Discovering Pluto, ancient civilizations, Amy, and a rodeo
by Rob Tiller
The well-named New Horizons space craft completed its three million mile, nine-year journey from Earth to Pluto this week. I enjoyed seeing the close-ups of the dwarf planet, and the smiling faces of the New Horizons NASA team. Asked to explain the value of the achievement, the scientists hemmed and harumphed a bit, but Stephen Hawking stated its raison well: “We explore because we are human, and we want to know.”
Speaking of exploring, I’ve been learning about ancient civilizations, including Mesopotamia, China, India, Greece, and Rome. Through the audio book service Audible.com, I purchased one of the Great Courses, a series of lectures by Gregory Aldrete titled History of the Ancient World: A Global Perspective. Aldrete does a really good job at bringing out the big currents of the first six thousand years or so of human urban culture. He’s helped me understand the relations of the major civilization as a temporal matter and in their major elements of technology, government, art, warfare, and religion. I’ve been filling in various gaps, like understanding the relationship of Alexander and the Greeks, and the relationship of the Han dynasty and the Roman empire (same time period). I’ve been listening to the book while working out at the gym, and getting a good mental work out in the process.
We saw Amy, the new documentary about Amy Winehouse, last week. I recommend it. I wasn’t ever a big fan of her music, but I could see that there was something original and fearless about her. The documentary has a lot of home movie type footage that is surprisingly revealing, but it doesn’t preach and leaves things open to interpretation. Here’s my interpretation: she had some serious emotional/psychological problems, including depression and bulimia, and not much of a support system. She didn’t really seek fame, and wasn’t prepared for it, and didn’t have much help managing it. I view her drinking and drugging as a kind of unsuccessful self-medication, which was dangerous and ultimately fatal.
We went out to Carousel Farms on Tuesday evening with some Red Hat colleagues to see the local rodeo. There were hamburgers (veggieburgers for us) and cookies. The main events were barrel racing (young women on horses on a timed course with tight turns around three barrels) and bull riding (stay on the bull at least 8 seconds and don’t get killed when you get thrown off). It was fun to see the talented, courageous young people and get a taste of country life, but I had very mixed feelings about the bull riding.
For one, it seems cruel to the animals. For two, the risks to the riders are just too great. On almost every ride, they fall near the feet of the powerful bull as it’s kicking. We saw one young man badly kicked this way who had to be carried off on a backboard to an ambulance. Hope he’ll be OK.