23 July 2009

The best reality television, part two

Vivid memories of my childhood and teenage years as a devoted follower of the U.S. space program came back to me this past week, thanks to observances of the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

Those were turbulent years for the world and for our family. Through all the violence and heartbreak (local and global), the astronauts and their colleagues methodically pursued their step-by-step program to reach and explore the moon. The effort may have been born in the urgent rivalries of the Cold War, but by the time of the landing, in 1969, the sense of a race had faded, at least in my perception. (And 1969 was the first year I started studying Russian!)

Thanks to radio and television, we were able to witness Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions for ourselves. Unlike catastrophes and disasters, these reality shows could be scheduled ahead of time, but unlike coronations and inaugurations, weddings and Nixon-in-China events, sitting on top of a rocket at 24,000 miles per hour had a certain element of risk.

I can't remember which I liked better--the close-up views of a launch, with the huge Saturn V rumbling majestically past the camera ... or the view from Cocoa Beach, where the horizon almost swallowed up that tiny, pencil-thin rocket that seemed far too slight to reach the top of the TV screen, never mind almost a quarter million miles away. In any case, three fragile human beings were being propelled toward the unforgiving environment of space by supersonic jets of flaming gases, with tons of explosive fuel between humans and flames. On hand at Cape Canaveral to witness their departure were reporters from many countries, along with Lyndon Johnson, Rev. Ralph David Abernathy and representatives of the Poor People's Campaign, and thousands of others. And I was sitting at the front window of our second-floor apartment in Evanston, Illinois, recording CBS radio news on a reel-to-reel tape recorder, unaware of course that in forty years I could hear all the space-to-ground audio of that flight on a computer network facility called wechoosethemoon.org.

Belated congratulations to fellow Quaker blogger Liz Oppenheimer, whose collection of essays that have appeared on Friends' blogs, Writing Cheerfully on the Web, has now been available for a couple of weeks. Liz has several interesting posts explaining the genesis of this book and how she put it together. For example: "Writing Cheerfully on the Web ... very soon," and "FAQs about the book, not yet asked." I like the description posted at quakerbooks.com: "This book brings to print the online conversation that has been mending our historical schisms and pointing to who we are as the Religious Society of Friends." You'll have to decide how accurate this is.

Back in 2005, I reminisced about writing Quaker essays on the Internet in the early 1990's toward the end of this post. See also Martin Kelley on the early blogging days. So much of the material from this era is no longer available easily, so Liz Opp's work will be valuable for future historians as well as those who care about cross-Quaker ministries today.

This week's crop of righteous links: My favorite comments in memory of Frank McCourt. Second best: Guardian's obituary. ~~ Where will we buy souvenirs? (story one, story two). ~~ The New York Times "Media Decoder" blog helpfully groups together a classic set of Walter Cronkite videos. ~~ One of our best Quaker writers has begun her own blog. ~~ Carter and the "Elders" challenge "injustice wherever we see it." (Thanks to Martin E. Marty's Sightings for the reference.) ~~ "The fifty greatest trailers of all time." Credit for this link goes to veryshortlist.com. Caution: Don't visit if you are in a hurry. ~~ Missionaries apologize for "despising" Africans. ~~ And Russia has its own Obama. (This would be a humorous story but for racism that ranges from the vicious to the almost naive.) ~~ Donald E. Miller, author of Reinventing American Protestantism: Christianity in the New Millennium (reviewed here) talks to Christianity Today about the "S Factor." ~~ Somewhere in these Web wanderings, I came across this gem: The Internet Mission Photography Archive. ~~ "Cuba for Christ": A Christian revival in Cuba?

Perpetual War Watch:
Another Tomgram must-read, David Bromwich on "America's Serial Warriors." Excerpt: "We are now close to codifying a pattern by which a new president is expected never to give up one war without taking on another. ... It is not only the vast extent and power of our standing army that stares down every motion toward reform. Nor is the cause entirely traceable to our pursuit of refined weapons and lethal technology, or the military bases with which the U.S. has encircled the globe, or the financial interests, the Halliburtons and Raytheons, the DynCorps and Blackwaters that combine against peace with demands in excess of the British East India Company at the height of its influence. There is a deeper puzzle in the relationship of the military itself to the rest of American society. For the American military now encompasses an officer class with the character and privileges of a native aristocracy, and a rank-and-file for whom the best possibilities of socialism have been realized."

Magic Slim and the Teardrops are "Going to Mississippi." I felt like keeping it very basic.

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