One Ponders Layers and Layers and Layers


Not surprisingly, Newt Gingrich’s supposed plans for a moon base resulted in several comments from science fiction writers and space buffs, which is perhaps what Newt was hoping for in the first place. Perhaps the opinions of actual scientists would be more valid, but it’s still interesting to see. I found it interesting that this interview with Warren Ellis (whom I really don’t know anything about, but I did enjoy the interview) mentioned Newt’s friendship with Robert Zubrin. Why? Because Frank Black had a song about Zubrin, and that’s really the only place I’d heard of him before.

Zubrin is an aerospace engineer who’s determined to launch a manned flight to Mars, and thinks colonizing the red planet would be practical in the long run.

While Zubrin does have some actual credentials, his beliefs appear to be considered a bit out there by many. And yes, Gingrich has at least expressed interest in his ideas, dating back to 1994 when he was Minority Whip, but we all know honesty isn’t exactly the Newtster’s strong suit.


The idea of colonizing Mars has been a favorite subject of Charles Thompson for some time, with the first song I can think of that covered the topic being “Lovely Day” on the Pixies’ Trompe Le Monde. He returned to the theme with “Big Red” (based, from what I’ve heard, on Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy), and then led off The Cult of Ray with a song called “The Marsist.” After Ray, which was quite heavy on the science fiction themes, Frank tended to lay off on them a bit. He was probably worried the public would start seeing him as some sort of one-trick hyper-pony. On Dog in the Sand, however, he brought back the Mars theme with “Robert Onion,” which is not only a tribute to Zubrin but also an acrostic, with the letters at the beginning of each line spelling out “Robert ‘The Case for Mars’ Zubrin.” The Case for Mars was Zubrin’s most famous book, the subject of which is pretty obvious from the title. Acrostics were nothing new for Frank, who first used the technique to spell out “surfer” in the song “Ana.” The title is short for “anagram,” an indication that no one was entirely sure what word trick Frank was using. “Speedy Marie” spells out the name of his then-girlfriend, Jean Marie Walsh; and I believe “Valley of Our Hope” also incorporates some acrostics. Getting back to “Robert Onion,” another interesting thing about the lyrics is that it includes the word “zugzwang,” which basically means “compulsion to move.” It’s used in chess and other games when passing your turn is not an option, and making a move is only a detriment. Speaking of which, Zubrin’s first patent was apparently for a form of three-player chess.

I can’t say I really know enough of Zubrin’s ideas to determine whether or not he deserves to be branded a crackpot. With Newt, however, I have to suspect he’s just saying things he thinks are cool in order to get elected. Does he really have any clue as to the logistics of a moon base? I seriously doubt it. If anything, Gingrich probably wants to have poor people exiled to the Moon. All that aside, though, “Robert Onion” is a cool song, and I’d recommend the entire Dog in the Sand album as well.

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4 Responses to One Ponders Layers and Layers and Layers

  1. halinabq says:

    Wait a minute. Isn’t it the Republicans who want government to be smaller? Well, then, who is going to fund these manned missions to the Moon and Mars? I don’t think any private company would be nuts enough to undertake something that’s guaranteed to lose big piles of money, just for the glory of it. I could be wrong, because they’re building a spaceport here in New Mexico where the fabulously rich can spend hundreds of thousand of dollars for a few minutes in space. But of course the state government is kicking in money for that, so it’s the taxpayers who will be on the hook when the whole thing goes belly up.

    Naturally, you don’t remember the excitement of the “space race” in the 60’s. We were all so jubilant when the first American walked on the moon. That jubilation lasted all of a few minutes. So it would be with a mission to Mars: trillions of dollars spent to bring back a few rocks. Sure doesn’t sound like a way to fix the deficit to me. But then anybody who thinks politicians actually WANT to fix the deficit has Martian rocks in their head to begin with.

    • Nathan says:

      Yeah, politicians keep talking about privately funded space missions, but they never seem to have the names of any actual corporations that are willing to be involved with such a project.

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