Venera and Viking


They say Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus. But one could also say that Soviets are from Venus and Americans are from Mars. The Soviets and the Americans divided the solar system between them during those tense decades. How or why the Soviets chose Venus and the Americans Mars seems to be a mystery.

In 1970, after 6 prior missions to orbit Venus,  the Soviets made their first attempt at landing on Venus with Venera 7, which ended in failure. In 1975 their third lander, Venera 9 settled onto the surface of Venus. For 53 minutes the 3,400 pound spacecraft took rudimentary imagery and atmospheric measurements, then quickly burned to a crisp. While Venus has a similar gravity to earth, it’s atmosphere is hellish. Earth’s atmosphere is 15 psi, while Venus’s is 1,300. It’s surface temperature is 850 degrees Fahrenheit. Yet the spacecraft functioned as intended. The Soviets deserve respect in that they chose the more hostile planet to explore. Mars is a much easier planet to land and operate a spacecraft upon.



And so the Americans meanwhile sent the Viking landers to Mars. As had become routine by then, ( with the major exception of the moon landings ) the Americans were not first in attempt, but they had fewer failures. The Soviets had already launched 3 missions to Venus by the time they had their first successful landing. The Americans were successful on the first attempt. 

Mars is extraordinarily different from Venus. The gravity is a third of Earths, the atmosphere is 0.09 psi, yet the temperatures are recognizable. 40 degrees Fahrenheit during the day but dropping to -150 at night.

VIKING 1, 1975 AUGUST 20

VIKING 1, 1975 AUGUST 20

These two images are the first from the surface of other planets, and they were taken mere months apart. How did such antagonistic world powers so cleanly divide the universe between them? Did the Soviets choose Venus to claim ownership of the subversive feminist? Did the Americans choose Mars because they wished to claim the warrior god as their idol? While the world lived in terror during the cold war, the competition between the two powers resulted in feats of epic natures, explorations in many respects still set as unbroken milestones.

Washington state capitol

 ( I wrote this two years ago and didn't publish it for some reason. But rereading it I like it and so here it is )

In Olympia we visited the grand old capitol, built in 1928. The dome is the 4th tallest in the world built solely out of masonry! The three bigger domes are all European cathedrals. The US capitol dome, which is larger, has steel supports. I'm not sure why they chose to build it using such ancient methods. 


In 1928 this building must have allowed the state legislators to feel very important. Only one year later the economy crashed and then perhaps they might have felt like they overspent on their grand classical monument to ancient values.


The cast bronze doors feature facades of frontier life.

The chandeliers and decorative lighting is by Tiffany.

I've heard some talk about how the US is no longer building grand monuments to itself, such as the Saint Louis arch or the Washington Monument. Nothing as extravagant as the Washington Capitol could be built today by a public institution. There is something oddly aristocratic about this building, built to house a democratically elected legislature. And they would have looked very much like a modern day Roman senate, the rotunda full of middle aged men, wearing not white togas but black business suits of an English cut.


In the lobby is a statue of Marcus Whitman. He was a mountain man missionary and one of the first to come to the northwest on the Oregon trail, in 1836. He settled near Walla Walla and began his attempts to convert the Cayuse native americans to Christianity. In 1847 a measles epidemic killed every single Cayuse child, and half the adults. The tribe saw that the white people were much  less affected by the disease, and blamed them. On November 29th the Cayuse killed Whitman and 14 others in their homes, destroyed their houses, and took 53 women and children hostage. 

This entryway statue, the first sight of legislators arriving in the morning, would perhaps fill them with a sense of righteous purpose, forging a white mans land in this primitive but fertile backwater.

My 10 favorite lyrical songs at the moment

In June I went to Washington DC to watch Wagner's ring cycle. An epic opera about the downfall of the Gods, the nature of conflict and the various aspects of Love. It was a very well chosen time for them to put on the Opera as it was just a few months before the election. I love classical music, but I find myself listening to it less and less. And certainly there is no one currently composing classical music of any importance, except for movie scores. I think we can all agree that John Williams doesn’t hold a candle to The Beatles. Phillip Glass is an exception, and I’ll get to that when I write a corollary post about “Ambient” music. Rock and roll and other types of music such as noise rock and hippie music are like the spontaneous songs of farmers, blue collar workers, and unemployed anarchists. Classical music is or was the music of aristocracy, religion, and royalty, and in the case of movies, nationalistic propoganda. It represents elitism whereas rock and roll is the passionate voice of free people. Rock and roll is what moves me the most, not withstanding Beethoven's 9th, among a few others. The best rock and roll is poetic song on the order of Ginsburg and Whitman. 

As a side note, many of these songs lack a chorus or repetitive lyrics. I love when a good song does that. When there is a chorus, such as in So Far Away From Me, it’s to reinforce a deep truth.

Here are the top ten songs I am currently listening to, in no particular order.

World War II (Pt. 2) by Wax Fang, 2007
This is about the folly of war, and also a phenomenal interpretation of post 9/11 political and military actions. The band is composed of two people, but you would never guess that from their huge sound.

Holland 1945 by Neutral Milk Hotel, 1998
A song about Anne Frank. It takes some sort of deep buddhist insight to write a song with hope and energy about the Holocaust.

The Shadow by Baskery, 2014
I have my guess as to what this shadow they speak of is, but I do not think they are referring to God. “In Moscow skateboard parks kids practice in the dark soundtracks a distant bark, ball bearings purring endlessly the melodies out there flow through the atmosphere we sing along and share for all the common goals"

1979 by New Shack, 2016
This is a cover of the Smashing Pumpkins song. I love the Smashing Pumpkins but I think this cover is better. So calm and soothing. The song is about a young man coming to terms with a confusing world, which is what Billy Corgan has been doing. He’s doing the strangest things now, and unfortunately still seems confused. This song is like a Christian reinterpretation of a pagan ballad.

Wait by M83, 2011
I love M83 although some of their songs are embarrassing. However Anthony Gonzalez creates with emotion, which often comes across as infantile and naive. It’s hard for me to pick my favorite song of theirs but this one is different in that it is not rave music.

Out of my system by My Morning Jacket, 2011
This song speaks to me. I was a rebellious and confused young man. As I get older and understand how things work, I feel more of a common bond with my neighbors and friends.

So Far Away by Dire Straights, 1985
My sister introduced me to Dire Straights. She listened to this album on a road trip she took around the US when she was 18. Now she lives literally on the other side of the world from me. But the song is not necessarily about physical distance, but to me speaks to the difficulty we have in understanding other people who are different from us, say Man and Woman, or Republican and Democrat.

The Purple Bottle by Animal Collective, 2005
Animal Collective is a very unpredictable band, experimental you could say. This is my favorite song of theirs. A young confused man, trying to tap into his animal spirit while also thinking about his confusion.

Half Asleep by School of Seven Bells, 2009
This song could be sung in a Buddhist temple.

Monza by Hans Joachim Roedelius, ~ 1970
This song for me represents the transformation of Germany from Nazi to divided nation and now to a peaceful and wonderful place for unions and productive pursuits.
The song is in German so here are the lyrics in english:

Haha! Must sing together, yes!
Always up and down
Once on it and once underneath
Always back and forth
Cross and across, sometimes light, sometimes hard
Always up and down
Once on it and once underneath
Always back and forth
Cross and across, sometimes easy, sometimes hard
Hello Hello! Huhu!

George Middle School and the CBWTPSF

As a summer field trip, and to get out of our south Portland box, me and Todd drove up north to take in the food carts and the architecture. We stopped for lunch at the excellent soul food lot on NE MLK and Jarrett, just north of Killingsworth. Wings World is amazing and I got the fried chicken with Texas toast and macaroni salad. Todd got ribs at Bernie’s Little Kicker BBQ. 

Next a drive to George Middle School. I had read about the school in the Willamette Week, as an example of one of the poorest schools in the district. Ostensibly all PPS schools have the same per student budget, but in practice this does not happen. Whiter and better performing schools get more money then Black and Latino schools. No Child Left Behind, ironically named because it's whole purpose is to leave underperforming students behind, no doubt "justifies" these inequalities. The door was open so we just walked in.

A few years ago Portland floated a $400 million bond to improve school infrastructure. Other then lead pipes George seems more or less functional from a materials point of view, albeit barren and prison like. Why do they never pass huge bonds to hire more and better teachers? By requiring a masters degree, then paying sub average wages, is not a recipe for high quality teachers.

Just down the street from George is the Columbia Boulevard Wastewater Treatment Plant Support Facility, a boondoggle of eco friendly construction. Whilst our kids are suffering through poor infrastructure and frazzled teachers, our wastewater overlords are working in style.