Big Whoop

The Olympics are officially under way. I’m not really interested in watching. It’s far less the spectacle than in regular times, and not because of the absence of spectators. I have to say the opening ceremonies, the portion I actually watched, were captivating in part because of the lack of people in the stands. There was an eerie poignancy to it.

I’ve grown cynical of the whole enterprise, especially this time around. The world is supposed to pause and watch and be engrossed in the human drama, but the media overplay things, try to keep things cheery and upbeat, hype it with emotion-laden music and back stories, all in an effort to rationalize and totally distract us from the fact that there is still a raging pandemic going on, along with gross inequities in vaccine availability and distribution.

Instead of welcoming the distraction, shouldn’t we be focused on getting rid of the scourge? Don’t we have more important things to tend to besides making sure our precious athletes get to compete for their chance to make a name for themselves, make all the years of sacrifice pay off? And the IOC and NBC make their money back? And sponsors get the exposure they’ve paid for? The dissonance is grating.

Defenders will say we need the distraction when so much hasn’t been “normal” for the past year and a half. But this insistence on normal is what has gotten us into this mess in the first place. We’ve tried to carry on as if nothing is different. We’ve pushed against this aberration in routine as if it were merely an unwanted nuisance that will go away if we just ignore it.

And it will all be painted as a triumph of the human spirit. As if we have, somehow, prevailed.

Earthbound

The best argument for space exploration might be Earthrise—the picture taken by astronaut Bill Anders in late December 1968. It gives us a perspective we could have gotten in no other way except by being in Moon orbit looking back at our planetary home floating in the vast darkness of space.

Meanwhile, it is difficult to ignore the irony, or whatever, of Richard Branson going into near space and the gobs of money poured into that effort, as a way of making space tourism (?) more “affordable,” while back on earth there is so much rot. This has always been the critique, though.

It’s a familiar refrain—why not spend some of your billions making things better back here on earth? I’ve never been fully convinced by the argument officials at NASA or people who live in the rarified air like Branson have made along the way. If all we get out of space travel and a multi-billion dollar space station are things like self-satisfaction and affirmation of the human pioneering spirit, and another means of making money—along with Tang and pens that write upside down—then maybe there is an argument to be made for a realignment of priorities.

Wow, I can see where that might sound terribly ignorant and provincial. We deserve an accounting, though– a list– of the benefits to real life of all the years and billion$ (trillion$?) spent trying to reach the stars.

What More Do We Need to See?

Blame it on the 24-hour news cycle. We never get a break. Then again, one could argue that in the old days we were in the dark most of the time, left unaware of things like climate change. Back then if we had a heat wave, it was just something that was liable to happen in the summer time. Now we can’t avoid the connection with global warming and the effects we’re having on air and water and the rest. There’s a gloom and doom quality to things anymore.

The irony is that back then we were already setting the table for what’s going on now. We just weren’t thinking in those terms. Blissful ignorance, unaware of consequences. Now we’re all hyper-aware, maybe to the point of distraction, victims of overkill and exaggeration. When all is said and done, we still have the power to simply turn the TV off, knowing that it’s there if we need it.

Then again, climate change is real. We can’t bury our heads in the sand over that one anymore.

Something Doesn’t Feel Right

There is substantial opposition among Japanese citizens to the Olympic Summer Games, which are scheduled to start in three weeks or so. Apparently, there is potential for another COVID surge, and the people of Tokyo and elsewhere are not ready to welcome anyone into the country. Makes sense to me.

You’d never know that this opposition even exists here in America, based on the publicity and the build-up and the blind insistence that the games must go on. The advertising here gives no hint of the growing sentiment that the games should just be cancelled, or postponed again.

There was an article from one of the newsfeeds yesterday saying basically that to hold the games at this point would be a moral disaster. “From mere disaster to outright atrocity,” according to a Huffington Post article. It feels that way to me. The U.S. appears to be ignoring the warning signs and the unrest in Japan, instead plugging the games with the cutesy logo 202One, in hopes of rallying the nation?

Full steam ahead, damn the torpedoes and the continued presence of the pandemic. It’s all about money, as usual. Forget about the concerns of the local citizenry. Too many billions have been invested to turn back now. Too many spoiled, entitled, opinionated American athletes clamoring about all the years of training and sacrifice, yada, yada, yada…

Let the athletes compete without the spectators. Would that suit? Keep in mind that Japan has a surprisingly low vaccination rate and the pandemic is still happening.

It’s Here

“7 Reasons to be Extremely Optimistic About the Economy Right Now…” Really? When the adjacent headline might as well read “Record Temps in Siberia… Or elsewhere in the Pacific Northwest and Canada”?

This is exactly why the earth is frying people. We avert our eyes and try to make believe the warming is just something that happens every so often. And we focus on some other topic that serves as a distraction, makes us feel better about things.

We’re not long for this world, if this is how we address a climate disaster IN PROGRESS. These aren’t warning shots across the bow. The assault has started.

The Wheels Turn Slowly

It feels like even if Democrats can get certain legislation voted into law, half the country won’t abide by it anyway. Adoption and enforcement will be ongoing issues. It’s like screaming in an echo chamber.

How can certain issues and problems be treated in such a partisan manner? Aren’t there any needs and concerns that we simply share as human beings where money and partisan wrangling don’t gum up the works? Who is considered the patriot in all of this?

Maybe this calls for something beyond mere “patriotism,” whatever that is. One person’s patriotism is another’s delusional thinking.

And So On…

So now it’s the Delta variant. Even more contagious than the Alpha variant that tore through the UK a while ago. It’s largely unvaccinated people being affected, though there have been a number of break-through cases in fully vaccinated folks. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

Of course, there is no hope of the Always Trumpers and vaccine deniers ever latching on to the principal of mutation. They’re not ready to embrace the reality that as long as the virus has a steady supply of unprotected bodies to infect, it also has the capability of changing its genetic structure and becoming more difficult to control.

It’s a witch’s brew of ignorance and stubbornness.

For What It’s Worth

I’m not a huge risk taker. I’m not trying to impress anybody, not trying to prove anything, except maybe to myself. I’ve never been a big proponent of the belief that personal growth is the be-all and end-all, the number 1 priority in life, as if self-improvement is all that matters, where the next things I do need to be bigger and better and even more dangerous than what has come before. This strikes me as grossly self-serving, and a misunderstanding of what freedom means.

Not everything I do needs to challenge me, needs to be like scaling El Capitan without ropes. Where does that all end, and at what end is one hoping to arrive? Maybe arriving isn’t the point? Frankly, this mindset exhausts me and I fight it like antibodies fight pathogens in the bloodstream. I resent the pressure and the expectations of having to find another mountain to climb.

Which all probably makes me sound like a stick in the mud. 

I’m all for being curious and learning things, and traveling to places I’ve never been. I’m not against being proactive or aspiring to some level of accomplishment, and I realize that being human inherently involves a certain level of risk. Facing our fears and all that…  It’s just that life presents its share of opportunities for growth without forcing the issue. It often comes down to what we do when they come along. Whether we say yes or no to them. 

I don’t think getting vaccinated for Covid-19 rises to the level of an accomplishment, something for which we need to be rewarded. In some ways, it’s an unremarkable thing, from the perspective of the recipient. What’s much more remarkable is the vaccine’s availability in the first place. And our reward is avoidance of getting really sick, or not dying.

Being vaccinated means that the virus is stopped in its tracks when it encounters me or anyone else who has been vaccinated. In a small way, I’m doing my part to bring this scourge to its grisly end.

Of course there is a certain level of risk involved! Of course we don’t know for sure what’s going to happen 10 years down the road! However, vaccine testing and analysis done up to the point of approval and since then has confirmed not only their efficacy—their effectiveness against the virus and many of its variants—but also that they are, by and large, safe for the vast majority of us.

Our lives are inextricably linked to one another. Situations come along where we all benefit from swimming in the same direction. The current poisonous political climate and related abuse of social media have made this difficult to do, and we have suffered immensely as a result.

I hesitate to describe getting vaccinated as an obligation we all have. I realize that some folks, for medical reasons, are hesitant or cannot receive the shot(s). But if the excuse is born of misinformation or stubbornness, or a misplaced sense of invincibility or patriotism, then let’s hope that our unvaccinated neighbors and friends and family will have an epiphany and see the light.

Echoing an old story, we have been sent a helicopter to rescue us from the flood waters. In the form of vaccines.                            

Sometimes The Glass Is Half Empty

We are not capable of acting with civility and altruism except in short bursts. Our default mode is self-preservation, looking out for ourselves and those closest to us. This, it seems to me, is why the Christian baptismal calling, or most any religious calling, is so foreign, so hard. It forces us to turn to God for help, who is or isn’t really here.

There. I said it. It doesn’t feel good to say it. It feels risky and dangerous, traitorous, faithless, sinful, wrong. Heartbreaking. But it is honest. The thing about belief in God is that no one can say God exists with anything approaching full confidence. Such a statement is always tinged with a mix of doubt and hope, but not unshakeable confidence. It is a faith statement, after all.

I’ve never understood how some people can claim unwaveringly that God exists. I’ve never been impressed or moved by this. More often the feeling is closer to suspicion, or sympathy. How can anyone be so (gullible, naive) … sure?

Out With It

I wonder what gave Mother Teresa pause, what fed her discouragement and doubt in her periods of waning faith. I guess I should read up on that.

Personally speaking, I find it difficult to move beyond what sounds more and more plausible with each passing day: religion is balm for when times are hard, a gap filler, a response to our fear of death, a hoping for something more than what we see. And there’s a growing sense that this is all it’s ever been.

Apart from the religious lunatics on the right, the loudest voices are skeptics or self-professed atheists, and I must say that the atheists are making much more sense. I don’t know as I’d go as far as Ron Reagan or Bill Maher and flout my atheism (I guess I still wonder about a lightning bolt, or karma), but there is a certain appeal or logic to the atheist’s argument. It’s certainly easier.

Wow, the more things change the more they stay the same, I guess—there will always be Athenians and others who prefer logic and reason over a leap of faith. Anyhow, perhaps Mother Teresa’s dis-ease grew more acute over time- time in which the suffering she saw never abated and God seemed indifferent, impotent, or just nowhere to be found. It takes a toll when you’re always searching but never really finding, when you feel abandonment more often than the abiding presence.

“Opium of the people” seems a bit harsh and Skeptical with a capital S, yet not without some basis in observed reality. And then there’s the time factor. Two thousand years is an awfully long time to wait, God’s timetable notwithstanding. Even those early descendants of Abraham didn’t have to wait this long.

What’s the hold-up? Things are getting crazy down here, and Earth is about ready to spit us out.