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Tuesday, February 04, 2003

A Waste of Space

That's the title the Guardian gives to Matthew Engel's latest epistle from the Land of Olive Garden.

Just a waste of space

Engel in America

Drink in the unconscious irony, folks.

The default position of newspaper columnists is supposed to be one of generalised omniscience, but I cannot be wholly alone in the world if I admit that my reaction on hearing the news on Saturday was "what space shuttle?" Apparently, its launch had been reported on page 17 of the New York Times.

Engel is too busy bitching about the heft of milk jugs and American posteriors to pay attention to a little thing like the space program. In many places, such incompetence in the performance of your duties might get you dismissed, but not at the Guardian. Remember, socialism means never having to hear "you're fired".

I do, however, know an attack of American hypocritical frenzy when I see it, and this weekend has provided a particularly nauseating example, from the moment the four horsemen of every American apocalypse - the three network news anchors and the president himself - got the call and began a rare Saturday shift to lead the mass emote or, as it is described here, "helping a grieving nation cope with the tragedy".

Stupid Americans! Grieving for people. How dare they?

I also know that any field of endeavour that only gets attention every 17 years, when disaster strikes, is in serious trouble. In the 1960s, astronauts were heroic figures, as remote, admired and glorious as generals in the 1940s or Wall Street analysts in the 1990s. Now hardly any of us hear about them until they are dead.

Unlike crap British journalists, who are ten a penny and who we don't even hear about after they're dead, thank heaven.

Sadly, from here he starts orbiting the planet Sense, though he never quite lands upon it. Basically, he said what I said the other day, that a visionless space program isn't worth having. My solution is that we should have some vision. I have no idea what his is.

He prefers to emit a long whine involving official indifference (including a chorus of "Zeeb bop fickle fackle bush Bush BUSH!" [tm, Juan Gato]), his inability to grasp technical subjects, the evils of privatization, and something to do with the Space Race.
Really, there's nothing here---no conclusion, no theme, just unconnected paragraphs of petty bitching and some regurgitation of things he heard or read elsewhere. One imagines him hung over on Saturday morning, cranky at being awakend by a call from Manchester instructing him that his next column is to be about Columbia.

"Wha---Columbia? The country? The university? The movie studio? The space shuttle? That's the white and black rocket plane thingy, right? I thought that blew up years ago. They had others? Well I didn't know! I'm not the frigging Encyclopaedia Britannica! Oh, all right...yes...yes...I'll think of something. click Bloody Yanks, with their rockets and their public grieving, always some damned thing. Shit, I suppose Bush will mention God again. God, what a wanker."

This next has really nothing to do with Engel or his robo-column, but it gave me a small chill:

Nasa's head, Sean O'Keefe, is a protege of Dick Cheney...

Blah blah, never mind the rest. O'Keefe was on the Pentagon management team when Cheney was Secretary of Defense. I don't know if that makes him Cheney's "protege", exactly, especially as he'd been a professor before that and was Secretary of the Navy. How old do you have to be before you're no longer a "protege"? And is it somehow sinister if he is?

I wonder, if I ever do anything noteworthy, if I'll be described as a "protege" of any of the people I've ever worked for---some who resented my presence, some who were somewhat less than supportive, a few who were downright hostile. If I'm going to be smeared with a vaguely-sinister "protege" label, shouldn't I have gotten something out of it?

Oh, and by the way. If any of my former bosses are reading this, I don't mean you. It else [TM, Fred Pruitt].

Via Damian Penny