Friday, January 28, 2011

missing the point

This week we had an illustration of missing the point, thanks to former Alaska governor Sarah Palin. President Obama said in his State of the Union address that this was our Sputnik moment, a time to invest in innovation, research, and education for the future of our country. In commenting on that, however, Palin stated that it was odd (a WTF moment she said), that he was calling on Americans to celebrate that moment, saying that even though the USSR won the space race that they incurred so much debt that it led to their collapse.

There are a few things wrong with those statements. For one thing, the Soviets did not "win" the space race. that's like saying a horse in the Kentucky Derby ahead at the quarter mile mark has "won" the race (at that point there's a mile more to run). The goal of the space race was the moon, and the US won that race by landing men on the moon in 1969. Second, the Soviet Union did not fall because of space exploration costs, but because their economy went south, mainly due to excessive military spending, and the collapse happened 1991, 22 years after the US "won" the space race.

But more importantly, she missed the whole point of the remarks. he was not calling for Americans to "celebrate" Sputnik, but to remember the success we had in that response and to emulate the efforts in our current situation. Learning from history is vital, and to do that you must get your facts straight. Unfortunately many , like Ms Palin, are apparently unable (or unwilling) to do that.

Now, before you get cocky and smug thinking "I knew that", I have a couple other examples of missing the point, that may apply to all of us at times. Things where we argue over details, facts , figures, but ignore the core.

First, in response to the Tucson shootings many have debated the relationship of heated (and often violent-image) rhetoric to the actual physical violence. There have been passionate arguments on both sides. Personally I happen to agree that political rabid speech did have an influence on the shooter (since he ranted anti-government statements and then attempted a political assassination). But shouldn't harsh words and violent-image rhetoric, as well as rudeness and name-calling be seen as wrong for the sake of common decency and good manners, regardless of what they might spawn? Whatever became of treating others the way we would like to be treated (the golden rule)?

Second, in the whole global climate change debate I think we have gotten a bit lost and entangled in numbers, projections, predictions, and fears. Passion leads to defensiveness all around. But I believe we have again forgotten simple manners : as our mothers would say "pick up after yourself, take out the garbage, clean up your own room, don't trash the house". If we keep putting more and more "garbage" in the air, water, and land, it's not healthy, period. If you have ever been near a car warming up on a cold winter's day and seen or smelled the exhaust you know that it is not healthy and anything we can do to reduce that "additive" to our air would be helpful. It isn't hard to find simple things you can do to help keep our global "home" cleaner, we only have to open our eyes, hands, and hearts.

It's like an archer who aims at nothing, forgetting about the target. To shoot off a lot of arrows may look impressive but it puts everybody at risk and leaves the target untouched. It's also much more fun to aim at the target, let fly the arrow, and hear the satisfying "thunp" as the shaft hits home:)

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