Point of Personal Privilege

Willy Mays making The Catch, September 29 1954

Today I celebrate the completion of my 67th trip around the sun. To put that number into perspective, it is 1.5 millionths of a percent of the age of the earth. Maybe of more relevance, it is 27% of the existence of the US as an independent nation. As such, I do have a few observations about the current state of things.

When I was in my formative years, I saw images of pollution, and how we were destroying our environment. The burning of the Cuyahoga river was etched upon my brain. Thus I was more than happy to participate in the very first Earth day, where a group of us went out and cleaned up alleys in my home town of Lincoln, Nebraska. Symbolic, yes. Meaningful, not really. But the human population at that time was about 3.7 billion people. Now we are roughly twice that amount. Even though in this country we have cleaned up a lot of visible pollution, we are facing the results of humans consuming much more than the planet can sustain. Over the eons, the earth stored enormous amounts of carbon in three repositories. Coal, liquid and gaseous hydrocarbons, and carbonate rock. Over an instant in geological time, our societies are releasing much of the carbon locked up in these deposits and sending it out into the atmosphere, where it helps to trap excess heat and re-radiate it back to Earth. The setpoint for Earth’s temperature system is being fiddled with, and mankind will not be pleased with the results of this experiment we are conducting on ourselves. Like many young climate activists say, there is no planet B for humanity to live on. Somehow we have to realize the invisible pollution is more harmful than the visible pollution bothering us, and more importantly, do something to change humanity’s reward system to make a real change for the better.

The very first thing I can remember was traveling in our car across country when an announcement came over the radio. It spoke of a satellite, launched by the USSR, which was orbiting the Earth. I verified that memory with my parents while they were still alive, and thus I can say I was aware at the beginning of the space age. Now, we see space exploration begin to be expanded to private citizens. Whether the resources used to launch private spaceships are the best uses of the moneys spent, it is an essential step towards ensuring humanity keeps reaching for the stars instead of hunkering down on this planet.

Of course, Sputnik also caused another reaction in our nation. We realized we were behind in what could have been an existential conflict with another nation-state. Thus came the efforts to make it possible to annihilate our opponents at the touch of a button. We entered a MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction) world, and built up our military capabilities to reflect this. Along the way we discovered the limitations of conventional forces which means no longer will armed conflict consist of massed armies hurtling huge quantities of conventional explosives at each other. No, we have guerrilla warfare, where the patience of the home team can outlast any effort from an invader. And the type of warfare we now have is economic and cyber, causing more diffuse damage.

I was born on the same day as The Catch. This event is still referred to as the ultimate fielding play in baseball, and as of today, Willie Mays still is with us. Of all the sports, baseball may be the most unchanged. Yet even now, the tweaks being made may cause the nature of the game to finally change. In the minor league in my city, they have moved the pitcher’s mound back one foot, hopefully to enable hitters to have just a slight bit more time to react to ever faster pitches coming from an unending parade of super arms. The decline in starting pitching and the rise of the bullpen is otherwise the major change we are seeing in this sport. Plus, all of the pitching changes to bring in these relief pitchers have helped slow the game down. Combine this with the shortened attention span of today’s public, and there is no doubt that the long-term survival of baseball as the quintessential American game is threatened.

When I was young, the portable battery powered transistor radio was the epitome of technological progress. Radios were proud to tell you exactly how many transistors they contained, and when FM radios also came about, it enabled the youth culture to dominate popular music. Of course, individual transistors gave way to integrated circuits, and Moore’s law began to rule our lives. I have the honor to know in my lifetime I have moved from being an early adopter in high technology, into a Luddite who chooses not to participate in many of the modes of communication favored by today’s youth. My preferred mode of communication is this blog, which requires an attention span greater than the time required to digest the latest tweet from our political class.

In all of my days, it is in politics where one can sense the changes most acutely.  Maybe it is a natural result of the end of the cold war, where a common opponent helped to hide the intractable differences in our politics. But ever since the end of the cold war, emotional energy seemed to transfer to denouncing the other side politically as sub-human and definitely unpatriotic. Now we even have a party in US politics which denounces science as being fake, and seemingly wants to cause reversion towards a past where life was simpler, though much more brutish and subject to an untimely death. The difference in response between the two parties towards the treatments for the COVID virus gives a view of evolution in action. We may actually be seeing a change in the differential survival of those who believe in science, and those who don’t. Unfortunately for those of us who do believe in science, even this change may not be swift enough to affect the next election. But over time …..

Well, I am at the end of my self-appointed limit of about 1000 words in a post. I turn to you as readers to add items you have seen as changes in your lifetime, be they good or bad.

2 thoughts on “Point of Personal Privilege”

  1. Tree Party here,again..
    As much as I always enjoy your essays, I found this one particularly delightful and trenchant for its evolutionary sensibility and its picture of “The Catch”; I knew that Willie Mays (my boyhood hero) made The Catch in 1954, but I did NOT know that he made it on your birthday! A-mays-zing! Well then; Happy Birthday, indeed!
    Regarding the Great Flame-Out, I often reflect on how it is that people like us (I just turned 72 myself on 9/19) have been blessed to live our lives in stupefying opulence that the consumption of those fossil fuels has allowed, an opulence that could only be dreamt of by the richest of the rich throughout all of human history. A mere century ago, it was impossible to predict that the party would put us on the road to the “Sixth Extinction”; but it is increasingly clear that it has, and I applaud your maturation into Luddism. (Insert winking emoji here..) Why, even the allusion to a “broken (analog) clock” is suggestive that ever-accelerating technological innovation is no guarantee of A Better Life.
    Thanks for packing your wisdom into your blogs – they’ve enriched my life. BTW, I live near San Francisco, and am pretty thrilled that the Giants are going to have another shot at the World Series this year – they seem to be “the fittest” of the teams this season. But here is a chance to possibly enrich your life: for over 20 years, we’ve had a music festival in Golden Gate Park the first weekend in October called Hardly Strictly Bluegrass. Due to Covid, the festival is not being held in the park; it is being streamed, so you can watch it from home!! If you go to the web page for HSB, you can see the lineup and the schedule – the streaming starts at 4 PM Eastern time Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Check it out if you can!

    Like

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