My Favorite Funny Horror Movies

In honor of Halloween I thought I would offer a post on my favorite horror movies. There’s only one problem, I don’t really like horror movies and I would be hard pressed to come up with a set of horror movies that I really like. I love comedy, however, and some of the following movies are hilarious. And I mean they are intentionally funny; I’m not thinking of some horror movies that are so inadvertently silly that they are funny like Plan 9 from Outer Space, a film on everyone’s list as one of the worst ever made. So here is my top ten list of terrific horror movies that are really funny. Not a few of them, I must add, are send-ups of classic horror films such as Dracula and Frankenstein.

10. Dracula: Dead and Loving It (1995): Leslie Nielson reinvented himself as a comedian in the 1980s after a career as a romantic lead by starring in a series of satirical films ranging from Airplane! (1980) to The Naked Gun (1988-1994) films. All of them are silly, using puns and parodies as their stock in trade. They are also truly funny. This film, directed by Mel Brooks, spoofs the original novel by Bram Stoker and a succession of films that have been Hollywood’s stock in trade since the 1930s. Favorite quote: “Children of the night…what a mess they make!”—Dracula after a bat poops on the stairs.


9. An American Werewolf in London (1981): A John Landis film, famous for his teen comedies, this movie stars David Naughton,Jenny Agutter, and Griffin Dunne. Two American students—Naughton and Dunne—were caught by werewolves while hiking in the Moors of Wales. One (Dunne) was killed outright, and keeps appearing as a ghost to warn the other, and Naughton is in the process of transforming into a werewolf for the rest of the film. A fair amount of comedy results from this, even as it ends badly for all. Favorite quote: “I am a victim of your carnivorous lunar activities.”—A victim of the werewolf.


8. The Fearless Vampire Killers, or Pardon Me, But Your Teeth Are in My Neck(1967): Roman Polanski made this outrageous film in the counterculture 1960s with a counterculture cast and a counterculture message. Two vampire hunters visit Transylvania to destroy vampires. Everything goes badly, hilarity ensues, and the hunters lose in the end. Favorite quote: “Oy vey, have you got the wrong vampire.”—A Jewish vampire when confronted with someone holding up a cross to fend him off.


7. Little Shop of Horrors (1986): This musical is one of the joys of recent comedic horror. Starring Rick Moranis as Seymour he finds an alien plant that grows into an insatiable carnivorous plant that proceeds to eat everyone in sight. The greatest scenes involve Steve Martin as a sadistic dentist and Bill Murray as a masochistic patient. This part is unbelievably over the top and belly laugh inanity. Favorite quote: “I’m just a mean green mother from outer space and I’m bad!”—Audrey II, the alien plant.


6. Shaun of the Dead (2004): This outrageous send-up of zombie movies stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost as losers who take on zombies all over London and save their friends Shaun’s mother, and the day. Favorite quote: “Look, I don’t care what the telly says, all right? We *have* to get out of here. If we don’t they’ll tear us to pieces, and that is really going to exacerbate things for all of us.”—Shaun.


5. Zombieland (2009): Geeky Columbus, played by Jesse Eisenberg, can’t get laid until the zombie apocalypse begins and his partner is infected. He survives by living by a rigid set of rules, “double tap,” “cardiac”; you get the picture. He meets Woody Harrelson’s crazy Tallahassee, who lives to kill zombies and eat Twinkies. They meet two sisters who get the better of them repeatedly, kill several zombies, and eventually reach Los Angeles where they hole up in Bill Murray’s mansion. Bill Murray’s cameo is awesome. Favorite quote: “My mama always told me someday I’d be good at something. Who’d a guessed that something’d be zombie-killing?”—Tallahassee.


4. It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966): The third Peanuts television special, yes I understand this is not a movie, but how can I omit it from this list, this one introduced Snoopy versus the Red Baron and the story of a Halloween visitation not unlike Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. It’s heartwarming and funny and still speaks to me as an adult almost fifty years after it first aired. Favorite quote: “Each year, the Great Pumpkin rises out of the pumpkin patch that he thinks is the most sincere. He’s gotta pick this one. He’s got to. I don’t see how a pumpkin patch can be more sincere than this one. You can look around and there’s not a sign of hypocrisy. Nothing but sincerity as far as the eye can see.”—Linus on the Great Pumpkin.


3. Young Frankenstein (1974): This movie was written and directed by the comedic genius, Mel Brooks, and starred Gene Wilder, Madeline Kahn, and Peter Boyle. A younger Frankenstein returns to Transylvania and takes up his grandfather’s work, creates a monster, and outrageous adventures. I recently rewatched it, andYoung Frankenstein still holds up really well after forty years. Favorite quote: “For what we are about to see next, we must enter quietly into the realm of genius.”—Frederick Frankenstein.


2. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975): Another musical, yes, but not anything like one from Rodgers and Hammerstein, or even Andrew Lloyd Webber. All I can say about it, “Let’s do the time warp again.” Favorite quote: “So come up to the lab and see what’s on the slab. I see you shiver with antici…pation.”—Dr. Frank-n-Furter (Tim Curry).


1. Ghostbusters (1984): What a terrific film; it represented a triumph for Bill Murray, Dan Ackroyd, and Harold Ramis, as well as an outstanding supporting cast of Sigourney Weaver, Rick Moranis, and Ernie Hudson. Kicked out of a university, the Ghostbusters go into business for themselves. They chase demons, ghosts, and other assorted paranormal phenomena in New York City until coming into contact with Gozer the Gozerian, aSumerian shape-shifting god of destruction. Of course they destroy it in the end. Favorite quote: “Personally, I liked the university. They gave us money and facilities, we didn’t have to produce anything! You’ve never been out of college! You don’t know what it’s like out there! I’ve *worked* in the private sector. They expect *results*.”—Ray Stantz (Dan Akroyd).

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Wednesday’s Book Review: “Faith, Science, and Understanding”

download (2)Faith, Science, and Understanding. By John Polkinghorne. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2000.

This book is a collection of lectures and essays pieced together to explore the themes exemplified in the title. At sum, each essay considers the relationship between faith and science and suggests that they can be reconciled. John Polkinghorne, an Anglican priest and a trained physicist, wrestles with reconciliation of these different world views. While he does so effectively in many instances, his results are not always satisfactory from my perspective.

I found his essay on science and theology in the university and the piece dealing with cosmology to be the most insightful. I thought his chapter on “Design in Biology” less helpful. Polkinghorne accepts the argument of Michael Behe’s “irreducible complexity” theory as an acceptable explanation of design in living organisms. He does not outright deny evolutionary theory, but his move toward the Discovery Institute’s arguments push him in that direction.

Can one be a person of both religion and science? Can one be a rational, modern human being with a commitment to empirical scientific knowledge and still accept the concept of divine revelation? Polkinghorne certainly believes so. This is as strong statement of how he walks this tightrope between science and religion.

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What is the Attraction of a Space Station?

The International Space Station in 2012.

The International Space Station in 2012.

There has been an international crew aboard the International Space Station (ISS) since 2000. Why? What is it about the idea of a space station that has made it so important for the nations of the world. It seems that there is a fundamental belief about its importance that is very nearly universal. And it has a long history.

From virtually the beginning of the twentieth century, those interested in the human exploration of space have viewed as central to that endeavor the building of a massive Earth-orbital space station that would serve as the jumping off point to the Moon and the planets. Always, space exploration enthusiasts believed, a permanently-occupied space station was a necessary outpost in the new frontier of space. The more technically-minded recognized that once humans had achieved Earth-orbit about 200 miles up, the presumed location of any space station, the vast majority of the atmosphere and the gravity well had been conquered and that persons were now about halfway to anywhere they might want to go.

As early as 1869 Edward Everett Hale, a New England writer and social critic, published a short story in the Atlantic Monthly entitled “The Brick Moon.” The first known proposal for an orbital satellite around the Earth, Hale described how a satellite in polar orbit could be used as a navigational aid to ocean-going vessels. When the heroes of the story substitute a brick moon for this ring—brick because it could withstand fire—it is hurled into orbit 5,000 miles above the Earth. An accident sends the brick moon off prematurely, however, while 37 construction workers and other people were aboard it. In contrast to what is now known about the vacuum of space, these people lived on the outer part of the brick moon, raised food, and enjoyed an almost utopian existence.

Skylab in orbit, 1973-1974.

Skylab in orbit, 1973-1974.

Russian schoolteacher Konstantin E. Tsiolkovskiy also studied the possibility of establishing a space station in Earth-orbit before the beginning of the twentieth century. Tsiolkovskiy even discussed the feasibility of building a dramatic wheeled space station that rotated slowly to approximate gravity with centrifugal force. During the 1920s Romanian-German space flight theorist Hermann Oberth and Austrian engineer Hermann Noordung both elaborated on the concept of the orbital space station as a base for voyages into space. In Nordung’s case, the technical attributes of a space station to support planetary exploration took up the bulk of his 1929 book, Das Problem der Befahrung des Weltraums (The Problem of Space Travel).

In part because of this persistent vision of human destiny to explore the Solar System and the central role of a space station in facilitating this goal, studies of space station configurations had been an important part of NASA planning in the 1960s. NASA scientists and engineers pressed for these studies because a space station met the needs of the agency for an orbital laboratory, observatory, industrial plant, launching platform, and drydock. The station, however, was forced first to the bottom of the priority heap in 1961 with the Kennedy decision to land an American on the Moon by the end of the decade. With that mandate, there was no time to develop a space station in spite of the fact that virtually everyone in NASA recognized its use for exploration beyond Earth orbit. It surfaced as the foremost NASA program even while Apollo became a reality in the latter 1960s, but took several unusual turns before emerging as the principal project of the agency at the end of the twentieth century.

Both the United States and the Soviet Union pursued space stations in the 1970s. The Soviet Almaz and Salyut series of space stations operated until the building of Mir in the 1980s. NASA flew the Skylab orbital workshop in 1973-1974. Then in 1984, NASA began working on another space station; it eventually morphed into the ISS. Fundamentally, we have always believed the space station is necessary to facilitate other activities in space, especially human missions to Mars.

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World Series Memories: The Cardinals Beat the Detroit Tigers in 1934


With the World Series currently underway, I want to reflect on the 1934 World Series of eighty years ago. In that fall classic the St. Louis Cardinals defeated the Detroit Tigers. That 1934 Cardinals team was one of the most memorable in franchise’s history. The “Gashouse Gang,” as they came to be called because of their rowdiness, was led by pitcher Jerome (sometimes called Jay) “Dizzy” Dean, a young, handsome, tall-tale teller with even more self-confidence than his considerable skills allowed. “Ol’ Diz’s” younger brother Paul, christened “Daffy” by the sportswriters, soon also found his way to the Cardinals in time for the 1934 season.

During the 1934 Cardinal spring training camp, Dizzy Dean told a journalist that if the Cards let both of them start, that “me ‘n’ Paul will win 45 to 50 games.” When asked how many of the 50 Dizzy would win, he replied that he would win those that Paul didn’t. The Cards did win, and the brothers Dean did as well, Dizzy going 30 and 7 and Paul notching 19 wins and 11 losses. They pitched the team to a pennant, supported by a stellar cast of roughnecks, accounting for more than half of the team’s 94 wins. It was tight race for most of the year, and the Cards had to win 13 of their final 15 games to pass the front-running New York Giants in the final week of the season. Of the team’s final nine wins, Dizzy and Paul accounted for seven.


Dizzy Dean

Dizzy Dean

Frankie Frisch served as player-manager and other members of the “Gang” included shortstop Leo Durocher, leftfielder Joe “Ducky” Medwick, and the team’s leading hitter and slugger, first baseman Rip Collins, who in a career-best season led the league in slugging average and tied for first in home runs. In a seven game World Series, the Cardinals prevailed, and the Dean boys won them all, each getting a pair in the Cards’ triumph over Detroit.

Detroit was less than impressive in the World Series, although they looked to be the better team as the championship series began. They had gone 101–53 in the regular season and had a terrific everyday lineup. They were anchored by future Hall of Famers Mickey Cochrane (catcher), Charlie Gehringer (second base), Goose Goslin (outfielder), and Hank Greenberg (first base). All had good seasons, and Cochrane was named the season’s most valuable player with Gehringer aclose second in the voting. During the World Series the Cardinals took the first game in Detroit, and lost the second in extra innings. They then went to St. Louis for three games with the Tigers winning two of three. For the last two games, and with the Cardinals backed up against the wall, Dizzy and Paul Dean pitched well and won both games in Detroit.

Hank Greenberg

Hank Greenberg

The Tigers would go back to the World Series in 1935 and beat the Chicago Cubs. The tigers, with largely core members of that 1934 and 1935 pennant winners also took American League championships in 1940 and 1945. They also won the World Series again in 1945. Through the rest of the 1930s the Cardinals were competitive, but not victors. Changes had to come. In the closing days of the 1941 season, the Cardinal farm system’s greatest product arrived at the big club: Stan Musial. The next year—Musial’s first full season—the Cardinals enjoyed their winningest season ever with 106 victories. They needed them all, too, for the Brooklyn Dodgers won 104 games. Between 1924 and 1946 the Cards would take four National League pennants and three World Series, a period of dominance rarely seen.

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Wednesday’s Book Review: “Buffalo Bill on the Silver Screen”

51lNxJhUz0LBuffalo Bill on the Silver Screen: The Films of William F. Cody. By Sandra K. Sagala. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2013.

Who would have thought it? We have all heard of Buffalo Bill Cody and his Wild West Show. Cody turned his fame from dime novels and widespread mythology into dollars in his pocket with a show the traveled around both America and Europe for many years. He even had in his show Native Americans who has once fought him on the Great Plains. For some 30 years he made a good living carrying forward the mythology of the “Wild West.”

What I didn’t know until reading Buffalo Bill on the Silver Screen that Cody also lived long enough to burnish his reputation in films produced near the turn of the twentieth century. That is the little-known story told by Sandra K. Sagala in this book.

Sagala relates how Thomas Edison invited Cody to his kinetoscope studio in 1894 to perform for the cameras their “Wild West” show. Cody embraced the idea and thereafter never met a camera he did not want to stand in front of, and he did so repeatedly for years. The high point in Cody’s film career came in 1910 when he played himself in the film, The Life of Buffalo Bill. He eventually made The Indian Wars in 1913, which claimed to tell the story of the plains wars, although it was financial disaster and virtually none of the footage has survived. It would be fascinating to know if he viewed it as history or “oater.” My guess it was at best an “oater” with just about as much attention to historical detail as many other westerns produced by the film industry.

This book is must reading if you are Buffalo Bill aficionado. It is entertaining if you enjoy Western lore and film history. It is useful if you seek disparate facts in odd genres. It is disappointing if you want broad analytical discussion of any of these areas.

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Homer Newell and the Beginnings of the NASA Space Science Program

Homer Newell

Homer Newell

When Congress established NASA in 1958 it explicitly charged the new space agency with “the expansion of human knowledge of phenomena in the atmosphere and space.” In fulfillment of that mandateNASA created the Office of Space Sciences and installed as its head the respected scientist, Homer E. Newell, brought over from the Naval Research Laboratory. During the next several years the place of Newell’s bailiwick in the NASA organization—as well as its size, scope, and method of operations—was hammered out both within the institution and in the outside scientific community.

Newell proved an inspired choice. He had earned his Ph.D. in mathematics at the University of Wisconsin in 1940 and served as a theoretical physicist and mathematician at the Naval Research Laboratory from 1944-1958. During part of that period, he was science program coordinator for Project Vanguard. For more than a decade he guided the NASA science program, establishing a Space Science Steering Committee, with subcommittees, to provide advice and technical support. Broadly based, this effort involved some of the most prestigious scientists in the nation. They took control of efforts to develop programs of research in their specific fields, reviewed proposals for experiments on any scientific mission, and established priorities.

In spite of some rocky disturbances early in NASA’s history, Newell built close relationships between members of the scientific community was by the early 1960s relatively stable and collegial, cobbling together a NASA/university/industry/research installation partnership to execute a broad range of scientific activities in the 1960s. By fostering a divergence of opinion from all interested parties in this process, Newell ensured that decisions were not only better than could be obtained by any one person but also a broad consensus. He also encouraged the scientists and engineers to communicate effectively so that a mission was ready for development and that the program office had chosen the best possible experiments.

Homer Newell with John Kennedy and others at the time of the Mariner 2 mission to Venus in 1962.

Homer Newell with John Kennedy and others at the time of the Mariner 2 mission to Venus in 1962.

Through this effort Newell placed on a solid footing methodologies for choosing space science experiments and allocating support, be it financial or otherwise. He solicited proposals for projects from research facilities, educational institutions, other government organizations, the National Academy of Science’s Space Science Board, and industry. These would then be considered, along with proposals from NASA’s scientists, for adoption and funding by NASA. Participants in any given space science research project usually included representatives from each of the major constituencies involved in the solicitation process.

Most important, each chosen project was to be executed under the direction of a NASA program scientist who was, according to a memorandum on the approach issued by Newell in 1960, “generally responsible for the overall coordination of the activities of the various participants…and will have responsibility and authority for resolution of any disagreements between and among various participants.”

Over time, Newell and his successors established a structure for space science that worked democratically even though it was far from efficient. The scientists themselves developed decadal surveys to coalesce the various priorities of the disciplines and to rank them for future implementation. These surveys, developed through a politicized process within the National Academies of Sciences, emerged for astronomy in 1964. Written by a diverse collection of scientists from a variety of institutions, with inputs from many others, it surveyed the current state of the field, identified research priorities, and made recommendations for the coming decade, hence the name.

Decadal surveys soon followed in other scientific disciplines in the latter part of the 1960s, each providing a rallying point around which the community of scientists speak with one voice. Indeed the various “Decadals,” as they quickly came to be known, served as the necessary first step in the development of initiatives to be pursued. The basic ranking of missions, projects, and programs furthered the political process as NASA pursued these initiatives. Both the White House and Congress have respected the findings of these “Decadals” and generally follow them without serious question. This has largely altered political decision-making from discussions of scientific merits by lawmakers and others without scientific credentials to acceptance of the findings and then deliberating over funding issues. Accordingly, space science has rarely been something that has been politically sensitive, controversial, or partisan.

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Bert Acosta and the “Golden Age of Flight”

Bert Acost ain 1927.

Bert Acosta in 1927.

You have to love Bert Acosta (1895-1954), an aviation pioneer who became famous for his talent and his misbehavior in pre-World War II aviation. His quest for speed, which was always a part of Acosta’s daredevil psyche, led him both to piloting advanced aircraft and to racing automobiles. These pursuits, along with drinking and womanizing, became Acosta’s main pastime for his entire life.

During the years just before the U.S. entrance into World War I, Acosta earned a livelihood through the uniqueness of airplanes, traveling the region to exhibit his aircraft and give rides to locals. In many respect he was like the post-war barnstormers, gypsy flyers who traveled the nation in search of thrills and money enough to survive and keep flying. During this time he earned a reputation as a gifted but reckless pilot, as his quest for speed outstripped his fear of death. He also worked for a time as a flight instructor to World War I-bound pilots in Toronto, Canada, and in 1917 when the U.S. entered the war he entered the U.S. Air Service Reserve.

When the war ended Acosta returned to southern California and went to work for Glenn Curtiss, this time as a test pilot. He also got involved in aircraft racing and participated in several of the important air races that took place in the 1920s. For instance, in 1921 he took the Pulitzer silver trophy in Omaha, Nebraska, for setting a world’s closed-course speed record of 176.9 miles per hour. Then on May 14, 1927, he was the co-pilot for Clarence D. Chamberlin during a record-setting endurance flight that circled over Roosevelt Field, New York, for 51 hours, 11 minutes, and 20 seconds. He also helped to survey the transcontinental air mail route in 1920 and flew the mail for the U.S. Postal Service for a brief time.

There was always a self-destructive streak in Acosta, and his friends worried that he was too much the carefree daredevil, the hard-drinker, and the woman-chaser for his own good. Acosta battled alcohol his entire life, his drinking contributing to a divorce and several brushes with the law. For example, in 1923 he was arrested for drunk driving. His drunkenness also contributed to his first wife—about whom little is known except that they had two daughters—divorcing him in 1921. Not long thereafter he married Helen Belmont Pearsoll, and they had two sons. This darker side of Acosta’s personality also contributed to several accidents and near misses while flying. In 1922 he had a serious accident that incapacitated him for several weeks.

The most significant contributions of Acosta to flight came in 1927 when a business leader, Rodman Wanamaker, came to him with a scheme to make a trans-Atlantic flight that would demonstrate the feasibility of intercontinental passenger service between the U.S. and France. Acosta would pilot a Fokker trimoter aircraft, christened the America, from New York to Paris with an illustrious crew. Richard E. Byrd, the polar explorer, was commander, while U.S. Navy lieutenant George O. Noville was flight engineer and radio operator. Noted Norwegian aviator Bernt Balchen was relief pilot, although Balchen later commented that he was specifically charged with piloting during night and in dangerous weather because Acosta had not mastered instrument flying. While this group was planning their flight, in May 1927 Charles A. Lindbergh made his pathbreaking solo trans-Atlantic flight and in the next month Clarence Chamberlin made a flight with Charles Levine to Germany. It was anti-climatic, therefore, on Jun. 29 when the America took off from New York with Acosta at the controls.

AcostaThe flight was ill-fated from the beginning. The aircraft was overloaded and too heavy, and only the native skill of Acosta got it airborne in the first place; this was a particular problem of the Fokker trimotors and their unforgiving nature when accelerating to take-off speed. Storms and poor visibility hampered the progress of the flight and Balchen had to fly the plane on instruments more than had been anticipated. Near the Normandy coast Acosta was at the controls when a squall forced them to ditch the aircraft. The details of this incident are unclear, but apparently Acosta was shaken by the dangerous situation and refused to relinquish the controls to Balchen. Byrd had to force him to turn over control to the Norwegian, who could only ditch the aircraft. He did so successfully, and no one aboard was killed. Publicly Byrd praised his crew and blamed the accident on poor weather and instrument failure, but privately Acosta was blamed for having to take this extreme action. Although the flight ended with an accident, the crew was treated as heroes, at least for a short time, both in Paris and New York City.

A historical photo of the Josephine Ford, the airplane used by Admiral Byrd for his effort to be the first to fly over the North Pole, on May 9, 1926.

A historical photo of the Josephine Ford, the airplane used by Admiral Byrd for his effort to be the first to fly over the North Pole, on May 9, 1926.

While Acosta wanted to continue flying after 1927, because of his less than sterling reputation fewer and fewer people were willing to back him. He had a series of scrapes with authorities regulating aviation and lost his pilot’s license for a time. He also invested in a succession of business deals that went bad during the 1930s, he had trouble with his ex-wife over failure to provide support, and he spent some time in jail for this as well as a series of misdemeanors. When his daughters, now young adults, came to his assistance in the mid-1930s, he was little more than a derelict. They helped rehabilitate him, got him off liquor, and helped him get back on his feet. In a fit of idealism, although the good pay fortified that idealism, he went to Spain in 1936 and flew combat missions against the fascists during the Spanish Civil War.

When Acosta returned to the United States, essentially a fugitive for violating the Neutrality Laws, he was unable to earn a living flying. He again turned to drink, and for the rest of his life drifted from menial job to menial job. In 1952 he collapsed in New York City. He later made his way west and two years later he died of tuberculosis in the Jewish Consumptive Relief Society’s sanitarium outside of Denver, Colorado.

Bert Acosta was one of the many second-echelon pilots who operated before the Second World War. He had attained some stature with record-making flights, but was never able to break into the ranks of such famous flyers as Charles A. Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart, and even Roscoe Turner. Accordingly, he scraped out a living on the margins of the expanding aviation industry. He was not able to make the transition to the airline or aircraft industry, as did so many other flyers of his stature, and after his 1927 trans-Atlantic flight he was unable to duplicate the fame he had briefly enjoyed. His self-destructive behavior also prevented him from gaining lasting respect from either the public or his fellow pilots.

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Wednesday’s Book Review: “Empire and Science in the Making”

51YnqaRjYpLEmpire and Science in the Making: Dutch Colonial Scholarship in Comparative Global Perspective, 1760-1830. Edited by Peter Boomgaard. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.

As co-editor of the series, Palgrave Studies in the History of Science and Technology, my comments will be quite positive. This is a very fine book. It is a collection of essays, written by eleven different scholars, most of them with a Dutch background. It deals with a fascinating subject, the state of colonial science in the Dutch empire, especially in the years near the turn of the nineteenth century. An explicit purpose of the collection is to weigh the value and meaning of Dutch colonial science at that time in comparison with what was happening in other European countries and their colonies.

Editor Peter Boomgaard, currently Senior Researcher at the Royal Netherlands Institute of Southwest Asian and Caribbean Studies in Leiden, argues that there has been a dearth of scholarship about science in the latter eighteenth and early nineteenth century era period. He appropriately notes the need to emphasize colonial science in the Dutch Golden Age of the seventeenth century and the institutionalized science of the Dutch colonial state in Indonesia in the nineteenth century. While we may know much about Enlightenment science elsewhere, especially Great Britain and Germany, such is not the case with Dutch imperial studies.

Accordingly, Boomgaard brings to light in this collection of essays the fruits of recent labor investigating an area in which scholars from the Netherlands had been making inroads into the area, but writing in Dutch and therefore inaccessible to most other scholars. These essays demonstrate the relative weakness of organized scientific work in the Dutch empire between 1770 and 1815 and provide a fascinating account of the re‐invention of the Dutch, especially their intellectual grasp of foreign lands, in the face of cultural stagnation, economic decline, political crisis, and repeated military defeat. These case studies are especially good at showing what this weakness meant in comparison to science in Britain, Sweden, and Germany (and to a lesser degree in Spain and France).

I was especially taken by Gerry van Klinken’s essay, “Why Was There No Javanese Galileo?” Van Klinken explores the history of astronomy in Java while the Dutch were present and finds that the scientific inquiry was neither institutionalized nor effectively communicated. While there was no effective communication system, and that was largely a Dutch colonial problem, Javanese elites did not see the need for significant scientific inquiry and did not support it. Accordingly, the accoutrements of Enlightenment science did not root in the Pacific Southeast region of the Dutch empire.

I also enjoyed Michael Laffan’s essay, “‘A Religion That Is Extremely Easy and Unusually Light to Take On’: Dutch and English Knowledge of Islam in Southeast Asia, ca. 1595-1811.” It explains how most western knowledge of Islamic knowledge and culture was generated well before 1770 and the Dutch empire adopted a fundamentally dismissive attitude toward it. Laffan focuses on the lives and research of the Dutch leaders who challenged all things Muslim and therefore ignored the scientific knowledge present in Islamic culture.

At sum, science in the Dutch empire is highlighted in this volume more effectively than in any other study currently available. It was during the time period under review here that modern science emerged as a mainstay of Western Civilization and from the West traveled to every other part of the world. Empire and Science in the Making makes clear how this took place in the region control by the Netherlands.

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World Series Memories: The A’s versus the Dodgers 40 Years Ago

On October 12, 1974, forty years ago, the World Series opened with the Oakland A’s playing the Los Angeles Dodgers for the championship. It was a lackluster World Series, but both teams were superb. The A’s were the reigning champions of baseball, having won the World Series in both 1972 and 1973. Led by three future Hall of Famers (Reggie Jackson, Rollie Fingers, and Catfish Hunter) and a terrific supporting cast that included Joe Rudi, Vida Blue, Bert Campaneris, Sal Bando, and Ken Holtzman the A’s swept into the playoffs on the strength of a 90-72 record.

The Dodgers had assembled a great infield of Steve Garvey at first, Davy Lopes at second, Bill Russell at shortstop, and Ron Cey at third. This infield had been playing together since 1973 and would do so until 1981. They set the record for the longest-serving infield in baseball history, and during that run they went to four World Series, losing each time until 1981 when they beat the Yankees in a dramatic seven game series.

The Dodgers also had a pitching staff anchored by future Hall of Famer Don Sutton. The Dodgers had dominated its division with a 102-60 season record in 1974 and blew past the Pittsburgh Pirates in the playoffs three games to one. The Cincinnati Reds finished four games behind at 98-64, still better than any team in the American League. If the Reds were “The Big Red Machine,” the Dodgers liked to call themselves the “Little Blue Bicycle,” but they were so much more.

dodgers-athletics-1974A lot of baseball experts expected the Dodgers to take the A’s in 1974. For one, the A’s had been there twice before; they were not the hungry team that they had seemed in earlier years. They also did not get the same dominant pitching from their top three starters that had been the case earlier. Catfish Hunter finished at 25-12, but Ken Holtzman declined to 19-17, and Vida Blue to 17-15. Their winning percentages were certainly not what they had been previously.

The everyday players were again led by Reggie Jackson, whose .289 average, 29 home runs, and 93 RBIs put him among the league leaders. Joe Rudi contributed with a .293 average, 22 home runs, and 99 RBIs. Sal Bando’s batting average dipped to .243, but he also hit 22 homers, and drove in 103 runs, the only player on the team to crack the century RBI mark. Gene Tenace continued to hit for power, 26 homers, but only batted .211 while driving in 73 runs. Of course, the steady Bert Campaneris batted .290 while providing speed at the top of the lineup. Designated base stealer Herb “Hurricane” Washington did not contribute much to the offense.

The 1974 World Series was never really all that close, the A’s dominated the Dodgers. The A’s beat them 3-2 in game one at Dodger Stadium on October 12, with Jackson hitting a solo home run in the top of the second to put the A’s in the lead, a lead they never relinquished. The next day the Dodgers won their only game in the series, 3-2, before traveling to Oakland for game three on October 15 through 17. The A’s then took three straight from the Dodgers—3-2 on the strength of Hunter’s seven hit start, 5-2 with Holtzman hitting a home run to help his own cause, and 3-2 in the final game of the season with Blue Moon Odom getting the win after relieving Vida Blue and giving way to Fingers with the save.

Just like that, the A’s were the champions of the baseball world once again, the only three-peat other than the Yankees ever to do it. As in past years, A’s owner Charlie Finley was everywhere taking bows for the victory. But it was not the same sweet victory that the first had been. The years that followed would be increasingly difficult for the A’s. They collapsed after the departure of the terrific core of veterans who could not wait to get away from Finley. They A’s would not reemerge as champions until the latter part of the 1980s with another terrific team led by a new generation of players.

The Dodgers, who rolled over in the 1974 World Series, would go on to several more years of contention, including two losses in the World Series in 1977 and 1978 to the New York Yankees and a victory in the World Series in 1981 over those same Yankees.

As the postseason this year is underway, it is good to recall the World Series of 1974 and the great teams that played it.

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The Surveyor Landers on the Moon

Surveyor III was the third lander of the American Surveyor program sent to the surface of the Moon. Launched on April 17, 1967, Surveyor III landed on April 20, 1967, at the Mare Cognitum portion of the Oceanus Procellarum. Here Apollo 12 Astronaut Alan Bean inspects the lander in fall 1969.

Surveyor III was the third lander of the American Surveyor program sent to the surface of the Moon. Launched on April 17, 1967, Surveyor III landed on April 20, 1967, at the Mare Cognitum portion of the Oceanus Procellarum. Here Apollo 12 Astronaut Alan Bean inspects the lander in fall 1969.

Like so many other point of intersection, soft landing on the Moon with robotic probes proved a venue for Cold War competition between the United States and the Soviet Union in the 1960s. The Soviets won that competition February 3, 1966, by sending Luna 9, which became the first spacecraft to soft land on another planetary body, to the Moon’s Oceanus Procellarum region.

Following closely after the Soviet Union’s success with Luna 9, the U.S. succeeded in becoming the first American probe to make a stabilized soft landing on the Moon on June 2, 1966, four months after the Soviet probe Luna 9 landed successfully. Surveyor 1 photographed and studied the soil of a flat area inside a 100 km crater north of Flamsteed Crater in southwest Oceanus Procellarum. The television system had transmitted a total of 11,240 pictures of the Moon. The spacecraft also acquired data on the radar reflectivity of the lunar surface, bearing strength of the lunar surface, and spacecraft temperatures for use in the analysis of the lunar surface temperatures. NASA terminated Surveyor 1’s mission due to a dramatic drop in battery voltage before the end of June 1966.

After a failure of Surveyor 2 on September 22, 1966, NASA’s Surveyor 3 successfully soft landed on the lunar surface on April 17, 1967, and provided imagery and soil analysis. The lander “bounced” more than once on the surface before coming to rest. Footprints from the initial impact were visible from the final landing site. Besides a camera similar to Surveyor 1, this lander also carried a mechanical scoop that dug several small trenches in the lunar soil. Over the next three weeks the camera returned more than 6,300 images showing the surrounding rocks and the movements of the scoop. Two years after landing Surveyor 3 was visited by the Apollo 12 astronauts. The television camera and other sections were removed and returned to Earth. The camera was later put on display in the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum where it remains to the present.

Surveyor III was the third lander of the American Surveyor program sent to the surface of the Moon. Launched on April 17, 1967, Surveyor III landed on April 20, 1967, at the Mare Cognitum portion of the Oceanus Procellarum. Here Apollo 12 Astronaut Alan Bean inspects the lander in fall 1969.

Surveyor III was the third lander of the American Surveyor program sent to the surface of the Moon. Launched on April 17, 1967, Surveyor III landed on April 20, 1967, at the Mare Cognitum portion of the Oceanus Procellarum. Here Apollo 12 Astronaut Alan Bean inspects the lander in fall 1969.

Although NASA lost contact with Surveyor 4 on July 17, 1967, it followed with Surveyors 5, 6, and 7 over the course of the next few months. While on its trajectory to the Moon, Surveyor 5 experienced serious problems with a helium pressurization system that was necessary for the retrorockets to work. Flight engineers were able to work around the problem and Surveyor 5 successfully landed on September 10, 1967. Thousands of images were returned by the television camera. Surveyor 5 also carried an alpha ray scatterer that measured composion of the lunar soil. Surveyor 6 landed on November 9, 1967. It carried similar instruments as Surveyor 5. On November 17 Surveyor 6 became the first spacecraft to take off from the lunar surface.

Controllers noted enough fuel remained for a brief firing of the retrorockets. Surveyor 6 performed a “hop”, reaching a height of about 10 feet and coming to rest about 8 feet from its first position. Both sets of footprints in the lunar soil were plainly visible in images form the television camera. Surveyor 7 landed on January 10, 1968 north of the crater Tycho. Surveyor 7 carried both a mechanical arm and an alpha scattering instrument. The arm was needed to move the latter device when it was found to be stuck. Over the next three weeks after landing, the alpha scattering sensor was lowered and then moved to test composition of soil from the surface and within trenches.

Five of the seven Surveyor spacecraft completed their missions between May 30, 1966, and January 9, 1968. One of them, Surveyor 3, had a malfunction with its landing jets causing the 650-pound robot to skip twice across the lunar surface before stopping near a small crater rim.

This image from LRO shows the spacecraft's first look at the Apollo 12 landing site. The Intrepid lunar module descent stage, experiment package (ALSEP) and Surveyor 3 spacecraft are all visible. Astronaut footpaths are marked with unlabeled arrows. This image is 824 meters (about 900 yards) wide. The top of the image faces North. Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center/Arizona State University Read more at:

This image from LRO shows the spacecraft’s first look at the Apollo 12 landing site. The Intrepid lunar module descent stage, experiment package (ALSEP) and Surveyor 3 spacecraft are all visible. Astronaut footpaths are marked with unlabeled arrows. This image is 824 meters (about 900 yards) wide. The top of the image faces North. Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center/Arizona State University
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An interesting story from the Apollo program. One of the Surveyor spacecraft now owned by the National Air and Space Museum consists of an authentic structure with simulated wood instrumentation. It closely resembled the Surveyor 3 spacecraft, visited by the Apollo 12 astronauts on the Moon. NASA loaned this Surveyor 3 mockup to CBS News in New York during the Apollo 12 mission to aid in communicating with the viewing audience about what was taking place on the Moon. This became especially important when television broadcasts from the Moon during Apollo 12 ended suddenly when astronaut Alan Bean accidentally burned out the TV camera when he inadvertently pointed it into the sun. Since voice communication was still available CBS placed two actors in space suits next to this lander to simulate in real time activities on the lunar surface.

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