Out with the old, in with the new

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 7, 2004

Happy New Year! Let’s hope this year is better than last year.

With the winter chill finally upon us after some unseasonably warm days, we’re able to get a clear view into the forests for a reminder of how destructive Hurricane Isabel was when she cut through the Roanoke-Chowan area in September.

I suppose you didn’t really need to see how many huge trees were felled in the forests to get that reminder. All you have to do is look at the many tree stumps still lying on their sides in people’s yards or see all the temporary patch jobs on roofs and houses.

During the holidays, not for the first time, family get-togethers invariably turned into a time to relate stories from the storm. Those returning to the area were told what we went through and were given some visual evidence of how bad it was through photographs and the telltale reminders still in the yards or on the homes of their families.

I’m still amazed that there were so few injuries. I know people who had trees crash through, not just onto, their homes. Miraculously, not a single one of the people I know sustained any injuries. Just think what it would have been like here if Isabel hadn’t weakened so much before coming ashore. If it had come in as a Category 5 storm rather than a weak Category 2…there wouldn’t be much left.

I’d heard all the stories about how terrible Hazel had been back in the ’50s, but still never got very worked up about hurricanes because I thought we were far enough inland to just get a good blow. Well, I learned to respect hurricanes when Floyd came through in 1999 with its devastating floodwaters and I think I might actually have attained an inkling of how seriously to take hurricanes after Isabel’s visit to the area. My wife and I were extremely fortunate. I didn’t know how fortunate until after it was over. We have three huge trees within 10 yards of the house, any one of which could have crushed us, but all of them remained standing. I don’t think there was another house within miles of us that didn’t have at least one tree down. Yeah, we were lucky.

But there was more to 2003 than Hurricane Isabel.

I know that I’m in the minority in being concerned about the war we had with Iraq, but for me that was the biggest national news of the year. I hear folks are tired of reading my Bush-bashing tirades, but the &uot;justifications&uot; for going to war with Iraq struck me as shaky before last March and I was, frankly, concerned about the good name of the United States. We’re the good guys. We’re not supposed be the tyrannical bully that frightens everyone into doing what we say. We’re supposed to be reasonable, fair, just, and helpful. We’re supposed to be the beacon of freedom that others aspire to become. We’re supposed to represent an ideal – &uot;truth, justice and the American Way,&uot; which includes the inalienable rights of &uot;life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness&uot;.

How can we claim such lofty ideals while at the same time breaking international treaties we’ve signed, ignoring what the vast majority of the world thinks is right, and forcing our will on others either at the point of a sword or through financial might?

I’m not going to bash Bush today. I just want folks to understand why I’ve been doing it and why I’m so concerned about the road the country is going down. If you really have high ideals – strong ethical standards and moral beliefs – you have to live with them in every situation. You can’t pick and choose when to be moral or ethical because either you live by a code of conduct or you do not.

This may come as shock to those who think I’m some kind of raving, immoral left-wing nutcase, but there are no gray areas when it comes to right and wrong. You either do the right thing or you do the wrong thing. If you are truly ethical or moral, you always try to do the right thing. Over the past two years I have been questioning the morality and ethics of my nation’s leaders. I not only think they have done some very wrong things, but I also think they knew these things to be wrong for the country and the world. Making a mistake is forgivable. Deliberately doing wrong is not.

I vehemently denounced President Clinton when he lied to the nation and agree with Republicans that his moral leadership weakened the ethics of the entire nation. But what I’ve seen from the present administration gives me even more cause for concern because the lies and Machiavellian tactics concern people’s lives and freedoms, not just a simple case of personal infidelity.

That’s enough about 2003.

I’m excited about the missions to Mars this year. As you read this, an American robot is on the surface of another planet conducting tests and taking photographs. Another one will be arriving later in the month and one there might still be hope for one the Europeans sent.

I’ve always been a big space nut. I suppose it has something to do with the era I was born. We were just starting to send stuff into space when I was kindergarten age, so I grew up with modern era’s greatest period of exploration. In little more than a two decades, we went from breaking the sound barrier for the first time to sending small probes into space, to sending men into space, to orbiting the Earth and to landing men on the Moon.

Like almost everyone, I started taking the exploration of space for granted. I only remember two Moon missions – the one that got us there and the almost disastrous Apollo 13 mission. They rest of them I probably followed (because I used to love that stuff), but I don’t really remember. Besides, I was almost 15 by the time Apollo 12 returned to the Moon and was 17 when Apollo 17 completed the Apollo Moon missions. My head just wasn’t on the stars when I was a teenager.

I’m glad we’re still exploring. I’ll be following these robotic missions closely and hoping I’ll be around when we’re able to send people Mars. We humans have to keep exploring. I’ll reserve a column for the near future to explain why it is so important that we have a vigorous space exploration program. Meanwhile, kick back and enjoy the show NASA is now giving us.

I expect good things from 2004. We’re up in space, the economy is picking up steam and we’ve got a presidential election coming. There will be lots of things to think about and debate. I’m looking forward to this new year.