April 15, 2013
Photo by Aaron Tang
October 16, 2012
The second presidential debate will be contested tonight. Included are links to historical presidential debates past as well as old ads/speeches for years with no debates. My favorite link is one of a Democratic Ronald Reagan campaigning for Truman.
2012 Obama / Romney 1
1988 Bush / Dukakis
1984 Reagan / Mondale
1980 Reagan / Carter
1976 Carter / Ford 3
1960 Kennedy / Nixon
August 27, 2012
Somewhere deep in a storage unit in Texas sits a signed photograph of Neil Armstrong, beneath it you will find a short handwritten letter from him addressed to me.
I spent my 6th grade summer biking to the library, going through Who's Who in America and writing anyone I thought famous. Most of my letters were simple and gushing (this is a draft of a letter I wrote to Dr. J). But my letters to astronauts were different. I was a space geek. A file cabinet in my bedroom bulged with pages cut from magazines and newspapers: Venera 9, Venera 10, Apollo-Soyuz, Viking, Luna 24, Voyager, Pioneer etc., were all neatly cataloged and categorized. A set of 4x6 note cards detailed all the major known objects in the solar system with a drawing of each. I had several bookshelves devoted to space literature was an avid model rocketeer. Tom Wolfe's The Right Stuff had been released in January of that year. I devoured it. Worship was too small a word for what I felt about the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo astronauts. I didn't understand why Apollo had ended. Why weren't we still pushing humans deeper into the void?
The plans for the Space Shuttle (which hadn't launched yet) seemed absurd to me. I wondered, "why build a space plane when Mars beckons?" I poured all these thoughts into my astronaut fan letters. Many sent letters, but Armstrong's was memorable. It was short and simple. He told me he wouldn't have gotten to the moon if he hadn't been an engineer and that he didn't do it alone. He advised me to learn to use a slide rule, to think through problems, and to work hard. He told me to never stop looking up at the sky and imagining what was up there.
This week I've read every Armstrong obituary I've come across. Characteristically, The Economist published one of the best. They dug up this quote:
Armstrong offered the following self-portrait: “I am, and ever will be, a white-socks, pocket-protector, nerdy engineer, born under the second law of thermodynamics, steeped in steam tables, in love with free-body diagrams, transformed by Laplace and propelled by compressible flow.”
I didn't expect to be surprised anything I read this week about Armstrong and his two hours and thirteen minutes on the moon, but several little details reported in the Armstrong tribute/news river were new to me. I had not known his iconic portrait of Buzz Aldrin was doctored by NASA to correct for a bad crop and that there were few pictures of Armstrong actually on the moon. I recommend paging through the 122 shots in the unedited archive of all 122 images taken during that first moonwalk. The mistakes and the pictures normally edited out somehow bring the archive to life. They also made me wonder, did they pause at the hatch on the way back in and take one last look. What did it sound like in those suits?
A college friend's mom was a beauty queen who escorted astronauts around San Juan on their post-landing worldwide triumphal journey. She noted that the NASA guys partied hard— harder even than the Beatles who she also guided around the city, but not Armstrong, "He was cool. You hardly knew he was there."
It is easy to be nostalgic about the idea of moon landing, about a night when the whole world was united. My mother painted a picture of suburban Houston where all the television sets were flickring in unison and the streets were empty. EB White describes a more distracted scene here in NY. But was it really worldwide? I've travelled to plenty of places where people have no idea we went up there.
No man born after 1935 has walked on the moon. In a few short years the last astronaut to holding those memories will be gone. The moment is already fading from our collective experience being relegated to a deeper past... easier to mythologize, but also easier to forget.
Remember Plato’s allegory of the cave. In the cave, the people look at shadows moving on the wall. They watch the shadows move, and they think that’s living. What if they could go outside and see the sun? That’s us, moving from the Earth to the Moon. That’s Neil Armstrong, who died at the age of 82 over the weekend, standing on the Moon, and looking back at Earth.
The thing about the cave is, it’s not just one cave. It’s more caves, and more, all nested within one another. The Moon was our first cave; Mars will be next. And then there will be another cave, and another.
December 31, 2011
April 14, 2010
A huge earthquake struck Yushu province yesterday. It's a remote and beautiful part of the world and conditions there are tough in the best of times. High passes, bad roads, and poor communication are the norm. In my trips there through the region I've made many friends. All must be suffering now.
My guess is that the true scale of this calamity will never be known and the reports of the dead will be wildly underestimated.
An account of my first trip to Jiegu in 1999 (Jiegu is the Tibetan name, Yushu is the official Chinese name): Xining-Garze
Update: Firsthand report of the quake.
January 20, 2009
Here are the full texts of all the inaugural addresses past.
And a few snippets that stuck out for me (in no particular order):
"My fellow countrymen, on this occasion, the oath I have taken before you and before God is not mine alone, but ours together. We are one nation and one people. Our fate as a nation and our future as a people rest not upon one citizen, but upon all citizens.
This is the majesty and the meaning of this moment.
For every generation, there is a destiny. For some, history decides. For this generation, the choice must be our own.
Even now, a rocket moves toward Mars. It reminds us that the world will not be the same for our children, or even for ourselves in a short span of years. The next man to stand here will look out on a scene different from our own, because ours is a time of change—rapid and fantastic change bearing the secrets of nature, multiplying the nations, placing in uncertain hands new weapons for mastery and destruction, shaking old values, and uprooting old ways.
Our destiny in the midst of change will rest on the unchanged character of our people, and on their faith." (video)
" Yet, after all, though the problems are new, though the tasks set before us differ from the tasks set before our fathers who founded and preserved this Republic, the spirit in which these tasks must be undertaken and these problems faced, if our duty is to be well done, remains essentially unchanged. We know that self-government is difficult. We know that no people needs such high traits of character as that people which seeks to govern its affairs aright through the freely expressed will of the freemen who compose it. But we have faith that we shall not prove false to the memories of the men of the mighty past. They did their work, they left us the splendid heritage we now enjoy. We in our turn have an assured confidence that we shall be able to leave this heritage unwasted and enlarged to our children and our children's children. To do so we must show, not merely in great crises, but in the everyday affairs of life, the qualities of practical intelligence, of courage, of hardihood, and endurance, and above all the power of devotion to a lofty ideal, which made great the men who founded this Republic in the days of Washington, which made great the men who preserved this Republic in the days of Abraham Lincoln."
We are provincials no longer. The tragic events of the thirty months of vital turmoil through which we have just passed have made us citizens of the world. There can be no turning back. Our own fortunes as a nation are involved whether we would have it so or not.
And yet we are not the less Americans on that account. We shall be the more American if we but remain true to the principles in which we have been bred. They are not the principles of a province or of a single continent. We have known and boasted all along that they were the principles of a liberated mankind. These, therefore, are the things we shall stand for, whether in war or in peace.
The American people stand firm in the faith which has inspired this Nation from the beginning. We believe that all men have a right to equal justice under law and equal opportunity to share in the common good. We believe that all men have the right to freedom of thought and expression. We believe that all men are created equal because they are created in the image of God.
From this faith we will not be moved.
The negroes are now Americans. Their ancestors came here years ago against their will, and this is their only country and their only flag. They have shown themselves anxious to live for it and to die for it. Encountering the race feeling against them, subjected at times to cruel injustice growing out of it, they may well have our profound sympathy and aid in the struggle they are making. We are charged with the sacred duty of making their path as smooth and easy as we can. Any recognition of their distinguished men, any appointment to office from among their number, is properly taken as an encouragement and an appreciation of their progress, and this just policy should be pursued when suitable occasion offers.
Care for the property of the nation and for the needs of future settlers requires that the public domain should be protected from purloining schemes and unlawful occupation.
The conscience of the people demands that the Indians within our boundaries shall be fairly and honestly treated as wards of the Government and their education and civilization promoted with a view to their ultimate citizenship, and that polygamy in the Territories, destructive of the family relation and offensive to the moral sense of the civilized world, shall be repressed.
The laws should be rigidly enforced which prohibit the immigration of a servile class to compete with American labor, with no intention of acquiring citizenship, and bringing with them and retaining habits and customs repugnant to our civilization.
FDR's First Innagural (mp3)
There may be little solidity in an ancient idea that congregations of men into cities and nations are the most pleasing objects in the sight of superior intelligences, but this is very certain, that to a benevolent human mind there can be no spectacle presented by any nation more pleasing, more noble, majestic, or august, than an assembly like that which has so often been seen in this and the other Chamber of Congress, of a Government in which the Executive authority, as well as that of all the branches of the Legislature, are exercised by citizens selected at regular periods by their neighbors to make and execute laws for the general good. Can anything essential, anything more than mere ornament and decoration, be added to this by robes and diamonds? Can authority be more amiable and respectable when it descends from accidents or institutions established in remote antiquity than when it springs fresh from the hearts and judgments of an honest and enlightened people? For it is the people only that are represented. It is their power and majesty that is reflected, and only for their good, in every legitimate government, under whatever form it may appear. The existence of such a government as ours for any length of time is a full proof of a general dissemination of knowledge and virtue throughout the whole body of the people. And what object or consideration more pleasing than this can be presented to the human mind? If national pride is ever justifiable or excusable it is when it springs, not from power or riches, grandeur or glory, but from conviction of national innocence, information, and benevolence.
November 5, 2008
November 5, 2008
November 4, 2008