Sam WHITBY #224

Letters to the Editor

from Sam WHITBY in CMO #224

@. . . .   Thank you for your message and for the fine photo of your cats. I enjoyed the photo of Myron Wasiuta and his telescope. We also have been distressed by the natural disasters that recently have happened. The earthquake on Taiwan received much news coverage. Some Virginians went all the way to Taiwan from their base in Fairfax in order to help look for survivors. There has also been much damage in North Carolina and coastal Virginia from Hurricane Floyd. Roads have been washed out, homes and crops $38 million worth of crops have been destroyed, and people have been killed by flooding after the hurricane. The downtown section of Franklin, Virginia, was severely damaged when the hurricane caused flooding of the lower part of the Nottoway River. That is the same Nottoway River that I recently described as almost dried up near its source.
  People have been speculating about some connection with the end of the Millenium, the coming of the year 2000, and the rash of natural disasters. An expert has recently been on television to explain that there has really been no increase in natural disasters, statistically. There had been a long period of relative safety, and earthquakes were "due", so to speak, to be expected, based upon past experience. If anything, according to that expert, there have been fewer earthquakes in the last decade or so than one would have expected.
  My older son David likes to read the scandal sheets, the newspapers that I like to call old rags, and he reads about speculation about the end of the world and the year 2000. A co-worker said that she hopes these things will happen soon, so she will not have to go to work much longer.
  I have had an ear infection that has affected my balance and perhaps my judgment, so I will not speculate any more at this time about the end of the world. Perhaps later I will.
  Last Saturday we had a fine display of sun dogs, halos, and the parhelic circle. I pointed these out to some volunteers who had come to visit my boys at work. One of the volunteers insisted that a sun dog was really a rainbow. I tried several times to explain the difference between what we were looking at and a rainbow and finally gave up. Let the volunteers pass out the candy, and I will tell about sun dogs, after the volunteers have gone. It is a very rare treat for my boys at work to receive candy. In fact, I cannot remember the last time that they had any. Special permission must be obtained. For a long time the juvenile prison system was very easy, sometimes described as a summer camp atmosphere. It was not uncommon for the same kids to be locked up five or six times during their adolescence. They would sit around and play cards, go outside and play basketball, having it very easy really. A few years ago it was decided to radically change the system, in order to try to change some of these kids before it was too late. Now they get up early (4:30), go outside to do exercises, clean their building, go to school, do physical education, do military drill, go to lunch, go back to school, do homework, clean the building, have a de-briefing, and go to bed (8:30). There are no cards, pool, ping pong, TV, movies, etc. A cadet who wants to speak to me has to come to attention and request permission to speak, "Sir". All movement is done by platoon, marching. I wrote one time about reading poems to the cadets. Years ago this would have been much harder to do, for people would have complained that they were not interested, I was violating their rights, and so forth. Now I can say that we are going to rest from marching and doing push-ups and I am going to do the work, reading. I like to read Robert Frost, poems like The Death of the Hired Man and Birches. (I think that some of Frost's poems have been translated into Japanese.) The cadets often become interested, and when I finish, someone will raise his hand, request to speak, and, coming to attention, say, "Sir, would you please read us another one, Sir?"
  You will perhaps wonder if American society is really militaristic after all, and we are the proof of it. I can see how one might think so. The truth is more complex. We are such a pluralistic society that it is hard to find the grounds to justify forcing anyone to do anything, even a prisoner, someone who is obviously in need of being forced into changing his life. We have so many different views regarding the nature of right and wrong that it is hard to find agreement. I would have preferred to have the parents of the cadets choose a religious preference and then have authorities from the various religious traditions be involved in the moral re-education of the cadets. Each cadet might have had a program tailored to his or her needs and based upon ultimate moral responsibility. This is not, however, the road that the people in charge chose to travel. The military ethic of obedience and responsibility seemed to be one that was permissible while preserving what we call "the separation of church and state".
  I am beginning to worry that my brain is too much under the weather to allow such speculation, so I will pause for now. Thank you again for staying in touch. Your cats look well taken care of, in a phrase from Robert Frost, out of context, "as good companions as might be had."
(7 Oct 1999 email)

@. . . .   Thank you for suggesting my interest in Jupiter to Mr. Colville. I am always interested in new observations of Jupiter (and Mars).
  I saw Randy Tatum briefly this afternoon, as he closed up the RAS Observatory. He mentioned that he thought the Jupiter image in the most recent CMO was impressive.
  It was good to see Myron's photo. I think he will be a fine addition to your group of contributors. One can sense his enthusiasm.

(14 Oct 1999 email)

Samuel WHITBY ( VA, USA ) :