Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Far Overhead

The date of my arrival on Earth as an individual was marked, according to Wikipedia, by "...panic overt(aking) the American public, which created an enormous sense of vulnerability regarding the United States' ability to defend its territory. Adding to this fear was the element of surprise...which left the American public in what was observed as a “wave of near-hysteria"

I wasn't responsible. Really. I wasn't.

It was this guy...

"Простейший Спутник-1"

...better known as Sputnik.

Funny, in a way; the birth of the Space Age (or at least the Space Race) the same day as my own. And here we are just over half a century later with the Space Age reduced to a sagging badly-maintained space station loafing about in high Earth orbit with no particular purpose and nothing to look forward to except obsolescence.

I hope this is not a personal commentary as well.

Congresswoman Clare Booth Luce called Sputnik's radio signal "an intercontinental outer-space raspberry to a decade of American pretensions that the American way of life was a gilt-edged guarantee of our national superiority."

No one ever described me quite so poetically.

Well, damn.

My Soviet counterpart lasted 90 days. The radio transmitter fell silent in early November when the batteries went dead. The satellite's low orbit decayed through the autumn of 1957 until on 4 JAN 58 the object re-entered Earth's atmosphere and was consumed in a fire that probably lasted no more than a few seconds.

The reentry is not reported to have been observed.And here I still am.

Little PS-1 might just have been responsible for much of the modern world. It stunned the U.S. public and jump-started much of the Fifties and Sixties science boom in my country. The Wiki entry says that Sputnik-1 "...would eventually invent the Internet, upon which this page is published, NASA, and an increase in U.S. government spending on scientific research and education. One consequence of the Sputnik shock was the perception of a "Missile Gap." This was to become a dominant issue in the 1960 Presidential campaign"

Which leads me back to last night.

As I was driving home I got to thinking.

Who am I?

What am I doing, and why?

When I was a child I dreamed like a child. Except I dreamed that I would shake the world, that I would leave a name that would echo down the years with a grandeur and a whispering, like Hulagu Khan with his pyramid of skulls.

And then I grew up into the real world.

But when I was a younger man I still had at least some pretensions to playing a part on the world's greater stage. Not inventing NASA or the Internet, perhaps, but as a soldier I was involved in events that changed the way the world wagged, for better or worse. I went places and did things that, in their small way, impacted those places and things. I had notions about the world and my ability to affect it, and those notions, while exaggerated, made me at least believe that I was changing the world and the lives of the people in it.I spent a moment yesterday reading about the people who are "occupying Wall Street". For all that I think they are a quixotic and forlorn hope they are, at least, acting out their beliefs and those beliefs - that my country is and continues to be fallen into the hands of malefactors of great wealth and that only by prying that wealth from the levers of power will there be any chance that the Lesser Breeds such as I and my family will have any chance at having a say in our own futures beyond mere random chance - while my part is to sit and read about them and then go home to my dinner.

I think about myself today; slowed, domestic, exercising myself in the public fora through nothing more than this pallid electronic medium...and contrast that with the younger man in his jump boots and aid bag.

I think about joining that group in Zucotti Park, about more; about the kind of men who fought the company thugs and the National Guards for the 40-hour week and the 8-hour day, who fought the FBI and the state troopers for civil rights, who fought the British soldiers for liberty and law.

And immediately think; but what about my family?

Who will work to pay off their mortgage, their schooling, their food? Who will help them with their homework, find their stuffed pets (my son just awoke crying that his small stuffed manatee had swum away somewhere in the bedding. At eight years old. At two in the morning. Sheesh.), who will help my bride through her transition to her next job if I am arrested, if I lose my work fighting the banksters...if I'm suddenly not there, who will be?

Thus does domesticity - and my own fears - make a coward of me.

Don't get me wrong. I've had a hell of a fucking good half-century-and-four. I've lived well and foolishly, loved badly and immoderately, sampled life here and there and liked the taste of it. I've seen the sun come up over the Red Sea and set into the mountains of Panama. I've caressed the naked skin of the woman who has borne our children, and felt the fear of violent death and the elation of its passing-by.

And I have, I hope, more yet to come; pride, and passion, the work of helping my children to grow strong and good, in fighting (still...) in what ways I can to make my house, my city, my nation, and my world more honorable, more equitable, more honest, and more realistic places than they might be without my mite's worth.

But I wouldn't be human, and I wouldn't be who I am, if I didn't regret not being...more than I am.That I didn't invent the Internet or pile up my pyramid of skulls no longer troubles me.

But still, in these quiet early morning hours, I can't keep myself as I sit at my darkened desk in my silent house from straining, just a bit, to hear the faint beep-beep-beep in the night sky far overhead.


BigFred said...

Extremely well written. Thank you.

FDChief said...

BF: Ta; you're quite welcome...

Pluto said...

Damn, Chief, I get busy for a week or two and you catch fire and write like the wind. Knew I should have circled back sooner...

I find that being a parent gives me my greatest meaning in life. I'm nearly done with the first and hardest part of being a parent as my youngest is now nearly 16 and the oldest will be heading off to college next fall. It's been quite a ride with the requisite good and bad parts but it's been an incredible journey of discovery for me, my wife, and the kids and I wouldn't have missed it for anything.

Lisa said...

Who am I?

What am I doing, and why?

You are an artist, creating meaning and beauty in your world. You are a beautiful example of a man who lives with gusto and relishes serendipity. Thank you for writing so candidly.

You are a Libra, by gawd ;)

Ael said...

Doug Adams says it nicely:

It is important to note that suddenly, and against all probability, a Sperm Whale had been called into existence, several miles above the surface of an alien planet and since this is not a naturally tenable position for a whale, this innocent creature had very little time to come to terms with its identity. This is what it thought, as it fell:

Ahhh! Woooh! What's happening? Who am I? Why am I here? What's my purpose in life? What do I mean by who am I? Okay okay, calm down calm down get a grip now. Ooh, this is an interesting sensation. What is it? Its a sort of tingling in my... well I suppose I better start finding names for things. Lets call it a... tail! Yeah! Tail! And hey, what's this roaring sound, whooshing past what I'm suddenly gonna call my head? Wind! Is that a good name? It'll do. Yeah, this is really exciting. I'm dizzy with anticipation! Or is it the wind? There's an awful lot of that now isn't it? And what's this thing coming toward me very fast? So big and flat and round, it needs a big wide sounding name like 'Ow', 'Ownge', 'Round', 'Ground'! That's it! Ground! Ha! I wonder if it'll be friends with me? Hello Ground!

Lisa said...


Splendid ref.! That's the way to find one's porpoise in life :)

FDChief said...

Pluto: No question, the past 9 years or so have been tremendously interesting in their own way. In some ways I wouldn't trade them for all the earth-shaking doings I can think of.

But I won't try and deny that there are times when I feel like Eowyn on the walls of Minis Tirith: "I will be a shieldmaiden no longer, nor vie with the great Riders, nor take joy only in the songs of slaying. I will be a healer, and love all things that grow and are not barren."

Lovely words...but I wonder; how many times did she stop and look at the distaff or the diaper in her hand and wish that they were the grip of a sword..?

Lisa: Ta.

Ael: But unlike Adam's displaced cetacean, there's no sudden stop at the bottom for me; just a lifelong wonderment at both motion and direction.

But like most of Adam's stuff, the imagery is brilliant and amusing.

Lisa: "If I'd been the whiting,' said Alice, whose thoughts were still running on the song, `I'd have said to the porpoise, "Keep back, please: we don't want you with us!"'

`They were obliged to have him with them,' the Mock Turtle said: `no wise fish would go anywhere without a porpoise.'

`Wouldn't it really?' said Alice in a tone of great surprise.

`Of course not,' said the Mock Turtle: `why, if a fish came to me, and told me he was going a journey, I should say "With what porpoise?"'

`Don't you mean "purpose"?' said Alice.

`I mean what I say,' the Mock Turtle replied in an offended tone."

Lisa said...

smiling, on porpoise :)

rangeragainstwar said...

I was at a race way ,as a kid ,when sputnik came over in orbit. The race WAS STOPPED and we in the stands directed to observe history flying by in a earthly orbit.
I often muse that both US/USSR space ventures were the result of Nazi slave labor enabled missile programs.We gave Nazi bastards US citizenship and prosperous lives. We flew to the moon on technology formulated in/around slave labor. How easily we forget.
I also muse that while we were expanding to the moon a lot of guys in para boots were dug into fighting positions in the A Shau.

Podunk Paul said...

Beautifully said, FD.

FDChief said...

jim; The manned space program always seemed...kinda pointless to me, even as a kid. It was cool, the big-ass boosters, and the Tang, and the moon landings. But there never seemed to be a real object to it. The moon was dead, there was no value to landing on it other than (which I only appreciated later, obviously) the geologic information. It always struck me like mountain climbing; the actual achievement seemed far less than the effort required to attain it.

Interestingly, I WAS intrigued by the deep-space probes, the images returned from the Hubble telescope and the things we learned about Deep Time.

As far as the Germans went, well...yes. With the caveat that there's a buttload of human innovations that have been the end-product of atrocity; our own country is the end-product of extermination of the original inhabitants. I'd say that on the scale of human inhumanity the space race remains pretty small potatoes.

rangeragainstwar said...

Here in Fl our Fuhrer is calling for increased Engr and tech degrees like he's channeling JFK, and it sounds real good except this ain't 1963,and even then we experienced a glut of math and science types when the cycle played thru.
I wonder if we do this increase where will these grads find appropriate levels of employment.

FDChief said...

jim: The market for civil and geotechnical engineers here in OR, at least, is the worst its been in decades. There's just nothing being built right now. I'm baffled at what your gov. thinks all these new engineers and science techs will be doing.

Barry said...

"I'm baffled at what your gov. thinks all these new engineers and science techs will be doing."

It's nice to have a glut of people who've gone through grueling training, especially if they graduate with $40K+ in debt, and have few options.............

FDChief said...

Barry: I am still in touch with a former student of mine. She is this great woman; smart, hard-working, honest, honorable. She did everything "right"; worked her ass off going to community college while she helped support her parents, got the grades, finished up at U.Va., came back here to help with her parents again...

And now she can't find a job. ANY job. She's been temping, but her student loans are crushing.

Here we are, completely wasting this great woman, while forcing her into defaulting on her loans - which we will pay for - and for what? So some shithead at Goldman-Sachs can buy an extra winch cover for the yacht?

What a fucking mess we're making in this country.

basilbeast said...

"Thus does domesticity - and my own fears - make a coward of me."

So the Spartans encouraged their youth:

Young men, fight shield to shield and never
to panic or miserable flight,
but steel the heart in your chests with
and courage. Forget your own life
when you grapple with the enemy. Never run
and let an old soldier collapse
whose legs have lost their power. It is shocking
an old man lies on the front line
before a youth . . .

We old folk got responsibilities, raise families, keep the country running, kids don't.

Lisa & Ael, I too am a "Hitch-Hiker". But you cannot make me quote Vogon poetry.

Good piece of writing, Chief, and here's more Greek:

"The Unexamined Life if not worth living."