Men tend to have faith in their own creations, of course, since we are optimistic animals. The basic view of mankind is this:
Of course, often it doesn't work, Phaeton, Daedalus and a lot of squashed stewardesses testify that air travel is not perfected by any means, and yet we all go flying about as if we knew what we were doing.
What interests me is the radical cockiness that things will work, and I regarded the first flights into outer space with awe.
I knew of an old man who put in gas lights in his house in Memphis, some decades ago when they were new.
He did not trust the newfangled illumination, any more than sensible men ever trust new light. And he said well, no sooner will I put in this new gadgetry than something else will be thought of.
"Oh, no," cried the gas peddlers. "We guarantee to provide you gas forever if you install it in your house."
So he did. And then came electricity. The gas company went out of business. But until quite recent years that house still had gas lights. When the electric company took over the gas company, they took over its obligations, one of which was to provide gas forever to that guy's house.
The years passed and his daughters grew up and when I knew them they were in their 80s. The electric company had been succeeded by the Tennessee Valley Authority, but still the house had gas lights. Finally, when everybody died, the house was torn down and that was that.
Of course that was in the days when a contract was a contract. You persuade a guy to put in gas, and guarantee him you will do it permanently, then by golly you abide by your contract, or your successors do. Both the old Memphis Power and Light Co. and the TVA abided by the contract made by their legal predecessors, and the case was interesting partly because they did not welch on obiligations they had assumed.
And the days when a study citizen did not flap off after every novelty that came along, like mood rings, pet rocks, or electricty.
Well. We come now to the cutting edge of life -- to the adventurers who make their own wings and try flying like birds, or who seize the very reins of the sun's chariot and try to run it, or who steal fire from gods.
They are often fools and sometimes glorious.
Which brings us to the Marianas Trench, that awful gulph in the Pacific that is 35,800 feet deep.
God only knows what monsters, what disgusting fishes, live at that depth.
It was 20 years ago this week that two men, Lt. Don Walsh and Jacques Piccard, entered a little sphere supported above by a float with pontoons, and descended into that darkness.
My brain would have told me, at the time, that if you can descend 900 feet, there's no reason you can't go 35,000 feet. Still, nobody had ever actually done it, and I should not have been willingly the first.
"Be not the first," as good Dr. Pope used to say.
Walsh and Piccard were the first, and they were in town for the ceremonies at the Navy Memorial Museum which possesses the sphere itself.The Trieste, as it's called, was built first by Terni in Italy and later (to withstand greater pressure) by Krupp in Germany. Both spheres are on display.
The contraption involves more than the sphere but it's the sphere that held the two guys inside. It is like an orange cut vertically into three. The walls are about 10 inches thick, solid steel.
The three segments of steel are put together with glue.
"Fixed it all up with Elmer's glue," said a Smithsonian friend of mine.
"Not Elmer's," said the museum, "but epoxy glue."
"You mean," I grabbed, "the whole damn thing that's supposed to withstand pressure seven miles beneath the sea is held together with epoxy glue, not welded?"
Man and boy, I have glued enough things together to solidify the very earth, most recently some wood cornices on the dining room mirror (that fell off).
But that is not like going 35,000 feet underwater trusting epoxy.
Well, they did. And here they were 20 years later for the commenorative ceremonies with Rear Adms. J. D. H. Kane, director of naval history, and A. J. Baciocco Jr., plus Guiseppi Bono, who put the Trieste together, and Andreas Rechnitzer, who had a prime responsibility for the Navy's getting the Trieste to begin with.
Very likely they found the snail darter's salty cousin or other good things, whatever was there, I guess, and probably they had those mysterious instruments that measure whatever is measurable.
I think continually, as the poet Spender used to say, of those who were truly great. All such as entered the great waters and smiled in the depths, trusting most likely God and their heart's courage and a little epoxy. d
Turning from human splendor to daily life, I am sorry to see very little sense spoken on the threat to boycott the Olympic Games in Moscow this summer.
The threat of a boycott is so wrongheaded, both morally and practically, that it will certainly be reversed.
Americans are always yammering about the Russians or the Chinese or the Savages or somebody who is "perverting the United Nations" or the international goldfish agreement or the tourist concession of the Tomb, or something "for political purposes."
And here we come using the Games for policial purposes. Perhaps we should come off our high pedestal about who does what for political purposes and just say that (like the Russians) we believe anything and everything is grist for a political mill.
Having decided that, we shall now reckon the gravity of the harm we are doing the Soviets.
A number of the feebleminded have tried to argue that if we boycott the Games the host nation will suffer terribly.
Turn it around. Say we were host and the Russians refused to come. Would we be crushed? I doubt it.
I would assume the Soviets had some gain in mind, and I would guess they had calculated they wouldn't win many medals, and that's why they weren't coming.
And that, of course, is what most Russians will conclude from our boycott.
It is argued by some that the Soviet citizens will stop and think, "Something must be wrong with us if the Americans are refusing to come."
Turn it around. If the Soviets refused to come to our games, would Americans say, "something is wrong with our system, the Russians refuse to come"?
If any great nation, by the way, wants a shrewd and dandy ruler, I may well be available; and I believe the governance of states often requires a choice play by the cleanest rules.
But if one chooses the road of sin (like using the Games as a political instrument) then there should be some important national objective served by that evil.
But all we would accomplish, as even the most obtuse must surely see, is a petulant confession that we have no more realistic forms of protest available at the moment, and that we are sort of wandering about in fantasy images, and have come to no conclusion whatever what the stakes are, what the risks are, what the policy should be, so let's futz around with the Games and give all the domestic yo-yos the illusion of firmness. Bull is what it is, bull.
And there is this point mainly to be pondered:
Citizens of a nation actually believe any position taken by the governors of that nation. It's obvious, but we accept our view of the boycott, not the view of the Soviet state.
Look at this city: Relatively little hell broke forth when some loon proposed that city workers must live within the District of Columbia, not in the burbs.
It is hard to think of a greater infringement of personal liberty than residence requirements. I thought blacks, especially, would notice the danger of being told where they could live and where they could not, but I heard no real outcry. At the moment, I think it is not a crime to live in Alexandria or Gaithersburg.
But the relative calm that prevailed when the suggestion was made will illustrate nicely the point that we all tend to nod and say yup-yup to whatever asinine or dangerous notion is dreamed up by government.
As for residency requirements, I know there is much to be said in favor of them. As there was, I am sure, for the ghettos of Cordoba or, indeed, Warsaw. Administration was doubtless simplified and perhaps tax revenues were better. In Russia, God help you if you want to live in Moscow and don't fit the government requirements for residence there.
Governments never hestitate to do what they like for their own convenience and not much should be expected of any mayor, any senator, any president. But you really might have expected a few more howls from citizens.
Still, a government that can't quite face the unplesantness of telling off a union, on the question of what may be shipped from American ports and what may not, and a government that cannot quite face up to various ragtags of Americans traipsing around in Tehran trying to "help" foreign policy there, is probably the very government that thinks Games are really weapons. Far be it from me to give my own opinion, but I do think the phenomena are fascinating.