Tag Archives: politics

Pizza and Diana Ross Are the Only Supremes I Know

I am glad that my parents and peers who have helped to influence my life have for the most part been tolerant people from many walks of life. I am thankful that my education has been from verified sources taught by good teachers who have not used the subject they were teaching me to push their own agenda, and none of their agendas were hate-based anyway. I am appreciative that I have been able to travel and experience other parts of my country and the world to observe firsthand the differences and similarities that set apart and unite others from myself. I have not lived what I would call the most cultured life, and I have certainly been guilty of some prejudicial thinking (Pollocks are incredibly loud, crass people sometimes), yet I have always had the sufficient sense and guidance to know better than to despise someone with such fervent hatred that I would act violently toward them in both words and actions. I always attempt to understand the views of others when they are different from my own, but I can see no justification for the horrendous stance of white supremacists and neo-Nazis. We must all work together peacefully to change the culture of anger and hate that such groups have, and we here on the ground level of America need to be the change we wish to see in this world because we cannot count upon our heads of state to do more than exacerbate the situation.

Fortunately, unlike the President, Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe did have a strong response that condemned the white supremacists and applauded those who helped the victims of their disturbing acts.

Similarly, the true leader of the Free World, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, denounced Nazi violence in the US and called it “disgusting”.

In the wake of any tragedy I often seek out comedy as a means of healing, and frequently there is a poignancy within what could have easily been humorous fodder that helps to assuage my uncertainty and renew my hope. When it comes to nailing the inherent flaws of racist ideology, few comedians – hell, few people do it better than Dave Chappelle. And with the opening episode of his magnificent Chappelle’s Show, Dave Chappelle gave us one of the best skits in television history with a skewering of racism as he played Clayton Bigsby, a blind black man who was the leader of a major white supremacy movement. The irony is overwhelming… and hilarious! Check out Part 1 and Part 2.

In addition to looking for laughs where I can find them, I watch movies that help me contemplate what is on my mind. Right now nothing seems more fitting than American History X which shows the hypocrisy of hate and the cultural frustrations that drive men and women to it in the vicious cycle of racism that people like the white supremacists in Virginia purvey.

Thanks for reading and watching. Please respect your fellow men and women no matter how different they may be from you.

Alex

State of the Season 12 – Rock and Roll, Reading, and Remembering

Hello and welcome to any and all who find themselves here! As is customary for my every 13th post I look back at the last 12 for a retrospective of the previous “season” of this blog. Let’s hop to it!

Back on May 8th, I tossed the second of my four-part inspection of the T-shirt worn by Jeff Ament of Pearl Jam at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. This was followed by the final two parts over the next couple of weeks. Ament’s shirt contained a list of names of bands and artists he and his bandmates feel deserve inclusion into the Rock Hall. Some I know and agree with, others I was less familiar with. In an effort to educate myself further on all these acts, I listened to a cut of each act’s discography and sought the best (or my favorite) of the bunch to feature.

“Waiting in the Wings of Rock and Roll – Vol. 2”

“Waiting in the Wings of Rock and Roll – On Being the Third Part of Jeff Ament’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Shirt”

“Waiting in the Wings of Rock and Roll – The Final Chapter”


“Never Forget Our Heroes” is my Memorial Day post that attempts not to remember fallen soldiers and service members, but those translators who have been forgotten by the US government in the mire of political bureaucracy. This came from a featured segment on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver that I include.


“With a Little Help from My Friends” – I was committed to sticking to my original plan to release a celebration of The Beatles for the anniversary of their most famous album. I did so even in the wake of Trump pulling the US out of the Paris Agreement, and I am pleased that so many cities, businesses, and communities have all stated that they will continue to honor the international agreement on climate change mitigation. With a little help from my friends indeed.


“Da na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na That Man!” is a eulogy of actor Adam West. Fox Animation recently churned out a video compilation of his best moments as Mayor Adam West on Family Guy:

“Paul! That’s a person’s name!”


Indeed it is, Mayor West, and it is Sir Paul McCartney who is the focus of “Happy Birthday Walrus Man!” where I listed some of the best songs written and performed by McCartney over his career with The Beatles and Wings and on his own. He’s referred to as Walrus Man because he was the walrus! Don’t believe me? Well check, check it:


“Rowling Along the Reading Rainbow” is my thanks to J.K. Rowling for writing the book (series) that got me jazzed about reading. I’ll send another shout out to her for today right here and now: Happy Birthday to you and Harry!


“The Magical Mystery Tour is Waiting to Take You Away” – There’s that Walrus again. Expanding upon my fantasy book series fandom like a literary Bran the Builder, I next turned my attention to the A Song of Ice and Fire series. The featured picture is artwork of my favorite sequence from the books, the wildling attack on the Wall. Fantastic fantasy.


While the show, Game of Thrones, does not always nail some scenes like that battle, it has put together some excellent moments, including some that did not occur in the books. You may even call these moments “Epic! Badass” as I did. Enjoy these 10 scenes that may have fallen off your radar from the first six seasons of the show.


“Astronauts Without Borders” is a celebration of the docking between Apollo 18 and Soyuz 19 that took place in 1975. It was the first time two countries planned and enacted a mission to connect spacecraft in flight and kicked off a grand partnership between the scientific communities within the USA and the USSR/Russia that continues today as it always has – separate from politics.


“Nobody Exists on Purpose. Nobody Belongs Anywhere. Everybody’s Going to Die. Come Watch TV.” – Game of Thrones isn’t the only anticipated show that’s back. Rick and Morty made their long awaited return last night on Adult Swim, and Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon and company keep finding humor in the existential dread that surrounds us all. Props especially to Chris Parnell who manages to make us pity and laugh hysterically at the plight of pathetic Jerry whose name is dragged through the mud by even the wind.

Since next Sunday is six long days away, check out the Non-Canonical Adventures of Rick and Morty to help hold you over.


In addition to this recap, I’d like to wish the best to the family of Sam Shepard, who died from ALS on July 27. An actor on the stage and screen best known for his roles in movies like The Right Stuff and Black Hawk Down, but his true passion was as a playwright. Shepard penned 44 plays and won a Pulitzer Prize for Drama with his work Buried Child. He also co-wrote some film screenplays, was nominated for an Oscar for The Right Stuff, and even played banjo on Patti Smith’s unique cover of “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. R.I.P.

Thanks for reading, watching, listening, and enduring some bad jokes in all along the way. I hope that I provide quality entertainment and ideally some education along with it; if I do, I hope that continues, but if I don’t, I hope it begins. Most of all, I hope you’ll check back in here next week for more fun.

Until next week,

Alex

Astronauts Without Borders

Once upon a time not so long ago, the United States and Russia had a high-profile meeting that was a top news story. Unlike today though, this was not a shady circumstance that cast doubt on the inner dealings of each respective government, but rather helped to improve the relationship between two nations that had been engaged in a constant and bitter show of one-upmanship with nuclear proliferation. I’m talking about the Cold War. Nevertheless, 42 years ago on this date, July 17, 1975, the United States and Russia, then called the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, set aside their differences, at least as far as the scientific community was concerned. As the preeminent superpowers of the world and the leaders in space exploration, the US and USSR arranged for an historic high five within the vacuum of space.

Contrary to what silly stories of moon crab monsters would tell you, there actually was an Apollo 18 mission. NASA had launched seven manned lunar landing missions with its Apollo program, successfully landing six of them (Apollo 13 had a bit of a snafu).  However, the final moon mission, Apollo 17, was not the last time a Saturn V rocket shot an Apollo craft into orbit. Apollo 18 was launched in conjunction with the Soviet spacecraft Soyuz 19.

After there establishment in orbit, the two craft were lined up and then linked up, marking the first time that two craft from different countries and space agencies docked. The mission was orchestrated to serve as practice for potential rescues in the future.

The ABC coverage is pretty good at explaining the mission, but here’s the link if you want to watch the docking without the newscaster speaking.

Leave it to the men and women who work in science and especially the students of space to show us how meaningless political squabbles can be. We are all one species on the same Earth, and it is missions like this one that help us to realize that no matter whether we are on opposite sides of the world, or floating above it, we are at our best when we work together to advance our mutual pursuit of greater understanding of our place in space.

Thanks for reading and watching. If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions, launch them into my inbox at monotrememadness@gmail.com. Be sure to orbit back here next week for more out of this world fun.

I’m sure I’ve written that before and I don’t care,

Alex

With a Little Help from My Friends

The recent shameful departure of my country on the Paris Agreement on global climate change is the dominant story in the news and the most pressing issue on my mind, but I just don’t have the energy (and that is not a pun) to restate the same facts about how we humans, and especially me and mine in America, are responsible for rapidly heating up this one habitable planet we have always known, and until the ignorance of greed consumed too many of us, has been a world we loved as well. I love it still, and the billions of humans and wildlife that live upon it, which is why I worry so much. In the interests of not wishing to belabor a point that needs to be repeated, but not so much to my audience who already understands its severity, and for the sake of not wishing to deviate from my original plan for this post, I will not personally cover (at least for this week) the Paris Agreement tackbacksies that my poorly-led nation idiotically enacted, however, my favorite late night host and his team have put together another fantastic segment this time covering just that:

Thank you, John. You make it easier to endure this madness, and though I’ve never met you, I feel like you could be a friend, which is precisely what we all need through hardships and celebrations, and as it happens, it was 50 years ago last week The Beatles taught the world to cherish friends, as well as to embrace the nature of change for the better and the mixing of culture and art in one of the grandest musical contributions of all time.

On May 26,1967 in England, and June 2 in America, the greatest band to ever play music released one the greatest records ever cut. The Beatles were already at the top of the musical world as they had been for a few years thanks to their tremendous popularity with young pop rock and roll fans. Yet the group felt tired of playing music for screaming girls and wanted to make some “serious music”. They stopped touring concerts to ease their exhaustion and focus on their music. Some people were pissed about this, but regardless of those frustrations from fans and the members of the band itself, all were rewarded with a masterpiece set into motion with about 11 seconds of orchestral warm-up and ambient crowd chatter eagerly awaiting a show that strikes out of the theater noise with drums and guitar that instantly grab our attention so that we are all ears when Paul McCartney starts singing in the fabulously fictitious Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Sgt. Pepper’s remains one of the most influential and unique albums of all time for a variety of reasons. It was pioneering, not just for rock and roll and pop music, but for all music, containing an assortment of instruments and musical styles that culminate in one of the most masterfully varied records, but one with a terrific flow, thanks in large part to the first time omission of the few seconds of silent space between songs. On Sgt. Pepper, Beatles producer George Martin was once again the man behind most of the technical effects that lend a certain feel to the album as a whole. The band had been experimenting with new sounds for their last few records, like Rubber Soul and Revolver, records that really allowed The Beatles to rise above the pure pop that many desired them to be. Sgt. Pepper’s was not the first instance of The Beatles breaking away from the mainstream – honestly, I’m not sure they ever were in the mainstream as much as they were paving the way for it – yet the discography of the band truly took off into an unforeseen level of the musical and cultural atmosphere with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The Beatles were essentially the first band to walk on the musical Moon. They had been approaching their desired destination with their previous work, but Sgt. Pepper’s was their Apollo program, and led them and many, many others to a new world of musical production.

One fascinating example of this is in the lively album cover that depicts a wealth of celebrities from many walks of life and eras. The Nerdwriter declares it to the “Holy Grail of album covers”, and he is not wrong as the artwork is multi-layered with meaning and references to the essence of the band and its members. He explains this in one of his excellent video essays:

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is revolutionary in many respects, but chief among its merits is the quality of its songs and their arrangement. Rolling Stone considers it to be the best album ever made, and while its influence is undeniable and a major reason for their favoring of it, the great music and lyrics that defined The Beatles better than anything else ever could are exceptional throughout the record.

Starting off with the opening I mentioned earlier, the titular “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” provides a terrific introduction both as a song and the theme of the journey we are about to take. It also provides a bookended finish with a short reprisal of “Sgt. Pepper’s” as the penultimate song of the record. It was Paul McCartney’s idea to make the album’s premise be a concert sang by a fictional band. This fit his and the band’s characteristic whimsy, but also allowed them to push the envelope a little further with the safety of being able to let any controversy fall back upon the fictitious group in place of the real one. Oh that wasn’t us; that was Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club.

The title track segues perfectly into what is probably the most popular song on the album, and is certainly one of the band’s best songs. I mean, I did name this post after it. After his alter ego Billy Shears’ introduction at the end of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, Ringo Starr begins to sing the classic “With a Little Help from My Friends”. This is one of my favorite songs for its joyful melody, harmonious vocals, and encouraging message that friendship is the key to enjoying life through the good and bad. Despite their differences and the trials each of them were going through at the time, it is clear that The Beatles worked so well, not just on this record, but throughout the years because they were friends. This song is the epitome of that love for one another. It’s all you need after all – wait, that’s the next record.

From the epitome of friendship we roll on to the epitome of psychedelia with “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”. There are many references to drug use on featured within the album, including an overt one in the previous song, but John Lennon always maintained that this song was based on a drawing his son made of a girl in his class named Lucy. As one radio host on the newly launched Sirius Beatles Channel said, Lennon never shied away from discussing drugs and did write “Cold Turkey” in his post-Beatles career, so even though the nouns in the title begin with the letters LSD, drugs did not inspire this song. However, that does not mean they did not influence this song, which they almost certainly did, although not just in the trippy description of Lucy’s land as the song (an album entire) serves as an allusion to the flower power movement that saw the cultures of East and West blending together like a tie-dye T-shirt. This is certainly apparent on the one song on the album John Lennon and Paul McCartney did not write, George Harrison’s “Within You Without You” which is driven by Harrison’s sitar and other Indian instruments.

The highlight of the album for many is the closing orchestration that is “A Day in the Life”. I say orchestration because Martin and The Beatles brought in an actual orchestral arrangement to play the unnerving transitions between the two wildly distinctive tones of the song. The reason for these drastically different pieces from Lennon and McCartney is simple as they began as two different songs. Lennon needed something to connect his song that was inspired by stories in a newspaper, and McCartney offered a separate song he had been working on and they sandwiched it in and spread the orchestra to make it more cohesive. The final piano note was actual multiple pianos played simultaneously and then stretched out by Martin in the sound mixing booth. The end result is a slightly disturbing note of finality to a slightly disturbing song that perfectly punctuates the album.

The album has a perfect transition from song to song which is all the more impressive given its great variation of styles. This could have been a magnificent failure for a lesser group, but as I’ve said before and will say again, The Beatles are the greatest band of all time and they managed to make a clash of genres and technical trials (Paul McCartney is credited with playing a “comb and tissue paper”) into their defining work… until next year’s release of their best album, but we can talk about that next year. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was a massive success from the start and continued to establish The Beatles as the master musicians they were and deserve to be recognized as. I encourage you to listen to this and all their other albums. It’s easy to call The Beatles great, and not hard to recommend such a well loved band, but these guys are in another league. Remember when I said Sgt. Pepper’s was like The Beatles landing on the Moon? Well, their continued career took them across the universe to places other musicians can only dream of. That pun was absolutely intended, but also absolutely true. The Beatles are not my favorite band – anyone who’s read my previous posts knows that honor belongs to another British rock band – but I will defend until my dying breath that they are the best band because they are. No one is more varied, talented, and has such an extensive body of work that is as high quality as The Beatles’ discography. Also, they are my second favorite band, so it’s not like it’s hard for me to admire them, but it helps that they’re really, really good.

Thanks for reading, watching, and listening! Be sure to check out anything you can from The Beatles even if you’ve heard it all before. They certainly are worth listening to more than once. If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions, please send them to monotrememadness@gmail.com. Be sure to revolve back here next week for more hopefully good news or fun topics. Whatever I write about, I promise I’ll throw in a joke or two.

I hope you have enjoyed the show,

Alex

Never Forget Our Heroes

Happy Memorial Day, everyone. This holiday may be the unofficial start of summertime in America that allows us an opportunity to get together with friends and family for burgers and beer, as well as the harsh realization that no, it’s not warm enough to go swimming yet, but while it is good that we can observe this lighthearted enjoyment in the company of loved ones, Memorial Day has a somber reason for its existence. Memorial Day was created to recognize those who lost their lives in America’s military.

While the exact date that Memorial Day was first observed is not easy to pin down, it is apparent that it became nationally prominent in the late 1860s following the American Civil War. Since then, Americans of all ages have paid their respects to their fallen military men and women in a number of ways. Typically parades, visits to cemeteries, and the aforementioned cookout with friends are common occurrences, yet today I am turning my focus to a specific group of aides to the American armed forces who deserve our thanks and are still living, although their lives are in serious danger and we need to help them to survive as they helped our service members to survive.

Since the United States’ involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq began, there have been translators who have served as the necessary communicative link between soldiers and engineers working for the military and the native people. These translators have helped to save countless lives and now deserve to be returned the favor, however, this is far from the case as you can learn from this segment from Last Week Tonight with John Oliver:

Translators, even if they were not born or even set foot in the United States, are American heroes and deserve the easy opportunity to become U.S. citizens. We should be fast-tracking these guys and their families on that course of action if they desire it, especially considering the imminent danger most of them are in. It is inexcusable, criminal really, to force them to jump through bureaucratic hoops to realistically attain the goal of citizenship. They deserve to be recognized for their service to America by being welcomed into America. We should be raising a toast of honor to these men and women on Veteran’s Day, not a toast of remembrance on Memorial Day because the United States government did not act as valiantly to serve and save them as they did to serve and save our soldiers and engineers.

The truly frustrating thing is that this episode aired in October of 2014 but things have not vastly improved in the application process. In fact, they have only become harder. Perhaps this is something your local representative should hear about.

Thanks for reading. If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions please send them to monotremadness@gmail. com.

Alex

A Super Show of Support

Boy, those birds sure can blow it against the Patriots! Last night, the same old stuff from New England won the Super Bowl once again, this time in the championship game’s first ever overtime contest at the expense of the shoulda, coulda, woulda Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons had the Pats dead to rights, leading by 25 points in the second half, but they just could not put the game away. The ending of the game may have been rougher for the Seattle Seahawks to see, as the Patriots won by handing the ball off to their reliable running back at the goal line to score the game-winning touchdown, something every team’s 12th man knew the Seahawks should have done against New England just two Super Bowls ago.

Last night’s game had one the most incredible finishes in football history, let alone Super Bowl history, but overall it still ranks behind the big game from nine years ago. The monumental stakes of the 2008 Super Bowl XLII matchup of the we-do-this-all-the-time Patriots and the New York Giants were greater than any other. The Pats were undefeated at 18-0 and looked like they could steamroll anyone, and they had already beaten the Giants to add to that reputation. However, the game was close the whole way, and the Giants put together a bonkers final drive highlighted by this unbelievable play and ensuing touchdown:

But I didn’t come here to talk about the game, oh no. I came here to talk about the halftime show and the commercials! Just not in the away I normally would. Instead of watercooler talk of what commercials were the funniest (not really any of them) or which part of the halftime festivities featured the weirdest wardrobe (or lack thereof – thanks Janet!), today I want to discuss a bit about the tone of the these forms of entertainment. The normally routine chuckle-worthy advertisements and spectacle-centered singing show were still present, yet mostly set aside to profess a message of peace, equality, and inclusiveness.

Coca-Cola, Budweiser and most poignantly, 84 Lumber of all merchandisers, all pressed points for the importance of opening your arms to people. These points were further exemplified by halftime performer, Lady Gaga whose rooftop diving entrance kicked off with an extremely abridged version of “God Bless America” and “This Land is Your Land” and an excerpt from the Pledge of Allegiance,

One Nation under God, indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.

We Americans have really put that “indivisible” part to the test over the years – if you thought last year’s election was bad, you wouldn’t believe what we did in the 1860s! The American Civil War was fought for everything else in that back half of the pledge: keeping the US as one nation, with liberty and justice for all, including the people who had been wrongfully considered property for too long. We have come a long way since then, and while freedom has been extended to many more than before, we still have trouble keeping the whole New Colossus theme that is emblazoned on the Statue of Liberty. The famous sonnet from poet Emma Lazarus features the memorable declaration from Lady Liberty:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Thankfully, in the midst of fear pointed in the wrong direction, there are many who stand with smiles of welcome to people whose only real difference with them is where they were born. We are all humans, and we are all deserving of the rights granted by the United States’ Constitution, not by virtue of having filled out forms, or by having been lucky in where your mother gave birth to you, but because every human is worthy of those rights. There is nothing more elaborate to it. All people deserve respect and the opportunity to make this world a better place. I know not everyone chooses to do this, and I’m not saying that people desiring to be American citizens should not bother with applying for citizenship. By all means, I encourage you to go through the necessary channels to officially be recognized as a citizen of this country because you, the persevering immigrant are what continues to make America great, now as ever. Nevertheless, under no circumstances should you be denied the chance to apply for citizenship. There is no need to make the process more tedious with the aim to weed out certain groups, and an all-out ban is damnably unconstitutional. That is not America, because we are the nation that opens the door, not slams it shut.

Thanks for reading! Direct any comments or questions to monotrememadness@gmail.com, and be sure to rappel down this way again next week.

O beautiful for spacious skies,

Alex

Consider Again That Dot

Ashes to ashes, stardust to stardust. We are all part of the same pieces that exploded into existence as we know it with amazing energy 13.8 billion years ago. From that magnificent beginning of this universe, everything within it has grown and evolved. And that’s even before life on Earth formed. The ideas we study today regarding the Big Bang and what has occurred in the expansion of the cosmos since are relatively new, having come into scientific understanding during only the last century or so, however, the study of the stars and the infinity beyond has existed for millennia. Astronomers have long impacted our knowledge of our world and what exists beyond it, helping to pave the way for other subjects of study. We remember and revere the names and lives of many such people who helped teach us more about our place in the universe. Today, I am writing about a hero of mine and many others who did this in more ways than one, showing us just how small and special we are as a planet and a species.

Tomorrow will mark the 20th anniversary of one of the saddest days in science education history. On December 20, 1996, the world lost a man who saw its incredible beauty and recognized how infinitesimally small we are on it and in the grand scheme of the cosmos: Carl Sagan. Sagan was an inspirational figure whose efforts to educate are still felt strongly, especially in the medium of television that he utilized so perfectly. His studies and insights also continue to be prevalent in his many books, as well as the lessons reiterated by his students who teach us today as he did decades ago.

Carl Sagan was born on November 9, 1954 in Brooklyn, New York to a Russian immigrant father and a native New Yorker mother. He and his sister, Carol, were raised Jewish, but not with a great emphasis on religious practice and teaching placed upon them. His parents not only allowed him to question everything, but encouraged it, something that he stated aligned perfectly with the scientific method and his quest for knowledge.

Sagan was smart from the start, thanks in large part because of his many interests in many subjects, such as astronomy, biology, and chemistry to name a few awesome ones. He frequently read about the wonders of the natural sciences, and visited the world-class museums that New York had (and still has) to learn as much as he could. It paid off for him as he attended college early, studying at the University of Chicago when he was 16. There he encountered some of the preeminent scientists and teachers of the era, including geneticist Hermann Joseph Muller and chemist Harold Urey (remember the latter). Sagan’s dissertation was done under the tutelage of Gerard Kuiper, for whom the Kuiper Belt (where Pluto and two other dwarf planets live) is named. From Chicago, Sagan went on to the University of California at Berkeley in 1959.

Sagan became an assistant professor at Harvard University at 1963 after his peers in academic astronomy were impressed with his work, specifically his Science article regarding Venus’ atmosphere. However, even after years of teaching at the university and working at the nearby Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, Sagan was not granted tenured status. In fact, numerous members in the academic community voiced their concerns with Sagan’s wide window of study as opposed to the traditional finer focus on a specific pursuit of study. The strongest voice against him, and the greatest dagger to his tenure hopes, came from a former advisor at the University of Chicago, that’s right, Harold Urey. Urey was a Nobel Prize winner in chemistry and had worked on the Manhattan Project, so he had authority in the scientific community. He argued against Sagan becoming a full-time professor, and Harvard listened.

Sagan was understandably disappointed, but where one Ivy League door closes, another gets to say “Suck it, Harvard!” today as a reward for not being overly concerned with the comprehensive interests of its professors at the time. Sagan had actually had an offer from astronomer Thomas Gold and Cornell University to come to teach prior to this decision from Harvard. The outcome of that decision made it easy for him to take his talents to Ithaca. He became an associate professor in 1968, and just two years later a full professor. His educational efforts were not confined to the classroom though, as in addition to continued research in astronomy and other fields, Sagan worked with NASA to prepare the Apollo astronauts for their lunar missions and to develop robotics. Sagan is also the man responsible for the creation and inclusion of information regarding humans and the Earth placed on some deep space probes sent out in the 1970s and 1980s. The first of these is the Pioneer Plaque which was attached to Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11 launched in 1972 and 1973 respectively. The plaque depicts a naked human man and woman and an illustration of our solar system and other items used to indicate the origin of the spacecrafts in the event that they are found by intelligent extraterrestrial life. An explanation of the illustrations can be found here.

carl-sagan

The two Voyager probes launched in 1977 contain an updated plaque, called the Voyager Golden Record. Like the Pioneer Plaque, the Golden Record was attached to the spacecraft with information pertaining to humans and the Earth.

Sagan was all about finding other forms of intelligent life and making contact with them. He encouraged search for extraterrestrial intelligence, or SETI, projects and co-founded the Planetary Society in 1980 with SETI initiatives in mind. In 1985 he published the novel Contact about making first contact with intelligent alien life. The book was made into a movie of the  same name that was released in 1997, a year after Sagan’s death. The story is representative of many of Sagan’s ideals, especially where the relationship and often duel between scientific fact and religious faith are concerned. Contact provides intelligent insight into the relationship of government and science as well. All of these are themes that exist in other popular science stories like Ted Chiang’s Story of Your Life that was recently released as movie called Arrival, which has many similarities to ContactInterstellar does as well, including Kip Thorne’s input regarding wormholes and Matthew McConaughey being all right, all right, all right.

Sagan had other (non-fiction) books and many published papers and reports, but undeniably his greatest impact was through his television program Cosmos: A Personal Voyage. With Cosmos, Sagan took his grand encompassing interest in the big picture out of the classroom and into our homes. The show was superbly received and is one of the most watched series ever to air on PBS. Sagan was successful at inspiring everyday people into asking “Why?” and helped to make scientific ventures popular. Two of Sagan’s most notable students at Cornell would go on to have similar success with similar programming on TV. From 1993-1998, Bill Nye was the titular science guy in his show aimed at teaching children the basics of science. Nye was a senior at Cornell when he took Sagan’s underclassman course for easier credits, but he has stated that the class was a critical building point in his life that helped him to realize his potential and shape his life. Neil deGrasse Tyson did not attend Cornell and take Sagan’s class as Nye did, but he was a student of life of Carl Sagan’s and kept close ties to him from his teenage years. Tyson has hosted the StarTalk podcast (and later show) since 2009, and in 2014 he made another Cosmos series called Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. In the opening episode, Tyson explains how he first came to know Carl Sagan. Tyson had sent an application to Cornell, and the admissions office had forwarded it to Sagan. Sagan then wrote a letter to Tyson inviting him for a visit. Tyson was impressed to say the least with Sagan’s knowledge, but mostly his character. Of his mentor and friend he said, “I already knew I wanted to become a scientist. But that afternoon, I learned from Carl the kind of person I wanted to become.”

Cosmos was good for Sagan as well, as his co-writer, Ann Druyan, would within a year become his wife. Druyan was Sagan’s third wife, but she and he remained happily married until his death. Near the end of his life, Sagan suffered from a myelodysplastic syndrome, a cancer in which the blood cells in bone marrow does not develop properly. It often leads to leukemia. He was able to keep it at bay with bone marrow transplants from his sister, however he developed pneumonia which took his life on December 20, 1996.

Carl Sagan was exceptional at presenting simple and complex information alike in an easy and enjoyable way to the public. Whether or not you are young or old, or as wild about science as Carl was when he was younger or not, then you can learn and love what Sagan has to share in his show and books. He had many famous musings in his beautifully poetic presentations, but the most renowned is his “Pale Blue Dot” speech given at Cornell, in which he ponders on the whole of human existence while observing a picture of Earth taken by Voyager I from about 6 billion kilometers away. This may be the most important speech I have ever heard or read. It summarizes the actions of our species so perfectly and presents us with a spectacularly humbling realization that we are so, so small in this enormous universe. However, this makes us and our planet so incredibly special and grants us the wonderfully privilege to make our world the best it can be. I hope that it moves and inspires you as it does me.

Thanks for reading and watching. If you have any questions, comments, or requests for future topics, then please email me at monotrememadness@gmail.com. Orbit back here next week for some more out of this world fun.

Science shed lights on the unknown,

Alex