Welcome to Birdbrain Spacelines

Last week the Federal Aviation Administration (motto: "Straighten up and fly right") released guidelines for passengers and crew members of commercial suborbital reusable launch vehicle operations with space flight participants. You know, what you and I would call tourist space ships. Never mind that there is no vehicle capable of carting people into space and back and probably won't be for at least ten years, we can rest easy knowing the government is planning ahead, something that would have been nice a while back. Like, say, before 9/11.

Among the recommendations they make is that flight operators should tell passengers about the risks associated with space flight ("You may embarrass yourself by puking during liftoff, regain all your new found weightlessness when you get back to Earth, and fry to a crisp during re-entry."), that passengers must have a check-up with a doctor "experienced or trained in the concepts of aerospace medicine" (try asking your primary care physician at the HMO for that referral), and that they not be allowed to show Alien, 2001: A Space Odyssey, or any Hilary Duff movie on board so as not to alarm the passengers.

The most amazing thing about this is that someone – probably a slew of people – got paid to come up with these guidelines. You know they thought hard and long about it since they also recommended that each member of the flight crew "should be trained to operate the vehicle," that the space ship should "provide adequate atmospheric conditions to sustain life and consciousness," and that there should be "provisions for stowage of all objects in the cabin." There's no mention of having to put the tray table in the upright and locked position during re-entry, but hey, there's a reason the guidelines are only version 1.0.

These guidelines, which should be renamed "The Duh! Report," are another example of a government agency spending our hard earned tax dollars to state the obvious. Hey, it's easier than original thinking. But this isn't always the case. Some government agencies actually balk at stating the obvious. The other day the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Department of Health and Human Services (motto: "Sorry, nonhuman services are down the hall"), decided that the title of a talk being given at a conference they were funding in Oregon had to go. Apparently "Suicide Prevention Among Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Transgender Individuals" was a little too specific, even though that happens to be the topic. A government official asked that the words "gay," "lesbian," "bisexual," and "transgender" be deleted and "sexual orientation" be substituted. Since that made no sense to anyone except maybe Norm Crosby, the talk's title was changed to "Suicide Prevention in Vulnerable Populations." That's better, now isn't it? Never mind the fact that suicide isn't even possible if someone isn't vulnerable. Or at the least it wouldn't be very successful.

This proves once again that you can't believe everything you hear, even if it is coming from the government. OK, especially if it's from the government. This isn't only true in the United States either. If you call the British Columbia Ministry of Transport to check on road conditions, and used the phone book in Northwest British Columbia to get the phone number, you'll get a female voice that says, "Ummm, baby, you've dialed the right number." It might in fact be the right number, but only if you want phone sex, not road or weather conditions. It turns out the local directory printed the wrong phone number and no one from the government bothered to proofread the listing before it went to press. The phone company is thinking about tossing the undistributed directories in the trash, proving once again that the United States isn't the only country whose government lacks a sense of humor.

Speaking of government proofreading errors, Hong Kong recently spent $2 million putting up thousands of new and replacement street signs. Unfortunately after they put them up they discovered that a number of them contained misspellings, including "Supereme Court Road," "Club Stree," and "JacKson Road." The signs, which were made by prison inmates, prove that you get what you pay for. It could also prove that government proofreaders are birdbrains, but it turns out that would be in insult to birds.

Yes, you guessed it. A report in the February issue of Nature Reviews Neuroscience (motto: "We'd rather review movies but that Ebert guy won't let us.") says birds aren't birdbrains after all. The researchers say birds exhibit "complex cognitive behavior," which on the evolutionary and intelligence scale falls one step above whoever decided Miami Vice should be remade as a movie. Of course considering Hollywood is also remaking The Honeymooners, Bewitched, and The Dukes of Hazzard, there's a good chance the title of birdbrain may have been passed from birds to studio heads while we weren't looking.

But even if birds have lost title to their brains, at least they can fly wherever they want without the government getting into the act and issuing numbingly obvious guidelines they have to follow. This is a good thing since, unless I missed that study, they wouldn't be able to read the guidelines anyway. Ah, were we only so lucky to have that excuse.

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