Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Two years after Katrina there was, at last, time for reflection. What had become of the can-do nation that had built the Panama Canal and put men on the moon and now could not see its way to heaping dirt high enough to defend a major coastal asset like New Orleans?*

My son is currently addicted to Apollo 13. I must admit, we've been feeding his obsession with space travel quite a bit, in case you haven't noticed. It is one hell of a lot better for him to be watching a reenactment of all sorts of scientists trying to keep three guys alive in a tin can up on space than for him to be watching other flicks I could mention...but that's a whole 'nother ball of wax.

In watching these various films about space travel, and in reading books about it, my son told me once, in all seriousness, that when he grew up, he was going to design a metal that could take the intense heat of reentry into the Earth's atmosphere, so that tragedies like the one that befell Columbia in 2003 could never happen again.

I cannot tell you how happy that made me, hearing him say that.

Unfortunately, in considering Clay's latest post, I cannot help but wonder about all the obstacles being put in the way of good scientific learning and research in this country, and I also have to wonder about the people who would pour more money and resources into other things.

From now on we live in a world where man has walked on the Moon. And it's not a miracle. We just decided to go there.**

What in God's name did happen to us? Why in hell can't we simply decide to go ahead and get the levees up to snuff, learning something from the Dutch in the process? I had a chat with some folks today who discussed some architectural possibilities for new homes in south Central Louisiana to replace the ones decimated by Gustav. Is that sort of engineering really out of our reach?

As good as our governor was in our latest time of insanity, he is indeed no meteorologist. And despite his flurry of facts, figures, and rapid-fire on-top-of-it-allness exhibited in his press conferences, he approved of legislation allowing creationism to be taught in public schools across the state.

Do moderate-to-conservative politicians and folks who think they can pray away any sort of ills and attitudes look at their kids when they express any sort of curiosity about science, any inventing initiative, and/or any thoughts of their own concerning how the world works and see some sort of devilment that must be exorcised? Nonconformity that must be quashed? A certain - dare I say it - foreignness about their children's views?

Well, the fact that this machine is at the French-Swiss border working merrily away and this one is simply a hole in Texas*** indicates that we handed a great deal of our scientific know-how and our curiosity to other countries a loooong time ago.

What will it take for us to keep up? Another Sputnik-type breakthrough? A cure for cancer coming from a research facility somewhere in Iran? Somebody in North Korea finding a cheap, clean alternative energy source that can power our lives?

When will we decide to go there?


*from Jed Horne's "Whatever It Takes: Why I Stayed" in the latest issue of the Oxford American

**Tom Hanks as Jim Lovell in Apollo 13

***Herman Wouk already had some fun with this one.

And speaking of going's a tres kewl site about the lunar landings.


alli said...

True confession - I'm a geek for space. This is such a great post, Leigh... not long ago on Discovery Channel they aired a few different documentaries on the Apollo missions, and it struck me that a big motivation for these men was the leadership of President Kennedy, and wanting to fulfill his dream and mission for America: that we could put a man on the moon and bring him back safely before the end of the decade. It takes a leader with vision and guts and humility and eloquence and brilliance to spur a nation to greatness. The interviews with the Apollo astronauts were both incredibly inspiring and sobering, thanks to the horrible situation of the country these days.

But I think you're right on with the assessment that a big part of the problem is parents who are unwilling to let their kids (or their siblings' kids, or their towns' kids) be a whole lot different than themselves.

Incidentally, a lot of my family lives in Holland, and they cannot even comprehend our attitude and ignorance of the science of delta management and flood control. They would not tolerate this shit. Dutch people consider it a personal insult if you withhold the truth or bullshit them. The Deltawerken is the most comprehensive system of flood control in the world, and has been tested and proven to work flawlessly against North Sea storms. The technology is there. We are just so goddamn obstinate that we can't see that flood protection is GDP Insurance.

A.F. said...

"What in God's name did happen to us?"

I keep wondering the same thing. In the early 80s in my small hometown in Florida, there were a few kids in my high school class, just a few, who came from fanatically religious families and didn't believe in evolution, were not allowed to attend dances, and said things like "The school bus broke down because the devil put his hands on it." The rest of us felt sorry for them and the teachers corrected them. Within little more than a decade, though, these folks run that town now, and of course the rest of the U.S. I just never would have seen it coming.

People not-from-here keep asking me over the past couple weeks, "What happened with the levees? I thought they were fixed?" I say a lot in return and they find what I say bizarre to the point that they think I must be leaving something out.

Thanks for this post.

saintseester said...

Yes, we have the know-how and the ability and the smarts. We just aren't choosing to use them effectively. Good post.

And, my son, too, was addicted to Apollo 13. He loves the rockets. We had all of these educational videos of the early days of the rocket program (all the ones that blew up.) He would watch those over and over.

Of course we live in the Rocket City, so that may have fed his addiction as well. It's kind of fun being able to see a real Saturn V.