SpaceX: Giving Me Hope for America’s Future

Maybe America can be great again.

At the risk of getting a barrage of hateful comments from people in perpetual denial about the general dumbing down of America, I need to post this.

This morning, I watched the 45-minute webcast of SpaceX’s recent history-making launch. If you haven’t seen it, check it out here:

Or better yet, do what I did: load up the YouTube channel on a Roku and watch it on a big screen TV.

There are a few things that struck me about this presentation.

  • Youth. The very first thing that stuck me is the age of the folks who were part of this event. Young people in public relations and engineering positions. Young people everywhere. This wasn’t a dreary circa 1970 NASA launch reel with too many guys in too many white shirts and ties. This was today’s youth in jeans and T-shirts and hoodies. Talking the way we all talk, using words we all understand about an amazing scientific achievement. No, not every young American is spoiled, entitled, and/or unable to think of anything beyond fashion or music or video games. Some of them are today’s rocket scientists.
  • Scientific achievement. I think we’ve become so accustomed to seeing amazing thing in movies and on television that we don’t realize how much of it is fake. So when a company like SpaceX can send a rocket booster into space and then land it successfully in an upright and vertical position on a landing pad only 282 feet in diameter, we don’t understand what a truly amazing achievement that is.
  • Media Presentation. SpaceX apparently did a live webcast of this launch. You didn’t have to tune into a television channel or have cable news access or watch countless advertisements squeezed in to maximize broadcaster revenue. You saw a series of SpaceX staff members telling you what was going on, with an informative timeline and video feeds to show what was coming up and what was actually happening. This was available all over the world — and it still is, for free, on YouTube. Heck, I was even able to embed it here to save readers the bother of searching for it online. The only excuse for not seeing this is apathy.

Rocket Booster
Do you have any idea what an achievement this is?

As I watched the video and saw actual footage from space of the first booster separating from the main rocket, I had tears in my eyes. And more tears when I saw that first booster standing upright on an old Florida launch pad, still smoking from the engine that had enabled it to softly touch down on four landing legs less than ten minutes after being in space. Then, when the chant that I was thinking of started up from the spectators: “U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!” It made me feel really proud to be an American for the first time in a very long time.

When I was a kid, my mother made me stay up to watch Neil Armstrong step out of a metal capsule and walk on the moon. She said I’d be witnessing history and, at 7 years old, I really didn’t care all that much. But I watched it and I remember it and nearly 46 years later, I’m glad I did.

This morning, sitting on my sofa, I watched something almost equally amazing — but have heard only the briefest mention of it on the radio and television. Ho hum. I guess a real achievement by man can’t compete with the box office stats for the latest Star Wars movie.

Making America great again has nothing to do with immigration and war and terrorists and religion. It has everything to do with what made America great in the first place: courage, innovation, the embracing of science and technology, and the willingness to work hard to achieve great things.

When my fellow Americans can put aside their anger and hate and the other things that divide them, when they can stop denying the findings of science, when they can see that moving forward is far more important for the future than dwelling upon real or imagined slights in the past, when they can see that the differences among their fellow men can help them grow and learn and see the world in new and exciting ways — well, then America will start to be great again. Until then, spectators like me, on the downhill slope of life, will have to be satisfied with observing pockets of greatness offered by innovative American companies like SpaceX.

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A Bit More about the Republican Party

It’s the science, stupid.

The 2012 Presidential campaign — and its aftermath — continues to weigh heavily on my mind. The other day, I finally got around to blogging my thoughts on the Republican Party, aided, in part, by yet another excellent blog post by Jim Wright on Stonekettle Station. I thought that would be enough to get it off my mind. But no, I still had some more mulling over to do.

You see, it bothered me that I really didn’t clearly indicate why I have such bad feelings about the GOP. I mentioned that I thought certain elected representatives and senators were “batshit crazy” and gave some examples. But I didn’t really connect the dots to explain exactly what bothered me personally about these people.

Thinking a little harder about Florida Senator Marco Rubio’s comments about the age of the earth helped me better understand what was going on in my subconscious about this. From the GQ interview, “All Eyez On Him,” where they were first made:

GQ: How old do you think the Earth is?

Marco Rubio: I’m not a scientist, man. I can tell you what recorded history says, I can tell you what the Bible says, but I think that’s a dispute amongst theologians and I think it has nothing to do with the gross domestic product or economic growth of the United States. I think the age of the universe has zero to do with how our economy is going to grow. I’m not a scientist. I don’t think I’m qualified to answer a question like that. At the end of the day, I think there are multiple theories out there on how the universe was created and I think this is a country where people should have the opportunity to teach them all. I think parents should be able to teach their kids what their faith says, what science says. Whether the Earth was created in 7 days, or 7 actual eras, I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to answer that. It’s one of the great mysteries.

This is, of course, outrageous. Scientists have accumulated enough evidence to estimate the earth’s age at 4.54 million billion years old. There are not “multiple theories” that dispute this. There’s only science and religion. Science is based on research, facts, and analysis. Religion does not have “theories” about anything. All it has are sacred texts written hundreds or thousands of years ago. Sacred text that believers, by definition, must believe.

So when I read about this, I used it as an example in my post of the craziness of certain Republicans.

And then an article by Daniel Engber in Slate Magazine, “Rubio and Obama and the age of Earth: Politicians hedge about whether universe was created,” suggested that Obama had made a similar statement in an interview back in 2008, when he was running for president. The quote:

Q: Senator, if one of your daughters asked you—and maybe they already have—“Daddy, did god really create the world in 6 days?,” what would you say?

A: What I’ve said to them is that I believe that God created the universe and that the six days in the Bible may not be six days as we understand it … it may not be 24-hour days, and that’s what I believe. I know there’s always a debate between those who read the Bible literally and those who don’t, and I think it’s a legitimate debate within the Christian community of which I’m a part. My belief is that the story that the Bible tells about God creating this magnificent Earth on which we live—that is essentially true, that is fundamentally true. Now, whether it happened exactly as we might understand it reading the text of the Bible: That, I don’t presume to know.

The article goes on to compare the quotes from these two men, claiming that they’re not very different. The argument is compelling — at first. But bloggers at the Maddow Blog had no trouble picking it apart and zeroing in on what made the comparison fail. In “Those Who Celebrate Science (and Those Who Don’t),” Steve Benen says:

Rubio was asked a scientific question in a secular setting, offered an ambiguous response as to whether he believes the planet is billions or thousands of years old, and suggested an objective, scientific truth may be unknowable, though reality shows otherwise.

On the other hand, Obama was asked a theological question in a religious setting, offered a response that rejected young-earth pseudo-science, and suggested spiritual, philosophical truths may be unknowable.

That blog post then went on to give good examples of how Obama embraces science.

Paul Krugman’s article in The New York Times, “Grand Old Planet,” takes this news tidbit to the next level:

By the way, that question didn’t come out of the blue. As speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, Mr. Rubio provided powerful aid to creationists trying to water down science education. In one interview, he compared the teaching of evolution to Communist indoctrination tactics — although he graciously added that “I’m not equating the evolution people with Fidel Castro.” Gee, thanks.

What was Mr. Rubio’s complaint about science teaching? That it might undermine children’s faith in what their parents told them to believe. And right there you have the modern G.O.P.’s attitude, not just toward biology, but toward everything: If evidence seems to contradict faith, suppress the evidence. (emphasis added)

Mr. Krugman goes on to point out several other examples where Republicans have suppressed hard facts that challenge their faith-based preconceptions. I won’t repeat them all here; go read the article. It’s short and very worthwhile.

Republican War on Science(By the way, Mr. Krugman also mentions Chris Mooney’s book, The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science–and Reality. He doesn’t mention Mr. Mooney’s earlier book, The Republican War on Science, “the New York Times bestseller that exposes the conservative agenda to put politics ahead of scientific truth.” I think both are worth a read if you care about science and how politics can affect our future.)

And this is why I’m so opposed to the Republican way of thinking. These people are, for the most part, putting their religion before science and everything else. They’re trying to force a faith-based educational and political agenda on everyone in this country — no matter what everyone else believes. They seem to forget the doctrine of separation of church and state. They’re willing to sacrifice our ability to lead the world in science and technology so as not to offend a god that their fellow Americans may or may not believe in.

Personally, I’m horrified at the suggestion that creation (or “intelligent design”) be taught in public schools alongside evolution. I think it’s tragic that people are still trying to deny that climate change is real and likely caused by man. And it pisses me off to no end that public proceedings such as Town Council meetings often begin with a prayer and that I’m asked to “swear to God” in court. As if nothing can be done in the legal world without acknowledging a supreme being that has the power to guide or punish us.

(Let’s not forget that the original Pledge of Allegiance did not include the phrase “under God” until 1954.)

And don’t get me started on the hypocrisy of a political party that’s constantly whining about how our freedoms are being compromised wanting to regulate what consenting adults do in the privacy of their own homes.

Anyway, I think this post finishes the thought I started in my previous blog post. I think it connects the dots to clearly state what bothers me most about the Republican way of thinking.

I’m willing to bet that this way of thinking is turning off a lot of otherwise conservative people. I think that if the GOP would stop its faith-based crazy-talk and get back to reality, it will likely attract a lot more voters in the future.

Again, I’ll leave comments open until moderation becomes a chore. If you want your comment to appear, keep it civil.

Some Concerns about Home-Schooling

Is it an excuse to teach religion instead of science?

I’ve always been concerned about the quality of education kids get these days. Underpaid teachers, peer pressure that rewards bad behavior, high drop-out rates. As I reported back in November 2008, kids are graduating the local high school without knowing how to tell time on an analog clock. It’s impossible to have an intelligent conversation with most teens; they seem absolutely clueless about anything that isn’t on television or the Internet — and I’m not talking about PBS or Wikipedia here. They can’t spell because they have spelling checkers that do that for them. They can’t do math without a calculator. While I’m obviously not talking about all young people here — there would be absolutely no hope for America’s future if the problem affected every kid — it’s certainly more than half of the ones I come in contact with.

And “No Child Left Behind” just made the situation worse. It forced teachers and schools to teach just so kids would pass exams. Teaching by rote rather than ensuring that kids understand what they’re being taught is not doing the next generation any good.

These days, concerned parents are taking an active role in their kids’ education. While I personally believe that working together at the end of the day on homework and even just discussing what was learned in school each day is enough, many parents are going the extra step: they’re home-schooling their kids.

I’ll admit that I don’t know much about home-schooling. I don’t have kids; I decided early in life not to take that path. I don’t regret it. I sometimes wonder how my kids would have turned out — whether they’d be smart or lazy or interesting or dull. I’d like to think that they’d know how to tell time by the age of 18 and aspire to something more substantial than stocking shelves at the local supermarket.

I do know that if my kids weren’t getting the education they needed at school and I couldn’t help them by being part of their nightly homework routine, I’d likely consider home-schooling. After all, if you want something done right, sometimes you have to do it yourself.

My neighbor home-schools her kids. She has four of them ranging in age from about 5 to 12. She and her husband are either Evangelical or Born-Again Christians. I don’t know which and I don’t care. The last thing I want to do is have a discussion about religion with people who scratched religious slogans into the wet concrete of their driveway.

And this brings up my concerns about home-schooling. While browsing the news with the Associated Press (AP) mobile application on my BlackBerry (while waiting for a notary public at the bank), I stumbled upon an article titled, “Top home-school texts dismiss Darwin, evolution.” It reported:

“The majority of home-schoolers self-identify as evangelical Christians,” said Ian Slatter, a spokesman for the Home School Legal Defense Association. “Most home-schoolers will definitely have a sort of creationist component to their home-school program.”

It went on to say that, “Two of the best-selling biology textbooks stack the deck against evolution,” according to educators who reviewed the books.

And this is the root of my concerns. I believe that science textbooks and science lessons should be about science. Evolution is a widely accepted component of the science of biology. The alternative — creationism or its disguised alter-ego, “intelligent design” — is not. There is a wealth of scientific evidence to back up evolution; there is no evidence to back up creationism.

Clearly, the failure to teach accepted science as that — accepted science — is a serious shortcoming in the home-schooling textbooks that shoot down evolution. The children being taught that evolution is “only a theory” are being given an inadequate education — one that could put them at a serious disadvantage if they go on to college or attempt to pursue careers in science or medicine.

One of the books doesn’t hide its intent:

“Those who do not believe that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God will find many points in this book puzzling,” says the introduction to “Biology: Third Edition” from Bob Jones University Press. “This book was not written for them.”

The textbook delivers a religious ultimatum to young readers and parents, warning in its “History of Life” chapter that a “Christian worldview … is the only correct view of reality; anyone who rejects it will not only fail to reach heaven but also fail to see the world as it truly is.”

The Christian worldview is the only correct view of reality? In whose world? I don’t think the millions of Jews, Muslims, or Hindus in the world would agree with that statement. I know the atheists wouldn’t. Does that mean that Christian children should be taught a different version of reality than the rest of the world? To what benefit? Certainly not the benefit of the children.

And what of the home-schooling parents that don’t want religion to be part of their children’s curriculum? The AP article discusses their struggle to find appropriate science textbooks.

Evolution Book(Might I suggest starting with Daniel Loxton’s excellent book, Evolution: How We and All Living Things Came to Be? It’s not a textbook, but it’s a great introduction to evolution for kids and parents.)

So here’s my question: if a school board has to approve textbooks that are used in public school classrooms and home-schooled students have to take and pass standardized exams, who is approving the textbooks used in home-school “classrooms”?

And then I recall this, a piece of “Hate Mail” that was sent to Bobby Henderson of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. You can find it here, but to save effort for the folks too lazy to click, I’ll repeat it here in all its glory, as an example of home-schooling gone terribly wrong:

wow you people are crazy i pray to my LORD jesus christ that you people wake up God created man in his own image and im sorry but if you look like noodles with meatballs growin out your BUTT you need to go back to SPACE or get back in the pan where you’ll be somebodys dinner!

people will believe anything!!

i am verryyy happy i was well homeschooled becuase i would be in jail for punching a teacher in the face when she tried to tell me about this so called spagetti monsterr!

i hate to be the breaker of bad news but when you look around when u die u wont be with your master meatball you’ll be burning in the pits of HELL and i am a REAL christian and that hurts to know that so many people are gonna be in hell! over a random guy that started a joke and has nothing better to do besides make up some god for fun then see how many people are loving this idea.

God bless you wacked out meatball loving freaks!


(I recommend Bobby’s site if you’re interested in seeing where reason and faith collide.)

Christy is right about one thing: People will believe anything. But is it right to teach it to their kids?