We all admire those who take risks for advanced technology, such as Phae thon, who seized the horses of the sun and was dashed to a sad death when they got out of control. Then there were Daedalus and others who made themselves wings with little success (the heat melted the G-bars) through the centuries. Failure is to be expected until one gets the hang of it, and failure will recur in everything with a lot of moving parts.
But progress continues so that eventually one can fly to New York or London jammed in on planes that are late, but still quicker than ox carts, permitting one ample time to deal with stalled escalators, gridlocked taxicabs, malfunctioning elevators (which in my experience take 2 1/2 years to repair) and glass doors that of course do not actually open when you thrust against them -- only the one on the far left does.
Most recently the mechanical model of the prehistoric flying lizard Quetzalcoatus northropii crashed out at Andrews Air Force Base as thousands watched. This attractive toy cost only $700,000, paid for by three organizations including the Smithsonian Institution, which may be strapped for cash on some projects but has plenty for mechanical flying lizards.
I put the cost of Phae thon's space exploration at $46.50 (the cost of burying him) and Daedalus at $219.75 for wax and feathers.
When the Challenger went kaflooey and killed its passengers, I said to my wife the day would not be out before some spokesman would say we didn't spend enough money on it. Sure enough.
The flying lizard failed because the tail fell off and the wind peripherized the ambiosyncretical neutron image peculiar to chromium-platinum alloys used in the gizzardopsis.
But note this -- the mechanical lizard (with half the wing span of the original animal) actually flew nicely for 21 times and crashed only on the grand public unveiling. Which is better than the Challenger did.
If the designers persist -- they ought not lose heart, but gain experience along the way -- they should ultimately be able to turn out a spaceship that works even better than the Challenger.
The only thing that bugs me about the lizard venture was the comment, repeatedly uttered in varying constructions, that the original animal of 65 million years ago was ill designed for flight, was extinct because of nose dives, etc.
This kind of insolence toward life by people who cannot even make a flying toy work, decades after the Wright Brothers, is a cardinal reason American technology does not work any better than it does.
With no offense intended toward imbeciles, I gently remind them the great Pterosaurus worked quite well, thank you, having evolved over millions of years. And if they're all dead now, well I have news: So shall we be, soon enough, but that doesn't mean we weren't dandy animals while afoot beneath the sun.
Quem si non tenuit, magnis tamen excidit aussis, as Ovid said of Phae thon. Loosely translated, the tribute means "Even if he didn't succeed, still he gave it one hell of a go before he died." The gorgeous hexameters are fitting for Phae thon, or indeed for the great Pterosaurus, and one is likely to tear up a bit. But if the same epitaph were applied to some later designers, one would only fall off the chair laughing.
At the time of the mechanical-toy tragedy I found myself in Charlottesville to see a family-type person turned into a legitimate chemical engineer through some magic words spoken over her by a dean. (That is how I know all about neutron imaging and chromium-platinum alloys, in case you wondered.)
Few things, if any, are more tiresome than other people's graduation ceremonies, even if one is a father or even (for that matter) if one is a graduate. You have to sit there and listen to Ted Turner or some other yo-yo. Not that I did, of course.
But what is worth your attention is the view of the academic procession down the noble lawn from the Rotunda. A fully satisfactory blare of trumpets to start them off, but no stirring music along the way (as there would have been, except that at this particular school they are quite inept at ceremony generally) and there is a good bit of straggling.
There was always the problem with the faculty, which even in my day wandered down the lawn, which they had traversed thousands of times year after year, as if they had just this minute landed on Mars and were astounded at the terrain.
But since the admission of women, a few years ago, I think the young men of Charlottesville have become less tense, possibly less frustrated, which is all to the good except they are more likely nowadays to wander off along the sides of the procession. There is an understanding that the freer spirits, who cannot conceivably walk anything approaching a straight line, should bring up the rear, which they did.
We sat in the gallery off the second floor of John Scott's pavilion on the lawn and had a fine view. How my heart leapt to see the first dog in the procession, a fine golden retriever on a web lead attached to a bachelor of arts, I believe.
Then I saw an attractive pair, a black cocker and a regular collie, evidently great friends, and a glorious brindle beast who may have been a Staffordshire terrier, nosing about until one man marched by.
The dog bounded skyward, reaching the fellow's shoulders and giving sweet cries of recognition. Quite moving, really.
"I don't think they should have dogs," I heard someone say. Damned apartment-bred thin-lipped Puritan, no doubt. Back to Boston with the rock-ribbed lot of them, I say.
The day was fine, in the 90s, and I strolled off to the graveyard of the school, so dear to cross-country teams (who prefer courses past graveyards and reservoirs), and as I suspected, the old purple roses were again in bloom. I visited the tombs of Beta and Seal, great dogs in their day, much loved by the school and now with God.
The speeches back at the school were greatly admired and applauded, especially by me in the shade some distance off, communing with the ghost of Beta.