What's the Martian Word for "Lunatic"? Two months ago, yours truly chided the mainstream media for taking seriously claims that a Mars voyage could be accomplished relatively cheaply with private resources. Also chided was Dennis Tito, a wealthy man who has been taken seriously in Washington for his claim that he will fund a Mars voyage himself.
Well, last week Tito released some details of his plan. He did not explain how a capsule weighing about the same as moon-bound Apollo hardware -- the longest Apollo mission lasted 12 days -- could carry enough supplies for more than a year's voyage. He did not explain how an Apollo-like capsule could provide radiation shielding, which moon travelers did not have. (Much of their transit was spent within Earth's magnetic field.) He did casually allow that his "privately funded" mission would entail NASA paying the launch costs. The still-on-the-drawing-board heavy-lifter rocket Tito wants to use is projected to cost at least $5 billion per launch.
Mars flight with current propulsion technology seems not the goal of dreamers, but the patter of crackpots. NASA needs to concentrate on objectives that can be realized with current technology and within foreseeable budgets, such as an asteroid defense.
Unified Field Theory of Creep: Reader Jim Clair of Louisville, Ky., reports that last week, "ABC Family had a chyron touting the beginning of the 'countdown to 25 days of Christmas.' What was in the crawl was a countdown to a countdown to a countdown."
A "Hunger Games" Name Generator Turns "Adrian Peterson" into "Septimus Perthshire": Movie critics are noting the "Hunger Games" flicks soften the violence of the books. Viewers see Jennifer Lawrence launch arrows, but don't see the children-killing-children bloodbath that makes the books so disturbing. Any faithful cinematic rendering of the "Hunger Games" books would be R-rated, if not NC-17. There goes the shopping-mall tween-girl target audience.
Set aside what it says about contemporary culture that a franchise of bestselling books and box-office hits, about a fascist society that graphically slaughters children, is targeted to affluent shopping-mall girls and their moms. Books for the young-adult market have changed from dreamy happiness (the "Chronicles of Narnia") to horrific brutality ("Hunger Games," the "Golden Compass" trilogy, the thousands of interchangeable vampire books) during the very period in which crime and war have declined, living standards have improved, education has increased and lifespans extended. In "Hunger Games" flicks, Katniss is presented as a positive role model for girls, which seems like saying John Brown is a positive role model for boys. But at least, one might suppose, "Catching Fire" is an instance of Hollywood toning down rather than ramping up violence.
That's not the norm for shopping-mall flicks. This new study from the journal Pediatrics finds that depictions of gun violence are now as common in PG-13 movies as in R-rated fare. PG-13 is the shopping-mall audience: tweens and teens are being deluged with ever-more Hollywood depictions of gun use. Hollywood won't show characters smoking, because viewers might imitate that. But glamorous movie stars gunning down the helpless, Hollywood has no problem there.