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It is the 50 year anniversary of the Apollo moon landing!  It is a glorious anniversary: the moon landing was surely one of humankind’s proudest moments to date! Human beings left the Earth and walked upon the surface of a different world and returned to tell the tale! Yet it is a bittersweet anniversary too.  Today we are too politically paralyzed, too indebted, and too subservient to world-bestriding monopolies to accomplish anything similarly stirring.  It is unlikely we could even repeat the same feat! The president talks of returning to the moon by 2024, but anybody following the affairs of NASA recognizes that this is not going to happen (even assuming the current administration remains in place to push these particular space priorities).

In 1967, the Apollo program, by itself, was taking 4 percent of total government spending.  That was an era when the USA’s GDP represented 38% of the total world economic output (it is around 24% today).  There are lots of cranks and bumpkins who grouse about such outlays, but that money was spent here on Earth and it yielded rewards far beyond the moon landing itself.  The communications, materials, and technology innovations which have changed so many aspects of life largely flowed out of the space program (and its shadowy military sibling programs).

Perhaps you are wondering why this is not a nostalgic & triumphalist post about an epochal human accomplishment.  Maybe you are also perplexed about why I am writing about budgets and GDP instead of, you know, about landing human beings on the moon (although there has not been a human on the moon during my lifetime).

This is not just an anniversary post, it is also a polemical post about current policy failures. We are not investing any such vast outlays in long-term, open-ended research today.  It is going to come back to haunt us in a future of reduced prospects and lackluster breakthroughs Fifty years hence, are we going to look back on 2019 and enthuse about an Instagram filter, or slight improvements in immunotherapy, or blockchain technology?

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Wikipedia blandly notes ” blue-sky projects are politically and commercially unpopular and tend to lose funding to more reliably profitable or practical research.” The real genius of the moon-landing was that the end result was so spectacular and stupendous that it upended this conventional wisdom.  U.S. politicians of the sixties had the genius to perceive that the Apollo program could bring us together, boost our national prestige, bankrupt the Russians, and yield enormous technological and scientific rewards all at the same time.

In 1969, it must have seemed like the beginning of a golden age of space exploration.  After our heroic moon conquest we would build nuclear reactors on the moon and then create space cities in domed craters.  There would be giant lunar rail guns, torus space stations, spaceplanes, and Mars missions (and my floating Venutian city).  Instead we have the moldering hulk which is the International Space Station and some worn out space planes in museums.  Our vision and our willpower faded as our greed grew greater.

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But it is never too late! Space is still out there, bigger than ever. The moon landing showed that the impossible is possible if we work together.  That’s still true too and it is something we should all think hard about as we look up at the night sky and make plans for what to do next.

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Happy April Fools Day—or Happy April Fish! (as it is known in France).  This is a special day for several reasons.

Most importantly today is the anniversary of Ferrebeekeeper which came into existence 7 years ago today!  Since then, there have been lots of snakes, Goths, catfish, and colorful stories.  I have gotten some things completely and utterly wrong, but I have always tried to do my best and be honest and keep the content coming, even when I was tired or sick or sad at heart.  This is the one thousand five hundred and twelfth post!  That’s a lot of clams and crowns! To celebrate, I am putting up three flounder-themed artworks (literal poissons d’Avril) and I am also announcing the rollout of a bizarre and compelling new online toy to appear here soon.  I won’t tell you what it is (although I guess a prophet could tell you) but I will drop hints during next week’s blog posts.

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Unless you are a Dagon-worshiper or a Micronesian, April Fish is one of the few fish-themed holidays on the calendar and so it is very precious for me, as a fish-themed artist.  Additionally, today celebrates being careful in the face of obviously fake news stories.  Now lately there have been lots of weird propaganda statements and transparent lies issuing from certain albescent domiciles in Washington DC, so the waters are even more muddied than usual (almost as if antagonists to the east are deliberately throwing up lots of lies and fake stories to make the real news seem suspect to people who are not very good at reading), but it is wise to be eternally on guard.  Getting to the bottom of things is difficult, but a good rule of thumb is that real news is messy and complicated and offers more questions than answers (and lots of seeming contradictions), whereas self-serving puffery is generally gloriously simple and shifts all blame onto some third party (like Freemasons, foreigners, witches, or journalists).

Thank you all so much for reading.  I treasure your attention and your patience. Forgive me for being so tardy in responding to comments and kindly pardon my errors or mistakes in judgement.  Keep reading and looking and I will keep on writing, drawing, and floundering.  There are glorious things ahead for all of us.

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Happy Birthday NASA! The National Aeronautics and Space Administration began operations on October 1, 1958 barely two months after the passage of the National Aeronautics and Space Act (which congress approved on July 29, 1958).   Since then the space agency has encountered myriad astonishing successes from landing humans on the moon, to leaving the solar system, to building the only working space planes, to exploring the planets and sun with robots (and doing so much else).  In order to accomplish these astonishing missions, NASA has spearheaded countless breakthroughs in science.   During its 55 year history, the space agency has caused revolutions in fundamental astronomy, physics, aerospace engineering, materials sciences, ecology (and many, many other fields).  NASA is a resounding success—it is one of the greatest human institutions for exploring, learning, and innovation.

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It is somewhat ironic that today is the space agency’s anniversary because the shutdown of the American government has is deeply hurting the agency.  Of NASA’s 18,000 employees, 97% are on unpaid furlough. All projects other than active missions are temporarily suspended.  This is serious business, because space projects, like cakes in the oven, do not deal with suspension very well.  The more time spacecraft spend here on Earth being shuttled in and out of storage, the greater the likelihood of something going wrong.  Also, the universe did not shut down because of funding trouble—so missions with orbital based schedules will potentially have to be held up for years.

Sigh--Don't hold your breath for this...

Sigh–Don’t hold your breath for this…

For anyone reading this in the far future or from a cave deep beneath the Earth, this is all a by-product of a failure of America’s split legislative houses to pass a budget due to political feuding.  Extreme right wing legislators who do not wish for Americans to be able to afford health care (and believe that if the government is defunded it will advance the wealthy business leaders whom they serve) are holding the national budget hostage in the hopes that they can disassemble the Affordable Care Medical Act.  Congressional districts in America are laughably gerrymandered (i.e. designed to be perfectly safe for incumbents) so it will be some time before the majority of voters can remove these dangerous and incompetent politicians from office.

"I want to hurt sick people AND stop human progress." (citation needed)

“I want to hurt sick people AND stop human progress.” (citation needed)

Even before the government shutdown, NASA has been having political and funding trouble.  The anti-government right-wing caucus in the House of Representatives has been trying to bleed away more and more of its funding (many of the so-called tea party caucus are also religious fundamentalists, so science makes them nervous and unhappy anyway).  All of this strikes me as appallingly short-sighted.  The legislators who believe the market to be the supreme arbiter of human affairs are clearly being paid to espouse such a short-sighted objective. While, the market is quite good at selling everyone plastic rubbish, crooked equities, and hair loss pills, by itself the system is fundamentally incapable of the sort of research which moves humankind forward.  Blue sky research into the unknown is not a job for abusive oligarchs and fat corrupt businessmen.  The exploration of the universe and of cutting edge science is a task for the brilliant men and women of NASA–but at present they are at home worrying about their bills and looking at the employment section for less important (but better paying) jobs.

At least you don't need a clean room to flip burgers...

At least you don’t need a clean room to flip burgers…

Yuri Gagarin and his Vostok 3KA-3 space capsule

Today is the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s historic trip to outer space aboard a Vostok 3KA-3 space capsule launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome (in what is now Kazakhstan). Yuri’s call sign was “Кедр” (“Kedr” in Roman letters, which means Siberian Pine). He was in orbit for 108 minutes. Gagarin was chosen for this mission because of mental acuity, physical toughness, and his affability–which elicited the admiration and respect of his fellow cosmonauts. Additionally his tiny size was an asset in the cramped capsule (he was only 5’2”). He was the first human being to enter outer space. Our kind has been spacefaring now for half a century.

This event is celebrated around the world with a (fledgling) holiday known as Yuri’s night. It is a time to reflect on the milestones of space exploration and to drink to all the heroes of the world’s various space programs (especially Gagarin who died in a 1968 training flight). While I might prefer such an international space celebration to mark an American space milestone, there is no need to be churlish.  There is plenty of space to go around, and the tiny grinning Gagarin makes an engaging hero. He lived to fly.  If a fiery death in the sky was the price of such ambition then he was willing to pay up.

Vostok1 Lifting off on April 12th, 1961

The fiftieth anniversary of the first space flight is a worthy cause for celebration, but it also gives us a lot of missing milestones to think about.  Aside from the rickety bucket of bolts which is the International Space Station, we are all still here.  There are no moon bases.  There has been no Mars trip. We have never ventured to Ganymede and we may never go.  We lack energy sources which would allow us to undertake great ventures beyond this world. Although the robots currently exploring the solar system are quietly amassing a vast array of data and some very bright people are busy analyzing it, space exploration does not seem to be a priority right now. Our politicians would rather slather money on entitlement programs instead of funding a more assertive space program.  The bankers and industrialists in charge of private industry seem only fitfully interested in space research and exploration (indeed, they sometimes barely seem interested in anything worthwhile).

I haven't forgotten you Virgin Galactic. You have done well.

I am not demanding humankind establish an interstellar empire (well, actually I am, but I am asking quietly because physics is scary and space is extremely…spacious). There are some hard truths about the physical universe that we are butting up against here. Our failure to move further faster is partly a problem with engineering, technology, and materials.  Who knows though? Somewhere someone might currently be making some breakthrough which will solve all of this.  A glorious space age might be right around the corner, but we need to act.  We need resources to go toward blue sky research and scientific discovery. We need missions and objectives which arouse the finest passions in tomorrow’s explorers and scientists. Other than vague talk of private spaceflights and maybe a Mars mission we don’t have any dazzling targets we are aiming at. Our shuttle program is ending and nothing is replacing it. Our imagination is failing and our celestial dreams are winking out.

I would like the heroic accomplishments in space to lie in the future not merely in the past   Why not join the Planetary Society, or draft a letter to your legislator?  Yuri Gagarin was the first person to leave Earth, if only for a brief time.  More people should venture to space this century rather than less. We all need to take bolder better steps to ensure there is a future for humanity in the skies beyond this world. In half a century we have only just dipped our toes into the heavens.

The Milky Way Galaxy from Earth

Root Doodle (Wayne Ferrebee, ink and colored pencil)

I’m going to steer clear of April Fool’s hijinks because today marks Ferrebeekeeper’s one year anniversary! Happy anniversary to all readers!  To celebrate, I am posting doodles which I drew during business meetings during the previous year.  Hopefully their silly nature will satisfy your funnybone and provide an adequate anniversary celebration.

Doodle of Dynastic Egypt (Wayne Ferrebee, pen and colored pencil)

This one year anniversary also provides an excellent occasion for the announcement of exciting future plans and for some remarks concerning the overarching structure and themes of this blog.  First, the announcement: I am going to launch my online gallery of my own artworks by the beginning of May.  I always intended this blog as an interdisciplinary means to provide context and meaning to my visual art—and yet I have never even shown any of my paintings or drawings to you!  For shame! So it’s time to grasp the chimera by the horns and post digital images of the finished paintings and drawings I currently have on hand. I hope to smoothly integrate the gallery of images with the daily blog:  ideally the two will combine to form a powerful and unique synthesis.  However,  the project is liable to be chaotic–and so I apologize in advance for disruptions and confusion.  On the plus side, I have been growing and improving as an artist so I am excited to share my works with you.  As always I am eagerly looking forward to your remarks and comments.  As proof of my earnestness I am publishing some scans of doodles I made during office meetings—but be assured these are only scribbles I made to pass the time.  I don’t have digital images of my real work yet, but my real oeuvre is coming soon to this space.

Blue urban caprice (Wayne Ferrebee, Colored pencil and pen)

OK…onward to some remarks about this blog itself:

The categories I have chosen for Ferrebeekeeper are the symbols I cling to in my quest for meaning. I’m going to explain better how they relate to one another. In the era before computers, people writing research papers or other large nonfiction works would keep relevant facts on notecards indexed by subject.  The daily posts which I put here are rather like such collected notecards.  I truly hope that each one is intriguing in its own right and provides you a daily moment of wonder at the beauty and strangeness of Greek monsters or wombats or the planet Mercury. But the interdisciplinary subjects serve a larger purpose.  There is a relationship between serpents, gothic art, and chthonic gods.  There are commonalities underpinning the lives of mollusks, turkeys, catfish, and mammals as they compete for resources and strive to reproduce themselves. As I put up my art gallery I will try to explain why I post about crowns (the short answer is I think they are funny) and how these jeweled hats actually represent certain important aspects of history and politics.  I will attempt to underline the relationships between these disparate subjects and explain how they provide meaningful frames of reference about the larger world.

Whimsical Doodle of City and Sweets (Wayne Ferrebee, pen and colored pencil)

I will leave you with the funniest of my doodles.  It portrays a handsome young mollusk cyclops wondering through a world of possibilities and enticements.  Things might not be perfect, but it still looks like he/she/it is having fun! I certainly am as I write this and I hope you are enjoying reading. Happy Bloggiversary and Happy April Fool’s Day! Here’s looking forward to another good year!

Casual sketch of a One-eyed Mollusk on Holiday (Wayne Ferrebee, pen and ink with crayon)

Ye Olde Ferrebeekeeper Archives

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