Friday’s meme roundup

 

Bionauts dreamed of moving to Mars where no one would be arguing over sequestration
Bionauts dreamed of moving to Mars where no one would be arguing over sequestration

My desk is such a mess that my outbox is in my inbox. I’m an air traffic controller in charge of dozens of story ideas, notions, memes and random urges and while trying to concentrate on all this I feel a powerful need to sneeze. You ever get that way? It’s not just me, right?

Lots of bad energy in Blogworld after the Woodward-Sperling kerfuffle that Paul Farhi detailed today in Style. Reluctant as always to join the litigation, but I have to object to a piece about Woodward in Gawker  that begins “Bob Woodward is not a reliable reporter.” The author writes:

“His old boss, the legendary editor Ben Bradlee, never really trusted him, wondering repeatedly and on the record whether the story and mythology of Deep Throat—the linchpin of the Watergate story that Woodward and his partner Carl Bernstein sold to the American public—was in fact a giant fraud.”

This allegation is based on the Jeff Himmelman book, excerpted in New York magazine. Bradlee had said in an unpublished interview more than two decades ago that he was worried that some of the more cinematic details in “All the President’s Men” weren’t entirely “straight.”.That hardly justifies the statement that Bradlee “never really trusted him” or feared that the Deep Throat story was “a giant fraud.” In fact,  I specifically asked Himmelman if he believed that Bradlee ever had serious doubts about Woodward’s honesty. Himmelman said no. And Bradlee said the same thing to Himmelman. From my story in the Post:

Woodward provided The Post with a transcript of a 2010 interview of Brad­lee by Himmelman. Himmelman asked Bradlee whether he had doubts about Woodward’s reporting.

“Well, I mean, if you would ask me, do I think that he embellished, I would say no,” Bradlee said, according to the transcript. He added that Woodward did nothing “to play down the drama of all this.”

Himmelman said Sunday night that the 2010 exchange is included in his book, although it’s not in the magazine excerpt. Asked whether he thought Bradlee had any serious doubts about Woodward’s honesty, he said no.

I liked Marc Fisher’s story today on the federal workers who are proud of what they do and feel as if they don’t get much respect from society writ large. Note the appearance deep in the story of the concept of the NORC — the Naturally Occurring Retirement Community:

Working for Uncle Sam was never meant to be a path to prosperity, and in Mantua, the ranches and split-levels, good-sized houses on large lots, make it hard to recall that this kind of 1960s development was no lap of luxury back when federal workers moved in. This was the sort of place that stretched the bounds of suburbia and stretched the idea of what a middle-class salary could buy.

Today, many federal workers in Mantua say their children couldn’t possibly afford to live here, especially the ones who have followed in their parents’ footsteps and joined the military or civil service. The younger generation finds itself farther afield, in Manassas or Woodbridge or at the wrong end of an anguishing commute to Stafford County.

Such is the price of the affluence that pumped Fairfax real estate prices into the stratosphere over the past quarter-century.

But in Mantua, in what is rapidly becoming a NORC — a naturally occurring retirement community — the older federal workers and recent retirees aren’t content to think about how much value their properties have gained through the years. Rather, they look back on their years of service and wonder if this is the end, a pivot away from the idea that working for your country is something honorable and stable.

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Next up: The Mars mission. You heard about this the other day when my colleague Brian Vastag wrote about it. These interesting folks want to do a Mars fly-by. A couple of the people involved in this new project were bionauts in the Biosphere 2 experiment in Arizona some 20 years ago. It so happens that I wrote about Biosphere 2 (as did, among others, Marc Cooper for the Village Voice), which was the brainchild of a bunch of former commune members, led by a man named John Allen. They believed that the Earth was essentially a dead planet and that a band of like-minded science-oriented people needed to migrate to Mars to start a new strain of the human species. Here’s an excerpt of my story, which appeared in the Post’s Style section on January 8, 1992:

Biosphere 2 may have less to do with saving the Earth than with escaping it. There is an unsettling doomsday undercurrent to some of the Biosphere 2 literature, with many references to nuclear war and human extinction. The Biospherians themselves are without exception white, educated and, to judge by their writings, rather enraptured by their own brilliance and heroism. The project resembles the ultimate White Flight fantasy: Instead of fleeing to the suburbs, the dream is to flee to the Red Planet.

The most elaborate detailing of the Mars dream can be found in “Space Biospheres,” a book by Allen and Mark Nelson that is sold in the Biosphere 2 gift shops. It says the Mars Base will have a population that “can range from 64 to 80 people.” Membership will be restricted: “No one will be accepted into the corporation without a thorough grounding in science and people born into the community will be taught how to become citizens of the world of science as their essential birthright. A critical intellect, taught how to observe, and act as needed will be a survival necessity.”

In other words, it’s a colony of smart people.

Intelligence is a recurring theme in Biosphere writings; in another article, Allen and Nelson say that their projects will attract “the virile and intelligent of all nations.”One of the motivations for creating Biosphere 2, they write in “Space Biospheres,” is “to create living art forms appropriate to the Space Age which celebrate the epic of evolution and which will produce heroes of a new kind — heroes who are champions of life and explorers of space.” The Martian descendants of “Earthians” would undergo their own evolution and adaptation. Eventually, Allen and Nelson write, “Earthians would meet other intelligent life in the universe — the evolved/adapted Martian progeny of Biosphere 1.”

Thus Biosphere 2, though a tentative first step, represents, according to “Space Biospheres,” nothing less than a major chapter in a vast cosmological narrative, a story that began with the big bang, continued with formation of galaxies, stars and planets, continued further with the evolution of living things into intelligent technology-wielding beings, and now takes a giant leap as Homo sapiens “transform themselves from localized planetary lifespans to cosmic immortality.”

This just in: The Style Invitational turns 20! That is an incredible run. Congrats to the Empress and the Czar.

Also just in: SpaceX Dragon launch to ISS has encountered a problem with the thrusters. Unclear what’s happening but this was not part of the plan.

Joel Achenbach writes on science and politics for the Post's national desk and on the "Achenblog."
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Joel Achenbach · February 27, 2013