/Tag: Personal - political

The Day that Star Trek Died

By |2011-01-29T01:55:34+00:00January 29th, 2011|Enterprise Architecture|

Twenty five years ago, the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after lift off, killing seven astronauts.  But for me, that explosion over Cape Canaveral took away Captain Kirk, Spock, Bones, and all the other denizens of the United Federation of Planets.

I grew up with Star Trek.   My parents divorced when I was 9, so I don’t have a long memory of happy times in my house, but of the times we did have, Star Trek held a kind of magical memory.  It was one hour, each week, when we all sat quietly and watched our “big” 20-inch black and white television.  It was one hour when we could see a vision of the future, where people weren’t rioting about the color of their skin or their country of origin, where money wasn’t the only motivation for smart people to succeed, and where intelligent, passionate people followed higher ideals than self interest.  I wasn’t the only one watching. 

Dr. Ronald E. McNair was also watching.  He, too, had grown up watching Star Trek, and imagining what it would be like to be an astronaut.  One big difference: Dr. McNair was black, and he grew up in the segregated city of Lake City, South Carolina.  On Star Trek, he saw white people and black people working side by side.  As his brother Carl told Storycorps years later, Star Trek’s hopeful vision was one of the inspirations that led him into science (where he became and expert in quantum electronics and lasers) and then into space as a mission specialist.  He was the second black man in space in 1984, when he flew aboard a previous Challenger mission. 


In 1986, I was a young software developer.  I’d been working with computers for many years by then, including such golden oldies as the IBM 370, the DecSystem 10, and the HP/3000.  These were also the early days of the microcomputer.  I had the opportunity to spend some time, (but very little professionally), on the Kaypro, the Compaq Portable, and of course, the IBM PC.  I was employed at a small manufacturing company in Tennessee called DeRoyal Industries.  They made a variety of different medical products, from orthopedic braces to surgery trays.  They also had a small software division, where I worked to create a product for hospital operating rooms to allow them to schedule surgery efficiently.  It was all on Unix System V, running on an AT&T 3B2/400 minicomputer.  In those days, the word “hacker” was a compliment, Zork was cool, and we were thrilled to use the UUNET to make computers talk to one another.

But America was no longer investing in Space.  In constant dollars, the budget of NASA in 1986 was one third that of 1966.  America was losing interest.  The drama was gone.  In 1984, President Reagan placed a challenge at NASA’s doorstep: build a permanently manned space station, but he didn’t increase NASA’s budget to make it happen.  So, when NASA went on a nationwide search for a teacher to travel into space, they wanted to add some interest, especially from children.  The idea was to capture the imagination of the next generation of astronauts, just as Apollo had captured me.

So, on the morning of January 28, 1986, millions of schoolchildren were tuned in, and television stations around the country were all showing the launch live.  After all, a teacher was onboard.  She was one of us.  We all sat in awe as the countdown reached zero, and the rockets fired, and the shuttle gracefully headed toward space.  And 71 seconds later, we all watched in horror as the solid rocket booster exploded, destroying the Challenger and her seven-man crew: Francis R. (Dick) Scobee, Michael J. Smith, Dr. Judith A. Resnik, Dr. Ronald E. McNair, Ellison S. Onizuka, Gregory B. Jarvis, and Sharon Christa McAuliffe, the first teacher in space.

I was heartbroken.  It was the first time we’d lost a mission.  It was the end, for me, of the dream of space that had started with Star Trek.  After that awful morning, no one spoke of NASA with the hushed tones of awe that I remembered from my youth.  Now, it was only talk of price tags, and O-Rings, and the failure of NASA to deliver on Reagan’s (unfunded) challenge.  NASA was no longer a place I wanted to work.  Visit, yes.  Support, sure.  They were the only game in town.  But to work there, or become an astronaut… that dream died in 1986.  For me, that was the day that Star Trek died.

Crew of the Space Shuttle Challenger

Will Wikileaks be responsible for the next attack on the United States?

By |2010-12-06T16:03:51+00:00December 6th, 2010|Enterprise Architecture|

I rarely do a personal rant on my blog… preferring to stick mostly to Architecture, but this time, I am incensed by the behavior of WikiLeaks, and I’ll share my opinion.  If you are not interested, feel free to skip this entry.

Today, WikiLeaks decided to publish a list of potential targets for terrorism that the US Government considers to be critical to our safety and security.  Now, I’m not going to pretend that I’m happy with the fact that an irresponsible person gave this information to them.  Assuming the case is proven in court, the soldier who uploaded the data is very much guilty of treason. 

On the other hand, we have a long history, in the United States, of relying on trustworthy behavior on the part of the press.

In the US, we take press freedom seriously.  Much more so than many other democratic countries.  For example, in Germany, printing inflammatory literature about Jews can get you arrested.  In Britain, if you publish a remark about a government leader, you could be sued for defamation.  In the US, we don’t often use the legal system to regulate the press.  In exchange for that freedom, the press has a responsibility to publish things that help create an informed and educated public without causing actual harm.

The Wikileaks site wants to be protected like a newspaper.  But they have violated their responsibility to prevent harm. This act, publishing a list of vulnerable sites, is far from responsible.  It is reasonable to assume that our ability to analyze our own weaknesses is BETTER than the ability of a terrorist organization from another country.  The list, exposed today, is likely to be materially different, and probably more extensive, than anything a terrorist would create.  In fact, this list includes sites outside the US that we consider to be highly valuable.  Ergo, citizens of countries around the world are endangered by the publication of this list.  Even our allies had not received copies.

The press does have a responsibility to present information that is useful or provides value.  It is OK to say that a list exists, or even to report on a selected subset of sites where the government is having problems with providing security.  It is OK to talk about the categories of sites (ports, factories, trains, airports, yada, yada, yada), so that folks can understand what kinds of targets need to be secured. 

That said, it is wildly irresponsible, and in my opinion, criminal, to provide material and highly valuable information to our enemies and expect that you won’t be part of a chain of events that ends with the loss of life.  Julian Assange (founder of Wikileaks) has gone too far. 

While I cannot call for the hacking of his site, nor do I agree with the attacks that have taken place against his site, I have a hard time finding fault with the perpetrators of those crimes.  By providing material support to terrorist organizations, Mr. Assange is a terrorist.  I call upon our NATO allies to uphold the NATO treaty (an attack on one is an attack on all), and arrest Mr. Assange, shut down his site, and hand over all copies of as-yet-undisclosed information to their rightful owners.  Assange has proven that he cannot be trusted to behave in a responsible manner.

Read A Little Blasphemy

By |2010-01-03T13:01:00+00:00January 3rd, 2010|Enterprise Architecture|

Not an architecture topic, to be sure, but a human topic.  I am a firm believer in the freedom of expression.  I also believe that a peaceful world is born, in large part, of respect for the differences between people.  Without the ability to express differences, misunderstandings cannot be corrected.  Prejudices cannot be addressed.  As distasteful as it may be, it is important that we allow the misinformed people to write and speak and even attempt to teach things that we would consider wrong, or misleading, or even harmful.  As Voltaire is often misquoted in saying: “I do not agree with what you say, but I defend to the death your right to say it.”

As such, I find it perplexing, and seriously problematic, that the government of Ireland has seen fit to pass a new law that seeks to criminalize free expression in those situations where the speech offends someone’s religious beliefs.  I am talking about Ireland’s new Anti-Blasphemy law.  While there is clearly good intent in this law, I cannot support it. 

So what can we, the non citizens of Ireland who are offended by this law, do about it?  Continue, undaunted, to speak, and read, and share ideas… even mistaken ones… so that we will all learn together.  Were the Danish cartoons depicting muslims as terrorists an accurate depiction?  no.  But did the author and the newspaper have the right to publish them?  yes.  Did protesters have the right to picket, and governments have the right to react?  yes.  It is not wrong to speak.  It is not wrong to react.  It is wrong to kill, or imprison, or even fine someone, for speaking their ideas, and sharing them with others.

So, to my readers, I encourage you to take a moment and read statements from Mark Twain to Jesus that are now probably illegal in the beautiful and normally progressive nation of Ireland.  These statements are published on a web site hosted in Ireland, by a group of atheists who are challenging the law, so don’t delay because this site may vanish if the Irish courts decide to actually enforce this unjust law.

Read 25 Blasphemous Quotations at: http://www.atheist.ie/2010/01/25-blasphemous-quotations/

And while you are at it, find and read as many banned books as you can. 

You can find a list of banned books at: http://www.banned-books.com/bblist.html

(Note: I corrected the text above to reflect the fact that the cartoons were Danish, not Dutch.  Apologies.)