Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Being There

When I was a kid I used to dream about being involved in space launches and designing jet engines and things like that. They were big but achievable dreams, and in fact I have achieved them. At certain moments I stop being my adult self who carries around a history of gradual effort and advancement, and I go back to being my kid self and I just say, "I can't believe I'm doing this." For example, when I gave a presentation to NASA on how to fix a certain part of the Shuttle after the Columbia accident, for a few seconds I became my 12-year-old self who launched model rockets from the backyard, and I said, "I can't believe I'm doing this." That was also the time I am sure I felt my grandpa standing behind me, in his high boots, all covered in coal dust.

I have several friends who must have had the same beautiful and frightening experience, like my friend from high school the standup comic who did a set on Leno. I bring this up not to brag --- my dreams probably sound boring to some people, and that isn't the point.  I bring it up to make the point that there are certain experiences money cannot buy. It's not just greeting-card bullshit. You cannot buy the experience of discovering a law of physics or painting a masterpiece.

You may say, well, Elon Musk spent $1 billion because he wanted to build his own rocket. That's true, but the $1 billion by itself didn't get him all the way there. He didn't just give some people $1 billion to go off and design a rocket he could slap his name on, he actually designed the damned thing. (With help from a lot of other people, of course, but he was the driving force.) When the rocket launches, it is primarily by his own hand.

This is what I try to explain to my kids when they talk about careers. Like most kids, they would prefer to get rich, but what is the point of money if not to enable you to have certain experiences, even if it's just the experience of living in a 5th Avenue penthouse? But there are experiences that money can't buy. Lots of people have donated money to try to cure cancer, but they cannot buy the experience of actually curing it. Would you rather be the billionaire whose money enables cancer to be cured, or would you rather be the person who cures it?

Come to that, you can't buy the experience of living every day of your own life, whether your situation is happy or sad. You are the one who gets to live it --- or choose not to do so, I guess. This is what Steve Jobs meant when he said "Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life."



Saturday, May 16, 2015

Election 2016 Special!

I don't take electoral politics seriously. Most government policy is made by unelected bureaucrats who can create whatever regulations they feel like, the law be damned.

Most people either vote a straight party-line ticket or choose a candidate based on superficial things like height, a good speaking voice, physical fitness, a serious but not grave demeanor, and a lack of facial hair. In addition to these qualities, I also feel that a politician should provide entertainment. (It has been said that politics is show business for ugly people.)

It is very hard for the politician him- or herself to be entertaining, because politicians are carefully trained not to outrage even the most strange and bizarre opinions. It's hard to tell a funny joke that doesn't offend someone somewhere.

This is where Presidential brothers come in. We have a great tradition of goofy Presidential brothers - Billy Carter, Roger Clinton, Neil Bush. I don't remember much about the Carter Administration except for the hostages in Iran, and a drunken Billy Carter having peed on an airport runway in the presence of the news media.

So, I plan on voting for the candidate with the brother most likely to make an ass of himself. Here's a rundown of the potential for brotherly embarrassment for some of the major candidates for 2016.

Hillary Clinton: We have some real potential right off the bat here, with brother Hugh Rodham. He had to give back $400,000 he got from a guy who Bill Clinton pardoned. As a bonus, he is both fat and sloppy, which adds color to any comical missteps. The only trouble with Rodham is that he may have learned to stay out of trouble based on his experience during the Bill Clinton administration.

Elizabeth Warren: She has three older brothers, but they keep a low profile. All I could find was them supporting Warren's discredited claim about being part Indian.

Rand Paul: He has two brothers, but what interests me is his dad, Ron Paul, who was himself a candidate the last time around. Ron Paul was generally regarded as the most conservative Congressman of his time, and now he's retired and doesn't have to stand for office any more. He is both a free and original thinker, as well as a very likely source of gaffes and embarrassing associations.

Jeb Bush: Neil Bush is still the likeliest Bush brother to do something entertaining. George is far too savvy (don't be fooled by that down-home personality.) But like Hugh Rodham, Neil Bush has had time to sharpen his game, so he may be less likely to go off message.

Jim Webb: He has a brother, but I couldn't find anything on him. Webb himself may be the more likely source of entertainment. He likes to say what's on his mind, which is why he couldn't be a senator any more and why I don't see him making it far in the primaries.

Bernie Sanders: Now here is where it gets interesting. Bernie Sanders has a brother, Larry, who moved to England years ago and was recently defeated in an election as a Green Party candidate. Bernie Sanders himself is an actual socialist, so his brother is probably a real flake.

Lincoln Chafee: He doesn't have a brother, and moreover, is from an old-line New England political family. Bor----ing.

We have several strong contenders here. Will Larry Sanders tell a British tabloid that his brother's favorite song is the "Internationale"? Will one of Elizabeth Warren's low-profile brothers be caught on video saying "We Chinese, we play joke, we go pee-pee in your Coke"?  Or will Hugh Rodham show us all that he hasn't learned from his mistakes? Only time will tell.