Starliners and COVID and Olympics, Oh My

Today’s column was originally supposed to be about either a successful, or unsuccessful launch of Boeing’s Starliner capsule.

For those unfamiliar with the Starliner, it is part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP) which serves to shuttle astronauts back and forth between earth and low earth orbit.

The other player in the CCP game, SpX, has already flown an uncrewed, and three crewed missions to the International Space Station (ISS), with a fourth crewed mission slated for September.

To date, Boeing has attempted one uncrewed mission, which did not really check all of the intended boxes.

After failing to stick the crucial steps of getting into the right orbit and making it to the ISS back in 2019, Boeing was set to make a second attempt to show that they have the right stuff in terms of flying a capsule that can perform as it is commanded. Unfortunately, at the time of this writing, the Starliner is still very much on the ground in Florida and I was forced to find a new topic to write about.
Photo R. Anderson

After failing to stick the crucial steps of getting into the right orbit, and making it to the ISS and back in 2019, Boeing was set to make a second attempt to show that they have the right stuff in terms of flying a capsule that can perform as it is commanded.

Unfortunately, at the time of this writing, the Starliner is still very much on the ground in Florida with no real plan for when it will try to launch again atop a United Space Alliance (ULA) Atlas 5 rocket.

The fact that Boeing has yet to “light this candle” shows that failure to launch is more than just the title of a Matthew McConaughey movie, which led me to the need to come up with a Plan B column.

As someone who grew up near the Space Coast of Florida, I know that launch slips are a common occurrence. Space travel is hard. From weather, to tight launch windows, there are myriad things that can cause a launch to slip even without mis-configured hardware.

So, in hindsight I should have known better then to put all of my column eggs in the “Boeing will launch before Friday” basket.

I should have known better. Shame on me for believing.

Of course, the obvious fallback column topic would be to write about the meteoric rise in COVID-19 cases across the country, while focusing specifically on states that are spelled “Texas” and “Florida.”

Those two states have governors who have issued mandates banning mandates on things like mask wearing and generally acting like adults in the middle of a health crisis despite having a third of all new COVID-19 cases popping up within their borders.

In the typical “oh look at that shiny thing over there” playbook the governors of Florida and Texas would have you believe that the rise in cases is due to illegal immigrants and not lax guidelines and low vaccination rates among the citizens of those states.

To be clear, illegal immigrants are not responsible for all of the COVID-19 cases in Florida and Texas, but they make a convenient foil for the reality avoiding governors to point to.

In the area around the Gigaplex, the County Judge recently raised the COVID-19 threat level to the highest level on the map while urging all unvaccinated people to either get vaccinated, or stay home.

Of course, thanks to the aforementioned mandate outlawing mandates, the County Judge and other local officials are unable to decree that people wear masks, or do any of the other common sense steps that science says can stop the spread of a disease.

Hospitals in both Florida and Texas are running out of room to treat patients. In some cases, patients are being flown hundreds of miles away to get treatment since the local hospitals are full.

No, I am not going to write about those two governors and people like them who choose to stick their heads in the sand, or play the fiddle while proverbial Rome burns around them.

I am also not going to write about the closing ceremonies of the Pandemic Games in Tokyo. While some athletes achieved great feats in medal winning performances, one could argue that the greatest feat that the athletes should focus on is getting out of Tokyo without catching COVID-19.

By insisting on going through with the games in the middle of a pandemic the International Olympic Committee (IOC) showed their true motivations while making it clear that the show will go on no matter what.

Something tells me that when the Summer Olympic games return to Los Angeles in 2028 the IOC would be perfectly content to hold the games in the middle of a wild fire, earthquake, or for that matter even a sharknado in order to make sure they still made a profit.
Photo R. Anderson

Something tells me that when the Summer Olympic games return to Los Angeles in 2028 the IOC would be perfectly content to hold the games in the middle of a wild fire, earthquake or for that matter even a Sharknado.

After all, they need to make their millions of dollars at all costs.

To be clear, this is not a column about rockets stuck on the ground due to erroneous valve positions, or governors putting their citizens at undue risk as a result of questionable policy positions aimed at appeasing a very small minority of voters, or athletes competing in a world ravaged by a highly contagious variant to a disease that the world has battled for 18 months.

There will be other days to write about those things and more.

No, today’s column is all about Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.

I have several Mr. Rogers themed t-shirts in my wardrobe. However, my favorite by far is this mashup of the X-Files and the Neighborhood of Make-Believe.
Photo R. Anderson

When I was growing up, I loved watching Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood on my local PBS station. I can still remember many of the episodes, and have been known to hum a song or two from the show from time to time.

One of my favorite parts of the show was when the Neighborhood Trolley traveled to the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, to visit Purple Panda, King Friday XIII, Henrietta Pussycat and the rest of the puppets and live action characters that inhabited the wondrous land of dreams and endless possibilities.

As much as I wished I could stay in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, there was always that moment when the trolley would reappear and someone would say, “Oh hi, Trolley. Is it time to go back to reality now?”

Unfortunately, too many people seem stuck in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe unable, or unwilling to face the current realities of the world.

One of Mr. Rogers’ more famous quotes that seems as fitting today as the day he said it is, “when I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

The news is indeed failed with scary and sometimes unbelievable things. Thankfully there are still helpers trying to make it right. Unfortunately, there are also a lot of agents of destruction and mayhem tying the hands of the helpers.

Of course, there is a Mr. Rogers quote addressing that as well.

“Did you ever hear loud, scary sounds on television? Well, some television programs are loud and scary, with people shooting and hitting other people. You know, you can do something about that. When you see scary television, you can turn it off. And when you do turn it off, that will show that you’re the strongest of them all. It takes a very strong person to be able to turn off scary TV. Mmm-hmm. That’s one of the ways you’ll be able to tell that you’re really growing.”

Throughout his life, Fred Roger aka Mr. Rogers offered advice and comfort to children of all ages. One of his more famous quotes that seems as fitting today as the day he said it is, “when I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
Photo R. Anderson

While I am sure Mr. Rogers was not directly addressing partisan divides and anti-science talking heads when he said these words, they sure seem to fit, and the principle applies.

Don’t give oxygen to the nonsense. Instead, follow actual facts over politicized fiction and mandates that make it harder for schools to protect children.

When you see someone on television, or the internet, spewing lies and conspiracies, turn them off.

Were he still alive today, one has to wonder what Mr. Rogers would think of the world of COVID-19 deniers enacting mandates that make it harder for schools to protect children and corrupt Olympic officials taking a virus be damned approach to protecting their profits.

Mr. Rogers famously testified before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Communication on May 1, 1969, to defend public television from budget cuts. Something tells me that if he were alive today Mr. Rogers would be testifying to Congress and anyone else who would listen about the need to protect children from the ravages of COVID-19.

I, and millions of other people, learned a lot from Mr. Rogers. For that I am truly grateful. Unfortunately, too many others stayed in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe and became puppets performing for an audience of one.

I guess today’s column was about rockets, ill-conceived mandates putting children at risk, and international conglomerates putting profit over people after all.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have the sudden urge to change into a red knit cardigan sweater.

Copyright 2021 R. Anderson

The Return of Masks as COVID Cases Rise Shows that it is Déjà vu all Over Again

In the words of the late, great, Hall of Famer, Yogi Berra, “It’s déjà vu all over again” as once more COVID-19 cases are on the rise and baseball games and other aspects of life are being rescheduled or cancelled.

The July 28, 2021 game between the Washington Nationals and the Philadelphia Phillies was postponed less than two hours before first pitch “to allow for continued testing and contact tracing involving members of the Nationals organization,” according to a statement by Major League Baseball.

The July 28, 2021 game between the Washington Nationals and the Philadelphia Phillies was postponed less than two hours before first pitch “to allow for continued testing and contact tracing involving members of the Nationals organization,” according to a statement by Major League Baseball.
Photo R. Anderson

The latest outbreak marks the third time this season that the Nationals have had to place multiple players on the COVID list.

The Nats began the season with nine players and four coaches impacted by an outbreak on the team plane.

Then in May, starting pitcher Erick Fedde tested positive and reliever Tanner Rainey was forced to quarantine for being a close contact.

In response to rising cases of the Delta COVID-19 variant, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued revised guidance for a return to wearing masks indoors for both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals after an internal document showed that the variant is far more infectious than previously thought.

Additionally, on July 29, 2021 President Joe Biden mandated that all federal employees and contractors either be vaccinated or submit to regular testing as a condition of their employment.

Yes, Yogi, indeed it is déjà vu all over again as cases rise and some people still refuse to wear masks or get vaccinated.

To quote another Yogism, “you can observe a lot by watching.” And watching the number of cases climbing, one can observe that instead of saying mission accomplished and getting on with our lives as they were in the before times, we are heading backwards in the battle to rid our shores of COVID-19.
Photo R. Anderson

To quote another Yogism, “you can observe a lot by watching.”

Watching the number of cases climbing, one can observe that instead of saying mission accomplished and getting on with our lives as they were in the before times, we are heading backwards in the battle to rid our shores of COVID-19.

In many ways the return of a world where mask mandates and potential shutdowns are being talked about boils down to the fact that more people did not get vaccinated back in May when vaccines were plentiful and the Delta variant was barely gaining strength.

In hindsight, lifting mask guidance in May and trusting that the unvaccinated would continue to wear masks was a lesson in foolishness since many in the anti-mask and anti-vaccine crowd will never wear a mask even if their lives and the lives of their children depended on it. Which it does, but more on that in a bit.

But instead of looking back at the mistakes of May, one must look at the present and decide how to move forward with the current conditions.

I get that people can have concerns about getting vaccinated and understand that some people require more data before they are willing to let someone stick a needle in their arm.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) could likely put a lot of minds at ease by lifting the Emergency Use Authorization of the COVID-19 vaccines and stating that they are safe and effective for every day use and fully vetted and approved.

Educational outreach is critical to reaching the unvaccinated and showing them that the risks of dying from COVID-19 far outweigh any potential side effects from a vaccine.

But while people are parsing through the data to achieve a comfort level to get the vaccine, they should be wearing a mask at the very least to protect those around them from getting sick.

The politics of being anti-mask and anti-vaccine is another thing I don’t understand. While many politicians are touting the need to get educated on masks and vaccines, too many others are having their “let them eat cake moments.”

Instead of being at the forefront of encouraging their constituents to mask up and vax up, several politicians seem willing to let people die from a largely preventable disease just so they can score political points among a small minority of the country as part of a pandemic of stupidity.

I am all for adults having the freedom to educate themselves on the vaccines, but I am not for putting children at risk in the process. Currently all children under 12-years-old are not eligible to get vaccinated.

Those too young to get vaccinated must rely on those who are old enough to provide a bubble of protection around them to keep them healthy until a vaccine is approved for their age group.

That is the thing I do not understand, many people are so anti-mask and anti-vaccine that they are willing to risk their own children getting sick, or dying, just to make a point and to stay “on brand.”

In 1985 musician Sting told his band mates of the Police to not stand so close to him as he ventured off on a solo career. His first solo album, Dream of the Blue Turtles featured a track called Russians. While the song was written in response to Cold War tensions between the then U.S.S.R and the United States, one can see parallels in the lyrics to the current standoff of related to the vaccinated and unvaccinated in the battle against COVID-19.

Children’s hospitals are filling up with patients who are too young to get vaccinated and became infected through contact with someone who most likely was old enough to get vaccinated but didn’t.

In 1985, musician Sting told his band mates of the Police to not stand so close to him as he ventured off on a solo career.

His first solo album, Dream of the Blue Turtles featured a song called Russians.  While the song, Russians, was written in response to Cold War tensions between the then U.S.S.R and the United States, one can see parallels in the lyrics to the current standoff related to the vaccinated and unvaccinated in the battle against COVID-19.

Russians opens with the lines, “In Europe and America there’s a growing feeling of hysteria. Conditioned to respond to all the threats. In the rhetorical speeches of the Soviets.”

Fast forward to 2021 and one could say that the rhetorical speeches of some governors who are anti-mask mandates in school are fueling the rising tensions.

Turn on the local news in many southern states and one is likely to see angry parents berating local school districts who are trying to keep their kids safe by telling them to mask up.

Unfortunately, those anti-mask, anti-vaccine parents have governors willing to back them in their anti-science rants.

In keeping with our Russians theme other lyrics state, “I don’t subscribe to this point of view. It’d be such an ignorant thing to do. If the Russians (or in our case unvaccinated) love their children too.”

Masks and vaccines have become so politicized that people are talking past each other instead of to each other.

Going back to the Russians well once more, “There is no monopoly on common sense. On either side of the political fence. We share the same biology, regardless of ideology.”

As noted many times over the past year and a half, COVID-19 does not care if you are a democrat or a republican. It does not care if you think it is “Fake News” or just a flu.

People are still getting sick, and even if they don’t die, many will have long term health effects.

Having to cancel, and/or postpone baseball games, or other sporting events due to COVID-19 is one thing.

Being willing to risk that a child may never get to play sports at all due to long haul COVID because their lungs got trashed when they were at a summer camp full of unvaccinated counselors is another thing.

But what might save us, me and you is if the unvaccinated love their children too.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to dust off some Sting CDs and party like it is 1985.

Copyright 2021 R. Anderson