Friday, July 08, 2011

The Last Space Shuttle

The space shuttle Endeavour and International Space Station shine front and center in this amazing (and historic) photo of the two vehicles docked together as seen from a Russian Soyuz spacecraft. Astronaut Paolo Nespoli snapped this view and others during the first-ever photo session of a shuttle docked at the space station.

Shuttle really isn't a great name and doesn't inspire the same way that the word 'rocket' does.

But perched here on the final hours of the U.S. Space Shuttle program, one can't dismiss the historic role this decades-long program has played, both of triumph and tragedy.

First pondered as a 'Space Plane' back in the mid-1950s, it was President Nixon who gave the final okay for deployment, and for over 30 years this first-of-its-kind ship (a re-usable spacecraft) put space travel (even though it aimed only for low-orbit work) into a nearly dismissible routine event. But two tragic accidents, one on launch and one on re-entry, highlighted that this immensely complex scientific process could never be considered mundane work.

Some major achievements the Shuttle made possible - the creation of orbiting space stations and experimental orbiting platforms, and setting up and repairing the Hubble telescope, which has given our world a stunning new perspective on our universe and all that it contains.

As one NASA space operations chief said in late June of this year - "
We've gone from where we went to space, and we touched space and we came back. We now are really in the posture where we're learning to live in space and operate in space."

The aurora australis, or southern lights, shimmer beyond Endeavour's vertical fin in a 1994 long-exposure picture. Endeavour was named after the ship commanded by James Cook, the 18th-century British explorer, navigator, and astronomer. The name was chosen through a national competition involving students in U.S. elementary and secondary schools.

The Shuttle fleet has flown 134 times, as much as nine times a year, though it has been used, far, far longer than first envisioned, and a lack of direction and financing now means that for the near future, our space program will depend on other nations to carry astronauts and cargo into orbit. Where we go from here is still mostly unknown.

I'm a total space nerd (one of my earliest posts showed my geekery). And this last Shuttle flight marks the end of an era, as millions if not billions of folks in our world have lived when this program was a constant event. NASA offers a constant online update of this final flight.

Many consider the money and materials and lives it takes for space exploration a waste, but the reality is that our very nature is to explore our world and all the mysteries of our universe. The waste would be if we simply stop and believe we can't reach for the stars.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Supreme Court Says Corporations Can Do No Wrong

A trio of decisions this summer from the Supreme Court makes it crystal clear: the judicial system offers nothing to workers or consumers and exists to only protect corporations.

Slate tracks the cases in this article, noting:

Slowly but surely, the Supreme Court is giving corporate America a handbook on how to engage in misconduct. ... When you obliterate the very possibility of civil litigation, you are, by definition, helping big business screw over the little guy. But when you teach big business precisely how to screw over the little guy, and how to do it faster, cheaper, and without detection … well, that's not even an illusion of justice anymore. It's enabling."

The Court backed the rights of a company - any company - to bypass all due process in favor of arbitration (usually held in secret, in a forum where a company's arbitrator has total control). A worker or consumer must sign agreements offered by a company which holds that a worker or consumer has no legal rights to challenge a company. Ever.

The Court backed the bizarre claim that a company can set up a subsidiary PR firm yet never, ever can the parent company be held accountable for any false or illegal claim their PR firms make.

The Court also ruled that if a corporation insures that if decisions to discriminate are spread widely enough, employees have no rights to file class action suits.

In other words, shut up and be happy for whatever a corporation offers you. Their rights trump yours.

Meanwhile, a growing legal challenge is being made to totally reverse the "corporate personhood" status.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Independence Day 2011 and Beyond

This is a holiday I make sure to observe - I must, as I take most seriously the ideas spawned by the Declaration of Independence, which was adopted on July 4th 1776. (Sadly, a recent survey reveals a portion of the American public is deeply confused and unaware of what the document and the day signifies - though, it could be said the fundamental claims of humanity's self-determination and freedom is of significant size and scope as to overwhelm the minds of 1776 and those of today as well.) The survey's results reveal that "Only 58% of residents know that the United States declared its independence in 1776. 26% are unsure, and 16% mentioned another date."

It was and it is a Revolutionary Document.

The claims it makes are as challenging to the status quo today as they were when it was issued. The second sentence, considered as the opening of the Preamble, marks a unique moment in human history - it claims and expresses a powerful idea, that no one person has rights greater than another, but that each of every person has not only rights but that this fact is indisputable to the point it does not require any proof from those who claim it. It's beyond bold - it is inspiring and will continue to be for the rest of human history.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

It was clear to me when I read that as a young boy there were unintended realities here, since the men who signed the Declaration had slaves, and that they considered women as having less rights - but the truth claimed by that sentence provided rights to every human born, and that truth is as powerful today as it was then.

No king or queen, no landowner, no religious leader, no master, no one is born above or below one another, and that idea continues to shake the foundations of society today.

Thomas Jefferson, who wrote much of that document, said in a letter in 1825 that the document " ...
was intended to be an expression of the American mind."

The document also contains a basic reality about government too - that it exists as an agreement between the governed and the government, and that the governed have the right to create and remake government as they see fit. And it's that reality, that we create the social systems which we deem as the best guardians and protectors of our basic, individual rights, which we are constantly reviewing and reconsidering and places authority in our hands, not in the hands of others who can never be questioned or challenged. And also, it is worth noting that the claim of rights isn't really limited to simply Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness, but that there are other rights too, which we, as free men and women, will and can claim with absolute certainty. Even today, some 235 years after this document was presented, humans struggle still to claim just those three basic rights.

Yet, still, our Declaration has altered the world which we live in, and when we understand the ideas expressed, we become better - for it provides not just for ourselves, but for all humans, now and in the numberless years of life ahead for all. It remains a document which can educate and enlighten us all.

So I hope you, dear readers, pause to consider the vast ideas in our claims of Independence and share them and celebrate them and even explore what those ideas mean.

Happy Independence Day!