Sunday, February 3, 2008

Across the Universe ...
... from a Pale Blue Dot

Major premiss:

Sexual intercourse began
In nineteen sixty-three
(Which was rather late for me)—

Between the end of the Chatterley ban
And the Beatles’ first LP.
Phil Larkin about).

Minor premiss:
“If you remember the Sixties, you weren’t really there” (Anon., but claimed by many).

Which gives us three separate phases for the decade (and Malcolm was there, didn't inhale and does remember). Malcolm reckons the divisors (rather than the naughty Lady C and Parlophone PCS 3042) are:
  • when the Stones moved away from R&B (early '64?) and
  • the emergence of psychedelia (say Country Joe McDonald and the Fish, around '67).

Look, says our Guide, Philosopher and Friend, early Beatles was music for dancing round your handbag (it got better, but not much). Real lads started by stiffening their arteries on the Stones, before going onto the real hard stuff.

On which note, Malcolm draws on Slugger O'Toole for news that:
On the 50th anniversary of its founding, NASA, in their wisdom, have decided to transmit The Beatles’ 1968 song “Across the Universe”.. across the universe. Or, at least, towards the North Star, Polaris.
Malcolm would observe that the Little Green Men of Alpha Ursae Minoris may already have collected our earlier package: the (in)famous and epicene Voyager Golden Record.

This was to be a time-capsule from Earth, for any passing life-form:
a phonograph record -- a 12-inch gold-plated copper disk containing sounds and images selected to portray the diversity of life and culture on Earth. The contents of the record were selected for NASA by a committee chaired by Carl Sagan of Cornell University, et. al. Dr. Sagan and his associates assembled 115 images and a variety of natural sounds, such as those made by surf, wind and thunder, birds, whales, and other animals. To this they added musical selections from different cultures and eras, and spoken greetings from Earth-people in fifty-five languages, and printed messages from President Carter and U.N. Secretary General Waldheim.
To the credit of EMI, the Beatles did not get on board: Carl Sagan (the Butt-Head Astronomer himself) wanted Here Comes the Sun from Abbey Road, but couldn’t crack the copyright. Chuck Berry (Johnny B. Goode), Louis Armstrong and the Hot Seven (Melancholy Blues) and Blind Willie Johnson did make it to spacial immortality. Malcolm sees that as three out of three; so it can’t be bad.

Not to be totally unfair to Sagan, he did gave us Pale Blue Dot.

Sagan arranged for Voyager 1, on Valentine's Day, 1990, to turn its camera on Earth for one last view. It provided one of the most emotive images of space exploration. Of it Sagan wrote:
We succeeded in taking that picture [from deep space], and, if you look at it, you see a dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever lived, lived out their lives. The aggregate of all our joys and sufferings, thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilizations, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every hopeful child, every mother and father, every inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every superstar, every supreme leader, every saint and sinner in the history of our species, lived there on a mote of dust, suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors, so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcelydistinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light.
There is a straight-forward clip, Pale Blue Dot, on YouTube. Far better, in Malcolm's view, is a short film by David Fu, using the same text and title. It's 5½ minutes (plus credits) of essential poetry and viewing for all, for exponents of realpolitik, and fundamentalists, young-earthers and similar fabulists alike. In viewing it, Malcolm notes that the “corrupt politician” seems to share an alter-ego with both JFK and President Josiah Bartlet, which says something about the ambiguity of the human condition. Sphere: Related Content

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