This week has been a mixture of bad news, good
news, and unbelievable news.
of course, there's that Major Bummer in the Sky. Kristin and
I met while working at Goddard Space Flight Center, and even
though we both moved on long ago, we still feel like we're part
of the NASA family, particularly since we still have many friends
and loved ones who continue with the fine work of the space agency.
So our hearts our heavy indeed as we mourn this week's loss of
Columbia and her crew.
That said, I'm not so blindly devoted to NASA as to be in
denial about the Shuttle's obvious flaws. I think this week's
tragedy should be the wake-up call that leads to the development
of a new generation of space-faring vehicles. In the first 20
years of the space age, we moved through at least 4 generations
of rocket travel... but in the past 20 years, spacecraft development
has been stuck in neutral. The Columbia might not have been destroyed,
for example, if her heat-shield had been redesigned using more
modern heat-resistant materials.
Our family has several cars we use to get around, and they're
all quite old and increasingly unreliable. The oldest in the
fleet had her engine rebuilt a few years back, but even the newest
was built in the 80s and he's really starting to show his age.
In a couple more years, we'll be able to start calling these
cars antiques. And yet, our trio of aging cars is newer than
our nation's trio of space shuttles. We can continue to get by
with our klunky old cars for awhile yet -- we just have to call
for a ride when one breaks down -- but aging spacecraft cost
astronauts' lives. It's time to retire the shuttle and build
the next generation of spaceflight systems.
There's a hard-hitting article by Gregg Easterbrook in this
week's Time Magazine, called "The
Space Shuttle Must Be Stopped", and while I don't agree
with everything he says, I think he makes some excellent points.
The shuttle is a costly and complex all-purpose spaceship whose
functions would be better served through specialization: instead
we should have a spaceplane designed only to ferry astronauts
into space, plus a new heavy lift booster intended only to send
up all that big stuff we currently load into the Shuttle's cargo
bay. Imagine how much better, faster, cheaper, and above all,
safer, such a system might be if NASA could simply scrap the
current program and develop something new from scratch with all
the lessons they've learned so far?
(By the way, the space shuttle seen in the
photo above is actually the Atlantis; I took this photo on August
2,1991, during the first of two occasions on which I got to see
a launch in person.)
Next, the rollercoaster of news took us
from the horrible to the fantastic: my close friend Keith
Baker has been declared
the winner of the Wizards of the Coast Fantasy Search Setting
contest! Keith beat out 11,000 other hopefuls to take home prize
money totaling $120,000 and now gets to watch as WotC brings
his world to life in the next generation of their role-playing
products. Isn't that amazing?
We couldn't be happier for Keith. He and I served together
in the trenches at Magnet Interactive Studios, and I watched
as his brilliant mind was nearly crushed by a epic nightmare
of computer game development entitled "Bluestar". After
that, he moved out to Colorado where he again toiled away for
years in an attempt to get a computer game published. Finally,
he wised up and quit that whole scene, diving headlong into freelance
writing for the adventure game industry, where he was already
starting to make a name for himself, even before winning this
amazing prize. Now of course, he's an instant star in our business,
but as it always is with those who attain seemingly-instant success,
it's actually the pay-off to many years of hard-work.
Congratulations, Keith! Your ship is waiting for you at the
As if the news about the loss of the Columbia
weren't bad enough, we also learned this week that Ed Rosenthal
was found guilty of growing medical marijuana in California,
where the voters declared it legal long ago, and where he was
doing so with the authorization of the city government. Astonishingly,
he was not permitted to give the whole truth in his defense...
the jurors were deliberately shielded from the knowledge that
Ed's huge grow operation was explicitly set up to benefit seriously-ill
patients, and that he was acting as a deputized officer of the
City of Oakland. Now that it's all over, the jurors are learning
how much they'd been mis-informed, and they're outraged... half
of them have denounced
their verdicts and declared that they would have acquitted
Ed had they been told the complete story.
This too should be a wake-up call and a turning point in an
expensive federal program with a long history of unwillingness
to admit of its own faults. Ed Rosenthal is known to millions
of stoners as an expert on cultivation, having written numerous
magazine articles (his column is called "Ask Ed") not
to mention at least a dozen books. He is a classic example of
the fact that smoking pot for years does NOT interfere with your
ability to think and produce, and I know this firsthand: I've
met Ed personally, at a NORML
conference, and I was impressed by the clarity of his thinking.
I remember well how he asked Kristin and myself a long series
of insightful questions about our work in the game business.
His conviction is a jackboot in the face of all Californians
who voted to legalize medical marijuana, and it's yet another
life being ruined by our stupid
and cruel anti-marijuana laws.
What kind of a country is this, where a peaceful and intelligent
horticulture expert can face 5-40 years in jail for growing plants
to help sick and dying people in a state where voters legalized
his actions and those who convicted him have since denounced
their verdicts? Maybe California
should secede from the Union, if that's what it takes for
them to have their laws honored.
Once again, I'm incredibly angry... aren't you?
(If you are, you might consider donating to Ed's legal defense fund...)