Wednesday, January 28, 2015


For the turn of a phrase or the sake of a good picture, events occasionally have been manipulated --ignored or enhanced-- at times even created. Remember President George H.W. Bush's speech from the oval office when a drug addict was entrapped for the sake of an example, pre-written into the speech.

I doubt that we'll ever know the whole truth about the Challenger explosion (enless there are some death bed confessions) but with Nixon's televised precedent of speaking from the oval office to astronauts on the moon, it seems quite reasonable that President Reagan could have made dramatic use of a phone conversation from the Speaker's dais of the joint Houses of Congress during his State of the Union Address in 1986.

Indeed it has been reported that such a conversation was planned as part of the speech. So what was the nature of phone calls between the White House and Morton Thiocol and engineers who tried to prevent the launching? Who really forced the decision to launch and for what reasons?

Look at what happened. The Challenger exploded, and the State of the Union was merely postponed a week. President Reagan won praise for his uplifting words on the loss of our gallant heroes. How ironic! Reagan didn't write the text in the first place -- Peggy Noonan did. Isn't it strange that we should compliment our politicians for words crafted by ghostwriters? In Peggy Noonan's case, some of her most famous lines aren't original with her anyway. "A thousand points of light" is a direct quote from C.S. Lewis' 1955 book The Magician's Nephew or a variation of Thomas Wolfe's 1939 The Web and the Rock ("thousand points of friendly light") and ", gentler..." is, I understand, adapted from a speech of Mario Cuomo's (and I have no idea who actually wrote his speech.)

But back to the Challenger. It seems very likely that the shuttle was launched after multiple delays --against the advice of the engineers-- for the sake of a photo-op and the turn of a phrase. Then after the disaster, the President took credit for uplifiting words written by someone else-- words which wouldn't have been necessary in the first place if the engineers hadn't been overridden for a theatrical stunt.

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Titian in the Frari (Venezia)