Monday, August 15, 2011

A walk beneath the dripline

By Patrick J. Walsh

Today I made up my mind to take a walk in the park, since I've been out of the habit of doing so for a few days. Just as I got there, though, the skies opened, the thunder clashed, and the rain started to pour down on me and my sad little blue umbrella.

But I walked anyway, stubbornly refusing to let the windy rain push me aside, or to be deterred by the meandering tributaries of water sluicing down from the trees on the hill to my left. The streaming rainwater ran in a wide arc from the treeline on my left to the edge of the parking lot at my right, where it hopped the tarred curb to pool somewhere in the muddy depths of the oversloshed field below the lot.

The glare from the shiny wet pavement made me feel a little dizzy, and my shirt and jeans and socks and shoes were all heavily sodden with the rain that had pushed its way into my personal space, the perimeter of which was roughly outlined by the drifting dripline of the edges of the umbrella, which shifted continuously as I walked.

It struck me that work, and life, are like that sometimes. There are times when work is difficult enough to seem absurd in the amount of concentration and effort it requires, and at those times, life seems like an uphill trek on a wet road in a heavy rain.

But then, in the airy dry space where thoughts are clear and prayers are pure, there comes a familiar determined sense of forward motion. And at least for the duration of the journey, until calmer conditions prevail and warmth and rest again enter the equation, that determination to keep moving forward, against the wind and in spite of the rain, is enough.

Enough to finish an unexpectedly arduous walk, enough to return to work with an enthusiasm bordering on exhilaration, and enough to feel anew an abiding gratitude for every remarkable moment of a life of constant wonder and delicate revelation, in each unique day of breath and sweat and poetry.

© 2011 Patrick J. Walsh

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Hidden Costs of the Deficit Debate

In his comments in the Senate in opposition to the deal struck in the debt ceiling debate, Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) argued eloquently that the debate about the deficit has forced the discussion about national priorities away from the most important issues -- including the creation of jobs, addressing the needs of healthcare and education (particularly early childhood healthcare and education), and the large disparity in net worth between white Americans, whose median net worth is in the $100,000+ range, and African Americans and Hispanic Americans, each of whose median net worth is less than $10,000.

Senator Harkin clearly and forcefully detailed the importance of each of these issues, saying in part that these are the priorities that Congress should be addressing, rather than continuing the shameful posturing in which individual members have indulged in recent days.

Warning that the deficit deal as it now stands, and as it will likely be adopted, is in reality an impediment to job creation -- and arguing that the spur of federal government spending is frequently the primary catalyst for private sector investment -- he asked that the deal be rejected in favor of a meaningful debate about the issues that most impact the lives of individual Americans, and that weigh most heavily on the well being of the nation as a whole.

This is a quixotic request, of course; for despite the long, acrimonious confrontation over the raising of the debt ceiling and the attendant demands for deficit reduction on the one hand and revenue increases on the other, it is exceedingly unlikely that a majority of elected officials on either side of the debate would be willing to endanger the credit rating and global economic standing of the nation by refusing to raise the debt ceiling. And it is even less likely that individual Senators or Representatives would be willing to do so for the express purpose of having a meaningful debate about issues as complex as the federal government’s role in job creation, healthcare and education, and the impact of wealth disparity on the fabric of American society.

Which is in the end the saddest part of the entire destructive debate that has preceded the current deal: while many elected officials are more than willing to strike a dramatic pose to debate the propriety of some esoteric mechanism of the nation’s ability to pay its debts, few are willing to address issues that relate directly to the everyday lives of the people who they represent.

At least occasionally, as in the comments by Senator Harkin, it is comforting to hear a voice emerge among those few reasonable officials, and to encounter those issues that are of such vital importance to so many Americans.

© 2011 Patrick J. Walsh

The French Space Program, in "Five Minutes"

Even the most disinterested student of the history of space exploration will likely know the names and exploits of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, or Yuri Gagarin; but how would you answer if asked to identify Jean-Loup Chrétien, or Claudie Haigneré? This month’s episode of my video series “Five Minutes in Space” focuses on the achievements of the French space program: