Filed under: Connections, Constitution, Fireworks, General Musings, Government, Kindle, Science Fiction, Society | Tags: Amazon, America, blogging, Civil War, Communion of Dreams, direct publishing, Fourth of July, free, freedom, history, Independence Day, jim downey, Kindle, promotion, Science Fiction
I wrote this nine years ago, and posted it to this blog seven years ago. It seemed like a good time to repost it.
Thoughts on This Day
One birthday, when I was nine or ten, I woke with anticipation of the presents I would receive. Still in my pajamas I rushed into the kitchen where my parents were having coffee, expecting to get the loot which was rightfully mine. My father happily handed over a small, wrapped box. I opened it eagerly, to find a little American flag on a wooden stick. My father said that since my birthday was July 4th, he thought I would appreciate the gift.
Horror-struck first at not getting anything better, then a moment later at my own greed, I guiltily told my parents that I thought it was a fine gift.
After a moment, of course, my folks brought out my real presents, and there was a fair amount of good-natured teasing and laughing about the little trick they had played on me.
That was almost 40 years ago, and I can no longer tell you what presents I received that day. But the lesson in expectations and perspective my dad taught me that morning always remained with me. My dad had been a Marine, fought in Korea, and was a deeply patriotic cop who was killed while on duty a couple of years after that birthday. I have no idea what happened to that little flag on a stick, but I do still have the flag taken from my father’s coffin, carefully and perfectly folded at the graveside when we buried him.
I’ve never looked at the American flag without remembering what a fine gift it really is and, as so many others have written, what it represents in terms of sacrifice. I love my country, as any Firecracker Baby is probably destined to do. You just can’t ignore all that early training of patriotism, fireworks, and presents all tied up together.
But that doesn’t mean that I am blinded by patriotism. As I’ve matured and gained life experience, I’ve learned many other lessons. Lessons about tempering expectations, living with occasional disappointment, accepting that things don’t always work out the way you plan no matter how hard you work, how good your intentions, or how deserving you are. Still, you learn, grow, and do the best you can. This, it seems, is also the story of America. I believe we are an exceptional people, holding great potential, with our best years still to come. But nothing is guaranteed. We must honestly, and sometimes painfully, confront our failures, learn from them, and move on. The original founders of our country were brilliant, but flawed as all humans are flawed. Some of their errors led directly to the Civil War, that great bloody second revolution of the human spirit. That they made mistakes does not negate their greatness; rather, it shows us our potential even though we are not perfect. They knew, as we should know, that only we are responsible for our self-determination. Not a king, not a God, not a ruling political class. Us.
Today we’ve been gifted with a small box with a flag inside. A token of our history. Let us not take it for granted. Let us not think that the thing itself is more important than what it represents. Let us look on it and declare our own responsibility, our own self-determination.
Happy Independence Day.
Filed under: Apollo program, Brave New World, Buzz Aldrin, Civil Rights, Connections, Constitution, General Musings, Government, NASA, Neil Armstrong, Society | Tags: 1776, America, Apollo 11, blogging, Buzz Aldrin, Civil War, Fourth of July, history, jim downey, Kitty Hawk, Moon, NASA, Neil Armstrong, space
Tomorrow I turn 57. Yeah, on the Fourth of July.
That might seem a little weird to someone who doesn’t have a birthday on the Fourth. Not to me. I’ve grown up with it.
But you know what seems weird to me?
That I’ve been alive for almost one-fourth of the entire time that the United States has existed. Run the numbers, and you’ll see.
It’s very odd to realize just how young our country is in some ways. And how much things have changed just in my lifetime.
And I remember growing up with casual racism of the worst sort. When homophobia was so deeply ingrained and widespread that the word itself didn’t even really exist. I remember using words like n***** and f***** without a trace of embarrassment, because they were so common.
Things have changed somewhat. Not enough. But still, too much for some people. Because change can be scary. Threatening.
The length of my life will take you to the time of Sputnik. The length of another such will take you back before Kitty Hawk. And just one more will land you well before the Civil War.
Change can be hard. And the fight never ends. But have hope: progress can be made. Both for individuals and for countries. Perhaps, even, for the whole world.
Filed under: Government, Religion, Science, Society, tech, Terrorism, University of Missouri | Tags: a fine line, atheist, blogging, Cherenkov radiation, jim downey, nuclear power, physics, religion, science, St Pat's Day, technology, University of Missouri, Wikipedia
I had reason to look up this item the other day, and was surprised that I hadn’t ever posted it to the blog. So, in honor of St Pat’s Day (well, OK, not really, but there is a connection…), here’s a little something from my old archives from a few years ago.
So I wander into this nuclear reactor . . .
This morning’s news that the NRC has declined to force nuclear power plants to take additional precautions to prevent the breach of a nuclear reactor’s core by attack with a jetliner comes as little surprise, given the Bush administration’s attitudes about actual security issues.
But, as always when I hear such news reports, I was taken back to a sunny spring morning some 30 years ago, when me and a couple of college buddies wandered into a nuclear reactor.
It was the weekend of St. Pats day, and we were at the University of Missouri – Rolla to party with a friend of ours who was an engineering student there. I think it was Friday morning, and our friend had some classes he had to attend, so myself and my two friends decided to just explore the campus a bit (we all attended schools elsewhere).
I had considered Rolla for school myself a few years previously, when I had been thinking of going into physics (a dream derailed by poor higher-math skills). So when we came across the research reactor building, I wanted to have a look.
We just wandered in. No, seriously. We just wandered into the building, through a couple of sets of doors, and soon found ourselves standing at a railing, looking down at the glowing blue core of the nuclear reactor. In this day and age it is hard to imagine such a thing – and even at the time it seemed more than a little odd.
A few minutes after we came in, a nice fellow who fit the stereotype image of a science professor came over to us. Short, grey, bearded, balding, wearing a white lab smock over his shirt and jeans. He sort of looked us over, asked what we were up to . . . and then gave us an impromptu tour of the place (after tagging us with personal dosimeters).
It was fascinating, to me at least. The reactor core at this facility sits at the bottom of a large swimming pool, about 20 feet down. That provides all the necessary protection from the radiation generated from operation of the fission reactor (which doesn’t produce much power, and doesn’t use the sort of fuel used in nuclear weapons). Herr Doktor explained all this to us non-scientists, and also explained the eerie blue glow coming off the reactor (which was then in operation).
It was a color like I’ve never seen before or since – a soft electric blue that was both intriguing and repulsive. I knew what it was, having been interested in physics: Cherenkov radiation, caused when the radioactive particles generated by the fission reactions are faster than the speed of light in the water. But it’s the sort of thing that lasts in the memory, embedded there in a way not unlike a religious experience – hard to describe, or explain, or convince others of, yet extremely vivid for the one who experienced it.
Now, I’m not religious. I’m an atheist, in fact. I understand what that blue glow is – yet, whenever someone claims that they have had a religious experience, I can tie it to that same feeling I had on first seeing that other-worldly blue glow.
Well, anyway, I had to share that personal experience, and add a bit of perspective on the changes we’ve seen in terms of security over the last 30 years.
Filed under: Brave New World, Civil Rights, Connections, Constitution, Government, NPR, Predictions, Privacy, Society, tech | Tags: blogging, civil liberties, DHS, drones, jim downey, Martin Niemöller, NPR, predictions, privacy, Secret Service, technology, Washington Post, Wikipedia
First they flew to watch for illegal immigrants, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not an illegal immigrant.
Then they flew to look for marijuana farms, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a marijuana farmer.
Then they flew to watch the White House, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not the President.
Then … and then … and then …
Filed under: Connections, Emergency, Failure, Flu, Government, Health, NPR, Pandemic, Predictions, Preparedness, Science, Science Fiction, Survival, Travel | Tags: blogging, CDC, Ebola, flu, health, Homeland Security, influenza, jim downey, NPR, pandemic, predictions, science, Science Fiction, St. Cybi's Well, survival, The Atlantic, TSA, WHO, writing
… St Cybi’s Well, what with an incompetent theocratic government in place:
So imagine the scenario. A deadly flu pandemic is beginning in the northeast. TSA agents are asked to report for work in the germ incubators that are airports to keep the transportation system running. And while their bosses in Washington, D.C. can’t supply them with reliably functioning respirators to protect them from infection, they’re keeping thousands that may not work on hand, thinking they may hand them out for “employee comfort,” like security theater karma for those who make us remove our shoes and take our water.
But sadly, scarily, it isn’t. Rather, that passage is from the following news item:
As the Department of Homeland Security endeavors to prevent another 9/11, a terrorist attack that killed nearly 3,000 Americans, it is worth remembering that there are far deadlier threats out there. I speak not of ISIS or Ebola, but the influenza virus. The flu pandemic that began in 1918 killed 675,000 Americans. That is to say, it killed about as many Americans in a couple years as the AIDS virus has in decades. Worldwide, that same flu pandemic killed an estimated 30 to 50 million people. It would take 16,000 attacks like 9/11 to equal that death toll. Those figures powerfully illustrate the case for redirecting some of what the United States spends on counterterrorism to protecting ourselves from public health threats.
Of course, money only helps if it isn’t squandered. Take the extra $47 million dollars that Congress gave the Department of Homeland Security in 2006 to prepare for a pandemic. As a recent Inspector General report explains in depressing detail, a lot of that money was wasted. And one darkly hilarious passage in the audit reveals what may be the most galling example of security theater ever.
But it’s OK, because the rest of the world is ready to step up and fight against a viral threat which could explode into millions of cases in just a few weeks, right?
Two of the world’s top health organizations released predictions Tuesday warning how bad the Ebola outbreak in West Africa could get.
Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization agree that the epidemic is speeding up. But the CDC’s worst-case scenario is a jaw-dropper: If interventions don’t start working soon, as many as 1.4 million people could be infected by Jan. 20, the agency reported in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
Sometimes it feels less like I’m writing a cautionary work of fiction and more like I am looking back and writing an historical account …