Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Of Spacewalks, and Debt, and Near Death at the Home Run Derby

I have to confess that as I start this particular piece, I really don’t know where I’m going with it.

It started in response to my cousin Hack noting on Facebook that today is the last American space walk in the foreseeable future; coming as it does on the final mission of our space shuttle program. That lit a spark in me to talk about American genius and spirit, and how we’ve pretty much squandered both as we’ve pissed away being the greatest country in the world for the last sixty or so years.

I wanted to espouse the greatness that was America when I was a kid growing up. The spirit that made us all stare in silent wonder at our television sets on that July night 42 years ago and watch a fuzzy picture of Neil Armstrong setting foot on the moon. Muscle cars and industrialism and jets and space and wonder and awe and just being winners!

I think I wanted to challenge us to get that back...

And then right in the middle of that, I saw my friend Dean Jackson’s FB post about the idiot at the MLB home run derby last night, who almost died trying to catch his THIRD ball of the contest. Think I’m over-reacting? Check out the perch this moron was on just before attempting the catch…

So let me make clear: I’m drawing a line between this lunacy and the hero firefighter who died last week while reaching for a ball in front of his six year old son. I may be wrong, but I see multiple empty beer cups in the above shot. This is not smart behavior. Ever.

Ok, so the country that was great enough to put a man on the moon is also capable of producing whackjobs that are willing to stand on a small metal table twenty five feet in the air and dive for baseballs in a scenario where only a week before a man lost his life. Not that it would make it worthwhile, but these aren't Derek Jeter's 3000th hit or Somebody Else's Milestone Home Run ball. This ball is one of 95 home runs hit in THIS contest. The guy had already caught two, about two thirds of the way through the event.


And of course in the midst of all this we have a congress arguing over making it legal for us to be $14 trillion in debt…which is nearly $130,000 for EVERY American taxpayer.

Want to blow your mind? Check out this website: http://www.usdebtclock.org/

And so we come full circle to why we can’t afford the space program. Because we’re a country that’s made up of people willing to go $14 trillion in debt, and risk our lives to catch baseballs from a made-up sideshow carnival contest, but we can’t comprehend the vision or wisdom or attitude and spirit that it takes to explore new worlds and expand our boundaries.

Call me nuts, I liked us better 50 years ago.

1 comment:

  1. I totally get your sense of dissonance over the news of the week, and our completely out-of-kilter national priorities. I have mixed emotions about the end of the shuttle program. I lament the loss of the can-do spirit of the Apollo program, and I wish we could invest more in science for science's sake (and art for art's sake) than we do ... but to be honest, we didn't go to the moon for science's sake. The Apollo program would never have happened if it wasn't considered a (paramilitary) case of national security.

    50 years ago we were the greatest country in the world, economically, militarily, and probably morally ... but we were motivated by the very real, existential threat of not just falling to number two, but being annihilated. (Of course, our adversary also faced an existential threat, courtesy of ours truly.) Thirty years ago we abrogated our arms limitation treaties with that adversary, and spent them into bankruptcy. Twenty years after winning the Cold War, we're spending almost as much on our military than the rest of the world combined, and we think we can't afford a space program.

    More mixed emotions: this topic reinforces a recent observation that the USA is still the best at being the best, but we're not very good at being very good. Almost all of the best universities in the world are in the US, public and private alike; but the results of our public K-12 system fall between Lithuania and Uganda. We're the best place in the world to need brain surgery; but if you just want to survive childbirth, you're better off in 40 other countries. We have the world's largest and best military, but we don't feel safe. We're still the wealthiest nation on earth, but we're talking about defaulting on our obligations rather than give up having among the lowest **effective** tax rates in the western world.

    I'm not trying to argue with you, Hoov. I'm writing out of the same sense of malaise and lost promise that you are, and I'm not sure what I'm suggesting as an ameliorative. And I'm also not one to say that EVERYTHING is worse now than it was 30 or 50 years ago. Our daughters have more options than their mothers and grandmothers ever did, for instance.

    I guess the commonality in our mutual lamentations is this:

    I wish we, as a country and a culture, had a purpose in common more important than that third meaningless flyball that we're all willing to risk oblivion to put into our back pocket ...