Jewish World Review Aug 8, 2012 / 20 Menachem-Av, 5772
Shock, Awe, Life, Death
By Roger Simon
Americans got to sit in front of their TVs and watch a man with no legs run in the Olympics, a massacre occur in Wisconsin and a nuclear-powered rover land on Mars after traveling 352 million miles, blazing through the Martian atmosphere at 13,000 mph and set down safely, after requiring a correction of only 10 feet.
All extraordinary. Except for the massacre. That's becoming pretty ordinary. Only six people were murdered by a lone gunman. That's half the number murdered by a lone gunman in Aurora, Colo., two weeks before.
So maybe things are looking up.
After all, the people killed in both cases were engaging in high-risk activities. In Wisconsin, they were worshipping in a temple. In Colorado, they were going to a movie.
So what do you expect?
A safe activity in America these days is staying home and watching TV. With the doors locked. And not opening them for anybody. Including the pizza guy, who could be packing a .40 caliber Glock along with the pepperoni. (Suggestion: Order thin crust and have him slip it under the door.)
But why dwell on the negative?
Oscar Pistorius, the 25-year-old runner from South Africa, often called "the fastest man on no legs," became the first double amputee to compete in the Olympics this weekend.
He has been the object of controversy, some charging that his carbon fiber, curved-blade legs give him an unfair advantage because they are both springier and lighter than real legs.
The charges were examined by one athletic body, which banned Pistorius from competing against able-bodied athletes, and then by a higher athletic body that reversed the ban.
The Olympics has banned performance-enhancing drugs and performance-enhancing swimsuits, and it is not unreasonable to consider whether prosthetics unfairly enhance performance.
As The New York Times pointed out in a lengthy magazine piece on Pistorius, his running legs weigh only 5.4 pounds each, while a flesh-and-blood leg for somebody his size would weigh about 12.6 pounds.
And the blade legs are springy. But you have to consider that when Pistorius' legs were amputated when he was 11 months old, his muscles and nerves were amputated, too. He has to use different muscles to move those legs and different nerves.
The human body has had about 7 million years to evolve in its upright form, and Pistorius is using his body in ways that it was not designed for. Prosthetics rarely, if ever, make you as good as new, let alone better than new. His blade legs lack feet, for instance, and feet are another miracle of evolution. (When Pistorius is not running he wears ordinary prosthetic legs that, I imagine, are similar to my own.)
Like all athletes, Pistorius lives to compete, and on Saturday in London, he competed in the Olympics, coming in second in his 400-meter heat. On Sunday, he ran in the semifinals and came in dead last.
But that was not the extraordinary moment. The extraordinary moment came seconds after the finish when Grenada's Kirani James, a world champion and the winner of the heat, came over and exchanged his bib with Pistorius.
Pistorius looked very surprised and very pleased, and after the two hugged, James held up Pistorius' bib to the crowd, celebrating the triumph of the loser.
Also on Sunday, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney expressed their regrets about the murder of six Sikhs at a temple outside Milwaukee. Obama said he and Michelle were "deeply saddened." Romney said he and Ann extended their "thoughts and prayers to the victims."
On Monday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney held his regular press briefing and got about 15 questions — a high number — about gun control.
He answered all the same way: The president and first lady felt terrible, our country has been enriched by Sikhs, and President Obama will continue "towards common-sense measures that protect the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens" but make it more difficult for "those who should not have weapons under existing law to obtain them."
But what about new laws, considering that existing laws are clearly inadequate? The questioning by reporters on the subject went on and on, but ended thusly:
"Q: My last question — so is the White House Office of Legislative Affairs actively working with congressional leaders, congressional staffers, now on issues of gun control and a new assault weapons ban?"
"Mr. Carney: I don't have any legislative update for you. I think Congress is out of session at the moment."
Ah, America. Space is clearly a happier place at the moment. Nor is exploring it as expensive as people think. The NASA annual budget is about $17.8 billion. Sound high?
Our current military budge is more than $680 billion a year.
According to The Wall Street Journal's "Market Watch," writing last Dec. 15: "The nine-year-old Iraq war came to an official end on Thursday, but paying for it will continue for decades until U.S. taxpayers have shelled out an estimated $4 trillion."
All to find imaginary weapons of mass destruction. By comparison, space exploration is not expensive. War is expensive.
Nor is space exploration foolish. Easy access to deadly weapons is foolish.
Our exploration of space should continue. And then our next goal should be to search for signs of intelligent life on Earth.
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© 2009, Creators Syndicate