Carl Sagan’s Words Are More Powerful Than Ever

Carl Sagan’s beautiful riff on our “Pale Blue Dot” is an incredible amalgam of science, philosophy and some kind of word jazz, and has inspired more than one video treatment (just search for “pale blue dot” in YouTube and you’ll see what I mean).

Here’s the best treatment I’ve found. I particularly love the momentary image flashing by of Atticus Finch sitting with his daughter Scout on his lap on their front porch just as we hear Sagan’s voice saying “every teacher of morality.”

I still miss Sagan’s sane voice. We need it now more than ever.

Maureen O’Hara

By Don Pelton

As a pre-teen pre-pubescent sprite I was in love with actress Maureen O’Hara. It’s still a mystery to me. Maybe due to the effect of movies in the 1940s, I was in love with lots of things in movie theaters, including the tall brunette usherette at the Saturday matinee, and the Abba Zaba bars sold at the candy counter (oh man, peanut butter and taffy!).

It was probably the same mystery that impelled me to love the movie, “The Quiet Man,” with John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara. I particularly loved the scene where Wayne drags O’Hara by her hair across the beautiful Irish countryside.

The whole fantasy burst for good years later when I eagerly showed my new bride (a mostly Irish lass herself!) this most wonderful of all movies and she laughed and mocked the absurdity of the crucial hair-dragging scene!

Losing that fantasy was all for the good, but now, more than sixty years later, I still feel the faint tug of … Maureen O’Hara.

Screen Siren Maureen O’Hara to Receive an Honorary Oscar


“How Social Media Silences Debate”

According to a new report by Pew Research Center and Rutgers University, social media are not quite the force for progressive change that many of us would wish. It’s perhaps not too surprising after all that, once again, the Internet simply amplifies many of the strongest qualities already dominant in human nature.

The Internet might be a useful tool for activists and organizers, in episodes from the Arab Spring to the Ice Bucket Challenge. But over all, it has diminished rather than enhanced political participation, according to new data.

Social media, like Twitter and Facebook, has the effect of tamping down diversity of opinion and stifling debate about public affairs. It makes people less likely to voice opinions, particularly when they think their views differ from those of their friends, according to a report published Tuesday by researchers at Pew Research Center and Rutgers University.

The researchers also found that those who use social media regularly are more reluctant to express dissenting views in the offline world.

The Internet, it seems, is contributing to the polarization of America, as people surround themselves with people who think like them and hesitate to say anything different. Internet companies magnify the effect, by tweaking their algorithms to show us more content from people who are similar to us.

Read the full article here:
How Social Media Silences Debate

“A Great Leader Doesn’t Just Occupy The Middle Ground”

Here are some tough words about the Obama presidency from Cornell West, who argues persuasively that the fetish for the middle ground in politics often makes for poor leadership.

In the interview Thomas Frank asks West, “What on earth ails the man? Why can’t he fight the Republicans? Why does he need to seek a grand bargain?”

West replies:

“I think Obama, his modus operandi going all the way back to when he was head of the [Harvard] Law Review, first editor of the Law Review and didn’t have a piece in the Law Review. He was chosen because he always occupied the middle ground. He doesn’t realize that a great leader, a statesperson, doesn’t just occupy middle ground. They occupy higher ground or the moral ground or even sometimes the holy ground. But the middle ground is not the place to go if you’re going to show courage and vision. And I think that’s his modus operandi. He always moves to the middle ground. It turned out that historically, this was not a moment for a middle-ground politician. We needed a high-ground statesperson and it’s clear now he’s not the one.”

West also says:

“He posed as a progressive and turned out to be counterfeit. We ended up with a Wall Street presidency, a drone presidency, a national security presidency. The torturers go free. The Wall Street executives go free. The war crimes in the Middle East, especially now in Gaza, the war criminals go free. And yet, you know, he acted as if he was both a progressive and as if he was concerned about the issues of serious injustice and inequality and it turned out that he’s just another neoliberal centrist with a smile and with a nice rhetorical flair. And that’s a very sad moment in the history of the nation because we are—we’re an empire in decline. Our culture is in increasing decay. Our school systems are in deep trouble. Our political system is dysfunctional. Our leaders are more and more bought off with legalized bribery and normalized corruption in Congress and too much of our civil life. You would think that we needed somebody—a Lincoln-like figure who could revive some democratic spirit and democratic possibility.”

Read the full interview here:

Cornel West: “He posed as a progressive and turned out to be counterfeit. We ended up with a Wall Street presidency, a drone presidency”

Youth, Age and Routine

By Don Pelton

One big difference between youth and old age that I’m noticing is my relationship to routine. When I was young I hated routine. I thought it was a trap. Hitchhiking to New York and running out of money was exhilarating in part because it was the total negation of routine.

Now that I’m old and approaching elderly, I enjoy all the little moments that make up my daily routine: getting up and biking on our stationary bikes for 30 minutes, doing some upper body exercises with our TRX straps, cleaning the kitchen, brewing the daily coffee for our afternoon chilled coffee, taking out the trash, feeding the mulch to the garden worms, refilling the bird baths, sweeping the leaves from the deck. Just being here. Now.

There’s a sort of reassurance to all this order that was of no use to me whatsoever when I was young.

When I was young I could find novelty only in grand adventures and dreams of grand adventures.

Now that I’m older and have (I hope) a larger perspective, I see that it’s entirely novel that I exist at all, novel that I continue wake up every day.

Gratitude is something that happens all the time now, not something that happens only on grand occasions.

Speaking possibly only for myself, it seems that in youth the heroic journeys are more outward (in the world) but in old age the journeys are more inward (in the imagination)

Either way, the journey continues …


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