Friday Grab Bag: Gridlock, Gas Gauges, Germans

Blog neglect again?  By way of lame excuses, I’ve been busy with historical articles for my hashing blog and working on recipes for my cooking blog.  Fat lot of good that does you, dear Paul’s Thing reader, right?  I’ll try to make up for it with some random Friday observations.


I may not drink any more, but I still get into drunken conversations with my friends.  A recurring theme in drunken conversations is that things now are as bad as, or worse than, they’ve ever been.  The government has never been this dysfunctional.  Kids have never been worse.  The future of America has never been more uncertain.  When my friends invoke the apocalypse, I try to remind them we’ve survived a revolution, a civil war, at least one deadly flu pandemic, two world wars, dust bowls and depressions, massive social upheavals, Vietnam, 9/11, and the Patriot Act.  And here we still are.

I mention this because the pervasive media hysteria over the debt ceiling fight between President Obama and Congress was starting to get to me.  All these dire predictions and warnings!  What happens when a country defaults on its debts?  A month or two back, one such country was Greece.  Is Greece still here?  Why, yes it is!  Iceland told the bankers to fuck off earlier this year.  Iceland is still here!  Russia?  Still here!  Even sick joke countries like Somalia, Zimbabwe, and North Korea … they’re all still here!

I feel better now.  We’ll muddle through.  I hasten to add, however, that putting the current debt limit fight in Washington DC into perspective does nothing to lessen my disdain for politicians and our clearly-broken political system.  Earlier this week #fuckyouwashington jumped into the top rankings of hashtags being used on Twitter.  Makes sense to me.  I did my bit to keep it up there.  I also did the involved citizen thing by writing to Representative Giffords’ office, Senators McCain and Kyl, and President Obama, telling them that if they cut Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid in any way they’d lose my vote.

So yeah, #fuckyouwashington.  Since I know none of these weasels read my blog, I’ll confess I can’t think of a single incumbent politician I’d ever vote for again.  That includes Obama, if he doesn’t hurry up and grow a spine.


For the past three months I’ve been driving without a fuel gauge, monitoring miles driven from my last fill-up with the trip odometer.  Not all that different from driving a Beetle back in the day, for those of you who remember pre-fuel gauge VWs.  But it bugs me (bugs, get it?), as it would bug anyone who flies airplanes.  You don’t tolerate mechanical malfunctions because they lead to larger ones.  So yesterday I decided to take the car to this auto electrical repair shop we used once before, back when pack rats ate the wiring under the hood of our old Thunderbird.

It was seven in the morning when I made the decision.  But when did the shop open?  I looked the place up on the internet.  They didn’t have their own web page, but they popped up on two or three local business review sites on Google, so I checked those.  The proprietors apparently wanted to keep their operating hours secret, and that left a bad taste in my mouth.  Then I started reading customer comments on the review sites.  Whoa.  Two different customers accused the shop of charging them for new parts but not installing them … instead, they said, the shop cleaned up the old parts and just bolted them back on.  Shades of the Route 66 gas stations that used to prey on cross-country travelers out west.

That did it for me and I wound up taking the car to a different mechanic, one we’ve used in the past for other, non-electrical problems.  I took care not to look up any customer reviews first … I do need to get the car fixed, after all!


A friend sent me an article about USAF missile launch officer training.  As you might expect, this training includes a section on the moral justifications for launching nuclear warheads against civilian populations.  We wouldn’t want a Minuteman launch officer to get cold feet at the last second, would we?

What disturbed my friend … what disturbs me as well … is the explicitly Christian lens through which the USAF examines the morality of war, using chaplains as teachers, citing New Testament references and couching their remarks in terms of Jesus.

This reflects the bias religious people have toward secular people.  They cannot accept the notion of secular morality.  Atheists and nonbelievers don’t believe in hell; therefore they have no reason to play nice.  By extension, the only people qualified to discuss morality are religious people, so bring on the chaplains!

All this, of course, is deeply insulting, and wrong.  Predating and underlying every religion is one simple secular concept: do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  That’s morality in a nutshell.  You don’t need Jesus or threats of eternal damnation to see the sense in that, or to behave accordingly.

The second thrust of the article about USAF missile launch officer training is the whitewashing of Wernher von Braun’s Nazi past.  Naturally, von Braun’s pioneering work in America’s missile and space programs is part of the training … there’s really no way to ignore his place in history.

The article accuses the USAF of ignoring von Braun’s prior employment as a leading Nazi rocket scientist and SS sturmbannführer.  In the last days of WWII, von Braun and a number of other Nazi rocket scientists defected to the Allies.  We brought them into the US under a clandestine program called Operation Paperclip, helping them avoid the fate of other leading Nazis who were being tried for war crimes at Nuremburg.  Our justification was that we needed them to help us develop a missile and space program of our own.  The Soviet Union did the same thing, embracing and adopting the Nazi rocket scientists we didn’t get.

We certainly embraced our Nazi rocketeers.  I remember what a fatherly hero von Braun was made out to be back in the 1950s.  The Walt Disney Show featured him several times, talking about space stations and future trips to Mars.  My point is that if the USAF isn’t making much of von Braun’s Nazi past in its missile launch officer training program, well, that’s nothing new … the whitewashing has been going on forever.

But you know what?  I don’t just remember the Disney version of Wernher von Braun.  I also remember knowing he was a Nazi and that he had used prison camp slave labor to build the V-1s and V-2s that rained down on England, killing thousands.  He didn’t just employ prison camp slave labor, either.  He and his fellow scientists killed thousands of them.  They starved them, worked them to death, and executed hundreds more trying to root out saboteurs and punish malingerers.  My friends and I knew all this as little kids, even while we were being asked to worship him on Disney.

What I’m not real clear on is just how we came to know of von Braun’s real history.  It certainly wasn’t ever brought up on TV.  Did our teachers tell us the real story, or was it our WWII veteran fathers?  One way or another, though, the whitewash was a failure.  WWII was only a few years in the past.  Maybe it was, as the comedians say, too soon.  Still, missile launch officers being trained today weren’t around in the 1950s and 60s (or even the 70s or 80s), and maybe they don’t know, in which case the USAF is doing them a real disservice.  And it’s stupid.  All the great advances in missiles and space have their roots in WWII and the Cold War.  There’s nothing moral about any of it, so why pretend Wernher von Braun was anything other than what he was?

Oh, right … Wernher was a good Christian.

© 2011, Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.

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