Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Of Mars and Drills

There's a bit of discussion this morning about Mars and a Joe Conason journal entry (Salon day-pass required) that points out the involvement of Vice President Cheney's former company, Halliburton, in developing technology for drilling on the Red Planet. Drilling for what? Well, not oil -- I assume it would come as something of a huge surprise if petroleum was found on another planet -- but liquid water, which would obviously be necessary for the survival of our Martianauts. (I just made that word up, and I rather like it...."Martianauts"!)

Anyway, there's a lot of handwringing going on. I first caught wind via Oliver Willis, who points to Glenn Reynolds, who points to (among others) Jay Manifold.

Jay's analysis is the one to read; Glenn is apparently one of those people who only needs to see the word "oil" in a piece written by a lefty to assume that it's part of the "It's all about oil!" argument (which isn't even always to be ignored, but we'll let that go). Glenn seems to think that Conason's belief is that Halliburton wants to literally ship Martian oil back to the Earth, a supposition which to my eyes has absolutely no basis in Conason's article. Conason doesn't seem to realize that drilling would be an important part of any colonization project, but that's not the same thing as saying "He thinks Bush wants Mars's oil!" ("But why all the oil references, then?" Glenn asks -- but the word "oil" appears only twice in the whole piece, and neither time in Martian context. Ditto the word "petroleum".)

Conason's argument actually seems to be that Halliburton is riding piggy-back on the Mars project to secure government funding of its development of new drilling technology which could be used on Earth to get at peskier, harder-to-get-to oil reserves -- de facto government funding of Halliburton's R & D operations, really. Conason, therefore, isn't so much saying "It's all about oil!", but pointing out a pattern: It seems that whenever it comes time for the Bush Administration to parcel out lucrative contracts, Halliburton's name always pops up. The merits of that argument aside, Conason's piece simply does not support Glenn's reading. Once again, it would be really nice if Glenn would "read the whole thing" once in a while.

(Oh, and as for the "already debunked" memo that Conason says is part of the whole "divvy-up the Iraqi oilfields" plan, the article Glenn links to showing that it's "already debunked" appeared the same day as Conason's piece, and quotes as its source an e-mail whose list of recipients I would suspect does not include Joe Conason. He wasn't recycling anything; he was referring to something he in all likelihood did not know was "debunked", assuming the "debunking" is true, on which I have no opinion. Blasting someone for referring to something that has been "debunked" for all-of-four hours or so doesn't seem fair, especially when the "Al Gore was told to wear brown sweaters" canard is still going strong.)

I also confess to feeling at least some of the feelings Jay writes about at the end of his post. When I consider how many of the current Administration's activities really are geared toward nothing more than political strategies, it's hard for me to get totally behind even something I really want to see, such as space colonization. Maybe it's because I've seen virtually nothing from this Administration that hints to me of the "sense of wonder" Jay writes about that I find it hard to feel it myself. I've seen how President Bush the Elder rolled out a Mars proposal, and then he put Vice President Quayle in charge of "space policy", which prompty went absolutely nowhere, and I know how the real motivation of Apollo was not so much "sense of cosmic wonder" as "beating the Russians". Big projects like these are almost always political, and given this Administration's tendency to be "All politics, all the time", it's hard not to think that way about this one.

Plus, I'm wondering why they're talking about drilling already, since we don't even have the first idea what the Earth-to-Mars spaceship would be like, nor do we even have a booster rocket to lift the kind of payloads we're going to need. (There aren't any more Saturn V's lying about in some warehouse, unfortunately. We'll be doing this from scratch.) Planning for the drilling of the Martian surface at this point seems, to me, like a rookie baseball player worrying about how his plaque will look in the Hall of Fame.

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