The hand of Franklin.

HMS Terror has been found well preserved in 11 meters of water.  It appears her crew had taken time while abandoning her, so perhaps she was caught in the ice, and the crew then removed useful items and tried to make for home on HMS Erebus.

The discovery of the two ships has been a mix of science and story.  Research vessels had been following Inuit oral tradition, and the first sighting was made by an Inut fisherman who later crewed on the research vessel that confirmed the find.  Some 150 years after the expedition, the Terror was still sitting proud on the ocean floor, with her mast above the water for Sammy Kogvik to find when he was fishing.  6 years later, that find is confirmed.

I wonder how the passengers and crew of the Crystal Serenity are taking the news of this find.  She entered Bar Harbor, Maine yesterday after cruising the Northwest Passage this summer.

/my post on the rediscovery of the HMS Erebus

The Greatness of the Past

There are several emails circulating that remember how much better things were.  They shows kids playing outdoors without cell phones.  They show dads and sons fishing, or teenagers dancing in a soda-shop, all clean, neat and protected.  They show kids riding to school on bikes without helmets and playing on equipment that would “drive safety-lawyers crazy.”

The thing is, if you look at those emails, all the people in them are white.

Sociologists started looking at the commodification of nostalgia in 1979, with Fred Davis’s piece Yearning for Yesterday: A Sociology of Nostalgia.  In it, Davis noted that nostalgia was nothing new, but creation of group nostalgia, mostly through advertising, was.  With nationwide media shared in common, regional memories became less powerful than national ones, and the national memories were being created by the advertisers of that same media.

Advertisers created a memory of a simpler past, where things made sense.  An image of Eden that we, as consumers, could buy into simply by buying their products.

It’s an easy pitch to make, most things make sense in hindsight.  To make that pitch, however, much of history needs to be omitted.  Salespeople are not hired to tell the whole truth, they are sell a product.   Frequently, they do so with allusion to a simpler past, which only works if the storybook past actually appears simpler.

So, we got a version of the past without strife.  We see middle-class kids playing, and the the kids with the luxury of being middle class in the 50’s are white.

The result of this advertising is that we now have a collective nostalgia that  merged with collective amnesia.  We look to a simpler time that we understand (in retrospect) by looking at, and idolizing, the lives of middle-classed children.  Lost in that picture is the grown up world of Mutually Assured Destruction, school de-segregation, or class and social unrest.

The ultimate nostalgia trip is the idea of the fall from Eden.  The tale predates modern media, but has similar common elements.  Art from thought Abrahamic history depicts Adam and Eve being cast out of paradise, never to return.   The sin for which they were cast out was none other than that of understanding Good and evil.  Before they knew that, things were simpler and more idealistic.  A paradise to be sure, but a paradise ultimately made possible by ignorance.  Most of the religious artwork that depicts the scene shows Adam and Eve looking back, longing for what they lost.  Like us, the garden seems ideal, but with our experience in the garden predating our understanding of good and evil, how could we know?

When we talk about making America great “again,” we are panting our own picture, with us gazing back at paradise and longing for ignorance.  We dream, not of President Eisenhower putting a Christmas message into space on the back of a modified ICBM, but of a little girl picking a daisy in a field.  When I look back, I can’t help but hear the count-down voice-over, and shudder at how complicated life really was.

I much prefer to look forward to the greatness ahead.


My cohort has reached a new milestone in life.  As I was driving home yesterday I realized that every song I heard was on the radio when I was in college.  This would not be a big deal, but I was listening to the oldies station.

Well, my friends, we’ve made it.  The nation’s advertisers have coalesced around us as a prime demographic.  They are showing us the sort of interest that we have not seen since before we got our mortgages.  We are in the sweet spot now.  Next, we will be loosing some of our stations to the younger wave of music and disk jockeys that tell the kids it’s all about them, but for now, the radio is OURS!


Apropos, disk jockey is an amazingly resilient moniker.  It worked for both acetate and vinyl disks, compact disks and hard disks.  Really, it’s only now that we are using solid state drives that DJ’s are no longer spinning disks in any way shape or forum.

Quiet urgency.

There is a certain vibe to public buildings that are mostly empty with those still left still haveing work to do.  I am sitting in a university library over spring break.  Desks are empty and computers are plentiful, but the people around me are working with a relaxed focus, much as I did through almost every “break” in college.  There is none of the frantic wasted energy of finals, just the determination of the tortoise taking advantage of a nap in the college schedule to slowly pull back into the race.

It’s the same feeling as an airport or bus station at midnight, or a shopping mall an hour after closing.  Whatever mania the day may bring is replaced with custodians trying to repair the frayed edges of the day gone by, and the occasional traveler trying to catch a nap on a bench.  Everyone trapped inside a living space as it takes the time to breathe.

Reflection is itself a reflexive action.  When running full out, if forced to slow down the mind still keeps going, keeps making connections.  So, I’m sitting at a public computer, a Foucalt Pendulum swinging in the background, the rattle of library carts as a student workers re-shelve in peace, and surrounded by tortoises.  My people.  I’ve been there often enough that it’s hard to not feel a kinship with those around me who are quietly, urgently moving forward while the library around them breathes deeply.

The works of others; the kindness of strangers.

There are bad days, days we wish to forget.  A good writer can turn a horrid day into one to remember.

Katherine Fritz is such a writer, and I would like to recommend her post about a really bad day.  It is well worth a read, but then so is the rest of her blog.

We are all reliant more than we like to admit on the kindness of strangers.  It is always worth remembering that strangers equally rely on us.