The Annihilation of Space

I just finished a Pokemon Go battle with some friends I’ve made therein. They are from Guatemala, the Netherlands, Poland, and South Africa. Of course I don’t know them by name, and I don’t know what they look like, and I never will. That’s fine. But it makes me smile to think that for a few minutes there, five of us, from different parts of the planet, were focused on one task. I wish my mother were alive to see that. It’s truly miraculous.

In this internet age, not a day goes by when I’m not in communication with someone from another country. I administer several Facebook groups. I know people from all over in the virtual world of Second Life. I have friends that I talk to on Skype. I have relatives in many parts of the globe. The miles no longer matter.

On my drive home the other night, I heard an interview with Steve Inskeep. He was talking about his latest book, Imperfect Union. It sounds like a fascinating read. But one of the things he discussed was that moment when Samuel Morse sent the first telegraph message from Washington DC to Baltimore. “WHAT HATH GOD WROUGHT” indeed.

There’s no way to overstate what a big deal that was. It was also an election year, 1844, and soon news of the debates were being sent over those miles, in real time. That was unheard of. Inskeep says people were calling it the “annihilation of space” at the time.

We’ve been annihilating space ever since. We can now talk to just about anyone on the planet any time that we want to. News spreads around the globe in record time. (Unfortunately, drone strikes can also be done remotely. Every rose has its thorn.)

What I love most about this destruction of space is that evildoers have a lot less space in which to get away with things. We all have cell phones. You might have been able to anonymously kneel on someone’s neck in years past, but not anymore. There’s nowhere for scumbags to hide. We will see your face.

Perhaps someday we’ll be able to annihilate injustice, too. I’d like to think that’s coming. I wish it would hurry up.

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Make the Planet Great Again

I think “Make America Great Again” is a short-sighted, narrow-minded, insular, and selfish mindset. The America First attitude implies that our greatness can only come at the expense of others. It implies that we want to make this country greater than others, and to hell with everyone else.

People who buy into that type of rhetoric tend to view this as a dog eat dog world. They think that the only way to rise up is by climbing over the top of others, and the more extreme adherents prefer to wear cleats while doing so. Much better traction that way.

I don’t want to live in such a world.

I sincerely believe that a rising tide lifts all boats. We are all in this together. Having traveled internationally, I tend to have a more global worldview.

For example, I think if we want to reduce the number of people who seek asylum in this country, we need to help our neighbors fix the problems that are causing their countrymen to seek refuge with us in the first place.

I also think that if we don’t join our fellow earthlings in trying to reduce carbon emissions, we’re not going to have anything left to make great.

I don’t think giving everyone equal rights will somehow reduce my own.

I don’t think giving everyone a living wage would reduce my own, either.

I think our pollution becomes their pollution. I think our greed becomes their deprivation.

I believe with all my heart that war benefits no one when all is said and done, and that no profits are worth the death of even one human being. If we sunk as much time, money, and effort into promoting peace as we do in propping up war, this would be an amazing big blue marble, indeed.

Watch out for whose neck you’re stepping on, folks, because yours is right there under your noggin, just waiting to be squashed, too.

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Too Convinced of Our Own Permanence

It really surprises me how oblivious most people are to our dire situation. Between the insane twitterings of the man we chose to lead the free world, the nuclear saber rattling, the imminent environmental disaster that we have brought upon ourselves and yet seem content to ignore, and the ever-increasing worldwide paranoia, the Doomsday Clock ticks on.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Doomsday Clock, it’s basically a unit of measure that has been maintained by the members of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Science and Security Board. They’ve kept adjusting this measurement, back and forth, as circumstances have dictated, since 1947. Originally their calculations were based solely on the threat of global nuclear annihilation, but in recent years they’ve also taken climate change into account.

The clock is now set at two minutes to midnight. Only once since 1947 have we been so close to the end. That was in 1953, when the US and the USSR were testing our first thermonuclear devices.

This is a big deal. And yet no one seems to care. It’s time to wake up.

We all make fun of teenagers for thinking that they’re immortal and for taking risks that no sane adult would ever contemplate. But the truth is that we all think there is some sort of permanence to humanity. We don’t really believe that anything we could do could cause the end of life on this planet. Not really. And because of this, we are taking stupid, teen-aged risks.

Tick tock, people.

Doomsday Clock

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Tears for Turkey

The thing about having been to 22 countries is that it has caused me to have a more global perspective. I seem to take international news much more personally than a lot of people I know. In a time when there is so much violence in the world, this can be a bit overwhelming.

While I recommend travel highly, sometimes I truly wish I could “only” be morally outraged when things occur in my homeland. It would be so much easier if places like Turkey were abstract concepts to me, so that their tragedies would not feel like they were my own. But I genuinely don’t find the death of someone on the other side of the world to be any less horrendous than the death of someone right down the street. Every person on the planet has value, in my opinion.

When I heard about the coup attempt in Turkey, I was instantly transported back to 2009 when I had wandered some of the same streets where much of the violence has occurred. I remember standing on that very bridge across the Bosphorus in Istanbul, the one that links Europe with Asia. I was awed by the history, the beauty, the pivotal location. I felt so lucky to be standing there. Little old me! It hurts my heart to see the pictures of tanks on that very spot.

I also recall walking through Taksim Square, listening to the hauntingly beautiful call to prayer while peacefully taking pictures. I can’t imagine what I would have done if jets started buzzing overhead and shots had rung out. I’m sure I would have been terrified and confused and outraged.

I can’t speak to the politics of the coup attempt in Turkey. I don’t know who should be in power or how. It does seem as though the people have spoken rather definitively, but the situation is no doubt much more complex than I can understand from such a remove. All I know is that I long for the kind of peace in that amazing land that I had the good fortune to experience, and I shed tears for the many lives that have been lost by the lack thereof.

Update 7/29/16–I said above that the people seem to have spoken, but after what I’ve been reading in the aftermath of this tragedy, I’m no longer sure. I am very disturbed by the human rights violations that are now going on. Innocent people are being taken into custody, and institutions, including schools, are being shut down. Peaceful protesters are now afraid to speak out. While I still cannot speak to the politics of this situation, I am concerned, and am beginning to think there is even more reason to cry now for this wonderful country and its people.

 

Bosphorus

Give Your Child the World

At the risk of alienating half the American population, I genuinely don’t think that building walls between countries brings about world peace or understanding. In fact, the more that we interact with the rest of the world, the less we will fear it. It’s the unknown that is scary. The more you travel, the more you know.

I believe it’s important to get your kids thinking about the wider world at an early age. Anything that inspires curiosity and imagination and creativity and expands one’s worldview can only be a good thing. That’s why I got very excited when my niece told me about Little Passports.

This is a program for children ages 3 to 12. When they sign up, they get a little suitcase, a passport, and a map of the world. Then each month they get an age-appropriate package in the mail that teaches them about other world concepts, countries and states, and includes letters, souvenirs and fun activities.

What a brilliant idea. But even if you can’t afford to participate in Little Passports, I strongly encourage you to promote global understanding, especially for your children. Maybe choose one country a month and learn about it with your child. Prepare a meal from that country. Listen to their music. Learn their history. Check out their art. Everything you need can be found on line.

As social media expands, and as the sea levels rise, the world is shrinking. It is really important to prepare your kids for the fact that the planet is becoming even more of a melting pot than it already is. Walls won’t help you in this effort. Instead, build bridges.

World_Flag_map

Travel Restrictions

Travel is my reason for being. Due to finances, I haven’t been able to leave the country in several years, but I have been to 19 other countries, and these experiences have been the high points in my life.

I strongly encourage everyone to travel. It’s the only way you can truly have an open mind. It’s the only way you’ll learn that “our” way isn’t the only way and in fact it may not even be the best way. Until everyone truly understands that concept, there is no chance for any type of peace on earth.

Having said that, as people become more financially desperate, the world is becoming an increasingly scary place, with kidnappings, incarcerations and crime on the rise. And Americans are becoming, if anything, more hated by segments of the international community.

Does that mean we should stop travelling altogether? On the contrary. Now, more than ever, we need to eschew isolation and make more of an effort to be part of the global community. Not only to spread our wealth around a bit, but also to foster as much good will as we can.

But it is very important to travel intelligently. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that it might be a good idea to avoid war zones. But it’s also important to understand the human rights philosophy of the government in question. When making travel plans, my first stop is always the State Department website, where you can read up to date reports on travel advisability and news for each country. Many countries are safe to travel in, but contain regions to avoid, and this is always good information to have. And if you fall into a particular minority group, you may want to extend your research even further afield.

As sad as it makes me to say this, I know that there are certain countries which I realistically will never visit. North Korea, for example. But also, as an outspoken woman who refuses to be treated as a second class citizen, I don’t see myself ever visiting Saudi Arabia, either. While I’m willing to respect customs related to clothing, no one will ever tell me I can’t drive. Full stop. Sadly, as a woman traveling alone, there are many parts of the world I should think twice about visiting.

My nephew has reached an age where he’s looking forward to exploring the planet, and I’m thrilled for him. I remember what that’s like, that feeling that you have endless possibilities for adventure. I love him to pieces, so it nearly killed me to have to ever-so-slightly rain on his parade.

He was talking about going to Egypt, and that’s someplace that I’ve always wanted to see myself. But I had to tell him that as the laws stand in that country at the present time, he can be incarcerated simply for being gay. He told me he didn’t plan on doing “gay things” while there, and while, yes, that would greatly reduce his risk, it doesn’t eliminate it entirely, and this is a young man who, try as he might, would not be able to “fake it”. Unfortunately there are many countries in the world that would pose a risk for him. That breaks my heart, but it’s a fact.

Americans seem to be under the impression that they have some sort of immunity when traveling abroad. They think that if arrested, they will simply be able to call their embassy and be set free. Au contraire. All the embassy can or will do for you in the vast majority of cases is make sure your relatives are notified, deliver your mail, and give you the occasional red cross package. So the best thing to do is be aware of the laws of the country in which you travel, and strictly adhere to them. I’ve never found that to be particularly hard, but apparently some people do. If you plan to go somewhere with several kilos of cocaine taped to your inner thigh, well then, you deserve what you get.

So travel, yes, but do your homework first. Knowledge is power. Bon voyage.

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[Image credit: outlookmaps.com]

Epic Journey

If you read no other blog besides this one (I’m so freakin’ modest), you absolutely must check out that of Paul Salopek on the National Geographic website. He is the man who is taking the Out of Eden Walk, a seven year, 21,000 mile journey from the cradle of civilization in Ethiopia to the tip of South America. Currently he’s walking through Anatolia in Turkey, and his blog entry makes you feel as though you’re experiencing the tastes and sights firsthand.

A seven year commitment to anything in this era of twitter and divorce and all things instant is to be commended, but to do it on foot, all year round, in the harshest of weather… I can’t even be bothered to walk across the street to the mailbox when it’s raining out. I can’t imagine offering myself up for being footsore, tired, exposed, lonely, and vulnerable for seven weeks, let alone seven years. And this is a Pulitzer prize winning writer. It’s not as if he were desperate for work. Amazing. I want to meet this guy!

Following his journey will teach you much about culture, geography, hunger, climate change, politics, history, and war. It will cause you to think globally. I can’t imagine a more epic way to start the new year.

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[Image credit: NationalGeographic.com]

Our Expanding Family Tree: Cousins Coming out of the Woodwork

One of the largest and oldest organisms on earth is Pando, a Quaking Aspen clone in Utah that covers over 106 acres. Looking at it, you’d assume that it was just a bunch of individual trees, but it’s actually one organism, and it’s thousands of years old. We didn’t know that until recently. I think of Pando whenever I come across a new relative.

We are all related within 100 generations. Think about it. But one of the most exciting things about the times we live in is that it has become easier and easier to track down distant relatives. It used to be that you’d have to rely on that one family member who was conscientious and persistent and enthusiastic enough to do the painstaking family research, but with Ancestry.com and so many other genealogy sites, often the longest branches of your family tree are but a few keystrokes away!

Just the other day, out of the clear blue sky, one of my second cousins found us. She lives in Australia and is a fascinating person. 30 years ago we probably would never have known she existed.

As a matter of fact, I now have several cousins on Facebook from both sides of the family. Some of them don’t even speak my language, and we probably couldn’t pick each other out of a police lineup if we had to, but we now have a connection, and that makes me very happy.

My family is all over the United States, France, Canada, Germany, New Zealand, Denmark, Ireland, South Africa, Greece, Australia…it’s a global connection. We have much to learn from each other, and much to share.

I have this fantasy that as the branches of all our family trees become ever more intertwined, our prejudice and intolerances will fade away and this will become a much more peaceful world. One can only hope.

Pando

This is Pando.

A Global Perspective. Get One.

Well, it is looking more and more like they’re going to do away with full time positions where I work so they won’t have to provide us with health care. If that happens, I am in deep trouble. I honestly don’t know how I’ll make it. And I’m hearing that same story from more and more of my friends. It feels like we Americans are on the threshold of a brand new way of living, and it may take decades for it all to settle into a routine that can be characterized in any formal way.

But I refuse to panic, because I’ve traveled. I have seen what people do to survive, and I know that I’ve yet to tap in to even one percent of my survival skills. I may feel like I’m falling, but I have a LONG way to fall before I get to where most of the planet is. I’m still in fantastic shape, relatively speaking. And I think the fact that most Americans do not travel internationally is what makes them so closed minded and nervous about their future. A global perspective will demonstrate to you that human beings can survive under the harshest of circumstances. We are a hardy breed. And even the poorest American is so much better off than the vast majority of the world that it kind of makes me blush that we complain at all.

Here are some statistics from the Global Issues website that will certainly make you think.

  • Around 27-28 percent of all children in developing countries are estimated to be underweight or stunted. The two regions that account for the bulk of the deficit are South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Based on enrollment data, about 72 million children of primary school age in the developing world were not in school in 2005; 57 per cent of them were girls. And these are regarded as optimistic numbers.
  • Nearly a billion people entered the 21st century unable to read a book or sign their names.
  • Less than one per cent of what the world spent every year on weapons was needed to put every child into school by the year 2000 and yet it didn’t happen.
  • Access to piped water into the household averages about 85% for the wealthiest 20% of the population, compared with 25% for the poorest 20%.
  • There are 2.2 billion children in the world. 1 billion of them live in poverty.
  • In 2005, the wealthiest 20% of the world accounted for 76.6% of total private consumption. The poorest fifth just 1.5%.
  • Approximately 790 million people in the developing world are still chronically undernourished, almost two-thirds of whom reside in Asia and the Pacific.

It’s a brutal world in which we live. No matter how far I may fall, I know that I can always look over my shoulder and see billions of people who are worse off than I am. And if you have the leisure time and the ability to sit and read this blog, you are in the same position that I am. This position does not make me proud, but it does give me perspective. And as more and more things start to unravel, I’m grateful for that perspective.

PlanetEarth

Fantasy Island

I just got through reading an article on the NPR website entitled, “Pacific Island, Bigger Than Manhattan, Vanishes.” I assumed it was going to be about global warming, and that maybe it had sunk below the rising sea level, but no. Based upon studies of the sea floor, this island never existed in the first place. Apparently this “island” has been on maps and charts since around 1772. And now they’re looking at other questionable islands in other parts of the world in order to update maps.

fantasy_island_by_tessig-d4w7qz5 (Credit: Tessig.deviantart.com)

Can we just take a second to absorb this? In this day and age, with all our global whosawhatsis, how does this happen? It makes you realize how vast the world is, and how much we want to believe what we’re told. But I still find it vaguely unsettling. If we can’t count on our geography, what can we count on?

Here’s the thing. When my mother died when I was 26, I felt as though there was no longer any solid foundation beneath my feet, as though everything that I counted on had suddenly vanished and I was adrift. It took me a long time to get over that. A very long time. I will never forget that feeling.

Without getting into a debate about quantum physics, we count on things to be solid, to have substance. And we expect islands the size of Manhattan to stick around. This is why I could never live in an earthquake zone. To have something solid suddenly start rippling like water? I’d have a nervous breakdown.

There has to be some fundamental…thing that you can hang your hat on, and build from there. Without that, how do you know what’s real? It reminds me of a quote from the Spanish dramatist Pedro Calderón de la Barca, which translates as, “Life is a dream, and even the dreams are dreams.”