The Blue Marble, our home

Blue-Marble-2015-640x640

Blue Marble 2015 NASA

 

Earthrise from Apollo 8, 1968

The iconic Earthrise and Apollo 8 haunt me. I watched  “Earthrise” at the Tribeca Film Festival a day ago, and I can still feel the awe inspired by the sight of the incredibly beautiful Earth rising over the moon.

The first men to see the Earth as a blue planet framed by the impenetrable midnight of space behind and the monotonous grey of the moon below recount their adventure. Fifty years ago they were astronauts setting off on the eighth Apollo mission to go where no man had gone before. Their young selves conveyed their excitement in television news interviews; their older selves spoke reverentially of the experience.

Astronaut Jim Lovell described the Earth as “a grand oasis in the vastness of space.”

“I don’t think we captured entirely the grandeur of what we had seen,” he said ruefully.

You don’t realize until you leave it, they said, how beautiful the Earth is “in the midst of all the darkness.”

They were struck by the realization that from their viewpoint, there were no boundaries, no countries, no cities. When director Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee was asked after the screening what effect he hoped his film would have, he only half-jokingly said, “world peace.”

The astronauts remember how keenly they had felt that the faraway “Earth is our home,” and “everything we had was out there on that blue planet.” Lovell in particular lived that truth as captain of the ill-fated Apollo 13.

Hours after watching “Earthrise,” I had an irresistible desire to watch the Hollywood version of the Apollo 13 disaster. I was fascinated by the parallel contrasts of the young astronauts and their much older selves 50 years later and the young Tom Hanks, Ed Harris and the other actors in the movie versus their current, aging selves.

When, two years after Apollo 8, Lovell had to abandon the Apollo 13 moon landing, he was heart-broken. He had been so close before, and now he had to accept that he would never take that moonwalk. But his craft was severely disabled, and all at once, the Earth, not the moon, became the all-consuming goal. The 3-man crew overcame almost unbeatable odds with the help of the scientists and mathematicians of NASA on the ground. They worked feverishly round the clock to devise work-arounds that would bring the crippled spaceship home.

When there was only a very slim chance that the men would return alive, one of the scientists told the head of the Houston ground crew that this was NASA’s darkest hour.

“No, it will be our finest hour,” the anxious chief replied. He was right.

Go to Blue Marble 2012 for a shot of the Blue Marble three years earlier than the one above.

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Five Shorts long in imagination

Treated to a screening of five short films at the Tribeca Film Festival and knowing nothing in advance about any of them, I marveled yet again at human diversity and creativity.

The first film was “Earthrise,” by Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee. The three astronauts of Apollo 8 tell the story of their otherworldly adventure from launch to splashdown. It was an experience that immeasurably enlarged and changed their perspectives. The first humans to orbit the moon, they were awestruck when they saw the Earth rising above the moon’s horizon. They recall the emotion they felt when they saw their distant home, a blue planet ascending in brilliant color from the moon’s unremitting gray into the blackness of space. Their mission was to photograph the moon’s surface, but the first pictures ever taken of the Earth from space eclipsed the novelty of the far side of the moon. Their iconic photo of earthrise is one of the most famous photos ever taken.

The Blue Line” examines what happens when someone paints a blue line down the main street of a small town in order to honor the police. The line exposes a previously well hidden division between conservative and liberal, white and black. Voices raised in anger on either side of the divide eventually come to a town meeting to hear each other out. When Samantha Knowles heard about the controversy from her dad, she immediately dropped everything and returned to her childhood home to document the affair. One of the tiny percentage of African-Americans in an overwhelmingly white community, she was amazed and gladdened by the willingness of all the townspeople to speak with her.

The third film, “My Dead Dad’s Porno Tapes,” is a son’s attempt to come to terms with destructive family relationships, and especially with his father. Charlie Tyrell pieces together an understanding of his distant, dead father with scraps of memorabilia. He draws on his own little bit of hard knowledge with very few existent photos, including the single one of him and his father together, the memories and impressions of his sister, random artifacts his father left behind and family stories he had heard to trace the origins of his father’s unwillingness to be known.

Sindha Agha tells her story of battling menstrual pain in “Birth Control Your Own Adventure.” She represents her period with raspberries floating in water, catsup among balloons and other unique metaphors. She made the film in two days to distract her when her pangs were particularly intense. Her experience, she discovered, is far from unique. Women called and wrote and shared their stories, stories that no men wanted to hear, stories that they kept undisclosed for most of their lives.


Lance Oppenheim is a junior at Harvard, fascinated by the man who calls himself “The Happiest Guy in the World.” He profiles Mario Salcedo, a man who boarded his first cruise 20 years ago and never returned. Mario lives his fantasy, shucking off the responsibilities of living on land. He doesn’t have to take out the garbage, for example. Someone else makes his bed and cooks and serves his food. Oppenheim gives Mario free rein  to explain why he is the happiest guy in the world, but he seems to be unaware of some glaring contradictions in his narrative. Strange.

All the filmmakers are under 40, three in their 20s and one not twenty yet, and all have made other films. I was struck by the originality of their work and the compelling stories they tell. Agha’s and Tyrell’s shorts are available in the New York Times Op-Docs section, and the others will soon be. Check them out. You won’t be sorry.

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Stormy Weather

We are living in amazing times. We are in the midst of a tempest that is battering the ship of state up to and perhaps beyond its limits. Scandals abound and our democratic institutions are teetering. The ship is foundering. Leaks and defections are rotting its timbers. Congress whimpers as we sink lower by the day.

 

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#ENOUGH! #NEVER AGAIN!

March For Our Lives, Washington, DC, March 24, 2018

Washington, D.C. and the entire country received a powerful lesson in civics today. Democracy worked. Hundreds of thousands, if not a million, students bonded into an unstoppable movement that is determined to change America.

The passion and the eloquence of the Parkland students was as moving and inspiring as it was astounding. They and the other young speakers at the March for our Lives rally captured the nation and people all over the world. Their tears welled up, remembering friends and siblings who were mowed down. The crowd wept with them. Only someone with a heart of stone could fail to be moved.

They hammered the politicians who support the N.R.A. and also the ones who don’t commit themselves. There was no mention of Democrats or Republicans, though they did single out a Republican senator. The Parkland students pinned price tags of $1.05 to their jackets. That is what they calculated the life of each student in Florida is worth to the Florida government. It’s the amount collected by Sen. Marco Rubio from the N.R.A. divided by the number of students in his state.

David Hogg

“The cold grasp of corruption shackles the District of Columbia,” declared 17-year-old David Hogg. Again and again, the students vowed, “We will vote you out!” threatening retribution at the ballot box for politicians who don’t support a meaningful program of gun control and safety.

Stoneman Douglas survivor Delaney Tarr scoffed at the STOP School Violence and Fix NICS Acts. “We are not here for bread crumbs; we are here for real change,” she said. “We are here to lead, we are here to call out every single politician to force them into enacting this legislation.”

Hogg continued, “They haven’t even gotten started, and we have.” Hogg personifies the audacity and authority of the mantle he and his comrades have assumed. They know they are leading the charge. “We are the future, and we will vote!”

Naomi Wadler

The intelligence and the poise of the students was amazing. Naomi Wadler, an 11-year-old girl, was one of the most polished and eloquent. She said she represented “the African-American girls whose stories don’t make the front page of every national newspaper” and “who are simply statistics.” Responding to a charge that she’s “the tool of an adult,” she avowed that isn’t true. “My friends and I might still be 11, we might still be in elementary school, but we know,” she said. “We know life isn’t equal for everyone and we know what is right and wrong. We also know that we stand in the shadow of the Capitol and we know that we have seven short years until we, too, have the right to vote.”

Trevon Bosely

Invited by the Parkland organizers, students from all over the country streamed to Washington to March for our Lives. They also were survivors of gun violence or had direct connections to the victims. Trevon Bosely, 19, came from Chicago, where his brother was gunned down while leaving church. He looked out at the crowd. We are all a family, he said, a family united in pain, hope and determination to change. “We are survivors not only of gun violence, but of silence,” he said, condemning the apathy of the adults who have done little to stop the violence.

Edna Chavez

The diversity and the unity of the students was as impressive as it was moving. Latina Edna Chavez remonstrated against the demeaning of and violence against her brown and black colleagues and black men shot by the police in South Central Los Angeles. She insisted that armed teachers, metal detectors and transparent backpacks are not the answer. They don’t work, she said.

Bosely deplored the meager resources allotted to his school and neighborhood in Chicago, charging that lack of funding in black communities leads to unemployment and contributes to gun violence.

Stoneman Douglas survivor Jaclyn Corin showed she understood that the violence endured by Chavez and Bosely is a national problem. “We recognize that Parkland received more attention because of its affluence,” she said. “But we share this stage today and forever with those communities who have always stared down the barrel of a gun.”

Samantha Fuentes begins to feel ill

A friend comes to the rescue

Feeling better

Samantha Fuentes, recovered

Samantha Fuentes was wounded at the Parkland school shooting, and her face still bears the scars. Fuentes was midway into her speech when an attack of nerves overcame her and she turned away from the podium to vomit. A black girl came to the white girl’s side to steady and comfort her friend. Fuentes regained her composure, exclaiming, “I just threw up on international television, and it feels great!” and continued her speech smiling and confident, with her friend at her side.

Emma González, crying silently

Emma González and friend, hands clenched

Three Parkland students have become the faces of the movement. David Hogg and Cameron Kasky declared the beginning of a revolution. Emma González began to speak out the day after the shooting. In her speech at the rally, she remembered the 17 victims of the infamous attack. She finished naming them, tears streaming down her face, and grew silent. After a few minutes, the crowd began to chant her name. She remained stony-faced and silent. They quieted down for a few minutes, then attempted another chant, followed by silence and tears. The awkward and uncomfortable silence lasted six minutes, 20 seconds, the time González said the shooter took to terrorize, wound and kill the Stoneman Douglas students. Correction. See @Emma4Change below

I am unspeakably proud of these kids. If they are the future of America, then we are not doomed, as I feared. They have given me hope.

Yolanda Scott

The rally was reminiscent of past movements led by young people. Civil rights, the Viet Nam war, women’s rights, gay rights— movements that snowballed until they succeeded in attaining the change they demanded.

Martin Luther King Jr., whose activism changed the nation forever, was reincarnated in the person of his nine-year-old granddaughter, Yolanda Scott. “My grandfather had a dream,” she said. “I have a dream that enough is enough and that this should be a gun-free world. Period.”

And the President spent the day golfing at his club in Florida.

The signs were left outside the empty White House

Survivor schools bond

Real Quick: my speech today was abt 6 mins & 30 secs, including both my speech and my silence. The fact that people think the silence was 6 minutes… imagine how long it would have felt if it actually was 6 minutes, or how it would feel if you had to hide during that silence

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Trump’s teeny Twitter feed

Trump basks in the adoration of his fans

Donald Trump’s Twitter feed is followed by fewer than 50 million. By comparison, Barack Obama’s followers number over 100 million. What is more interesting is the number of people they themselves follow. Obama follows 634 thousand. Notice that Trump follows 45! Forty-five! Curious to see who these favored few are? Check out the list. There is no one who is not related to Trump’s own business, golf, family or politics. Everyone he follows is related to him in some way. Trump gets no news from outside his small, personal circle.

Summary

6 Golf and golf courses

2  Hotels

1  Business

7  Family and 2 friends

18 Media: 9 Fox News, 9 other

4  White House

5  Politics

 

Golf: Trump Golf; Gary Player, golfer

Trump golf courses

Doral, Miami; Charlotte; Washington, DC; Los Angeles

Trump hotels

Trump Vegas; Trump Chicago

Trump business

Trump Organization

Family and other personal

Tiffany, daughter; Vanessa, daughter-in-law; Lara, daughter-in-law; Melania, wife; Eric, son; Donald Jr, son; Ivanka, daughter

Michael Cohen, personal lawyer; Vince McMahon, billionaire WWE CEO & promoter

Media: TV, Web

Fox News: Tucker Carlson; Jesse Watters; Laura Ingraham; Sean Hannity; Fox Nation; Fox and Friends; Eric Bolling, former host; Bill O’Reilly; Greta Van Susteren, formerly Fox News

Drudge Report; Ann Coulter, conservative pundit; Diamond and Silk; Trump fan club; Katrina Campins, real estate, Fox News, The Apprentice;  Geraldo Rivera, reporter; Mark Burnett, TV; Piers Morgan, TV host; Roma Downey, producer of religious films

White House

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Press Secretary; @WhiteHouse; Dan Scavino, Dir Social Media; Kellyanne Conway, adviser

Politics

Mike Pence, VP; Corey Lewandowski, former campaign manager; Reince Priebus, former chief of staff; Katrina Pierson, Tea Party activist & Trump campaign; Team Trump MAGA

 

 

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The times they are a-changin’

University and high school students march along Amsterdam Avenue at Lincoln Center.

Is Dylan right?

Has the NRA met its match?

Is a Democratic wave coming to wash a majority of gun-loving Republicans out of office?

The answer to these questions may be yes.

On March 14, 2018, two things happened to raise the spirits and the hopes of the majority of Americans. Republicans, who have refused to challenge the Trump administration’s corruption, dishonesty and xenophobia, are beginning to lose ground. They are losing to Democrats in special elections in deep red Trump country. The early morning hours saw a Democrat eking out a victory over his Republican opponent in rural Pennsylvania, in districts that Trump won by 20 points.

Police block traffic, allowing students to return to school

In another upset of the status quo, students across the country marked the one-month anniversary of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting by walking out of their classrooms. Crying #Enough! and #NeverAgain! they are determined to hold politicians to account. The students are resolved to elect candidates who will enact sensible gun laws that will curb the massacre of innocents by wild men with assault rifles. They are committed to use their spending power to support businesses that have ended their financial relationships with the NRA and penalize the ones that haven’t.

Women, emboldened by the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, are joining their peers in ripping off the gag that has silenced them throughout history. They are demanding a reckoning from the men who took advantage of their power to demand sexual favors with impunity. Institutions in every field are responding by exacting retribution for sexual abuse.

Suddenly, 2018 is shaping up to be as disruptive as 1968. The 21st century is waking from the torpor that allowed American democratic ideals to be perverted by autocrats who value lucre and disdain the needs of the vast majority of Americans.

The times, finally they are a-changing.

 

 

 

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More on Trump’s parade

Retired Army Major General Paul D. Eaton reacted on VoteVets.org to the parade being planned by “a wannabe banana republic strongman.”

Donald Trump has continually shown himself to have authoritarian tendencies, and this is just another worrisome example.

For someone who just declared it was “treasonous” to not applaud him, and for someone who has, in the past, admired tactics of everyone from Saddam Hussein to Vladimir Putin, it is clear that a military parade isn’t about saluting the military – it’s about making a display of the military saluting him.

The military is not Donald Trump’s to use and abuse in this way. Our military is the very best in the world – they are not to be reduced to stagecraft to prop up Donald Trump’s image. Any commander in chief who respects the traditions of the military would understand that.

Unfortunately, we do not have a commander in chief, right now, as much as we have a wannabe banana republic strongman.

@realDonaldTrump has blocked @VoteVets, an organization of 500,000 veterans, military families, & supporters.

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