TELESCOPES AND MARCHES


I was at the Eugene Astronomical Meeting the other night for the annual selling of astronomical stuff people no longer need, a sort of a swap meet-flea market atmosphere.  Several from the community came with telescopes they had received for Christmas and weren’t sure how to use them.

Because nobody had come forth to help one man in a wheelchair, who had a nice Newtonian ‘scope, I did what I could until another man came by giving me a curt “what are you doing, Bud?” before helping.  At my age, which was probably about 10 over his, I don’t like being called Bud.  I was a bit stung and left to wander around.  I don’t like being around a lot of people. Nearby, near the door of the planetarium, which is where we were meeting, I watched as a father, his presumed wife, and a pre-teen boy were getting help with a telescope.  This was clearly a father-son event, as the woman stood away quietly.  They got some help, then the father said he had to leave, because he was getting up at 1 am to work.  He was working two jobs.

Yeah, two jobs.  He’s looked like he was in his early 30s, got a son who is interested in the night sky, and bought a decent first telescope for both of them.  Two jobs. This is tough. Bringing up a kid, also tough, but he’s teaching the boy something about the night sky.  Good father.  Times are bad now, and they are going to be more so.  I have no idea what jobs the man was doing, only that nowadays, there exists the notion that somehow we can bring back the manufacturing era we once had, before just making steel was changed into making certain kinds of steel and other countries starting making their own, too.  We once made all the cars; we passed Japan in 2011 for second place, behind China, and have made as many as we ever have as of 2015.   As for mining, the big coal mining company Peabody went bankrupt last year, and coal, while cheap, is a less efficient-more polluting source of energy than natural gas, and renewables are competitive, especially if we factor in the environmental costs of coal and gas.  There isn’t a long term future in coal mining, only in trying to reclaim lands mined, and that’s a lost cause.

We could of course increase the forestry jobs in Oregon from the current 61,000 if we just cut everything down.  I use “cut down” over harvesting, because that is what we do.  Harvesting sounds a lot nicer, but harvesting corn works for me and harvesting trees doesn’t.  The forests are supposedly producing at a sustainable yield, but it sure bothers me to see the recent clearcut at the top of Cougar Summit on Highway 126 between here and Florence.  It will take decades to regrow. While replanting has to occur so that a tree is a certain height in 6 years, it will be a minimum of 60 and preferably longer years before the trees have begun to mature, in more or less a monoculture, meaning less biodiversity.  I realize we have to have wood, but we could do without a lot less paper, and the scars on the land, the aerial spraying of poison that wafts over people (documented high levels of atrazine in urine), and the loss of biodiversity.  If we had fewer kids, we wouldn’t need the 11-13 jobs paying $36K a year that a million board feet of lumber produces.  Of course, we could cut it all, damn the Murrelets and spotted owls, because we have a political party in power that can, but then after a flurry of jobs, there will be nothing, except complaints about how the Democrats killed the forest jobs.  It’s sort of like the collapse of the fishing industry off the Grand Banks.  The fish were thought to be infinite, but in the space of a few years they were gone.  If your time span of discretion, how long you plan ahead when you are dealing with life issues, is the next day, you cut everything down now.  If your time span of discretion is a decade, uncommon, then you don’t.

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The two job guy had been on my mind for a while, when two days later I went to the Women’s March in Eugene, almost as an afterthought.  I don’t like to be around a lot of people, and I wondered whether it would really matter.  The one we had was big for Eugene, the biggest ever here, and we have a history of protests and marches. No, it wasn’t the half million in DC, but 7000 in a small town is impressive.  I was humbled by the diverse people who have always been around, only recently in a reasonable political climate able to exist freely and openly.  This includes women, LGBTQxx (the xx are mine, because I am frankly so far behind the curve in this area that I am probably missing something), and every group that voted for My Side last election.  I came because I thought I should.  I took the bus downtown, where we were stuck crossing the Willamette River in heavy traffic.  Eventually, the bus driver opened the doors for those of us who wanted to join the crowd, and I got off.

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Harry Potter reference; personally, I have spent a lot of time in swamps, canoeing.

I took in everything I could, the energy of a heavily feminine crowd, the signs, the creativity of what they wrote, the anger they had about their treatment, yet anger tempered with a sense of humor, too.  I was in a group of mostly young, smart, articulate people who were damned if they were going to have to put up with what was coming.  As an old white guy, my presence probably helped some people realize not all of us are stodgy Republicans.

What struck me the most occurred later, when I saw an elderly woman, short to begin with, shorter still with the kyphosis of age.  She had to have been in her 80s or 90s.  She wore anti-white supremacy buttons and pushed a wheeled walker—in 43 degree temperature, rain, and significant wind.  She was there because this was a women’s rights march, she for whatever reason was not going to miss it.  I wondered what she did in life, her relationships with men, what she felt.  I was humbled by her presence and equally humbled seconds later by a couple my age standing on a corner, the woman dressed as a suffragette, carrying a sign saying “We Will Not Go back.”  Out in the street a group of women marched by holding a sign honoring women pioneers of all sorts, many of whose names I did not know. The young I knew would show up.  The middle aged ones I expected would.  The presence of the elders moved me deeply, and reminded me that half of humanity has not been allowed to reach its potential.

I needed to be there to support the elders; I needed to be there to be educated, to remember, and in some way to act.  I want to hide.  I must not, for I am in the position where I can help women, those less fortunate, and maybe those working two jobs.

1458.

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An Elder, marching.

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Bernie’s supporters, se habla español también.

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