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TRAPPIST IN SPACE

Astronomers discover 7 Earth-sized planets orbiting nearby star

Story highlights

  • Seven Earth-sized planets have been found orbiting an ultracool dwarf star 40 light-years away
  • The planets are temperate, meaning they could have liquid water
  • The researchers believe this is the best place outside of our solar system to look for life

(CNN)Astronomers have found at least seven Earth-sized planets orbiting the same star 40 light-years away, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature. The findings were also announced at a news conference at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

This discovery outside of our solar system is rare because the planets have the winning combination of being similar in size to Earth and being all temperate, meaning they could have water on their surfaces and potentially support life.
“This is the first time that so many planets of this kind are found around the same star,” said Michaël Gillon, lead study author and astronomer at the University of Liège in Belgium.
The seven exoplanets were all found in tight formation around an ultracool dwarf star called TRAPPIST-1. Estimates of their mass also indicate that they are rocky planets, rather than being gaseous like Jupiter. Three planets are in the habitable zone of the star, known as TRAPPIST-1e, f and g, and may even have oceans on the surface.
The TRAPPIST-1 star, an ultracool dwarf, has seven Earth-size planets orbiting it.

The researchers believe that TRAPPIST-1f in particular is the best candidate for supporting life. It’s a bit cooler than Earth, but could be suitable with the right atmosphere and enough greenhouse gases.
If TRAPPIST-1 sounds familiar, that’s because these researchers announced the discovery of three initial planets orbiting the same star in May. The new research increased that number to seven planets total.
“I think we’ve made a crucial step towards finding if there is life out there,” said Amaury Triaud, one of the study authors and an astronomer at the University of Cambridge. “I don’t think any time before we had the right planets to discover and find out if there was (life). Here, if life managed to thrive and releases gases similar to what we have on Earth, we will know.”
Life may begin and evolve differently on other planets, so finding the gases that indicate life is key, the researchers added.
“This discovery could be a significant piece in the puzzle of finding habitable environments, places that are conducive to life,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “Answering the question ‘are we alone?’ is a top science priority, and finding so many planets like these for the first time in the habitable zone is a remarkable step forward toward that goal.”
And as we’ve learned from studying and discovering exoplanets before, where there is one, there are more, said Sara Seager, professor of planetary science and physics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Seager and other researchers are encouraged by the discovery of this system because it improves our chances of finding another habitable planet, like Earth, in the future, by knowing where to look.

What we know

The planets are so close to each other and the star that there are seven of them within a space five times smaller than the distance from Mercury to our sun. This proximity allows the researchers to study the planets in depth as well, gaining insight about planetary systems other than our own.
The seven planets of TRAPPIST-1 compared with Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars.

Starting closest to the star and moving out, the planets have respective orbits from one and a half to nearly 13 Earth days. The orbit of the farthest planet is still unknown.
Standing on the surface of one of the planets, you would receive 200 times less light than you get from the sun, but you would still receive just as much energy to keep you warm since the star is so close. It would also afford some picturesque views, as the other planets would appear in the sky as big as the moon (or even twice as big).
On TRAPPIST-1f, the star would appear three times as big as the sun in our sky. And because of the red nature of the star, the light would be a salmon hue, the researchers speculate.
The researchers believe the planets formed together further from the star. Then, they moved into their current lineup. This is incredibly similar Jupiter and its Galilean moons.
Like the moon, the researchers believe the planets closest to the star are tidally locked. This means that the planets always face one way to the star. One side of the planet is perpetually night, while the other is always day.
What the TRAPPIST-1 planetary system may look like.

Based on preliminary climate modeling, the researchers believe that the three planets closest to the star may be too warm to support liquid water, while the outermost planet, TRAPPIST-1h, is probably too distant and cold to support water on the surface. But further observation is needed to know for sure.

How the discovery was made

TRAPPIST-1 barely classifies as a star at half the temperature and a tenth the mass of the sun. It is red, dim and just a bit larger than Jupiter. But these tiny ultracool dwarf stars are common in our galaxy.
They were largely overlooked until Gillon decided to study the space around one of these dwarfs.
The researchers used a telescope called TRAPPIST (TRAnsiting Planets and PlanetesImals Small Telescope) to observe its starlight and changes in brightness. The team saw shadows, like little eclipses, periodically interrupting the steady pattern of starlight. This is called transiting. The shadows indicated planets, and further observation confirmed them.
In July, the team was able to determine that two of the closest planets to the stars had atmospheres that were more compact and comparable to those of Earth, Venus and Mars by observing starlight through the planets’ atmosphere.
By using a global network ground-based telescopes like TRAPPIST and space-based telescopes like Spitzer, the researchers continued looking toward the TRAPPIST system and were able to determine the orbital periods, distances from their star, radius and and masses of the planets.

What’s next

Over the next decade, the researchers want to define the atmosphere of each planet, as well as to determine whether they truly do have liquid water on the surface and search for signs of life.
Although 40 light-years away doesn’t sound too far, it would take us millions of years to reach this star system. But from a research perspective, it’s a close opportunity and the best target to search for life beyond our solar system.
“If we learn something now, it can determine if we looked in the right place,” Gillon said.
In 2018, the James Webb Space Telescope will launch and be positioned 1 million miles from Earth with an unprecedented view of the universe. It can observe large exoplanets and detect starlight filtered through their atmosphere.
The researchers are also searching for similar star systems to conduct more atmospheric research. Four telescopes named SPECULOOS (Search for habitable Planets EClipsing ULtra-cOOl Stars) based in Chile will survey the southern sky for this purpose.
This star system will probably outlive us because this type of star evolves so slowly. When our sun dies, TRAPPIST-1 will still be a young star and will live for another trillion years, Gillon said. After we are gone, if there is another part of the universe for life to carry on, it may be in the TRAPPIST-1 system.
“This is the most exciting result I have seen in the 14 years of Spitzer operations,” said Sean Carey, manager of NASA’s Spitzer Science Center at Caltech/IPAC in Pasadena, California. “Spitzer will follow up in the fall to further refine our understanding of these planets so that the James Webb Space Telescope can follow up. More observations of the system are sure to reveal more secrets.”

UTOPIA IS NOT ONLY CREEPY, IT IS ENTIRELY UNTRUE

Personally I think the actual truth lies somewhere in the middle between the hyper-life of the modern technologist and the future will be bleak anti-technologist. It depends almost entirely on not only what man invents but how he chooses to actually employ his inventions/technology. 

That being said I am a firm anti-Utopian. I do not believe in the human utopia (not socialistic, not economic, not technological or scientific, etc.) , either that it is possible, or desirable. It is a badly conceived, utterly juvenile and naive, and entirely impractical idea.

By the way, in listening to him, I can’t help but wonder if Nicholas Carr is not in some way related to Caleb Carr one of my favorite contemporary fiction writers.

 

Brett | February 7, 2017

Personal Development & Philosophy, Podcast

Podcast #276: Utopia is Creepy

A few weeks ago, I had futurist Kevin Kelly on the podcast to discuss the technological trends that are shaping our future. From driverless cars to artificial intelligence that will make new scientific discoveries, Kevin paints a fairly rosy picture of what’s to come.

My guest today sees a different side of the coin, and argues that the future envisioned by many in Silicon Valley is, well, kind of creepy.

His name is Nicholas Carr, and he’s the author of several books that critique the wide-eyed utopianism of technologists. In his book The Shallowshe reported on the research that shows how Google is making us dumber; in The Glass Cage he explored the science on why outsourcing our work and chores to computers and robots might actually make us miserable and unsatisfied in life; and in his latest book, Utopia is CreepyCarr pulls together all the essays he’s written over the years on how the rapid changes in technology we’ve seen in the past few decades might be robbing us of the very things that make us human.

Today on the show, Nicholas and I discuss why he thinks our utopian future is creepy, how the internet is making us dumber, and why doing mundane tasks that we otherwise would outsource to robots or computers is actually a source of satisfaction and human flourishing. We finish our discussion by outlining a middle path approach to technology — one that doesn’t reject it fully but simultaneously seeks to mitigate its potential downsides.

Show Highlights

  • Why the ideology that Silicon Valley is promoting and selling is bad for human flourishing
  • How the frictionless ideal of tech companies isn’t all it’s cracked up to be
  • Why is the idea of utopia so creepy?
  • Why don’t tech companies see that what they’re doing can be perceived as creepy?
  • The illusion of freedom and autonomy on the internet
  • What “digital sharecropping” is and why it exploits content creators
  • The myth of participation and the pleasures of being an audience member
  • Information gathering vs developing knowledge
  • Why Nicholas doesn’t use social media
  • The real danger that AI present humanity (and it’s not necessarily the singularity)
  • Is virtual reality going to catch on? Does it present any problems for society?
  • How can we opt out of the ideology that Silicon Valley is trying to sell?
  • How to ask questions of our technology

Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast

If you’re a bit leery of technology like myself, then you’ll definitely enjoy all of Nicholas’ books. Utopia Is Creepy gives you a big picture look at all of Nick’s ideas on the often overlooked downsides of our unquestioned adoption of digital technology. Pick up a copy on Amazon.

Connect With Nicholas Carr

Nicholas’ website

Nicholas’ blog, Rough Type

Listen to the Podcast! (And don’t forget to leave us a review!)

 

 

 

 

 

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DEPENDS ON YOUR PRECISE DEFINITIONS

This is not really a new suspicion or discovery, more like a confirmation of suspicions and prior tracking.
 
Nevertheless my wife and I were watching a NASA video today and she asked me something about how far out a probe had went and I told her, in giving my answer, that I suspected our own solar system was much larger than we thought, and that it some ways may even extend to the edge of or even encompass the closest next solar system. That therefore, despite current thinking, that in some ways our solar system may very well share elements with, let’s say, Proxima Centauri. That is to say that we may be or even share stellar matter with Proxima Centauri or even be part of a Solar Cluster including our own and the Centauri systems. Therefore the probe was not really likely to leave our real solar system any time soon.
 
It depends very much on what we have in common (materially, energetically, and gravitationally) with neighboring solar systems, what we share, and precisely how you define a “Solar System.” In addition to how sensitive we are in being able to detect possible connections, correlations, and shared associations.
 
But in any case I’ve always suspected, even as a child, and going back to my earliest studies of astrophysics that our solar system was much larger than thought and that it contained other matter and energy systems than those which we can currently detect.
 
That’s was before I saw this which only further confirms these suspicions that I have had for many, many years now.

Exciting news everyone, a potential new dwarf planet has just been discovered in the Kuiper Belt at the edge of the Solar System. Called 2014 UZ224, it’s located beyond the orbit of Pluto, and may be one of a hundred such objects still undiscovered.

This particular object is thought to be about 530 kilometers (330 miles) across, compared to 2,374 kilometers (1,475 miles) for Pluto, one of the other five confirmed dwarf planets at the moment. The others are Ceres, Eris, Makemake, and Haumea. Another candidate, 2015 RR245, was announced earlier this year.

It was found by a team led by David Gerdes from the University of Michigan, as part of a larger map of galaxies called the Dark Energy Survey (DES). Using specialized computer software, they found the moving object about 13.7 billion kilometers (8.5 billion miles) from the Sun, about twice as far as Pluto. It completes an orbit in about 1,100 years.

According to NPR, it has taken two years to confirm the existence of 2014 UZ224. It is thought to be the third most distant known object in the Solar System.

We don’t know much else about the dwarf planet at the moment, aside from its size and orbital characteristics. But the discovery hints at even more objects in the outer Solar System, most notably Planet Nine, a world thought to be 10 times as massive as Earth. The search for this world continues.

The existence of 2014 UZ224 has been officially verified by the International Astronomical Union (IAU), but like 2015 RR245 before it, it’s not clear if it will be given official dwarf planet status yet. That will depend on a number of factors, including whether it is spherical. If so, though, it would be the smallest dwarf planet found so far.

Dwarf planet or not, our Solar System just got a little bit busier.

A MAN SHOULD BE A MAN AND A THING TO ADMIRE

Brett | October 10, 2016

A Man’s Life

A Eulogy for My Grandfather, William D. Hurst

grandpa_3

Editor’s Note: Last week my grandfather, who was my last living grandparent and a big inspiration in my starting the Art of Manliness, died. He was someone who I can happily say made me feel bad about myself, and of which people exclaim, “They sure don’t make ‘em like they used to.” 

I was asked to give the eulogy at his funeral this weekend, and wanted to share it here on the site in honor of his legacy. I did add one story to this article that my uncle recounted. 

_________________________

William (Bill) Daly Hurst passed away on September 29, 2016, just six days shy of his 101st birthday.

And what a life he lived.

My grandfather has always loomed large in my imagination. Even though we were separated by hundreds of miles and sometimes went years without seeing each other, Grandpa’s presence has always been with me. He was an icon for me and almost a kind of institutional figure — an embodiment of the values of the Greatest Generation. In fact, he’s been a big part of the inspiration behind the ideal of manhood that I write about on the Art of Manliness. He was both a good man and good at being a man.

As I look back on his life, three characteristics of my grandpa stick out to me that I hope to emulate: his dedication to service, his unyielding curiosity, and his humility.

As a third-generation U.S. Forester, Grandpa was born into a legacy of service — a commitment to protecting and managing our country’s natural resources.

It started in 1905 when William Hurst (Grandpa’s grandfather) was appointed assistant ranger on the Dixie Forest Reserve in Utah. Three months later, he became a forest supervisor. Gifford Pinchot — the first Chief of the U.S. Forest Service, appointed by Theodore Roosevelt — sent him two full pages of instructions, the most specific being, “As soon as you can get to it, please look up desirable rooms for an office. A full set of blank forms, office equipment, and furniture have been requested to be sent you.” Supervisor Hurst made a formal reply: “I will endeavor to magnify the trust reposed in me and shall discharge the duties imposed upon me in a dignified manner without fear or favor.” This was William Hurst’s rule until he resigned in 1913 as supervisor of the Beaver and Fillmore National Forests, and it was a rule my grandfather followed during his tenure in the Forest Service.

wmdhurst1916-2

My grandpa at 9 months old. His family nickname was Snooks.

William M. Hurst (my grandpa’s father) started as Assistant Ranger in the service in 1910 in Panguitch, Utah. He was a District Forest Ranger when my grandfather, William D. Hurst, was born on October 5, 1915, in Parowan, Utah.

Think about that for a minute. My grandpa was born a year into the First World War. In his memoir he recounts his memory as a three-year-old of people banging pots and pans and whooping in the streets on Armistice Day. My grandpa was what blogger Jason Kottke calls a “human wormhole.” His long life and the amount of history he saw firsthand provide an embodied reminder of just how connected we are to the past. When I gave my grandfather a hug, I was hugging a man that was hugged by his grandparents who were born during the Civil War. That idea really puts time in perspective for me.

Grandpa was raised in Panguitch, Utah, and graduated as student body president and co-valedictorian of his class at Garfield County High School in 1934. He attended Utah State Agricultural College and graduated with a B.S. in Forestry and Range Management in 1938. During the summer months of his college years, Grandpa worked as a sheepherder, where he accumulated some pretty cool stories. In his memoirs he describes in explicit detail how to castrate sheep; the methodology wasjust as Mike Rowe famously explained it: a sharp knife and your teeth.

first-forest-service-uniform-dad

Grandpa’s first day working for the U.S. Forest Service.

During the summer of 1937, he worked for the United States Forest Service as an Administrative Guard in the Stansbury Mountains near Grantsville, Utah. After graduation, he took a permanent assignment with the Forest Service in the same location, thus becoming a third-generation forester in Utah, after his father and grandfather.

bill-dolly-hurst-001

Bill and Dolly Hurst.

In Grantsville, he met his sweetheart, Emma (Dolly) Johanson. Grandma worked as phone operator and Grandpa came into town one day to make a phone call. He was immediately smitten and I’m sure started finding reasons to make more phone calls. They were engaged in 1940 and married March 19, 1941.

In 1942, Grandpa became the District Ranger of the Manila Ranger District on the Ashley National Forest.

grandpa_wwii

Like millions of men from his generation, Grandpa answered the call to serve and fight for his country during World War II. He served in the Army, training for the invasion of Japan, and then spent one year in that country as part of the occupation forces in 1946.

wmdhurstjapan1945

Grandpa riding a horse while serving in the Army in Japan during WWII. 1946.

Grandpa was 31 years old when he began his military service, making him much older than many of the soldiers in his platoon. That earned him the nickname “Pops,” but he took pride in the fact that he could out-hustle and outwork men ten years his junior. After the war, Grandpa continued his service in the U.S. Army Reserves, obtaining the rank of first lieutenant.

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Staff at the Ashley National Forest where Bill Hurst served as supervisor from 1950 to 1955. Grandpa’s in the middle holding his hat.

After leaving the military, he became the Staff Officer of the Cache National Forest in Utah. He served as Forest Supervisor on the Ashley National Forest from 1950 to 1955, before going to the Washington office as one of the Assistant Chiefs in Range Management. Grandpa then served as Chief of Range & Wildlife Management of the Intermountain Region from 1957 to 1962. He was the Deputy Regional Forester for the Intermountain Region as well. In 1966, Grandpa was appointed Regional Forester for the Southwestern Region, where he remained until he retired in 1976.

southwest

Bill Hurst served as Regional Forester of the Southwest Region from 1966 to 1976. He’s in the middle.

During his appointment as Regional Forester of the Southwestern Region, Grandpa brought not only a keen mind and almost 30 years’ experience, but also a pride in the history and traditions of the Forest Service and a genuine concern for the well-being of the forests and the people who used them. He imparted a level of professionalism to his region that still remains today.

As a Regional Forester, Grandpa didn’t have an ideological axe to grind nor did he have political ambitions within the Forest Service. He just strived to follow his own grandfather’s rule to “discharge the duties imposed upon me in a dignified manner without fear or favor.” Grandpa was a pragmatist. He just wanted things to work and work well for everyone. And that often meant trying to find a middle ground among multiple parties who all had conflicting interests — ranchers, farmers, timber companies, indigenous people, and environmentalists just to name a few. And he was able to walk this line for the most part thanks to his curiosity and humility. He talked to people, asked questions without prejudice or preconceived notions, and researched on his own. But more importantly, Grandpa took action and found solutions and compromises that could prevent gridlock and keep things moving forward. (Note: For those of you interested, Utah State University has digitized diaries, reports, etc. from my grandpa’s career as a forester.)

Grandpa retired from the Forest Service in 1976 and spent his retirement at his home at Bosque Farms — a small ranch in New Mexico. Here he provided idyllic summers and Thanksgivings for his grandchildren, full of swimming and horseback riding. For me, Bosque Farms is where my most cherished memories of Grandpa, and of my childhood, exist.

Bosque Farms was a Garden of Eden. But time eventually drove us all out of this Western paradise. Grandpa got too old to manage the place by himself, and we all got older and busy with our adult lives. But Bosque Farms is a place I still long for. Every now and then, memories of spending time with Grandpa on the ranch hit me like a tidal wave.

I miss the smell of coffee and hotcakes in the morning and the smell of pinyon wood burning in the living room fireplace. I miss the smell of the barn on a clear, crisp Thanksgiving morning.

But most of all I miss Grandpa leading me around the corral on a horse, patiently and lovingly telling me how to guide my noble steed.

brettandgrandpa

Pictures of me and Grandpa at various times at Bosque Farms, New Mexico. Still have that hat Grandpa gave me.

It’s a painful yearning to return home. The Greeks called this nostalgia. While my heart aches for that time, it’s a good ache. I’m glad I have those memories and I’m indebted to Grandpa for giving them to me.

Even in retirement, Grandpa continued his dedication to service. If there was a club or organization dedicated to service, he belonged to it. He was a charter member and past president of the Society for Range Management where he continued his work in conserving and managing our country’s natural resources. He was also a member of the Lion’s Club, Rotary, the Society of American Foresters, and the Wilderness Trail Riders of Prineville, Oregon.

Grandpa was active in Scouting and was awarded the Silver Beaver for distinguished service. He was also the grateful recipient of Rotary’s Paul Harris Fellow award, the Jim Bridger Award for conservation achievement, and the Lifetime Achievement Award from Utah State University, as well as the 2004 Frederic G. Renner Award from the Society of Range Management — the most prestigious award given by the society.

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Grandpa and my Aunt Kathy.

Grandpa’s service wasn’t only to the public and his community but to his large and ever-growing family as well. Grandpa was always looking out for us and made frequent trips to visit all of his grandkids during retirement. He even drove by himself from Albuquerque to Tulsa when he was 90 years old to come to my wedding. Kate’s grandma thought he was crazy, but Grandpa didn’t think much of it.

wmdhurstfamily1956-7

Grandpa and Grandma Hurst with their five children.

He is preceded in death by his wife, Dolly, and two sisters and brothers-in-law, Margaret and Ralph Tingey and Katherine and Vernon Barney of Panguitch, Utah. He leaves behind his five children and their spouses, nineteen grandchildren, thirty-four great-grandchildren, and numerous nieces and nephews.

Grandpa’s entire life was dedicated to service — to his country, to his community, and to his family. If he could help in some way, he was there.

Whether in work or play, Grandpa also stayed curious. It’s one of the most refreshing and vital things about him. He was always reading books to learn more and taking notes in the pocket notebook he kept in the breast pocket of his shirts.

My uncle recounts a story of this note-taking practice: When my grandpa was 90, my uncle found him reading a book, but stopping every now and then to write in his pocket notebook. When my uncle asked Grandpa what he was doing, he said, “I’m writing down the words I don’t know the definition of so I can look them up later.” When my uncle asked him why he was doing that, Grandpa responded matter-of-factly: “To improve my vocabulary, of course.” Ninety years old, and my grandfather was still trying to enrich his treasury of knowledge.

Another example of Grandpa’s curiosity in action can be seen in his retirement, when one of his old phonograph players broke. He learned how to fix it (this was before the internet, mind you), which led to a small side hustle in retirement repairing phonograph players for others. He did the same with antique buggies. He became a self-taught expert on repairing and restoring them, and people started paying him to fix up theirs.

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Grandpa was always happiest out in the mountains somewhere on a horse.

Grandpa traveled extensively throughout his life within the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, in addition to China, Panama, Russia, and the U.K., though he was happiest riding his horse or mule on adventures through the mountains of the West from New Mexico to Oregon.

But what I loved most about Grandpa’s curiosity was his genuine interest in others. He wasn’t jaded or cynical about people at all. He sincerely thought every person — no matter their walk of life — had something interesting to say. Grandpa could go anywhere and have a friend because he could make one instantly. As a kid, this interest in others could get kind of annoying. I knew going on quick errands with Grandpa would often result in me standing around waiting for thirty minutes while he talked to complete strangers, sharing stories with them, peppering them with questions, and intently listening while interspersing the conversations with his characteristic chuckle and “Well, I’ll be damned!” or “Well, that’s a hell of a thing!” And he meant it! He was always genuinely surprised by and interested in the things people would share. Like Will Rogers, Grandpa “Never met a man he didn’t like.”

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Finally, Grandpa didn’t take himself too seriously. He took his work very seriously, but never himself. There was never an air of self-importance about him. Because of his humility, I sometimes forget about his accomplishments and the amount of influence he has had in public affairs, particularly when it comes to conservation. Grandpa was too busy being useful to worry about being important.

What I’ve spoken of are just the highlights of Grandpa’s earthly sojourn.

Like I said at the beginning…what a life.

He’s been an inspiration to me, and can serve as a pattern for all of us seeking to live the good life.

We will miss Grandpa, but I’m thankful for the example of service, curiosity, and humility that he gave us. I’m looking forward to seeing him again one day, and until then I hope we all will do our best to live up to his legacy.

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Bill Hurst’s grandsons were his pallbearers at his funeral. We all wore one of Grandpa’s iconic bolo ties in honor of him. Those of us who had cowboy boots also, sported those. My cousin, Tom Hughes, shared this thought about the experience: “My grandfather, Bill Hurst, died last week, 6 days shy of his 101st birthday. As I and my cousins, the pallbearers, stood in a semi-circle, looking at his flag-draped coffin in the back of the hearse, we said almost nothing. We just stood there for several minutes until the funeral director came out, found us standing there, and told us we could get in our cars. I don’t believe there has ever been group of boys–now men–who more loved, admired and revered their grandfather than those of us standing there, wearing his bolo ties. And I know his granddaughters feel the same way. Pity there weren’t more bolo ties for them.”

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When my grandpa was 9 years old he encountered a tassel-eared squirrel on the Kaibab Plateau in Southern Utah, an area that’s 20 by 40 miles wide. It was the Kaibab Squirrel — a species not found anywhere else in the world. Since that time, Grandpa took a keen interest in this little critter and strove to protect it in his position as Regional Forester. Nearing his 100th birthday, Grandpa, along with some friends and family, formed the “Friends of the Kaibab Squirrel,” a group dedicated to educating federal and state agencies and citizens about this unique animal, so that pragmatic steps can be taken to prevent population decline. Should you like to honor my grandfather at his passing, you can support Friends of the Kaibab Squirrel bypurchasing a lapel pin. Proceeds go to FKS.

CHARACTER AND DUTY

Manvotional: The Character of a Soldier

Editor’s note: The following excerpt was included in FM 21-13, an Army field manual published in 1952. While it outlines the character of a good soldier, the qualities mentioned represent the kind of character all men should strive for.

FM 21-13
THE SOLDIER’S GUIDE

Section VII. THE CHARACTER OF A SOLDIER
The Things You Are

When we say that a man has “good character,” we mean that he has many strong qualities and virtues that, added together, make him a man whom we like, respect, and trust. One definition of character, therefore, is this: The sum of the qualities that make a person what he is.

It’s not easy to tell you exactly what qualities and virtues you must have to be a good soldier, but perhaps you can understand better what is meant by a “soldier’s character” if you consider some of the qualities that all of our good soldiers have had. These qualities include honesty, courage, self-control, decency, and conviction of purpose. This is by no means a complete list, but those are the qualities that most good soldiers possess. Let’s talk about them.

You must be honest because there is absolutely no room in our military world for dishonesty, half-truth, or any other shade in-between. When the outcome of a battle could rest on the truth of your report, your word must be your bond. In private life, one can avoid or make allowance for those who have trouble telling the truth. But in the Army, soldiers depend on each other too much to accept anything but complete honesty. All good soldiers understand the need for truthfulness and shun those who lie.

As a soldier, you may be called on to be courageous in many ways. In battle, you may have to keep moving forward in the face of heavy enemy fire. Lives of other men may depend on this kind of courage. Battle plans are based on it. Then, in addition to courage in battle, you need courage to admit your own failures. You may need still another kind of courage to ask your fellow soldiers to keep going when they have nearly reached the limit of their endurance.

In any talk of courage, however, it is important that you know the difference between real courage and foolhardiness. Taking unnecessary risks is stupid and often endangers the lives of others. Being courageous doesn’t mean that you won’t be afraid at the same time. Fear in battle is natural, and some of our best soldiers have been those who have been afraid, but who went ahead into battle, even with a shaking hand and pounding heart.

Soldiers who have displayed this kind of courage were able to do so because of another quality, self-control. As a soldier, you will be living and working closely with other soldiers. You will be leading a highly disciplined life. Good self-control makes this discipline easier. It will also help you avoid temptations that may plague you — temptations to dodge your duty, to indulge in immorality, or to use your power unfairly. Sometimes you may be the law itself, and only your sense of right and self-control will stand between you and your abuse of power as a soldier.

Self-control is “inner discipline.” You were not born with it, but all good soldiers have acquired it through the years by checking their tempers and desires, and by “counting 10” before they acted.

Another quality that all good soldiers have is decency. This means personal habits that make it easier for others to live and work with you. Your honesty, courage, and self-control will strongly affect your companions, but in addition, it is important that you give them the same consideration that you’d like them to give you. This means respecting their property and views, keeping yourself clean in body and speech, and accepting others for what they are – not for the color of their skins, or where they came from.

All these qualities are important parts of a good soldier’s character, but the quality that all of our great soldiers have had – the quality that gave meaning to all of their other virtues – is conviction of purpose. This means that these soldiers fought well and were able to endure the hardships of war because they were convinced that what they were doing was right.

Admittedly, this quality isn’t easy to have. Many combat veterans will tell you that they were never quite sure why they were fighting. Some say that they fought to save themselves. Others say that they fought for the men around them, or because they hated the enemy. There is never any single reason why men fight.

Our truly great soldiers, however, have fought for our country because they believed that our freedoms and way of life were worth the sacrifice. You probably know the story of Sergeant York. When he first entered the Army in World War I, he was troubled because his training and his conscience told him “Thou shalt not kill.” After a long struggle with his conscience, however, he realized that fighting the enemy was just, because that enemy would have enslaved the world if they could. When he realized this, he became one of our greatest heroes, because he was convinced that it was right for men to remain free.

These are some of the main qualities that make up the character of a good soldier. Nobody can give you these qualities. You have to get them yourself by hard work. But at least you know what the qualities are and if you don’t have all of them, you have a goal that is worth reaching.

CHARISMA AS WONDER AND WEAPON

John Potts

is a professor of media at Macquarie University in Australia. He is interested in culture and technology, digital media, media history, contemporary arts, and intellectual history. His latest book is The New Time and Space (2015). 

What is charisma? 

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Mixed blessings. Photo by Paolo Sarteschi/Flickr

Charisma is easier to recognise than to define. Newspaper and magazine articles consistently identify charismatic leaders – such as John F Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr, Barack Obama – but those same articles rarely describe exactly what charisma is. It is often debated whether charisma is necessary for a ‘transformational’ leader, while shelves of self-help books optimistically promise to impart the ‘secrets’ of charisma. Other people hold that charisma cannot be ‘unlocked’ or ‘discovered’ at all because it is innate and present only in the rarest of individuals. So, to ask anew, just what is charisma?

Charisma’s origins are found in the letters of Paul the Apostle, written from around 50 AD. This is the first written use of the word ‘charisma’, derived from the Greek ‘charis’ (grace). For Paul, charisma meant ‘the gift of God’s grace’ or ‘spiritual gift’. In Paul’s letters to the fledgling Christian communities spread around the Roman empire, he wrote of the ‘charismata’ or spiritual gifts available to each member of the community. He identified nine charismata, including prophecy, healing, speaking in tongues, interpreting that speech, teaching, and service – a range of gifts both supernatural and pragmatic.

For Paul, charisma was a mystical notion: the gifts were thought to alight on each individual without the need for church authority or institution. And there was no charisma of leadership: the interlocking charismata were meant to serve the community without the need for an imposed leader. By the fourth century, however, the Church had largely suppressed the notion of charisma deriving directly from the Holy Spirit. Conveniently, in its place was a hierarchy of Church leadership, with bishops at the top, interpreting the fixed religious laws inscribed in the newly authorised Bible. Charisma survived only in heretical outposts, such as prophets claiming direct inspiration without the mediations of bishop or scripture. Such heresies were forcibly repressed by the Church.

The idea of charisma then lay largely dormant for centuries. Only in the writings of the 20th-century German sociologist Max Weber was it reborn. In fact, we owe the contemporary meaning of ‘charisma’ to Weber, who took Paul’s religious idea and secularised it, placing charisma within a sociology of authority and leadership. For Weber, there were three types of authority: the rational-legal, the traditional, and the charismatic. Weber saw the charismatic form of authority as the revolutionary, even unstable, antidote to the ‘iron cage’ of rationalisation found in the contemporary ‘disenchanted’ world. He held that there was something heroic about the charismatic leader, who galvanised followers with great feats or with the ‘charisma of rhetoric’ found in inspiring speeches.

Weber defined charisma as ‘a certain quality of an individual personality by virtue of which he is considered extraordinary and treated as endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at least specifically exceptional powers or qualities’. He traced charismatic leadership through history, in the person of great military or religious leaders – and also held out the hope that charismatic leadership would continue to emerge, even in the highly regulated bureaucracies of the modern world.

Weber died in 1920, and did not live to see the application of his idea to contemporary politics and culture. Perhaps that’s a good thing, since the first political leaders to be described as charismatic were Mussolini and Hitler. For many European intellectuals, this created the sense that charismatic authority had a sinister dimension. That same dark side of charismatic leadership long remained: 1960s cult leaders such as Charles Manson, with their spellbinding hold on followers, were readily termed charismatic. By this point, Weber’s works had been translated, so that ‘charisma’ was popular in the English-speaking world from about the 1950s.

The first politicians that the media identified as charismatic in a positive, rather than demagogic, sense were JFK, and his brother Robert F Kennedy. After the 1960s, ‘charisma’ moved more into mainstream usage as it was applied to outstanding individuals other than political leaders: the late Muhammad Ali, for instance, was perhaps the most charismatic of all.

Today, charisma is used to describe a range of individuals: politicians, celebrities, business leaders. We understand charisma as a special, innate quality that sets certain individuals apart and draws others to them. It is considered a rare, specially endowed quality: in US politics, for instance, Bill Clinton was thought to have a charismatic presence, as is Obama – but nobody else in recent political memory earns the accolade. In business, Steve Jobs is the archetypal charismatic leader: visionary, driven, but also volatile and unstable. And in celebrity culture, charisma is regarded as a sign of rare authenticity when much of the entertainment industry is devoted to the plastic manufacture of fame in the manner of Idols or The Voice. Charisma cannot be created by reality TV.

Is charisma even desirable in contemporary politicians? The political biographer David Barnett has called charisma ‘one of the most dangerous concepts in a democracy that you can find’. Charismatic leaders can inspire followers with soaring rhetoric – which can also prove divisive and damaging to a party’s (or a nation’s) fortunes. Political parties are generally content with popular, unthreatening, folksy leaders who appeal to ordinary people. In Australia, Paul Keating was a charismatic, visionary prime minister, but also a schismatic leader who alienated much of the Labor Party’s traditional ‘heartland’ with his perceived arrogance. His successor, John Howard, was universally regarded as charisma-free, but his very ordinariness turned out to be his greatest asset: it was a reassuring rather than threatening style of leadership. Meanwhile in Italy, Silvio Berlusconi was a populist leader whose tenure as prime minister was deleterious for democracy. The charismatic leader might be thrilling, even captivating, but the success of that leader might not leave a political party, or a democracy, in a healthy state.

‘Charisma’, as an idea, spans 2,000 years. Is there a link between contemporary charisma – considered a special form of authority – and the religious charisma of Paul’s time? It lies in the notion of innateness, of the gift. Paul said that no bishop or Church required the blessing of charisma: it simply lighted on the individual, as a spiritual gift. Charisma today is enigmatic, an unknown or X factor, somehow irreducible. Nobody knows why rare individuals are blessed with charisma: it remains, as ever, a mysterious gift.

There is but one way to advise – by example.

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