Saturday, June 2, 2012

Enjoying Neil DeGrasse Tyson at the UW Senior Sendoff on the Union Terrace

My oldest daughter Allison has always made it a point to listen to rockstar astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson. It so happened that the senior class of the University of Wisconsin had asked him to come speak at their Senior Send-off at the end of their semester. She suggested we go hear him speak.

I too enjoy hearing Neil DeGrasse Tyson, I adore the UW Union Terrace and have many happy memories there, but most importantly, I could not wait to have a pork bratwurst from their outdoor grill.

Not having had pork in over nine months, I was more than ready for a piping hot, freshly-grilled pork bratwurst with ketchup, mustard, pickle relish, and fresh chopped onions. I spent a considerable amount of time leading up to my trip home daydreaming about whether or not I would put saurkraut on it too, but had decided in the end to just let the other condiments speak for themselves.

The Terrace was as exquisite as ever. It was a gorgeous sunny day. There were a few sailboats out on the lake, but in the main, it was glassy and calm. The weather wasn't too hot, it was enjoyably and perfectly warm. We came early and found a front row seat. Allison had brought travel Scrabble to keep us company as we had arrived four to five hours early to make sure we could find a seat. A Chicago cop sitting behind us, who laughingly explained he had a "man crush" on Neil DeGrasse Tyson, also had arrived in Madison early from Chicago to get a seat. When folks all arrive that early, community forms.

Alas, the gigantic outdoor grill at the Memorial Union Terrace was turned off! 5,000 people assembling and no one thought to fire up the grill and sell them some beer and bratwurst. I was sorely dissappointed. I had to settle for a Reuben Sandwich from the Rathskeller. I hadn't had a Reuben sandwich in probably three years so it was a delicious consolation.

Now if this seems like a lot of detail about what I had for lunch, you haven't felt the depth of food craving of your average expat. I once read a headline on an expat blog that said "expats miss their own favorite food tastes from back home more than they miss their Mom." I cringed but understood his food longing.
Neil DeGrasse Tyson
Neil DeGrasse Tyson shared entertaining examples of America's math illiteracy. I was particularly interested in his derison for the America superstition of not having a 13th floor in buildings. He found that laughable. 

He's not the only one. In Turkey, Turkish politicians have that same mystification over this silly Western prejudice. A Turkish MP had stated that the absence of the number 13 in public places is a Western superstition “which has no place in Turkish culture,” emphasizing that Turkey should not imitate Western practices and should add the number 13 as soon as possible." From now on, Turkish Airlines will have a row 13 where it didn't have before. Can any of my fellow Westerners argue that this '13' superstition is defenseable?
He had the crowd in the palm of his hand.
Another amusing example of America's math illiteracy was our lack of veneration for those who are experts in it. He asked the crowd, "who owns the stereotype of producing superb engineers? Which country?" The crowd offered up "Germany," to which DeGrasse pointed out that "Germany reveres mathematicians and engineers so much Germany puts them on their currency - with their equations - no less!" Later, I noticed that Turkey does too.

"Is there so much as a key or a kite on the 100 dollar bill to celebrate Benjamin Franklin's experiments with electricity?" he asked.
His frequent asides made it seem more like
we were all out for a beer together
rather than him giving a speech.
Neil DeGrasse Tyson made an excellent case that investing in NASA and the innovations that result from that are what could drive the American economy forward. He walked the crowd through examples of the impact NASA's space exploration had on the greater culture, for example, fins appearing on cars in homage to rocket fins. Another example, in 1971, Doctors Without Borders began. He asked if that would even have been a concept without the famous moonrise photos taken of Earth from the back side of the moon. Without borders, indeed. 
"Have we stopped dreaming?" he asked.
"When the shuttle program ended where you feeling nostalgic?" he asked. Everyone in the crowd nodded yes. "Nostalgia he said is what happens when there is nothing to look forward to. No one was nostalic at the end of the Mercury program. There was another one right behind it.  If we're not careful, the 2010s will be remembered as the decade of the 50-year anniversary of cool stuff that happened in the 1960s."
What it looked like to one side of me.
It was standing room only behind me.

It was uplifting to be around educated young people
excited to get out and change the world
and "make tomorrow come."

Tyson ended on a high note and had them
whistling, clapping, and rarin' to go.

What a delightful memory we created together, my daughter and I, of a splendid day on the Terrace. I love hearing a public intellectual with my family or friends and discussing new ideas together. I'm still waiting on that grilled bratwurst, though!

You might also enjoy:

The Marvelousness of Madison

Wonderful food eases newly empty nest

The Legend of Starved Rock

No comments:

Travel Sites Catalog All Traveling Sites Expat Women—Helping Women Living Overseas International Affairs Blogs - BlogCatalog Blog Directory expat Czech Republic website counter blog abroadWho links to me? Greenty blog