Just a little anecdote to illustrate this holy land’s weird take on smart people. Take a hike over to India, say, or France or most of the other 200 or so nations on this mad, mad, mad, mad world and you’ll find intellectuals are held in the highest esteem. Here? Nope.
Educated, well-read folk here are called nerds, eggheads, and worse. A smart American man is one who has made a billion dollars. An American woman is bright if she’s cashed in on her looks. Conversely, the 22-year-old who’s working on her PhD in English literature is a dope — how in the hell is she going to make a living on that?
In Italy, a man of intellect is called dottore (doctor), a sign of great respect. (IDK what Italians call brainy woman — feminists pretty much everywhere on this planet are, at best, tolerated.)
So, anyway, I’m reading the book Rocket Men by Craig Nelson. The 2010 New York Times bestseller recounts the story of the tens of thousands of people (women included, believe it or not) involved in the US space program from the inception of NASA in 1958 through the Apollo 11 moon landing in the summer of 1969. The original NASA astronauts, dubbed the Mercury Seven, were hailed as mythical, mystical heroes even before the first manned capsules went into space. Pix of the Seven graced the covers of dozens of the most popular magazines. Their faces were on the news seemingly night after night. Life did a series of worshipful pieces on them, turning them into such familiar figures that any grade school kid (including the one you’re reading right now) could name them.
They were to Americans what Hercules, Achilles, Theseus, and Odysseus were to the Ancient Greeks. (BTW: None of them is left. The last of the original American spacemen was John Glenn who died this past December at the age of 95.)
NASA paraded the Mercury Seven around the country in the lead-up to the first Mercury manned launches. The agency’s publicists stood on their heads to portray the likes of Glenn, Wally Schirra, Gus Grissom, and the rest as regular Joes and the boys next door. The astronauts responded to questions from reporters with aw shucks, self-deprecating platitudes. The flacks figured America would take the astronauts to heart only if they were viewed as cowboys in pressure suits. Book learnin’? Puh-leaze, our boys had more important things to do than study propellants, drag, net thrust, the delta-V equation, and mass ratios. Why, they had to shoot bad guys (the Russkies) dead at high noon. They had to ride wild ponies into the heavens, thinking nothing of their own safety. Calculus? Hypergolics? That stuff was for pussies, like them damned college perfessors.
The publicists took great pains to essentially conceal from the public the fact that the Seven were really brilliant men of science. Every one of them had done extensive study in engineering, physics, aerodynamics, and the like.
Alan Shepard’s IQ, for example, was measured at 145 in naval academy prep school — genius level — when he was only 16 years old.
The American people remained blissfully unaware that their new heroes were Einsteins. Pete Conrad, in fact, one of the “New Nine,” the second wave of astronauts brought into NASA in 1962, was a student at Princeton when that institution’s most famous employee, Albert Einstein himself, died in 1955. Conrad, it has been reported, openly wept upon hearing the news.
None of this was considered necessary info for Americans to know. Then again, very little real info is necessary for Americans to know.
The Woman In The Moon