Saturday, July 18, 2009

Unearthly Earth

In my earlier post I was trying to remember a recent book which tells the story of the iconic NASA image, above. The book, "
Earthrise: How Man First Saw the Earth," offers an interesting theory. Author Robert Poole argues that when people saw the whole earth for the first time, it gave a crucial spark to the birth of environmental or green politics:
The most important result of the space age was that mankind first saw the Earth. At Christmas 1968 the crew of Apollo 8 became the first people to journey to the Moon, and the first to behold the whole Earth. Their photo, 'Earthrise', changed mankind's view of itself.
Poole's interesting claim is that the 'look back,' the astronauts' first sight of the Earth from space, was almost an unintentional byproduct of projects which were vastly scientific and forward-focused: send probes to the moon; orbit the moon; land on the moon, and so on.

The Sixties were turbulent times, and so that image of Earth, our only home, must have been a powerful one for many people (aside from proving to any remaining flat-earthers that they were likely wrong): the Earth appears lonely, yes, and vulnerable, against the infinity of space, but the photograph also suggests serenity. From that perspective, all the struggles of the Sixties vanish, replaced with an image that ought to unite all people, all the time.

One gets a sense of how unhinged things seemed in American poet Robert Lowell's poem from 1967, Waking Early Sunday Morning, which sounds like a sermon, a sermon of doom. It ends with a plea for mercy and this bleak vision, which sort of conjures the "Earthrise" photo:
Pity the planet, all joy gone
from this sweet volcanic cone;
peace to our children when they fall
in small war on the heels of small
war – until the end of time
to police the earth, a ghost
orbiting forever lost
in our monotonous sublime.
Can anyone smell the melodrama? Doom and gloom for Lowell had to be on an epic scale.

Sotomayor's Nephews

Attending their aunt's confirmation hearings in Washington, D.C., twins Conner and Corey Sotomayor found the hectic pace of the Senate too overwhelming. Soon after this photograph was taken, both were out cold.

Sonia Sotomayor's adopted nephews are ethnically Korean; what might they choose on a census form? Korean? Latino? Both?

Friday, July 17, 2009

Looking Back

To quote someone else who was witnessing another iconic moment: "Look at that son-of-a-bitch go!"

There are many odd and unusual anniversaries this year. This is the biggest one of all: it is 40 years since Neil Armstrong stepped on to the moon, or rather, it will be, on July 20th.

Having blasted off on July 16th, the three astronauts would have been looking back at Earth by now, their home planet receding from them as they headed into open space.

It is that thought that moves me most about the moon-landing: what must it have felt like to be among the first to be able to see the whole Earth from a distance?

I marvel that the moon landings succeeded with technology so limited compared to today, and I am impressed, awe-struck even, to read of Armstrong's life-long 'inner calm,' the stable psyche and sense of himself which saved his life during many missions as a test pilot as well as when he joined the space program — and which also has made him a profoundly humble, even shy, man, despite being this man, the First Man.

But there's an unexpectedness and collectiveness to the moment when the astronauts (though it had been remarked on by previous orbiting crews) see the Earth diminish and sense its fragility. Nothing underlines a feeling of "this-is-the-only-one-you've-got-so-don't-break-it," like seeing the Earth from afar! The space program was one huge forwards-march rush for humanity, even with the added pressure of Cold War rivalry. The sense of our beautiful, solitary, planetary home, seen for the first time, was a profound moment for millions across the world.

This emotion, which I've conveyed here only awkwardly, I feel, is said far better by an Apollo 9 astronaut who with his crew members were the first to see 'Earth rise', but in the truest sense, words would fail anyone!
"On that small spot," said Russell Schweickart of Apollo 9, "that little blue, and white thing, is everything that means anything to you — all of history and music and poetry and art and death and birth and love, tears, joy, games, all of it on that little spot out there that your can cover with your thumb."

I Wouldn't Want to Be Associated With Him

Hot off the
(Associated) Press:
1:13 PM EDT, July 17, 2009 COLCHESTER, N.Y. - An upstate New York man has admitted he stuffed his 98-year-old dead mother in a freezer so he could keep cashing her Social Security checks.
Couldn't he have just buried her under cover of darkness?

What were they thinking (they weren't)?
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS - In an embarrassing acknowledgment, the space agency said Thursday that it must have erased the Apollo 11 moon footage years ago so that it could reuse the videotape.
So, that's the news. Oh, wait — from the newspaper of newspapers, the Old Testament of Journalism itself, let us re-run that headline from so very many years ago, a headline on a humble story that could be said to have inspired me to aim for a career in reporting... From the Tyrone Courier, circa 1984:

Horse Has Went Missing

If you had somehow failed to grasp the poetry of the headline, it came again, in the staccato beat of an artful lede sentence:

A horse has went missing near the Blackwatertown Road...

Anyway, I usually put an image at or near the top of a new posting, but this I have saved for the last. I can think of at least one person who will find this a stirring sight!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Job Offers Via Email!

But just one thought — am I really the right person to work in a nuclear laboratory?

I Keep Vowing Not to Read the Times

Sometimes the New York Times would drive a body mad. Then there are times when something is said that needed to be said. The Times never damned George W. Bush enough, in my opinion, and when they finally did slice and dice him, it was from the safety of the final year of his predictably awful eight years-long abuse of power.

Last Sunday, a completely different issue from politics and Presidents popped up, but a no less gripping one: weddings, and the Times' coverage of the select few which get on the 'Vows' page each Sunday. Recently, the 'Vows' section profiled a newly wed couple with rather different achievements than one might normally expect. Enough readers wrote in protest or in support of the unusual inclusion to bring the Times' Public Editor out — this person comes out to explain, apologize, douse the flames of riot or to deliver a hiding.

On this occasion, Public Editor Clark Hoyt started thus:
Jennifer Keen and Paul Sousa... could not have been more different from the other couples on the June 28 weddings and celebrations pages of The Times. The others included a direct descendant of Peter Stuyvesant;... former Vice President Dick Cheney’s social secretary; and the son of a retired Harlem nightclub owner.

Sousa, 41, grew up homeless, was hooked on heroin by 15, and was in and out of prison for the next 24 years. Keen, 26, came from a stable household but said she was sexually abused by a relative and by 16 was addicted to methamphetamines, marijuana and alcohol. They met outside a Narcotics Anonymous meeting in Sacramento...
And so on: Hoyt tells how some readers were incensed, but still more were inspired by Keen and Sousa. It's a delightful piece, and informative too. So if you wish to read, read right to the end.