Monday, November 21, 2011

Goodbye to the "Hobnail Boot"

When I was in my early and mid-teens, my dad and I spent most every Saturday during the winter months cutting trees on our farm and clearing land for more pasture. We hauled most of what we cut off one truck load at a time, selling it for pulp wood. During the infrequent rest periods when dad had to re-sharpen his chain saws or we took a water break, he let me turn on the fiddly radio in the truck and I got to listen to the Georgia Bulldogs play football. It was my first contact with the legendary Larry Munson.

At that time, Munson had already been announcing Georgia football for about ten years. His distinctive style of delivery, his sense of excitement and attention to detail, his willingness to get inside the Georgia fan’s head and seem to express exactly what everyone was thinking at a given point in a given game, made him incomparable to me.

Whenever I got a chance to watch a Georgia game on TV, I always turned the sound down (as did most other Georgia football fans) and listened to Larry Munson announce the game on the radio. It just didn’t feel like the game had started until Munson barked out “Alright, get the picture…”

Munson died last night at age 89. I had listened to him as recently as his last broadcast year when his eyesight had deteriorated to the point where he could no longer announce a play until after the crowd had already reacted to it. Even though the voice was still there, it was time for him to retire and he knew it.

You can find Larry Munson all over the internet. All his greatest calls are available both online and on DVD. In fact, as the college football season started this year I played his great “Lindsey Scott!” call for Jennifer, who is a Georgia Tech graduate. She didn’t particularly care for the nature of the call but she could appreciate the extras Munson added after the play was over. “Man, is there going to be some property destroyed tonight!”

Larry always had something to add to an exciting situation. How 'bout "We just stepped on their face with a hobnail boot and broke their nose!" Or... "My god almighty he ran right through two men!" Or... "We saved ourselves! No we didn't, Old Lady Luck saved us!" Or... "So, we'll try to kick one 100,000 miles..." You can see youtube tributes here and here.

Larry's style went beyond the actual fact of the great play and placed it in a higher football context. It was a declaration of the significance of the play and what it would mean to football fans after the game. For Munson, especially in his prime, it was always about verbally capturing the essence of moments throughout a game and placing them in the context of the spirit of the entire football season. That is why Munson always seemed to get better to listen to as each season rolled along. Even during the years Georgia didn’t play so well.

I only met Larry Munson twice and he never saw me either time, as they were both public events. The first was during the UGA homecoming parade in 1977, when I was a freshman. He was sitting on the back of large luxury convertible with a simple PBR in his hand, smiling, waving.

The second time was in 1981 when they decided to enclose the eastern end of Sanford stadium. This would completely block “the tracks”, a traditional gathering place for football fans to party and watch the game. You could see the entire field except for the last ten yards of the east end zone. Before the last game ever viewable from the tracks, Munson came over and visited with the large crowd of several hundred students there. He never particularly cared for the fact the tracks offered the game to “freeloaders” but he could respect the off-beat tradition of the thing. This particular farewell was the first of many changes coming to the Georgia football program.

At any rate, I continued to listen to Georgia football games through my life, always in anticipation of how Munson would call the plays and what he might say next. But, with his retirement, football on the radio has become a thing of the past for me.

Now, Munson himself is a thing of the past. He was a unique voice in sports. As unique as Skip Caray, another broadcaster I admired that is no longer with us. With his passing the era of imagining how it all looks in your head while only being able to listen to it on the radio grows more distant. In today’s cable and pay-per-view reality, you can see everything in high-definition and super slow-motion, but you can’t be a kid again picturing it all in your mind the way Larry encouraged you to at the beginning of his every broadcast.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Reality of Tahrir Square

The Egyptian military attacked protesters in Tahir Square today. Some 1100 civilians have been injured through weeks of violence all over Egypt as thousands of people attempt to protest the way the Egyptian military wants to handle the new Egyptian constitution. This crisis has been going on for months and has perhaps reached the boiling point. The military has promised elections within a week but their original deadline has already past.

The military wants its budget and operations to be autonomous of the new government. Many Egyptians fear a state-within-a-state would exist. So they protest. Al Jazeera has excellent coverage. Unlike the birth of the Arab Spring, however, the poetry of protest is gone. This is about the interim military government ceasing power long enough to protect its infrastructure and capabilities. This conflicts with the democratic ideals and the situation seems to be escalating. In Egypt today it seems democracy itself might be up for grabs. Protestors do not want the kind of government that will be up for election soon.

Meanwhile, in Syria a bloodbath rages. Is there a better example of Western political hypocrisy in the world today than the response to the crisis in Libya versus the crisis in Syria? Somehow the Arabs get to handle this far more deadly situation for themselves. Why? Because there's more oil in Libya. It is as simple as that. Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, seems to enjoy more popular support than Gaddafi ever did, however. Syrians rally by the thousands for him though, in truth, much of it is probably staged.

Watching all this unfold over my iPad I did laundry, looked at contemporary works of art in Art Authority, wrote some, went for a couple of walks in the woods, drank a couple of Foster's beers, listened to classical piano music. Jennifer made a wonderful chicken pot pie. My daughter enjoyed it as much as I did. We laughed during dinner and spoke of holiday plans to come. It was gray outside. Most of the leaves have fallen.

Friday, November 11, 2011


The War to End All Wars, also known as the Great War, also known as World War One ended 93 years ago today. The document ending the war went into effect famously (at the time) at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. Until 1954 this was referred to in the US as Armistice Day. But, as time passed by, that phrasing began to mean less and less to anyone. All things pass.

So, now this is Veterans Day; certainly a worthy holiday to honor those who have served our country in all wars. But, today I am not thinking of all veterans. I am thinking of those who once walked this Earth that experienced the great battles of the Somme and Verdun and Gallipoli. These were battles of almost unimaginable magnitude during that war.

The military art of war adapted very slowly to the technological achievements of that time. Supreme among innovations here was the use of massed, large-caliber artillery pieces and the widespread use of mounted machine guns. As World War One settled into a classic war of attrition fought in well-prepared trenches separated by “no man’s land”, generals continued to order massive artillery barrages to “soften up” enemy positions before waves of infantrymen charged toward the bombarded territory only to be ravaged by a hail of machinegun fire.

It was a horrible, hopeless, and horrendously bloody slaughter of hundreds of thousands of humans tossed away by the tide of events guided by the antiquated thinking of their leaders. If an attack failed it was obviously because the position was not “softened up” enough. So, artillery barrages grew ever larger and longer, the charges ever bigger, but the machineguns were brought back into position in time for most assaults to be made of the face of more bullets than had ever been concentrated a given area up to that time.

Armistice Day was to commemorate that specific kind of human suffering. Our destructive potential would grow to monstrous proportions by the time of the Second World War but the interesting thing is that suffering is equally horrible in all wars, no matter if you are talking about spears or rifled muskets or rapid-fire weapons or atomic bombs. The difference is only a matter of numbers. The wounded all cry out with equal despair, the dead are equally tragic.

I will have to live to be 152 if I am going to accurately entitle another blog post what this one is dubbed. Not a likely scenario, but there’s hope. So, my mind is more focused on the expanse of Time today than simply on the forgotten name of a changed holiday honoring human bravery under fire. I am thinking back 100 years, to before the Great War, to 1911, the last time this date was routinely written on bank checks. Just out of curiosity, I am wondering what the world was like then in those years just before the automobile and the telephone and the airplane became so common as to change collective human experience.

The last time anyone was able to date something on 11/11/11 the average life expectancy for men in the United States was 47 years. Only 14% of American homes had bath tubs. Only 8% of households had a telephone. There were a total of 8,000 automobiles in use and what little fuel there was available for them was sold in drug stores. These same stores also legally sold heroin, marijuana, and morphine. Gives a whole new meaning to the term “drug store” doesn’t it?

Not a tremendous number of historic events took place in 1911. Superconnectivity was discovered. The Mexican Revolution and the Italo-Turkish War were the bloodiest conflicts going. The latter war featured the first aerial bombings in history. The Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre. An airplane successfully landed on a ship for the first time. The 11th edition (fittingly enough) of the Encyclopedia Britannica was published. Explorers stood at the South Pole for the first time in human history.

Just for fun, I looked up 1911 World Series. It went seven games that year. It featured the Philadelphia Athletics managed by the great Connie Mack against the New York Giants managed by the great John McGraw. The two winningest managers in baseball history, right ahead of the now retired Tony LaRussa and Bobby Cox.

In addition to being a well-played, close series much like the 2011 Series I posted about a few days ago, it also has the distinction of being one of the longest Series’ to play from start to finish. Games Three and Four were separated by six consecutive days of rain. One of baseball’s greatest all-time pitchers started three games in that series. Christy Mathewson lost twice and won once as the Athletics took the Giants in no small part due on two timely home runs hit by Frank Baker.

Ronald Reagan was born in 1911. So was Jean Harlow, Lucille Ball, Gypsy Rose Lee, Vo Nguyen Giap, and Jack Ruby. The fading of all these personalities and public figures from the zeitgeist of the perpetual Now is a good way to judge Time as distance. It is a long way back to 1911 and the remaining karma from that Time is trivial and largely dissipated. No one I know about nor likely any of my readers have ever heard of died in 1911. There’s no fame in that regard.

Turning back to the original reason for this post, few famous persons died as during World War One. Manfred von Richtofen (the Red Baron) is the only one I know of. The few other names that can be mentioned like Mata Hari and Lord Herbert Kitchener mean nothing to us these days.

True baseball fans remember who Christy Mathewson was, however. To that extent, he might be the most famous casualty of World War One. He volunteered for the army in 1918 and served in the “Chemical Unit” overseas with Ty Cobb. Mathewson was accidentally exposed to poison gas during a training exercise and developed tuberculosis. His lungs never recovered and he never pitched another game of ball. He died in 1925. Both teams honored him in the 1925 World Series by wearing black arm bands.

At the time of the First World War, untold numbers of human beings suffered as a result of death and destruction and the effects it had on extended family and friends. The war was the greatest single shock Europe had ever experienced since perhaps the Black Plague. It led to the founding of the League of Nations and the hope that there would be no more wars. That proved too idealistic, however.

Today, suffering on such a scale is unimaginable. Thank goodness. We certainly have our share of worldwide problems. For one thing we just recently added our 7 billionth person to the planet. This will be the root cause of many difficulties ahead.

Nevertheless, by and large, the lives of most human beings today are far better now than they were then. So, for me, November 11 is not such much about remembrance as it is about appreciation. And hope that in the unlikely event I make it to 152 our experiences today will seem as silly to me in that future time as does the fact that automobile gasoline used to be sold in drug stores.

The journey from 1911 newspapers to the 2011 internet might lead to virtual realities by 2111. This, too, is a way of viewing Time as distance. Consider the change from 1811 to 1911 to today. Sure, there’s room for improvement on the specifics. But, you have to admit, the general flow of things is going along pretty well. I am not one who happens to believe we will wake up 100 years from now and find ourselves in a new dark age.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Biggest Dodge-Ball Game of All

We think of space as this vast, empty void when, in fact, it is filled with all sorts of things. Dark matter. Small solar system bodies like comets and asteroids. The solar wind. Cosmic dust. Other stuff. There's all kinds of debris in an almost endless variety of trajectories out there.

The Earth, as with the other planets, is nested in a fairly stable orbit around our Sun. But, that doesn't mean our orbit is free from all the possible collisions with debris of various sizes. In fact, the Earth is hit by about
40,000 tons of various types of space debris every year. This is not counting all the space junk launched by humans in the past that periodically falls back to Earth.

So, our planet's collision with tiny particles of star dust is a routine, every day occurrence. But, if you widen your perspective beyond the stretch of your life span you will see that every few million years something far larger than interstellar dust strikes.

A large asteroid came within 202,000 miles of the Earth today at about 6:28pm EST.
That's closer than Earth's distance from the Moon and the closest any object of this size has come near Earth since 1976. This asteroid was about the size of a city block. Another will pass fairly close in the year 2028. But it will not hit us.

The asteroid is dubbed 2005 YU55. We discovered it about six years before it passed out way today.

This is just another day of gravity at play in the universe. A
near-Earth object came close to hitting the Earth back in 1883. One actually exploded above Siberia in 1908. There have been other impact events as recently as 1979, 2002, and 2008. All minor incidents, of course. We know
the Earth has been hit several times by major interstellar objects in the past. Our technology is sophisticated enough to see them a few years or decades in advance. But, all we can do is watch and wait.

Large chunks of space debris hit the Earth every few million years. It is an inevitability that such objects will hit the Earth before our Sun begins to become a Red Giant in about one billion years. Obviously, anything that happens over millions of years can happen many times when the timeframe is in the billions.

With this in mind, many people are thinking in terms of
deflecting through a variety of means potential near-Earth impact objects. There is a planetary defense special interest devoted to this.

But, the science for all this in inexact at best.
In 2003, there was a brief flurry of news about a giant asteroid that could hit Earth in 2014. Only it turns out this object will now pass us safely.

It begs the question, though, if we could be
so wrong about a near-miss can we also be wrong about future objects that we currently consider no threat at all to us. One such piece of space debris is 99942 Apophis. As of today there appears to be only a small chance it could hit the Earth. Let's hope they're spot on with that prediction.

We are groping in the darkness of space and we are, in fact, near-blind. We have cataloged hundreds of potential near-Earth objects, but we still have no idea what might come our way in the debris of space a century from now. Maybe another global impact. Probably not. day...

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Mylo Xyloto

Coldplay always makes me feel good. As I have posted before, Coldplay is my favorite contemporary band. Essentially, they have evolved into a nice blend of indie spunk with enough pop undertones to make them a mega-band. But, that’s not why I like them. I like them because their music always makes me feel good.

Coldplay began with a powerful and popular debut album in 2000 and continued through the turn of the century and a great follow-up in 2002 which, in turn, was followed by a really great live CD/DVD combo. They are formula-matic in their own style, which blends many influences. Mostly, however, Coldplay’s music is filled with teen/young-adult angst and dreams and desires and melancholia, ensconced with an energetic, young at heart passion for living.

After giant-selling albums in 2005 and 2008 and strong, sold-out worldwide tours, the band had difficulty giving birth to Mylo Xyloto, only their fifth studio album. Coldplay is not a very prolific band but their music is always top quality even if it doesn’t quite reach the lofty high hopes created with band’s first CD releases.

Whenever I get any new album I often like to listen to it repeatedly. Alone and listening intently. Or while doing chores as background music. Or playing certain songs for Jennifer or my friends. I usually research the artist and the production values that went into creating the album. My latest Coldplay CD immersion is no different.

Coldplay is composed of guys who are really interested in exploring music artistically. While they are not diverse enough to ‘recreate’ themselves with every effort, they have settled into their own unique sound and feel. With Mylo Xyloto they wanted to do something different. They wanted it to be a “concept” album.

I am really appreciative of concept albums. The work of Pink Floyd (of course), my all-time favorite rock band, produced a string of awesome concept albums throughout the 1970’s. But, that said, the concept on Mylo Xyloto is not very sophisticated nor it is put together well from that perspective.

To be successful a concept album has to have some repeating patterns, lyrics or musical fragments or repeated studio effects to help ground the theme of the concept with the listener’s enjoyment. Mylo Xyloto has no such grounding. For that reason it feels like any other Coldplay album’s decent collection and mix of songs. The central story of the album has to be gathered through lyrics that can only be found online. Lyrics are not included with the CD’s booklet or packaging.

Regardless, Mylo Xyloto is still a worthy effort featuring many very entertaining and highly listenable songs. Hurts Like Heaven sets the pace for some of the album’s passion and force, though it is not a particularly extraordinary song. Just very comfortable Coldplay. This is followed by Paradise which features some classical strings before transforming itself into heavily synthesized club music piece. One of the album's best tunes. Charlie Brown chases this, again a solid, authoritatively authentic song.

Us Against the World is a fairly typical teenage-mind view of innocent love. It’s you and me babe, alone together in the moment. Definitely been there several times before, but – as is the case throughout this album – the Coldplay sound is that great combination of a poetic, polished, and emotionally evocative music. A ballad in this case. Slow it down. A very nice piece to listen to. Wonderful lyrics.

Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall turns out to be the most commercial, most manufactured-in-the-studio-like piece on this "more electronic" Coldplay album. Which is not a bad thing at all. Neither is it a surprise, being the pre-released single off the album. It has a great rolling wave and beat that shifts up and up, the positive energy of Coldplay. A dance tune with a great, towering guitar rift and whole-band intensity. Four guys jamming.

Major Minus is my favorite song on the album. While it is distinctly in the Coldplay style (heavily influenced by U2, among others) it steps out a bit more than the other tunes. It features a techno-rock twang combined nicely with rhythm acoustic guitar and a touch of piano. Definitely a tune firmly established in alt-rock roots. Thumbing, vibing, punkish at times. Totally acoustical guitar and piano alternating with a raucous electric guitar leading a heavy bass-driving beat. Very nice.

UFO is another acoustical piece featuring the lyrics and lyrical voice of the brilliantly talented Chris Martin. But, this short song gives way to the electro-pop Princess of China. This is a more grooving dance song, featuring a superb female vocal accompaniment by Rhianna. I just wish that when Rhianna and Martin sing together at the end of the song you could hear them harmonize better together. Instead, the vocals are largely overwhelmed by the band’s loud forceful playing, which sounds great but crowds the vocals too much.

I really get in to Rhianna’s vocals as this mildly hip-hop tune cranks up the album again only to quickly shift back down with Up in Flames. This is a good example of where the “concept” nature of the album doesn’t work so well. The album feels too disjointed throughout this stretch of three or four tunes. Still highly listenable just not well connected.

Things come together again nicely with Don’t Let It Break Your Heart. We are back to a familiar wall of Coldplay sound, pressing relentlessly, somewhat carefree and open, forward. This is followed by Up with the Birds. Not a strong finish for the album, but perhaps fitting it that it is a nice song to listen to. A kind of optimistic anthem with a nice, free and open acoustic piano conclusion.

Released just three weeks ago, this is fresh, new, exciting music by one of the world’s most recognized bands. I am not ashamed that so many enjoy their music. I am definitely one of them and feel lucky to be alive when such music is new and first heard. My life is filled with hundreds of such musical experiences and I hope there are hundreds more to come. New Coldplay is one reason for that hope.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Let's Play Go To Mars

Late yesterday one of my employees emailed me a link asking: "Would you volunteer for this?"

Friday marked the end of a somewhat absurd yet scientifically important (I guess) experiment costing $15 million dollars and involving six men who pretended to be astronaunts (technically "cosmonauts", which is an interesting contrast in terms when you think about it) going to, exploring, and returning from Mars. The experiment lasted 520 days and involved a "fake" landing on Mars where two of the "crew members" donned 70-pound suits and marched around in a dark sand-filled room designed to simulate the surface of Mars.

That image struck me as incredibly funny and my employee and I enjoyed a good laugh. A closer reading of the story revealed that this was not the first time this experiement had been attempted.

Back in 2000, a different mix of "crew" involved at least one woman. The "mission" had to be interrupted when two male crew members got into a fistfight over one male trying to "forceably" kiss a female co-astronaut on about day 400 of that mission. I laughed hard at that.

I noticed there were no women in the crew for this experiment. Science learns and marches on.

Still, science looks pretty silly sometimes, and completely human.

The experiment took place in Moscow. The misson was named Mars 500.

Friday, November 4, 2011

We Can't Win It Long Enough

Upon further reflection, my post of October 24 on America’s war in Afghanistan was somewhat confused and unpolished. It is reflective of too much happening in my life right now, too many work and family things to remember, too many different thoughts and facts about the war to sift through, and simply not thinking coherently. To simplify and be more precise, my overall view of the war is that, like Vietnam but unlike Korea, this is not a conventional war. In military terms it is a guerrilla war.

This is my perspective. The more conventional the war, the more important the purely military considerations are over other important factors like politics and culture. By contrast, in a guerrilla war the military aspects are diminished, though not to the point of unimportance. Politics and culture matter more and often trump the military reality. At the same time, economics theoretically trumps everything but
America can afford a drastically scaled-back scenario in Afghanistan.

I have no clue how President Obama (or whoever) will choose to continue in Afghanistan after
the draw-down date in 2014. But, here’s something feasible, if indeed the war needs to last another decade as McChrystal says. A brigade of regular infantry (4,000-5,000 troops) remains in three or four remote areas of Afghanistan protecting a handful of bases out of which an additional 1,000 or so special forces troops are deployed on continued kill-capture missions. An Afghan force of 200,000 troops (advised by teams of American military staff with modest American security forces – 1,000 more officers and instructors with a few good fire teams alongside to protect them) patrols the country and prevents organized insurgents from massing and controlling provinces as they did as recently as 2009.

That may be wishful thinking. The uncertain component here, of course, is can the Afghan’s do their part? We are militarily winning the war as of this post. though the press is doing all it can to misinform otherwise. The price-tag of America's continuing its presence in Afghanistan after 2014 along the lines of what I mention above is affordable. So, we can economically afford to remain there. But, the Afghan’s have to become a significant military force for this scaled back approach to work. Right now, there are
many challenges to training the Afghan security forces anything beyond the basics in self-defense. They have no true offensive, striking capability.

But, where I become truly conflicted (which muddles my articulation) is that this still results in a "shotgun democracy". I just don’t think such democracies last. Eventually,
Afghanistan will most likely revert to some sort of central, tribal power. This has been the case for centuries there. So, while America might continue to fight the war, I do not think it can lessen the karmic weight of cultural history. In that sense Afghanistan is a winnable but ultimately unsustainable war. We simply can’t keep winning it long enough.

In this way Afghanistan is most like Vietnam. But, in the sense of a possible lasting presence it is more like Korea. America has maintained an usually large military presence in South Korea (as well as in Germany since 1945) since that war’s cease-fire. (The Korean War has never officially ended. Both nations are still, diplomatically speaking, at war 60 years later.) But, for decades deployment to Korea has meant a peaceful tour whereas deployment to Afghanistan would be to initiate and support kill/capture missions. A different thing indeed. So, we rationally snake our way back to a similarity with Vietnam. Even when American troops were used “defensively” they were harassed and attacked by enemy fire (think the 1968 TET offensive, simultaneously a decisive American military victory, yet political and cultural defeat).

Our operations in Afghanistan since Obama's Surge have been successful. But, in the end, it is probably the kind of success the American people will not support.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

To the Dark Side of Saturn

A 2006 photo taken by the Cassini-Huygens space probe. I found it earlier this year at this site. The planet is back lit with our Sun just barely peeking over the lower left edge of the planet, about a billion miles away.

I remember sitting in my office in my former life as a marketing and training officer of a small financial institution holding company in October of 1997 watching a video online of the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft launch. It had occurred very early on the morning of October 15. Too early for me to catch it live on the internet. So, I saw the replay on the NASA website.

It was exciting to me. Our first serious space mission to Saturn. It would take 7 years for the spacecraft to reach Saturn’s orbit. I wondered where I would be in 7 years. Little did I suspect that halfway through that time-frame the holding company would be sold to a major regional player and I would be forced to switch career paths for the fifth time in my life.

It was the heyday of the Clinton years. The economy was booming; growing so fast that Alan Greenspan was warning about all the “irrational exuberance” that pervaded the business world. That certainly seems like another lifetime ago today.

Yet between then and now, Cassini trekked closer to its destination, eventually arriving in orbit sometime in the year 2004. I don’t recall much else about the mission. Having an interest in space exploration, I checked on the mission now and then, paying particular attention to the news that came to me mid-way through the first decade of this century.

Somehow, however, I must have gotten distracted with other things and I completely missed the photo captured above when it was released in 2006. Taken from the side of Saturn opposite the Sun, it shimmers with interstellar brilliance. I found it recently while, as usual, looking for something completely unrelated. “Wow,” was all I could say and I emailed the pic to a couple of friends mutually interested in space stuff. How could this stunning image have escaped my knowledge for so long?

Cassini (named after an early Italian astronomer) is an enormous scientific achievement. Equally as important as the research aspects of the mission, in my mind, is the international cooperation involved that got the spacecraft to Saturn to begin with. In addition to the United States, 16 other nations were involved in its design and production. To that extent, the mission serves as one of many space symbols for what can be achieved when humanity works together instead of the typical bickering and practice the fine art of one-upsmanship that pervades most of human endeavor.

Cassini represents where we need to go as a species. We need to go to into space, yes. But, we also need to reach for greater degrees of commonality and collaboration. In that sense, accomplishments like this serve as a guiding light for what if humanity sees itself as a "whole" instead of the increasingly antiquated tribal-nation mentality that permeates our behavior.

At a total cost of about $3.26 billion (80% of which was appropriated by the United States, of course) Cassini has traveled to a planet roughly 10 times the distance from the Sun as our Earth. Saturn’s distance from the Earth depends on the respective elliptical orbits of the two planets. It can be anywhere from as “close” as 794,000,000 miles or as “far” as 979,000,000.

Earlier this year, it was announced that the Cassini mission will be extended through 2017, making it yet another in a series of space probes that has lasted far beyond its operational expectancy. (Voyager 1 and Pioneer 10 top this list.) To date, Cassini has logged more than 2,600,000,000 miles traveled. That’s a lot of mileage out of what was originally a comparatively small amount of fuel at launch.

The pic I just discovered this year is breathtaking to me. There is something powerful about the fact that the spacecraft didn’t just make it to Saturn but routinely explores out beyond the other side of Saturn. The Sun, rather than being the guiding light for the venture becomes the back light or accentuating light for this photo. This provides a small opportunity for me to shift perspective. I am no longer on Earth looking out, I am in space looking back toward this “pale blue dot.”

With a combination of vicarious wonder, rational understanding, and spiritual appreciation, Cassini orients me to the proper place of our planet in the cosmos. And, to a certain extent, this allows me to orient my sense of self to everything else. Far from swallowing up or devouring who I am in the vast sea of teeming infinity, I find this a beautiful thing and it gives me some measure of internal peace and inspiration appreciation for broader perspectives.