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14 March 2018 @ 02:42 pm
Mostly About Space  
Celebrity Death Watch: Shammi was a Bollywood actress. Bill Pulte was a real estate developer. Kate Wilhelm was a mystery and science fiction writer. Togo West was the Secretary of the Army under Bill Clinton and later became Secretary of Veterans Affairs (still under Clinton). Ruth Wilensky served up a light lunch in Montreal. Oskar Groening was a war criminal, dubbed the bookkeeper of Auschwitz. Gary Burden designed album covers for rock albums. Hubert de Givenchy was a fashion designer. Ken Dodd was a British comedian. Craig Mack was a rapper. T. Berry Brazelton was a pediatrician and author.

Russell Solomon founded Tower Records. Once, oh best beloved, there was such a thing as a record store, where you could go and listen to records (or, later on, CDs) and find new things to buy that you had never heard of before. I mostly frequented HEAR Music in Santa Monica, which had well-curated listening stations, leading to many somewhat serendipitous purchases. Tower Records was bigger and more mainstream, but I still spent money there.

Stephen Hawking was a physicist. Part of his fame was due to his disability. His book, A Brief History of Time, was probably the least-read non-fiction bestseller of all time. I did actually read it, but I can’t say I remember much about it.

Liam O’Flynn played the Uilleann pipes. He co-founded Planxty, one of the major bands that modernized Irish folk music. He also played for Shaun Davey’s orchestral suite The Brendan Voyage. That piece had a big influence on my life, because it led me to discover Tim Severin’s writing, which has made me choose certain travel destinations (notably The Faroe Islands, but also Georgia.)


Non-celebrity Death Watch: I got a facebook message from my cousin yesterday. He mentioned that his father (my uncle) had died in December. I had gotten a call from Uncle Herb’s friend at the end of October telling me he was ill (leukemia) and I had expected to get another call when he died. I am a bit peeved not to have been notified, since I would have driven up to the funeral. Anyway, Herb was a man who enjoyed life, including traveling and eating and playing poker and doing Sudoku. He had started going to Chabad and joined a tefillin club there in the last few years of his life and I believe that gave him some comfort.

Space Force: It is rare that I agree with President Trump, but the notion of a Space Force is not at all ridiculous. This has been talked about for years for good reasons. One has to do with funding priorities. The Air Force dominates space programs right now, but tends to prioritize airplanes over space systems in the budget process. (This is even worse for the Navy. I have a running joke with some of my colleagues that we should refer to satellites as spaceships to keep their attention.) But the bigger reason is that space programs are, in general, inherently multi-service and the current processes don’t handle that well. To use a fairly simple example, the Air Force buys the GPS satellites and ground control system, but the biggest user of GPS equipment is the Army. This makes it more challenging to develop and deploy user equipment. We have similar synchronization issues with pretty much every program. A Space Force is a reasonable solution to some of these problems. (Trump taking credit for the idea is silly, but that’s another matter.)


Speaking of Space: It always bothers me that people assume extraterrestrials will be smarter than us. It seems to me perfectly plausible that contacting a non-spacefaring culture is really a question of setting that as a priority. Maybe they have spaceships but not, say, flush toilets. Maybe they have a Space Force instead of a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. Contrary to popular phraseology, rocket science is actually straightforward. Now, art – that’s what takes brains.


Speaking of Rockets: I just saw that Wreckless Eric is going to be playing at Jammin’ Java in April. I had no idea he was still around.

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