Wait . . . What?

That was my reaction upon reading that NASA’s primary goal is to improve relations with Muslims. 

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in a recent interview that his “foremost” mission as the head of America’s space exploration agency is to improve relations with the Muslim world. 

Though international diplomacy would seem well outside NASA’s orbit, Bolden said in an interview with Al Jazeera that strengthening those ties was among the top tasks President Obama assigned him. He said better interaction with the Muslim world would ultimately advance space travel. 

“When I became the NASA administrator — or before I became the NASA administrator — he charged me with three things. One was he wanted me to help re-inspire children to want to get into science and math, he wanted me to expand our international relationships, and third, and perhaps foremost, he wanted me to find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science … and math and engineering,” Bolden said in the interview. 

I always understood NASA to be about space exploration.  Maybe science and math inspiration came along with it.  Expanding international relationships?  Maybe for things like the space station, but that seems like a side goal, or a means to an end more so than an actual goal.  But to help the Muslim nations feel good about their historic contribution to science?  What the hell does that even mean?  How is it in our interest to give self esteem points to a religious or cultural group?  Particularly a group that tends to have a problem with trying to kill us?  And, even if it were in our interest, or anyone’s interest, why would it be up to NASA to do it?  I don’t even have an outrage about it; it’s just bizarre. 

Bush’s guy makes a bit more sense:

“NASA … represents the best of America. Its purpose is not to inspire Muslims or any other cultural entity,” Michael Griffin, who served as NASA administrator during the latter half of the Bush administration, told FoxNews.com. . . .

“If by doing great things, people are inspired, well then that’s wonderful,” Griffin said. “If you get it in the wrong order … it becomes an empty shell.” 

Griffin added: “That is exactly what is in danger of happening.” 

He also said that while welcome, Muslim-nation cooperation is not vital for U.S. advancements in space exploration. 

“There is no technology they have that we need,” Griffin said. 

The former administrator stressed that any criticism should be directed at Obama, not Bolden, since NASA merely carries out policy. 

So, what’s the White House have to say about all of this? 

The White House stood by Bolden on Tuesday. Spokesman Nick Shapiro said in a written statement to FoxNews.com that Obama “wants NASA to engage with the world’s best scientists and engineers as we work together to push the boundaries of exploration. 

“Meeting that mandate requires NASA to partner with countries around the world like Russia and Japan, as well as collaboration with Israel and with many Muslim-majority countries. The space race began as a global competition, but, today, it is a global collaboration,” he said. 

Bob Jacobs, NASA’s assistant administrator for public affairs, echoed that point. However, he said that Bolden was speaking of priorities when it came to “outreach” and not about NASA’s primary missions of “science, aeronautics and space exploration.” He said the “core mission” is exploration and that it was unfortunate Bolden’s comments are now being viewed through a “partisan prism.” 

First, I love how actual quotes are now a “partisan prism.”  Second, it seems like we’ve got one of two things going on, and I’m not sure which one is more troubling.  Either 1) We’ve got the head of a major federal agency going off half-cocked on an unfriendly television network and pandering to other countries by misstating his agency’s goals, or 2) the administration really is making a point of telling agencies to improve Muslim self-esteem, for reasons we can only guess.  Whether it’s the “primary goal” or not is unimportant; if Bolden is telling the truth here, the administration is obviously giving it a position of importance.  At best, this means that the adminstration has no concept of what the government’s, or it’s agencies’, proper role is and no sense of priority in a time of economic stress. 

Related: Ann Althouse says: “Oh, admit it! The point of science is to feel good about how we can do science.”


Let’s all give some props to the good folks at Hallmark

for managing to field complaints from complete idiots with apparent grace. 

A local chapter of the NAACP is upset because a Hallmark graduation card, with a “solar system” theme, uses the word “black,” followed by what they have interpreted as the word “ho.”  Really. (video at the link).  Hallmark pulled the card. 

When I was a senior in high school, I stage managed a play version of “School House Rock” at the children’s division of our local community theater.  Three elementary school aged, home schooled* sisters were in the cast.  The play closed on the most fun, rocking song of the show, “Interjections!”  where the whole cast joined in.  You can read the lyrics here, and be shocked by an supposed children’s program making liberal use of the NSFW word “Darn.”  Or, you could if you were the mother of these three sisters, who approached me at a rehearsal to tell me that her daughters could not be in this song due to the use of that word.  I laughed in her face.  It was simply absurd to me. 

But not as absurd as it would have been if I had been working a customer service line at Hallmark, and a person had called in to tell me that they heard the word “black hole,” in a space context, and still understood it to mean “black ho.”  Kudos, Hallmark customer service rep who fielded that call!

* Before any home school advocates jump on me, I just want to say that my first tastes of home schoolers really came from some odd families in that town who apparently believed that theater was the only acceptable activity that their children could participate in outside of the protected womb of the home.  They were clearly doing it wrong, and it left a bad taste in my mouth about homeschooling.  Since then, I have had the opportunity to work with some kids from homeschooling groups in my current town, and they are far more well adjusted and sane.  It’s changed my mind so much that, should we have kids, we may even consider taking this route with them someday.  (Although I’m not sure these kids are really homeschooled they seem to be more of a very flexible private school group that calls themselves homeschooled.  Either way, I was really impressed with them.)

How much did you spend in lottery tickets last year?

I turned 18 in 1998; lottery wasn’t legal in my state then, but I went to college close to the border, and sometimes friends and I would hop over the line and get a ticket and some cheap gas (Georgia stations were selling it at $0.75/gallon for a while back then!) and a (1 dollar) lottery ticket.  We probably did this six or seven times during my freshman year.  When they legalized the lottery in my state a few years later, I probably played a couple times, just for the novelty.  My husband put in a few dollars a week with some co-workers for a while several years back.  I don’t think either of us has bought a single ticket, or even really thought about it, in years, despite the fact that we certainly visit places that sell tickets several times a week, pass billboards for it on a daily basis, and are subject to some of the most irritating radio and TV commercials for it ever written. 

Of course, we’re middle class.  But if we were “less fortunate“. . . (via Nealz Nuze)

The devious slogan for the New York State lottery is “All you need is a dollar and a dream.” Such state lotteries are a regressive form of taxation, since the vast majority of lottery consumers are low-income. The statistics are bleak: Twenty percent of Americans are frequent players, spending about $60 billion a year. The spending is also starkly regressive, with lower income households being much more likely to play. A household with income under $13,000 spends, on average, $645 a year on lottery tickets, or about 9 percent of all income.

How many times have you heard some variation on “the rich are different from you and me”?  I think, instead, that the poor are the ones that are different.  The more I see in life, the more I see that, by and large (but of course, not without exceptions), the poor stay poor because they do things that make them poor.  Things that seem not only stupid but outright bizarre to me.  It’s not just throwing away significant amounts of all too scarce money on a “dream” (more like a fantasy) of a lottery, it’s a whole slew of things that demonstrate similar poor planning and lack of forethought, and an overall failure to accept that success almost always takes work and patience.

Whoa . . . Science

Slate has a really interesting article about antibiotic resistance and what can be done about it.  Here are some of the things that the writer says are on the horizon:

A little creativity might end this game of microbial Whac-A-Mole. Some underfunded, underappreciated researchers have dreamed up truly innovative strategies for stopping genetic transfer—even turning the phenomenon against our enemies. In vitro studies have shown that chemicals like ascorbic acid shut down the movement of antibiotic resistance between cells. (Right now it’s effective only at concentrations that a person couldn’t tolerate, but it’s a start.) Because almost all antibiotic resistance relies on genetic transfer, this technique might be the solution we’ve been seeking since the very first colony of bacteria solved penicillin in 1944. In the best-case scenario, coupling antibiotics with anti-genetic transfer agents could eliminate the need to ration antibiotics.

Others studies have suggested that we can “infect” bacteria with genetic instructions that cause them to waste their resources copying useless genes, leaving them no time to eat and reproduce. Another possibility is to train bacteria genetically to coexist with us peacefully. For example, some bacteria survive by releasing a toxin that helps them consume our intestinal material, causing disease. If we can develop a gene that enables these strains to eat our food instead of our flesh, they’ll have been effectively disarmed. Antibiotic resistance wouldn’t even be a concern.

Fascinating.  I only hope that ObamaCare doesn’t bring this research to a halt.  At least with cancer and heart disease, we could be OK just staying where we are.  Blood pressure and tumors don’t mutate and resist; antibiotic resistance is not a battle in which we can stay where we are.

Brains: Nature or Development?

Every now and again, a study comes out attesting to the fact that homosexual men have brains that are more similar to women’s than to men’s.  This one is just the latest (HT Instapundit)

Using brain scanning equipment, researchers said they discovered similarities in the brain circuits that deal with language, perhaps explaining why homosexual men tend to outperform straight men on verbal skills tests — as do heterosexual women.

The area of the brain that processes emotions also looked very much the same in gay men and straight women — and both groups have higher rates of depressive disorders than heterosexual men, researchers said.

The study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, however, found the brain similarities were not as close in the case of gay women and straight men.

Previous studies have found evidence that sexual orientation is hard-wired. More than a decade ago, neurobiologist Simon LeVay reported that a key area of the hypothalamus, a brain structure linked to sexual behavior, was smaller in homosexual men compared to heterosexual men.

The latest study, led by Ivanka Savic of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, was significant in that it looked at areas of the brain that have nothing to do with sexual behavior, suggesting there was a basic biological link between sexual orientation and a range of brain functions.

The way I see it, this research means nothing when they are done after  the person has identified and lived as gay.  Brains change and develop over time; how can we say that the way that we use our brain, say, by embracing a more feminine attitude/personality as some gay men do, doesn’t cause the brain to develop in a more “feminine” way? 

What I would like to see is a longitudinal study, done starting in childhood and following to adulthood, to see if we could “predict” homosexuality based on brain physiology.  (Yeah, that would be a Pandora’s Box- it’s my research fantasy, so I will limit it only to answering questions about which I am curious and assume that it will never be misused.)