Thursday, September 09, 2004


Semantics and Sophistry

Kudos to Mark Steyn, Daniel Pipes, Michele Malkin, Cox and Forkum and Dennis Prager, amongst many, many others for speaking up and calling things as they see them. How the Sulzberger empire, the BBC, Reuters and Agence France Presse can look themselves in the mirror while using every euphemism M. Roget wouldn't have come up with for fear of dishonor is beyond me. You see, this week, I'm kind of sensitive about this sort of thing. Three years ago on Saturday, I had a ringside seat for another mass murder, and I'm still haunted to this day about it. I'll recount that story on Saturday, but you know, as a parent, I can't help but cringe anytime I see any reporting about what happened in Beslan. The mass media can barely be trusted to report a traffic tie-up, and yet the euphemisms fly because they don't want to offen someone. Let's see, by calling those terrorist murderers "captors" (Associated Press, if you must know) I'm offended, as a freedom-lover, a law-abiding citizen, a parent, on any number of levels. But I'm not one of the constituencies that's got a hot line into Channel 7's news desk making a geshrei every time some quote unquote religious leader is offended by something, to wit calling someone a terrorist because of little things like slaughtering kids, things like that.

Which leads to a minor rant about the news media's choice of shamans in general for segments. Consider that in New York City, for example, on the Jewish High Holidays there will invariably be a report from Temple Emanu-El on the evening news. This doesn't particularly sound offensive on the surface, but consider that Emanu-El is located on 5th Avenue across from Central Park, therefore its congregants tend to be not exactly representative of the cross-spectrum of Yidlach, and it's also the most visible exponent of very Reform Judaism. Honestly, if it weren't for the Aron Kodesh you'd think you were in a Lutheran church. Jacke Mason once did a totally devastating rant on Reform vs. Orthodox rabbis, wish I could find the transcript, but it was totally on target, comparing the old-fashioned "khubde khubde" type with the Reform guy with the horn-rimmed glasses who gets on TV and talks in measured tones that sound like William F. Buckley strained through Sheepshead Bay. Needless to say, there are several of these pet Reform guys who get on TV and pontificate, and you start wondering if these guys make broches over the tannenbaums. (And if you need to wonder why I didn't capitalize a proper noun there wait for tomorrow's post...) I once mentioned how I found a particular Reform rabbi who managed to get on TV for various Yom Tovim and whenever a dovish viewpoint was demanded by the news desk very annoying for his pronouncements to a friend who is of all things a Reform rabbi, and my friend's reaction was incredulous to say the least. My friend couldn't see under the hood of the veneer, the polish, that said Rabbi was clueless, and divorced from (dare I say it....) tradition (as I write this I just hit the Play button for "Exile On Main Street" to get that damn song out of my head...).

And have you ever noticed that when a frum Rabbi is on TV it's always in the context of lighting a menorah from a cherry picker, some local news of limited relevance, or in the height of absurdity? Frequently of course the latter two merge, as in the reporting of the virtual panic in Williamsburgh and Borough Park over the microscopic crustaceans in the New York City water supply and the sanctity of the human hair used for shaytlach. Very rare to see a genuine frum Rabbi actually speaking on topics that matter (sorry Shmuley, you're a bissel show biz for me), although I do have to give the Republican Convention's organizers propers for having Rebbitzin Jungreis as a speaker.

And for today's example of why "Faster, Cheaper, Better" doesn't work for my favorite space agency, consider the denouement of the Genesis space probe. First, the money quote:
"Clearly something has gone wrong here," Chris Jones, director of solar system exploration at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., which managed the mission, said in a NASA TV broadcast of the landing.

This one ranks up there with "Obviously a major malfunction" (NASA play-by-play man after Challenger blew up, in case you don't remember).

If the rescue had happened as planned, when the capsule entered the Earth's atmosphere, traveling at 25,000 miles an hour, an initial parachute would have deployed at a height of 21 miles. It was not clear yet if that took place. A few minutes later, at an altitude of four miles, the main parachute, a winglike parafoil, would have deployed, and the capsule would have glided over the Utah desert.

Cliff Fleming, the pilot of the lead helicopter, was to make the first attempt to snag the parafoil with a 20-foot hook in the back of the helicopter. Mr. Fleming said that except for one deliberate miss as a test for the other pilot, Dan Rudert, he successfully caught the parachute in every practice run. "We did not ever miss one," Mr. Fleming said on Tuesday. "I feel quite confident."

If the parachutes had functioned properly, the pilots would have had enough time to make four attempts to capture the capsule before it hit the ground.

Uh, to ask a silly question, why were the engineers putzing around with Rogallo wings for recovery, an idea that was nixed as far back as Gemini?. Let's see, capsule hit at 136 fps, weighed about 450 lbs, there's a fair amount of kinetic energy on impact.


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