zen and goes a long way toward answering my question. Frankly I find it a meaningful addition to my understanding, but still find myself wondering why it manifests itself so powerfully in some . . . and not at all in others. After all, the world is filled with people who are anti-social in varying degrees of severity from mild conduct disorders to outright sociopathy or APSD.

Regardless, there is much value in this talk. He speaks of the wonders of the human brain and, with respect to the issues I raised yesterday, uses words like imitation and emulation, ultimately winding his way to empathy. Rather than repeat any of his talk, I urge you to listen to it. There’s at least one very cool surprise a little more than halfway through. At less than eight minutes, it’s really engaging. Here’s the video. I’d love to hear what others think of this:


History Repeats Itself

As I have mentioned in other posts, I have been working at understanding Photoshop well enough to create my own memes, to touch up photos new and old, and to generally be able to utilize most of the power it provides to those patient enough to work on the skills. This is my latest, though the overlay of Trump’s fugliness on what is likely a painting of Marie Antoinette I stole from the Intertubes. I actually had a piece I did with Donald’s face on Marie, but I would have had to pull off some kind of mighty effort to have a plate and raised hand available to showcase to CORONA virus.

This story is disturbing. President Trump and nearly every one of the Republicans in Congress have failed to protect the American public from both this virus and from the economic effects of efforts to mitigate its destructiveness. That they will rush to vaccinate themselves before essential workers disgusts and appalls me. It doesn’t, however, surprise me. The Republican party is stuffed to the gills with pompous preeners who care little for the people they purport to represent. I suspect quite a few Democrats, especially the old guard, have similar propensities. We need to elect people who care about their constituents.


Is There A Doctor In The House?

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

I suspect just about everyone is aware of the flap over an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal regarding our soon-to-be First Lady’s credentials. Written by Joseph Epstein, it’s entitled “Is There a Doctor in the White House? Not if You Need an M.D.” and subtitled “Jill Biden should think about dropping the honorific, which feels fraudulent, even comic.”

My most recent job was as the Business Manager for a Machine Learning (AI) Software Development firm, the co-founder of which had a PhD in computer science. When last I spoke with her, which was at least a year ago, she was not using her title, which she feared was seen as somewhat presumptuous. I’m not sure how she feels about it now, and I’m inclined to agree with those who see this op/ed piece as misogynistic and hollow. Frankly, I have often wondered if I could use the honorific “Dr.” in front of my name because I have earned a Juris Doctorate (JD) when I graduated Law School in 1976. However, I’ve never done so because the amount of schooling, and the quality of work, required for the degree don’t match up to that of a PhD or EdD. Actually, I tend to agree with those who suggest calling oneself “Dr.” when in possession of a law degree is ridiculous and pedantic.

It’s been discussed at great length by now, torn apart and analyzed by people far better at it than I, but I’d like to bring up what I think is an ancillary issue to that of the rank sexism and hypocrisy that exists wrt men and their seeming inability to accept women as their equals. What I’m referring to, which affects both men and women, regardless of race, creed, or color (though there are differences in degree and approach) is the depth of anti-intellectualism that has come to seemingly dominate our public life.

Just look at how many people are not only comfortable with, but are absolutely adamant about, ignoring science, facts, and reality-based analysis/synthesis. The number of people who believe most scientists are only doing what they do for the money is astounding. It’s likely one of, if not the, main reasons we’re doing so poorly in handling the pandemic here in the States.

This isn’t a new phenomenon. Hardly! I recall deciding in the third grade (that would have been around 1955) I didn’t want to be seen by everybody as an egghead, which changed the trajectory of my life . . . and probably not in the best way it could have. I remember feeling at the time that I wouldn’t have any friends if I continued on the path of academic excellence I had been on. Part of me wishes I hadn’t made that choice, though my life turned out pretty well regardless. It’s just that, in retrospect, the decision was made because of the negative view most people I knew seemed to have about being too intelligent; or, at least, being willing to use that intelligence in a positive way.

I believe this is one of the reasons the United States is in the bind it’s in right now. We’re just coming off of a four-year bender with the sleaziest and dumbest President in our nation’s history. He came to power as the result of years of anti-intellectual posturing and reality TV-informed ignorance. I am thankful I have never watched one reality TV show, especially not The Apprentice or Celebrity Apprentice. It’s clear Donald Chrump managed to suck a large portion of the nation into believing he was a highly successful businessman when, in fact, he’s a serial fuck-up who managed to burn through tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars given to him by his father.

These past four years of the worst “leadership” of my lifetime has been brought to us by our nation’s well-developed sense of anti-intellectualism. This does not bode well for maintaining our position as a preeminent nation of entrepreneurs and innovators. Our quality of life in the United States is what it is in large part because of our scientific accomplishments. It amazes me so many people don’t recognize the value that science has added to our lives, be it at work, home, or play. Virtually every aspect of our lives is enhanced by science and the products and enhancements it brings to us on a heretofore regular basis. I fear we’re going to lose that edge. Perhaps we already have. More the pity.


Buh Bye, Y’all.

Seventeen states have joined the State of Texas to petition the United States Supreme Court to delay the certification of the results in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Georgia, arguing that alleged issues with the votes need to be investigated. While alleging fraud, the lawsuit offers no evidence that fraud has occurred. Instead, they argue that new methods of voting (all of which were approved by State Legislatures) could have resulted in fraud arguing, “The constitutional issue is not whether voters committed fraud but whether state officials violated the law by systematically loosening the measures for ballot integrity so that fraud becomes undetectable.”

What’s disturbing about this lawsuit’s theory of the case is that mail-in voting has been in use for decades, and these alleged “vulnerable” methods of voting have only been expanded in use, not changed in how they’re implemented and exercised.

This is really the height of frivolity and, in my opinion, every one of these Attorneys General should be investigated by their state bar. This is a naked attempt to disenfranchise millions of voters, most of whom are persons of color, aka Democrats. The four states they’re targeting are Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Georgia. Many have pointed out, and I will as well, they aren’t alleging the same issues in states where Trump won, even though the situation in those states is similar to that of the four targeted states.

I’m not sure if the decision is expected today, though the Electoral College convenes on Monday to officially cast their votes and that will further cement the Biden/Harris victory. I believe the Court will want to render their decision prior to that happening. We’ll see. I’ve been consumed by fixing a health insurance problem I have for my kids, and a bunch of recipes I have to help my 17-year-old shop for and cook/bake, so haven’t been paying attention quite as closely as I normally would. I do expect it will be thrown out. What we don’t know is whether or not the justices will take the opportunity to teach these idiots a lesson in constitutional law. That would be a hoot.


Justice Matters – 12/05/20

Here’s another episode of Glenn Kirschner’s informative vlog on the state of our justice system. While I’m not quite as sanguine about how the system is holding up against the assault of Trump and his Zombpublicans, it is heartening to look at how thoroughly the Trump/Giuliani efforts to overturn the election in the courts have been rebuffed.

The concurring opinion Glenn reads and discusses in this episode is, as he points out, especially powerful because the Judge who wrote it was President of his law school’s Federalist Society chapter and comes from a tradition of conservatism. After reading a little about him, and based on the quality of argument in his dissent Glenn discusses here, I’m of the opinion he is more closely allied with the never-Trump wing of conservatism.

In case you’re interested in the actual opinion, I have embedded the official .pdf file issued by the Wisconsin Supreme Court, which contains Justice Hagedorn’s consenting opinion. I think it’s worth noting this was a 4-3 decision. I find it a bit frightening there were three justices that though this case had merit. We’re nowhere near out of the woods. Then again, in most respects most of us have never actually been out of the woods given the true nature of our nation’s government and history.


I Most Def Can Tell a Lie!

Most of us know by now that much of the folklore surrounding our nation’s first president is apocryphal, but I suppose there’s some value in hyping those qualities we consider good and valuable. Surely, although it is no doubt untrue, the thought that our preeminent Founding Father was an upstanding, decent, and honest person is useful for setting expectations.

Of course, whatever those expectations had been, they’ve now been essentially torched by the deeply flawed person who has been cosplaying as our president for nearly four years. Donald John Trump is a classless, phony buffoon. That he managed to con tens of millions of people into believing he either cared for them and their lives, or that he was competent enough to actually do anything that would materially improve their lives, does nothing to rehabilitate his reputation as the most dishonest person to ever “serve” in that office.

This graphic was a simple observation I committed to Photoshop as I was learning how to select portions of photos to layer on top of another photo. Nothing spectacular; just a minor statement of reality.


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