Riders on the Storm

Falling through the universe at the speed of life

By David Glenn Cox

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. My only objection to billionaires building a rocket ship to outer space, is that they keep coming back. Mama used to say, “In or out.” But no matter how may billions of dollars you might have to insulate yourself from the problems of the real world. Still, despite your best efforts, a beam of conscience might occasionally leak through. For a fleeting second, the realization that you’re just jerkin your gherkin.

“No really, it’s a space program! I’m doing important research by proving conclusively, that the gravity still works! It’s not just a theory anymore!”

I think that space travel is the greatest boon to mankind since the Clovis point. The world since John Glenn said “A okay” is revolutionized and unrecognizable. The new technologies endless and the possibilities unimaginable. So, what can your average billionaire, playing in his back yard hope to accomplish? Let’s talk business, what is more efficient? Designing and building your own rocket and space capsule or buying one off the rack? If the goal is to open up space travel to everyone, why do you need a designer rocket?

These are the kind of questions of life that you think about a lot, while sipping your margarita. And sunning yourself, on the back deck of your 350-foot yacht.  Somewhere between the shuffleboard court and the heliport. “I’m a billionaire, now how can I help the world? Eureka, I’ve got it! I’ll build a space program to enrich the whole world by opening up space travel to just any plain old plain millionaire walking down the street or friend of mine, who wants to go!”

In the nineteenth Century, Amateur Archaeology was the latest craze in Europe. The Lords and ladies and landed gentry were out digging up monuments, grave sites, and passage tombs in the name of science and research. Investigating whether those monuments contained any scientific golden curiosities or any bobble, the British Museum might be willing to write a sizeable check for. In the name of “science” of course. Sure, a team affiliated with a university might have done a better job of it, but a shovel is a shovel, isn’t it?

But the capsule that Jeff Bezos has built, has never left the earth. Mission control says, “That’s a great idea boss! Well sure, I’ll be glad to take care of that for you boss, but I’ll need some money first.”  Nobody ever told Elvis that he was putting on a few pounds. No one ever suggested that he stop eating pharmaceuticals by the handful. “We’re changing the world today, aren’t we boss?”

Heavy is the crown of wealth. The mental agony of knowing that you are the afterbirth of defective Capitalism. Living in the shadow of the nineteenth Century robber barons and making them look, like really great guys. It was Andrew Carnegie who said, after you have achieved enough wealth for your own life and for your children’s lives, your goal should be to give it all away. Or you could start a space program…either way is good.

Chuck Feeney made his billions in duty free shops. He lived the life but discovered that the more money he made, the more unhappy he became. He formed a foundation in 1982 and began to secretly give away his fortune, with the aim of dying broke. He doesn’t own a mansion or a yacht or a limousine. He  owns one pair of shoes, but his space program is doing quite nicely. He’s given over a billion dollars to his alma mater Cornell. (GI Bill attendee)

Feeney has also donated one billion dollars to Irish third-level education. Feeney said, “If you want to be an information society, you have to act like one.” Like “Field of Dreams” if you build it, the jobs will come. The world will not ignore a well-educated work force for long. If you can’t improve the world with education, what hope is there?

In 2011, Feeney dashed off a note to fellow his billionaires with a few thoughts. From the desk of Chuck Feeney: “I cannot think of a more personally rewarding and appropriate use of wealth than to give while one is living—to personally devote oneself to meaningful efforts to improve the human condition. More importantly, today’s needs are so great and varied that intelligent philanthropic support and positive interventions can have greater value and impact today than if they are delayed when the needs are greater.” Or you could build your own space program…either way.

The tip off, is that Bezos is trying so hard to convince us this is real science. The world’s oldest man in space. The first man to tell dirty limericks in space. A schoolgirl, young and pretty. See? Space is for everybody! “We’re changing the world here Craig!” No really, this is science! Why look, I’ve hired famous television and movie actor, William Shatner. He can explain to you the important research, being done here today.

(Do your best Bill Shatner here) “As, many of you know. I’ve spent, a good deal, of my career, as an actor. Portraying an astronaut, and a space pioneer. Today, I have again, found work, as an actor, portraying an astronaut, and a space pioneer. Today, by going into space. I will test, the physical limits of an actor, and the effects, of a large check on his wellbeing. I will expound, on the glories, of this space program, in that famous William,  Shatner, syncopated syntax. A soliloquy, of oratory prowess, as only Captain Kirk could deliver.”  (Spock, my check!)

Some build a Xanadu; some build a penile replacement rocket. Some guys just buy Corvette, trying to impress younger women . Trying to hang on and not let their life slip into dotage. “Sure, my hair is gray and I need to buy a bigger belt, but chicks dig a guy with a cool car…right? Well, how about this? This cool guy has his own rocket ship! With big windows for research. Hey everybody, look out your window for research! We’re only gonna be here a couple of more minutes.”

Many years ago, Huey Long proposed a simple solution. A millionaire’s tax. On one million earned, you paid 1%. On ten million, 10% on ninety million, 90%. On one hundred million, congratulations, you’ve won the game. No one too rich and no one too poor.

But Bezos’s insisted (In this masturbatory fantasy) that this project will open up a path to the stars. And he’s nabbed one star already! Chuck Feeney built Universities and research facilities, that might take us to Mars someday.  But in the meantime, he’s making the Earth a better place to live for millions of people. Rather than just jerkin his gherkin, Feeney has given away over $8 billion dollars for healthcare and education.

Riders on the storm
Riders on the storm
Into this house, we’re born
Into this world, we’re thrown
Like a dog without a bone
An actor out on loan
Riders on the storm

– Jim Morrison

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