At no point during the speeches could anyone forget that Armstrong lived an extraordinary life.
In the South nave of the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. there is a stained glass panel called the Space Window. The panel is filled with planets and stars, and straight lines meant to suggest the trajectories of space ships. Its color palette -- blue, purple, red and green---was inspired by images from Apollo 11. Stilled in the center of a large red orb at the window's focal point is a sliver of Moon rock. The tiny shard of lunar basalt was gifted to the Cathedral by the crew of Apollo 11 back in 1974, on the fifth anniversary of the first Moon landing. As a piece of public art, the Space Window's function is to commemorate the spiritual and scientific import of America's space program. By lodging this window into our National house of worship, alongside religious and nationalist iconography, we are saying that space exploration is sacred.
Yesterday morning, I visited the National Cathedral to attend a memorial service for space exploration's most exalted figure, Neil Armstrong, the first human being to set foot on another celestial sphere. More than a thousand people poured into the cathedral to celebrate Armstrong, including 24 members of Congress. The Armstrong family sat in front. Nearby, a small-white haired fraternity of illustrious ex-astronauts gathered, including Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins of Apollo 11, and former U.S. Senator John Glenn, the first American to orbit the earth.
The occasion was, on the whole, joyous. This being a memorial service, the speeches all had solemn moments. But at no time was the ceremony sad; at no time could anyone forget that Armstrong lived an extraordinary life.
The service began with a recorded excerpt from John F. Kennedy's fifty-year-old address at Rice University. This was the speech that launched Apollo, the program Kennedy called "the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked." NASA Administrator Charles Bolden followed, reading from a letter written by President Obama to the Armstrong family. "The imprint [Armstrong] left on the surface of the moon," wrote the President, "is matched only by the extraordinary mark he left on ordinary Americans."
Eugene Cernan, the last man to walk on the Moon, spoke of Armstrong's modesty and his humble Midwest upbringing. He described the young Armstrong as a boy so obsessed with flight that he kept a paper route to fund a model airplane collection. Cernan said Armstrong originally wanted to be a designer of aircraft, an aeronautical engineer, but once he tasted flight, his "eyes were ever pointed skyward." Indeed, Armstrong is as iconic a symbol of human flight as any person who ever lived; only 23 others have flown as far from Earth as he did.
An image of the Space Window on the memorial service program.
After a slow, understated performance of 'Fly Me to the Moon' by Diana Krall, the Right Reverend Mariann Edgar Budde delivered a short homily. Budde noted that despite Armstrong's notorious shyness, he knew the inspirational power of his story. He once told a group of students that when he was a kid, no plane had yet flown at supersonic speeds, and there was no space program. Any talk of going to the Moon, Armstrong said, was pure science fiction. But then, in just half his lifetime, everything changed. "Opportunities," Armstrong told the students, "will be available to you that you cannot believe."
Such are the dynamic times we live in: on the evening of Armstrong's death, the writer Jon Alton tweeted, "Watched Armstrong step into [the] Sea of Tranquility with my grandmother, who was born on the frontier with horses and wagons."
The story took on an extra layer of resonance as told by Reverend Budde, whose church only began regularly ordaining women in 1976. In 2012, Budde is a full Bishop, entrusted with memorializing a nearly peerless American hero. She finished her homily by insisting that Armstrong's great inspiration was not "exploration for exploration's sake," but the survival of the planet that we call home. She recalled Armstrong's description of the moment he first saw the Earth from space, his astonishment at its fragility, at the fact that he could blot it out entirely by shutting one eye and putting his thumb in front of it. It was a moment, Armstrong said, that made him feel small.
Toward the service's end, Michael Collins, Apollo 11's command module pilot, read two prayers. He asked the "creator of the universe" to "guide and guard those who seek to fathom its mysteries," especially Neil Armstrong, "who with courage first set foot on the moon." The Navy's "Sea Chanters" joined the Cathedral Choristers for a roaring rendition of America the Beautiful. Finally, Carol Armstrong, the great astronaut's widow, was presented with an American flag, the very banner that flew at half-mast over NASA's Mission Control in Houston on August 25th, the day of Armstrong's passing.
Yesterday's memorial service wasn't Armstrong's last farewell. Today he goes to his final resting place---an undisclosed location at sea---as befits a Navy man whose voyaging drew comparisons to Magellan and Columbus. Armstrong always felt strongly about his time in the Navy. In his memorial speech, Eugene Cernan said that Armstrong was never prouder than when he received his wings of gold, the ceremonial pin that marked him as a Naval aviator. But maybe he had other reasons for choosing a sea burial. Maybe the sea had always made him think of endings, of the final acts of great Odysseys. You can picture him, those 43 years ago, watching the Earth shrink in the window of the lunar module, seeing it hang, a strange moon in the abyss, a goddess robed in life-giving oceans, as blue as any seen before or since. Imagine his relief upon returning to Earth three days later, his landing cushioned by the Pacific Ocean. How good it must have felt to bob and sway in the waves that day, not even a week removed from touchdown in the Sea of Tranquility. It's hard to imagine a sweeter way to go home.
“Here is what I would like for you to know: In America, it is traditional to destroy the black body—it is heritage.”
Last Sunday the host of a popular news show asked me what it meant to lose my body. The host was broadcasting from Washington, D.C., and I was seated in a remote studio on the far west side of Manhattan. A satellite closed the miles between us, but no machinery could close the gap between her world and the world for which I had been summoned to speak. When the host asked me about my body, her face faded from the screen, and was replaced by a scroll of words, written by me earlier that week.
The host read these words for the audience, and when she finished she turned to the subject of my body, although she did not mention it specifically. But by now I am accustomed to intelligent people asking about the condition of my body without realizing the nature of their request. Specifically, the host wished to know why I felt that white America’s progress, or rather the progress of those Americans who believe that they are white, was built on looting and violence. Hearing this, I felt an old and indistinct sadness well up in me. The answer to this question is the record of the believers themselves. The answer is American history.
In 1992, the neuroscientist Richard Davidson got a challenge from the Dalai Lama. By that point, he’d spent his career asking why people respond to, in his words, “life’s slings and arrows” in different ways. Why are some people more resilient than others in the face of tragedy? And is resilience something you can gain through practice?
The Dalai Lama had a different question for Davidson when he visited the Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader at his residence in Dharamsala, India. “He said: ‘You’ve been using the tools of modern neuroscience to study depression, and anxiety, and fear. Why can’t you use those same tools to study kindness and compassion?’ … I did not have a very good answer. I said it was hard.”
A new book by the evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne tackles arguments that the two institutions are compatible.
In May 1988, a 13-year-old girl named Ashley King was admitted to Phoenix Children’s Hospital by court order. She had a tumor on her leg—an osteogenic sarcoma—that, writes Jerry Coyne in his book Faith Versus Fact, was “larger than a basketball,” and was causing her leg to decay while her body started to shut down. Ashley’s Christian Scientist parents, however, refused to allow doctors permission to amputate, and instead moved their daughter to a Christian Science sanatorium, where, in accordance with the tenets of their faith, “there was no medical care, not even pain medication.” Ashley’s mother and father arranged a collective pray-in to help her recover—to no avail. Three weeks later, she died.
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
What is the Islamic State?
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
As the world frets over Greece, a separate crisis looms in China.
This summer has not been calm for the global economy. In Europe, a Greek referendum this Sunday may determine whether the country will remain in the eurozone. In North America, meanwhile, the governor of Puerto Rico claimed last week that the island would be unable to pay off its debts, raising unsettling questions about the health of American municipal bonds.
But the season’s biggest economic crisis may be occurring in Asia, where shares in China’s two major stock exchanges have nosedived in the past three weeks. Since June 12, the Shanghai stock exchange has lost 24 percent of its value, while the damage in the southern city of Shenzhen has been even greater at 30 percent. The tumble has already wiped out more than $2.4 trillion in wealth—a figure roughly 10 times the size of Greece’s economy.
Defining common cultural literacy for an increasingly diverse nation.
Is the culture war over?
That seems an absurd question. This is an age when Confederate monuments still stand; when white-privilege denialism is surging on social media; when legislators and educators in Arizona and Texas propose banning ethnic studies in public schools and assign textbooks euphemizing the slave trade; when fear of Hispanic and Asian immigrants remains strong enough to prevent immigration reform in Congress; when the simple assertion that #BlackLivesMatter cannot be accepted by all but is instead contested petulantly by many non-blacks as divisive, even discriminatory.
And that’s looking only at race. Add gender, guns, gays, and God to the mix and the culture war seems to be raging along quite nicely.
In Sunday’s referendum, voters firmly rejected Europe’s plan to bail out the country’s economy. What’s next?
Updated on July 5, 2015 4:57 pm
On Sunday, Greek citizens took to the polls in a controversial referendum asking them whether they support a plan calling for continued economic austerity in exchange for debt relief. Their answer—with more than 70 percent of the votes counted—was a resounding “no.”The outcome means that next steps for the nation, which has fallen into arrears with the IMF and imposed capital controls to prevent a run on the banks, is largely uncertain. According to reports from Reuters, the country may next attempt to secure financing by asking for more emergency funding from the European Central Bank.
The referendum—which had asked Greeks to vote “yes” or “no” on a proposal from Eurogroup leaders to extend financing to the deeply indebted country— was called for by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras amid meetings of Eurozone leaders trying to come up with a deal to allow the country to avoid default. The call for the referendum effectively ended those discussions.
For centuries, experts have predicted that machines would make workers obsolete. That moment may finally be arriving. Could that be a good thing?
1. Youngstown, U.S.A.
The end of work is still just a futuristic concept for most of the United States, but it is something like a moment in history for Youngstown, Ohio, one its residents can cite with precision: September 19, 1977.
For much of the 20th century, Youngstown’s steel mills delivered such great prosperity that the city was a model of the American dream, boasting a median income and a homeownership rate that were among the nation’s highest. But as manufacturing shifted abroad after World War II, Youngstown steel suffered, and on that gray September afternoon in 1977, Youngstown Sheet and Tube announced the shuttering of its Campbell Works mill. Within five years, the city lost 50,000 jobs and $1.3 billion in manufacturing wages. The effect was so severe that a term was coined to describe the fallout: regional depression.
An attorney who helped players file a gender-discrimination lawsuit over artificial turf in the World Cup proposes a way forward for the sport.
On Sunday, players from the U.S. and Japan’s women’s soccer teams will step onto the field in Vancouver to compete for the sport’s greatest achievement: the World Cup. But perhaps the bigger battle—one that started well before the final match and will continue well after—isn’t about a trophy or national glory. Women’s soccer teams have long fought for recognition and respect not just from the public, but also from the male organizers of the sport, and it’s a struggle symbolized by the very fields they’ve been playing on.
The co-hosts of the World Cup—FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association—failed to stage this year’s tournament to be played on real grass like every other World Cup previously, mandating that it be played on artificial turf instead. This is despite the dangers and inconveniences plastic turf poses. The synthetic pitches bake in the sun, with surface temperatures sometimes reaching 120 degrees. Clouds of rubber pebbles fly into players’ eyes, and the turf makes it difficult for the women to gauge the way the ball will bounce.
Former Senator Jim Webb is the fifth Democrat to enter the race—and by far the most conservative one.
In a different era’s Democratic Party, Jim Webb might be a serious contender for the presidential nomination. He’s a war hero and former Navy secretary, but he has been an outspoken opponent of recent military interventions. He’s a former senator from Virginia, a purple state. He has a strong populist streak, could appeal to working-class white voters, and might even have crossover appeal from his days as a member of the Reagan administration.
In today’s leftward drifting Democratic Party, however, it’s hard to see Webb—who declared his candidacy Thursday—getting very far. As surprising as Bernie Sanders’s rise in the polls has been, he looks more like the Democratic base than Webb does. The Virginian is progressive on a few major issues, including the military and campaign spending, but he’s far to the center or even right on others: He's against affirmative action, supports gun rights, and is a defender of coal. During the George W. Bush administration, Democrats loved to have him as a foil to the White House. It’s hard to imagine the national electorate will cotton to him in the same way. Webb’s statement essentially saying he had no problem with the Confederate battle flag flying in places like the grounds of the South Carolina capitol may have been the final straw. (At 69, he’s also older than Hillary Clinton, whose age has been a topic of debate, though still younger than Bernie Sanders or Joe Biden.)