Archive for the ‘Exploration’ Category

The recent kerfuffle regarding the name of the Washington Redskins brings to mind once again America’s obsession with race.

Yes, the word, redskin, has been used as a term of disparagement by some in our history. But then, so has every other name for a group of people. In addition, what is to say that using that word as a team’s name is not an honor to the people referred to? Football teams don’t typically name themselves after weak, corrupt, or undesirable characters. (Well, there have been teams both football and baseball named the Senators, but nobody’s perfect.) I have little sympathy for football–the sport so named in America, that is–and have no dog in this hunt, but I presume that the team chose the name, Redskins, for its associations with skilled warriors. I fail to see how that puts anyone down–other than the opposing team.

There is more, though. Where is the demand that the Minnesota Vikings change their name? After all, Norse culture was vibrant and varied. Nordic people were farmers, merchants, explorers, and metalsmiths, among much else. They had trading networks in the Middle Ages that spanned the globe. For example, statues of the Buddha have been discovered in Inuit sites in northern Canada. The term, viking, meant an expedition, and did indeed include piracy. But it also involved trade and colonization. Today’s nation of Russia was founded by Norse traders, known as the Rus from a Swedish word for rowing, who set up outposts on the navigable rivers of that land. And then there’s the fact that the horns on the helmet image comes from Wagner, not from the actual Norse people.

But I hear no hue and cry for the Minnesota team to change its name. If we really are concerned with fairness, and if one name derived from a group of people is disparaging, then all such names must be changed. Or better yet, we could recognize that taking on such names honors the group that the name represents and ask people to get over themselves.

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Late last night (25 August 2012), I received the news that Neil Armstrong has died. My usual approach when writing these memorials is to give a brief reminder of who the person was and then to express my gratitude that such a person lived. This one will be harder to write.

For one thing, who doesn’t know the name, Neil Armstrong? For one moment in 1969, the whole world stopped to watch one man do something extraordinary. There is so much to say about the man and what he did that summary feels impossible. Here’s my attempt:

Armstrong was an iconic American. During the Korean war, twice during training for the Moon landing, and during the actual event, he found himself in situations where a panicky person would have died, but he calmly went about doing his job. He spoke little and talked about himself even less. The act for which he will always be remembered was a bold push into the vast blank space on the map whose only notation was “Here be dragons.”

His family suggests that when we go out at night and see the Moon, we remember Neil Armstrong. That’s a fine sentiment, but I propose a stronger response. It’s been almost forty years since a human being stood on that body. None of us have been to Mars. None of us have left the Solar System. The list of places where we haven’t been is infinite. The best way to remember that man is to push on beyond his footprint.

Crossposted on Greg Camp’s Weblog.

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