Tag Archives: history

Mallory Above the Second Step

On New Year’s Eve, growing a little tired of the superficial celebrations, and actually a little tired of meaningless college football bowl games as well, I stumbled upon a Discovery Channel documentary following an expedition on their ascent of Mt. Everest. I sat and watched the documentary until there was only 15 minutes left in the year of 2006, before I finally caved in to tradition and the expected festivities.

What is it about Everest? I did the same thing once last fall; I spent an entire night ignoring my chemistry homework, and just did research on Mt. Everest, intrigued by the details of the two primary climbing routes, the obstacles and treacheries along both paths, the mystery of Mallory and Irvine’s disappearance and the extent of their progress beforehand, the successful methods of Tenzing and Hillary on the first ascent, the disaster of 1996 and the debate that raged in its wake, the final discovery of Mallory’s body and the clues it yielded, and the indomitable mountain itself, its power and beauty. What a joy it must be, to stand upon the roof of the world, to be on the highest point of the planet, after battling with the elements and some of the harshest conditions on Earth, for days on end, and then to finally succeed at the top of the world. And what agony it must be, to be turned away just a hundred meters from the summit by life-threatening weather, to be so close to a Singular Life-Defining Achievement, only to watch it fade away just when it was within reach. To lose fingers, toes, or even limbs from frostbite on Everest: is it worth it? Is an ascent of the mountain a vain act of personal glory, or a true triumph of the human body and spirit? Or somehow both?

These days, even relative novices can hire experienced guides to take them up Everest. And who can say that they aren’t at least somewhat tempted by the thought?

I don’t really know where I’m going with this. I just feel like the mountain reveals something very profound and powerful about human nature, and the whole thing is really fascinating to me. The Wikipedia article on Mallory has a few nice quotes.

Mallory’s daughter has always said that Mallory carried a photograph of his wife on his person with the intention of leaving it on the summit. This photo was not found on Mallory’s body. Given the excellent preservation of the body and its garments, this points to the possibility that he may have reached the summit and deposited the photo there [therefore meaning that Mallory was the first to ever ascend Mount Everest].

Chris Bonington, the widely respected British Himalayan mountaineer, summed up the view of many mountaineers all over the world:

If we accept the fact that [Mallory and Irvine] were above the Second Step, they would have seemed to be incredibly close to the summit of Everest and I think at that stage something takes hold of most climbers… And I think therefore taking all those circumstances in view… I think it is quite conceivable that they did go for the summit… I certainly would love to think that they actually reached the summit of Everest. I think it is a lovely thought and I think it is something, you know, gut emotion, yes I would love them to have got there. Whether they did or not, I think that is something one just cannot know.

I’m normally a terribly bitter and pragmatic pessimist, but something inside me wants to see Mallory at the summit of Everest as well. As Bonington said, it’s a nice thought.

On an entirely separate tangent (as if tangents can actually be completely separate, haha, oh my goodness did I really just point that out), the Teenage Fanclub song ‘Mount Everest’ is so good, among my favorite songs. The long coda with the distorted electric guitar and hammered dulcimer (maybe?) just gets me every time. Maybe that’s trivializing this whole thing, haha.

Some links:

  • Video of a space shuttle launch from the shuttle’s point of view, with the booster rockets and the camera then falling back into the ocean. A really beautiful video.
  • The 2007 edition of Software for Starving Students has been released. It’s free, and useful!
  • Also free are a pair of flip-flops! I have no idea if this will actually work, but it’s worth a shot. Edit: Doesn’t work anymore, sadly. If your order did go through, check your Order Status, and you’ll find that you need to call Customer Service, where you’ll get an apology and a canceled order. If you try and order now, shipping isn’t free anymore.
  • Learn the correct (or at least most efficient) way to wrap headphone cords.
  • Some guys with way too much free time find awesome ways to throw ping pong balls into glasses, and also quarters into shot glasses. I’m not sure if I want to give these guys a high five, or if I want to punch them in the face.
  • US Airways now has an Arizona Cardinals plane! I don’t even know what to say to this, it’s just lolololol.
  • Kissing Suzy Kolber has an amazing post on Mike Shanahan’s Masterplan in the aftermath of their unfathomable loss to the 49ers.
  • Finally, take a survey to find what your brain’s gender is. I’m pretty much an average male, as it turns out. I aced the opening line test, which was pretty cool. On the other hand, some of these are a little more questionable, like the thumb test. Also, I scored a 1 out of 20 on that empathy questionnaire (hahaha), but then I was way above average on the face recognition test, which is supposed to mean that I empathize well. So how much empathy do I really have, Mr./Ms. Test? Anyways, it’s a fun way to waste time, and time is what I’m sure everyone has plenty of this winter break. Hope it’s going well so far!

Tilling of the Earth

I’m currently taking a course on Religion and Ecology, specifically what roles religion can play in either encouraging environmental stewardship, or in encouraging the exploitation of nature. As part of the class, I’m required to write journal entries whenever the inspiration strikes. After our first class discussion, I already had some ideas that I wanted to float into my journal, which I’ve decided to stick on this blog for now. I mean, why not. These aren’t deeply personal or private thoughts, and if you’re not interested, I totally understand, and you can feel free to just skip to the links or past posts. Really, I’d just rather stick them here than on some lonely word document lost somewhere in my unorganized hard drive.

Much of our discussion today centered on an article by Lynn White, entitled The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis, published in a 1967 volume of the journal Science. In the article, White accuses Christianity of gradually encouraging the exploitation of the world’s resources, for several different reasons that I won’t go into here. In discussing changes in human mindsets, White brings up the technology of the plow, that farmers use to ready their soil for planting.

Early plows merely scratched the soil, and required only two oxen to pull. Thus, families usually owned single plots that were capable of only supporting themselves, with perhaps a small surplus to sell on the market. But at some point, peasants in northern Europe developed a deeper cutting plow that required the force of eight oxen to pull, but was much more efficient in preparing the soil for crops. But because no single family owned eight oxen, neighborhood families then pooled together their oxen and collaborated in plowing very large plots to support the entire community.

White sees this as an important transition in the human farmer’s attitudes towards nature. Initially with the scratch plow, humans were friendly with the environment and only took what they needed to subsist and survive. The advent of the deepcut plow encouraged larger plots and more exploitation of the land and more greed, which led human society to the unfortunate state that we now find ourselves in.

Several classmates raised the point that here, then, is evidence that technology, and not religion, is largely at fault for our destruction of nature. Specifically, technologies that increase our efficiency at harvesting resources encourage this harvesting further.

This was a valid point, but I started to think about why these technologies were developed to begin with. If humans began in an idyllic life in relative harmony with nature, why was there a need for the deepcut plow in the first place? I don’t believe that it was invented on pure accident, I believe that someone felt the need to exploit the earth further, and therefore developed this new plow, which means that technology alone was not at fault. There needed to be some sort of impetus to raise the need for new technology, and the question we must ask is whether religion is that impetus.

For example, a classmate mentioned that the Incas of South America did not exploit their territory’s resources, largely because they did not have the necessary technology. But I feel that there was no technology because there was no drive to invent the necessary devices to begin with, and that the Incas truly were in tune with their surroundings. You need a reason to invent, which the Incas did not have, while the Europeans across the sea did see a need for more efficiency, possibly because of differences in religion.

But then, isn’t the single scratch plow harming the environment somewhat as well? It requires a small plot of land to be cleared of vegetation, which would clearly require some changes to the natural habitat. So the scratch plow itself is an increase in efficiency from some earlier techniques, which makes me think that technology is a slippery slope. Once the very first agricultural tool was developed, means of making it more efficient commenced, leading to the inventions of increasingly destructive tools. So when did this all begin? The Neolithic Revolution, when man settled down from their hunter gatherer ways? Why did this occur? There’s a lot of disagreement about the causes of the Neolithic Revolution, but I would think that it has something to do with human nature iself, as I don’t see how any other factor could affect populations on such a global scale to such a large degree.

But if it’s human nature that’s to blame, why did some civilizations hold respect for nature, while others clearly did not? This brings us back to White’s original case for Christianity as an anti-environmentalist religion. He believes that pagan animist cultures who saw spirits and gods in every aspect of nature would use their religion as a reason to respect the environment, a belief system which Christianity would come to destroy. I’m starting to feel that this argument is about to get incredibly circular, and obviously there’s no clear-cut resolution to the problem, otherwise there would be no reason to hold the class at all. I just felt that I needed to clear up my ideas regarding the role of technology specifically in the rise of environmental destruction.

In other news, I have an 8:30 am class on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and so last night I decided that since I’d be waking up early anyways, I should just wake up even earlier to see what fall migrants I could catch in the Crum. That thinking backfired somewhat when I found that the sun rises a lot later than I remembered, and that most of the Crum Woods hillsides aren’t struck by sunlight until even later, leading to a lot of stumbling around in the dark. But even in the darkness and relative silence, I was able to find some really great birds.

  • Northern Waterthrush – new bird for my Crum list! Having experience with Louisiana Waterthrushes, my favorite bird, I could immediately tell that this bird was slightly more streamlined, with a thinner bill, and most evidently, with dense streaks on its chest, and thinner streaks than the broad strokes on the Louisiana. Its tailwagging was also much quicker than the relatively languorous Louisiana. The lighting was too poor to see a difference in the overall color, and I didn’t get any definitive looks at the back of the supercilium. Found in one of the large puddles on the creekside trail below the ampitheater.
  • Black-throated Blue Warbler – two individuals upstream from the hemlock bluffs behind Danawell.
  • Black-and-white Warbler – one bird feeding at eye level in Upper Wister Draw.
  • Acadian Flycatcher – one bird calling at the same location as the Black-throated Blue.

Recent links:

  • This looks like a great road to drive.
  • An interesting invention for your car that lets you see the light change without having to scrunch or crane your neck, for relatively short or tall people.
  • Backpack with built-in basketball holder. Even though I don’t play basketball seriously anymore, I’d still like to carry one around like this, just because.
  • You’ve encountered those cheap sofa-beds in hotels, but how about this sofa that turns into a bunk bed.
  • It looks like there’s a MiG fighter parked in this normal parking lot, next to people’s cars.
  • Cedar Point has an insane new coaster under construction, featuring two launches, and some sick inversions. The press release is here, while the official website with a simulated ride video is here.
  • Help Google improve its Image Search by playing this surprisingly addictive game.

And finally, rest in peace Steve Irwin. You will be missed dearly by all of us.

Sweatin’ the Oldies

As the rock director of WSRN, people always seem to assume that I know all that there is to know about rock and roll music, and that I’ve heard most of it too, or at least the quality stuff. While that’s very flattering, it’s quite far from the truth, which I’m a bit ashamed to admit. Let’s hope I don’t get impeached from the Board for this revelation.

I know next to nothing about classic rock. Before this year, I’m not sure if I’d ever heard a full Beatles album, from beginning-to-end. I have never heard an entire Bob Dylan album. I heard my first David Bowie album a few months ago. I have not heard a full album from The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Who, or many of the other stone-cold classic bands of decades prior. This list could go on for quite a while. But before you burn me at the stake, or bind my feet in concrete and toss me into the East River, hear me out.

Of course I’m not too proud of this dubious distinction. How am I supposed to write a competent review of the new White Whale EP or any other contemporary work if I haven’t heard any of the important bands that have inspired them? Aren’t I missing out on a wealth of quality music that time itself has deemed to be Important and Transcendant and all that jazz? The importance and relevance of the classics cannot be understated, so why haven’t I visited them sooner?

That’s a relatively easy question to answer, and I think it has to do with my upbringing. As a young child, my parents exposed me only to the Classical tradition (which I regrettably have not taken up too well either), and I had no Cool Older Brother Or Sister to show me any rock music either. Hootie and the Blowfish were my favorite band on the radio in elementary school, which probably speaks volumes about my tastes at that point. The first time I’d even heard of The Beatles was when a coworker of my mom made me a double-sided mixtape (still the only actual mixtape I’ve ever received). And while I loved that mixtape to death, it remained the only exposure I had to them; there were no other records to peruse in the house, and no internet filesharing at the time either. Plus, Beatles albums were expensive, and I wanted to spend my precious allowance on Super Nintendo games and the new Hootie album anyways. So I became familiar with the hit singles, but none of the albums proper, and never gained any sort of perspective on their importance in rock history. So right off the bat, I got years behind all the kids who grew up with Mr. Tambourine Man or Ziggy Stardust, songs I wouldn’t discover until almost two decades later in life. Isn’t that incredibly sad and frightening.

And for some reason, I continued to ignore classic rock once I actually did have the capabilities, both financial and technological, of actually seeking it out. That’s what I greatly regret, but I’m trying to make up for lost time. As we speak, I’m getting through Blonde on Blonde, which bored me to tears the first time I tried to listen, but is currently blowing my mind completely. How did I manage to completely miss this kind of stuff? On my lunch break today I went up into the WSRN studio and listened to Abbey Road on the original vinyl, which was awesome. I just discovered George Starostin’s excellent website Only Solitaire, which I find to be incredibly well-written and unswayed by hype and reputation, so i’m using it as a sort of guide. How weird is that though, that the rock director has heard more songs by some no-name indie band Destroyer than by The Beatles and Bob Dylan combined. How have I not heard Abbey Road for so long? It seems completely wrong, so this is now a crusade to right that wrong.

I have to say though that sometimes new music just owns the old. Paid in Full still sucks so hard. I really don’t get that one at all.

So there you go, that’s my admission. Goodbye, all semblance of credibility. I feel both immensely relieved, and completely emasculated at the moment.

New links, better than the old links:

Edit: My mom has reminded me that The Beatles happen to be my dad’s favorite band. I do remember when I was a little kid watching Thomas the Tank Engine on tv, that my dad would constantly point out that Ringo Starr was the train conductor on the series, which in hindsight is completely hilarious. But in any case, I was just a young kid who was far more interested in the colorful talking trains than in the strange man my dad kept pointing out. I don’t think I made the connection until some point in high school. The fact remains that even though my dad loves The Beatles, we didn’t have any Beatles records in the house.

I’d also like to take this opportunity to talk about the role of vinyl at WSRN. During organic chemistry lab last semester, Professor Paley and I were having a discussion regarding the rash of cd thefts that had occured recently and what could be done about it. We both wondered whether such thefts had occured before the age of cds, when the entire rock library was composed of vinyl. The concept of vinyl theft struck me as completely absurd, and within the past few days I’ve realized that it’s because of another question I have.

Back in the vinyl age, did college students bring turntables with them to school? And does that mean that they carried their record collections along with them? Neither seems to occur these days. I only know three Swatties who brought turntables to school and two are legitimate DJs, and as for record collections everybody seems to have their music libraries in a digital format. Karina suggested that most students likely brought a radio with them, and kept their family’s lone turntable at home, and that strikes me as being much more reasonable. It also seems to imply that listening habits have changed, as I don’t sense that many of today’s students listen to the radio outside of their cars, as the rise of iPods and digital music collections now enables people to listen to whatever they want, whenever they want, rather than having to cave in to the whims of the radio. I’ve really taken for granted the increasing portability of music; imagine simply having one turntable or one radio in your home, rather than the current network of computers with speakers, not to mention the iPod in the front pocket.