Wednesday, July 17, 2013

International Mandela Day, John Glenn's Birthday, Asterisk Day

As this is written, Nelson Mandela remains hospitalized in South Africa, gravely ill. If he makes it to Thursday, Mr. Mandela will turn 95. He was born July 18, 1918.

From time to time, some promising change will be reported in Mr. Mandela's condition. But the man is old. He is ill. He is frail. He will die, as all men must die.

Many think of Mr. Mandela as the George Washington of South Africa. We consider the comparison apt. The brand new United States was afraid to let Washington lay down his office and retire to Mt. Vernon. Washington had to insist. He rejected any talk of a third term because he did not want to set a precedent of presidents serving for life. As usual, Washington was right: He did not live three full years after retiring. When he died, in 1799, Americans were terrified: Washington so embodied the spirit of the new nation that many feared the nation would not survive without him. We wonder if something similar is not happening right now in South Africa: People there may be afraid that the nation he created from the ashes of Apartheid can not long endure with Mandela gone. But, surely, if he could muster the strength, Mr. Mandela himself would insist that it can. That must be among his dearest wishes as the twilight draws near.

Since 2009, the United Nations has promoted Nelson Mandela's birthday as Nelson Mandela International Day, joining the call of the Nelson Mandela Foundation to urge all the people of the world to commit 67 minutes of time Thursday to public service (one minute for each year of Mandela's public life). That seems like a fitting tribute.

What fitting tribute can we devise for an American nonagenarian? As Mr. Mandela turns 95, the first American to orbit the Earth, John Glenn, turns 92.

Nobody has declared Mr. Glenn's birthday any sort of holiday -- yet -- but maybe somebody should.

Perhaps you've forgotten that, in 1998, as his career in the United States Senate wound to a close, John Glenn went back into space, aboard the Shuttle Discovery, as part of the crew of STS-95. He was then 77, the oldest person ever to fly in space.

He wasn't traveling as mere cargo or window dressing. From the Wikipedia article linked in the preceding paragraph:
Since the aging process and a space flight experience share a number of similar physiological responses, a series of experiments sponsored by NASA and the National Institute on Aging was conducted on Glenn during the STS-95 mission. The investigations gathered information which may provide a model system to help scientists interested in understanding aging. Some of these similarities include bone and muscle loss, balance disorders and sleep disturbances. Data provided from Glenn during this mission was compared to data obtained from Glenn's Friendship 7 orbital mission in 1962.
John Glenn had the Right Stuff to launch the American space program. He was among those who helped redeem President Kennedy's promise to go to the Moon in the 1960s. The anniversary of that first lunar landing is only a couple of days off, on July 20.

Do you realize no one has walked on the Moon since 1972?

John Glenn Day (which we hereby proclaim) is a day to celebrate American achievement in opening the New Frontier -- and to demand that we seize the initiative -- and our birthright -- the stars themselves.

When human pioneers do move into space, we hope baseball will accompany them.

You may have noticed a baseball segment in each of the posts this week on The Blog of Days in honor of All Star Week. Well, Thursday, July 18 has its own place in baseball history. On the plus side, on July 18, 1970, Willie Mays got his 3,000th hit. On the dubious side, July 18 may be referred to as Asterisk Day: It was on July 18, 1961 that Commissioner Ford Frick decreed that, since his record was set during a 154-game season, baseball would not deem Babe Ruth's all-time record of 60 home runs as broken unless the feat were accomplished within the first 154 games of the season. Later that season, Roger Maris would hit his 61st homer in the 4th inning of Game 162, the last game of the regular season, against the Boston Red Sox. Wikipedia insists that there was no "asterisk" -- that the asterisk next to Maris's feat is mere urban legend -- but we are inclined add Asterisk Day to the calendar of microminiholidayettes nonetheless.

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