Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Sputnik


Russian-made.  Improbably launched.  A joke, really.  Not much to see...

...until American woke up to find that something complete preposterous had suddenly become an existential threat, sailing high over our heads, tweeting out a little signal every .3 seconds.

Freaked us out it did.



How the hell had this happened?  We were the most powerful country in the world, right?  Highest standard of living. Best education.  Coolest cars.  And yet the Soviet Union -- global adversaries which we mocked as a backwards and failing experiment in totalitarianism by committee -- stuck one right in our ear.  Beat us on our own turf, in no uncertain terms and in front of the whole world.


Sure, science fiction writers -- most of them with some kind of science or engineering background -- had imagined their way into space in print hundreds of times.  Robert Goddard was doing serious, early work on rockets before World War I, and the boys-with-toys of "The American Interplanetary Society" (later "The American Rocket Society") were conducted their own rocket experiments in New York and New Jersey in the 1930s and 1940s.  So while there were plenty of people who took the subject seriously and knew what they were talking about, but they were generally regarded as fringe nerds or eccentric academics.
(The late Ray Bradbury used to tell the story of being braced at a New York literary party by members of the smart set who would ask him derisively if he was the Ray Bradbury who "writes about spaceships and trips to Mars".

Bradbury asked them if he could have their names and phone numbers.

"Why do you want to know?"

"Because the night man lands on the Moon I'm going to call you."

He collected the numbers.  Several years later man landed on the Moon.  Ray got out his list and started calling.

"My name is Ray Bradbury.  You are a stupid son-of-a-bitch!"

Then he hung up and called the next name on the list.)

This, however, is where the analogy breaks down, because after a lot of false starts, in response to this new and immediate threat, the United States actually got up off its ass and got in the game in a serious way.

And it wasn't just that mountains of new money were earmarked to win the "space race" -- it's that even more mountains of new money were earmarked to build the infrastructure of an ongoing space program. Money to put engineering and science programs into hundreds of high schools and colleges. For public relations to build public support.  For advanced research and long range projects.  

Now we find ourselves suddenly staring down the barrel of an existential threat from within our own borders.  Improbably launched.  A joke, really.  A freak-show of America's basest instincts and worst personality disorders that has suddenly become an existential threat hanging our heads, Tweeting out bullshit all day, every day.

How the hell had this happened?  

The party that believes in science and facts.  In civil rights, tolerance and equality.  In education and a living wage.  The party that pulled the country back from the brink of economic disaster.  Saved the auto industry.   Insured 20 million new people.  You know the list.  And yet the worst people in America running the loudest, lyin'est, most bigoted nutcase imaginable stuck one right in our ear. 

Beat us on our own turf, in no uncertain terms and in front of the whole world.

And here's the thing.  We don't lack for speakers and bloggers and podcasters who have been warning for decades about exactly this threat -- the dangerous lunacy that the Right was turning loose upon the land.  There are plenty of us who took the threat seriously.  Who actually knew what the fuck we were talking about.  But the more the evidence mounted that we had been right about the Right all along,  the more we were treated as pariahs: as fringe kooks and "terrorist-loving, America hating Libtards".

We on the Left don't lack thinkers and writers and activists, old and young, with big hearts and great ideas. What we sorely lack are the kind of long-term, patient, institutional investments that transformed the American space program from this...


to this.



And until the big money on the Left gets off the mat and starts making serious, long-term, institutional investments, the worst people in America will continue to own the future.

8 comments:

Mick said...

Problem is there ain't no money on the Left any more. What isn't far Right is neoliberal or libertarian, essentially moderate conservative on the center Right. 25years of neoliberal propaganda have convinced the money that the Left can't succeed in this country. They've so thoroughly hijacked the word "liberal" that now it is accepted that anybody to the left of batshit crazy RW loonies is a "liberal" and that progressive are fringe whackos with utopian ideas and unrealistic ideals. All that damage has to be undone, and in a society focused on money as the only worthy goal, the only metric of success. Bernie was right: stopping the Machine is the first step and we're going to have to do it without Big Money backup.

Habitat Vic said...

Love what you wrote Driftglass, but that part (hope? desparate plea?) about the big money on the Left making serious long term investments?

Don't think it will ever happen. First, there are (possibly always) going to be more greedy selfish assholes that are conservatives than there are liberals (or even moderates). But even if it was equal worth between Liberal versus conservative billionaires, there is still a problem.

As an example take (sorta liberal, or at least not right-wing loony) Gates + Buffet + Soros, that's about $120 billion. Roughly equal to D.Koch + C.Koch + Adelson. The 3 "liberal" billionaires have given over $30 billion to third world causes -literally saving/improving lives. The RWNJ billionaires I listed have given $15-20 billion directly to dark money, nut-job foundations, purchasing media outlets, etc.

1) I don't know you'd ever get enough liberal billionaires to chose putting billions into left-leaning think tanks, or buying (propping up) progressive media outlets versus donating that money directly to hellp poor peoples lives and/or other worthy causes. Even though long term, that might be the thing to do.

2) As those liberal (really, moderate or sorta progressive - if there are even many of those) billionaires get old and die, there is a good chance that their progeny -raised as millionaires, and often feeling entitled - become politically worse than their wealth-creating parents. For every Kennedy/Annenberg/etc that does good deeds with their inherited wealth, there is a second or later generation Walton, Coors, Koch, Bush - hell, Trump - that grows up to only care about power and welath and to Hell with the peasants. Maybe its a struggle with the human condition, but the spoiled spalpeen offspring seems to be the rule rather than the exception.

I have no easy answers. Sure, public campaign financing and undoing Reagan's body blows to the media (a new Fairness Doctrine, breaking/limiting media ownership/consolidation) would go a long way, and wouldn't require finding matching liberal billionaires (or at least not as many). How to get that done? Hell, unless Trump. Ryan, McConnel get on TV and announce they are merging with Russia and have sent Evangelical pilots to nuke liberal American cities, its going to be a rough 2 or 4 years.

dinthebeast said...

Spudnick?

Perhaps he can be the catalyst for fixing some obviously broken stuff. How's that for unbridled optimism?

-Doug in Oakland

Mike Lumish said...

Damned right: fringe nerds or eccentric academics.

The meatheads love them some plasma tee-vees and cancer cures, but they sure to despise the eggheads who make it all possible - with their "discipline" and their "learning" and their "long term perspectives" and their silly "respect for factual accuracy, regardless of personal preference."

We got ourselves a full blown culture war going on, and everyone has to pick a side and get into the fight.

bluicebank said...

"And it wasn't just that mountains of new money were earmarked to win the 'space race' ..."

In Southern California in the 1960s where the defense industry cuddled, and elsewhere, it was more than that. The entire culture was changed. I was there, man, as a wee boy. Parents wanted us (male) children to learn the fuck out of chemistry and physics. Because of the Russians. Parents bought me any chemistry set, even springing for a good microscope (because bio-warfare? ... Dad worked at North American Rockwell, and I could get any chemical I wanted).

The upside was that kids were encouraged to fucking think, being that physics be hard. Downside for the Conservatives is that kids developed critical thinking skills, and once into college, well shit, them boys became Liberals and were having sex.

On the downside, today's environment won't allow such Tom-foolery as educating the young'uns about the scientific method of determining bullshit from regent-grade acid. Because there's an easy litmus test strip you can apply to any mother-fucking conservative to determine whether he's a ph1-2, or a simple ph6 idiot.

Jimbo said...

Habitat Vic: can't argue with your points and you're correct that Gates and others do focus a lot of attention on the poor in developing countries (I work in that field). And, ironically,it would frankly help ensure the sustainability of those overseas investments if we had a liberal-progressive think tank/media infrastructure that supported them and could compete with the right-wing. An additional (and major) problem is that the RW infrastructure appeals directly to the reptilian brain: conjuring up fear and hatred of the "other", tribalism, greed and reinforcing ignorance. Unfortunately, these are far easier messages to convey and to use to mobilize (negative) action than science, logic and reasoning. At this point, our only hope is for vast overreach and self-destruction on the part of the RW. Finally, as a minor point, the examples you gave of right-wing kids of billionaire fathers: Walton, Koch, Coors, Bush - the fathers were as bad or worse than the kids in fact, with the exception Preston Bush. Koch and Coors elders were both Nazi sympathizers and Sam Walton was a pretty vicious rightwinger.

Shartiblartfat BBA, MBA, PDQ, etc said...

That did it. I will be looking for a young person to teach how to use a sliderule, for after the big EMP wipes out all our technology. Finding logarithms by rubbing sticks together does not have to be a lost art!

trgahan said...

One of the few things that keeps me going is the fact that the Right NEEDS its crackpot billionaires, think tanks, billion-dollar propaganda machine, et al. to maintain its finger hold on power. And it is a finger hold...a devastating one, but one none the less.

Having even half as much invested in the America's political left would be devastating to Republicans.

BUT....first...I think we have to acknowledge that the Left leaning voter has largely abandoned the political space for the last 30 years. It shows at the state and congressional levels. and in the fact that we whine about Hillary not "motivating" us when the fucking Supreme Court was one the line.

How much of what the Right has accomplished in the last 30 years worked only because they had the court ruling in their favor time and again? There is a reason FDR had to pack the courts before getting the New Deal.

The investment would be great, but we need progressive voters to show the a level of commitment to the political battle that they haven't shown since before 1964.