Wednesday’s Book Review: “Dreams of Other Worlds”

Dreams of other WorldsDreams of Other Worlds: The Amazing Story of Unmanned Space Exploration. By Chris Impey and Holly Henry (Princeton University Press, Princeton, 2013). Pp. 450. $35. ISBN: 978-0-691-14753-6.

Should scientists write history? Most of the time, I don’t think so. This is one of those times. Chris Impey is a very fine astronomer who has been involved in many space science investigations over the years. His co-author, Holly Henry, is a professor of English and therefore knows how to turn a phrase. Neither is an historian, nor should they pretend to be. Overall, the narrative presented here is a mission-by-mission summary of individual efforts, all but one of them from NASA, and a summation of what was learned from the effort. That is fine as far as it goes. But, the reality is that there is little context offered for why those missions were undertaken, the questions that they pursued, the breadth of effort necessary to execute them, and the place of those missions in larger stories of solar system science and knowledge production.

As only one example, after a breathless introductory chapter that ranges from the ancients to the space age, the authors pursue two chapters on Mars missions, one on the Viking missions of the 1970s and another on the Mars Exploration Rovers (Spirit and Opportunity) that landed in 2004. The authors exploit the longstanding fascination humans have harbored for Mars, invoking gentleman astronomer Percival Lowell and the “canals” he claimed to see. Lowell argued that Mars had once been a watery planet and that the topographical features known as canals had been built by intelligent beings, created as a planetary-wide effort to bring precious water from the poles to inhabited parts of Mars nearer the equator. This concept dominated studies of the Red Planet until the space age although many scientists are convinced that Mars was once a watery planet and NASA’s official strategy, “Follow the Water,” has guided its efforts since the 1990s.

Where this book fails is concerning the cul-de-sacs and contours of the history of science and technology. Using the Mars example, Impey and Hunter fail to appreciate the nuances this effort. Discussions of personalities, planning, politics, budgets, decision-making, setbacks, and coups are conspicuous by their absence.

One example of this problem will suffice. In 1967 the Mars scientific community pursued a planetary lander. In response, NASA’s Office of Space Science formulated a $2 billion program (in 1960s dollars) to search for life on Mars. At the same time NASA canceled plans for other efforts to make possible this expensive Mars mission. While Mars specialists supported this mission, many other scientists opposed it. A public dispute spilled into the Capitol. In the summer of 1967 because of conflicting testimony from scientists and funding shortfalls elsewhere politician forced a cancelation of the Mars lander. Not until the 1970s did this project come to fruition as the Viking program. Everyone learned a hard lesson: resolve internal disputes before they reach Congress and present a united front to the public. While strong support from scientists could not necessarily guarantee political support, lack of agreement would ensure a program’s demise.

I have just told you more about this effort to land on Mars, a turning point in both the planetary science program and Mars explorations, than is contained in Dreams of Other Worlds. Instead, this work views history as an ever upward and outward march of progress.

The rest of the book takes much the same approach. Chapters may be found on the Voyager mission to the outer solar system gas giants, the Cassini mission to Saturn, the Stardust mission to sample cometary dust, the Solar and Heliophysics Observatory (SOHO), the Hipparcos space astrometry mission that pinpointed the positions of some 100,000 stars, the Spitzer Space Telescope, the Chandra X-ray Observatory, the Hubble Space Telescope, and the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP). There is no question about the importance of each of these projects, but it begs the question about why these and not others—Galileo to Jupiter and Magellan to Venus come to mind—received profiles. The process of determining what do discuss is a bit arbitrary and idiosyncratic.

Moreover, what does this all mean? The authors seek to deal with this as cosmology in the concluding chapter. There discussion of the immensity and diversity of our universe morphs into generic cosmological explication. Impey and Henry focus on the context of other worlds on which life might reside and on contemplating multiple universes that could harbor other life. As a work of cosmology, seeking to “redefine what it means to be the temporary tenants of a small planet in a vast cosmos” (dustjacket) this book may be useful. As a work of history that documents, analyses, and explains the history of a major effort to understand worlds beyond Earth it leaves something to be desired. I wish a capable historian had participated on this writing team.

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Major League Baseball, the Cardinals and the Browns, and the Challenge of “Small Markets”

Sportsman Park in St. Louis, where both the Browns and the Cardinals played their home games until the Browns left the city.

Sportsman Park in St. Louis, where both the Browns and the Cardinals played their home games until the Browns left the city.

Not until the 1960s did baseball executives begin to use terms like “small market” to describe the unique challenges of operating a successful major league franchise in an environment that did not generate the type of revenues available to teams in such cities as New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Even so, one of the most successful teams in the National League has been the St. Louis Cardinals, a franchise operating throughout the twentieth century in an increasingly “small market” city with exceptional success. In 1900, St. Louis was the fourth largest city in the United States, behind only New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia. Since then the city has experienced a gradual decline in population, and by definition also a gradual decline in market for its sports teams. In 1996 it ranked 47th in the United States.

Population of St. Louis Compared to Other MLB Cities, 1900-1960








1 New York NY NY NY NY NY NY
3 Philadelphia PHI PHI PHI PHI PHI LA
10 San Francisco BUF LA PIT PIT BOS STL

While New York and Chicago retained its place in the forefront of the American cities, St. Louis declined so significantly that its cross-state rival, Kansas City, actually overtook it in population by the time of the 1990 census and in 1996 ranked 33rd in the United States to St. Louis’ 47th place. Such non-major league cities as Nashville, Jacksonville, San Jose, and Columbus outranked it in population by 1980. A corresponding drop took place during the 1980s, to the extent that by 1990 St. Louis was ranked 35th, and the decline has not yet abated.

Compared to five other Midwestern cities—Cincinnati, Detroit, Indianapolis, Kansas City, and Milwaukee—St. Louis has also lost a great amount of ground as a major population center. Indianapolis, which has never been a major league baseball city, began ranking in the top 15 of U.S. cities by 1970 and by this measure should have received its own baseball franchise. From this chart, additionally, it looks as if both St. Louis and Cincinnati lost much of their porimacy in supporting major league franchises in the 1980s and that if decisions were made on that basis alone they should move elsewhere. Moreover, Milwaukee, which has always been considered a marginal major league city, should be able based to support a franchise very well based on population statistics. Of course, these population statistics only speak to the city itself, and the St. Louis metropolitan area has a base that is large enough to sustain its activities, but nothing compared to what Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, and other major areas routinely demonstrate.

Throughout the first half of the twentieth century St. Louis supported two MLB teams, the Browns and the Cardinals. They were quite competitive through the middle 1920s insofar as their attendance was concerned. Neither team was stellar, but the Browns made a run at the pennant in 1922 and finished a close second. During the time of the two teams’ co-location, the Cardinals outdrew the Browns in home attendance—25,784,213 to 15,377,027—for the entire period that they shared the city of St. Louis between 1902 to 1953. For this 51-year period, the Cardinals averaged 505,573 per year to the Browns’ 301,510 average per year. But until the Cardinals began to dominate the National League with their first World Championship in 1926, the two teams were essentially even in their ability to draw fans. The Browns actually outdrew the Cardinals—8,353,058 to 7,073,290—through the 1925 season, the Browns averaging 363,176 attendees to the Cardinals’ 307,534 per year. For the period between 1926 and the last year the Browns played in St. Louis, 1953, the Cardinals averaged 692,989 spectators per year to the Browns’ average draw of 260,147.

Of course, during the period 1926-1953, the Cardinals won nine pennants (with seven World Series championships), and that certainly made a difference. Also, the Cardinals finished second or third 12 additional times. The Cardinals were an exceptionally strong team that competed well every year. During the same period, the Browns won one pennant (1944) and finished second or third only three other times. In 1935, with a team that finished seventh in the league, thank goodness for the hapless Philadelphia Athletics, the Browns drew only 80,922 spectators.

Cardinals-Browns Attendance

Nothing points up the lack of paying customers that the Browns experienced in the early 1950s better than a humorous story of Bill Veeck, who owned the Browns between 1951 and its move to Baltimore in 1953. When one of the Browns’ faithful asked Veeck what time the game was that day, Veeck supposedly responded, “anytime you want, what time can you be there?” In was not quite that bad, but close. Using his now famous stunts, give-aways, and hucksterisms Veeck boosted Browns’ attendance from 293,790 in 1951 to 518,796 in 1952. But it was a case of too little-too late, and for comparison the Cardinals drew over one million each of those years.

There was a direct correlation between the attendance and the won/lost percentage for both teams. The better the team on the field, the greater the likelihood of drawing large spectators. Interestingly, in 1944, the year that the Cardinals and the Browns both won their league’s pennants, the teams drew virtually the same numbers. But the Cardinals’ attendance exploded in the postwar era while the Browns’ turnstiles collapsed. Despite Veeck’s efforts to boost Browns attendance, stunts such as the dwarf Eddie Gaedel batting and the desegregation of the Browns in 1951 while the Cardinals waited until the end of the 1950s, nothing seemed to work.

It became obvious that the two teams could not remain in St. Louis together. One had to leave, and the Browns left for Baltimore where they became the Orioles. The Cardinals went on to remain a powerhouse in the National League, winning nine more pennants and five World Series between 1954 and the present. But the city remains a smaller market than many others. Through strong management the Cardinals have proven that success is not dependent on having money to burn. And burning money has not really been overwhelmingly successful for other franchises as well. Big spenders have more options, no doubt, but that alone does not guarantee success.

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Protesting Cassini’s Launch

The Launch of the Cassini spacecraft to Saturn in 1997.

The Launch of the Cassini spacecraft to Saturn in 1997.

The Cassini space probe—the largest interplanetary probe ever launched, weighing 6.3 tons, and extending 22 feet in length—was a joint NASA, European Space Agency (ESA), and Italian Space Agency (ASI) mission to study Saturn and its rings, moons, and magnetic environment. Launched on October 17, 1997, atop a Titan IV rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida, it required three radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTG) with 72 lbs of plutonium 238 to power a wide array of scientific instruments at Saturn.

This use of nuclear power in space prompted protests from American antinuclear activitists. In addition, Cassini required gravity assist to reach Saturn in 6.7 years. It followed a Venus-Venus-Earth-Jupiter Gravity Assist (VVEJGA) trajectory that energized the antinuclear community as had nothing since the Galileo launch.

A basic RTG.

A basic RTG.

Cassini’s three RTGs  and 117 lightweight radioisotope heater units (RHU) provided the necessary electrical power to operate its 19 instruments and maintain the temperatures of critical components and the Huygens probe that was destined for deployment by parachute onto the surface of Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. Those three RTGs provided 888 W of electrical power at mission beginning, but would still generate 596 W after 16 years of operation.

As always, Cassini’s RTGs were tested extensively to ensure that they could withstand any conceived destructive force associated with the flight. Also, as had been the practice for many years independent safety analyses by General Electric, Lockheed Martin, and other technical organizations considered possible results from pre-launch fires and explosions, launch accidents, and spacecraft crashes and uncontrolled reentry. Three major reports resulted from those efforts, with the final prepared one year in advance of the projected launch.

This material, along with additional studies by the Department of Energy and NASA, went to an independent Interagency Nuclear Safety Review Panel responsible for judging whether or not to recommend a decision in favor or launch to the President of the United States. As a GAO audit of the Cassini mission documented:

The processes used by NASA to assess the safety and environmental risks associated with the Cassini mission reflected the extensive analysis and evaluation requirements established in federal laws, regulations, and executive branch policies. For example, DOE designed and tested the RTGs to withstand likely accidents while preventing or minimizing the release of the RTG’s plutonium dioxide fuel, and a DOE administrative order required the agency to estimate the safety risks associated with the RTGs used for the Cassini mission. Also, federal regulations implementing the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 required NASA to assess the environmental and public health impacts of potential accidents during the Cassini mission that could cause plutonium dioxide to be released from the spacecraft’s RTGs or heater units. In addition, a directive issued by the Executive Office of the President requires an ad hoc interagency Nuclear Safety Review Panel. This panel is supported by technical experts from NASA, other federal agencies, national laboratories, and academia to review the nuclear safety analyses prepared for the Cassini mission. After completion of the interagency review process, NASA requested and was given nuclear launch safety approval by the Office of Science and Technology Policy, within the Office of the President, to launch the Cassini spacecraft.

This detailed and involved process led to the conclusion that while risk could not be eliminated entirely that the chances of any breech of the plutonium-238 container was exceptionally low. The estimated health effect of an accident was that over a 50-year period not one more person would die of cancer caused by radiation exposure than if there were no accident. These analyses also found that during Cassini’s Earth encounter there was less than a one in a million chance that the vehicle would accidentally reenter Earth’s atmosphere.


Protestors at the gate at Kennedy Space Center.

None of this review convinced some in the antinuclear community and it mobilized to prohibit the Cassini launch. The well-organized STOP CASSINI! campaign rested its opposition on the claim that NASA’s technical risk assessment omitted, neglected, or underestimated the welfare of the public as a whole. Accepting that NASA had fulfilled the letter of law, this protest asserted that the government as a whole had to be redirected away from the use of nuclear power or weaponry in any form whatsoever.

Sociologist Jürgen Habermas has suggested that when the “instrumental rationality” of the bureaucratic state intrudes too precipitously into the “lifeworld” of its citizenry, they rise up in some form to correct its course or to cast it off altogether. The “lifeworld” is evident in the ways in which language creates the contexts of interpretations of everyday circumstances, decisions, and actions. He argues that the “lifeworld” is “represented by a culturally transmitted and linguistically organized stock of interpretive patterns.” The STOP CASSINI! campaign represented an effort to exile nuclear material from the “lifeworld” of modern America, as their expressions of discontent demonstrated, and they could obtain no resolution from the “instrumental rationality” residing in the state. They took direct action and justified it without a tinge of conscience as necessary for the greater good.

The Cassini flight path to

The Cassini flight path to Saturn.

Opponents of Cassini organized a rally of about 1,500 participants at Cape Canaveral, Florida, in May 1997 with several prominent disarmament leaders speaking. They received publicity from CNN and the NBC local affiliate, as well as print journalists and radio stations. They argued for greater involvement in choosing the technologies used on spacecraft, specifically nuclear power. They tried to sensitize the public to dangers from the use of nuclear power for space exploration, and addressed not only environmental risks but also the motives behind the reason for using nuclear power. One protester commented:

The military has made an unholy alliance with NASA in its quest for space domination. Now people-power and a commitment to compassion and conscience must be brought into an area where it is not wanted and where it is lacking. There must be resistance to the U.S. push to weaponize and nuclearize space…a renegade government spending massive amounts of money to weaponize and nuclearize space, and at the same time saying that no money is available for schools and other social needs. This issue is not about losing our democracy—we have lost it.”

The STOP CASSINI! protest received news reporting from many of the major U.S. news outlets, and the Internet buzzed with discussion of its efforts to end the Cassini mission. It deserved credit for gaining the attention of several members of Congress, who demanded additional analysis from NASA and the Department of Energy.

When Cassini launched safely on October 14, 1997, the media gave credit to the protesters for forcing NASA to reconsider its use of nuclear power in space and to undertake more extensive testing and verification of systems. A vigil outside the main gate of KennedySpaceCenter by the STOP CASSINI! campaign was peaceful. It had raised important questions about this technology and its meaning for society. As one scholar noted, NASA responded poorly to this challenge in terms of public communication. It believed that more information would resolve the crisis, but there is little reason to believe that this would be the case as the protest had more to do with ideology and values than with assessments of information.

In the end the Cassini mission has been conducted with stunning success. Cassini is the first spacecraft to orbit Saturn, beginning July 1, 2004, and to send a probe (Huygens) to the surface of Saturn’s moon Titan on January 15, 2005. But even before its Saturnian encounter, the Cassini mission advanced science by finding individual storm cells of upwelling bright-white clouds in dark “belts” in Jupiter’s atmosphere, and by conducting a radio signal experiment on October 10, 2003, that supported Einstein’s theory of general relativity. At Saturn, Cassini has discovered three new moons (Methone, Pallene and Polydeuces) and observed water ice geysers erupting from the south pole of the moon Enceladus. Cassini demonstrated that icy moons orbiting gas giant planets are potential refuges of life, and attractive destinations for a new era of robotic planetary exploration.

Fortunately, there were no health repurcussions from the nuclear power system aboard the spacecraft. As these types of missions continue great care must always be taken to ensure safety.

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Wednesday’s Book Review: “The Lure of the Edge”

The Lure of the EdgeThe Lure of the Edge: Scientific Passions, Religious Beliefs, and the Pursuit of UFOs. By Brenda Denzler. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001.

What is the history of the UFO phenomenon in the United States? That is the subject of this interesting, provocative, and sometimes frustrating book. Brenda Denzler’s narrative of the UFO experience begins in the early Cold War era, and provides an overview and evaluation of the UFO subculture as a social phenomenon juxtaposed between scientific and religious ideals. Clearly, however, it is truly neither a scientific nor a religious phenomenon.

The UFO phenomenon entered American consciousness in 1947 with the Kenneth Arnold “Flying Saucer” observation at Mount Rainier on June 24th. This touched off a wave of UFO sightings, of which more than 300 took place over the Fourth of July weekend in 1947. Sightings became a standard of the UFO story ever since and thousands of unidentified flying objects have been sited since that time. The vast majority of them are completely, and sometimes easily, explained as observations of terrestrial phenomena. But that sliver of unexplained sightings have tantalized the public ever since. UFO sightings represent the first part of this book.

A second major section deals with the contactee movement, in which extraterrestrials have been met by Earthlings and as often as not they have reported having received insights into the human condition and humanity’s place in the cosmos. These contactees became the first “rock stars” of the UFO movement, receiving speaking fees, book deals, and in some cases making television appearances about their dealings with aliens.

Beginning with the September 1961 story of Betty and Barney Hill the contactee experience suddenly turned horrific. They reported an abduction, medical experimentation, and psychological damage. Thousands have reported similar experiences in the years since that time. There has been enormous speculation over what all of this might mean, indeed whether or not if ever actually happened. Extreme efforts have been made to discover the truth about these experiences, including hypnosis to recover buried memories.

Throughout all of this, the federal government has periodically taken an interest in this subject and undertaken investigation. Project Blue Book by the Air Force sought to determine what these might mean, largely because of the fear in the Cold War that the nation might be encountering a new type of weapon from the Soviet Union. It has not found anything pointing to extraterrestrial visitation; believers in UFO visitation, however, explain this position away in a variety of means ranging from outright lying to actual cooperation with aliens.

With the failure to find any evidence—and the belief that “Cold War jitters” prompted much of the people reporting encounters—official interest in UFOs declined and with it interest from the scientific community. Denzler maintains a detached perspective on this subject through this work, offering without editorialization the various accounts.

She makes the case that this phenomenon represents perhaps the birth of a new religion. It has many of the elements of a religious group with unexplainable experiences, saints and martyrs, a salvation theology as aliens are looking out for the Earth, and a range of other metaphysical symbolism. Using sociological data compiled through surveys and other sources, Denzler focuses attention on the community of believers, their core ideology, and their overriding values.

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Wonderful Songs by “One-Hit-Wonders” in the 1980s

A few weeks ago I offered my one-hit-wonder song of the 1970s. Those were fun, but I thought I would carry the listing forward and do the same for the 1980s. It was a golden age for one-hit-wonders, no doubt, with some of the most memorable “ear worm” songs ever released. Nevermind that most of them were “bubblegum” pop songs; they were catchy, breezy, and thoroughly danceable. I hope you enjoy my listing, and please know that there are a lot of other worthy candidates for the list that I did not include. Here are my top ten listed chronologically:

1. “Funky Town”-Lipps, Inc. (1980)

2. “Mickey”-Toni Basil (1982)

3. “In a Big Country”-Big Country (1983)

4. “Come On Eileen”-Dexy’s Midnight Runners (1983)

5. “They Don’t Know”-Tracy Ullman (1983)

6. “99 Luftballons”-Nena (1984)

7. “Relax”-Frankie Goes to Hollywood (1984)

8. “Beds are Burning”-Midnight Oil (1988)

9. “I Melt with You”-Modern English (1989)

10. “Bang”-Gorky Park (1989)

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Announcing “Robots in Space” Lecture, New York University-Shanghai

Robots in Space Poster

For Further information contact Dr. Alexander Geppert,

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Wednesday’s Book Review: “The Moravian Community in Colonial North Carolina”

MoraviansThe Moravian Community in Colonial North Carolina: Pluralism on the Southern Frontier. By Daniel B. Thorp. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1989.

I’m not at all certain that historians should use the term “pluralism” when characterizing the Moravians of colonial North Carolina. This religious, theocratic group arrived in the upstate region in 1753 when they founded the town of Salem—now a part of Winston-Salem—and a number of smaller surrounding towns. They were culturally, ethnically, and religiously homogeneous, stayed to themselves except when doing business and engaging in activities that required government involvement, such as land transactions and the like. Because of a history of violence against them—religious persecution or not—they sought to maintain good relations with those not of their faith community even as they looked down on them as lesser people. If that represents pluralism, I don’t see what it is other than there was a general “live and let live” mentality on the North Carolina frontier engendered by the Moravians and others in the colonial era regardless of whichever group we may be talking about.

Daniel B. Thorp’s solid monograph tells mostly what there is to know about this unique religious group. In seven chapters Thorp explores the arrival of the Moravians who came down the Great Valley in the Appalachians from central Pennsylvania to found the community at Salem beginning in 1753. They explicitly viewed themselves as a “people apart” from the remainder of American settlers, as a “chosen people” called from among all others to live a life of Christian simplicity and ideals arising from the ideas of John Hus and factored through the leadership of Count Zinzendorf. They sought to create an “all-purpose” and self-reliant society that interweaved religion, economics, politics, and culture. Thorp has chapters on each of these elements. He finds that the Moravians were ever conscious of their place in American society and jealous of their faith community’s prerogatives, defensive of their religion and effective in their economic interactions and political needs with outsiders.

I have a special interest in this history because of my ancestry. Johann Jacob Lanius—later to be spelled by some branches of the family, including my own, as Launius—was a Moravian in Meckenheim on Hard, Germany, who came to American with his wife, Juliana Kraemer. They settled in a Moravian community in York County, Pennsylvania. His son, John (sometimes called Johannes), migrated to North Carolina as a teenager and lived his life there. The family name appears in many of the Moravian records at Salem and this teenager appears in Thorp’s book as an example of “how boys will be boys,” getting into trouble with the community elders. John Lanius settled in the Friedland community, near Salem, and after marrying became a model Moravian.

One area that I wish the author had explored more fully was the relationship of the Moravians to the nascent revolutionary movement in the 1770s. If the Moravians related to this in the same way that they did the 1760s “Regulator” movement as a pacifistic church they sought neutrality. That generally worked concerning the Regulators, but that earlier uprising is often viewed as a precursor to the American Revolution. Does that mean the Moravians were also neutral during the Revolution, and if so does that really mean that they were Tories acknowledging the authority of British colonial officials? How did that play out in the latter 1770s and early 1780s?

Overall, this is a fine book. I shall seek to learn more about the Moravian experience in the American Revolution elsewhere.

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Toward a Global History of Spaceflight

The international Space Station from STS-130 in December 2010.

The international Space Station from STS-130 in December 2010.

My colleague, Asif Siddiqi of Fordham University, has been working on ideas of human spaceflight in the context of global history. While his thoughts are still formative, he has developed some for a this article: “Competing Technologies, National(ist) Narratives, and Universal Claims: Toward a Global History of Space Exploration.” I recommend these ideas to anyone with an interest. They may be accessed at:

Comments are welcome.

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The Athlete as Activist: Reconsidering Baseball and Society in 1968

ClementeIs there a place for the study of the relationship of social causes and baseball? Especially, what is the role of the athlete as activist? For reasons that pass understanding this subject has largely been ignored, and what does exist has been written by journalists rather than historians. No matter how much baseball might be viewed as a distraction from “real issues,” or a method of making copious amounts of money for the wealthy, it has a level of purity and absolute joy that transcends the issues of everyday life. Baseball may be used, I believe, as a microcosm to explore valuable aspects of modern American society. Furthermore, as an individual always in the public spotlight the athlete has a rare opportunity to facilitate social change in modern American society through personal action. While some choose to remain on the sidelines of social discourse, many have stepped forward through history to lend their stature and their voices to causes deemed significant.

This paper will explore this aspect of sports and society in a single year, 1968, when American athletes as never before emerged to challenge the social order. While most of these athletes were beyond baseball, it also extended to Major League Baseball. I will investigate three episodes of athlete activism in the MLB and place them in larger context:

  • Led by Roberto Clemente the Pittsburgh Pirates players forced a delay in the opening of the 1968 season until after the funeral of the assassinated Martin Luther King. As the most integrated team in MLB, with eleven African American or Latino players, the Pirates offered this “moment of silence” as a sign of respect for King’s leadership in advancing civil rights.
  • In Detroit the Tigers ran away with the American League pennant as the city’s residents worked to repair the damage in the social fabric of a divided city after the explosive race riots of 1967. The conventional wisdom is that although the Tigers had only three African Americans on the team, the success of its championship season helped the races to find common ground in putting their differences in the past. But is the conventional wisdom correct? At some level, but the individual efforts of the African American Gates Brown apparently proved more important.
  • In addition to being one of the best players in MLB during the 1960s and early 1970s Dick (Richie) Allen was controversial throughout his playing career. Much of this resulted from his unwillingness to take racist slanders and outright assaults, fearlessly responding as an outspoken opponent of racism of any type. He suffered in Philadelphia for his response to abuse. He once famously said, “I can play anywhere; First, Third, Left field, anywhere but Philadelphia.”

These incidents fit the MLB into a larger mosaic of social change in this time. While they might be considered small in comparison, they were part of a larger response to the situation present in American society at the end of the 1960s. As a result they may be compared to the efforts of Muhammad Ali to combat racism and the Vietnam War, Bill Russell of the Boston Celtics who responded to even greater racist-inspired indignities than Dick Allen, and the silent Black Power protest of Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Olympic medal ceremony that affected the cause of social justice around the world.

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Wednesday’s Book Review: “Selling War in a Media Age”

OsgoodSelling War in a Media Age: The Presidency and Public Opinion in the American Century. Edited by Kenneth Osgood and Andrew K. Frank. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2010.

Collected works are always problematic. There is always the challenge of ensuring high quality of all of the essays, and often there are issues concerning a sustained and broadly overarching question to connect all the book’s contributions. These issues are present in this volume as well, but overall this is a strong collection of essays that moves through the twentieth century to explore how presidents have tried to manage their public relations. Essentially a chronological collection, the essayists include discussions of William McKinley and the 1898 war and its aftermath, World War I and World War II propaganda, five chapters on the various aspects of the Cold War including one on Vietnam and another on the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). A chapter on selling the Gulf Wars precedes a conclusion that seeks to wrap up the volume.

The most interesting essays, from my perspective, relate to the Cold War, especially Paul S. Boyer’s chapter on “Selling Star Wars: Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative.” Boyer extends his ideas from his superb book, By the Bomb’s Early Light: American Thought and Culture at the Dawn of the Atomic Age (1994) into the 1980s and explores the Reagan administration’s efforts to renew the Cold War after a decade of détente. SDI rejected the concept of nuclear deterrence and its application in “Mutually Assured Destruction” in favor of a belief that nuclear confrontation was something that the United States could win. This clearly upset the strategic relationship and sparked another arms race and set the stage for scrambling thereafter to walk back from a possible confrontation.

I also very much appreciated co-editor Kenneth Osgood’s essay on Eisenhower and Cold War rhetoric. Again, this extended some of his earlier work, especially his book, Total Cold War: Eisenhower’s Secret Propaganda Battle at Home and Abroad (2006), and focused on how he sought to strike a balance between permanent rivalry and military preparedness versus demobilization and peacetime.

There are, of course, several important areas not discussed in this book, and perhaps others will take up the mantle of presidential rhetoric and the management of public opinion in these arenas. For example, there is very little concerning the Kennedy administration and its confrontations with the Soviet Union, as well its attempts to walk back from the brink of nuclear war relative to the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. There is essentially nothing on the place of the United States on the wars of liberation and the demise of colonial empires—even though there were instances in which the United States intervened—suggesting that anticolonialism may be a ripe area for future exploration.

Overall this is very fine collection. It has its weaknesses, of course, and a great many strengths.

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