Friday, January 16

ars amatoria, or, i hate the subjunctive

First, I have learned that Ovid was an impressive poet. Second, that Latin is wonderfully capable, with its cases and declensions and whatnot, of complex and nuanced expression. Third, that even for a casual second-year student of Latin, my command of the language is appalling.

If that last changes, I promise that I will write Latin verse, and that it will show up here to receive whatever public ridicule it deserves.

ad astra, or, space travel gives me wood

Meanwhile, President Bush wants the U.S. back in space. There's been a lot of noise about this, for pretty obvious reasons, but as yet I haven't taken the time to get a handle on what's happening. Brent writes:

I am thrilled we're making plans to return to the moon.

Why? Lots of subtle reasons. Space is far more than the "Earth's backyard" that a lot of people seem to think it is. It's not just another place to explore.

As Solomon Short wrote, "Space is not the final frontier. The final frontier is the human soul. Space is merely the place where we are most likely to meet the challenge."

As James Lileks wrote, "Not because it is easy, but because it is hard and expensive and boring and lethal and just might – might – give people something to watch that's more important than Paris Hilton pitching a fit because she chipped a nail."

My attitude towards George W. Bush and his administration skews more towards contempt, suspicion, and disgust than does Brent's. So, unsurprisingly, my secondary reaction was the phrase "dog and pony show" flashing through my brain followed in short order by every bread-and-circuses metaphor I have in stock and a healthy leavening of dark thoughts about defense contractors.

But all that was forced to follow on the heels of an upward leap of the heart and a lot of hopeful expletives in my best giddy-as-a-schoolgirl voice.

There are not a lot of ideas about the human future, the actual no-kidding I-mean-this destiny of humankind, in which I place much faith any more. But I know, with more certainty than anything else I have never touched, that we have to make it out past low orbit, out beyond the places we have already left footprints, out into the darkness and across it and to every world we can reach. Between the certain death of our every meaningful legacy and the expansion into space there is simply no middle ground.

...and I could phrase the central question here as being whether our species and our kin and eventual descendants will live or die, and that might be sufficient justification for my belief that we have to go to the stars. And yet, long term there's damn little choice but to admit that everything dies. So maybe there is room yet for an argument that it's not worth the cost, that how we live is more important than how long, and that the real impact of a successful space program - or the impact of its potential failure - outweighs the gains we would make. Or that humility and simplicity call us to only accept the little piece of the universe we have been given and steward it quietly, making our way with one another as best we can and giving ourselves up to destruction when the time comes.

I think I stopped fearing my own death in any intellectual sense as soon as I realized it was possible to want to commit suicide, or to welcome the end of a life made unbearable by physical pain. The possibility of my own oblivion is a thing I believe that I can accept, something I could welcome. And it's true enough that the human species as a whole is no less doomed than I am - on a long enough time scale, everything living is going to die; whether or not death is the end of being, it is a certainty akin to almost nothing else.

So the question isn't whether we will live, it is only how, and where, and for how long. And I believe that the only answer is as well as possible, on every height we can scale, for as long as we can draw breath. That what we have been given holds more than just this earth. That to die a billion years hence, my footsteps scattered on ten thousand worlds, would be worth it all, but that so would working quietly for a lifetime without every setting foot off-world, or dying tomorrow, in order that some of us would have the chance.

Is this President representing that possibility in any meaningful way? Or is this only a cheap election-year stunt, another bone tossed to some friendly industries, a lower-key version of the international pissing contest that made the first space race a reality? I don't know, but I'm pretty damn sure it matters.