Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Showdown over NASA funding likely

From USA Today: Showdown over NASA funding likely

WASHINGTON — A Senate panel Tuesday narrowly approved a bill reauthorizing NASA, setting up a showdown with the House over how much money the nation's space program should get.

The three-year bill, which now heads to the full Senate, would give the space agency $18.1 billion in fiscal year 2014, $18.4 billion in 2015 and $18.8 billion in 2016 -- $2 billion more per year than the U.S. House is considering. NASA received $17.7 billion in fiscal 2013, which ends Sept. 30.

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee passed the bill 13-12 along party lines, with Democrats in favor and Republicans opposed.

"While it's not as much as we'd like NASA to have, it's certainly a step in the right direction," Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., said after the vote. Nelson chairs the Science and Space Subcommittee that helped shape and steer the legislation.

If the Democratic-led Senate passes the bill as expected, lawmakers likely will have to reconcile it with a House bill that promises NASA much less. Earlier this month, lawmakers on the GOP-led House Science, Space and Technology Committee settled on a funding figure closer to $16.8 billion for fiscal 2014 and fiscal 2015. A vote on the House floor is expected later this year.

The partisan conflict over NASA funding largely involves each party's view of how much money is available to spend on most federal programs, such as space and science.

Republicans are unwilling to go beyond the overall allocations spelled out in the budget they approved earlier this year. Those levels assume the government-wide budget cuts Congress agreed to in 2011 -- known as sequestration -- will remain in effect.

Democrats on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee argued Tuesday that NASA reauthorization should be based on how much money the agency realistically needs, not on what might be available in the next budget cycle.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., called a Republican amendment to reduce the bill's funding levels "a misguided attempt to really turn the committee into nothing but the Appropriations (Committee)."

"And I think we have very important technology-mission oversight that we have to focus on," she said.

South Dakota Sen. John Thune, the top Republican on the panel, sounded optimistic that lawmakers can compromise.

The NASA bill "will likely need even more work before (it) reflects the kind of consensus that has characterized our committee's enacted legislation," he told panel members. "With additional effort, however, I am hopeful that we can get there in the weeks and months ahead."

The difference is not just about money. It's also about NASA's overall direction and whether the agency should be allowed — or trusted — to pursue the course it's laid out for the next few years.
Both the House and Senate measures would provide money to continue developing NASA's top priorities: a deep-space mission to Mars, a joint venture with aerospace firms to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station, and completion of the James Webb Space Telescope.

But while the Senate bill would permit an asteroid retrieval mission the agency wants to undertake as part of its stepping-stone approach to Mars, the House measure strictly prohibits it.

"I don't think that is the position of a committee to be telling the scientists and the NASA experts of what we should be doing," Nelson said Tuesday.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

I placed 11th at the 2013 AARP Cheyenne Spelling Bee

Scored 85 out of 100 in the written rounds (4 rounds of 25 words each), and got 1 word right out of 3 during the oral rounds, being bumped out in round 3.

11th place wouldn't be bad...except there were only 25 participants in the bee - down 15 from last  year (when I did not make the oral rounds, by 3 words). 16 of us were on stage for the oral round. If you missed 2 words you were done.

First word I got was NESS, a rocky promontory, which I spelled NESSE.

Second word I got was some kind of a fish, and I got that right by guessing, TOGUE.

Can't remember the 3rd word, some Chinese thing.

Considering the fact that I had only studied for 2 weeks (way back after last year's spelling bee ended) I did pretty well. Though, again, I don't think it really counts because I could always spell better than 16 out of 25 people.... 16 out of 40 might have been a different story!

My enthusiasm is rekindled to try again next year...I hope they'll have it again next year...but with only 25 participants...someone heard they might not have it again or might move it to a different state. (One indication is normally the oral rounds are webcast - this year they weren't, which seems to show not a lot of people are interested in it anymore.)

Well...if it is moved to a different state I can put on my travelling shoes, I suppose.

But it is rather sad that in a city of 50,000 people (which is how many folks Cheyenne had) only 3 people over the age of 50 from Cheyenne bothered to participate.

But then I don't think there was a lot of publicity for it.  Of course I haven't had a chance to pay attention to the media much these days, as I've been working very hard for a client of mine for the past several months...but a couple of the other Cheyenne-ites I talked to said they hadn't seen anything about it, either.

Anyway, it was a lot of fun. Lunch was good and I sat next to some interesting people, so that was fun.

I intend to start studying - really, I do - and make it past more than the 3rd round of the orals next year.  If they have it next year.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Who gets hurt by a boycott of Ender's Game?

It isn't Orson Scott Card - he's already made his money. He's been paid so that other folks could make the movie.

I'm all for gay marriage, but there are better ways to fight for it then to pick a fight with an author who, in the grand scheme of things, doesn't matter at all to gay marriage!

It's like the Asians who protest against all the movies of the 30s and 40s in which Caucasian actors appeared in "yellow face". Don't forget that there were plenty of Asian supporting players in those movies whose performances deserve to be seen, and the "yellow face" thing was just a product of the times, for goodness sake! (I love the Charlie Chan movies of Warner Oland, and the Mr. Moto films of Peter Lorre. They are classics, and their characters are heroes!)

Anyway, back to Ender's Game.

Orson Scott Card maintains that his classic novel Ender's Game is set more than 100 years into the future and "has nothing to do with political issues that did not exist when the book was written in 1984."

Henceforth, there's no reason not to see the movie adaptation coming out in November!

But speaking of coming out...

Card has garnered himself a reputation for being outspokenly against the justice system getting involved with the legalization of same-sex marriage, and his long-time stance came back to bite him (and, possibly, Summit Entertainment and Lionsgate) recently when the gay-rights-meets-pop-culture-appreciation group Geeks OUT called for a boycott of the film.

"Do NOT see this movie! Do not buy a ticket at the theater, do not purchase the DVD, do not watch it on-demand," group officials wrote in their online campaign. "Ignore all merchandise and toys. However much you may have admired his books, keep your money out of Orson Scott Card's pockets."

The author has written voluminously on the subject, including a February 2004 essay in which he opined: "Regardless of their opinion of homosexual 'marriage,' every American who believes in democracy should be outraged that any court should take it upon itself to dictate such a social innovation without recourse to democratic process."

In 2009, he joined the National Organization of Marriage, a strict opponent of legalizing gay marriage, and wrote in the Mormon Times that year: "Marriage has only one definition, and any government that attempts to change it is my mortal enemy. I will act to destroy that government and bring it down."

Card's stance today, meanwhile, is that no one should hold his views against Ender's Game—especially in light of the U.S. Supreme Court's recent decisions striking down the federal Defense of Marriage Act and allowing Prop 8 to fall by the wayside in California.

"With the recent Supreme Court ruling, the gay marriage issue becomes moot," Card said in a statement to Entertainment Weekly. "The Full Faith and Credit clause of the Constitution will, sooner or later, give legal force in every state to any marriage contract recognized by any other state.

Now it will be interesting to see whether the victorious proponents of gay marriage will show tolerance toward those who disagreed with them when the issue was still in dispute."

Ender's Game, about a gifted boy drafted into military school in an apocalyptic future where the first order of business is defending the planet against a coming alien invasion, boasts an all-star cast that includes Harrison Ford, Asa Butterfield (as Ender), Ben Kingsley, Hailee Steinfeld, Viola Davis and Abigail Breslin. Gavin Hood directed and adapted Card's novel for the screen.