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If Nature Abhors a Vacuum Why is It So Hard to Send Manned Ships Into Space? February 12, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in death, gummint, New Mexico, science, sense of wonder, space.

It was with real sorrow I saw that NASA is forsaking the Mars exploration. In the words of this article, Mars lost.

No, we lost. If the race is to the stars, that is. If it is to become a third-world, second-rate country then we are certainly crossing the finish line.

The conjecture is that NASA figures Virgin Galactic, SpaceX and other private companies will do it. Fine, I’d say, but there is an incredible impediment skyward for that, at least in New Mexico. The trial lawyers have spent a reported $200k lobbying to kill a bill limiting liability at Spaceport America. IOW, they want to sue the place into oblivion at the first accident.

If you are smart enough to accumulate $200,000 for the ride and smart enough to go through the release form where it states in *three* places “you may die if…” and the form must be signed at least 24 hours prior to launch to give time to think it over, then I’d say you are well on your way to understanding the danger. Everyone dies. I’d love to go up in the Virgin Galactic launch vehicle to space, and if I had to die, there’s no way I’d prefer more. But that’s just me. If I had $200k, I’d pay for the privilege of maybe dying on my way to space. Color me DD Harriman. And if I didn’t augur in, then I’d have one hell of a story to tell for the rest of my life.

Word is that Virgin Galactic is pulling back a bit because of the lawyers. VG has sunk more money into offices and the like in Las Cruces but they haven’t yet ponied up a dime to the state for use of the spaceport. It might well be they pull out and go to the Mojave site or Wisconsin or wherever. The loss to them would be negligible at this point. To space tourism in NM, it would be a crushing blow if not a fatal one.

This isn’t to say Spaceport America would close. 90% of the facility schedule would still be A-OK to go as unmanned launches are lined up and waiting to blast off. But space tourism is, excuse the expression, the boost NM needs. Thanks for trying to kill it, ambulance chasers. And thanks, NASA, for killing our entire space program.


Bone-eating Snot Flower December 28, 2011

Posted by bobv451 in death, education, history, ideas, science, writing.
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Isn’t that the greatest title, ever? I came across this as I was surfing and thought it made an eye-catching (so to speak) lead into weird news and the like. Bone-eating snot flower. Sort of rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?

This is up there with the corpse flower. See the time lapse below. No Smell-o-Vision included. Thankfully. (And no, I realize this Smell-o-Vision predates it.

A moment of silence, please. Cheetah the chimp from the Tarzan movies has died at the age of 80.

Now, in tribute please fling some feces (your own or others).

Or howabout the croc named Elvis that ate the lawn mower? Utterly crazy is the bloke who retrieved the mower (and 2 of the croc’s teeth).

Starlings show why we are susceptible to advertising.

Local news story that is outrageous. A guy in a mask and Santa hat tried to kill his brother-in-law with a crossbow. And in a separate case, a woman ran her bf through with a sword.

And still people wonder where those ideas come from.

Outlaw to Hero December 11, 2011

Posted by bobv451 in death, history, New Mexico, outlaws, westerns, Wild West, writing.
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PBS on its American Experience series, is doing a documentary on Billy the Kid. From the link it appears the take is that he was some kind of Robin Hood character. I suppose this is true in the sense that he robbed from the rich because the poor didn’t have anything worth stealing. I’m not sure what the fascination with vicious murderers and criminals is, especially if they come to a violent end.

Dillinger is another case in point. “I wasn’t such a bad guy as some people said…” I suspect the only reason he wasn’t convicted of killing a police officer was that he tried to shoot it out with the FBI. Or maybe robbing banks during the Depression was a good thing? Real Robin Hood stuff. At least nine movies have been made about him (and for Billy? More than 15.) [How many about Alexander Fleming? Uh, don’t know. Jonas Salk? A couple? It is obviously easier to be known as a killer and bank robber and horse thief than for saving untold millions.]

One of my favorite Charles Bronson movies is From Noon til Three. Part of the attraction for me is how the insignificant can be blown up into legend, how petty crimes become marvelous deeds–through the power of advertising and PR. The rest of the attraction is how much fun the movie is.

Readers/viewers want a look at something other than what they have in their own lives, so it is obvious criminals fits that bill. But why morph the psychotic killer into something lovable? You got me on that.

Dillinger death photo

Not Just (Billy the) Kid(ding) December 4, 2011

Posted by bobv451 in awards, contest, death, ghost towns, gummint, ideas, New Mexico, westerns, Wild West.
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A few months back I mentioned New Mexico’s Billy the Kid hunt. Items or clues placed at historic spots around the state–sort of a collect the entire set kind of quest. NM Tourism spent about $600k on the project and says it has netted over $2m. I assume this means that $2m was spent that wouldn’t otherwise as a result of the promotion. That’s fine and dandy, and I’m happy to see someone in Santa Fe doing something other than ignoring their jobs.

Since the state is stymied in developing its extraction industries and more than 70% of the land is owned by the feds (and therefore off the tax roles) NM scrapes the bottom of the barrel when it comes to generating revenue. “Catch the Kid” resulted in a $10k reward being split between two teams, one of which notably called itself “The Regulators.” Other prizes were significant.

Our history is about all we can use to generate new money. Spaceport America is a good start on continuing revenue coming in from outside the state (and US) and now is the time to push tourism since Jan 6, 2012 marks NM’s 100th anniversary as a state.

Why not a tour of outlaw hot spots? Blackjack Ketchum is a gruesome ending to a New Mexico outlaw is notable. (pictures at the link might be sorta, well, gruesome for you) Elfego Baca is on the other side of the badge–he wore one. His shootout is nothing less than astounding.

Shakespeare, NM is a veritable time capsule of outlawry. You might want to check my fictionalized version of deadly happenings there in the story “Silver Noose.”

So much history. I’m glad “Catch the Kid” was successful. May the tourism dept think of something even more successful for NM’s centennial year.

Ponderosa-ty October 9, 2011

Posted by bobv451 in death, gummint, history, New Mexico, nostalgia, weather.
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The morning paper had a front page (with a significant jump) article on how the Las Conchas fire west of Los Alamos has destroyed not only hundreds of square miles of forest but also the ponderosa pine. More than thirty years ago the same area had a massive fire but the ponderosas escaped the worst of that one. Not so this time. From the article, there is no chance for the ponderosa to grow back.

Replacing it will be the oak tree, a scrubby replacement for the soaring pine. And shrubbery, undoubtedly the product of Roger the Shrubber. I won’t live to see the ponderosa grow to any significant height, even if it weren’t extinct in this region, but it is a shame that no one will, either.

Poor forest upkeep (or rather that dictated by law, which is the same thing) kept the fire burning, fed by undergrowth that had never been cleared and the lack of roads and firebreaks. The fire was something that undoubtedly occurred many times in the past and is something we have to expect if we fail to maintain the forests (which is unnatural). So the decision was made: let it be destroyed naturally or be preserved unnaturally.

I wish it were still there.

The ponderosa farther north is crowding out another lovely tree, the aspen. There is nothing quite so lovely as the quaking aspen in autumn, its leaves looking like a turbulent sea of gold and silver in even the lightest breeze.

I didn’t catch all the thought-provoking Life After People. I wonder if they dealt with the effect of massive forest fires on the wildlife. Probably. And it was probably a good show. What will the vegetation look like in 100, 500, 1000 years?

The rain Friday night turned to snow, some of which still remains above the 10k ft level on the mountains to the east. It is cold and I need soup for lunch.

Abandoned September 15, 2011

Posted by bobv451 in death, End of the World, fantasy, ghost towns, history, ideas, sense of wonder, weird news, writing.
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The idea of once thriving towns that succumb to desertion intrigues me on many levels. Who comes in the first place, what drew them, what caused them to leave, what’s left? The what’s left is obviously a draw for others, too. I love Dark Roasted Brew website especially for their series of abandoned places. This one is a Disney island like the one in Disneyland’s Frontierland. Tom Sawyer Island?

What great speculation that Disney walked away because of brain eating amoeba or real man eating alligators! Those aren’t quite sufficient but they make great story ideas. I turn to mystery rather than sf for those stories, btw.

Or YA. Imagine yourself as a kid who discovers an island like this. It’s all yours to explore. If kicking around an entire ghost town could be cool, this is light years better.

When I was a kid there was a house down the street that had collapsed or was being demolished, though I suspect even then real demolition could take place in a day like it does now, leaving only an empty lot. We’d get down under the main floor and explore. Somewhere along the way a security guard came along to keep us out. Yeah, right. It made for even more fun, exploring this derelict house *and* avoiding the hapless guard. Eventually the house was completely demolished and hauled off to make way for a Circle-K (an early day 7-11). The house was more fun.

Maybe it is the thrill of finding something that makes all this interesting to me. Not sure what “something” might be and in that lies the appeal.

They Gotta Be Kidding? August 19, 2011

Posted by bobv451 in death, fantasy, gummint, ideas, sci-fi, UFOs, weather, writing.

They Gotta Be Kidding?

NASA is worried about something more than failing at their Muslim outreach mission? Why, yes, they are. They worry those grays will find us because of global warming and destroy us. Does any of that make sense? Carl Sagan said it was the oxygen that differentiated a populated vs a non-populated planet. He was thinking in terms of higher lifeforms, not slime. Oh, wait, excuse me. Sagan was thinking. That’s the big difference here.

Dumb aliens might be, at this very moment, invading planets with lots of volcanic activity? Or carpet bombing Venus?

I suppose we can excuse NASA since their real mission of manned space exploration is a thing of the past that they have gone a little…wonky. Dotty? Like old Uncle Herk who talks about World War I when he wasn’t even born then, goes on about painting electrons green and wanders about talking to himself a lot? Like ole Uncle Herk, I suppose we have to put up with NASA but the price tag is a lot higher. Uncle Herk at least gets Social Security and might qualify to be put in a home real soon now.

But let’s think stfnally for a moment. If the dumb aliens want to wipe us out because we generate CO2, according to NASA (we’re the gummint, trust us), why isn’t the reverse equally plausible? The dumb aliens come to earth to *buy* our CO2. They’re CO2 deprived. Earth prospers! Until there is no more CO2 left and we die in an ice age.

“Like fools we have let the devil take command of our souls…”

On so many levels, we seriously need what Jeff Wayne is singing here:

The Importance of Being Bad June 1, 2011

Posted by bobv451 in death, history, Texas, westerns, Wild West, writing.

All writers live lives of purity and honor. That’s why we enjoy the villains in our fiction so much (and if you believe the former, I’ve got some prime NM swampland to sell you–but you’d better believe the latter since it’s true).

You can have many conflicts in a story. Man vs nature is a favorite, especially in the western. But the man a man fight of hero vs villain is the mainstay of most popular fiction, and with a good reason. It’s fun. We can identify with the bad guy, maybe a little, and see what our baser impulses would be like running rampant. Choosing the antagonist in a story can be done in a lot of ways but firsts and lasts, especially in frontier fiction, is particularly rewarding. The era of exploration, taming and settlement. The closing of the frontier due to modernization). My good buddy Geo Proctor did the latter especially well in Enemies. And a more modern treatment of dying dreams in Before Honor.

But first and last baddies? I came across an article on Pearl Hart that intrigued me. A female stage robber? Maybe doing the last (or almost last) stagecoach robbery and then being the only female prisoner at Yuma Penitentiary? And going on to appear with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show? Now that’s an intriguing character, perhaps as much so as the more written about Pearl Starr daughter of Belle Starr. I’ve written about her (Slocum #67, The Dallas Madam) way back in ‘84 (1984, btw)

In today’s expectations of fiction, you have to show some good side to the villain, which in the case of true psycho killers is hard. What good there is about Billy the Kid or John Wesley Hardin strikes me as wishful post modern thinking. Jesse James and the Youngers and Daltons might have been good to their families but weren’t so good to anyone else. I can’t help but wonder if modern stories such as Thomas Harris’ dealing with Hannibal Lecter are not popular because Lecter is such undiluted evil. No equivocation, no chance for rehabilitation, a force of nature both psychotic and unstoppable. Do readers yearn for their baddies to be *bad* or is literary writing showing they are occasionally good to kitties and send money to a homeless shelter more important?

Whatever the villain is like, this is the fun character for writers and usually why the baddie shines as the standout in a book.

Geo W Proctor

Topic-oca Pudding May 22, 2011

Posted by bobv451 in death, ideas, Texas, westerns, Wild West, writing.
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Changing societal norms make use of some words totally verboten now, while others that were forbidden (as in George Carlin’s Seven Dirty Words are, if not acceptable, then not punishable by ostracizing when used now in ordinary conversation. Times change and what is acceptable does, too. My previous post touched on this.

Ideas change, as well, as to what is believable and what isn’t. I proposed a western where the hero (ok, the protagonist–he’s wasn’t *that* good a guy) assumes the identity of a man found dead in a freight car, only to discover he had assumed the identity of an undercover Texas railroad detective of some notoriety. He’s got the tiger by the tail since he doesn’t know anything about the detective’s background–but most people don’t, since the railroad bull prided himself on being a man of a thousand faces. He finds himself in a box, expected to find a killer.

Before he can get away from a rather nasty crime the detective was investigating, he falls in love with a woman who has fallen in love with the detective’s reputation. If he continues to use the false identity, he keeps the girl. If he doesn’t, death is likely to be the least of his woes.

My agent said the idea was unworkable since no one would believe the switch in identities. I suppose DNA tests would make this a non-starter? In 1875. Photos of people were rare (see my other posts about the fun use of photographs of Jesse James, Billy the Kid and other dead outlaws) and the detective made a point of disguises. And not making friends to trip him up. I had even taken care of the problem with his boss identifying him–the heinous crime was the murder of his boss on the train. The new boss knew the name but not the face.

But my agent had a point. Today’s CSI savvy audience would demand more technical stuff–which did not exist in the wild wild west. Part of creating a work of fiction is building a believable world that didn’t exist, or in this case mostly did but which is alien to our society and norms. Reader connection with character and theme is necessary, and if they don’t buy the premise, the book falls flat.

I still like the idea and maybe will do something with it at some point. But writing is like working a jigsaw puzzle. All the pieces have to fit, including those the readers *think* should fit.

For a mighty fine railroad detective series set during WWII, check out Yard Dog.

A Hook Runyon railroad detective story by Sheldon Russell

El Paso Gators in the Moat May 16, 2011

Posted by bobv451 in death, dinosaurs, history, sense of wonder, Texas, weird news, Wild West.
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A lot has been made of Obama’s talk of a moat filled with alligators. I find it amusing that he made the talk in El Paso, which has a long history of alligators in a pond in the middle of the city. Really.

I lived in El Paso from the mid ‘50s to the early’60s and always got a kick out of seeing the gators in what is now called. Plaza de los Lagartos. The real beasties are long removed to the zoo and replaced with fiber glass replicas (which I find to be horrifyingly awful, but I am not a fan of this style of sculpture. At all.)

The trips downtown from the far northeast where we lived were always great fun. There was a newsstand to the east of the post office that carried…Ace Doubles! And cheap magic tricks and gag stuff. Better yet, in those days there weren’t bookstores but the big department stores had small book sections. The Popular and especially The White House on the plaza carried such treasures as new Tom Swift Jr books and Hardy Boys, though it was really the former I sought. And, of course, Rick Brant Science Adventure books

$1 per title, hog heaven for a kid like me. And a few blocks to the north of the plaza along Oregon Street was the main library (El Paso had a great library system–Carnegie Grant funded) and across from it was a super used bookstore (in later years).

But in the center of it all was the alligator pond. They decided to move the gators in the ‘60s when a drunk soldier got his hand bitten off. Most of the gators were huge and docile and more like lumpy logs. The smaller, younger ones were…hungry. Fast and hungry.

I was never able to find out for certain why there were gators there but one (probably apocryphal, but who can say?) story is that they were harnessed to ore carts and used to pull them out of the tin mines. In case you didn’t know, these are/were the only tin mines in the US. I spent too much time poking around in these mines as a kid but somehow didn’t die. But the image of a gator wiggling along on its spindly legs, pulling a tin-ore laden cart down a low-roofed shaft is somehow amusing. I suspect the real reason El Paso had alligators in the plaza is more prosaic, but who knows? Maybe they were anticipating the moat along the border.

Luis A. Jimenez, Jr. sculpture