The Passing Parade: Cheap Shots from a Drive By Mind

"...difficile est saturam non scribere. Nam quis iniquae tam patiens urbis, tam ferreus, ut teneat se..." " is hard not to write Satire. For who is so tolerant of the unjust City, so steeled, that he can restrain himself... Juvenal, The Satires (1.30-32)

Thursday, February 03, 2005

THE TITAN ADVENTURE: The Europeans, who should know better, given the inordinate amount of time they spend telling everyone and anyone within earshot that they know better, they really do, have nonetheless acquired the vile American habit of interplanetary littering. This is a disgusting habit, on a filthy par with publicly picking one’s nose with the fork at a salad bar, and one that the Europeans should not be celebrating or condoning. For those of you who do not keep up with such things, the European Space Agency, which is not a government storage facility at all, despite its name; they won’t give you a room sized locker for $21.99 for the first month, $35.99 for each additional month, to hide all that old stuff you've got stashed in your garage and that your wife wants to toss out; no, this is a bona fide outer space exploration type agency complete with rockets and countdowns and geeky guys in horned rim glasses and white short sleeved shirts with penholders and everything; well, they've dropped a large device called the Huygens, after the 17th century Dutch astronomer who discovered something very important that slips my mind at the moment, down onto the surface of Jupiter’s largest moon, Titan, where it promptly got stuck in the mud. Since it didn't occur to anyone to prepare for such an eventuality by putting four wheel drive on this thing, or even a spare tire in the trunk, the controllers had to cancel many of the Huygens’ scheduled missions until the tow truck gets there to pull the probe out.

The Huygens soldiered on manfully despite the inconvenience, if you can say something so politically incorrect nowadays in our gender inclusive world, and now we know that Titan is a cold, dark world with an atmosphere of methane gas; in fact, it is so cold on Titan that liquid methane flows in streams on the satellite’s surface. Methane also occurs on Earth, where the major source of the gas is flatulent cattle. The Europeans have not as yet ascertained what the source of Titan’s methane is or whether or not that source needs a few rolls of toilet paper or maybe some Di-Gel.

In any case, while the whole world should applaud this expansion of the boundaries of human astronomical knowledge, it is also clear that the Europeans have just dumped a large pile of metal on Titan’s surface and have absolutely no way of getting the thing to the junkyard once they are done with it, despite EU ordinances that require them to do so. What will happen now, of course, is that the Europeans will try to duplicate their success by sending more probes named after people you vaguely remember from your high school science classes to Titan, until the whole of the planetoid’s surface is covered with junk. The old probes will go up on cinderblocks in front of the mobile homes, and before anyone realizes what is going on property values will plummet like a fat man’s gut once the pretty girls go by and the crime rate will skyrocket astronomically (yes, I did that on porpoise; that one, too). Remember, all it takes to destroy a community is the sense that the authorities no longer care what happens there. One broken window leads to another, after all, just as one probe leads to another, and before you know it no one wants to live on Titan anymore and everyone heads for Ganymede or Io or northern New Jersey. Before long, I fear, local juvenile delinquents with nothing else to do with their lives will smear the Huygens and the follow up probes with disgusting graffiti and crack dealers will terrorize whole neighborhoods in order to open up fresh areas to their illicit traffic.

It is little wonder, then, that the search for intelligent life in the universe goes so badly; no one wants us to find them for fear we will trash their planets in the same way we’ve made the Moon, Mars, and now Titan cesspits of social pathology whose freakish psychosocioeconomically deprived inhabitants routinely make asses of themselves on daytime television. Respectable interstellar civilizations want no part of a race whose greatest accomplishments are the pop-top beer can (and the Bud Lite to go in it), a Scrabble game that swivels to face you when it’s your turn, and the lime green leisure suit. Frankly, with the amount of television programming we’ve beamed into space over the past fifty years, I find it hard to believe that someone hasn’t declared this whole solar system a blighted slum area and tried to knock it down and put up a Wal-Mart in its place.


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