Sunday, July 19, 2009

Apollo 11 and Walter Cronkite

Do you remember this day, 40 years ago?

Through the magic of the internets, the computer the past few days has been streaming "real time" the Apollo 11 moon mission, as it nears 40 years since man first set foot upon the moon. I'm too young to remember where I was when JFK was assassinated (though I vaguely recall the black and white broadcast of the funeral procession), but you can bet the events of July 20, 1969 are indelibly etched into my brain.

Forty years ago, I don't recall if most young boys wanted to be baseball players or football stars when they grew up, but I know I wanted to be an astronaut. My pre-teen imagination was fueled by the photo spreads in LIFE magazine and the gee-whiz articles in Weekly Reader promising a future colonizing space. Equipped with a crudely-drawn cardboard "control panel," and a blanket stretched over a couple of kitchen table chairs, I could easily escape earth's gravity in my own "capsule" and pretend it was me out there, leading our nation's charge forward against Godless communist domination of the solar system.

I guess for kids these days, the space program must seem like a relic of the past. Every since "Star Wars," the reality of space just didn't seem as exciting as what Hollywood could create. The computing power of the Apollo spacecraft is challenged today by a $19.95 calculator from Office Depot, but it seemed impressive at the time.

Amid the low-key celebration of the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11, I caught a few minutes of a panel discussion of space historians, who offered the opinion that while we certainly have the technology available to get us back to the moon--and Mars--in short order, NASA has become so risk-adverse that it will take us decades to do so. That, of course, and a few hundred billion dollars is all that's keeping us earthbound. My 8-year-old son, a NASA buff himself, wonders if we really will be back on the moon again by 2020, when he'll be 19 year old.

My mind today will be largely on a nostalgia trip. A nine-year-old watching a fuzzy black-and-white image on the Zenith console set in the basement family room of the family home in Salt Lake City in the summer of 1969. Forty years ago. A lifetime in the past.

Walter Cronkite and Apollo 11: linked by history. (Photo by Ernest Robl ,who graciously allowed me to repost his photo). . .

R.I.P Walter. . .

Cosmic timing being what it is, Walter Cronkite's death this week couldn't have come at a more fitting moment, as he's indelibly linked with television coverage of the space program. Who could forget his speechless reaction to the landing of Apollo 11: rubbing his hands with glee, the best the veteran newscaster could come up with was an "Oh boy!" that probably shared the feelings of most of us who watched fiction become reality 40 years ago today.

Television in the 1960s was only four channels in most places: NET (today's PBS) and the three networks, each of which had strong, reliable anchorman on the air at the time. Over on ABC, we had Frank Reynolds and John Chancellor (with Jules Bergman handling much of the space reporting); at NBC the team of Chet Huntley and David Brinkley held sway.

But Cronkite was the most popular, and for much of his 19 years as the CBS Evening News' editor and anchorman, Cronkite was consistently voted the most trusted man in America. His career followed the rise and dominance of network news, and he was there for most of it: the JFK assassination, civil rights unrest in the south, the Vietnam War, and the space program. He retired relatively young (at 65--these days guys like Rather are pushing 80 and won't get out of the room), and retired at just the right time, before cable's ascendency diluted the power and authority of the network newscast.

At a time when printed journalism is teetering on the brink of collapse and television news is splintering amid the biased perspectives masquerading as "news," we need journalists like Cronkite like never before.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Meth: The new Moonshine?

Okay, so NASCAR has suspended driver Jeremy Mayfield for testing positive--not once, but twice--for methamphetamines. Mayfield, of course, proclaims his innocence. His stepmother, who Mayfield accuses of killing his father a few years back, has thrown him under the bus, saying that she saw him using meth at least 30 times. Mayfield retaliates by calling her a "whore."

Now, I can't blame NASCAR for not wanting a jacked up driver on the track, but I find it a little ironic that a sport that famously plays up its moonshine-running roots is coming down so hard on a guy who (allegedly) used the modern-day rural-southern-white equivalent to moonshine. Hell, I've been to dirt track races in rural Texas where a good majority of the drivers were likely meth runners and much of the tatooed crowd were probably users.

I think NASCAR is missing a great marketing opportunity, being as a good number (more than NASCAR would probably want to admit) of its fans are rural, poor, southern racing fans who just might be using a bit of crank. Jeremy is their man! He needs to grow out a mullet, lose a tooth or two, and channel his inner redneck.

As far as sponsorship: Sudafed, are you listening?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

I. turns 5!

I. enjoys me pirate's booty. Arrrrugh!

A happy birthday to son I. who turned 5 yesterday. On Sunday, we braved the 104 degree heat and invited a few of his friends and their parents to our neighborhood pool to cool off in the water, splash around, have some cake and pizza and get otherwise bloated.

I. wanted to have a Pirate themed party. Don't know why, as he'd never expressed an interest in pirates, pirating, or pirate skills in the past. So, Pirates it was. Avast ye scurvey dawg!

I. looked a little sleepy when he got the cake. . .

. . .but he perked right up when he blew out the candle. The pure blast of sugar won't hurt, either!

Amazing Sky At Sunset

A few weeks ago, a thunderstorm moved off to the east right at sunset, revealing an amazing fire-red sky. I've seen few this spectacular over the years we lived in Texas. We all gathered in the backyard to watch, then I got the crazy idea to take a few photos of the boys. Ended up with sort of a poor-recreation-of-1950's-Baseball Card poses-with-a-psychedelic-sky.

E. steps to the plate first. . .

. . .and I. makes a big stretch to make the catch.

Dr. Pepper Ballpark in Frisco.

Boy's Night Out

Mary needed a break and abandoned us for an evening to get drunk with her friends and stuff dollar bills into the g-strings of well-endowed male strippers (well, that's not really true), so friend Lance and I entertained the boys with. . . baseball!

We drove over to Frisco to check out the AA Rangers affiliated Rough Riders (named, we're told, after Teddy Roosevelt's Mexican raiders, not the condoms) at the Dr. Pepper Ballpark. A great facility, and the baseball wasn't half bad. As required in the Modern Minor League Ballpark Manual, there is a play area for the kids, a sports bar, and plenty of entertainment between innings. What was the final score? Who cares. But we had fun. And the kids got an autograph from up-and-coming First Base prospect Justin Smoak. who has since been promoted to AAA Oklahoma City en route to the Bigs. It was a first rate-place, even if the mascot was a bit skanky.

Lance, myself, and the dudes (and mini-hat of ice cream).

The boys enjoyed the play area. Naturally.

Me and the mascot (I'm on the left). How did that mascot smell, I asked I. "Not very good."

Thursday, July 9, 2009

More notable deaths, bye bye Sarah, my new bike. . .

Robert Strange McNamara: Hate Him or. . .well, what's the other option?

I'm proud to say that I didn't watch one second of the Michael Jackson memorial. Nor have I been following the nearly inescapable media coverage of his death. CNN? Hello? Isn't there any other world news out there? Sure, a great performer and a notable public figure. But, really, does he warrant ALL THIS ATTENTION? A great humanitarian. Sure, but I wouldn't let MY kids sleep over at his house (the record shows: he was acquitted of child molestation once; the second time, charges weren't filed and Jackson settled for big bucks with his accuser). Let's enjoy his music and wait for the rest of the surviving Beatles to die now, can we?

Meanwhile, the deaths of notables continue to pile up:
  • Karl Malden. Another 70s icon of my youth. Remember "Streets of San Francisco?"
  • Steve McNair. I don't pay attention to the NFL, but seems to me, he may well be a great athlete and all, but running around on your wife--AND four sons--and having your Hootchie Mama blow your brains out while you sleep would seem to demonstrate some less than admirable qualities. Here's a good take on the issue.

And then there's Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense for Kennedy and Johnson. Villified--and rightly so--during the Vietnam War for pushing for an escalation of the war and bombing Hanoi, McNamara eventually came to believe that the war was unwinnable, and was forced from his cabinet post by president Johnson as a result.

Many never forgave McNamara for his role in the war; many years later, McNamara attempted--many feel 30 years too late-- to attone for his deeds, most notably participating in Errol Morris' documentary The Fog Of War in 2003 (one of my all-time favorite films). While indirectly drawing parallels with the ongoing Iraq war, McNamara presented his "Eleven Life Lessons," and later, his Eleven Lessons from the Vietnam war. Perhaps most precient was his believe that US leaders viewed the conflict between North and South Vietnam as a war of communist aggression, when it reality it was a civil conflict with historical roots.

Op-ed writers haven't pulled their punches this week, reflecting on McNamara's death. This from Bryon Williams:

McNamara, by his own admission, was aware Vietnam was not winnable by 1965, but he failed to provide President Johnson this vital information. It was McNamara's silence and lack of moral courage at a critical hour in American history makes him complicit not just in the carnage but also in the debauchery that helped prolong the failed policy. That may be the ultimate legacy he leaves posterity to consider.

He's remained, decades after the war, a lightning rod for opinion. McNamara remains to me a fascinating personality: incredibly smart and analytical, he served as an analyist for Army Air Corps general Curtis LeMay during World War II, whose group formulated plans for daylight firebombing raids on many of the largest cities in Japan, killing hundreds of thousands of civillians ("If we'd have lost the war, we would've been tried as war criminals for this," McNamara said). McNamara joined Ford Motors after the war, the force behind the Ford Falcon and safety improvements such as the seat-belt and leading Ford's post-war expansion. He was named president of Ford shortly before becoming Kennedy's Defense Secretary, where his priority was placed in increasing strategic readiness against communist aggression. He was involved in execution of the Bay of Pigs and was instrumental in formulating our response to the Soviets in the Cuban Missile Crisis. A fascinating man. And one that I'd add to my list of Dinner Guests at my imaginary Big Table.

Sarah Palin: Fucking Nuts?

Excuse me if i think so. But, then, I thought Republicans were crazy for putting her up as a veep candidate. . .silly me for thinking that. After her rambling, incoherent speech where she reiterated her status as a quitter the other day, instant polls show that 70% of Republican voters say they'd vote for her for President. Shit, after all the meltdowns in the Republican party lately, who is left? I only have to be very, very worried about America's future if this idot is ever elected. I'd be scared more of the electorate than Palin herself.

I found it interesting that in a speech about quitting her elected office she'd go so far as to praise our fighting men and women for "not giving up."

My New Bike. No kick stand, fenders, or pannier yet. . .

Time For A Little Exercise. . .

I'm sure my excuses for being a fat, lazy slob are no different than anyone else's in this country, so I won't voice 'em here, and, anyway, who really cares? All I know is that in the past 10 years, i've probably gained. . .oh, 60 pounds, anyway. And that's no way to live. Not for me, and certainly not for the good of my family, who relies on my income to survive. Dad's no good for anyone if he's dead of a heart-attack at 49 because he's a big fat tub of lard. That insurance money won't go very far.

So, I explored the options: Seeking the easy way out, considered surgery--that lap-band looks like a relatively easy way to lose weight, as it should be, since you're eating a 1/2 cup of mushed up food at a time (and never again eating a lot of stuff that wouldn't digest easily and would make you throw up at inopportune times). I like some kinds of food too much to take such a drastic step. And, I wonder if I could follow through with the program.

The best way to lose weight is to watch what you eat. Be sensible. And, most importantly, exercise. Many years ago, while I've never been "thin," I was in reasonable shape. My former career kept me pretty active, and i enjoyed racquetball and mountain biking quite a bit. Now i sit in an office in front of computer screens all day long and I haven't played racquetball in nearly 10 years. I hate treadmills, exercycles, gyms and walking. I want scenery that moves in front of me. And I still like biking.

So i went out and visited the good folks at Bicycles Inc. the other day. Employee Matt really helped me find the right bike. After trying out a "comfort" mountain bike (fat tires: too slow on the pavement) and a few different hybrid frames (I've got short legs but a normally sized torso, making fitting the thing kind of iffy), I ended up with a Trek 7100 "hybrid" bike. Its 70cm diameter wheels and relaxed geometry make it perfect for riding on roads of gravel/paved trails around North Texas. I doubt i'll ever bust it up on gnarly single-track trails for awhile, so this bike is perfect. And within my budget. In a little over a week, I've logged around 70 miles so far, which really amazes me. There's not many places to do much riding around my neighborhood without dealing with crazed Texas drivers not paying attention, but we're not that far from Fort Worth and the great Trinity River trail network.

I'm trying to get in three good rides a week, usually in the mornings when I get off work and the day hasn't heated up to blast-furnace temps. When i get in a bit better shape, i'd like to do even more. Wouldn't it be cool to do 100 mile weeks just out of habit? Or even the Hotter N'Hell 100? I'm realistic, thought. But if I had the nerve, I'd ideally like to ride my bike to work. It's only five miles each way, but much of that is busy two-lane road with narrow shoulders.