Airy Persiflage

Airy Persiflage

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Side Effects

Hmm… I wonder whether the death of Osama bin Laden will have any influence on Muammar Qaddafi’s willingness to negotiate his exit from Libya?

Airy Persiflage
Funnies
Politics

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The Peril of Positive Thinking

Here’s a challenge: how do you make a thoughtful person talking for ten minutes interesting? Here’s one approach.

Airy Persiflage
Science

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Yuri’s Night

Fifty years ago today, the headline on the front page of the New York Times read, “Soviet Orbits Man and Recovers Him; Space Pioneer Reports: ‘I Feel Well’; Sent Messages While Circling Earth.”

It was the first time any human being had gone into space.

The human being was Yuri Gagarin, a Russian pilot in the Soviet Air Force. He orbited the planet once, in the process flying higher and faster than any human being before him.

Yuri GagarinAt the time, his nationality seemed to be the most important fact about his achievement. The Soviet Union and the United States were engaged in a desperate space race — almost exclusively for propaganda bragging rights. President Kennedy’s famous challenge to land a man on the Moon by the end of the 1960s was an attempt to set the finish line sufficiently distant so that the United States, starting from behind, might still have a chance to win.

The space race ended in July 1969, when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the Moon. The United States won.

That rivalry seems unimportant now, with Americans and Russians and other nations working together on the International Space Station (ISS). Late last year, the ISS marked ten years of continuous human presence in space.

Yet, without that rivalry, I doubt that humans would have gone to the Moon yet. And that would be a shame.

More important than the technical advances called forth by the drive to get to the Moon, more important than the scientific knowledge beamed back by scientific instruments and brought back in boxes of Moon rocks, was this: astronauts could look up and see the whole Earth.

During the Apollo 8 mission, astronaut Jim Lovell realized he could cover the entire planet with his thumb. Everyone any of us has ever heard of — all of history, science, the arts, philosophy; all the nations, all the causes, all the beliefs and faiths; all the great achievements, all the great crimes — all of it on that little blue sphere suspended in the blackness of space.

I think that has something to do with why Americans and Russians work side-by-side with people of other nations on the ISS.

We couldn’t see our rivalry in proper perspective until the rivalry lifted us high enough to truly see ourselves.

Russians certainly have reason to be proud of Yuri Gagarin. Fifty years later, as a fellow human being, I’m proud of him, too.

Airy Persiflage
Science

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Cliff Notes

From NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day site, here’s an amazing photo of the tallest known cliff in the Solar System, Verona Rupes, on Uranus’ bizarre moon Miranda. The cliff is estimated to be 20 kilometers deep — almost 12 and a half miles, and ten times the depth of the Grand Canyon.

Tallest cliff in the Solar System

The photo was taken way back in 1986. Why was it featured on the NASA site now? I’m guessing that NASA believes this will increase Congressional interest in funding deep space missions. To politicians who seem determined to run the country off a cliff, this has gotta be irresistable.

Airy Persiflage
Science

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To Orbit, Then to Mars

If you’re like me, you’re probably never going to get into space, even though it’s something you’ve dreamed about your whole life. I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to settle for IMAX movies and amusement rides for your space experience.

But NASA is offering to send your face and name into earth orbit on one of the two final Space Shuttle missions.

If earth orbit isn’t ambitious enough for you, NASA is also offering to send your name to Mars, encoded on a microchip on a future lander.

Listen, I once felt a little thrill, during a long distance phone call, at the thought that my electronically-encoded voice might be bouncing off a communications satellite. If this the only way this space nut gets into space, it will do.

(Thanks to dealmac.)

Airy Persiflage
Music

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The Battle Cry of Freedom

Today is Abraham Lincoln’s 202nd birthday.

I really should mark the occasion in some way, so here’s Chris Vallillo playing “The Battle Cry of Freedom”.

Thanks, Abe.

Airy Persiflage

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Awakening a Sleeping Giant

Sixty-nine years ago today, Japanese carrier-based planes attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor.

Americans remember the date as the start of World War II, but the war in Europe had started more than two years earlier, when Germany and the Soviet Union invaded Poland on September 1, 1939. Even before that, the signs of impending war were impossible to miss. In the Pacific, Japan had been fighting in China since 1937.

But to Americans, December 7, 1941 remains the “date which will live in infamy.”

Japanese Admiral Yamamoto, who planned the attack, supposedly said, “I fear we have awakened a sleeping giant and filled him with a terrible resolve.”

He got that right.

For good or ill, the world we live in today was born the day Japan awakened the American giant.

The Denver Post has a collection of little-seen photos from the Pacific war.

Rescue during Pearl Harbor attack

Airy Persiflage

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Deck the Halls

Christmas cuteness:

Somebody’s a pretty skillful video editor.

Airy Persiflage
Movies

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Yes, We’re All Individuals!

A great moment from Monty Python’s Life of Brian:

Join us next time, when I’ll tell you exactly how you should think for yourself.

Airy Persiflage

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Fifty Years

Kennedy-Johnson Button: Leadership for the 60sFifty years ago today, John F. Kennedy was elected the thirty-fifth President of the United States.

I was eight years old, and I was for Kennedy.

I don’t remember any political discussion during this election, except that one of my aunts was going to vote for Kennedy, because she was a Catholic. I didn’t understand. I thought perhaps “Catholic” and “Democrat” were two names for the same thing.

I was for Kennedy because I had seen a campaign billboard with side-by-side portraits of two men. Kennedy was young, smiling and handsome. The other guy looked old, ugly and mean.

Years later, I realized the other guy was almost certainly Lyndon Johnson, not Richard Nixon. Campaigns don’t usually post billboards of the two opposing candidates.

It’s hard to believe those fifty years are more than a fifth of the time since the beginning of the American Revolution.

It doesn’t seem like a long time to me. The haircuts and the clothing styles still seem right. I can still watch some of the same TV shows.

Instead of iPods, we had transistor radios. Imagine — a radio you can carry in your pocket!

There was no satellite TV, no cable TV, no internet. People didn’t have computers. Banks didn’t have computers. To make a long-distance telephone call, you dialed the operator. The first Xerox photo-copier had just been released. The polio vaccine had been around only a few years. The first heart pacemaker had been surgically implanted only two years earlier.

Cars were big. They didn’t have airbags or seatbelts — or fuel economy standards or safety standards, either.

Those who worried about conserving natural resources, or about air and water pollution, were on the fringe. Always good for a chuckle.

A doctor was always a man. A little girl could grow up to be a housewife, a mother, a secretary, a bank teller, a teacher, or even a nurse.

Who could have imagined that might not be enough?

In some parts of the country, African-Americans were not allowed to vote, or to attend the best public schools or state colleges.

And yet 1960 feels familiar to me.

In 1960, you could easily have found plenty of people who remembered the world as it was fifty years earlier, in 1910: William Howard Taft was president. American women couldn’t vote. John F. Kennedy hadn’t been born.

Many features of the modern world existed then, but to most people, they were novelties, on the fringe of everyday experience: moving pictures, telephones, sound recordings.

Airplanes and automobiles existed, but who imagined they could be a practical form of transportation?

I don’t know how widespread the use of electricity was — or how common indoor plumbing was outside of cities.

Photography was well-known, but newspapers had not yet adopted the rotogravure process that made mass printing of photos possible. Radiotelegraphy would capture the public imagination two years later, when it brought news of the sinking of the Titanic, but it was a specialized subject in 1910.

But I think a 1960 person who remembered 1910 as I remember 1960 would say that the world had changed a little around the edges, but that the world of 1910 still felt familiar.

Take an easy stride back another fifty years, and Abraham Lincoln has just been elected the 16th President of the United States. The hot technologies of the day are the railroad and the telegraph.

Another fifty years, and Abraham Lincoln is not quite two years old, and James Madison is president.

We can keep going back, fifty years at a time, and I think we could always find an observer who remembers the bygone time as if it were yesterday, and who doesn’t feel that things have changed all that much.

Take just eight of these strides into the past, and we’re in 1610, the year Galileo used his telescope to discover four moons orbiting Jupiter. In England, William Shakespeare is writing The Tempest, and it will be another year before the release of the King James Version of the Bible.

Time flies, huh?

It’s not an original thought, but the one constant thing in the world is change.

I’ve known people who will conjure up something from the past — a gas-guzzling old land yacht from the fifties or sixties, for example — and say, “That’s the way life’s supposed to be.”

Nah.

Here’s the way it’s supposed to be: We look at the problems that confront us. We make our best, honest effort to foresee the problems yet to come. We consider what we have and what we need. We think. We act. We change.

Tomorrow we’ll change some more.

Update: Life magazine has photos of Kennedy on the campaign trail.

Airy Persiflage

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We Learn

The first time a nuclear weapon was used in anger was 65 years ago today, when a uranium bomb of a type never before tested was dropped over Hiroshima, Japan. The bombing doubled as a test of the design. It worked.

The second time a nuclear weapon was used in anger was three days later, over Nagasaki, Japan. That was a plutonium bomb of a type tested just once, less than a month before, in the New Mexico desert. That design worked, too.

The third time a nuclear weapon was used in anger hasn’t happened yet, 65 years later.

I’m not sure what that tells us, but I sure hope it means something.

Airy Persiflage

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Death as Lifestyle

Ever since we were born, we of the Baby Boom generation have been followed by entrepreneurs ready to cater to our every need or wish. Now that we’re getting old, there’s a new lifestyle magazine about death in England.

Look for a booming industry here in the United States soon, catering to the upscale death market.

Airy Persiflage

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Embrace This

How do you persuade someone to wear a seat belt? Here’s an ad from England:

Airy Persiflage

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My Second Childhood

I think I’ve entered my second childhood, or maybe I just never got out of my first.

I’ve been thinking about things I’ve known about for a long time, and letting myself be astonished all over again. Things that would make a sophisticate roll his eyes and say, “Well, duh!”

Things like this:

Ludwig van Beethoven started losing his hearing early in his career as a composer. His deafness grew progressively worse over time. Yet Beethoven wrote some of his greatest works — some of the greatest music ever written by anyone — when he was already profoundly deaf.

Or this:

During the entire time he served as President of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt was totally paralyzed from the waist down. From a wheelchair, he led the country out of the Great Depression and through World War II. He died less than a month before the surrender of Germany, and about four months before the surrender of Japan.

Human beings are pretty remarkable people. There’s always more to them than meets the eye. Sometimes, a lot more.

Airy Persiflage
Quotes

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Time Management Advice

Via A Blog Around the Clock:

Learn from the past, set vivid, detailed goals for the future, and live in the only moment of time over which you have any control: now. —Denis Waitley

So, I guess you’re saying my strategy of regretting the past, dreading the future, and being paralyzed in the present isn’t the best option? If only you had told me this in the past!