The first man on the moon dies at age 82

Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the moon, has died at age 82. According to his family, he died of complications from a heart-bypass surgery to unblock four coronary arteries he underwent earlier this month. Already, the tributes to him have begun, with President Obama remarking “Neil Armstrong was a hero not just of his time, but of all time… That legacy will endure — sparked by a man who taught us the power of one small step.”

Mitt Romney said of his passing, “”Neil Armstrong today takes his place in the hall of heroes. The moon will miss its first son of earth.” Neil DeGrasse Tyson tweeted, “No other act of human exploration ever laid a plaque saying, ‘We came in peace for all mankind,'”

Armstrong’s remark upon landing on the moon – “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” – is one of the most well-known phrases in the English language. The Apollo 11 mission which sent Armstrong and fellow astronaut Buzz Aldrin to become the first humans to walk on another world was arguably one of the biggest events of the 20th century. It represented the culmination of America’s efforts to fulfill John F. Kennedy’s pledge to reach the moon by 1969, beating the Soviet Union in the great space race of the 1960s. It also represented a source of unity and pride for an America that had been torn apart by the wholesale social revolutions of the late 1960s, and in particular the dramatic upheavals of the year prior.

For his achievement, Armstrong received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, the Congressional Gold Medal, numerous schools, streets, and even an asteroid named for him, and one of the best dinner conversation subjects ever:

For all of that, however, Armstrong shied away from the limelight and deflected and rejected the accolades heaped upon him. Armstrong often described himself as a “nerdy engineer”, and gave credit for the success of Apollo 11 to the thousands of other engineers, technicians, and workers who helped make the mission possible. He stayed well away from the media, letting his comrade Buzz Aldrin steal the show and make celebrity guest appearances. If he spoke out publicly at all, it was always about America’s space programs. Former NASA spokesman Dave Garrett said of him, “Howard Hughes had nothing on him.”

Armstrong was born in Wapakoneta, Ohio, on August 5, 1930. He was hooked on flying from age 6, when he took his first plane ride; the young Armstrong got his flight certificate before his driver’s licence. He attended Purdue University and received a degree in aeronautical engineering. He served in the Navy as an aviator from 1949 to 1952, and became an experimental research test pilot in 1955. It was here he first achieved notoriety as one of the pilots of the experimental X-15, one of the fastest and highest-flying planes in the world at the time.

Armstrong’s piloting career had a number of near-death experiences. In the Korean War, Armstrong narrowly survived being shot down near Wonsan. As a test pilot, he survived an engine exploding, a landing gear breaking, and a near-crash into a dry lake bed.

He married Janet Elizabeth Shearon in 1956 and had three children with her, but his daughter Karen was diagnosed with cancer in 1961 and died of pneumonia brought on by complications from the cancer in 1962. Armstrong divorced in 1994 and remarried that same year, this time to Carol Held Knight.

1962 was also the year Armstrong applied to become a part of America’s astronaut program. Four years later, he flew as part of the Gemini 8 mission, which was to attempt to dock with an unmanned spacecraft in orbit. While docked, one of the thrusters malfunctioned and the spacecraft began to roll, and when Armstrong undocked the ship its spin increased dramatically. To save the ship, crew, and mission, Armstrong initiated re-entry procedures and made a hurried splashdown landing in the Pacific Ocean. Luckily, everyone survived, and Armstrong was able to make a flight without incident on the Gemini 11.

With all of those close calls, it is a wonder that Armstrong survived to make the Apollo 11 moon landing. Apollo 11 would also be his last spaceflight. In 1970, Armstrong retired and became an aeronautics teacher at the University of Cincinnati, where he taught until 1979. He did not disappear completely from NASA, however; he participated in accident investigations for Apollo 13 and the Challenger disaster.

America will miss one of its great, and most humble, national heroes. His family, on announcing his death, told the press “For those who may ask what they can do to honor Neil, we have a simple request. Honor his example of service, accomplishment and modesty, and the next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink.”

Information from Wikipedia.

Syrian civil war: Is Bashar al-Assad ready to quit? Is the US planning to intervene? Or is it just more of the same?

Syrian Deputy Prime Minister Qadri Jamil spoke to the press in Moscow yesterday, where he said Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad might be willing to resign, but his departure could not be a “precondition” for peace talks.

As the civil war in Syria that has so far claimed at least 1700 lives rages on, remarks by a top Syrian official in Moscow and by President Barack Obama have raised the possibility that the crisis could take a sudden, game-changing turn. Or things might continue as they are with no change.

Syria’s Deputy Prime Minister Qadri Jamil spoke to the press yesterday and claimed that Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad might be willing to resign as part of a peace deal. However, Jamil was also quick to state that Assad’s resignation could not be a “precondition” to talks, as Syria’s rebels and many Western leaders have long demanded. “On the negotiating table,” Jamil said, “there are no obstacles to addressing any issue brought forward by any of the parties. Even this subject can be looked into. But Assad’s resignation before the start of intra-Syrian national dialogue is undemocratic.”

One BBC reporter interpreted this to mean that if Assad resigns, it will be with conditions attached. These remarks were swiftly criticized by the Syrian opposition, one of whose leaders, Burhan Ghalyoun, told the press: “What kind of negotiation? We have been expecting his departure for a long time. We are not going to negotiate. He must go, and that’s it.”

Bashar al-Assad has been clinging by his fingernails to power since March of last year, in spite of the popularity of the rebellion, the defections of some of his top supporters, and the assassination of his key military leaders. And although the chorus of voices calling for his ouster is very loud indeed, a reporter for The Independent risking his life to see inside Syria found that Assad still has support among some of the people there. Up to this point, it looked very much like Assad would attempt to fight until the very end. The fact that his resignation is even being suggested by his camp might indicate just how weak and alone Assad feels, and how quickly what power he has is slipping away from him.

What Assad does still have up his sleeve, should he choose to use it, is a stockpile of chemical weapons. So far, his regime has promised not to use these weapons, but as he grows more desperate it is unclear if the temptation to use them might grow.

Which is exactly what prompted a warning from President Obama yesterday, who said “We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is [if] we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus.”

Is the United States threatening to intervene in Syria if Assad uses his chemical weapons? It certainly sounds like it. And Chinese state media agency Xinhua certainly seems to think so, warning in an editorial that the remarks were “dangerous and irresponsible” and could make the situation in Syria worse. “Once again, Western powers are digging deep for excuses to intervene militarily,” Xinhua claimed.

Then again, some have criticized the president of not going far enough with his remarks. “I don’t like his formulation at all. It inadvertently tells the Syrians they can get away with anything but chemical weapons,” argued Robert Satloff of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, who worried that Assad may feel free to step up military repression and massacres of civilians so long as he doesn’t cross that “red line”.

Unlike in Libya, the United States has so far pursued a policy of not intervening militarily in the Syrian conflict, instead imposing sanctions on Assad’s regime, providing non-military aid to the rebels (such as communications equipment, medical aid, and the like), and backing a UN-proposed ceasefire plan that ultimately failed due to disagreements over terms between the Western powers and Russia and to the seeming unwillingness of either side in Syria to actually abide by any agreement.

Is the United States preparing to intervene in Syria? Is Assad preparing to step down? Possibly. However, it is also possible that all of this talk will turn out to be just that – talk. Just as talk about a ceasefire in Syria didn’t change the situation on the ground, so too the remarks by Jamil and President Obama have yet to effect any of the fighting in Syria. For now, the fighting will continue as if nothing had happened at all.

Information from BBC News and other sources.

San Luis Obispo County Elections face a lack of candidates

As deadlines pass for candidates to file their paperwork to get on local ballots, San Luis Obispo County seems likely to have several uncontested elections and a few blank ballots. As of press time, 41 local elections will see unopposed candidates, including four mayoral and two city council races, and seven races have no candidates at all.

When the deadline passed to register as a candidate for mayor or city council member Monday, Arroyo Grade Mayor Tony Ferrara and city council members Jim Guthrie and Caren Ray stood alone on their ballots, as did Paso Robles Mayor Duane Picanco, Pismo Beach Mayor Shelly Higginbotham, and Tom O’Malley, an Astascadero city councilmember who seeks to be that city’s new mayor. Unless a popular write-in candidate emerges, these six candidates will be guaranteed their seats in November.

According to The Tribune, Picano didn’t care that he was unopposed, and pledged to campaign anyway. However, most of these candidates said they appreciated having what Ferrara called “breathing room”.

Other races that will see no opposition include those for the county Board of Education, various local school boards, community service district councils in places like Avila Beach, California Valley, Los Osos, Oceano, San Simeon, and others, and more minor local offices like Fire Services Director, Sanitary District Director, and so on.

But at least these offices have somebody who will take office. As of press time, the following races had no candidates whatsoever, leaving the possibility that they will be left vacant come November: one of the seats on the Shandon Unified School District’s board, one of the vacancies in the California Valley Community Services District, both vacant seats in the Linne Community Services District, the vacancy in the Squire Cannon Community Services District, the vacant seat in the Santa Maragrita Fire Protection District, and one of the vacancies in the Cambria Community Healthcare District. According to Juile Rodewald, the county’s clerk-recorder, if these seats are not filled then somebody will be appointed to fill the seat – by the other members of the school board in Shandon’s case, and by the county’s Board of Supervisors in the other cases.

Though San Luis Obispo County is a small county, The Tribune notes that this is the lowest turnout for candidates in many years. It is unclear why this is the case – it may simply be “a fluke”, as The Tribune suggests, or perhaps there is less interest in politics this election year than most years. Whatever the reason, it will make for some rather uneventful local elections.

The deadline to file for some races have been extended through today. For more information, you can visit the County Clerk-Recorder’s Office website.

Recent Events That Made Me Realize I’m an Adult Now

Sorry about the delay in getting this post out… I’ve been rather busy lately. For those of you who have been waiting for more news stories (it has been a while, hasn’t it?), rest assured I’m getting started on one, and I hope to have it up next week, fingers crossed!

In the meantime, I’m going to tell you something that will shock you and blow your mind: I am an adult now! Well, okay, that isn’t really a revelation at all. I just turned 25, after all. But until recently, it hadn’t sunk in for me that I’m now an adult.

I guess as a child, I always saw my elders as “adults” and myself as a “kid”. Even though I knew, rationally, that I’d be a legal adult after I turned 18, I didn’t undergo a sudden mental shift on my 18th birthday, I was still just me. So I just kept right on thinking of myself as a “kid” all through college, and even for some time after I graduated. But even though I still don’t feel any different, there have been some recent events that have made me realize that yes, I am now an adult and no longer a kid.

I figured I’d share these events with you, in no particular chronological order, because frankly, many of these things made me feel a bit too chronological already.

Toys from my childhood are now in antique shops

Third grade. I was this guy for Halloween.

So, I went up to Cayucos one day to enjoy the sunshine, the beach, and the various antique shops that line the town’s main stretch. I have always liked antique shops, they are always filled with fascinating stuff from days gone by. But now, I think I might revise my previous love of those establishments.

As I went from room to room and admired the china, tools, typewriters, and collectible shot-glasses, I made an unpleasant discovery. I found an area filled with action figures and other toys. These weren’t just any action figures or toys, by the way. They were toys I remembered from my childhood. I used to own them. Indeed, my brother, who inherited most of my toys after I grew out of them, still had some of them. And they were for sale. In an antique store. My childhood memories were now a collectible memento of days gone by. Boy, that made me feel old.

But not as old as this next discovery…

There are people alive today who have never seen a floppy disk or video game cartridge

Remember these? I do. When I was growing up, if you wanted to back up files from your computer, you did so on floppy disks, like this one, that could store about a megabyte or so. Actually, they were originally far larger and were actually floppy, but by the time I was born we started to move to smaller, hard-cased “floppies” like this one. In my house, we kept cases of the things in our designated “computer room”, and we would by blank ones from RiteAid all the time. I still have a few on my desk right now as I’m typing this, storing old Word files and some MS-DOS games with terrible graphics. I can’t use them of course, my floppy disk adapter was meant for a computer far older than my current one.

I also remember, as a child, playing Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt on the old NES, and having a grand old time at it, too. Unless the game froze, and you had to pull out the cartridge and blow the dust out of the bottom. Yeah, games used to be stored on physical plastic cartridges that you bought at a store and plugged into the top of a machine. None of this storing games or computer files on CDs, and indeed now even those are going the way of the dodo as everything migrates to digital downloading and “the cloud”. Kids these days have no idea what that picture on the “Save” button even means any more.

It’s an H? With a weird, creepy mouth and a bucktooth?

Now, didn’t that little rant sound just like an old grandpa telling the young ‘uns about “the good old days”? Yes, yes it did. And that makes me feel old.

But at least that’s one I kind of have to think about. However, there was a recent event that made me realize that I’m now an adult that came flying right out of nowhere.

Shopping at Target

Yes, shopping at Target is one of the events that made me realize my age. And boy, it was unexpected.

See, here on the Central Coast we didn’t have a Target until just last year, when a new one opened in San Luis Obispo. After it opened, I went down one day with my dad to check it out. As we wandered the aisles, I remarked about how I liked the decor. Then I noticed something about the pictures on the walls. You know how stores always have big posters of pretty-looking people sporting the products they sell? Well, I realized there was a recurring pattern in all of them. All of the models were about my age, or maybe just a little older.

In an advertising class in college, I learned that pictures in advertisements are never an accident. These images proved I am in Target’s target demographic. They are trying to appeal to people my age.

That realization wasn’t what made me feel old, though: what made me feel old was that many of the people in the ads were shown with small children, implying that they were the parents of said children. Then, I reflected on the fact that some people I know from high school, college, and my job who are about my age or a little younger are already married with children. I then realized, I am old enough to be a parent myself! I am an adult!

But that can’t be right. I only graduated high school six years ago. I’m still young and hip! Aren’t I?

I have no idea what the “cool kids” are into

Right, guys? Guys?

Yeah, um, no. No I am not young and hip. In fact, I am old enough now that if I tried to hang out with high school students, it would look creepy and someone would probably call the cops.

Remember when I did a news story about my old high school? That was the eeriest feeling. The memories of the place felt fresh, I remembered all the buildings and even where my old locker was. Yet at the same time, I felt really out of place. In my brain, high school was “that place I used to go”. I knew I didn’t belong here anymore.

While I was there, I saw some of the students wandering around, doing their thing. And even though only six years separated us, I realized I had no idea what music they listened to, what clothes were “in” and “out” of fashion with them, what slang terms they used, what they watched on TV, or even where they hung out after class. I could remember what me and my peers were into during our high school years, but this new batch of students might as well have come from another planet for all I knew about their lives. I have become… *gasp* … a grown-up.

And being a grown-up means I now have grown-up concerns that these kids are several years away from even considering, like…

I am now old enough to worry about life insurance (apparently)

So, I was watching the Super Bowl, and this commercial aired:

Now, I know Snoopy and friends have been MetLife’s mascots for years. But this ad takes things to a whole new level. I’m seeing Casper, Scooby Doo, JabberJaw, Richie Rich, Voltron… many of the cartoons I grew up with on Saturday mornings. With just the visuals, it looks like it’s just a big old cartoon get-together, but you add in what the announcer is saying, and you realize that all of these cartoon characters are here because they are “retired”, or some such, and getting ready to “plan for what’s next”. They are there to meet with a MetLife agent.

The implied message? “Hey, twenty-something who is just starting out in life. It’s time for you to start thinking about long-term plans like life insurance, because this is stuff you’ve got to prepare for early before time slips you by and it gets harder. You don’t want leave your spouse and kids hanging if, heaven forbid, you have an accident or something, do you?”

“Should have listened to He-Man and called MetLife.”

But you know, I don’t want you to think I’m all depressed that I have discovered the implications of my age. Even though sometimes I feel old, in the net sum, I am actually happy and excited to be an adult now. Why? Because adulthood comes with freedoms that you never really get to experience as a “kid”. Freedoms like…

Going to see a movie with my friend on a whim

Remember my review of The Amazing Spider-Man? That blog post happened literally on a whim. I knew the movie was coming out, I knew a buddy of mine who was into Spider-Man, and I figured I’d call him up and asked if he wanted to go see it with me. He said “sure”. And like that, I was at his apartment, picking him up, and we drove to the theater with some money I withdrew from an ATM and bought tickets, popcorn, snacks, and drinks. Almost no planning, just that simple.

That, more than anything else, made me feel like an adult. To have the freedom to make my own choices and do what I want. Sure, that freedom comes with plenty of responsibilities. But it is still far more freedom than a “kid” knows, with his or her every action constrained by rules set by parents and schools. Now, I’m the authority figure kids look up to for approval.

To me, that freedom is what adulthood is all about. So I’ll accept that I’m no longer in touch with high schoolers, that I remember technologies kids today know nothing about, and that toys from my childhood are now considered antiques. I will let department stores and life insurance companies pander to me. To me, it’s all worth it.