Over in the very interesting and informative Back to Iraq blog, Mr. Allbritton talks about the role that sea lions -- real, honest-to-God Navy seals -- could play in patrolling the waters of the Persian Gulf, hunting down terrorists and preventing them from attaching mines to U.S and British ships.
The seals would find a terrorist diver and attach a clamp to the man's body, allowing Navy personnel to reel the guy in like a fish.
But what got me was this quote: "'When you study the animals and you come to realize what they can do in their own environment, the aquatic environment, it's no surprise that we have not been able to build a machine that can do what they do,' said Navy veterinarian Eric Jensen. Sea lions are preferred because, unlike dolphins, they can continue their pursuit of an enemy diver onto dry land.".
(James imagines a terrorist with flippers getting out of the water and running up a beach, being pursued by a patrotic, flopping and waddling sea-lion with a lure in its mouth) "Ahh! American infidel sea lions are after me! Ahh! (flop! flop! flop! flop! flop!)
And people at work are wondering why I'm dissolving into fits of hysterical laughter.
A blogger on my right, James DiBenedetto (fellow Doctor Who fan and former Trenchcoat and Myth Makers contributor, if you want to know how I got to know him) is a strong fan of the space program, and deeply affected by the tragic Columbia disaster. Something of a news and opinion hound, he has run into a number of articles questioning the need to go into space.
The space program has its fans on the left and the right, from people in every country who sees the program as one of the greatest symbols of human aspiration and ambition anywhere -- the desire to reach for our future that makes us all optimists inside, whatever our political stripe. Some have come up with more down-to-earth reasons to keep the space program going, in every country that has an interest in space, and here are mine:
Education and Aspiration. An America that looks to itself, and dreams of what it can achieve is infinitely more liveable than an America that concerns itself solely with its own earth-bound interests.
America, and all the other countries with an interest in space (and that includes Canada) needs more engineers. They need more physicists. They need more researchers. And they need more artists who have no idea of what's impossible. If America is really serious about getting these things, it will put its back into educating all of its citizens to the best of its ability. America should not rest with having gotten a man on the moon. Now it needs to work to educate the children who will put people on Mars. The public school system needs to be upgraded, and America and all other countries with an interest in space should consider seriously making University education free to anybody who has an interest, and who can pass the entrance examinations.
Canada is already a highly educated country, and we've seen the benefits that arise from that. Not only is our arm in space, but we have a high-tech economy that isn't dependent upon low-skill, low-paying jobs that are sensitive to taxation and government regulation. We have a high quality of life, and companies interested in investing in us, who won't high-tail it off to Mexico at the drop of an exchange rate. We've weathered a recession that has chilled the United States, we are taking in more educated graduates than we are losing in our non-existant brain drain. We can look forward to the future with optimism.
The United States has this too, in places. Their economy is still suffering, however, through low-skill/low-pay jobs lost to Mexico and other developing nations who are more ruthless in cutting their taxes and labour and environmental regulations. I say to the United States: let those jobs go. You have a future in space, in computing, in high tech, in biotech, and unless Mexico and the other developing nations work to bring themselves up to our level, rather than waiting for us to reduce ourselves to theirs, they're never going to keep up. Through education and literacy, the United States can push itself into an economy like none we've ever seen before.
I know the United States can put a person on Mars by 2020. The things this country can achieve when it puts its mind to it is astounding to behold. But they could do much more if they concentrated on putting into the minds of all of its children the thoughts, the skills and the ambition to get humanity to Mars and beyond. On this drive, the things that can be achieved, could be the stuff of legend.