Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Space invader

Ever read a column that makes you want to race to the computer and type out a letter that begins with something along the lines of "Dear Idiot"?

Me too.

The column of the week in this category is from Bret Stephens of the Wall Streeet Journal. You can find it here. Go ahead, I'll wait.

Stephens gets off to a bad start here when he says the only people that will know Michael Jackson in a hundred years are "five or six cultural anthropologists and, possibly, a medical historian." Apparently Stephens has been reading Mary Kunz Goldman, since she expressed a very similar thought a while ago. (Note: Mary is no idiot and expresses her views much better than Stephens does.) As I wrote before, we'll probably be listening to Michael Jackson in 2109 because we can. If we had the technology to listen to Bach play his own work today, we would.

And later on, Stephens has a line about "uninteresting, detestable, loud or unaccomplished people: Paris Hilton, Princess Di, Keith Olbermann, Michael Jackson." I'm with him on Paris Hilton being uninteresting, but he should have stopped there. Princess Diana was placed in an impossible situation that you could argue eventually led to her death, but certainly used her platform to do important work concerning AIDS and land mines worldwide. Olbermann may come on a little too strong lately, but there's little doubt that he's smart and a first-rate communicator. Jackson probably is at least on the list of top five musical performers in the 20th century; he's another who never had a chance to live a "normal" life.

The main point of the column, though, deals with the concept of American celebrity. Stephens argues that Armstrong is the type of hero we should celebrate. Armstrong did his assigned job with Apollo and did it well. Then he faded out of the picture, turning up at the odd speech or public event but generally becoming something of a recluse.

Sure, it's nice that Armstrong isn't doing Viagra endorsements to earn spare change. A little dignity in our culture is always appreciated. But a happy medium between that and a disappearing act might have been welcome.

The space race essentially ended when Armstrong set foot on the moon, and so did much of the public's enthusiasm (which translates to funding of NASA by Congress). While I don't think Armstrong should be doing a lifetime of meet-and-greets, my perception is that he could have done more to keep the spirit burning a little brighter.

But that's not just my opinion. I first read it in Gordon Cooper's book. Cooper was the last of the Mercury astronauts to go into space. Cooper said John Glenn would have been a great choice to be the first man on the moon. Glenn, Cooper argued, would have been great at keeping us looking at the stars every so often.

I've been reading the Wall Street Journal regularly for more than a year now, and it does an excellent job on the news. I've yet, though, to find a columnist besides Peggy Noonan that is worth reading on a regular basis. As you may have guessed, Stephens missed the cut.

1 comment:

Glenn Locke, The Tall Thin Guy said...

You are correct for certain on these two points: Stephens is an idiot, and that is giving him the benefit of the doubt, and that he is typical of the nutjobs who write for the WSJ's op-ed page. When they gave the criminal Karl Rove a column, I had had enough, and now read it for free instead of paying for it. I will not have my money go to finance evil.
Oh, you are also correct that otherwise it is an excellent paper.