Tag Archives: United States

The Greatest Speech Never Given

Last week, I wrote about the anniversary of the launch of Apollo 11, the world’s first manned lunar landing mission that saw Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walk on the Moon. The mission was the successful exclamation point that seemed to permanently declare the United States as the winners of the Space Race, and it went surprisingly smoothly for such a novel scientific venture. Everyone at NASA clearly did their research, and the expedition to collect lunar rocks, film and photograph the lunar landscape, and of course visit the Moon in person for the first time in history.

But what if things didn’t work out that way?

This was the scenario posed to William Safire by some of President Richard Nixon’s aides. Thus he drew up a plan for how to have the president handle the unfortunate circumstance where the men on the Moon mission never make it back. Safire was a speechwriter for Nixon on both of his presidential campaigns, and later wrote for The New York Times as a political columnist. In his memo, In Event of Moon Disaster he advised that Nixon address a potential major mission failure  by first contacting the astronaut’s wives with his sympathies, then by giving his brief, but powerful tribute speech, and finally by having a clergyman official commend the men’s souls in the same practice as a burial at sea.

It may seem grim in hindsight, but the reality is that Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins were explorers venturing bravely into uncharted territory in a vehicle that had never been taken on such a flight before. Even with their experience and the previous missions that tested the capabilities of the equipment and NASA to safely deliver men to the Moon and return them to Earth, it was far from a given. The most problematic part of the mission was in Collins’ picking Armstrong and Aldrin back up. If anything prevented the Command Module Collins was piloting from securing the Lunar Module that the others were in, then they were doomed to remain on the surface of the Moon.

So not only did Safire have to craft a speech that expressed a nation’s sadness in losing two of its best scientific explorers, he had to account for the fact that in all reality of  a failure, they would have to be left behind to die from starvation or suicide on the lunar plains. That is not an enviable death, and writing a statement to describe it in a way that present sympathy and resolve to keep exploring in spite of such a heavy loss is not an enviable task. Nevertheless, Safire did it, and he did it well. The remarks wisely follow the idea of not overdoing it and keep the piece short, yet this does not take away the somber sentiment within it. In fact, it’s terseness allows its listeners to focus on Armstrong and Aldrin, their sacrifice, and the future with some hope. In a manner reminiscent of the remarks of the man who defeated Nixon in the 1960 Presidential Race and opened his presidency with a challenge to explore space, Safire taps into the same vein that John F. Kennedy did. He closes the speech by saying, “Others will follow, and surely find their way home. Man’s search will not be denied.” Akin to Kennedy declaring that we will work toward a Moon mission and explore the cosmos and make other similar ventures “not because they are easy but because they are hard”, Safire offers the same push toward progress in space exploration that NASA has always worked for and assures us that nothing will stop this pursuit.

Here is the speech that William Safire wrote.

Here is a video of Benedict Cumberhot reading the speech in his Doctor Strange voice:

Fortunately, this speech was never needed, and Nixon visited the astronauts as they were in their post-lunar quarantine – a process we now know to be superfluous. Nixon went on to host a dinner in their honor and awarded them all the Presidential Medal of Freedom. They lived on to continue their careers and their lives, and they live on forever in the annals of history.

We can now appreciate Safire’s speech as a great speech that fortunately never was given.

Thanks for reading! Be sure to return here next week for the quarterly recap State of the Season.

I love you to the Moon and back,

Alex

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Roe, Roe, Roe Your Vote

It’s a man’s world, like it or not. Even in countries with some of the best standard of living, such as my own United States of America, women rarely get an even break. Here in the States, men make more money in almost every career.  Factor in the unwanted advances of sexual harassment or worse that too many women experience and we’re looking at a rough working world for women in the USA. Consider also the general societal pressures placed upon women to dress and behave a certain way. What I really do not envy is how so many women are expected to be the producers and primary caretakers of children. Now we are really looking at some strenuous stuff that females in the United States have to contend with. So much is demanded of the ladies around us, that it is refreshing to see some justice offered to women which helps to assert their position as being equal citizens.

Today is the 45th anniversary of the US Supreme Court’s decisive ruling in Roe v. Wade. The Court determined by a 7-2 vote, that a woman could legal have and abortion in accordance with due process offered by the 14th Amendment, thereby striking down laws prohibiting abortion throughout the country. The landmark ruling still divides political and religious members today, but I believe that it is another critical victory for the betterment of women and society within the United States of America. just as the 19th Amendment finally granted women the right to vote in the US, Roe v. Wade secured a woman’s rights to her own body.

Roe v. Wade is widely known and referenced, but the initial court case that grew into a national ruling began as a much smaller affair in a state that frequently advertises how much bigger everything is there. In Dallas, Texas during the summer of 1969, a woman named Norma McCorvey was pregnant with her third child. She had endured a troubled childhood and young adult life which included her father leaving at a young age, her alcoholic mother beating her, another family member allegedly raping her, and her husband -whom she married at 16 – allegedly abusing her. Her first two children were already adopted out, but she did not want to have to carry and take care of another, so she sought an abortion. Problem was, abortions in Texas at the time were only legal in instances of rape or incest, or when the mother’s life was in danger, so at the advice of some friends, Norma falsely stated she had been raped. Since there was no police report of such a crime though, she was unable to legally procure an abortion. Thus, she set out to obtain an operation at an under-the-table establishment, but that door was also closed after it had been shut down by law enforcement. McCorvey would give birth to and adopt out her child, but not before she had begun working with attorneys Sarah Weddington and Linda Coffee to sue the state to permit abortion. For anonymity, they changed her name to Jane Roe, and the suit was brought up to the Dallas County District Attorney, a man named Henry Wade who was tasked with representing the state of Texas.

About a year after Norma realized she was pregnant for the third time, a panel of North Texas judges declared that the state’s laws were unconstitutional and violated the 9th Amendment’s granted right to privacy. Spurred on by other similar cases around the country at the time, the case reached the US Supreme Court in December 1971, was reargued the following October, and then finally decided on January 22, 1973.

Ironically, McCorvey’s personal views on abortion changed drastically over time and she became a pro-life advocate for the Catholic Church. She died last year at the age of 69.

Ideally an abortion is not the go-to for avoiding having a child. I firmly believe that if you are not actively trying to have a baby then you should use some form of protection during sex. There is an immense variety of different items and medications for men and women that help to prevent pregnancy. Find the best for you and your partner based upon your needs and comfort, and revel in erotic euphoria all the live long day if you desire. Personally, I prefer the classic condom as it has remained simple and effective for centuries, and it fits within my philosophy that penises are like Christmas presents: they’re best when they’re wrapped.

Of course, there are scenarios when an abortion is necessary. In these instances, it is just that women have the right to exercise this option if they so choose. Furthermore, the ruling of Roe v. Wade grants the deserved authority of a woman over her own physical self, so while it may still be a man’s world, at least it is undeniably a woman’s body.

Thanks for reading! As always, feel free to contact me with questions, comments, or suggestions at monotrememadness@gmail.com. Be sure to return here next week for the quarterly State of the Season recap.

You go girls,

Alex

Imma Imma Hustler

Typically, you don’t want to be replaced by an Aardvark. Especially because it moves faster than you do. Not to mention, it changed the game for other fast flyers to follow.

It seems I’ve gotten ahead of myself and have some explaining to do….

First, hello everyone! I hope that you had a Happy Mach 1 Day! For those who are new to this written world of my own creation, I annually celebrate the first supersonic flight made by Chuck Yeager on October 14, 1947 as a day I have christened Mach 1 Day! Today, I am keeping this shockwave going with a bit of intel on the first bomber to break the sound barrier.

The Convair B-58 Hustler was the first supersonic strategic bomber, meaning it was the first airplane built to carry and drop bombs that could also exceed the speed of sound. Yep, there are bombers that go Mach 1. In fact, the Hustler could go beyond Mach 2! The point was to craft a bomber that could traverse a great distance, hit its target, and then outrace any of those pesky enemy fighter jets that were sent up in pursuit. Older bombers were too large and not designed to make haste in such a way. The Hustler could do just as its name implied, it do do do do do do do do do do the hustle on out of the dropzone. This was helped immensely by the delta wing design. Nevertheless, attaining that speed came at the cost of shedding the bulk that allowed for greater cargo capacity. Still, this sucker could pack a punch with a full fist. Five nuclear weapons could be loaded onto the bottom of the aircraft on the outside along pylons built to hold the bombs in place of a more traditional bomb bay.

The three-pilot operated Hustler was in service from 1960-1970, but it was rarely smooth sailing, er, flying. The plane was fast, but janky in flight – that is to say, difficult to keep straight. However, its greatest drawback was the price tag it accrued. Maintenance was high, and after its first year, the Hustler costs the United States government around $3 billion. That’s closer to $60 billion today. Yikes!

Despite all this, the Hustler could hightail up, up, and way in a hurry. It could make an ascent over 230 meters per second. Remember Usain Bolt’s record-breaking run of the 200m dash at the 2009 World Championships? Me either; I had to look it up to see when he set it, but I knew it was him who did it. Anyway, Bolt – the most incredibly appropriate name for any athlete – posted a still standing record run of 19.19 seconds. Now add 30 meters, climb at a steady rate, and do it 19x faster, and then we’re matching the Hustler.

Okay, obviously Usain Bolt is not a machine (or is he?… A discussion for another day), but the point is, the Hustler, extravagant mess that it was, was what it was designed to be: really fucking fast. The reason it was eventually retired from service was because the Soviet Union developed better countermeasures. Once their missile defenses more than stood a chance to take down a Hustler the United States needed a new man. Or in this case, a new African burrowing animal. The next big deal in supersonic bombers was General Dynamics F-111 Aardvark, which revolutionized not only bombers, but aircraft in general with its sweep wings (see picture):

That’s an Aardvark showing off the key feature that help it maintain steadier flight when cruising and when whipping up beyond the speed of sound.

The Aardvark had a much lengthier military run from 1967-1998 in the US, and as recently 2010 in Australia, but the Hustler is still the Usain Bolt of the supersonic bomber world. It set 19 total speed records, and still holds the record for the longest supersonic flight. In 1963, a B-58 nicknamed “Greased Lightning” flew from Tokyo to London (over the Arctic Circle), greater than 8000 miles (almost 13000 km) in 8 hours, 35 minutes, and 20.4 seconds. 8000 miles in eight and a half hours! That is even with an afterburner burning out (well, breaking down, at least) and having to reduce speed for the final hour. Amazing!

Thanks for reading! Let me know if you have any questions, comments, or suggestions by sending them to monotrememadness@gmail.com. Be sure to whiz back here next week for more fun.

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Alex

Totality Awesome

Even though I was not within the range of full totality for the total solar eclipse that worked its way over North America last Monday, I still was treated to quite a show as the moon moved almost entirely in the path of the sun to create the unique view of a cookie with a bite taken out of it that I enjoyed staring at through my eclipse glasses for about an hour as the moon progressed across the sunshine. I made the most of my watching experience by posting up in my front yard dressed in a Star Wars shirt that reads “Join the Dark Side” with a dark beer (porters are made for winter to be sure, but Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald is quality all year) all the while listening to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. I think I witnessed the closest moment to totality during “Time”.

For anyone else who was not able to see totality in person due to being out of the path or having overcast skies within it, check out this video that does a great job of explaining the dynamics of total solar eclipses:

I’m excited because the next such eclipse to grace North America will pass directly over Ohio in April of 2024, which means I’m bound to be able to infringe on someone’s hospitality to see it if even I move away somewhere else between now and then. That eclipse will also pass over parts of Mexico and Canada, as well as Texas, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, New York, and Maine, and slivers of Oklahoma, Missouri, Pennsylvania, and Vermont within the United States. Learn more about it on NASA’s site here. It may be seven years away, but it will be here before you know it!

In regards to this most recent eclipse, Google and Cal-Berkeley worked together on a project to compile pictures taken by people within the totality path to make a short video of the view of totality from the US locations that got to see the brilliant glow of the sun’s corona light up the darkening sky. You can watch that video on Eclipse Megamovie here. As it has no sound, I recommend syncing it up with an appropriate song that fits the time pretty nicely:

Thanks for reading and watching! Feel free to send any questions, comments, or suggestions to monotrememadness@gmail.com. Orbit back here next week for more fun where everything under the sun is in tune…

But the sun is eclipsed by the moon,

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

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

The American Adams Family

Happy President’s Day! The highest executive office in the United States of America has been occupied by 44 men since 1789 and has seen some interesting scenarios over the course of two plus centuries. For example, Grover Cleveland served two non-consecutive terms with Benjamin Harrison’s term sandwiched between them, so Cleveland is counted as both the 22nd and 24th president. Additionally, there is the Curse of Tippecanoe, also called Tecumseh’s Curse, that is the folksy title given to the grim coincidence that saw every president who was elected or reelected in a year that ended in zero die in office. The frightening trend began with William Henry Harrison and continued through John F. Kennedy, before ending with the failed assassination attempt of Ronald Reagan. This seemed to let George W. Bush off the hook, but there was actually an odd assassination attempt against his life back in 2006 (and no, I’m not talking about the pretzel). While in Georgia (the country), a man threw a grenade at President Bush and the Georgian President! Crazy!

Today, I am focusing on one of the unique relationships between a pair of presidents, and how these men have been portrayed in two of my favorite films based in American history. The presidents in the spotlight today are the second and sixth, John Adams and John Quincy Adams. In the case of many a political figure, president included, it has been said that so-and-so would have gotten nowhere without such-and-such, but in the case of the Adams’ it is absolutely true that John Quincy Adams would have gotten nowhere without John Adams. In fact, it is not even hyperbole to say that JQA would not even exist without JA for the plain and simple reason that he physically could not. Even if you are not from the US or slept through all your history classes, you can easily piece together that John Adams is the father of John Quincy Adams, but that is not where it ends, for you could just as easily say that John Adams is the father of America. Okay, that is starting to get into hyperbole, but John Adams is certainly one of the fathers of America, and he is frequently called such as he was one of the most prominent of Founding Fathers who helped to form this country from rebellious British colonies to the United States of America.

John Adams served as the first Vice President, aiding first President George Washington over the course of two terms, before taking up the task of Commander-in-Chief for himself. His attempt at reelection would be thwarted by his close friend Thomas Jefferson. Adams returned to his home in Massachusetts feeling more than a little sour about the whole thing, but eventually he and Jefferson got back in touch and were friendly for their final years. In fact, both men died on the same day, mere hours apart. Adams’ last words were, “Thomas Jefferson survives,” a comfort to himself that the country still had one of its greatest leaders. Unfortunately, he was wrong as Jefferson preceded him in death, however short it may have been. The appropriate coincidences do not end there though, as the day both men died on was July 4, 1826 – 50 years to the day the Declaration of Independence both men worked so hard to draft and ratify, was signed into effect.

If you’re looking for an entertaining film about the birth of America that features the efforts of Adams and Jefferson in uniting their compatriots in creating a new nation, than look no further than 1776 (1972). Originally a Broadway musical in 1969, the film retains its key actors, including William Daniels as John Adams (funnily enough, his first TV role was as John Quincy Adams!). Adams is the chief protagonist, and he is delightfully annoying to the other delegates in the first Continental Congress. Look, or I should say, listen no further than my favorite song from the show where Adams is trying to get someone to write the Declaration of Independence: “But, Mr. Adams”.

In addition to future Presidents Adams and Jefferson, the film showcases one of the greatest Founding Fathers who never sought that office, Benjamin Franklin, who in the film, as he did in life, often steals the show. Look, or, well yeah, look and listen no further than this scene where Adams is trying to win over a crucial vote for independence from Maryland:

We need a musical about that OGFF (Original Gangsta Founding Father). Hip-hop, rock and roll, you pick the genre, but I’m looking at you Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Now let’s look at the man John Adams actually fathered, John Quincy Adams. Where his father is best remembered for his actions prior to being president, Quincy Adams is best remembered for what he did after his presidency. He served for the final 17 years of his life in the US House of Representatives representing Massachusetts. He became an especially loud voice in the opposition of slavery, despite the derision he received from the South for it. His intellect and cleverness served him well when arguing against slavery, even when the there was a “gag rule” in place in the House that prevented the issue from being spoken about during proceedings. In 1836, Adams brought forth a petition from a man in Georgia (the state). In it, the man called for a “disunion” because the South was pro-slavery and the North was not. Essentially, this was the era of grumblings that 25 years later would escalate into civil war, and this Georgia man was not alone in wishing for a separation at the time. Many southern representatives shared these wishes for disunion, but Adams did not. He merely presented the letter as bait that his frustrated fellows would jump on. Quincy done triggered those fools. They took the bait and moved to censure the issue of disunion; Congress at the time was very much a “we’ll talk about this later” kind of place (kind of like today!). This move allowed Adams to offer his rebuttal where he was able to rail into the evils of slavery as much as he wanted without having to worry about the gag rule.

Five years later, Adams would get a chance to directly take a stand against slavery. While it may not have been a full on emancipation (that was still eight Presidents away), Adams was able to argue for the freedoms of illegally obtained slaves who revolted against their captors. The Africans broke free onboard the Spanish slave ship La Amistad and demanded to be returned to their homeland. During the day the ship, which had been near Cuba where it was going to sell the men and women, sailed east toward the sun and their native continent, but at night the crew turned north, and eventually the ship made landfall near New York. This nightly deception led to a series of convoluted court cases, but sense was made of it and the African men and women were granted freedom, until incumbent President Martin Van Buren pushed the case to the Supreme Court because of pressure from southern supporters. Van Buren was not a fan of slavery, and certainly neither was the senior Adams who did not seek to discuss slavery much during his time as president for the same reason Van Buren did not: they feared for conflict arising between North and South. I do not know if either anticipated the full-scale war that would eventually break out, but they were wary on the subject on the national scale. The younger Adams was not during his time as a representative, and when the Amistad case was brought before the Supreme Court, he spoke for four hours on behalf of the Africans who had been stolen from their homes. The court agreed with him and upheld the lower court rulings granting the Africans their freedom.

There is a great film made about the Amistad revolt and court cases called Amistad (1997). Directed by Steven Spielberg, it is often overlooked because of the success of his other films, especially similar themed films like Schindler’s List (1993) and The Color Purple (1985), not to mention he released Saving Private Ryan the next year. Amistad is more than worth a watch though, and Anthony Hopkins is terrific as John Quincy Adams. The movie is certainly played up for dramatic effect at times, including many of Adams’ scenes, but I love the depiction of him as a man who has always been in the shadow of his father, making the most of it while others around him laugh at how he can never measure up to him. The key moment for him is when he is speaking with Cinque, the leader of the Africans played by an equally great Djimon Hounsou, whose respect for Adams is as assured as his knowledge that his ancestors will be with him in his hour of need because he is “the whole reason they have existed at all.” Adams realizes that he too, like all others, is the greatest creation of his parents and those before them because he is the one carrying on their legacy now. He uses this insight in his speech to the Supreme Court, calling upon the Founding Fathers for advice, because “who we are is who we were.” His father may have helped create America, but it is up to John Quincy Adams and those residing in it in his day to continue improving it and make it the idyllic country the Founding Fathers laid the foundation for. For America is also a child of these men who made it, and they will always be invoked for help in guiding this nation in the right direction.

This is the American pursuit we all have a responsibility to strive for, for as grand as this country has been, it can always be better and we must always do what we can to protect the ideals that allow America to grant the freedom and justice that all on this Earth deserve.

Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoy your President’s Day and that you’ll return here next week. Direct any questions or comments to monotrememadness@gmail.com.

Stars and Stripes Forever,

Alex