Footprints on the Moon

Apollo 12 astronaut Alan Bean prepares to set foot on the Moon, 19 Nov. 1969.
Credits: NASA

To be sung to the tune of Jingle Bells (With acknowledgement to James Lord Pierpont).

Launching into space
In a shiny spaceship pod,
Leave the clouds behind,
Still no sign of god.

Stars shine steadily
In the cosmos and its call,
Live in microgravity,
Radiation and freefall.

Oh decompress! Then egress,
Space walk and have fun.
Count the stars and wave at Mars
And approach aphelion.

Fly, explore! Then seek more!
Heading into space.
Working hard to stay alive
And establish a Moonbase.

Apollo 17 spacewalk on 17 Dec. 1972.
Image Credit: NASA

Knowledge costs a lot
Of resources, time and lives,
The quest for science and for space
Is what compels and drives.

We climbed out of the trees,
And emerged out of the cave,
But our gaze has been the skies
Our destiny we crave.

Oh decompress! Then egress,
Space walk and have fun.
Count the stars and wave at Mars
And approach aphelion.

Alarm bells, lightning swells,
SCE to AUX
Aiming high, see how we fly
In our capsules and airlocks.

Apollo 11 lunar footprint (NASA photo)

Footprints on the Moon
And then heading onto Mars,
We explore deep into space
Aiming for the stars.

From stardust we came,
To the stars we shall return.
Forging our own future
We have so much to learn.

Oh decompress! Then egress,
Space walk and have fun.
Count the stars and wave at Mars
And approach aphelion.

Fly, explore! Then seek more!
Heading into space.
Oh what fun to lead the world
And inspire the human race.

‘Earthrise’ photo, Apollo 8, Christmas Eve 1968. NASA photo.

Once upon a time
All the astronauts were men,
All white and full of right stuff,
Let’s not go there again.

We seek equality,
Humanity is core.
A better species reaches out
Into future life we soar.

Oh decompress! Then egress,
Space walk and have fun.
Count the stars and wave at Mars
And approach aphelion.

Fly, explore! Then seek more!
Heading into space.
Oh what fun to lead the world
And inspire the human race.

Sally Ride. By Unknown author or not provided – U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain.

© 2021 Geoff Allshorn

Using Science, Men of Old

Based on the old Christian hymn, “As With Gladness Men of Old”
(public domain) by William Chatterton Dix

Image by Norbert Pietsch from Pixabay

Using science, men of old
Did the stars and skies behold.
Curiously they sought its light
Leading onward, beaming bright.
So with utmost confidence
Do we now seek evidence.

Using wisdom, women too
Sought guidance from knowledge new.
And with determination
They fought discrimination.
An enlightened world their goal,
Equity for every soul.

Their progress was hard not swift,
Our improving world their gift.
So may we use common sense,
Cast aside our ignorance.
All our greatest knowledge share,
Claim their legacy we dare.

So humanity at last
Leaves behind its narrow past.
Gender and sexuality,
Rights and self-autonomy.
New critical thinking thrives
And compassion in our lives.

In our scientific age
Need we no dogmatic rage.
Learning from both the sea and sky
We evolve when’er we try.
So forever may we strive
Give our world a better life.

© 2021 Geoff Allshorn

Human Rights Day 2021

“Women everywhere are faced with discrimination. They have fewer opportunities for economic participation, less political representation, are refused access to education, face greater health and safety risks, and are confronted with violence and abuse.” – UN Women Australia.

On 10 December 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted by the world community, and over seventy years later, its secular humanist ideals permeate our world and our cultures. Today, even those who misunderstand and misrepresent human rights adopt the vocabulary of human rights in their claims for advancement.

10 December each year now marks Human Rights Day, to commemorate the UDHR and its principles. Eleanor Roosevelt – a woman – helped to author and launch the UDHR, and the birth of modern understandings of human rights will be her greatest bequest to humanity. Two generations later, how do human rights stand for women in particular?

After the abandonment of Afghanistan by western nations earlier this year, millions of women and other human beings face oppression, murder, and devolution of their human rights. From Mozambique to Kazakhstan, women’s rights are under attack.

In Islamic nations,women are still oppressed, although there are some advancements at glacial pace. Across Africa, there is equally slow progress, but social evolution is taking place. In western nations, women’s rights are facing opposition and kickback. From Algeria to Australia, there are many issues facing women, and I could not presume to write an authoritative list within the limited confines of this humble blog entry.

Nevertheless, I see three young women who give me hope for the world.

Malala Yousafzai is a young woman who has faced terrorism and gained the world’s admiration. She continues to advocate for girls and women around the world.

X González (born Emma González) is a young woman who became famous after a the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shootings. She led March For Our Lives and other activism that confronts the culture of violence and death in the USA, spearheaded by disproportionate gun rights. She and her young compatriots promote a less violent, more compassionate world.

Greta Thunberg has led the world in fighting for the future of humanity and the entire planet. Her ‘school strike for climate‘ became an international movement that has triggered the activism of millions, and challenged purveyors of unfettered capitalism to stop destroying our biosphere.

Such young women are the latest heroes in a long line, stretching back through Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks, Coretta Scott King, Emmaline Pankhurst, Boudicca, Madame Cissé Hadja Mariama Sow and other African women, and many others around the world. We have hope.

©2021 Geoff Allshorn

We Must Return To The Moon

Commemorating the 49th anniversary of Apollo 17 (7-19 December 1972), the last human journey to the Moon so far.

Apollo 17 launch. This was the only night launch done during Apollo. 7 December 1972. (NASA photo – scan by Kipp Teague).

We must return to the Moon. Humans walked on its surface in July 1969 in order to prove that it could be done – and then Moonwalkers returned another five times. We went there for curiosity, for political glory, for vanity, for scientific knowledge, and simply because it’s there. A generation later, we must return to the Moon – and then go on to Mars.

We must return to the Moon in order to survive. If humanity lives on the Moon and Mars as well as Earth, we will no longer have all our cosmic “eggs in one basket”. This protects our species against the finality of World War Three, or a global pandemic that is fifty times more lethal than COVID, or a terrorist outbreak of smallpox, or the next time Earth is struck by a planet-killer sized asteroid.

We must return to the Moon because of our quest for knowledge – the same urge that caused us to climb out of the trees and walk upright; the same drive which motivates people to explore and create and make a better world for posterity; the same ideals which give artists and authors their dreams, and all of us a reason to live with hope – that is the same instinct which drives us onto the Moon. We must continue to seek new dreams and challenges in order to evolve.

We must return to the Moon because the Earth still has big problems – and outer space may hold the answers. The last moon missions, a generation ago, were the focus of history’s biggest ever boost to non-military sciences. Today, we enjoy a changed world because of the inventions and innovations that were developed for the Apollo program. We can do this again: a Moon or Mars colony would serve as a focus for a new, civilian “Manhattan Project”.

The Big Blue Marble as seen by Apollo 17 (NASA photo)

We must return to the Moon because our time in outer space helps us to focus on Earth. Apollo gave humanity its first-ever cosmic view of the Earth in space – and thus gave birth to a generation of environmentalists. Furthermore, Apollo did not uselessly launch rockets full of money into outer space – the money was paid to employ scientists and engineers and others who built a new world. A future space program could teach us new knowledge and skills. While developing new ways to shelter the environment of a fragile lunar base, humanity could learn valuable lessons on how to repair our damaged home planet. While learning to live outside the Van Allen Belts, we would gain new medical knowledge. While developing new agricultural processes to feed hungry Mars colonists, we could use the same skills to feed those facing famine on Earth.

We must return to the Moon because it will help our species to mature. From space, it is impossible to see the national, religious or racial boundaries which divide our world. From a distance, the Earth appears as a tranquil, united world – our hatreds and prejudices are invisible. Similarly, lunar colonists would have to learn to live with their partners: whether American or Russian, Israeli or Palestinian, Hutu or Tutsi, male or female, Christian or atheist or Muslim, gay or straight. In the cramped confines of a space station, there is no room for bigotry. In learning to depend on each other for daily survival, these future astronauts could teach the world a valuable (symbolic and practical) lesson.

We must return to the Moon because the planet currently lacks leadership and vision. Religious extremists crash planes into skyscrapers, promote science denialism as a virtue, and seek to diminish equality for women and LGBT people. Wars and malnutrition. HIV/AIDS and COVID, injustice and poverty collectively plague most of the human population. Our current politicians are so vision-impoverished that many Americans actually disbelieve that their country ever went to the Moon in the first place! Where are our heroes; our visionaries; our scientists and dreamers and pioneers?

We must return to the Moon because the task is too big for one nation alone. A permanent Moonbase or Mars colony would not – could not! – be the child of just one nation. A real space program could only result if all nations gave of their resources, finances and expertise. Such a mission could bring about the birth of a truly United Nations, forcing petty politicians and corrupt despots to turn from waging war to waging peace. It could give our whole planet a common goal – bigger and better than sports, wars, money, glory, oil or greed.

We must return to outer space because our atoms were born in stars. We are made of stardust and we must return to the stars to seek our origins – and our future.

©2021 Geoff Allshorn

Eric Michaels: Becoming

[This year marks the fortieth anniversary of the discovery of AIDS, and this World AIDS Day it seems fitting to remember an Australian pioneer who lived and died near the first official World AIDS Day in 1988, towards the start of the epidemic. His life and battle and death have lessons for our COVID world today.]

* * *

“If one is going to go to all the trouble to be gay, one ought to do a more interesting and useful job of it. Models exist in our very recent past. They should be recalled.” – Eric Michaels, 1990b, 192.

These were the last words documented in Australia’s earliest public AIDS diary. Possibly penned in 1982, and later added to his diary from 1987 and 1988 before being posthumously published in 1990, the words of Eric Michaels speak to us from the days of a terrible epidemic – one that was perceived to target people who were disempowered, stigmatised, invisible, and/or socially undesirable. At a time of terrible stigma, discrimination and open homophobia, Michaels encouraged the gay community to find role models and create its own pride amidst the prejudice. In doing so, he became one of those role models.

Stigma and invisibility continue today, in that the AIDS epidemic remains largely overlooked and forgotten. On a personal level, my introduction to Michaels’ book was when I first sought out a copy in a prominent public library; upon my request, the book was duly collected from the stacks and delivered to me – missing its colourful cover, which appeared to have been removed with surgical precision along the edge of its spine. When I asked the librarian what happened to the book, he carelessly shrugged. I later purchased another copy of the book online and donated it to the same public library, so that Eric Michaels’ words would be available to the public in the exact condition that he would have wanted.

It seemed fitting to help memorialise a man who foreshadowed many admirable outcomes from those terrible times.

The Australian Dictionary of Biography reports that Eric Michaels was born in 1948 to Jewish parents in Philadelphia, USA, and became a hippie studying cultural anthropology, examining groups as disparate as Christian fundamentalists in Texas, USA, and the Yanomami people of Brazil. He arrived in Australia in 1982 and ultimately became a lecturer at Griffith University in Brisbane, dying with AIDS in 1988. (Cunningham, 2012)

A tragic coincidence of timing meant that he arrived in Australia at approximately the same time as another US import: a particular strain of HIV and AIDS. Michaels thereby became somewhat of a potential double outcast: disapproved in mainstream Australia because he was gay, and also socially isolated from some sections within the Australian gay community because he was American in the days when the origin of AIDS was attributed to gay Americans (and well might we learn from his experience today, during another pandemic, when some people seek to scapegoat others from another country where COVID is meant to have originated – as though its geographic origin has anything significant to do with its treatment or mitigation). Paul Foss notes that ‘Eric’s sense of personal loss and betrayal’ – at his rejection at least as much as his actual AIDS mortality – contributed to an ‘accusatory tone’ as well as ‘vemom and impish humour’ in his writing (Foss, 1990, 13). In harnessing and harvesting this anger, Michaels foreshadows the rise of ACT-UP, an activist group borne of self-empowerment and anger.

For Eric Michaels, it is likely that this ‘otherness’ may have contributed to his writing/publishing his AIDS diary in the days before any Australian gay man had the interest or opportunity to do so. Those early days saw women such as Suzi Lovegrove take that same opportunity to bypass the dominant homophobic prejudice against the epidemic in Australia and create autobiographical documentation, such as the film, Suzi’s Story, or varied biographies. Michaels’ diary was the earliest such effort from a gay man to break out of what he termed the ‘lavender prison’ of homophobia (Michaels 1990b, 191).

It also seems probable that this ‘otherness’ similarly motivated Eric Michaels to spend much of his professional life assisting similarly disempowered voices. His academic career in Australia had revolved around, ’empowering Aborigines through the appropriation of new technology’ (Cunningham, 2012) and he had asserted that, ‘a cultural future can only result from political resistance’ (Michaels, 1987, 78). And yet he was also very conscious of the ‘politics of speech’ in empowering the very voices he wished to highlight (O’Regan, 1990; see also Michaels 1994).

Such empowerment foreshadowed the empowerment of indigenous and other voices during the AIDS epidemic; from gay men to women and others who fought for their lives as well as their civil rights. Their battle resonates a generation later, after male homosexuality has been decriminalised and destigmatised, in no small part due to these foot soldiers.

Michael’s situation and perspective seem to echo those of his contemporary, Scottish journalist and New Zealand resident Tom Maclean, whose own AIDS pathography, If I Should Die: Living With AIDS, reflects the life and times of his trans-Tasman gay compatriot. Whereas Michaels implicitly evokes a firm resolution to choose life and activism, McLean more pointedly speaks about this stark choice among the last words in his own book, which was published four days before his death in 1989 at age 40 (PA, 1989). “There’s a lesson in everything if you look for it,” McLean writes, “Even in AIDS” (McLean, 1989, 98).

His friend John Hobson eulogised Michaels with recollections of their life and times together, but spoke frankly about his last photograph:

“The last image of Eric shows the ravages of Kaposi’s Sarcoma; a rare form of skin cancer prevalent in the early years of the epidemic. It is almost unheard of these days thanks to advances in treatments. It is definitely a shocking image, but one that Eric chose to be published as his final one. As well as a clinical photo to evidence his ultimate reality, it was also clearly one last opportunity for him to poke his tongue out at the world.” Hobson, n.d (b).

Hobson also notes that after his death, Eric Michaels’ Warlpiri and Kardiya friends from Yuendumu created an AIDS Quilt memorial panel in his memory. (Hobson, n.d.(b).)

The title of his diary, Unbecoming, is a play on words: tapping into the societal disapproval of gay men as being somewhat unbecoming, it also implicitly examines his own unravelling life due to AIDS and questions whether he is, in some inverse act of creation, literally un-becoming himself. Ultimately, he demonstrates that in his becoming less or other than himself, he is also becoming much more – perhaps the perfect symbolism for an activist seeking to create something positive out of loss. A generation later, as the world seeks to rebuild or redefine itself after the ravages of another pandemic, we might learn valuable lessons from this experience.

Although written during the era of AIDS, Michaels’ words resonate during our era of COVID:

“Maybe the lunatic right wing will mobilise and we will have to drag ourselves out of this languor to protect ourselves and respond. Or maybe the baby boom will eventually reach their sixties and, upon looking back, develop a more powerful criticism than any advanced so far.” (Michaels, 1990b, 192).

Maybe.

This work was supported by an Australian Government Research Training Program Scholarship.

References:

Stuart Cunningham, ‘Michaels, Eric Philip (1948–1988)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 14 November 2021.

Paul Foss, 1990. ‘Foreword’ in Eric Michaels, 1990b.

John Hobson, n.d (a). Queers of the Desert: AIDS Quilts (1990).

John Hobson, n.d (b). Queers of the Desert: Eric Michaels.

Eric Michaels, 1987. For A Cultural Future: Francis Jupurrurla Makes TV at Yuendumu, Melbourne: Artspace.

Eric Michaels, 1990a. ‘A model of teleported texts (with reference to Aboriginal television)’, in Tom O’Regan (ed.), 1990, Communication and Tradition: Essays after Eric Michaels, Continuum: The Australian Journal of Media & Culture, Vol. 3, No. 2.

Eric Michaels, 1990b. Unbecoming: An AIDS Diary, Rose Bay: EMPress.

Eric Michaels, 1994.’Aboriginal Content: Who’s Got It, Who Needs It?’, Bad Aboriginal Art: Tradition, Media, and Technological Horizons, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 21 – 48.

Tom McLean, 1989. If I Should Die: Living With AIDS, Glenfield: Benton Ross Publishers.

Tom O’Regan (ed.), 1990. ‘Preface‘, Communication and Tradition: Essays after Eric Michaels, Continuum: The Australian Journal of Media & Culture, Vol. 3, No. 2.

PA, 1989. ‘Author dies of A.I.D.S.’, The Christchurch Press, 27 March.

©2021 Geoff Allshorn