Archive for November, 2009

Letter From New York, November 22, 2009

November 22, 2009

Or: As it seems to me…

The exciting news of the week, to me, was that water was found on the moon. To me, that was huge news and while it didn’t make banner headlines [which, by the way, to me, it should have] it was a momentous discovery. The fact it didn’t make banner headlines goes to show just how far down the news pecking order space has gone. Water on the moon? Not so long ago it was pretty much gospel that the moon was arid, not a drop to be had at all. Yet that’s not true. Water is not flowing in rivers but it’s captured in the soil.

Where did it come from? That’s the question I’m asking. How on earth is there water on the moon? Why aren’t the papers full of discourse and debate about how this has come to be? Water on the moon? And there’s water on Mars… just not a lot of talk about it and there should be. We’re talking about mysteries of the universe and the world press is more concerned about the outfit Blake Lively wore to some premiere than it is about the wild mysteries of the universe that should be being debated.

I was space nut kid. I created my own mission control in front of the television when there was a space launch. I hauled every futuristic piece of gear I could find in the house and made my own Houston. It lifted me up, excited me, and made me feel engaged not just in what was happening in that moment but in the fate of the human race. Space, to me, was already the final frontier before Star Trek claimed the phrase.

The exploration of space excited me as a child in the way I assume children were excited, entranced, intrigued by tales of the New World back in the day when it was being discovered. It gave everyone, from child to grandparent, a sense [I think] of wonder of what MORE there was to the world. Just as the idea of space exploration gave me, as a child, the sense of what MORE there was to the universe in which I lived.

Similarly, in the first part of the 20th Century, people became excited by other people accomplishing feats that stretched the concept of what man could do. Lindbergh became famous for flying the Atlantic solo for the first time. Amelia Earhart catapulted to fame for being the first woman to do the same. Adventurers became heroes because they expanded our concept of our abilities as humans.

We live, it seems, in a time of diminished expectations. We do amazing things – just this week, men walked in space while working on the International Space Station. Certainly not the first time a man has walked in space but none the less amazing, no less so because it’s not the first time. The fact we do it is amazing. It’s something that should take up a bit more space in the public consciousness than the dress worn by a television star.

There are many amazing things happening, in space and on earth though we seem to discount them, make them small while aggrandizing the trivial – like the exploits of our favorite television and film stars. I don’t really care that we do [well, okay, I find it a bit annoying and overblown] but I do really care that we give such short shrift to the amazing things that are happening every day – things that are steps in changing the way we live forever.

I can’t use a solar powered calculator without remembering it’s a by-product of the space program, as are so many things we use in daily life. Up there in space, as well as down here on earth, men and women are slowly pushing the boundaries of what’s possible and showing us the way to do things differently, better.

Robert Browning’s quote: “Ah but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for…” has been used by me before. It’s very true and is part of the essence of man, to reach to do more, something man has been doing since he emerged from the primordial soup. We can’t help ourselves so let’s do more celebrating of it.

Letter From New York November 12, 2009

November 12, 2009

Or: As it seems to me

It was Election Day recently, the first Tuesday in November. Since then it seems all political pundits are attempting to read the runes of this just past election to see what it says about the state of the nation: who is up? who is down? Did the defeat of Corzine in New Jersey mean that the nation was turning against Obama? Or did the election of a Democrat in New York’s 23rd District, the first since 1852, signal deep trouble for the Republicans? Ah… my guess is that come the next election pundits will still be parsing this one.

Me? I was voter number two at my polling place, the A. B. Shaw Fire Station at the juncture of 9H and 23, there before dawn broke and certainly before my morning caffeine had effectively coursed its way through my body. However, I was prepared and knew for whom I was going to vote, having read and studied in the week before as I attempted to be a responsible voter. This election was all about the local politics and for the first time in many years it seemed possible that some new blood could be elected to the Board of Supervisors. As I write this, two of the people I voted for have gone down to defeat and one is leading by a razor thin majority. It will take days to resolve this one. The differential is as few as seven votes to possibly twenty-one, depending on which report you read. It is a classic example of why every vote counts and why I am gratified I made the effort to get home to vote. Based on what’s happening, my vote counted.

What happens, unfortunately, in democracies, especially big democracies, is that people discount the fact their vote matters. The closeness of our local election underscores the democratic principle – a single vote counts.

While waiting for resolution to the local election of the week just past, we have celebrated November 11th, Veterans Day, celebrated on this day because on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, soldiers put down their weapons to end the “war to end all wars,” commonly known now as World War I. It is a moment to honor all veterans, all the men and women who have put themselves in harm’s way for the safety of this our democracy [see above about the importance of voting]. I heard the last living veteran of WWI passed away recently – a moment to give us pause – as we are now in some real way disconnected from a conflict that shaped much of the world in which we live, even if we don’t think much about it. There will come a time when the last living veteran of WWII will pass away and we will become disconnected from that conflict which, too, shaped the world in which we are living. There will be a time when the last living vet from Korea will go, from Viet Nam, from Iraq…

History is, unfortunately, made in conflict. And we should capture those voices while we can as there is much to be learned from them, even the smallest recollection enhances our understanding of the human experience, shaped in conflict. Stephen Spielberg has created the Shoah Foundation to capture on video all the stories he can of the Holocaust. Perhaps we should be capturing the history of those who have fought because in understanding what they have endured we might find reasons to not fight in the future…

The lessons to be learned from combat are in the forefront of our minds this week, due to the devastating events at Fort Hood, where many of the victims were preparing for deployment in Afghanistan to help soldiers deal with the stress of warfare.

The glory of war is often told, all the way back to the Iliad and beyond but now we are facing the price of war on the field of battle.

Letter From New York, November 2, 2009

November 2, 2009

Or: as it seems to me…

Outside rain falls. I’m not sure I remember a time anymore when rain hasn’t been falling. It’s been that kind of year. And continues to be – wet and chill, perfect weather for the flu. Which is on everyone’s mind these days. H1N1/Swine flu in particular, called that as the theory goes that it first emerged in pigs in Asia, leaping to a human there and then traveling to North America. Personally, I now know a half dozen people who have been ill with it; one so sick she needed hospitalization.

It is both seasonal flu and the more threatening H1N1 strain that has our attention this week. Some reports indicate this will be the peak week for the flu, of whichever variety. The CDC has released the last stores of Tamiflu for children due to an upsurge in children dying from the H1N1 strain, 19 more in the past week. We are all balancing our fears with the reality of living life. While children are especially vulnerable, it didn’t prevent parents from indulging them in this year’s Halloween ritual of “Trick or Treat.” Nor did it stop adults from congregating for parties though I am sure the thought of crowds gave people pause before setting out with their children or going off to their parties. I am sure that the use of hand sanitizer was way, way up. It’s hard to escape sanitizer these days. Many offices seem to have it everywhere; some buildings have installed sanitizer stations next to elevator call buttons and almost everywhere else you can think of. Everyone is advised to wash his or her hands, frequently and thoroughly. Scrub your hands for the amount of time it takes to recite the alphabet or sing “Happy Birthday” twice – that’s the current conventional wisdom.

We are, here in the United States, at the epicenter of H1N1/Swine flu. Some schools are decimated and workplaces as well. But it’s not just here – the entire world is bracing for H1N1/Swine flu. Jet planes mean that infected people move quickly from one country to another. It’s coming up on the time for the Hajj, the annual Muslim pilgrimage to the birthplace of Mohammed. And the Saudi government is taking steps to encourage the most vulnerable not to come to Mecca this year. Hand sanitizers will probably be everywhere though some conservative Muslims won’t use it because it is alcohol based. The world is haunted, rightly so, by the flu epidemic of 1918 that left millions dead.

I tend to think: it’s just the flu. But every year thousands die of “just the flu.” It’s not something to take lightly, especially this year. This last week there was no Letter From New York partly because I was fighting what I thought might be the beginning of the flu – headache and achy body were my symptoms. Doing something unusual for me, I heeded the call of my body and stayed home, resting and going back to work when my body quit aching. Wisdom won the day and it’s smart that wisdom and caution rule the days for all of us this year when it comes to flu; it’s time to be cautious.

Airlines are being more lenient with re-booking fees and some companies are raising the limit for the number of sick days. The President has declared a state of national emergency to expedite procedures if things become dire, as H1N1/Swine flu has been reported in 48 of the 50 states and 168 different countries.

Now we’ve turned the clocks back, had an extra hour of rest, done our “Trick and Treating” we can begin prepping for the Holiday season in front of us. Best to focus on the good times ahead and be health cautious now.