Friday, July 18, 2008

National Disconnect

A few thoughts that came to me as a result of listening to Al Gore and reading this depressing piece by Badtux:

Once upon a time, there was a can-do nation that could do, like, anything. Its President said that a country which had never flown a man in space, which had no idea what it would take to send a man into space, would send a man to the moon within nine years... and made it happen.

It has been thirty-nine years since Apollo 11 lifted off for the Moon. On July 20, 1969, Neal Armstrong set foot on the moon and made the famous statement, "one small step for man, one giant leap for Mankind".

Thirty-nine years later, the United States no longer has the capability to send a man to the moon. It is not just a lack of desire. The sad thing is that we could not return to the moon today if we wanted to. We no longer have the expertise, the technology, or the industrial base to pull off something that big. Twenty years from now, we’re going to look up at the moon, and watch it twinkle as the first Moon city shines in the dark. And erected over that city will be a red flag with a large gold star and four smaller gold stars.

Sadly, can-do America is can’t-do America nowdays. Can’t provide health care for all its people. Can’t solve the problem of homeless junkies shooting up in public restrooms. Can’t built a replacement for the Space Shuttle before the last Shuttle is junked. Can’t find Osama bin Laden. Can’t solve the problem of people’s jobs getting exported overseas. Can’t. Can’t. Can’t. It’s damned depressing, to tell you the truth, to live in a country that’s so obviously over the hill. About the only thing the United States can do nowdays is build military hardware, but even that capability is decaying… the United States, for example, could not build a new M1A2 tank today even if it wanted to. The industrial capacity isn’t there anymore. The gas turbine engine used in the M1 isn’t made anymore. The tooling for the rest of the tank was sold to Egypt. Etc. We’re living on stored Cold War gear, and that gear is going to run out sooner or later, and then what?

I found myself (again) wondering what is wrong with America, and what will it take to fix it? As Gore called for an Apollo sized program to end our dependency on fossil fuels, I wondered if we still have the national strength and will to actually do any such thing.

The knowledge and technology already exist in alternative energy. We know how to make solar, wind, tidal, and biomass power. The challenges of making it more efficient are really rather minor if we make it our national priority.

But America seems to be set in continuing our old ways. We have a sort of national necrophilia, where we're sure that we can get one more ride out of the old corpse. Deficit? Borrow more. Oil prices? Drill more. Our once dominant industries have been sold off piece by piece in the name of shareholder dividends, rather than investing in a new infrastructure.

The mortgage crisis came as a result of people believing that more money could come without any real change in value. Credit became a ready substitute for a balanced budget. And this philosophy has extended throughout our national planning. Use up that last bit of offshore oil, regardless of future consequences, rather than change behavior. We know how to build a more efficient car (the Japanese have shown us that it can be done), but we'd rather shut down the assembly line and lay off the workers. It's more immediately profitable.

I fear that it will take a huge national crisis before we begin to build again.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

For Sweaterman

Was talking to Sweaterman (post something, dammit) about the New Yorker cover cartoon, and he described his idea for a counter-cartoon satire of McCain. Damn if David Horsey didn't publish his idea today:

Sweaterman, I swear I didn't tell him about your idea...maybe you can ask for royalties.

My Housing Crisis

With all the problems in the world of mortgages, my problems as a single renter are rather minor. Except to me. I'm starting to take it personally.
I should preface this with a small history, that of the "Blue Palace" where I lived comfortably for almost six years. I didn't blog about the "Palace" while I lived there out of respect for one of the housemates who worried about his privacy (this town is small enough that the house was easily identified). The "Palace" was a five bedroom old dump of a house, but it was cheap. The five of us who lived there are all older bachelors of the quietly stable type. It was comfortable, in a leaky sort of way. But it finally came to an end when the landlord realized he could make a lot more money in the long run if he invested in upgrading the old house. Real estate has gotten a lot more expensive around here over the years.
So back at the first of June, I moved. It was a real challenge as my income has been unstable and rents around here are high. I scored what I thought was a good deal, renting a room from an older woman in an old house in the old part of town that I almost could afford.
If only it had been that simple...
I quickly learned that the old lady had "psychiatric issues", but given my background in mental health I was okay with that. What I hadn't counted on was her family. They are a real piece of work, and they're now using my presence as a tenant to try to get the old lady declared "incompetent". It's a thinly veiled effort to take the house away from her, and I'm doing my best to help her fight it (she's very much competent, by all legal definitions).
But the level of stress she's suffering has made it clear that I must move out for her sake. So now it's my stress level that is through the roof.
I'm trying to find a new cave that I can afford in a market that I can't.
God, I miss the "Blue Palace".