Clicking on banner ads enables JWR to constantly improve
Jewish World Review Jan. 21, 2004 / 27 Teves, 5764

Neil Steinberg

JWR's Pundits
World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Mallard Fillmore

Michael Barone
Mona Charen
Linda Chavez
Ann Coulter
Greg Crosby
Larry Elder
Don Feder
Suzanne Fields
James Glassman
Paul Greenberg
Bob Greene
Betsy Hart
Nat Hentoff
David Horowitz
Marianne Jennings
Michael Kelly
Mort Kondracke
Ch. Krauthammer
Lawrence Kudlow
Dr. Laura
John Leo
Michelle Malkin
Jackie Mason
Chris Matthews
Michael Medved
Kathleen Parker
Wes Pruden
Sam Schulman
Amity Shlaes
Roger Simon
Tony Snow
Thomas Sowell
Cal Thomas
Jonathan S. Tobin
Ben Wattenberg
George Will
Bruce Williams
Walter Williams
Mort Zuckerman

Consumer Reports

Put a man on Mars, but don't expect NPR to like it | CHICAGO — My friends at WBEZ always complain that I'm doing them dirty by characterizing National Public Radio as a sink of unexamined squishy knee-jerk liberalism, and suggest that I listen to the station in order to grasp its true glory. But I swear, every time I tune in, however briefly, I'm subjected to another blast of limp-wristed, angsty self-loathing. Just this morning, coming off a week's battle with pneumonia and therefore forgoing my usual brisk, Teddy Roosevelt-like march across the Loop, I flagged a cab at Madison Street for the three-minute ride to the paper.

The cab radio was of course tuned to NPR — all cab radios are, for the simple reason that NPR offers cabbies their only chance of hearing news from their distant homelands, whether a brief 7-minute glimpse into the cattle problem in Chad and how it's all the fault of the U.S. State Department, or an 11-minute peek at how the popularity of Coca-Cola is killing off local Egyptian sodas, or the full 13-minute visit to a Peruvian village (SFX: maize sizzling, donkeys lowing, wooden door slamming; NARRATOR: "Consuela prepares a dish of cholingoes for her family before beginning her day cutting loose threads at an American-owned textile mill ...'')

As I settled in the back seat, some academic type was breezily explaining how, of course, George W. Bush will be safely in retirement when the bill comes due for all this Mars nonsense while the debt explodes and Social Security collapses in a crumpled heap.

Donate to JWR

"If Social Security could be fixed for the price of a Mars mission, then it wouldn't be a problem,'' I thought to myself, bracing for the maddening, Chinese water torture I knew to be ahead, the core of my gripe with public radio.

"Hmm,'' murmured the host, inevitably, as all NPR hosts do no matter what wild, sky-is-brown bit of palaver they're being spoon fed.

"Of course Terry, we still await war crime trials for the American fliers who bombed Tokyo ...''

"Hmmm ...''

"Scientific tests have shown that cats resent the idea of being 'owned' by anyone ...''

"Hmmmm ...''

"When we speak of 'crushing the Zionist entity,' it is really a term of endearment ...''

"Hmmmmm ...''


Myself, I'd ask, "How come nobody applies the same logic to Kennedy? Nobody says, 'Oh sure, Kennedy committed us to go to the moon and then he up and died and left the hard work to others.'''

Nor do I understand why the political nature of the Mars quest matters. Does anybody stand in front of some gorgeous piece of Italian art and snipe: "Sure, it may look OK. But the only reason Lorenzo de Medici commissioned it was to try to outshine his rivals"? No one cares, ultimately. The Apollo program was without a doubt a bit of Cold War press agentry, yet nobody regrets it (Well, I don't listen to NPR much, so I may have missed some moans of remorse). The assumption that, if we hadn't gone to the moon we'd have used the money to bathe the feet of the poor is just fanciful. We might just as well have bought more napalm.

Thus, saying we shouldn't go because we have other problems is naivete itself. Comparing the two, Mars and Social Security, is like asking how you can afford to eat in a restaurant when you've got a mortgage hanging over your head.

Look at it this way: NASA has been living on celery these last 31 years, flying its little shuttle up and down. Our big problems are still there, aren't they? They haven't all been solved with the extra cash and wrapped in bows and delivered to the Problem Museum for the benefit of future generations. Have they? Maybe if we had an expensive Mars mission going on right now, we wouldn't have invaded Iraq. Then wouldn't NPR listeners be happy?

Frankly, if the government is going to re-gear itself to keeping its enormous senior population in Metamucil, then a mission to Mars might be just the thing to give a little sparkle to our descents into the vale of years. According to Bush's timetable, I'll be about ready to elbow my way toward the Social Security trough by the time we get to Mars, and I know I will appreciate any kind of thrilling distraction, even if it takes away a few spoonfuls of my Nutri-gruel.

Besides, the challenge to humanity is not in the actual getting to Mars — if we can land a go-kart there, we can land a person, too. The challenge is to see whether NASA can redefine itself along the lean course laid out for it. The Apollo program was proof — as if any were needed — that we can accomplish anything if we spend enough. Whether it can be done on a budget is another question.

To be fair to NPR, as the cab approached the paper, they shifted from handwringing over the martian impact on Social Security to the rover Spirit presently exploring the planet. I braced for the worst, but they actually presented the mission as something positive, despite U.S. involvement. I almost stayed in the cab to see how they would twist the story into something vile and conspiratorial: "The Philippines, Panama, Mars — all part of the same relentless grasp toward U.S. empire, Scott ...'' "Hmmmm ...''

But we were at the paper, so I got out and went to work.

JWR contributor Neil Steinberg is a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times. His latest book is Don't Give Up the Ship: Finding My Father While Lost at Sea . Comment by clicking here.

12/11/03 U.S. owes Japan no apology at Hiroshima plane exhibit
11/19/03 Please help: I want to eat Black Beauty
09/17/03 3 ways al-Qaida is better than paroled Weatherman
05/09/03 Bush: the have-fun prez
01/27/03 War protesters' worst enemy is logic, not spies
12/31/02 Missing the nutcases
10/21/02 We're still a long way from coming unglued
08/27/02 Cab ride offers rare view of a working marriage
08/09/02 A down-home davening ... in Taiwan

© 2003, Chicago Sun-Times