The first thought I had when Barack Obama belittled John McCain's "Battery Prize" idea by referring to John F. Kennedy's not offering a prize to get us to the moon in the sixties was "Yeah, if he had, we wouldn't be talking about getting back to the moon for the first time since 1972 by MAYBE 2015. We'd have something like the "moonliner" of Sir Arthur's 2001 running regular flights for anyone with the bucks!
Seriously, if Kennedy had offered enough prize money to make it profitable to develop efficient technology for space travel, we might not have made it by 1970, but once we had made it, we would have been able to return, settle, develop and made it all back ten times over in new industries and technology (Solar power Satellites? Helium-3 fusion, anyone?).
Apollo was a Cold War based initiative. Getting to the moon was not something Kennedy was all that interested in as a goal in and of itself. Getting there BEFORE the Soviets, beating them on the world stage and avenging the humiliation of Sputnik and Gagarin, that was his real goal. As important a front as the "Space Race" was in the Cold War, that mind set of "we're in a race we have to win at any cost" led directly to the design of Apollo as an "Any way we can, as fast as we can" system that made lunar flight expensive, dangerous and a technological dead end.
Apollo was a tremendous effort, a great success, but ultimately led nowhere other than (as you have pointed out many times) todays standing army of shuttle "locusts" who daily consume the dream.
Then again, if Kennedy had suggested a prize, his Harvard Brain Trust would have laughed at him, and Robert Strange McNamara would likely have proven with charts that prizes were "a non-optimal cost ineffective measure inexorably leading to a system failure of the first-magnitude."
What do you want to bet that if Obama wins, the first lab for researching battery tech will be located in a suburb of Chicago?
I think it is poetically appropriate that Joseph Pujol, better known as Le Petomane (which we may loosely translate as "the fartiste") should emanate from France, without doubt the most pretentious nation on the face of the earth. Le Petomane performed his unique act from 1887 to 1914, and became one of his country's best-known vaudevillians. At one point he was earning 20,000 francs a week, compared to 8,000 for his contemporary Sarah Bernhardt. The true artistic priorities of the French public are thus admirably revealed.
Joseph Pujol, born in Marseilles in 1857, owed his remarkable career to an extraordinary ability to control the muscles of his abdomen and anus. As a youth he discovered he could take in via the rectum as much as two liters of water, which he could then expel at will. Later he found he could do the same thing with air. At first he employed this talent solely for the entertainment of his friends, obviously a very refined and intelligent bunch, but after working quietly for some years as a baker, he was encouraged to give public performances. The first of these, in Marseilles in 1887, met with some initial skepticism, petomanie ("fartistry") being something of a novelty even for the French, but within a few days Le Petomane's winning manner and solidly professional performance had won audiences over. From then on it was one triumph after another.
Le Petomane arrived in Paris in 1892, and was promptly hired by the Moulin Rouge, the famous music hall. He became an immediate sensation. In a typical performance, he appeared on stage in red cape, black trousers, and white cravat, with a pair of white gloves held in the hands for a touch of elegance. Having explained that his emissions were odorless--Le Petomane took care to irrigate his colon daily--he would proceed with a program of fart impressions, as it were: the timid fart of the young girl, the hearty fart of the miller, the fart of the bride on her wedding night (almost inaudible), the fart of the bride a week later (a lusty raspberry), and a majestic 10-second fart which he likened to a couturier cutting six feet of calico cloth.
Later, having inserted a tube into his nether orifice (offstage, of course--Le Petomane had a high regard for the delicacies of his audience), he would smoke a cigarette right down to the b--well, pretty damn far. He could also blow out candles and stage footlights. By way of grand finale, he would attach an ocarina to the tube and play popular tunes such as O sole mio, with which he would invite the audience to sing along.
Due homage was paid by Mel Brooks in Blazing Saddles by playing Gov. William J. Le Petomane
If millions of Christians suddenly disappear from the face of the Earth as the opening act for Armageddon, Threat Level thinks most nonbelievers will be too busy freaking the hell out to check their e-mail. But if they do log in, now they can be treated to some post-Rapture needling from their missing friends and loved ones, courtesy of web startup YouveBeenLeftBehind.com.
For just $40 a year, believers can arrange for up to 62 people to get a final message exactly six days after the Rapture, that day when -- according to Christian end times dogma -- Christians will be swept up to heaven, while doubters are left behind to suffer seven years of Tribulation under a global government headed by the Antichrist.
"You've Been Left Behind gives you one last opportunity to reach your lost family and friends for Christ," reads the website, which is purportedly run "by Christians, for Christians." The domain name is registered through an anonymous proxy service, presumably to protect the proprietors from the Forces of Darkness, and not because they're up to anything shady.
The e-mails will be triggered when three of the site's five Christian staffers "scattered around the U.S." fail to log in for six days in a row -- a system that incorporates a nice margin of safety, should two of the proprietors turn out to be unrepentant sinners or atheists.