Sunday, July 20, 2014

Is A "Frontier Nation" Afraid Of The Final Frontier?

Today is the 45th anniversary of what ought to be regarded as this nation's greatest and proudest achievement--the landing of men on the Moon.  An accomplishment that for centuries had been the object of of dreams and fantasy had become real.  As a species, we were no longer irrevocably bound to the Earth.  We had, along with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, taken the first steps toward conquering space and making it truly our home.

Sadly, you won't find much recognition of the anniversary, or its cosmic significance, in today's media.  And that shouldn't be surprising, either.  As a species, we have all taken many giant steps back from the days of the Apollo missions.  This is certainly not because we've lost our technical edge:  the digital communications revolution that connects all of us testifies to the contrary.  Nor is it because we've lost interest in space, as the International Space Station, the Hubble telescope and the Martian rovers all demonstrate.

What we've lost is the desire, or perhaps the need, to be there.  And I think there are two causes for this.

The first is the end of the Cold War, which had originally provided the national drive to reach the moon before the Russians did.  They had effectively beaten us in the satellite race with Sputnik, and no one wanted to consider the possibility that they might reach the Moon first--and use that accomplishment as a propaganda tool to expand their sphere of control beyond the Warsaw Pact nations.  John F. Kennedy grasped, before anyone else did, the idea that the "space race" could be a way of linking America's frontier past with the need to "get America moving."   Thus, he established the national goal of reaching the Moon within a decade--and thus, the words "New Frontier" came to define his all-too-brief Administration.

The second is the Challenger tragedy, and the loss of six brave and accomplished lives--including the life of Christa McAuliffe, a schoolteacher who was to become the nation's first civilian astronaut, and instead became its first civilian tragedy.  It was a reminder that frontiers, however romantically we define them, are dangerous places, guaranteeing neither comfort nor safety.  In a sense, the reaction to the Challenger tragedy illustrates the difference between Kennedy's America and Reagan's America--and our sad transition from a nation that embraced adventure to a nation desperate to be cocooned at all costs.  Space and the effort to reach it, as it turns out, could be terrifying.  Who wants any part of it?  Better to stay on Earth and follow the ups and downs of the stock market rather than the movements of the heavens.

But it isn't better.  And it isn't the way we're wired.  Humans need to explore, to ask questions, and to find the answers even at great cost.  This is how we've grown and matured as a species.  Many of the technical innovations we take for granted, like personal computers, may not have been created without the space program as a spur to research and development.  And simple economics has always demanded a search for new resources:  the Moon, Mars and the asteroids are resources waiting to be discovered and exploited (hopefully, with more sanity than our treatment of the Earth).

Equally important is the need to recognize that we do not live in a world of perfect safety.  We can't prevent all of life's tragedies by running away from all possible sources of danger.  We can, however, live our lives in such a way that expands our knowledge and understanding of life and the universe.  Even if that means confronting danger, it may be a danger that needs to be confronted in any case--and, by confronting it, the world may become safer in the process.

That is why I'm with this authorPer somnia et ardua ad astra.  We need to get out of our cocoons.  We need to understand once again that adventure, and even danger, are a necessary part of living, as opposed to just existing.  And we need to take aim with all that we have, once again, at what Gene Roddenberry memorably described as "the final frontier."  Actually, as one of Roddenberry's writers for "Star Trek," David Gerrold once put it:  "The final frontier is not space.  The final frontier is the human soul.  Space is merely the place where we will meet the challenge.

I hope that, in my lifetime, we will find a way to meet it again.  Not half-way.  Not for a decade.  But, to borrow a phrase, to infinity and beyond.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Equal Rights Must NEVER Go Away

And the same is true of the Equal Rights Amendment.  Three more states.  One day, and may it be soon, it will happen.

The Next Time You Run Into A Creationist ...

... it will help you a great deal if you've read this first.

Space Cities?

Not in my lifetime, perhaps, but hopefully an inevitability, if we can look at the challenges that face us and find a way to replace fear with hope.  This gives me hope.

One More Gubernatorial Crack In The GOP Dam Against Obamacare

And it's in Indiana.  Fifty states is only a matter of time.

Yet Another Illustration Of The Law Of Unintended Consequences

Satanic prayer at public meetings?  Well, why not?  It might not have the "calming effect" predicted by Justice Kennedy in the Town of Greece case.  But how will we ever know, unless we try?

This Doesn't Say Anything About Climate Change That I Haven't Said Before, BUT ...

... it's worth repeating again and again, until we finally admit that the "hoax" is real and that our future depends on doing something about it.  The article's comments about the damage to Australia and the Great Barrier Reef are tragically ironic in the wake of this week's news that the conservative government of Australia has repealed the nation's carbon tax.  Shame on them.

"Rope-A-Dope" At The Border?

Recent headlines suggest that Congress will be of no help to President Obama when it comes to solving the current humanitarian crisis at our southern border.  Democrats object to his request for changes in law that would permit faster deportation of the thousands of Central American children fleeing American-made violence in their home countries.  Republicans, on the other hand, see political gold in the President's request for supplemental funding to give these children the level of due process currently required under the law, and want to use that request to extract concessions for additional enforcement.  As a consequence of this so-what-else-is-new division, John Boehner is on the record as lacking "optimism" about Congress' ability to grant the President's request.

And I suspect that no one is likely to be happier about that fact than Barack Obama.  I'll explain why.

For months, and especially since the death of legislative attempts at comprehensive immigration reform, we've been treated to a series of media accounts and opinion pieces about the President's executive power to ease the problems of the undocumented.  Some of this speculation has emerged from Obama's own lips, as well as statements made by members of his Administration.  Much of it, however, has come from the chattering classes on both sides of the ideological divide.  But almost all of it seemingly came to a halt with the first headlines, photos and videos of child refugees facing guns and threats from some of the more outspoken members of this "Christian" nation.

I suspect, however, that, in Obama's mind, the possibility of administrative action wasn't so much halted as paused.  He has known for a long time that Boehner and the Tea Partiers would rather damage their own country than do anything for an African-American President that might even look like a favor.  Likewise, he has been under tremendous pressure from his own party and from immigration advocates to slow down the record-setting pace on deportation he had been maintaining solely in a no-win effort to draw Republicans into a legislative consensus on immigration reform.

Which is why I think there is a two-fold purpose in the President's supplemental request.  First, he is effectively giving Congress one last, highly visible chance to act in a sensible way about a serious immigration-related problem, knowing that they will kick it to the curb.  And second, he will then pivot, turn this failure into election-year campaign fodder against a "do-nothing" Congress--and then announce a major program of administrative relief that will include some form of temporary protective status for the refugee children.  He will have effectively "rope-a-doped" the Republicans, and made Congressional Democrats and the people who will vote for them in November very happy.

The media perception, at this point, seems to be that Obama is the one in a tough spot.  I couldn't disagree more.  It's the Republicans who have to decide whether the militia-types facing down unarmed children with semiautomatics are going to be the face of their party this fall.  I have a feeling they're going to make the wrong decision--and that, ultimately, they will be the only ones harmed by it.

Monday, July 14, 2014

A Tribute To J. Frank Cashen

It's rare enough to have a rooting interest in two baseball teams, as I do, especially when those two teams were matched in a memorable World Series in 1969.  It's even rarer still that one man could have a major hand in changing the fortunes of both teams.

Then again, Frank Cashen was, especially in this day and age, a very rare kind of man.  A Renaissance man in an age of specialists, a man who built success one brick at a time in an age of instant gratification, and a Baltimore boy who had the courage to face down the lions in New York and became king in the asphalt jungle of Big Apple baseball.

I started following the Orioles around 1964, at the age of 8, one year before Cashen became the team's executive vice president, and two years before they began a dominance of the major leagues that lasted well into the early 1970s.  He engineered what was arguably the single most important trade in the team's history--getting Frank Robinson from the Cincinnati Reds--and hired Earl Weaver, who merely became one of the most successful managers in history.  He drew on his experience in law, journalism and business and added to that a knowledge of baseball that proved to be crucial to the Orioles four pennants and two World Championships, and that ultimately earned him the reputation of being one of the last true general managers in baseball--one who knew enough about everything to be able to make the final decisions the right ones.

Later, after college, I started working at a civil-service job in New York City--in Queens, to be exact, seven short subway stops from Shea Stadium.  Since my rooting interest in the Orioles precluded rooting for the Yankees, I adopted the Mets as "my" team for my new home town.  And, not long after than, the Mets were sold for the first time in their history--and the new owners promptly hired Frank Cashen to resurrect the by-then less-than-miraculous Mets.  In a way, it helped make me feel right at home, known that a fellow Baltimorean was trying to make it in the Big Apple.

And it helped that much more that, like me, Cashen wanted to succeed on his own terms, rather than being led by the short-term passions of the fans or the press.  He had owners who were willing to spend big, even to the point of getting into a bidding war with the Yankees for Dave Winfield.  But Cashen believed very strongly that winning teams were build from within, and not by participating in what he once referred to as an "auction of mediocrity."  He knew that would take time, and he knew that it would not win him any short-term popularity contests.  Despite that--and despite media coverage that was often vicious to the point of injustice--he never deviated from what he had learned through his experience in Baltimore.

I read all three major New York papers (as well as Newsday) every day, getting upset and angry each time I read the sniping comments about bow ties, crab cakes, and any other Baltimore references the so-called sophisticated Big Apple columnists could throw by way of insult at Cashen and his allegedly cautious, small-town approach.  What did any of them know about running a team?  Cashen, by contrast, had already accomplished everything they had accomplished during his days with the old Baltimore News-American--and presided over two World Championships with the Orioles, or twice as many as the Mets had won by that point.  As a fellow native of Charm City, I felt bad for Cashen, but admired the fact that, publicly at least, he never let the insults bother him.

And, in the end, he didn't let them stop him from proving that his way was the way that worked, as anyone who watched the 1986 World Series knows.

Thanks, Frank, for showing that what works in Baltimore can work anywhere, even in the worlds' toughest market for sports (as well as everything else).  I ultimately left civil service and the Big Apple to find success elsewhere, but I will never forget the lift you gave to my spirits, twice in my lifetime.  As a Mets and Orioles fan, both of my rooting interests will always appreciate you more that I can ever say, here or elsewhere.  I never met you, but perhaps we'll meet on the flip side.

In spring training, of course.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Did Reagan Kill Entrepreneurialism?

Sorry, Peggy Noonan, but yes, he did.  This article explains why in less time than a chapter in one of your remaindered books.

A New Source Of Energy AND Funds For Highways

What do we do about this?

We solve it with this, with installation and maintenance handled by private companies, and a surtax on their profits.  What are we waiting for?

A HIgh-Speed Train From China To The U.S.?

It could happen.  This would revolutionize world trade and politics even more than the European discovery of the Western Hemisphere.  It would certainly show how high-speed rail can expand on the connectivity the Internet has created.

Let Capitalists Truly BE Capitalists

And end senseless state subsidies.  Right now.

And then I won't be tempted to talk about the hypocrisies of the Rick Perrys of the world.

Preach It, Pat!

You're still a plutocratic demagogue, but I definitely agree with this.

Who Cares What Percertage Of Journalists Are Republicans?

Or Democrats, for that matter.  This writer does.  But it shouldn't matter, and it wouldn't matter, if journalism just got back to what it was supposed to be (and actually was) for a long time:  an unbiased search for the facts.  We've descended into an anti-intellectual vortex because it's easier to believe in lies than it is to thin about the truth. 

If we can climb out, and go back to reporting the truth without fear or favor, it will do much more for this country than any attempt to "balance" the press with an even number of Republicans and Democrats.  That effort, to the extent that it exists, is just an extension of the view that politics is just a partisan ball game.  It's not.  It's working for the people and getting business done on their behalf.  Both reporters and elected officials need to stop worrying about who's up and who's down and get back to working they way they used to, before movement conservatism and money destroyed both professions.