August 13, 2018 § Leave a comment
Traveling to far-away places and coping with new surroundings brings about lots of adjustments—adjustments in thought patterns and in ways of doing even mundane tasks. Few know this as dramatically as those who have lived aboard the International Space Station. But you don’t need to venture into outer space to be able to relate to their stories of exploration and adaptation.
National Geographic’s One Strange Rock looks at our planet through the eyes of eight astronauts. The final episode of this, the first season, is titled “Home.” (Watch it here.)
In it, host Will Smith asks,
Where is home? Is it where you were born, where you were raised, or where you are now? Is it somewhere you lived, somewhere you left, somewhere that shaped you? If you really want to know you need to leave them all behind.
One of those who’s left it all behind is Peggy Whitson, who, over three missions, spent a total of 665 days in space—a record for NASA astronauts and more than any other woman in the world. She’s come a long way from where she she lived as a child, a farm near Beaconsfield, Iowa, current population “elevenish.”
As I’ve grown up and gone to college and gone to graduate school, home has expanded from Iowa to Texas to the United States, and since being in space, home is actually planet earth.
Astronaut Chris Hadfield:
One of the biggest changes I noticed within myself as the result of flying in space was that the difference between us and them disappeared. Somehow going around the world in 92 minutes, not just once, but over and over and over again, turned the entire world into one shared place. I think it’s a perspective that seeps into astronauts. I think it’s a perspective that’s kind of good for everybody.
Astronaut Leland Melvin adds,
I truly believe that if more people could have the opportunity to see the planet from space, looking at the rich colors, looking at the fact that there are no borders separating us, we could see that we are truly all connected as human beings
Back to Smith, on reentry:
Ever been on a trip and seen something new, something incredibly beautiful, or something that changed the way you think about things? Now imagine that trip was to space. You’ve seen something that only a very few people have ever seen.
Astronauts need to tell someone, anyone, everyone. Soon they’re ready to go back down, but it’s actually bittersweet. They’re going back to the place that made them, but leaving the place that shaped them.
About her return, Whitson shares, “It was hard to leave because I knew I wouldn’t be coming back.” She starts to choke up and then blurts out, “Jeepers!” and laughs. “But I was all excited about being back home and being back on earth, having, you know, wind, and smelling the air and just being on earth.”
“But coming home isn’t easy,” says Smith. “Mother earth doesn’t exactly welcome you back with open arms.”
Repatriation from space, returning through the earth’s atmosphere, is actually the hardest part of the trip, and setting down on the solid ground of Kazakstan isn’t the softest of landings.
Whitson says, “Most people compare it to a car crash. I would compare it to maybe two car crashes.”
And then there’s the transition from weightlessness to . . . weight. “Wow, space was good,” Whitson says and adds with a smile, “Gravity sucks.”
Though he’s not part of the One Strange Rock crew, Scott Kelly has this to say about the reverse culture stress brought about by gravity:
Back to Melvin, in the National Geographic production:
When I got home from space after getting out of my suit, then to have a meal without the food floating away from you, and being able to pet your dog and talk to your parents fact to face, it made me feel so much more connected to the planet.
Another astronaut, Nicole Scott:
I couldn’t wait to feel what a breeze would be like again, you know, what the smell of grass was going to, you know, smell like again.
It’s the smells of earth, the smell of home, the smells of the natural world, it’s overpowering. It’s kind of overwhelming.
Just because you physically leave the surface of the earth does not mean you leave the earth, because the earth is part of you.
I’m not sure whether I feel more like an earthling or a space woman. I think being a space woman’s a lot more fun.
Blast off . . . G forces . . . wonder . . . homesickness . . . rootlessness . . . reentry . . . landing . . . longing—sounds like crossing cultures.
So what is day-to-day life really like in the culture of space? Here are a few glimpses into how the ordinary becomes anything but:
There’s learning to cook without the comforts of your kitchen or a microwave . . . or plates.
What happens when the food doesn’t want to stay down?
You thought squatty potties were a challenge.
Then you have no-shower showering.
And, oh yeah, when you look out the window, there’s the view.
Don’t forget the view.
(“Home,” One Strange Rock, National Geographic, May 28, 2018)
August 6, 2018 § Leave a comment
Somewhere, in one of the back rooms of the internet, sits a frazzle-haired, bespectacled gentleman thumbing through a box of yellowed index cards. On each card is typed out a well-known saying, often in multiple versions, and it’s the man’s job to assign to each one a source. He doesn’t track down the actual origin, but rather he writes down who it sounds as if might have come from. To do this, he refers to a wall chart over his desk that shows a spectrum of names, ranging from the profound—Confucius—to the nonsensical— Yogi Berra—with prominent figures filling in the space in between. His assignments go out to the many and sundry quotation sites around the world wide web. After he’s worked his way through all the cards, he refills the box and starts again. His is the Office of Misattribution.
Even with such an imprecise methodology, it seems odd that a single quotation could be assigned to both ends of the authorial range: Confucius and Yogi Berra. But at least one phrase has that distinction:
Wherever you go, there you are.
(also with the versions “No matter where you go . . .” and “Wheresoever you go . . .”)
First off, I’ll say that I’ve seen no real evidence for its origin. (As I’ve written before, it’s the kind of thing my father would attribute to Shakespeare, but he was just kidding.) Google searches most often show it belonging to Confucius, or, more specifically, coming from the The Analects of Confucius. But when I go to The Analects, I don’t find it, nor anything close. I’m thinking that those who claim Confucius as the source would lean toward explaining the meaning of the phrase as “You can’t escape yourself. No matter your new location, you will bring your past, your faults, your regrets with you.”
Those who would claim the saying belongs to Yogi Berra would probably think it’s simply stating the obvious: “You are where you are.” But I’m pretty sure Berra, who subtitled a book “I Really Didn’t Say Everything I Said!” didn’t create it either. He was, though, in the same ballpark, so to speak, when he came up with
If you don’t know where you’re going, you might not get there.
In another perspective on the theme, the popular spiritual teacher and author Eckhart Tolle talks about intentionally being present in the moment, when in his book The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment, he says:
Ordinary unconsciousness is always linked in some way with denial of the Now. The Now, of course, also implies the here. Are you resisting your here and now? Some people would always rather be somewhere else. Their “here” is never good enough. Through self-observation, find out if that is the case in your life. Wherever you are, be there totally.
The Christian missionary and martyr Jim Elliot wrote something similar 47 years earlier in his journal:
Wherever you are, be all there.
To this, he added, “Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.”
The idea behind these last two selections reminds me of the phrase
Bloom where you are planted.
Who originally said that? According to the internet, it might be Mary Engelbreit, Paul Harvey, Mother Teresa, Cory Booker (with blossom instead of bloom), Nardi Reeder Campion’s Aunt Grace, Nancy Reader Campion’s Aunt Grace, St. Francis of Sales, an Afghan proverbist, or someone in the Bible. The Office of Misattribution certainly has been busy on that one.
(Yogi Berra, When You Come to a Fork in the Road, Take It!: Inspiration and Wisdom from One of Baseball’s Greatest Heroes, 2001; Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment, Namaste, 1997; Elisabeth Elliot, ed., The Journals of Jim Elliot, Revell, 1978)
July 29, 2018 § Leave a comment
When Arnold Neuhaus was a small lad growing up in Amsterdam, he entered a contest sponsored by KLM, and won. The prize was a flight over Amsterdam, but he wasn’t able to collect because of his sister’s illness. Eighty three years later, with the help of his seven-year-old great-grandson, KLM delivered with a surprise for “Grandpa Nol’s” ninetieth birthday.
How’s that for a caring company?
Each year, AirHelp rates airlines by looking at their on-time performance, quality of service, and claim processing. I’m going to call that a “care” index (work with me here). Back in 2016, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines came in second. Since then, though, they’ve seen a bit of a dip in their ranking. Last year they came in at 11, and this year, it’s 11 again.
But KLM cares about caring, and maybe they’ll soon regain their number-2 spot. (Good look trying to be number 1. Qatar Airways seems to have a lock on that.) Take, for instance, their special-assistance program. It’s called KLM CARES.
And this summer, they’re introducing Care-E, a luggage-carrying robot that can scan your boarding pass and take you where you need to be, even if the gate changes. KLM tells CNN Travel that Care-E is currently in testing, with plans to debut it in New York’s JFK airport and San Francisco International later this year.
Care-E looks like another step toward airport robot domination, and it’s an upgrade of KLM’s Spencer, who, alas, couldn’t carry your bags.
Last year, the airline introduced the KLM Care Tag, a smart luggage tag that uses GPS and a speaker to provide helpful “tips and tricks” as you travel around Amsterdam. It’s another technology that’s in beta mode, as it was available only during September of 2017.
The Care Tag. Yeah, it’s kind of like having a stewardess riding on the back of your bike or on top of your roller bag. Of course, that’s not going to happen (though the images are kind of seared into my brain). But don’t be surprised if a member of the KLM cabin crew sneaks up behind you on the street to zip up your backpack or adjust your child’s shoulder strap. “It’s not the blue uniform that make us stand out,” they say, “It’s because we care.”
And if you still don’t believe me about KLM’s karing kulture, here’s a video in honor of Mother’s Day, for those who live far away from Mom. It’s actually my favorite of this whole bunch.
By the way (#1), do you know what KLM actually stands for? It’s Koninklijke Luchtvaart Maatschappij, which translates to Royal Aviation Company.
By the way (#2), in case you’ve never heard of AirHelp before . . . besides rating airlines (and airports), they want to help you get compensation for any flight delays, cancellations, or overbookings that have affected you in the last three years. Just let them know the details, then “sit back and relax while [they] jump into action.”
(Lilit Marcus, “KLM’s New Airport Robot Care-E Will Guide You to the Gate,” CCN Travel, July 11, 2018;
[photo from KLM, used with permission]
April 20, 2018 § Leave a comment
“The Big Read: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Classic Science Fiction”
After the Montgolfier Brothers made their first balloon flight in 1783, balloons became all the rage and for the next half century almost all lunar flights [portrayed in science fiction] were by balloon. The first was Le Char Volant [The Flying Chariot] written the same year by the Belgian Baroness de Vasse. When her travellers reached the Moon they discovered it was a utopia, ruled by women, unlike the hell of Earth, ruled by men.
It had been speculated that space was a vacuum since the 1640s but no one could quite believe it, and hardy space travellers took little precaution. Edgar Allan Poe was more practical. When his hero went to the Moon by balloon in “Hans Phaall” in 1835 he took the precaution of placing him in a sealed basket with an air condenser.
Poe’s planned sequel to “Hans Phaall” was frustrated when just weeks after it was published his thunder was stolen by a several articles in the New York Sun newspaper claiming that the great astronomer, Sir John Herschel, had discovered life on the moon. They described trees, seas and a host of creatures including bat-winged humans. Englishman Richard Adams Locke, then living in New York, later admitted writing the pieces as a hoax. But it convinced many around the world, finding a particularly gullible readership in France. It has been known as the Great Moon Hoax ever since, and triggered people’s interests in the possibility of life beyond Earth.
The Sunday Herald, April 7, 2018
April 1, 2018 § Leave a comment
What an interview! Last Sunday, “60 Minutes” pulled in its best ratings in nearly 10 years, with 22 million viewers tuning in. Did you see it?
Yes, I’m talking about the sit-down with that compelling personality, the “Greek Freak”—none other than Giannis Antetokounmpo, forward/point guard for the Milwaukee Bucks. Born in Athens to Nigerian parents, he and his family faced the poverty that is common to African immigrants in Greece, with him and his brothers selling glasses, watches, CDs, DVDs, and other items on the street. But as he grew up, he really grew up (he’s now 6′ 11”) and developed his skills as a basketball player, catching the attention of NBA scouts.
In 1993, at the age of 18, Antetokounmpo came to America as a first-round draft pick for the Bucks. He soon found out that not all of America is like New York, he fell in love with smoothies (though ordering them isn’t always easy), and he learned that “buffet” means you can go fill your plate up more than once.
His fame in Greece has expanded his salesmanship beyond the sidewalks of Athens, as his image is now being used by Aegean Airlines . . .
. . . and Milko.
In 2015 he visited Taiwan to support Cathay Youth Madness . . . and to find some souvlaki.
Since his arrival in the US, his broken English has improved to a high level of basketball-speak, but he still has a lot to learn about American football (such as there’s no pitcher on a football team).
You can watch the full 60 Minutes interview with Antetokounmpo at the show’s site. Just to let you know, though, there’s another segment in the first half of the hour—something about the indescretions of an actress and a politician—but don’t let that distract you.
February 21, 2018 § Leave a comment
I hope that none of your your travels turn out like what’s depicted in the artwork above. The oil painting, completed by Edwin Henry Landseer in 1864, shows two polar bears ravaging what’s left of Sir John Franklin’s attempt to find the Northwest Passage, a sailable path through the Arctic Ocean from Europe to India and China. Franklin set out in 1845 with two ships and their crews, totaling 134 men. Three years later, the ships became stuck in the ice of the Canadian Arctic and all had to set out on foot (except for five who had been sent home shortly after the voyage began). After walking away from their vessels, named the Erebus—after Greek mythology’s personification of darkness—and the Terror, none survived.
The explorer John Rae, in 1854, came across some Inuit who were carrying personal items from the Franklin expedition. They had collected them from abandoned campsites, where they had also found signs of cannibalism amongst the crew.
The title of the painting, Man Proposes, God Disposes, says something about the sometimes harsh intersection of humanity’s plans with divine governance. But the artist’s intention may have had less to do with theology and more to do with portraying the hubris of an English society that felt nothing could stand in the way of its forward progress.
Even though the men of the Franklin expedition seemed well-prepared, many today call the trek “doomed” from the beginning. The New York Times Magazine reports that the two ships carried enough food for three years, including “32,289 pounds of preserved meat, 1,008 pounds of raisins and 580 gallons of pickles.” But that may have been as much a curse as a blessing.
In 1850, a search party of Americans and British found three graves on Beechey Island, Canada, containing the bodies of three crew members who had died in 1846. Canadian anthropologist Owen Beattie, in 1984, dug up the graves and performed autopsies on the bodies. He found they contained high levels of lead, leading him to believe that the crew had been poisoned by their food, stored in tins with lead solder.
Four years ago, underwater archaeologists with Parks Canada discovered the Erebus at the bottom of Queen Maud Gulf. Ryan Harris, lead diver of the group, says that the mission’s fate was already sealed from the day they set out, not because of errors from its leader, but by poor planning from those above him. ‘‘Franklin and his men were doomed the moment they received orders from the admiralty. He followed those orders to a T and into the worst choke point in the Arctic Archipelago,” Harris tells The New Yorker Magazine. “The notion that Franklin was anything but a sterling naval officer I just can’t accept. He followed his orders faithfully and died.’’
Landseer’s Man Proposes, God Disposes now hangs in the College Picture Gallery of Royal Holloway, University of London, where it can be viewed throughout the year, except during exams. At that time, the painting is covered with the Union Jack, as legend says that students who look at the image will fail their tests . . . or slip into madness.
That tells us about the subject of Landeer’s painting, but where did the title come from? The phrase “Man proposes, God disposes” is not original to the artist (and it doesn’t come from the Bible, either, as many assume—at least not directly). Rather, it first appeared in The Imitation of Christ, written by Thomas à Kempis in the early 15th century. The relevant passage is in book 1, chapter 19, titled “Of the Exercise of a Religious Man,” which discusses a Christian’s consistency in keeping daily devotions. While Landseer’s use of “Man proposes, God disposes” is a look back on failed plans, Thomas à Kempis’s usage has a somewhat different bent, more of a call to rely on God’s help to reach a plan’s fulfillment.
The life of a Christian ought to be adorned with all virtues, that he may be inwardly what he outwardly appeareth unto men. And verily it should be yet better within than without, for God is a discerner of our heart, Whom we must reverence with all our hearts wheresoever we are, and walk pure in His presence as do the angels. We ought daily to renew our vows, and to kindle our hearts to zeal, as if each day were the first day of our conversion, and to say, “Help me, O God, in my good resolutions, and in Thy holy service, and grant that this day I may make a good beginning, for hitherto I have done nothing!”
According to our resolution so is the rate of our progress, and much diligence is needful for him who would make good progress. For if he who resolveth bravely oftentimes falleth short, how shall it be with him who resolveth rarely or feebly? But manifold causes bring about abandonment of our resolution, yet a trivial omission of holy exercises can hardly be made without some loss to us. The resolution of the righteous dependeth more upon the grace of God than upon their own wisdom; for in Him they always put their trust, whatsoever they take in hand. For man proposeth, but God disposeth; and the way of a man is not in himself.
While the wording “Man proposes, God disposes” (“Nam homo proponit, sed Deus disponit in Latin), is not found in the Bible, the idea behind it is.
There is Proverbs 16:9 (NIV),
In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.
and Proverbs 19:21 (NIV),
Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.
Also, the phrase following “Man proposes, God disposes” in Imitation of Christ, comes from Jeremiah 10:23, in the King James Version:
O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps.
Let me repeat, I hope that none of your travels turn out like what’s depicted in Landseer’s painting.
Instead, as you resolve to explore new territories, whether that be through outward excursions or inner searchings, may you be hemmed in as gently as possible, when necessary. And when you’re striving down the right path, may God’s grace strengthen you to continue on.
(Leanne Sharpton, “Artifacts of a Doomed Expedition,” The New York Times Magazine, March 18, 2016; Laura MacCulloch, “The Haunted Painting of Fabled Franklin Ship Discovered in the Canadian Arctic,” The Conversation, September 11, 2014; Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, translated by William Benham , ca 1420)
[artwork: Man Proposes, God Disposes, by Edwin Henry Landseer, 1864, public domain]