Sunday, August 26, 2012

Neil Armstrong, Ad Astra

Neil Armstrong, Ad Astra

Dear Friends,

One of my heroes died yesterday afternoon. You might have heard of him. He might be one of your heroes, as well. That is likely if you were a thirteen year old boy on July 20, 1969. His name was Neil Armstrong. He was the steely eyed missile man who flew a space ship clear to the Moon and was the first Human to touch its face, to trod its dust under his boot heels and come back home with a trove of dumb old, very old rocks.

Armstrong had previously shown his mettle flying fighter planes over Korea, blasting toward the edge of space in rocket planes that nobody was sure would real work, and safely landing a crazy contraption called the Gemini 8 that spun out of control one hundred and four miles from Terra Firma. It was spinning at one revolution per second while coupled to another craft. He and his crew mate could barely see straight, their eyeballs bulging and heads swimming from the force of the gyrations. Armstrong could hardly lift his right hand and hit the small button to turn the damned machine off. He worried that he might vomit into his space helmet and thus suffocate, but did manage to do what a real test pilot always wishes to do. He got himself and his partner back down on the ground in one piece.

About three years later on Armstrong faced a couple of other challenges not anticipated in his training to make a landing on Luna. First off, there were then no really good maps of their intended place of touch down. As they, he, the Commander, and Buzz Aldrin, Armstrong’s pilot, descended to the surface they found that the supposedly safe terrain was littered with boulders and craters. They had overshot their place of supposed safety and were running low on fuel. Neil and Buzz, saying not a word to each other as they kept mission control a quarter of a million miles away apprised of the mess, morphed into a four armed, quadruple-eyed single pilot. One took control of the altitude of their little craft, and the other manned the joystick controlling its forward motion. With less than half a minute of fuel left, they made a safe landing. Had they not, their craft made with a skin as thin as a foil wrapper on a piece of chewing gum, would have become their coffin… and not a very fine coffin as expensive as it was.

Anyhow, once down on the surface, they were told to get some sleep. Who can make a perilous journey to land on the friggin’ Moon and then want to take a nap? They refused their orders and got dressed for a little jaunt. Of course, they had to take along that danged American flag to plant and their first problem was getting the thing stuck into the hard lunar soil so goddamn President Nixon could interrupt their work on a useless task for the TV camera for a useless interview with the “boys” to be telecast and recorded on a tape that would be lost in an obscure closet somewhere yet to be discovered in Texas… or maybe California… or maybe Florida. These guys just risked their necks to get to the Moon and they had to stop what they were doing to pose for a dumb ass TV commercial for a crooked politician.

Whatever. The fellahs did get back to work. Buzz spent a good deal of time doing what seemed to be the Bunny Hop as he figured out how to move around in those ridiculous suits that were like balloons you wore. Neil got most of the chores with the digging and laying out experiments as his pilot looked like he was high on nitrous oxide at a Grateful Dead show before that camera. Then they had to go back into their rickety little Moon Ship for that snooze before going back up to the orbiting command capsule… if the rocket in their own ship would light as promised.

That proved to be a problem. The rocket was actually in fine shape, but Buzz bumped into the switch that turned it on when he was getting back into the Lunar Module. It broke off. Fortunately, he had a Bic pen. He took off the cap and jammed it into the switch. They were on their way back home. Buzz is still both proud and abashed by this episode, forty-three years later.

So, the guys, Armstrong and Aldrin and the command module pilot, Mike Collins, head back home in what had become at this point, well, essentially a flying outhouse. After six days with about as much personal space as a phone booth provides… things were getting a little stinky. When the recovery crew opened the hatch to the Apollo 11 capsule, they almost lost their lunch. No portion of a trip to the Moon and back, including prying three adventurers out of their tiny space craft is for sissies.

Next came the quarantine in a little trailer home. The astronauts needed to be isolated to protect the crew of the aircraft carrier that had picked them up from imaginary space bugs. The thing was hermetically sealed but fitted with a large picture window so Nixon, yes him again, could drop on by to have the plucky boys make another TV ad for him. He took a short break from compiling lists of Jews and other enemies, plotting burglaries and assassinations to say how proud he was of the brave Americans confined to a silver tube on wheels after spending seven days at the edge of Death at every moment, with each flip of a switch, with every move in a terribly confined space with no escape. Now, they were trapped yet again having to put up with Nixon.

Of course, Nixon had almost nothing to do with the guys triumphant and daring trip to the surface of the Moon and back. The men who actually engineered the politics and economics required to perform such a feat, JFK and LBJ, were either murdered or banished in disgrace. Nixon’s joy at this reality was barely concealed behind his smug and clueless pronouncement of the achievement that he shared with the brave explorers. They put up with his nonsense and went back to their jobs, now essentially working as lab rats being examined to see if they would die some hideous death from an alien microbial beasty.  The boys were good natured about living in their terrarium like some exhibit at a zoo. They played a lot of cards and gave interviews over the phone and did their best to explain what they had done and experienced to the folks back at NASA and JPL, and to the world.

After being let out of the big test tube, the guys were sent to perform in parades and publicity functions. They pretty much hated that. When the hoopla was done, they each went their own ways. Buzz had a hard time for a while: depression and much booze. He eventually rebounded to become the preeminent Celestial Mechanic of our age. His ideas might finally get us to Mars. Collins went on to a life of public service and as a business leader in the private sector. Armstrong took a path rather different than his two colleagues who sailed with him to the Moon and back.

He moved back to his home in Ohio and became an engineering professor at a little state college. He seldom made public appearances but for showing up in class on time. He taught young people about the practical matters of solving little problems or hard problems for folks; making devices that might just become pieces of the next great space ship or a washing machine.

Armstrong could have cashed in his golden ticket of fame. He did not. He chose to make a modest living as a teacher and tend to his family and community. He touched the face of the Moon, but he chose to be firmly planted and steady to his principles right here on Earth. He humbly demonstrated to us all how to be Human when an entire planet assumes that you are more than Human. A little light went out of the world with the departure of a modest, brave and hard working man. Tonight or any night, if it is clear and the Moon is high, give that piece of rock and dust a wink and nod. One of our kind dared go there first and stomp gentle on its rough hide.

Hic Finis Est


Thursday, August 9, 2012

Talk nice-like. At least be clever…

Dear Friends,
Willard "Mitt" Romney

A couple of days ago an old friend of mine posted a question on Facebook. It read…

Why in the world would white working class people support Mitt Romney? Besides any echoes of racism I mean.

I replied…

See, what'cha got here is the basic crisis in American public education. About half the folks in this great country presently suffering the Mystery that is Democracy thinking that it is a dandy idea to give a filthy rich criminal all of their money and turn over to him the keys to a nuclear arsenal so he can realize his avowed dream of ushering in a New Kingdom of Zion ruled by a worldwide Mormon theocracy as outlined by the lunatic Joe Smith while camping in upstate NY in the 1860s where an angel named Maroni from a secret planet gave him super-double secret tablets of gold that he could not show to anybody else but had instructions for making magical underpants and how to take a bath before praying and stealing the souls of dead Jews. It all makes total sense in this context.

To this a friend we have in common commented in no uncertain terms…

Romney’s a total fake-poser-moron. A fat-ass phony piece of shit garbage asshole. Thanks for reading. PEACE.

After some thought, I replied again… 

I'm thinking of your last post, my friend, and how we use words. I trade in words. That's my business. I like to toss them like the anvils that fall out of the sky on Wily Coyote or the pianos that tumble from skyscrapers to ring with a crash and a thud unheard in an old Buster Keaton movie as he walks blissfully down the street.

For me, some precision is needed in aiming these weapons of literary destruction and obstruction. Simply name calling and cussing will persuade nobody and reduce we of good heart to the level that thugs like Romney and Gingrich and their ilk live in; a scummy pool of vitriol. When you hurl those words, please gloss them with some wit. Be as bad ass mean as you intend, but keep your wits about you. Drench those words in a syrup so sweet that those that torment us, steal from us, cheat and lie can’t help but be embarrassed by the truer than true reality of your words and the fact that they liked them because they just felt right and true.

Those bastards know what is true; most of them do. They know that their own parents would be ashamed of their foul behavior. So, don’t give those creeps a break. Don’t lose discipline. Work hard with every word you utter and keep it out of the gutter no matter how pissed off you get… even if you are as angry as I am tonight.

When Gandhi, who Winston Churchill termed a little man in diapers, took down the British Lion and unlocked the chains on the territories of the empire, he did it without firing a gun nor throwing a single punch with anything other than well chosen, often clever words delivered with an unfailing smile. He embarrassed the mightiest nation on the planet into just going home to lick their wounds. In the little dust up we got with global commercial enterprises, the same tactics can work if we keep our wits about us and lend our queer shoulders to the wheel.

Thanks to Allen Ginsberg for the purloined line. Words are fun!

Res Ipsa Loquitor,


Friday, August 3, 2012

Attention: Voters in the United States of America!

Dear Friends,

This man is a dangerous, unprincipled, compulsive liar and a religious fanatic He believes that it is his destiny to usher in a "New Jerusalem on Earth" to create a global theocracy administered by the priests of The Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormons). This mission will be accomplished following an apocalypse in the ancient Holy Land. Thus it was foretold to crazy Joe Smith by an angel named Maroni and supposedly from another planet while the extraterrestrial angel was vacationing in the woods of upstate New York.

Willard "Mitt" Romney

We cannot allow this lunatic have his hands on nuclear weapons. Let me make it really plain: we do not want this bozo to have his finger on the button that will provide him with what he believes are God given tools to invoke Armageddon. If you doubt this, do your own research on The Church o' LDS.

I should finally add, I don't personally give a damn what anybody believes. I'm an atheist and all religions seem pretty whacky to me. From animists to onion heads in saffron robes, any stripe of Christian, the several of Islam, folks that pray to elephant headed fat guys, the several flavors of Jews that I grew up with… the entire spectrum. All I'm saying is that it is not a good idea to give a deceitful yokel who is looking forward to the end of The World the means to pull off such a stunt.  

Res Ipsa Loquitor,