OTW :: So close yet … so far away

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Can we, as a nation, make the transformational conversion to New Clean Renewable Energy, with a goal of eliminating those energy monsters sources that foul our oceans, gulfs, lakes, waters, mountains, valleys, and  planet? Can we as communal inhabitants of this great earth, the only one we have, choose to nurture and honor her in our global decisions to milk her energies?

Yes. We Can. But only if our leaders will.

Some months ago, I promised ek that I would try to publish a weekly essay and so I have this series I call Off The Wall (it usually is). I like to try to find some Anthropology to explore and talk about, in a personal way, but in recent weeks, I can’t really seem to think of much else other than the horrific disaster in the Gulf. I have no science to offer or add, there’s many many excellent blog posts with that all over the place. I can barely keep up. So I offer simply what I have. Thanks for listening. Today, it’s just a little perspective.

On 23 Oct 2009 Barack Obama had this to say:

So the truth is, we have always been about innovation, we have always been about discovery. That’s in our DNA. The truth is we also face more complex challenges than generations past. A medical system that holds the promise of unlocking new cures is attached to a health care system that has the potential to bankrupt families and businesses and our government. A global marketplace that links the trader on Wall Street to the homeowner on Main Street to the factory worker in China — an economy in which we all share opportunity is also an economy in which we all share crisis. We face threats to our security that seek — there are threats to our security that are based on those who would seek to exploit the very interconnectedness and openness that’s so essential to our prosperity. The system of energy that powers our economy also undermines our security and endangers our planet.

Now, while the challenges today are different, we have to draw on the same spirit of innovation that’s always been central to our success. And that’s especially true when it comes to energy. There may be plenty of room for debate as to how we transition from fossil fuels to renewable fuels — we all understand there’s no silver bullet to do it. There’s going to be a lot of debate about how we move from an economy that’s importing oil to one that’s exporting clean energy technology; how we harness the innovative potential on display here at MIT to create millions of new jobs; and how we will lead the world to prevent the worst consequences of climate change. There are going to be all sorts of debates, both in the laboratory and on Capitol Hill. But there’s no question that we must do all these things.

Countries on every corner of this Earth now recognize that energy supplies are growing scarcer, energy demands are growing larger, and rising energy use imperils the planet we will leave to future generations. And that’s why the world is now engaged in a peaceful competition to determine the technologies that will power the 21st century. From China to India, from Japan to Germany, nations everywhere are racing to develop new ways to producing and use energy. The nation that wins this competition will be the nation that leads the global economy. I am convinced of that. And I want America to be that nation. It’s that simple. (Applause.)


But understand there’s also another myth that we have to dispel, and this one is far more dangerous because we’re all somewhat complicit in it. It’s far more dangerous than any attack made by those who wish to stand in the way progress — and that’s the idea that there is nothing or little that we can do. It’s pessimism. It’s the pessimistic notion that our politics are too broken and our people too unwilling to make hard choices for us to actually deal with this energy issue that we’re facing. And implicit in this argument is the sense that somehow we’ve lost something important — that fighting American spirit, that willingness to tackle hard challenges, that determination to see those challenges to the end, that we can solve problems, that we can act collectively, that somehow that is something of the past.

I reject that argument. I reject it because of what I’ve seen here at MIT. Because of what I have seen across America. Because of what we know we are capable of achieving when called upon to achieve it. This is the nation that harnessed electricity and the energy contained in the atom, that developed the steamboat and the modern solar cell. This is the nation that pushed westward and looked skyward. We have always sought out new frontiers and this generation is no different.

Today’s frontiers can’t be found on a map. They’re being explored in our classrooms and our laboratories, in our start-ups and our factories. And today’s pioneers are not traveling to some far flung place. These pioneers are all around us — the entrepreneurs and the inventors, the researchers, the engineers — helping to lead us into the future, just as they have in the past. This is the nation that has led the world for two centuries in the pursuit of discovery. This is the nation that will lead the clean energy economy of tomorrow, so long as all of us remember what we have achieved in the past and we use that to inspire us to achieve even more in the future. source

Interesting frame… “economy”. It’s time to kick it up a notch. Lets ‘go to the moon’.

Forty years ago…

in 1962, the choice, repeat, choice, to go to the moon was nowhere near the crisis, do.or.die, drastic clustergush as what we face now. Yes, there was a lot of political back story to it, with all the ‘we have to beat the Soviets” and all that, but it certainly did not carry the urgency of now that we have staring us in the face … now. Yet, JFK made that leap forward and led the nation.

On May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy announced before a special joint session of Congress the dramatic and ambitious goal of sending an American safely to the Moon before the end of the decade. Thus the cold war is the primary contextual lens through which many historians now view Kennedy’s speech. To read that Speech in full, you can go here: The Decision to Go to the Moon: President John F. Kennedy’s May 25, 1961 Speech  before a Joint Session of Congress. In part what he said to that joint session:

The Constitution imposes upon me the obligation to “from time to time give to the Congress information of the State of the Union.” While this has traditionally been interpreted as an annual affair, this tradition has been broken in extraordinary times.

    These are extraordinary times. And we face an extraordinary challenge. Our strength as well as our convictions have imposed upon this nation the role of leader in freedom’s cause.

    No role in history could be more difficult or more important. We stand for freedom.

NASA’s overall human spaceflight efforts were guided by Kennedy’s speech. His goal was achieved on July 20, 1969, when Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong stepped off the Lunar Module’s ladder and onto the Moon’s surface.

A year or so later, he came out with this “1962 speech given at Rice University in Houston, Texas, President John F. Kennedy reaffirmed America’s commitment to landing a man on the moon before the end of the 1960s. The President spoke in philosophical terms about the need to solve the mysteries of space and also defended the enormous expense of the space program.”

JFK, Sept 12 1962:

“Despite the striking fact that most of the scientists that the world has ever known are alive and working today, despite the fact that this Nation’s own scientific manpower is doubling every 12 years in a rate of growth more than three times that of our population as a whole, despite that, the vast stretches of the unknown and the unanswered and the unfinished still far outstrip our collective comprehension.

No man can fully grasp how far and how fast we have come, but condense, if you will, the 50,000 years of man’s recorded history in a time span of but a half-century. Stated in these terms, we know very little about the first 40 years, except at the end of them advanced man had learned to use the skins of animals to cover them. Then about 10 years ago, under this standard, man emerged from his caves to construct other kinds of shelter. Only five years ago man learned to write and use a cart with wheels. Christianity began less than two years ago. The printing press came this year, and then less than two months ago, during this whole 50-year span of human history, the steam engine provided a new source of power. Newton explored the meaning of gravity. Last month electric lights and telephones and automobiles and airplanes became available. Only last week did we develop penicillin and television and nuclear power, and now if America’s new spacecraft succeeds in reaching Venus, we will have literally reached the stars before midnight tonight.

This is a breathtaking pace, and such a pace cannot help but create new ills as it dispels old, new ignorance, new problems, new dangers. Surely the opening vistas of space promise high costs and hardships, as well as high reward.

So it is not surprising that some would have us stay where we are a little longer to rest, to wait. But this city of Houston, this state of Texas, this country of the United States was not built by those who waited and rested and wished to look behind them. This country was conquered by those who moved forward–and so will space.

SNIP… its really long but I urge you to go read it all…

However, I think we’re going to do it, and I think that we must pay what needs to be paid. I don’t think we ought to waste any money, but I think we ought to do the job. And this will be done in the decade of the Sixties. It may be done while some of you are still here at school at this college and university. It will be done during the terms of office of some of the people who sit here on this platform. But it will be done. And it will be done before the end of this decade.

And I am delighted that this university is playing a part in putting a man on the moon as part of a great national effort of the United States of America.

Many years ago the great British explorer George Mallory, who was to die on Mount Everest, was asked why did he want to climb it. He said, “Because it is there.” Well, space is there, and we’re going to climb it, and the moon and the planets are there, and new hopes for knowledge and peace are there.

And, therefore, as we set sail we ask God’s blessing on the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked. Thank you.

John F. Kennedy – September 12, 1962 source

Thirty years ago…

Here’s The “Crisis of Confidence” Speech, President Jimmy Carter.

Jimmy Carter delivered this televised speech on July 15, 1979. He pretty much pegged it, huh? Well, it certainly has a much different tone overall, and of course the political climate was radically different. What’s missing? a necessary ‘boogeyman’?

The threat is nearly invisible in ordinary ways. It is a crisis of confidence. It is a crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will. We can see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our nation.

The erosion of our confidence in the future is threatening to destroy the social and the political fabric of America.

The confidence that we have always had as a people is not simply some romantic dream or a proverb in a dusty book that we read just on the Fourth of July.

It is the idea which founded our nation and has guided our development as a people. Confidence in the future has supported everything else — public institutions and private enterprise, our own families, and the very Constitution of the United States. Confidence has defined our course and has served as a link between generations. We’ve always believed in something called progress. We’ve always had a faith that the days of our children would be better than our own.


We remember when the phrase “sound as a dollar” was an expression of absolute dependability, until ten years of inflation began to shrink our dollar and our savings. We believed that our nation’s resources were limitless until 1973, when we had to face a growing dependence on foreign oil.

These wounds are still very deep. They have never been healed. Looking for a way out of this crisis, our people have turned to the Federal government and found it isolated from the mainstream of our nation’s life. Washington, D.C., has become an island. The gap between our citizens and our government has never been so wide. The people are looking for honest answers, not easy answers; clear leadership, not false claims and evasiveness and politics as usual.

What you see too often in Washington and elsewhere around the country is a system of government that seems incapable of action. You see a Congress twisted and pulled in every direction by hundreds of well-financed and powerful special interests. You see every extreme position defended to the last vote, almost to the last breath by one unyielding group or another. You often see a balanced and a fair approach that demands sacrifice, a little sacrifice from everyone, abandoned like an orphan without support and without friends.

Often you see paralysis and stagnation and drift. You don’t like it, and neither do I. What can we do?

First of all, we must face the truth, and then we can change our course. We simply must have faith in each other, faith in our ability to govern ourselves, and faith in the future of this nation. Restoring that faith and that confidence to America is now the most important task we face. It is a true challenge of this generation of Americans.

Fast Forward to April 20, 2010. We have a longstanding ridiculous dependence on oil, foreign and domestic. We have the requisite “boogeyman” and the wars, deaths and casualties, torture, secret black prisons, indefinite detentions and military commissions, to go with it. Hmmm, not bad enough for ya? Well, there’s all the looney’s that MoT and Media Matters will tell you about, running rampant and demanding we “modify” Miranda. Okay. Then we let our DoD exile journalists from the GTMO hearings with barely a whimper of outrage from any but a few (READ THIS). Fine. Still not enough?

Doesn’t it make you wonder sometimes about God? I mean really. I feel like God is just sittin’ up there thinkin’ to Himself, “Shit. I guess Imagonna hafta YELL LOUDER until these fools finally get it.” Y’know… ‘don’t make me Stop. This. Car!’

What will it take??


Paging Candidate Obama.

This election is about the past vs. the future. It’s about whether we settle for the same divisions and distractions and drama that passes for politics today or whether we reach for a politics of common sense and innovation, a politics of shared sacrifice and shared prosperity.

There are those who will continue to tell us that we can’t do this, that we can’t have what we’re looking for, that we can’t have what we want, that we’re peddling false hopes. But here is what I know. I know that when people say we can’t overcome all the big money and influence in Washington, I think of that elderly woman who sent me a contribution the other day, an envelope that had a money order for $3.01 along with a verse of scripture tucked inside the envelope. So don’t tell us change isn’t possible. That woman knows change is possible.

When I hear the cynical talk that blacks and whites and Latinos can’t join together and work together, I’m reminded of the Latino brothers and sisters I organized with and stood with and fought with side by side for jobs and justice on the streets of Chicago. So don’t tell us change can’t happen.

When I hear that we’ll never overcome the racial divide in our politics, I think about that Republican woman who used to work for Strom Thurmond, who is now devoted to educating inner city-children and who went out into the streets of South Carolina and knocked on doors for this campaign. Don’t tell me we can’t change.

Yes, we can. Yes, we can change. Yes, we can.

Yes, we can heal this nation. Yes, we can seize our future. And as we leave this great state with a new wind at our backs and we take this journey across this great country, a country we love, with the message we carry from the plains of Iowa to the hills of New Hampshire, from the Nevada desert to the South Carolina coast, the same message we had when we were up and when we were down, that out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we will hope.

And where we are met with cynicism and doubt and fear and those who tell us that we can’t, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of the American people in three simple words — yes, we can.


Our President could come out balls to the wall and give us one of those damn eloquent moving speeches now. This is the deciding moment. Now would be good. It’s the least he could do. And, the way things’ve been going, it seems like, at this point, it may be the most he can do.

But… just do it.

Jack Sparrow: If you were waiting for the opportune moment, that was it.

UPDATE: here’s a {sigh} petition to Obama from Sierra Club Enough Is Enough!: “Contact President Obama to say you’ve had enough-it’s time to halt all proposals to allow more oil drilling off our coasts,  permanently.”


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  1. literally.

    jeezuz god  DO SOMETHING.


  2. There are people who believe that we have these problems (that is, they agree that we have these severe systemic problems) yet they are utterly fine with a political system that takes 20, 30 or 40 years to solve them.

    This, I’ve come to understand, is where I fundamentally diverge with the Democrats I used to find common cause with.

    There is no time to be fiddling for 20, 30 or 40 years while no progress or little progress is made on a whole passel of issues.  People say that the Health Insurance Bill is a “start”.  First of all, a start to what?  Second of all, is the political system we currently “enjoy” important enough to let millions of people die while we try, try again to solve problems for decades?

    We don’t have “decades” anymore to solve certain crises.  We have years, and even years, as in the case of the BP spill, are too much time.

    It’s time to think about radical measures to reform our government such that it can react quickly to issues (to say nothing of being proactive) that demand rapid action and shuts out corporate and pernicious influences.

    Otherwise, the standard 20, 30 and 40 year power pendulum swings just aren’t going to be enough.  We will drown in our own trash and longstanding social problems if we do not act.  Or until a new bottom is found.  And as I look over the precipice, the bottom is a long way down.

    • banger on May 21, 2010 at 10:36 pm

    I like the quotes.

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