Spaceships, statesmanship, forgotten history
After the Read More! A new entry into the private space flight market aims to halve the ticket prices offered by Virgin Galactic. Austin Bay thinks McCain should make hay while Hillary and Obama are pinned down by their recriminations. Plus, a video of a 90 year old eskrima master illustrates a long-ago art.
Aviation Week reports:
XCOR Aerospace has thrown its hat into the space tourism ring by announcing plans to develop a two-seat, sub-orbital spacecraft called the Lynx. ... "We're looking at doing four flights per day, and we've already demonstrated two per day with the EZ-Rocket aircraft," says XCOR CEO Jeff Greason. ...
No firm ticket prices are being quoted, but XCOR suggests the target is about half the existing competition offered by Virgin Galactic, which currently charges $200,000 for a ride on vehicles being derived from Scaled Composites' SpaceShipOne.
Austin Bay thinks John McCain has a chance to manufacture an image of quiet competence and action as Hillary and Obama thrash in the mud. "While Clinton and Obama tread the political gutter, McCain ought to continue his global trek. McCain ought to visit U.S. troops in Afghanistan, Green Berets training counter-terror cops in West Africa, destroyer sailors in the Strait of Hormuz, Marines on an assault ship in the Mediterranean, a carrier off South Korea. And he should smile -- energetically -- as the cameras roll."
John McCain's strong suit is national defense, upon which he may carry even those conservatives who are opposed to him for other reasons. And this fact makes the decision by the Democrats to cede the initiative and strategy of the War on Terror to conservatives even more puzzling. We take it for granted today that Franklin Roosevelt had no choice but to engage in a strategy of forcing Japan and Germany into unconditional surrender. But in fact he did not have to. He could have opted for a far less aggressive strategy aimed at achieving the bare minimum required to obtained redress for Pearl Harbor. But Roosevelt's decision to take the initiative shaped the world for decades.
The swordmaster Antonio "Tatang" Illustrismo died in 1997. HIs Wikipedia bio says:
Born in Bagong, Bantayan, Cebu in 1904. As a boy he studied eskrima from his father. At the age of nine he decided to travel to the United States, and stowed away on a boat he thought was headed for America. In actuality, he arrived in Mindanao, in the southern Philippine islands. Antonio Alulud Ilustrisimo was one of the most well respected eskrimadors of the Philippines; He is famed for winning countless duels and street encounters, as well as serving as a guerrilla against the invading Japanese forces during World War II. GM Ilustrisimo was never defeated in combat, and earnt great respect as a result of his brave exploits against the Japanese.
An interview given shortly before his death indicates he haunted the very same Tondo dockside area that I knew so well. Here's a random event in his life which is absolutely consistent with my memories of Tondo. Tatang recalls, "In the early 50s, I had a real fight, not an arranged match, with a man called Doming here on Dock 8. He had a knife and I picked up a short piece of pipe from the ground. He died from a blow to the head with that pipe."
The origins of the "swordmaster" reflects the informal, unstructured background from which he hailed. He learned his blade skills, not in some exotic ninja academy with mysterious monks and rituals, but from his father, grandfather and uncles in the dirt-poor Visayas. And unlike cinematic swordfighting gurus, the impoverished swordmasters of the Visayas did things like become professional seamen to earn a living. Tatang was a sailor for 35 years.
The interview provides a few fleeting glimpses into the life he led. The story is told, for example, about how he passed through a mass melee of gangsters hacking away at each other a la the Gangs of New York in the same way that Moses passed through the parted Red Sea. No one wanted to come within striking distance of him.
There are tantalizing hints of a Southeast Asian-wide underground prizefight scene in which Tatang became involved. "I had fights in Singapore and in Jakarta with good players. The toughest one was in Singapore. I cut him across the right wrist and won the fight, and $5000. I also fought in Calcutta, and broke that mans right arm." Tatang killed seven Japanese soldiers during World War 2 with the blade.
There are vast unrecorded swathes of history that will never be written down. The picaresque stories for example, of the penitentiaries at Muntinglupa, Davao and Old Bilibid have never been captured, though they would rival (I daresay) the tales of the Pirates of the Caribbean. Quaint customs, prodigious riots, daredevil escapes, moments of tragedy and low comedy, legal perfidy and religious conversion. A whole linguistic world to describe the jailbird experience rantso, tarima, bastonero, brigada. I'm sure Tatang, though not obviously a jailbird, would have known every word in the lexicon.
All the denizens of this world partook of a shared sense that their life was a cosmic joke and understood good, evil, salvation and damnation in that context. Imagine a group of shirtless men drinking prison moonshine and plucking away at a guitar. The whole scene would be suffused with the sickening smell of argo soap, a kind of corrosive detergent that has been institutionally part of low-life scenery for unknown decades. And the men sing the song of those doomed to be forgotten. The one thing that all prisoners know is that the visits become fewer until finally they stop altogether.
The days pass
The leaves of the calendar fall
If you forget me and take away your hand
Go ahead, but to forget you is more than I can stand.
You can see somewhat of this self-deprecation in the video that follows, with its bad production values and cheesy background is exactly as it should be.
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