Another Benefit From Space Exploration

Proponents of space exploration and development have always argued that there will be lots of benefits from being able to do things in zero gravity.  Form perfect spheres.  Create chemical and metallurgical compounds that wouldn’t be possible in Earth’s heavy gravity.  Experiment with positions undreamed of by the authors of the Kama Sutra.

Now there’s another item to add to the list — the Ardbeg distillery, which has been making whiskey for more than 300 years, has sent malt to the International Space Station to see how the malt, and some charred oak, mature and interact in zero gravity conditions.  The hope is that the process might lead to the development of new flavors or other discoveries that benefit the whiskey industry.

I’m all in favor of this use of the International Space Station.  The Station shouldn’t be limited to boring science experiments devised by the junior biology class at Shaker Heights High School.  Why not see if basic consumer products can be improved?

I can’t stand the smell or taste of scotch, no matter how much its afficionados rave about its subtle taste and scent and nuanced aftertones.  If the International Space Station can somehow help to develop a scotch that doesn’t smell and taste like lighter fluid, it will have been worth every penny.

Santorum Sits

Today Rick Santorum announced that he was “suspending” his campaign.

Apparently “suspending” is the new word that political candidates use when they have lost, run out of money, or are otherwise unable to continue their campaigns.  They don’t withdraw, they don’t concede . . . they just “suspend.”  The word suggests that, at some indeterminate point in the future, Santorum’s campaign could suddenly spring to life again, along with the other “suspended” campaigns that might rise, zombie-like, and start chewing through the skulls of American voters hoping to consumer more of that delicious brain tissue.

There is value in an old-fashioned concession speech.  You show grace and class.  You acknowledge that the winner beat you, fair and square.  Such speeches tend to legitimize the process.  After a hard-fought campaign, a well-prepared and well-delivered concession speech ends the acrimony, emphasizes common values and interests, and pledges to work together toward common goals.

“Suspension” speeches, in contrast, just allow the loser to pat himself on the back and try to frame the narrative for a failed campaign — without accomplishing any of the classy and salutary  benefits of a graceful concession speech.

In this case, for example, Santorum’s “suspension” speech apparently did not even mention, much less congratulate, Mitt Romney, the man who beat him.  That tells me a lot about Rick Santorum.

The Ranter Outside The Window

I was in a downtown Cleveland hotel overnight, tossing and turning as I always do while sleeping in a strange bed in a strange place, when I was jarred into consciousness by shouts of a ranting man outside the window.  It’s an unsettling way to greet the day.

Fortunately, I don’t often hear angry voices — and this guy was livid, shouting at the top of his lungs, his furious words, muffled into indistinctness by the window, echoing down the dark streets.  I snuck a peek out the window, lest he see me and train his rage in my direction.  There he was, four stories down, a one-legged man sitting in a wheelchair, gesturing angrily at no one that I could see.  What was he doing on a downtown Cleveland street at that pre-dawn hour?  What had caused his awful, uncontrollable anger?

When Kish and I lived in Washington, D.C., it was shortly after governments had decided to “deinstitutionalize” the former residents of mental asylums.  The streets were filled with homeless people who had nowhere to go and, apparently, only a tenuous grip on reality.  They slept on the subway grates, shuffled along muttering to themselves, and mostly kept to themselves.  One man, however, was always angry and shouted out his madness to every passerby.  We called him the ranter and gave him wide berth.  And, we always wondered:  what made him so filled with rage, and why wasn’t he being helped — as he so clearly needed to be?

It’s disturbing to be awakened by the angry rantings of a stranger when you are in a strange place — but obviously it pales in comparison to the torment that the man in the wheelchair must have been experiencing, as he shouted his frustrations to a world that was trying to ignore whatever it was he was saying.