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October 21, 2006

Vewy Vewy Quiet

Rocket-Nevada

(click pic for near-Space Program size)

by Chris Maynard

On a recent weekend in the Nevada desert, amateur rocket scientists, mostly male of course, gathered to show off, then shoot off, their latest work.  The sky offered its usual 360 degree field of the American West. People pitched in to help each other, no one was injured, and no major laws seem to have been broken.

Scenes like this are the modern version of a Norman Rockwell painting; it’s the grand and intensely American vision of space exploration scaled to what can be hauled down the interstate. Set it up, send it off in a cloud of flames and smoke, then put it back together and push the button again.

It’s less charming when the rockets get bigger. Last week, late on the Friday afternoon of Columbus Day weekend, President Bush announced a National Space Policy which, among other things, claims the right to shut the door to space to anyone “hostile to U.S. interests.”

The policy notes that “space has become an even more important component of U.S. economic, national and homeland security.” Apparently this mandates the presence of an American doorman; after all, somebody has to be cool enough to decide who’s let in.

As usual, the Bush administration refuses to contemplate negotiations of any kind about the policy. The vote in the UN was 160 to 1 last year when the idea of space weapon negotiations was brought up, the U.S. being the sole objector. In the past, when the Administration has considered the possibilities of space, there have been allusions to tactics such as “deception, disruption, denial, degradation and destruction.”

One official said “This policy is not about developing or deploying weapons in space.” Right, and toads won’t give you warts and the moon isn’t made of blue cheese. Rumsfeld has long been enamored of the robotic battlefield, sanitizing death and eliminating the messy wounded as if war was a Pac Man game. Drones don’t have to be shipped home in coffins, and there are no widows eligible for pensions.

Which brings us back to the desert, with guys in funny t-shirts and odd trousers putting their toys together and pushing the start button. One can almost imagine Bugs Bunny in that conga line, ready to set off another explosion for the fun of it.

The vision would not be complete, however, without Elmer Fudd, off in the distance, checking the sights of his shotgun, whispering: “Be vewy vewy quiet.”

(Link to amateur rocketeer article with slideshow.)

(image: Jim Wilson/The New York Times.  Gerlach, Nevada. October 14, 2006. nyt.com)

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