Let the Star Wars: Episode VII Over-Analysis Begin!

The first official teaser trailer for Episode VII: The Force Awakens, has dropped like Emperor Palpatine down a reactor shaft. Watch it, then take a read of my shot-for-shot wild and baseless speculation.

Scene 1: We open on Arrakis, er, I mean Tatooine, probably. Planets in the Star Wars universe only have one environment, remember. We look at some unremarkable but familiar dunes while someone doing their best Benedict Cumberbatch impression says something cryptic about waking up.

Then, things immediately get interesting. A man in Storm Trooper armor missing his helmet jumps into frame, sweating profusely and in obvious distress. But the most striking thing about him is he’s black. Now, in the original trilogy, there weren’t a whole lot of black folks. In fact, aside from Lando, the only other person of color we saw was an ill-fated X-wing pilot who blew up after three words of dialogue.

The Empire was xenophobic and totalitarian, consisting of humans almost exclusively, with very few exceptions. Tolerance and inclusiveness were not their strong suit, so what is this black Storm Trooper telling us? Is the Imperial remnant thirty years after RotJ turning a new leaf? Are they making efforts to be more diverse? Has desperation forced them to fill out their ranks with conscripts? Or is this man an imposter? A New Republic spy perhaps? All intriguing possibilities.

If nothing else, the fact the very first character we see from official footage is a person of color confirms that the producers of Episode VII are committed to greater diversity in these new movies, which can only be a positive development.

Scene 2: Cut to a soccer-playing astromech droid head. Is that ball part of it’s body? Is it playing with the kiddies? Who knows, it’s cute.

Scene 3: Back to more Storm Troopers and shaky camera work. It looks like a squad of troopers standing around inside a landing shuttle waiting for the door to drop when something outside goes terribly wrong. Blasters are pulled as whatever is waiting for them outside the shuttle opens the ramp.

There’s real, palpable fear here. Between this scene and the opening trooper in the desert, this is the first time Storm Troopers have been presented in a way we can identify with emotionally. It’s the first time we’ve been asked to put ourselves in their shoes instead of viewing them as nothing more than Bantha fodder. Very interesting.

Scene 4: Back to Tatooine again where a girl in her late-teens who’s dressed an awful lot like a young, pod-racing Anakin Skywalker hops onto what has to be the clunkiest-looking swoop ever built. It looks more like a farm implement than a speeder, and maybe that’s exactly how it’s supposed to feel. Anyway, she’s busy running from something, just like the rest. Tension is building. Something is coming, driving everyone to retreat. But what?

Scene 5: Cut to a New Republic pilot, still sporting the chevron of the old Rebel Alliance, sitting inside a cockpit. He’s a dead-ringer for Wedge Antillies, although appears too young to be Rouge Squadron’s illustrious leader. Anyway, he’s leading the charge as three next-generation X-wing fighters barrel-along at breakneck speeds just inches above the surface of a lake with their S-foils locked in attack position.

These pilots are streaking into combat, flying low across the water, likely trying to avoid detection in a scene reminiscent of the famous RAF Dam Busters Squadron.  Which shouldn’t be any surprise to Star Wars purists. The famous Death Star Trench scene was heavily influenced by a 1955 British film of the same name. The inclusion of this scene in the teaser gives us insight into just how deep J.J. Abrams’s knowledge of Star Wars lore and history goes. I puckered up watching this scene.

Scene 6: Cut again and we’re following a black-robed figure through a snow-covered forest. Finally, a new planet! Anyway, Benedict Cumberbatch says “Dark Side”  which spooks this shadowy figure enough that they pull out a lightsaber. Holy shit, it’s red, a Sith! And then, holy shit,  lightsaber cross guards! Instead of the classic, short-handled lightsaber which had been influence by the Japanese Katana, this one has a long handle with a blade and cross guards that are lifted directly from European two-handed swords wielded by medieval knights, not samurai. This is the first new lightsaber style since Darth Maul’s double-bladed saber that doesn’t scream “Gimmick!” to me, (Looking at you, Inquisitor’s spinning ceiling fan.) I really hope this new enemy’s fighting style reflects the more direct, physical, knock-down style of armor-clad European Knights to match his (or her) impressive sword.

Scene 7: We’re back to Tatooine, (Gods damn it. We’ve seen this backwater in every movie except Empire. Enough.) And now we’re given unadulterated, unapologetic fan service as the Millennium Falcon twists and turns through the desert air, barely pulling up to avoid the sand as it goes shooting past a pair of TIE fighters. It is a beautiful sight.

Two things jumped out at me about this scene. First, the Falcon has a new sensor dish to replace the one Lando lost inside the Death Star II. It’s rectangular instead of circular, which makes sense. Han was always tinkering with and upgrading his ship. So not only did he take the opportunity to mount an entirely different, and probably better dish, but it’s lower-profile, making a repeat less likely. This again shows us the detailed knowledge of the characters and the world that Abrams and his team are bringing to bear on this relaunch. It’s the sort of detail that leaves me feeling very encouraged.

Second, as far as I can see from their split-second fly-by, the TIEs chasing the Falcon are old-school TIE/ln units from the Galactic Civil War. Even by the end of the war, they were being supplanted by TIE Interceptors. Thirty years on, the original TIE would be obsolete in the face of new threats like the next-gen X-Wings we’ve already seen and no longer fit for front-line service. So, who’s flying these TIES? Is it a sign that the Imperial Remnant is so desperate and starved of resources that they’re forced to use outdated equipment? Or are these salvaged units being operated by forces outside either the Empire or New Republic?

But what really jumps out at me about the tone and overall presentation of this trailer is the threat everyone seems to be facing. Instead of the Empire being the all encompassing evil in the galaxy, the two Storm Troopers scenes suggest that whatever is coming is a threat to everyone and everything equally. Are we getting set up to see the New Republic and Imperial Remnant burying the hatchet and fighting a common enemy?

And think of what is missing from the footage. No original characters. The closest we get to seeing Han, Luke, or Leia are the beauty shots of the Falcon. And for a Star Wars movie, there wasn’t a single scene out in space itself. How curious.

What did you think? Let the endless speculation commence in the comments!

Welcome to Jurassic World

Pretty Scientist Lady: “We have our first genetically modified hybrid.”

Chris Pratt: “I’m sorry, come again?”

PSL: “Well, we’re a theme park, right? Not a wildlife preserve. Our customers expect thrill rides, big production shows. The whole enchilada.”

CP: “And?”

PSL: “And we were having trouble with the T-Rex. It wasn’t smart enough to train, and its arms were too small to hold the t-shirt cannon for the afternoon show we’d written for the kids to watch while their parents were sucking down $15 margaritas. ”

CP: “…”

PSL: “So we engineered some nice long arms and hands with opposable thumbs so it could work the trigger, then grafted in a velociraptor brain so it could work with our animal trainers. Boom, problem solved.”

CP: “WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE?!”

PSL: “It’s really an amazing scientific achievement.”

CP: “You know what? I’m out. I’m going back to working with a psychotic, heavily armed raccoon. Here, keep the vest.”

Bill Cosby and Our One-Way Relationship with Celebrity

So Cliff Huxtable has gotten himself into a little hot water. We all know what for.

Predictably, Cosby’s supporters and fans, (and a certain subset of people who just don’t like women complaining about sexual abuse), have jumped to his defense, describing the accusations as baseless and a grab for money or exposure.  Many people are trying to frame the scandal as simply being an example of he said, she said, and are very, very concerned about the principle of innocent until proven guilty.

If it was one woman, fine, hold your judgment. If it was two, er, okay. But it’s not, everybody. It’s over a dozen at this point. From totally different backgrounds. Is Janice Dickenson doing it because she “Wants money like the rest of them?” She certainly doesn’t need it. Have any of them asked for money?

No, they’ve come out and exposed themselves to public scrutiny and all of the fear and risks that go along with confronting a man with as much power and prestige as Bill Cosby holds in Hollywood and the larger culture. Some of them have been making the same claims for decades, but we all ignored them because we didn’t want to believe America’s surrogate father, was capable of such abuse.

Many of us still don’t want to believe it. A peculiar thing about celebrity, especially one as prodigious and long-lasting as Bill Cosby is the audience develops a one-way relationship with the entertainer, to the point they see them not as a character, or a comedian, but as a real person (which they obviously are) who they know at a personal, even intimate level (which they obviously don’t).

I’m not saying that performers don’t have a relationship with their audience. The best ones, the most popular and enduring ones certainly do all they can to cultivate and maintain their image and interact with their fans so that we will continue to invite them into the privacy and safety of our homes. The mistake so many make is believing that the persona celebrities wear in public, while they’re “on the clock” so to speak, is the real person. It may be a part, but it’s never the whole story. This is why so many of us believe we know Bill Cosby. He’s been a part of our lives for decades. And we know Bill couldn’t have done these terrible things.

But c’mon guys. These women are too numerous to ignore any longer. It’s not one man’s word against one woman, it’s one man who has enjoyed many, many years of a position of considerable power and influence against a dozen, maybe as many as twenty women. It requires believing these women, each and every one of them, are willing to not only manufacture stories about a beloved entertainer, but to put themselves and their families through the harsh spotlight of media scrutiny and exactly the sorts of ridiculous public judgments and character-assassinating accusations certain corners of social media have been flinging . And for what? Some remote chance of a future settlement? Out of spite?

Right. Maybe that’s true of one or two of these women, but ALL of them? Don’t be fools.

Obviously, Mr. Cosby is due a full and fair trial before any decision of guilt or punishment is passed in a court of law. But in the court of public opinion? Sorry, but I think we’re past the point where we can ignore these accusations any longer. A long way past.

Stop Apologizing, Democrats

Here’s a few things every politician, and certainly every eligible voter should be keenly aware of:

-A majority of Americans support raising the minimum wage.

-A majority of Americans support overturning Citizens United.

-A majority of Americans support Same Sex Marriage rights.

-A majority of Americans support legalizing marijuana.

-A majority of Americans oppose new wars in the Middle East.

-A majority of Americans support the health reforms of the ACA.

-A majority of Americans support equal pay for women.

-A majority of Americans support a woman’s right to choose.

-A majority of Americans support stricter gun control, (I’m not one of them, but it’s true, so it goes on the list.)

-A majority of Americans support raising taxes on the wealthy.

-A majority of Americans support extending unemployment benefits.

-A majority of Americans support a federal jobs bill.

-A majority of Americans support immigration reform.

-A majority of Americans support alternative energy initiatives.

Yet a minority of Americans just handed the Senate to the GOP and grew their majority in the House, just to add insult to injury.

Why?

There are a number of boring reasons that contributed to the electoral bloodbath last week. First, mid-term elections are traditionally a difficult time for the party of the sitting President.  President Obama saw six Senate seats slip away in 2010. In 2006, George W. Bush watched his party lose six seats in the Senate and thirty-one seats in the House. In 1994, Bill Clinton saw eight Senate seats evaporate. In 1990, Bush Sr. lost one. In 1986, Reagan watched a whooping eight seats fly the coop.

Secondly, the GOP enjoys some structural advantages built into our electoral system that most Americans don’t realize heavily favors their party, regardless of public opinion or voting patterns. This is especially true in the Senate.

You see, the Senate was designed from the onset not to be democratic. Our two-chambered legislature was designed to try and balance popular opinion with the concerns of smaller, less populated states. The Senate’s make-up of two Senators from each state, regardless of how many people actually live there, was intended not to be representative as a means of protecting smaller state interests from being railroaded by a handful of large states.

As a result, when a person in Wyoming (pop: 576,000) votes for their Senator, their vote carries weight equal to sixty-six voters from California (pop: 38 million). It’s no secret that more rural populations tend to vote more reliably conservative, while urban residents even in heavily red states, tend to vote more reliably liberal. This division has only accelerated in recent decades, and its distorting effects on the make-up of the Senate means Democrats have an uphill battle to holding the upper house even from the start.

But I don’t believe that either of these reasons fully explain what happened last Tuesday night. While an energized GOP base turned out in great numbers to punish the Democrats for, well, doubling the DOW, lowering unemployment from 10% to less than 6%, and slashing the federal budget deficit by almost two thirds, the rest of us watched and listened to a Democratic party that apparently didn’t know or didn’t believe the polling of public opinion on all of the issues at the top of the page and spent their campaigns distancing themselves from their own positions and accomplishments. As a result, the message the majority of the country got from them was that Democrats are too afraid of political backlash to fight for their own principles.

The Democrats have, over generations, just gotten so used to their brand being tarnished with accusations of communism, being weak on defense and foreign policy, tax-and-spend, bad for the economy, and on and on, that they have somehow missed the fact that their platform is not only popular among their voters, but actually has either a majority or plurality of support among even self-identifying republicans on many issues.

If you want to beat the GOP in 2016, there’s only one thing you have to do.

Stop apologizing for being Democrats.

Antares and Our Bright, Risky Future (Updated 10/31/14)

Today, I watched a rocket explode.

This afternoon, a privately built Antares rocket carrying some five-thousand pounds of food and other supplies headed for the International Space Station had a “Vehicle Anomaly” which is a very clinical euphemism for a rather spectacular fireball on the launch-pad. The rocket, along with its Cygnus module, are both products of  Orbital Sciences, a Virginia based private space company who, along with Elon Musk’s SpaceX, were awarded contracts by NASA to supply and eventually act as an astronaut taxi service for the ISS, opening up Low Earth Orbit to private industry and freeing up NASA to do what those nerds do best, the impossible.

First things first. While it is far too early to know what caused the failure, what is certain is the loss of the rocket, its delivery vehicle, and its payload represents an enormous loss in capital and human effort. Many, many people have poured their hearts and souls into the effort to make this vehicle a success and I sympathize with them. Nothing I’m about to say is meant to diminish or trivialize the emotions they are grappling with so soon after this event.

That said, everybody calm the fuck down. The media is already spinning this as a “Disaster” or a “Tragedy,” when it’s anything but. There are no reports of casualties or even injury among the ground crew or spectators (including the boat captain that forced the launch to be scrubbed yesterday because he floated inside the exclusion zone to get a better look. Bet he doesn’t do THAT again). The launch facilities have sustained damage, obviously, but they can and will be repaired.

I’m going to be honest here. When I saw that the launch had failed, I was excited, verging on happy. Part of that was doubtlessly the fault of the same primitive and violent part of my brain that only tunes into NASCAR races hoping for a crash, but it was more than that.

For a generation of Americans, maybe two, space travel has fallen into a dull routine.  NASA has gotten so damned good at this whole space thing that the average American has completely forgotten, or never realized, that a space rocket is, basically, a giant bloody bomb with a hole in one end.

The sense of danger and risk, and therefore excitement, is almost entirely absent. The public has forgotten that “Rocket Science” is supposed to really mean something. Back in the 50’s and early 60’s, we were losing a rocket a month, just as a cost of doing business. The first launch of the Mercury Redstone rocket failed on the launch pad after a flight reaching a total altitude of four inches. That same design carried the first American astronaut into space no long after.

Since then, the Apollo 1 disaster, the Challenger disaster, and the Columbia disaster have taken the lives of seventeen brave Americans. Our Russian counterparts have experienced similar tragedies, although records from the Soviet era are… less than a complete accounting.

Those were disasters, folks. Today was a learning experience. And there’s going to be a whole lot more of them before we’re finished. My hope is that we can use this incident to snap the public out of its stupor and reintroduce them to the excitement of space travel.

As soon as rocket launches became routine, they became boring. Chalk it up to human nature, but the familiar soon becomes the mundane if there isn’t a spark to reignite the passions we felt back at the beginning. Trust me on this, I’m divorced. During the Space Race, there was a sense of involvement and personal investment in our efforts to get to the moon before the Reds. But above all, there was a sense of danger and the romance that comes with it. Launches were watched like spectator sports. They were a national event, for God’s sake.

The worst thing that could happen now is for everyone to become all solemn and withdrawn, droning on about the loss in time and effort that this explosion represents. While completely true, it sends exactly the wrong message. Instead, remind people that this was the Antares Rocket’s fourth launch, the first three of which went off without a hitch. Remind them that the astronauts and cosmonauts on the ISS aren’t going to starve because NASA had the foresight to award the supply missions to multiple companies, so the Dragon capsule will be online shortly to fill in, which is a capability we didn’t have before.

But most importantly, remind them of who we are as human beings. Throughout the long, winding, occasionally shitty, but still proud history of our race, we keep pushing. When things fail, we sort through the bits, find the part that broke, and move on. Skyscraper collapses? We build a new one a couple stories taller for good measure. Bridge snaps? We build a longer one. Car crashes? We build a faster one. Plane falls from the sky? We build one that flies higher.

Rocket explodes? Build a bigger one. Carry more. Go faster. Go further.

Why? Because this is how we got here. And it’s the only way we’re going to reach our full potential. The sky is no limit.

Update 10/31/14: I’ve just read the news that Virgin Galactic’s Spaceship Two had its own anomaly during a powered flight this afternoon testing a new propellant mixture. Spaceship Two was lost. The status of the two man crew is not yet known, but parachutes were reported seen in the sky. The White Knight carrier plane landed safely.

All in all, it’s been a pretty rough week for private space flight, but a necessary one as well. The lessons learned from these two incidents may prove to be invaluable.

Liked this? Follow me on twitter for more @stealtygeek.

#GamerGate and Ethics

#GamerGate is about ethics in videogame journalism.

Like many of you, I’ve heard or seen these words repeated many times over the last month or so throughout social media,  in conversation, on TV, even the old print media has gotten in on the fun.

And like many of you, I’ve at least made an effort to try and figure out what the hell they mean. But no matter how hard I try, I just can’t make any sense out of them. Each individual word, taken by itself and considered in isolation, I can understand. Force them together, otoh, and you have an unstable, explosive mess straining with all of its might to fly apart. It’s like watching seven feral cats with their tails taped together trying to escape a Costco bag.

But I’m nothing if not a good sport about these things, so I continue to try. The best approximation I can come up with is that there are a surprising number of people who are really upset that the journalistic standards of neutrality and disclosure they learned about back in college aren’t being lived up to among today’s corps of reporters covering the critically important videogame beat.

I have come to understand this based on no less an authority on the topic than “Pixel Knight,” who mere seconds after I shared this tweet, posted this helpful graphic:

B07B8yHCAAAZPE4

See? It’s not about violent misogyny, or death threats, or driving people from their homes, forcing public speaking engagements to be cancelled, or doxxing anyone who dares to speak out against these acts of cyber terrorism. It’s about cleaning up the feted swamps of biased videogame journalism and bringing integrity to the system.

Never mind that Pixel Knight there is a fake profile without any real name attached to it, or that the account’s tagline reads, Feminist and an Elite Social Justice Warrior.  Defender of Equality and Bearer of Truth.  Tri-Honor Bound Follower of Listen and Believe. No, this is all about transparency, and you’d have to be an idiot not to see that. (BTW, has anyone written up the stats and feats of a Social Justice Warrior prestige class yet? I know some people who would love to play one in 3.5 or Pathfinder.)

Well, here’s my problem with that claim. Just like the Tea Party magically appeared to complain about government spending and the debt just as soon as we elected a black man President, so too have these fine defenders of journalistic integrity only now come out of the woodwork to take up their noble fight at the same time women and other historically marginalized groups are beginning to shape the conversation and direction of the videogame industry.

And just like the President didn’t create the enormous deficit he inherited from his predecessor, neither did the ladies of the videogame industry create these “problems” with journalistic integrity.

I put problems in quotation marks because, not to put too fine a point on it and without trying to offend, THEY’RE FUCKING VIDEOGAMES! They are a form of entertainment and escapism. They are promoted and marketed like anything else destined for the massive consumer market. Does anyone really believe that reviews of music, movies, books, cars, etc are really intended to be completely unbiased, objective sources of information on these consumer goods? Really? Of course not. They are part of the promotion machine. The people writing the reviews are usually fans of some stripe or another, and are content creators themselves just as often as not. This was never, ever intended to be serious journalism.

Hell, even reviews themselves are marketed as a form of entertainment. Who didn’t used to tune into American Idol to watch Simon Cowell tell some arrogant, unprepared, talentless hack that their singing sounded like an off-key piano being slowly fed into a wood chipper? Or read some of Roger Ebert’s simply brutal takedowns of terrible movies over the years?

Get a grip, you guys. This isn’t journalism, and it never was. Further, videogames, much like publishing or comedy, is a relatively small industry. It’s not true to say that everyone knows everyone else, but it’s not far off either. So, yes, eventually a game dev and a reviewer are going to meet up at a party and start banging. That’s the sort of thing that happens when you leave the god damn house and start interacting with other human beings.

If you want to go on a crusade for ethics in journalism, why not start with, oh, I don’t know, actual fucking journalists? Why not spend that same energy you’re throwing into terrorizing video game reviewers into tackling the problem of sponsored content being passed off as legitimate articles on the websites of even our oldest and most prestigious newspapers? Or the shuttering of almost all of our networks foreign offices? Or the brazen partisanship and nearly fact-free content of our most viewed news channel? Why not use all that anger you’ve obviously got stored up to combat a problem that is actually having a negative effect on our way of life?

But okay. Maybe you are so self-absorbed and cut-off from the outside world that you really believe one of the most important problems affecting your life is the lack of completely objective reviews of the new Super Smash Bros game. Fine. To you, you shut-in unicorn, all I can say is this:

If you’re so invested in this fight for ethics and integrity, that you are comfortable aligning yourself with the sorts of people who are willing to use threats of rape and death, or who reveal personal and confidential information of their opponents, placing them and their families at risk, then it’s your ethics which are coming into question. It’s your integrity that is being tarnished. And frankly, it’s your priorities that are well and truly fucked up.

It’s not enough to quietly distance yourself from their vile, often criminal tactics. You must denounce them loudly, repeatedly, and make it known that no matter your opinion on the matter, their behavior has no place in a civilized society.

Liked this? Follow me on twitter for more @stealthygeek

Welcome Back to Jurassic Park

Jurassic-Park

So last night I went to the Milwaukee Public Museum and watched Jurassic Park in the big ass dome theater. I last saw it in the theater back when it premiered in 1993. I was thirteen years old surrounded by my mom and my nine-year-old brother. We didn’t breath for the last half of the movie.

Twenty-one years and a whole lot of life later and the movie still holds up amazingly well. Stan Winston’s creature effects are as good today as anything going. The scene when the T-Rex breaks out of the fence in the rain and attacks the Explorer with the kids in it is still TERRIFYING. The sound of that monster roaring is still enough to trigger the lizard part of my brain to start screaming to get the fuck out of there. Just run.

Jurassic Park was, in many ways, the very height of special effects work. The CGI was adequate, but used sparingly. The close-in shots were still all practical effects. Including a 40 ft long T-rex robot that weighed 9,000 lbs. This had two huge advantages. First, your brain knows it’s a real object. No matter how good CGI gets, it’s still on the wrong side of the uncanny valley and your brain knows it. There’s a difference between knowing something is CGI fake, and knowing something is a fake robot, but still a real object.

The second advantage is the performances you get out of your actors. Sam Neil wasn’t looking at a dot on a green screen when the Rex blew his hat off with Spielberg telling him to act intimidated. He was looking at a fucking T-Rex with an air cannon in its nose that actually blew his hat off. He didn’t have to act, because his hind brain was busy throwing out all sorts of interesting signals and hormones because it knew that gigantic toothy thing in from of him was real, and presented a real danger. Same with the kids. They weren’t so much acting as they were having the living shit scared out of them for money in a way that may have verged on child abuse.

And THAT’s what I want to see out of Hollywood again. Not these overblown CGI fests that have to constantly up the ante on action instead of relying on authenticity to get their thrills. Jurassic Park only had fifteen minutes of actual dinosaur footage in its two hour run time, but they were some of the best and most memorable fifteen minutes in action film history. It was a perfect blend. CGI when absolutely necessary because practical effects would be impossible, then models and animatronics for everything else.

That is how you’re going to break through people’s cynicism and get them back into theaters, for the sort of experience you simply can’t replicate at home, no matter how big your TV or how many watts your sound system.

Personally, I cannot wait for Jurassic World. I just hope they bring back the robots.

Why I Don’t Give a Shit About the Midterms

It’s true. This political junkie doesn’t give a shit about the midterm elections. But it’s not apathy or a disinterest in our democracy driving this attitude. Let me explain. No, that would take too long. Let me summarize.

As it stands right now, the midterm elections are completely meaningless. Actually, that’s too broad a statement. Elections at the local and state level, especially where it comes to the various high-stakes Governor’s races across the country, are very important. With the gridlock that has largely paralyzed D.C. since the 2010 midterms, much of the legislation impacting the lives of everyday Americans is happening in statehouses throughout the country.

From access to women’s health, voting rights, public sector unions, the minimum wage, and fights over education standards and funding, Governors and their legislatures have been making seismic shifts in how we live, work, and vote. New blood at the state level are our best bet for making real and lasting changes.

Which is far more than can be said for the national races.

Here’s the thing. Since the GOP takeover of the House in the 2010 midterms, our legislative branch has been, and this is not an exaggeration, a failure of historic proportions. Due almost entirely to inflexible, unthinking obstructionism designed to sabotage the President politically, the 112th Congress was the least productive in the entire two-plus century history of our country. And barring a miracle in the next ten weeks, the 113th is on pace to be worse still.

But instead of stopping progress from being made, the obstructionists have simply created the circumstances driving their own irrelevancy.  When Congress does nothing, almost literally nothing, pressure builds and the other two branches are forced to take up the slack. Which is why the Supreme Court and the Executive Branch have been leading the way on important issues like same sex marriage and healthcare reform, with or without input from the legislature.

By refusing to compromise and reach across the isle, the House has taken itself, and the Legislative Branch as a whole, out of the conversation. And while there is a good chance the GOP will also grab control of the Senate this time around, it won’t change the fundamental dynamics of the power struggle that has been playing out over the last four years. Even with a slim majority in the Senate, the GOP won’t have anything close to the necessary two-thirds majority to override a Presidential veto. So they’ll be left doing the same thing they’ve been doing, like making fifty symbolic and meaningless votes to repeal the ACA even while the program continues to exceed all expectations. Two more years of complete and utter inaction is the only thing we can expect starting on January 3rd, 2015, no matter who wins the national races.

Absent the ability, leadership, and willingness to compromise, the legislature has become a vestigial organ whose purpose and usefulness is fading into memory. So no, I don’t give a shit about the midterms. Wake me in 2016.

NASA Is Being Social

Orionforwebsite

My favorite group of nerds on the entire planet are trying something new. The folks at NASA are running a contest to hand out press credentials to as many as 150 people active in social media. The full details of the contest can be seen here, but the short version is they’re giving dozens of twitter and Facebook addicts a behind-the-scenes look at the upcoming first launch of the Orion space module from on top of a big honkin’ Delta IV Heavy rocket.

If you’re unfamiliar, the Orion module is our replacement for the venerable Space Shuttle. But as beautiful as the Shuttle was, (and I know, I watched STS-116 take off from the bed of my buddy Erin Lantz’s pick-up truck while we were both drunk as skunks) it kept us tied to Low Earth Orbit for the last thirty years. With Orion, not only will we get our capability for manned space travel back and stop having to hitch rides from Putin, but for the first time since Apollo 17, we’ll once again be ready to start pushing back the horizon.

This module, coupled with the Space Launch System (which is batshit huge, btw), will be the system that moves us out past the Moon, to a rendezvous with an Earth crossing asteroid, and eventually onward to Mars. So while this first launch is an unmanned test run, it’s a BFD to space enthusiasts  and NASA cheerleaders like myself.

NASA has, without overselling the point, reinvented the world. Their list of accomplishments is so long and groundbreaking that I’m not even going to try and list the highlights here because the argument I’d have with myself over what deserves to be on the list has the potential to turn violent and I’ve only just gotten over a sports injury and started running again.

If there has been one critique I’ve had about NASA over the years, it’s that they have historically been simply terrible at touting their own success and contributions to the world, to the point that people are literally using satellite communications built and pioneered by NASA to write posts on social media to complain about the money our country “wastes” on the space budget. I have always believed that NASA should do more to employ smart, connected, and enthusiastic people to spread their message, trumpet their accomplishments, and popularize space exploration for a new generation.

So, it should come as no surprise to anybody that I’ve applied for one of these social media press badges. I am hopeful that between the knowledge I’ve gained as a sci-fi author, and my experience entertaining the public as a stand-up comedian, the fine folks at NASA will see the value in giving me a chance to cover this new chapter of our nation’s proud and unrivaled history in space. And if you think I’d be a good fit, please share this post through twitter and Facebook, and encourage your friends and followers to do the same.

If you’d like to see a couple of my more recent space-related posts, read these:

https://www.patrickstomlinson.com/2013/10/08/coca-cola-and-nuclear-bombs/

https://www.patrickstomlinson.com/2014/08/04/daily-dose-of-awesome/

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