Saluting The Great Adventure

40 years ago tonight, men walked on the moon. I'm too young to have witnessed humanity's greatest adventure, but the event has always inspired me. And, it seems, it inspired a lot of others too. I remember having a big colourful hardback science book as a kid; on the front cover the familiar scientific montage of animals, crystals, volcanoes and waves; but on the back, just a single image: this one.

It's an image that captures the imagination, one that inspires. Intrepid adventurers hovering above a strange barren world, the blue gem of home gleaming in the distance. As a boy, I never knew anyone who wanted to be a train driver or a fireman. We all wanted to be astronauts. I still do, although now I have to concede my best chance is experiencing it vicariously. So what happened to the great space adventure?

Perhaps it was too expensive? The Apollo Project cost $25 billion at 1969 rates, (equivalent to $135 billion today). The Iraq War has so far cost the US Treasury $845 billion, (although one Nobel prize winning economist estimates it's closer to $3 trillion). Put like that, it sounds more like a desperate failure of leadership.

Speaking today the Apollo astronauts spoke of the power of great endeavours, how a mission to Mars had the potential to unite humanity in a common goal. And I wonder, why do we spend so much 'defending' ourselves from nations who could be partners in the greatest adventure in human history? Why do we tolerate the unemployment of countless millions worldwide, when their eager hands could help build it? Oh well, perhaps I'm still just that naive kid, looking up the stars. Dreaming.

The Age of Responsibility

The mark of a great speech is the opportunity it allows each individual listening to decide what it actually meant. And having just watched the rerun of Obama's speech on the late night news, the theme that struck me was "the age of responsibility".

Responsibility to our fellow man, to our communities, our nations and our world.

Bush was elected by a society who wanted the good life, and didn't much care who suffered to provide it. Gordon Brown is currently trying to convince us he can fix the broken system and bring back the feelgood factor. Obama's message is more courageous: the world has changed, and we must change with it.

"Put away your childish things". The west has been living like trust-fund kids, spoiled by unearned wealth, bequeathed by our forebears and perpetuated by our clever accountants. Now it's time to grow up, to see that what gives life meaning is not conspicuous consumption, but honestly making something that endures.

Busy doing nothing

New Scientist has an interesting article on how the social networks of organisations affect how they work. This is a real-world manifestation of a well known social network principle, the static structure of the network (who-knows-whom) affects its dynamics (who-does-what).

The best anecdote is C. Northcote Parkinson's realisation of why suddenly everything had gone quiet when each of his immediate superiors were unexpectedly called away from duty: "There had never been anything to do. We'd just been making work for each other."

It brings to mind the recent Ponzi scams, where money has been shifted around to provide the illusion of growth. The moral: avoid shuffling work around without actually achieving anything.

Don't be a cough martyr

Almost everybody I know (including me) seems to be sniffling. And they're not the sniffles of recreational melancholy, like those induced by an upliftingly sad film. No, these are the one you get from mixing with your fellow citizens in anything other than a spacesuit. The soundtrack of trains is particularly different at this time of year; instead of the clackity-clack of wheel on rail, the dominant sound is the coughity-cough of someone desperately trying to keep their lungs inside their body.

Why are they even travelling? How viruses must love our recession-fearing presentee culture. They shoulda stood in bed. Which is why this excellent ad should be commended. Naturally, the self-appointed Voices of the Bosses have condemned it. But then again, I doubt they get the train into work.

A message worth spreading

It started with a blog posting, now it's an advertising campaign. The slogan: "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life" has an admirable subtlety, after all, no-one over the age of eight likes being told what to think. Did you hear the one about the Evangelical Athiest? Exactly. Much better to nudge people into appreciating the miracle they each carry between their ears, and towards finding fulfillment in peak experiences, rather than bronze-age fairytales.

Which reminds me of my favourite Benjamin Franklin quote: "The Constitution only gives people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself." Now that's a message worth spreading.

Misery Monday, Reframed

The holidays are over, the days are dark, the crowds are coughing, the economy is creaking and the weather is freezing. Welcome to 2009.

A Happy New Year? Not according to the articles I happened to read on the way into work; clearly the public has developed an appetite for pessimism, anxiety and melancholy. Perhaps that's what shifts newspapers these days: the press telling you whilst you've never had it so bad, some people have it worse. Ha, suckers.

Which made it all the more refreshing to stumble across this article by Boris Johnson, former panel-show celebrity and incumbent Mayor of London. It takes very little political talent to tell a miserable audience how tough times are, especially when the Government's recent credit-driven fecklessness has been so obvious. But criticism doesn't solve anything, it takes a more mature and courageous speaker to encourage that same depressed audience into seeing the opportunities that lie beyond the gloom.

The 'psychological trick' Boris refers to is Reframing, and is essentially a technique for positive thinking, the ability to come up with the most positive interpretation of any given situation. If only someone had taught me how to reframe at school, rather than arcane algebra or spooky mumbo-jumbo about Jesus. Fortunately, I can now reframe my regret: it's never too late to learn.

So, despite the cold and the dark and the value of the pound, it's still a privilege to live in such interesting times. Happy New Year.
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