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Monday, October 15, 2012


Some heroes unexpectedly rise to immortality by a sweeping event, others are driven to greatness.  Malala Yousufzai was shot by the Taliban;  Felix Baumgartner fell 24 miles from the sky.

While Felix survived, Malala might not, although she could well have triggered the beginning of the end of the Taliban.  Her symbolic horror is not unlike the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi almost two years ago, sparking the Arab Spring.  Four long-standing rulers have been forced from power, civil uprisings and major protests continue to shake eight more countries, and there is general unrest in thirteen other nations, all in the Middle East.

Malala, meaning "grief stricken" and all of 15 years old from Mingora, Swat, Pakistan, represents the future of women in the Muslim World.  Watch her accepting the 2012 Azm award.  She gained notoriety at the age of 11 when she blogged on life under the Taliban regime, particularly promoting her views about education for girls.  Because of the internal wars, her family has in the past been separated and dislocated, living in refugee camps.  She actually met with Richard Holbrooke (left), President Obama's special representative to the region, and pleaded with him:

     Respected ambassador, if you can help us in our education, so please help us.

On 9October12 she was shot twice by the Talilban.  A 9 mm bullet passed through the top left side of her head and the second through her neck, ending near the spinal cord.  Surprisingly enough (to me), 50 Islamic clerics in Pakistan issued a fatwa against those who tried to kill her and Pakistani officials offered a $105,000 reward for information leading to arrest of the attackers.  The ever recalcitrant Taliban re-announced an intention to assassinate Malala and her father, who is a poet, school owner and educational activist.  There is no doubt who is her inspiration.

Mind you, the Taliban has already blown up more than a hundred girls' schools.  Her health condition (she has communicated but might never again be the same) and concern for her safety convinced authorities to transfer her to Birmingham, UK.  Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, now the United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education, is using the slogan "I am Malala", demanding that all children worldwide be schooled by the end of 2015.

Why I think Malala will have a catalytic effect as influential as that butterfly in Ray Brandbury's A Sound of Thunder is a quote from one of her classmates:

     Every girl in Swat is Malala.  We will educate ourselves.  We will win.  They can't defeat us.

Then we have that daredevil, Felix Baumgartner,   Another triumph for the USA?  Well, no, for Baumgartner is from Australia and Red Bull is an Australian company, whose One Giant Leap for Red Bull Stratos will have enormous marketing implications.  Red Bull has been around for almost thirty years and last year sold 4.6 billion cans.  Felix is famous, but Red Bull will only get more profitable.  It was a gamble, for he could have died.

This is not his first high jump, for he leaped from the Petronas Towers (Malaysia) in 1999, claiming the world record for the highest parachute jump from a building, and repeated this in 2007 from Taipei 101.  He skydived (left) across the English Channel. 

What did he recently do?  He freefell from 128,000 feet and reached a speed of 834 miles per hour.  The speed of sound is 761 MPH at sea level and around 673 at 100,000 feet.  Thus he was the first person to naturally travel faster than the speed of sound.

The world record height of 85,135 feet by the SR-71 Blackbird was accomplished in 1976.  I was quite familiar with this bird, as it was parked in a hanger very close to my office when I worked at the Ames Research Center.  I actually walked up to and touched it.  There was no visible security.  It's a rare commercial flight that gets up to 45,000 feet.

Baumgartner used a hot air balloon (#5, the one on the left):

On the ground, I wonder why there was no dominating Red Bull Stratos symbol:

Oh yes, there is also General Chuck Yeager, who, at the age of 89, yesterday as Felix, broke the sound barrier, a record he set exactly 65 years ago.

Hurricane Paul has shot up to 120 MPH and is projected to threaten Baha.  Raphael should soon become a hurricane and affect the Bermudas.


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