Magazine | August 10, 2009, Issue


Loose Facts, and Women 

David Pryce-Jones’s elegant essay “The Dark Lord” (July 6) provided a wealth of fascinating and disturbing insights into the character of Lord Byron. But Pryce-Jones is in error when he gives the title character of Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni credit for seducing “a thousand and three” Italian women. When Laporello, the Don’s servant, mockingly sets forth the catalogue of his master’s sexual conquests, the Don is credited with a mere “six hundred and forty” in sunny Italy; he scored “a thousand and three” times in Spain. My Italian ancestors would want it known that, while their women might be easy, they’re not that easy. They gladly offer the crown to Spain, just as Mozart intended. 

Joseph Barba

Pollock Pines, Calif.

Defending Space Exploration  

In your July 6 issue, John Derbyshire describes the 1969 moon landing as a “magnificent folly.” I take exception to describing Project Apollo as “folly.” 

Like Mr. Derbyshire, I have strong memories of the moon landing. Also like Mr. Derbyshire, I thought the world had changed forever. Yes, it was a naïve thought: Nothing followed but five more landings, followed by the deadly space shuttle and a space station to which we parade an endless line of women and men to do nothing more ground-breaking or edifying than study how their own bodies react to being in space. 

But the reason Apollo didn’t change the world may not have been that Apollo was pointless, but that by 1969 the world itself had so changed that Apollo could have no impact on it. A vast sociological chasm separated the moment when President Kennedy announced the goal of putting a man on the moon in 1961 from the moment it actually happened. Following, roughly, the Tet Offensive of 1968, a new America had been born; it was represented by youths who booed the announcement of the moon landing at a rock concert. 

A society that had not invested in self-loathing would have followed up the moon landing with a moon base, and with a manned mission to Mars, and in the process produced new knowledge, new technology, new resources, and — quite probably — extraordinary new wealth that would have made Bill Gates look middle-class. Instead, America turned away from all that. The proposal of Vice President Agnew’s task force, calling for a far-reaching manned space program to follow Apollo, was summarily dismissed. 

Perhaps having large government programs to send humans into space is not in keeping with conservative ideals of limited government. But then again, perhaps it is. Man’s history indicates that the government, even a limited government, has an important role to play in human exploration and discovery: Think of Christopher Columbus, the transcontinental railroad, and Lewis and Clark. 

Joe Cor

Warriors Mark, Penn.

John Derbyshire replies:  There is a case — a case I agree with — for modest federal support of scientific projects. In the case of Apollo, however, the expenditures were vastly greater, and the probability of benefits to the nation vastly less, than in any of the historical examples cited. Sorry, no sale.

Members of the National Review editorial and operational teams are included under the umbrella “NR Staff.”

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