Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Some Space Program History

Tara has been home from school with a cold. Our house rule is no TV or computer for the time she'd normally be in class -- bed rest and reading OK. An exception to this rule would be parent- approved educational programming, and we've been using this down time to plough through many more episodes of From The Earth to The Moon, an Emmy award winning HBO series about NASA's golden age, inspired by JFK in that famous speech, and culminating in the Apollo moon landings. In Apollo, a perennial human longing had at last been fulfilled (which isn't to say we've had our fill of such adventuring).

I'm somewhat confused where I even got these two VHS tapes (it gets that way at chaos manor). I thought maybe from Larry but he denied it after Meeting for Worship on Sunday, where I spent some time vacuuming up crumbs with a Hoover (we had a party to celebrate Bridge City Friends Meeting's new and transferring members, with my own self-made nametag reaffirming my attender status -- a long story).

Tara and I have both learned a great deal of history we didn't know from these tapes. This morning's fare included Sam Shepherd's story (Episode Nine) which I found one of the most compelling, perhaps because he went to the moon as a somewhat older guy (47) like me (46). Plus I really empathized with that MIT geek who had to program around a faulty abort switch under extreme time pressure -- wow, nice save! And I really liked that Grumman CEO in earlier episodes -- the guy behind the LEM (the lunar module). So how true to fact is this series, in minute detail? I haven't had time to run many fact checks, even with Google right here at my elbow. Like, did he really let off steam that way, by bouncing a rubber ball against the wall?

I hear some readers asking themselves "so when do you do your job Mr. Urner, if you spend all this time on TV-viewing marathons?" My answer: "this is my job." Like, I'm a parent for crying out loud. This series provides a lot of historical context, showing anti-war demonstrations, assassinations, unfolding tragedy in Vietnam. My daughter (10) could use some perspective on all that, and what better person to provide some than her dad, who actually lived through a lot of it? Plus I just made her a hot lunch (ravioli from Trader Joe's). Her mom is snowed under with year-end bookkeeping tasks, so yes I'm on child care duty, and that's cool with me.

In fact, one of the bizarre features of dark ages America was how even single parents would have to work long hours just to scrounge enough money to pay for other adults to take care of their kids. In this way, families were put asunder so a few privileged shareholders could "earn a decent living" on the backs of the working poor. I thought Moore's Bowling for Columbine did a good job of investigating this phenomenon -- a stronger piece of filmmaking than Fahrenheit 911, maybe because he wasn't trying so hard to both write history and make it at the same time. And no, I haven't yet seen Mel Gibson's magnum opus -- I'll get it from Netflix for some rainy day. And I wonder if the Dalai Lama has seen Kundun yet; last I heard, he hadn't.

Anyway, back to the space program. Per Critical Path (1981), Bucky's hope was the kind of high tech management and training programs which'd enabled humans to set foot on the moon (even drive on it) in but one short, tumultuous decade, would then turn itself to the larger job of designing a way out of the dark ages. We'd use our newfound smarts to really start getting our house in order (Spaceship Earth). Now that Apollo-Soyuz had symbolically converged the two hemispheres, WWIII (aka the Cold War) would finally fizzle in the desolate moonscape of Afghanistan.

But it didn't happen so easily. LAWCAP (defined in a chapter called Legally Piggily) didn't like this scenario and resolved to not go quietly. The USA, which LAWCAP selfishly (and mistakenly) thought it might own and control, would finally have its unilateral day in the sun, as the last/only superpower, and an Imperial Presidency would gaze out over some grand unified end times, the envy of other would-be tyrants around the world.

Bucky lived just long enough to see this new battle for hearts and minds shaping up (exDCI Woolsey aptly named it WWIV), and knew this one'd be highly cerebral, because this more hopeful agenda would be based on longing more than fear, a mix politicos weren't especially familiar with. So in Grunch of Giants (1983) he focused on the CIA a lot. This made perfect sense: inside our intelligence community is where a lot of the invisible power struggles would inevitably occur, almost by definition (his analysis was "grammatically correct" as Ludwig Wittgenstein might have put it (some philosopher I like)).

So yes, Bucky anticipated all this way back in 1983, when President Ronald Reagan awarded him the Medal of Freedom. Nor were Reagan and then-DCI Casey clueless about the impending battle. Nor were the Russians of course. The American people, on the other hand, seemed largely oblivious, were too busy earning a living to catch up on their reading. And the dark ages school system, including the universities, continued suffering from hyperspecialization's chief symptom: a severe lack of overview. LAWCAP capitalized on this sorry state of affairs, and behind-the-scenes proceeded with plans for global domination by force of arms. The tragic and horrific events of 911 played right into its hands. With the pre-emptive invasion of Iraq a fait accompli, it looked like the dawn of a New American Century had finally arrived.

And in some sense, it had -- although the Russians and Chinese felt in no way compelled to keep calling it that. Because, under the surface, the transition from LAWCAP to GRUNCH (Bucky's economical shop talk -- others will have their own words for telling this story) was much more evolutionary and transformative than a matter of anyone wresting control. As the level of disinformation in the media was gradually lowered, in large degree through networking in cyberspace, people spontaneously began to wise up, to become more aware of their options, and this Spaceship Earth idea took on a renewed realism. The prospects for humanity began to spontaneously brighten. So in this sense, the American dream of greater freedom and democracy for humankind was beginning to bear fruit. Henceforth, tyranny would find little purchase or foothold.

However, to be honest, fear did, and still does, play a role, even though longing now has the upper hand. The prospect of global warming, of an ecosystem dangerously out of balance, was and still is unsettling. Clearly nature would not be put on hold while petty minds raced to keep track of petty differences. Bigger changes were clearly afoot, events of a more cosmic nature. Human beings, now more than ever, need to remain engaged as information harvesters and problem solvers in Universe, as Bucky liked to put it. The looming challenges ahead are real.

Humanity has always been somewhat spiritually adept, mind-endowed, intuitively aware (God fearing, as some put it), and therefore simply the passage of time has made our hopes for a better tomorrow seem ever less dismissable. This natural evolutionary process has gotten us to the point where, by now, in late January of 2005, I'm able to write all this using a fairly matter of fact tone. I'm not peddling some brand of hopelessly naïve utopianism here.

Now of course I'm mindful of the fact that some of my contemporaries are going to read this strange and unfamiliar (to them) omnitriangulated historical narrative and deride it as just more outrageous and unfounded Fuller School propaganda, space case lunacy at best. But hey, this is my blog and I'm free to tell it as I see it. Send me an email if you think I'm full of it. Maybe I'll get back to you.

Followup: I see Friend Johan Maurer is picking up on a lot of these same themes (including Reality TV) in his blog Can you believe...?. I'm glad to see we're on parallel/convergent tracks. I initially launched this blog back in September 2004, after reading in his.