NASA Naming Rights

The Washington Post is reporting that NASA is considering the possibility of selling naming rights to its rockets and spacecraft.  As part of that process, NASA also is thinking about loosening restrictions on astronauts in a bid to make them more accessible and known to the public — the kind of figures that might appear on cereal boxes.

7864011894_d67acabbf4It’s all about branding and (of course!) money.  The consideration process is in its very early stages, with NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine announcing at a recent meeting of the NASA advisory council that he will be creating a committee to study the issues.  The Post quotes Bridenstine as saying:  “Is it possible for NASA to offset some of its costs by selling the naming rights to its spacecraft, or the naming rights to its rockets?  I’m telling you there is interest in that right now. The question is: Is it possible? The answer is: I don’t know, but we want somebody to give us advice on whether it is.”

The kind of commercialization that is being contemplated would be an abrupt turn for NASA, which has studiously avoided any action that might be seen as an endorsement of one product or another.  And, there are challenging questions about how it would all work — and how astronauts being paid to appear on commercials, or wearing uniforms adorned with the patches of sponsor a la NASCAR drivers, would be treated under the governmental ethics laws.

When I first read of what NASA was considering, I rebelled against the very thought of corporate naming rights or corporate logos on spacecraft.  I’ve always like the purity of the white rockets and the simple white spacesuits, adorned only with an American flag and a NASA emblem, and it irks me that buildings built with public funds, like sports stadiums, can be rebranded with the name of a corporation that throws in a few million after the building has been completed.  But there’s no doubt about it — that’s just the world that we live in these days.

I also think that if selling corporate naming rights helps NASA get the money it needs to reenergize the manned space program, so that we can finally move to the Moon and Mars and beyond, I’m willing to endure rockets and spacecraft and astronaut suits that are plastered with stickers.  I also think it would be good for the country to have kids wanting to be astronauts again, as many kids did when I was growing up.  In those days, astronauts were the biggest heroes and celebrities around, and they stood for many of the qualities that we prize — bravery, fortitude, and coolness under stress, among others.  It wouldn’t be a bad thing, either, to put people who have gone to college and received advanced degrees into our firmament of national celebrities and aspirational figures for kids, right up there with hip-hop artists and professional athletes and reality TV stars.

So I say let NASA study the issue, and then move forward in a way that puts space back into the public eye and public mind.  I’ll put up with a few corporate logos along the way.

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Burt’s Best

I was sorry to read of Burt Reynolds’ passing today.  He was a huge Hollywood star in his heyday, but he never seemed to take himself, or his acting ability, too seriously — which is an all-too-rare quality in the film and television industry these days.

longest-yeard-470x350Reynolds’ death has caused some people to debate what was his best movie.  I think Deliverance is great — and Dueling Banjos clearly was the single best song — but for my money the original version of The Longest Yard can’t be beat.  It came out when I was in high school, and it combined everything that would appeal to an adolescent boy — sophomoric humor and pranks, football and football players, a ridiculously implausible plot, crotch hits to bad guys, and the use of Burt Reynolds’ overwhelming sex appeal to convince the warden’s pasty-faced, beehived secretary (played wonderfully by Bernadette Peters in one of her first big roles) to part with some much-needed game film.  In fact, you can argue that no single movie is more calculated to appeal to teenage males.  And watching it, even now, remains a guilty pleasure.

RIP, Burt Reynolds, aka Paul Crewe.  Adolescent boys of the ’70s salute you.

Celebrating The Queen Of Soul

I was terribly saddened by the news today of the death of Aretha Franklin, at age 76.  I’ve written before of my thoughts on this titanic talent, who had a voice that comes once in a generation.  It’s a terrible loss for American music, and for America generally.

I remember listening to Aretha Franklin on the radio when I was a kid, and in fact the very first record I ever bought — a 45, for those old enough to remember such a thing — was an Aretha Franklin record.  Back in those days the popular music stations were a lot more inclusive, and on the AM dial you could hear the Beatles, followed by an Aretha tune, followed by Cream or Crosby, Stills & Nash, or one of the many one-hit wonders of the ’60s, and then the Temptations or the Four Tops.  Unlike today, music wasn’t stratified and packaged into heavy metal stations or hip-hop stations — AM radio played it all.  And once you heard an Aretha Franklin song, even on a scratchy AM radio, you inevitably became an Aretha Franklin fan.  Her voice was just so great, and warm, and her presence was just so powerful, that you couldn’t resist it.

Many people associate Aretha Franklin with R-E-S-P-E-C-T, or Chain of Fools, but I think my favorite song is Baby, I Love You,  I’ve linked to a bad video quality YouTube clip of that song below, but who really cares about the video quality when you’re talking about Aretha Franklin?  It was her voice and her humanity that was transcendent.

And, speaking now as a 61-year-old, I think death at 76 came much too young.

A Device-Free Summer

When UJ and I were kids, we spent a few weeks one summer at Camp Y-Noah, located somewhere in northern Ohio.  We took hikes, made crafts, swam in a pond, sang around a campfire, slept in a cabin, learned how to ride a horse, played capture the flag, and ate camp food in a large mess hall.  We also shot bb guns, tried to hit a target with a bow and arrow, and used an outhouse for the first time.  As a tubby, bookish kid, I wasn’t a huge fan of camp, frankly, but it was a good experience to try different things.

ssnl-campynoah-2Those camps are still around.  And, surprisingly to some, they remain attractive to kids — even though many of the camps ban the smartphones, iPads, laptops, and other electronic gizmos that kids are supposed to be addicted to these days.

According to the American Camp Association, there are about 8,400 sleepaway camps in the United States, and about 90 percent of them ban campers from bringing personal electronic devices.  And while some kids — and, surprisingly, parents — try to sneak their way around the rules, and camp counselors have to spend part of their time on the lookout for devices that violate the camp rules, most campers apparently quickly adapt to a life that is focused on the outdoors, without texting, or YouTube, or handheld games.  When they’ve got other fun things to do, the urge to constantly text their friends is apparently less compelling.

I’m not a diehard opponent of technology; electronic devices are a reality of the modern world and kids inevitably are going to use them.  But I do think that it’s good for people to step away from constant connectivity now and then, and enjoy some fresh air and exercise.  I’m glad to see that so many camps have decided to stick to their (bb) guns on this issue and take steps to get campers to leave their devices behind and see what nature offers instead.  I’m not surprised that kids are enjoying the break.

10 Million Mustangs

Yesterday, somewhere in the Detroit area, Mustang No. 10,000,000 rolled off the assembly lines at a Ford manufacturing plant.  In a vehicle world now dominated by oversized pickup trucks and high-end sport utility vehicles, the Mustang is one moderately sized passenger vehicle that has held its own, and Ford is making a big deal of the milestone.

51rkn5udqhl-_uy462_A lot of car models have come and gone since the Mustang was first introduced at the New York World’s Fair in 1964.  As its perfectly chosen name suggests, the Mustang was a “pony car,” designed to be a smaller, more affordable sports car that would appeal to both men and women.  Indeed, women were a prominent target audience for Ford’s advertisements for the initial Mustangs.  And with its iconic grillwork and front end, adorned with the silver wild horse running free, the Mustang was an immediate hit.  Its popularity has endured.  Although sales of the car have lagged here in the U.S., its sales have been strong overseas, where car buyers no doubt associate the car with the classically American concept of the freedom of the open road.

In the more than 50 years since the Mustang was introduced, countless other cars have been introduced to great fanfare, only to end up in the dustbin of automotive history.  The Mustang is one of the few cars to achieve iconic status — but it, too, has changed over the years.  It seems like the designers at Ford just can’t resist fiddling with it.  Over the years, the Mustang has progressively gotten a lot bigger — the Mustang Mach I of the early ’70s, for example, was a true muscle car — then downsized; when I was in high school in the ’74-’75 ear, Ford introduced the Mustang II, which was much smaller and less powerful.  I drove a red Mustang II with a white vinyl roof, and it was a great car.  (At least, it was until my sister got her hands on it, but that’s another story.)

But through all of the design changes, and all of the changing tastes of the car-buying populace, the Mustang has retained its ultimate allure.  When you think about it, ten million vehicles is a lot of cars.  Mustang Sally would be proud.

The ’70s Bad Hair Blip

Last week I went to get my hair cut.  It’s been a hot summer in Columbus, and in my view hair of any appreciable length just adds to the heat, so I asked the Platinum Stylist to cut my hair extra short this time.  She did her usual terrific job, and when I walked out of the salon, I rubbed my hand over my scalp and realized my hair was probably as short as it has been since I was growing up in the ’60s.

shape_normalFor the first ten years or so of my life, I was a kid with a crew cut.  Dad used “home barbershop” clippers to give UJ and me buzz cuts in the basement of our house.  We went to school and played with our friends — all of whom also had buzz cuts — without thinking about our hair.  But as the ’60s moved forward, we became dimly aware that you were supposed to pay attention to your hair if you wanted to be cool, and those haircuts started to get a little bit longer.

The ’70s, though, were when the hair length really took off.  From a style standpoint, virtually everything about the ’70s, from haircuts to clothing styles to car designs, was an over-the-top disaster.  By the time I reached high school, I was one of the kids in the yearbook with the generic ’70s long hair look — grown down to the collar and then chopped off in the back, and grown down to eye level and parted to some fashion or another in front, requiring you to constantly fling the hair out of your eyes and out of your way.  Sure, your head looked like you were wearing a hairy bicycle helmet, and it was hot as blazes in summer, but that was the price you paid for fitting in.  And in college my hair got even longer.

But when the ’80s rolled around, and I started working as a professional, the hair trend reversed.  Over the last 30 or so years, my haircuts have gotten progressively shorter and more frequent, and I like it that way.  When I think of my haircuts as a kind of chart, it’s an extreme bell graph, with the ’70s being the height of the bad hair blip.  And when you look at a bell graph, it kind of looks like one of those bad ’70s haircuts, doesn’t it?

I’m glad I’m now on the other side of the bad hair blip.

Red-Light Runners

I’m convinced the quality of driving, and drivers, in America is going steadily downhill, and our roads are becoming more dangerous.  The best evidence of that reality is found at any intersection in any American city with a traffic light.

factsheet-rlr-240x255If you take a moment to watch the traffic light at an intersection go through its signal progression and observe the actions of drivers in response — as I do every day on my walks to and from the office — you’ll immediately notice three things.  First, almost nobody stops when the light turns yellow.  Instead, the amber caution light now is viewed as an invitation to speed up, so that three or four or five more speeding cars can go careening through the intersection.  Second, at least one car, and sometimes two, will rip through the intersection on the red light, apparently banking on the hope that the cars on the crossing street, and any pedestrians trying to cross the street, won’t have moved into the intersection by then.  And third, cars turning right at the intersection don’t actually stop at the red light.  Instead, they’ll roll right into the crosswalk and move immediately into their turns, not stopping unless there’s a car approaching from the left.  It’s not the traffic signal, but instead the oncoming traffic, that affects their behavior.

This is a significant change from when I started driving, and you were trained to stop when the yellow light appeared.  If you took somebody fresh from a ’70s-era drivers’ education course and put them on a modern city street, they’d probably get rear-ended and cause a multi-car pileup because the drivers behind would be expecting them to speed up on yellow, just like everybody else seems to do.  And, of course, running a red light was a sure way to get a ticket in those days.   But now no police officers seem to be writing tickets for red-light runners, and efforts by cities to enforce the red-light rules through intersection camera set-ups has been mired in corruption claims and technological issues.  So people feel free to run the red lights, and probably will continue to do so until they get into an accident, hit a pedestrian or a cyclist, or get a ticket.

I wish city police departments would devote more resources to in-city enforcement of traffic laws so that as many officers are looking for urban red-light runners as are looking for speeders on the nation’s highways.  And who knows?  Maybe when the technological glitches get ironed out, self-driving cars will actually make the streets safer.  But right now, it’s dangerous out there, and it seems to be getting worse.