White House nixes Death Star

The second Death Star under construction in Re...

The second Death Star under construction in Return of the Jedi (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A bunch of people petitioned the White House to build a Death Star.

As in Galactic Empire, blow-up-Alderaan Death Star.

When the White House receives a certain number of signatures on a petition, it responds.

So, here goes:

The Administration shares your desire for job creation and a strong national defense, but a Death Star isn’t on the horizon. Here are a few reasons:

  • The construction of the Death Star has been estimated to cost more than $850,000,000,000,000,000. We’re working hard to reduce the deficit, not expand it.
  • The Administration does not support blowing up planets.
  • Why would we spend countless taxpayer dollars on a Death Star with a fundamental flaw that can be exploited by a one-man starship?

However, look carefully (here’s how) and you’ll notice something already floating in the sky — that’s no Moon, it’s a Space Station! Yes, we already have a giant, football field-sized International Space Station in orbit around the Earth that’s helping us learn how humans can live and thrive in space for long durations. The Space Station has six astronauts — American, Russian, and Canadian — living in it right now, conducting research, learning how to live and work in space over long periods of time, routinely welcoming visiting spacecraft and repairing onboard garbage mashers, etc. We’ve also got two robot science labs — one wielding a laser — roving around Mars, looking at whether life ever existed on the Red Planet.

Keep in mind, space is no longer just government-only. Private American companies, through NASA’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Program Office (C3PO), are ferrying cargo — and soon, crew — to space for NASA, and are pursuing human missions to the Moon this decade.

Even though the United States doesn’t have anything that can do the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs, we’ve got two spacecraft leaving the Solar System and we’re building a probe that will fly to the exterior layers of the Sun. We are discovering hundreds of new planets in other star systems and building a much more powerful successor to the Hubble Space Telescope that will see back to the early days of the universe.

We don’t have a Death Star, but we do have floating robot assistants on the Space Station, a President who knows his way around a light saber and advanced (marshmallow) cannon, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which is supporting research on building Luke’s arm, floating droids, and quadruped walkers.

We are living in the future! Enjoy it. Or better yet, help build it by pursuing a career in a science, technology, engineering or math-related field. The President has held the first-ever White House science fairs and Astronomy Night on the South Lawn because he knows these domains are critical to our country’s future, and to ensuring the United States continues leading the world in doing big things.

If you do pursue a career in a science, technology, engineering or math-related field, the Force will be with us! Remember, the Death Star’s power to destroy a planet, or even a whole star system, is insignificant next to the power of the Force.

That’s a pretty good answer. And this is why building one is a waste of money:

(Remember, the rebels didn’t just destroy one. They destroyed two.)

Is now the time to talk about gun control?

The flag over the White House was at half staff last night. The flags around the Washington Monument were at half staff last night.

Because a psychopath walked into an elementary school in Connecticut and killed 26 people, 20 of them children. The gunman killed his mother at their home before the rampage. And when he was done, he killed himself. Some reports indicate the guns were registered in his mother’s name because he was too young to buy them himself.

The national response is horror. Like it was this year, when the gunman entered a mall theater in Aurora, Colo., during a midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises,” set off gas canisters and opened fire, killing 12. Like it was last year, when Representative Gabrielle Giffords, an Arizona Democrat, and at least 17 others were shot Saturday morning when a gunman opened fire outside a supermarket where Ms. Giffords was meeting with constituents. Like it was in 2009, when 13 soldiers and civilians were killed and more than two dozen wounded when a gunman walked into the Soldier Readiness Processing Center at Fort Hood, Texas, and opened fire. Like it was in 2007, when an outburst of gunfire at a Virginia Tech dormitory, followed two hours later by a ruthless string of attacks at a classroom building, killed 32 students, faculty and staff and left about 30 others injured yesterday in the deadliest shooting rampage in the nation’s history.

The sentences above contain the words various media organizations used to describe the horror.

In the past 50 years, 11 of the 20 worst mass shootings in the world have happened in the U.S., and of those 11 massacres, five have happened since 2007.

We can react like Republican Mike Huckabee on Fox News and say something stupid like:

We ask why there is violence in our schools, but we have systematically removed God from our schools. Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage?

Or we can react like Republican New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and actually address the issue:

With all the carnage from gun violence in our country, it’s still almost impossible to believe that a mass shooting in a kindergarten class could happen. It has come to that. Not even kindergarteners learning their A,B,Cs are safe. We heard after Columbine that it was too soon to talk about gun laws. We heard it after Virginia Tech. After Tucson and Aurora and Oak Creek. And now we are hearing it again. For every day we wait, 34 more people are murdered with guns. Today, many of them were five-year olds. President Obama rightly sent his heartfelt condolences to the families in Newtown. But the country needs him to send a bill to Congress to fix this problem. Calling for ‘meaningful action’ is not enough. We need immediate action. We have heard all the rhetoric before. What we have not seen is leadership – not from the White House and not from Congress. That must end today. This is a national tragedy and it demands a national response. My deepest sympathies are with the families of all those affected, and my determination to stop this madness is stronger than ever.

There’s a petition at the White House Web site that says this:

Immediately address the issue of gun control through the introduction of legislation in Congress.

The goal of this petition is to force the Obama Administration to produce legislation that limits access to guns. While a national dialogue is critical, laws are the only means in which we can reduce the number of people murdered in gun related deaths.

Powerful lobbying groups allow the ownership of guns to reach beyond the Constitution’s intended purpose of the right to bear arms. Therefore, Congress must act on what is stated law, and face the reality that access to firearms reaches beyond what the Second Amendment intends to achieve.

The signatures on this petition represent a collective demand for a bipartisan discussion resulting in a set of laws that regulates how a citizen obtains a gun.

When I last looked, there were more than 75,000 signatures on it.

We as citizens can’t make laws limiting the availability of guns. Congress and state legislatures are busy passing laws that make it easier to get a gun. Those elected officials have to change those laws or be voted out of office.

But our legislators have shown they don’t have the backbone to stand up to the National Rifle Association and Second Amendment fetishists. And now, despite the demands over the years to address gun violence, have 20 dead elementary school children.

Will we finally end the discussion below this time and actually do something?


Two people who are not impressed

The U.S. gymnastics team visited the White House this week, and McKayla Maroney brought her game face:

OK, that’s actually her, “I didn’t win the gold medal face.”

So, what’s a president to do?

Now, that’s called team spirit.


The White House Rose Garden

There really isn’t that much to the White House Rose Garden:

That’s it.

In your imagination, you think of an explosion of huge flowering multicolor rose bushes, like in the Merchant Ivory movies about life in rural England. In my imagination, it was supposed to be as elaborate as the garden that surrounded our house when we lived in England. Like this:

Our garden in England

But the White House gardens were kind of a let down. There are lots of trees, but lots of open space. You’d think the Park Service could do something a little more elaborate with the grounds. After all, we’re supposed to impress our foreign visitors.

But I guess when you have to land a helicopter in your backyard every day or so, there’s no point in trying to put together a decent garden area?

Oh yeah, why am I even near the Rose Garden?

Well, today and yesterday the White House gardens were open to the public. Normally, in order to get on the grounds, you have to get your congressman to vouch for you so you can take a tour of the inside. But thanks to Pat Nixon, the grounds of the presidential palace are open two weekends a year, one in Spring, the other in Fall, so that regular folk can just walk in, stay off the grass, and gawk at the majesty (of lack thereof) of it all.

Nah, really, it’s so folks can take their photo in front of the White House doors. That was mostly it, and you could tell by all the smiling faces that people were having a great time. I was. But you had to get there really early to avoid the mob. First you had to stand in line to get free tickets to enter the property. Then you had to stand in line to go onto the property. My line time Saturday was about an hour and a half. I arrived at 7:30 a.m. and got in for the first tour at 9.

But despite the letdown of the Rose Garden, there was plenty to see. There were photos all over the place of former presidents planting trees (George Bush the Smarter sure planted a lot of them) and a chart of the birds you’d typically see on the grounds.

The Marine Corps Band was on the grounds playing various Sousa marches and Broadway show tunes. Here they are going through the overture to “The Sound of Music.”

The Marine Corps Band

And actually the most impressive garden on the grounds is the one Michelle Obama planted on the south part of the property looking toward the Washington Monument. That’s growing very nicely, and will keep the first family in veggies through the season.

I might not have been overly impressed, but during the fall, I hope to take the family with me so we can be unimpressed together.

President Obama: the musical interludes

So the President was given a microphone and sang again. There was a blues concert at the White House two nights ago. B.B. King, Buddy Guy and Mick Jagger were just a few of the performers. And as their closing song, they did a group rendition (in the non-kidnap sense of the word) of “Sweet Home Chicago.” So guess who sang the first lyric:

We heard him doing Al Green‘s “Let’s Stay Together” at the Apollo Theater in Harlem a few days ago. It turns out the guy is constantly singing. Here he is:

— at a speech in New Jersey during his senate days, singing “Walk on By.”

— at a rally in Detroit, as a senator, singing “Chain of Fools.”

— with Paul McCartney at the White House, singing “Hey, Jude.”

He’s got the vote of the R&B base.

I guess the GOP didn’t care about interns 50 years ago

A former White House intern says she had sex with the president … a half century ago (from Rock Center with Brian Williams).

Mimi Alford is speaking publicly for the first time about the secret she’s held for half a century. Alford claims that she had an 18-month-long affair with President John F. Kennedy when she was a White House intern. …

In 1962, a 19-year-old Alford spent her summer in Washington, D.C., interning in the White House press office.  She had just finished her freshman year at Wheaton College in Massachusetts.  Four days into her internship, Alford claims that JFK aide, David Powers, invited her to go swimming in the White House pool. Alford was surprised when the 45-year-old president joined her and two others in the pool. …

Later that day, she says she received another call to visit the private floors of the White House.  The naïve teenager didn’t question the president’s intentions when he asked to take her on a tour of the White House. …

Alford says that she lost her virginity to the president in the first lady’s bedroom.

Which tells you:

1) Some people don’t brag about certain things to their “friends” … Monica.

2) The GOP didn’t always want to destroy the presidency … Newt.

3) Prosecutors weren’t obsessed with the shape of the president’s genitalia … Ken Starr.

4) Threats to the country were more important than whether the commander-in-chief was “getting some” … American media.

5) You weren’t the only horn dog in the White House … Bill.

Round up the usual suspects

Somebody stole the White House teleprompter:

A van containing President Obama’s teleprompter and podium were stolen from a Virginia hotel parking lot on Monday, NBC12 in Richmond reports.

The truck was parked at the Virginia Center Commons Courtyard Marriott near Richmond before the president’s scheduled Wednesday appearance in Chesterfield, the Richmond station reports. In addition to the teleprompter, $200,000 worth of audio equipment and presidential seals mounted on Obama’s podium were inside the stolen vehicle.

Gee, I wonder who would do something like that?

Who are the 99%?

Who are the 99%?

They seem to be spreading in various cities. They’ve been in Wall Street for several weeks. Word is, they’ve moved into Washington Square Park in New York.

They’re in Washington as Occupy DC. They were in McPherson Square and Freedom Square, not far from the White House. And they were on the Mall this weekend. Here’s one sign bearer in the middle of the street in front of packed stairs of protesters at the National Air and Space Museum on Saturday:

And they’re occupying a number of other cities across America.

So what’s the story? They’re telling you if you are willing to listen. They aren’t encouraging. In a lot of cases, they’re pretty desperate. And they’ve gotten that way because the economic system has collapsed and the future is looking dark. They blame corporate greed, political indifference and media neglect.

Click here for a look.

Earthquake shakes up folks in D.C.

I was sitting in the office just before 2 p.m. today, when the floor started vibrating. So 10 seconds into the shaking, I’m thinking, “Must be someone using one of those electronic dolly carts to make a big delivery.”

But that didn’t make sense.

So about 20 seconds into the shaking, I’m thinking, “Must be a big truck outside.”

But that didn’t make sense.

So about 25 seconds into the shaking, I’m thinking, “They don’t have earthquakes in Washington, do they?”

Then there was a big jolt and the building moved.

And, right then, the simple answer was, “Yes.”

A 5.8 magnitude earthquake struck the Washington area Tuesday, shaking buildings and prompting office workers to pour into the streets of the capital. The earthquake’s epicenter was nine miles south of Mineral, Va., and 87 miles southwest of Washington, D.C., according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The USGS initially recorded the quake at 5.8 magnitude, later upgraded it to a 5.9, and then downgraded it again. It struck at 1:51 p.m. Eastern time, the USGS said. A 2.8 magnitude aftershock was reported at 2:46 p.m.

Our building was evacuated, so I walked around and took some photos:

Around 15th Street NW

These streets are never this packed during the day.

MacPherson Square

On a workday, this square in downtown Washington usually has a bunch of homeless people sleeping on benches about now. They had to move.

Lafayette Park

Everywhere you looked, there were people standing outside of office buildings, even in this park across from the White House.

No one quite knew what to do. Traffic signals weren’t working. Sirens were blaring everywhere. Cellphone service was spotty, but texting worked fine. I could get text messages to family in Kentucky, Maryland and New York. Couldn’t make a phone call, though.

You train for fire drills, but that only involves one building, and you have a designated area to go to. You don’t train for earthquake drills on the East Coast: It turns out, your designated emergency area for the fire drill ends up turning into a mosh pit shared by thousands of other people.

Put it in context: This was nothing like what people experience in California.

And here’s something to think about: After being hit with a significant, but mild earthquake today, and seeing an entire city freak out, I’m figuring the people in Japan who went through an earthquake that destroyed buildings, led to a killer tsunami and ended with a nuclear meltdown must be thinking what a bunch of wimps we are.

The best and the brightest: GOP edition

According to yesterday’s events in the unfolding presidential contest, the frontrunners for the Republican nomination for president are:

1) A crazy woman, who has no concept of American history. (The upside, though is that Iowa has now officially confirmed its irrelevance as an indicator of who should run the country.)

2) A wealthy former Massachusetts governor who says “corporations are people,” and has flip-flopped so many times, he can launch a career as a human pretzel when his presidential bid fails.

3) A conservative Bible-thumping governor from Texas. And we all know how well that can work out.

And this just in: The former governor of Minnesota has dropped out, because he couldn’t even beat the crazy woman in a straw poll.

Meantime, the Democrat in the White House has done everything he can to show that if the GOP would just give him a chance, he would fit in as one of the guys. But they won’t because he has a deeper tan than the current speaker of the House.