Tag Archives: gurvey

Pale Blue Dot

A recent study found anecdotal evidence that our increased exposure to political strife is having a negative effect on our mental health, resulting in “frayed personal relationships, compromised emotional stability, and even physical problems.” So what else is new? I, for one, am getting sick and tired of writing about politics. I see it as a service, and personally cathartic. But still a stressful task.

So for once I’ll skip a political column and try something completely different. Pretty much lost in Donald Trump’s post-acquittal victory lap, NASA gave us all a Valentine’s gift. It reprocessed and re-released an image recorded thirty years ago, February 14, 1990, by Voyager 1, at the time 3.7 billion miles from the Sun.

On that date Voyager 1 was headed out of our solar system on a flight that began in 1977. It had already imaged Jupiter and Saturn and was now exploring Neptune. Carl Sagan, the great scientist and science evangelist was a member of the Voyager imaging team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The plan, following the Neptune encounter, was to turn off Voyager’s cameras to save power for its other instruments as it traveled beyond the outermost planets. Sagan suggested before they did that, that they turn the spacecraft around, point it toward Earth, and see what it saw.

The newly released image has been reprocessed and is sharper and brighter than the version released thirty years ago. Still as you can see, Earth is the tiniest dot within a scattered ray of sunlight.

For everyone who is stressed by humanity’s current state of affairs I suggest you take a break, stop, look and contemplate how insignificant these problems should be in the grand scheme of the universe. Sagan said it best:

Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there–on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot, 1994

Copyright © 1994 by Carl Sagan, Copyright © 2006 by Democritus Properties, LLC.
All rights reserved including the rights of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.

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National Archive Gets Trumped

As you know I don’t usually report on other reporters. Nor do I link to material behind paywalls, although I support the use of paywalls to enable reporters to make a living. But there is a story justifiably blazing through the cloud that touches on many of the topics I hold dear and deserves a shout-out.

My tip of the hat goes to Joe Heim of the Washington Post and his story, “National Archives exhibit blurs images critical of President Trump.” Tweet National Archives TrumpedHeim, in a Twitter post after the story went viral, said his story was in part due to “chance.” I’ll respectfully disagree. Heim was visiting the National Archive when he noticed something that had nothing to do with his reporting assignment. That’s not chance. That’s good reporting. I’ve often told journalism students the best story ideas come from their own observations. A good reporter always keeps eyes open.

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Again With the Guns

I have now learned that a great way to increase the amount of public participation on your blog is to talk about guns. The feedback on my last post set a record.

I have also learned that having a reasonable debate on this subject is pretty much impossible. There is so much disinformation out there that people involved in the discussion seem to be speaking different languages.

Part of the problem is that there really is, as I noted in the last post, not a lot of good data on the effects of gun ownership and gun regulation. I know that sounds crazy and I have to tell you, as one who believes in making informed data driven judgments it is very frustrating. But it is true mostly because the government, which funds much of the academic research in the United States, has for years forbidden the organizations responsible for public health and safety to fund studies into the causes of death by gunfire. That leaves us arguing, for example, on the effectiveness of the assault weapons ban which expired in 2004. 

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9-11 + 15

9-11_memorial_namesI did not go to witness the ceremony of remembrance at the 9-11 Memorial today. I am never comfortable when I am at the 16 acre site of the World Trade Center in Manhattan. It’s not the memories. Those come and go depending on what is going on in the world. It’s the images which lingered before me for months after that day. Now they almost never return. Unless I am at the site.

On September 11, 2001, my wife Amy and I lived in Battery Park City in lower Manhattan. We had moved there from midtown just a few months earlier. Our apartment building was at the south end of the neighborhood, south and west of WTC Tower #2. I was the New York Bureau Chief and Senior Correspondent for public television’s Nightly Business Report and the newsroom/production facility/broadcast studio was just across West Street, even closer to the tower, due south of the site. Tower #2 filled the window of my bedroom, and of my office.

I was putting on my tie when I heard a noise I later described as the sound of a dump truck unloading gravel at my feet. Running to the window, I saw smoke coming from the top of tower #1, the view partially obscured by #2, which was closer to me. I had been through the 1993 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, so I did think of that. But I thought in terms of a bomb planted inside, or an explosion on one of the equipment floors toward the top of the building. It was 8:46am.

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Journalism and Business

I usually find when a journalist writes about journalism, the result is boring, or self-serving, or both. But with all the discussion surrounding Rupert Murdoch’s bid to buy The Wall Street Journal, the sales of the Tribune Company and
Reuters, and complaints from shareholders about the performance of New York Times stock, I’ll take a chance.

I remember when I was in school, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, trying to decide between two career interests, the law and journalism. The law seemed the more serious profession. But it was the time of the Watergate scandal. The journalists were the heroes, and the lawyers were all going to jail.

I chose to be a hero. As I look back, I figure I would have made a lot more money had I chosen the law. Otherwise, I remain satisfied with my decision.
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