man on the moon

July 20, 2014

45 years ago today, Neil Armstrong stepped out of the lunar module Eagle and into forever.

It cost approximately $355,000,000 to make that happen, and that was just for Apollo 11. In today’s dollars, that would be approximately $5,850,000,000. That’s 5.85 billion with the “B.” And again, that’s just for Apollo 11. You have to figure in the total cost of all previous Apollo missions, the Gemini missions, the Mercury missions, all the satellite, dog, monkey missions, all the way back to the formation of NASA. Put simply, that’s not cheap.

Was it worth it? Absolutely. Should we do more of it? Unquestionably.

I admit to a certain pro-space bias. I grew up close to where Gus Grissom grew up. Star Trek was on my TV screen from a very young age. I suspect I am not alone here – we’ve all seen the majesty of the “Earthrise” picture and felt the power of the image of the Pale Blue Dot. And everyone knows how much I loved both versions of “Cosmos.” We need to go back to the Moon, and then we need to go beyond. We have a Rover on Mars right now – why not go walk alongside it for a spell?

Back to Apollo 11. We went to the Moon with less computing power than what is in a late-model Honda Accord. Think of how far beyond that we are today. Just, for a moment, consider the possibilities. We have the technology. Why not the will? We lost the will somewhere, and we all suffer for it. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich is wrong on just about every single topic, but he is absolutely correct when he says we need to go back into space.

Had we kept up with the pace of transformative change and discovery maintained during the Apollo era, I propose that we would have colonists on the Moon right now and be looking at Mars colonies within the next decade, if not already. What wonders would we have in our everyday lives with that kind of technological, scientific, and humanistic brainpower pumping away?

For that matter, why not the will for further scientific exploration here at home? Why not the will for investigations of the human spirit in art, music, literature, history? What are we afraid of? Why do we fear knowledge and learning so much?

Every last one of you reading this comes from a species that has always looked somewhere – up, over, down, inward – and wondered “Why?” We need that wonder back.

We need it in our science. We can tackle the problems of climate change today. We can find new, renewable, clean sources of energy today. We can stop the pillaging of places like Alberta and Appalachia for coal, oil, and gas today. We can cure disease and end famine today.

We need it in our education. We can educate people to think critically today. We can uncover new ways of looking at our culture today. We can create powerful new works of art, music, theatre, literature today.

We need it in our diplomacy. We can put a stop to the petty striving that tears nations, cities, and families apart today.

We can do all this, and we can do all this today – if we have the will.

Do we?

WF


A New Birth of Freedom

July 3, 2014

“I haven’t seen him. But I suppose he will be a pain. A birth-pain, perhaps, but a pain.”
“Birth-pain? You really believe we’re going to have a new Renaissance, as some say?”
“Hmmm-hnnn.”

– Walter M. Miller, Jr., A Canticle for Leibowitz

INTRODUCTION

Tomorrow marks the 238th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence; today is the 151st anniversary of the conclusion of the Battle of Gettysburg. I have always been a Civil War buff – you may recall my meditation upon the Burnside Bridge at Antietam – so I like to filter American history through that conflict.

So much has happened this past week that I am only now able to process it. Part of this is due to some personal things (which remain nobody’s business but ours, though I will say that I think we’re on the far side of it now), and part of it is because it, on the surface, seems so antithetical to everything I hold dear. We’ve seen the Supreme Court of the United States decide that corporations are not only people, they have more rights than actual people. This same SCOTUS has created the possibility that any non-tax law can be ignored or broken if the person – well, in actuality, the corporation – has “sincerely-held” beliefs on a topic. As if to rub it in, the same decision attempted to vacate that possibility by claiming only one belief was subject to this ruling.

Essentially, the majority of Justices have proclaimed that religious freedom only truly applies to one issue, and even then only if you take the most conservative stance on that issue. At the same time, they have left the door open to allow corporations the right to (a) refuse fair compensation if the corporation feels the money is supporting a cause in which the corporation does not believe, and (b) ignore or disobey laws that do not take the most conservative viewpoint on a religious issue. This is not “freedom of religion.” This is a clear favoring – perhaps the term “establishment” might be more appropriate – of one particular religion over others. I am neither a lawyer nor a Constitutional scholar, but I tend to recall one of the early Amendments to the Constitution frowned on that sort of thing. And as we’ve seen, it’s already gone way past just Hobby Lobby.

Here’s the thing: this actually has nothing to do with religion, much as everyone – including the victors – is trying to make it about religion. It’s about the expansion of corporate power and money at the expense of regular citizens. It started with Citizens United…no, it started with Buckley v. Valeo…no, it started with the Santa Clara cases and the misbegotten and ill-applied doctrine of corporate personhood. Others have written more informatively about the effects of corporate personhood, both intentional and otherwise, and I will defer to their words. Rather, I choose to focus on what can and should be done.

WE CANNOT HALLOW THIS GROUND

The line of American history can be read as one of expansion. We can easily visualize this in terms of territory, as we’ve all seen the sixth-grade maps showing how first we were just at the crest of the Appalachians, then to the Mississippi, then the Pacific, then our noncontiguous lands. We called this Manifest Destiny, and to be sure, it didn’t end well for a lot of people who deserved way better. The expansion of which I speak, however, is an expansion of the rights contained in the Constitution to all of us. This expansion began almost immediately, and continues to this day. Sometimes, it’s a fairly smooth process. Other times, blood is spilled – as mentioned above, this is the 151st anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg.

There are always those who fight the expansion. I am reminded of Sen. Richard Russell (D-Georgia), who, when told he was fighting nothing more than a delaying action against civil rights, replied “I know, but I am trying to delay it – ten years if I’m not lucky, two hundred years if I am.” We have seen this fight before – in the marches of Susan B. Anthony and over the Equal Rights Amendment (a still-incomplete battle). We saw it in the factories of Pullman and Detroit, in the front of the bus in Montgomery, in the farms of the Central Valley of California, in the streets of Greenwich Village, and anywhere one person has stood up to say, “I count.” Now we have seen the beginning of a new fight. The pushback against the expansion is coming from a different sector this time – corporate personhood. In an attempt to limit the rights of actual human beings, those who have always opposed the expansion have found a new path. They can claim the mantle of expansion for themselves (for are they not giving rights to a new class of “people?”), and wrap themselves in the Bill of Rights and in the flag, while in truth they are doing their level best – as they always have – to limit the rights of the rest of us. In this cause, they have been ably assisted by a network of organizations devoted single-mindedly to the limitation of our rights as citizens in the name of acquiring ever more of our shared inheritance. And, like Sen. Russell, they know that delay can turn into denial; we, however, know that delay can turn into victory, when the outcry is strong enough. My job – our job – is to raise that battle cry: “I count.”

I honor the memory of those who gave blood, toil, tears, and sweat to rally around that battle cry. Our words alone can never do proper justice to their memory. Our actions will show how we honor them, by taking up their fights as our own. And even though we may not win every battle – this week was proof of that – I maintain faith that Dr. King’s arc still bends toward justice. So we must keep fighting, even though the odds are overwhelming, even though we are tired, and saddened, and angry, and hurt.

OF THE PEOPLE, BY THE PEOPLE, FOR THE PEOPLE

I fight because the story does not end. Each generation remakes the United States according to its interpretation of the ephemeral idea of “America.” The Founders were brilliant men, though it should be stated for the record that their idea of the “common man” was a white male landowner. In this, as noble as their intentions and as good as their plans were, they fell short. The rest of the story is how succeeding generations took the promise of the Constitution – government of, by, and for the people, forming a more perfect union – and expanded that to include more and more of their fellow-citizens. “We cannot escape history,” said Lincoln, and that is as true today as it ever was. Through war and reconstruction, the suffrage movement, the civil rights movement, and now the fight for full equality, the story goes on. I know not when it will end, but I hope – even in the darkest moments – that infinite chapters, developing all that is best in our collective plot, will continue to pour from the pens and keyboards of We, The People. For after all, we are the true authors of our liberty and of our history. We should never want to escape history; it is our story, and we owe it to ourselves and our posterity to write the best possible story we can.

WF