Richard and I flew down to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania over the weekend to visit his brother, a professor at Gettysburg College.
On the way down we stopped at the Kingston-Ulster airport and were picked up by Richard’s friend Annie, a flying kinetic whirl of activity whose mass could only be characterized by a probability distribution. We drove a few miles to Bard College’s new auditorium, designed by Frank Gehry. From the air this had seemed like a misshapen metal-clad lump. From the ground it still looked misshapen but not ugly. It cost $60 million to build. Running a not-for-profit college would seem to be a very good way to accumulate cash. Even after spending $60 mil the school had enough money left over to pay lots of security guards. A performance was in progress in the small theater and every door was locked and guarded. Annie was not be deterred. We walked around the back and walked in the stage door with the members of the Charles Mingus Orchestra, unchallenged past the security guard who was reading a book. Lesson: never hire a hippie college kid to work security. The main theater did not impress but the backstage was amazingly huge and intricate.
While the local swells attended a play the students played Frisbee and sang folk music in front of the Student Center. Posters advertised a show of “Palestinian Art; Four Decades of Response to Oppression” (with the world’s fastest-growing population (5% per year) and most of their money being siphoned off by kleptocratic rulers perhaps the Palestinians are now going to support themselves via indigenous arts and crafts). We walked past the booths selling tie-dyed clothing and through the campus until we arrived at a mansion on the Hudson River, complete with formal garden.
After a late lunch in Rhinebeck we got back into the DA40, bound for Gettysburg. We flew up a beautiful river valley that crammed together an enormous open-plan new prison, an enormous fortress-like old prison, a golf course, and a scattering of McMansions around the fairways. We followed a ridge of uplifted hills, cut through by rivers and highways, then climbed to a more efficient altitude of 6500′. We passed near Harrisburg and over the Three Mile Island nuclear power plants (two cooling towers dead; two blowing steam) before landing at the Gettysburg Airport. This airport is right next to a mobile home park in which you could buy a nice trailer for $20,000 then rent a hangar for $200 per month. All the convenience of an airpark without the expense!
The Gettysburg battlefield park is one of the best-preserved and most interesting among those in the U.S. This was the pivotal battle of the War of Northern Aggression (know to the victors as the “American Civil War”). The Southern armies under General Robert E. Lee had come to bring the fight into the North and were briefly in a position to reach the big cities of the Northeast. After the South went home on July 4, 1863, the outcome was inevitable. This was the first time that artillery, the rifle, and the digging of trenches came together to give the defense a huge advantage. The Civil War was thus the first modern war in terms of tactics, in terms of press coverage (photographers were embedded with the troops), and in terms of the total mobilization of industrial civilian economies. The offense did not gain the upper hand until Hitler’s air power, tank columns, and mechanized infantry conquered Europe in the 1930s and 40s (we’re still in the “offense wins” epoch of war, apparently, if the invasion of Iraq can be considered typical).
Being a professor at Gettysburg College seemed like a lot of fun. First of all, even on a professor’s salary you can afford a large newish house on several acres of land, typically part of a recently subdivided farm (subdividing farms is to this decade what day trading was to the 1990s). Now that you’ve got the big house you can start throwing parties for your colleagues. Most of them will show up because there isn’t much else to do in Gettysburg. Thus your life consists of going from one party to another, mixing with academics from every area of inquiry.
[Why doesn’t this happen at MIT? First, the young fun people who work at MIT can’t afford to live anywhere near the school unless they want to cram themselves into a studio or 1-bedroom apartment, not suitable for parties. Second there are all kinds of social and entertainment opportunities in a big city like Boston. Third, there are too many professors in one’s own department to get to know and therefore one is unlikely to be coerced by circumstance into socializing with people from other fields (the EECS department at MIT has more than 150 faculty).]
Having soaked up the scenery and the smell of the apple blossoms it was time to depart this morning. We were greeted by a dreary mist, clouds hanging on the hills, and a steady rain. Flight Service said that the warm front was coming through sooner than expected but that the weather was clear to the northeast. Richard and I departed under instrument flight rules (IFR). This is a bit tricky at an airport with no control tower and no radio repeater for the air traffic controllers (ATC). You need to take off and gain altitude before you can talk to ATC but it isn’t safe, prudent, or legal to climb into the clouds unless you’ve already talked to ATC. We picked up our clearance with a cell phone call to Washington Center from the airplane as we sat on the ground in Gettysburg. They cleared out the airspace north of Gettysburg for 10 minutes, giving us enough time to depart (if we’d had a problem taking off we would have called them back to cancel).
Despite a headwind, we were on the ground in Boston 2.75 hours later. We had climbed up to 5500′ and never entered the clouds.Full post, including comments