Hot Buttered Death
the southern white crap that talks back
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Sunday, February 02, 2003  

I was at the cinema today, going to see Far From Heaven so I could review it on the show this week. That was at Cinema Paris in the Fox Studios complex. The film came out about quarter past three and Bowling For Columbine was screening at four, so I decided I would finally see that. Since there was time to spare, I went out for a bit of a wander and found myself at the newsagent/bookshop place (King's Comics have closed down their shop there so there weren't many other places worth looking at)> Inside, I saw there were new editions of the Sunday papers.

This was the lead story.

I literally didn't take it in at first. I just saw a picture of the space shuttle launching and the words SPACE SHUTTLE EXPLODES in huge capitals next to it. I was confused, actually, cos at first I thought they'd done something on the Challenger anniversary, which was last week. But in that case why didn't they have it in the paper we got this morning...

I looked closer at the date on the paper. February 2 2003. Then I saw the word "Columbia".

I continued to wander about the bookshop. I bought myself a book. And finally it sank in, and suddenly I realised my desire to watch a documentary about people killing each other had vanished entirely to be replaced with a feeling like nausea.

I've been slow on the mark with this one. This all happened at about 2am our time and I didn't discover until about thirteen hours later. I was still up at 2am. Then again I didn't have the TV (well I had the TV on but I was watching the old Countdown repeats on the ABC) or radio on, wasn't online, and we must've got the earlier editions of the papers this morning too. Had I not gone into the bookshop I wouldn't have discovered it for two or three hours more. Others around the blogosphere have been a bit quicker off the bat than me.

Adam says:

Time between the first reports of the Space Shuttle tragedy and the first idiotic suggestion of terrorism? Under half an hour.
I'd like an explanation from any conspiracy theorists on how you can destroy something travelling at 25x the speed of sound, thousands of feet above the earth.

That was one of the first things I thought of once it actually sunk in. How long would it take for someone to call it terrorism? Obviously not very long. Not that our friends in Iraq are complaining, of course.

Graham Freeman says:

There are days where you think "what the hell else can happen now", only for Fate to respond "how about this, then?".

Michael Jennings has dyed his blog black.

Mathew Bates wonders where NASA goes from here.

Lynn Sislo reconsiders her choice of music.

Not all the coverage has been particularly commendable. The twits at Little Green Footballs are clearly unable to leave politics out of anything. Way to go, kids, seven people have just died an appalling death and the best thing you can do is to call Jacques Chirac a whore for saying he understands your grief. That really adds something to our understanding of the situation.

Tim Dunlop is unimpressed by Instareynolds' coverage, meanwhile. The instant one has been wordy enough in his reportage, but unable to resist subtle jabs like this:

It's a big deal in India, but not in France... Hmm. That's representative, too.

And he had this little prediction too:

Prediction: This won't traumatize people the way Challenger did because (1) it's not the first time; and (2) we're at war now, and people's calculations of such things -- especially post-WTC -- are different.

So the tragic nature of events varies according to when they happen, apparently. Elsewhere he had this to say:

THIS is a tragedy, too. What makes the Columbia's loss more striking than the deaths of train passengers is that space exploration is forward-looking, not just part of ordinary life, and such a loss is a setback to something important, and noble. It's not that astronauts' lives are worth more than those of anyone else; it's what they do, and what it stands for.

So not only does the tragic nature of an event like this depend upon when it occurs, there is also a hierarchy of importance too. Wow, thanks Glenn, I'd never have guessed the deaths of 34 people in a train accident should be considered less tragic than the deaths of seven people in a space shuttle if you hadn't enlightened me.

Fortunately the appropriate has outweighed the inappropriate, as it should at a time like this. Jason Soon posts the words of Ayn Rand on Apollo 11. An excerpt:

The meaning of the sight lay in the fact that when those dark red wings of fire flared open, one knew that one was not looking at a normal occurrence, but at a cataclysm which, if unleashed by nature, would have wiped man out of existence — and one knew also that this cataclysm was planned, unleashed, and controlled by man, that this unimaginable power was ruled by his power and, obediently serving his purpose, was making way for a slender, rising craft. One knew that this spectacle was not the product of inanimate nature, like some aurora borealis, or of chance, or of luck, that it was unmistakably human — with “human,” for once, meaning grandeur — that a purpose and a long, sustained, disciplined effort had gone to achieve this series of moments, and that man was succeeding, succeeding, succeeding! For once, if only for seven minutes, the worst among those who saw it had to feel — not “How small is man by the side of the Grand Canyon!” — but “How great is man and how safe is nature when he conquers it!”

Though Rand and I have never traditionally got on, that strikes me as not a bad tribute. Someone on the Mojo4music boards also found a couple of lines from Shakespeare which struck me as appropriate under the circumstances:

For God's sake let us sit upon the ground
And tell sad stories of the deaths of kings

The original context (Richard II Act 3 Scene 2 lines 159-160) is entirely different, of course, but on their own I must say they struck me as just right for the occasion somehow.

To end, here is a picture of the shuttle taking off on its first flight back in 1981. Remember it that way.

The world gets a little more fucked with the passing of every day, doesn't it.

posted by James Russell | 8:22 PM

what the critics have said