Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Will to Change

My dad is a deep thinker who has a lot of time to think. He gets vexed over issues – some big, many small. He invariably turns to my sister and me to get his feelings off his chest and to hear what we have to say.

I must say I don't have the greatest track record at responding to my Pops's musings. Let's just say I try to weed out the wheat from the chaff, and thus respond to the ones I think a) he thinks is important; b) I think is important or c) that piss me off.

The latest one from Pops falls into a, b and c.

He writes: "On another subject, Are you writing/calling/emailing your and every other Senator and member of the House and every member of this Administration and both of the Presidential candidates and asking them: What, specifically, are you going to do about the energy crisis? No platitudes, no cop outs. What are you going to do? How can we not drill in ANWR and more importantly, off the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf coasts, given that offshore catastrophes have been nil? How can we not legislate smaller, more efficient vehicles? How can we not promote nuclear electric generating projects, given that the French and others have gone for decades without catastrophe?"

Excellent point, these. Except for one: Drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge and the outer continental shelf.

So, I responded. Here it is below.

"I agree that our politicians fail to see life beyond the immediacy of their political survival, which is the next term. Not all of them, perhaps, but most of them.

I also agree that we need to overhaul our energy policy and the way we Americans view energy and consume energy. For too long we have seen energy as some kind of divine right, and that we should pay far less than any other country's citizens to drive our cars, heat our homes and run our refrigerators and our TVs. The price rises have been painful but put in scale with what many other countries – and especially Europeans – are paying, they still remain low, relatively speaking. We need to see energy as a commodity, one that is subject to pricing, demand and supply. And the demand is coming on strong from developing countries like China and India, whose people aspire deservedly to the same quality of life that we've enjoyed for more than a century.

So, in the face of rising prices, we Americans should either grin and pay the higher prices or be proactive – find ways to conserve and seek alternative energy supplies that distance ourselves from the relentless pursuit of extracting every drop that the Earth has created over hundreds of millions of years.

Drilling offshore and in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge is not the answer. It's akin to prescribing a cough drop to a patient with a terminal respiratory ailment. The studies I have read and the people with whom I have spoken say that drilling in the outer continental shelf and in ANWR will drop the price per barrel of oil negligibly. It is a short-sighted maneuver and does nothing to address the long-term problem, which is that the Earth is running short of fossil fuels. Plus, and this should be weighed on the same level as the economic argument, drilling in these areas fouls nature. Must we inject more blights on our environment, more warts on our planet, to power our iPods and other electronic gadgets? OK, that may be a low blow, but my point remains the same. Nature versus human wants. And nature always loses. In this case, however, there is a better path, one that makes more sense economically, for the future security of this country and morally.

And that choice is to invest heavily in alternative energy. We have the minds. We have the money. We have the technology. We need the will.

Can we summon it?"

So, can we?

Monday, June 23, 2008

Alien Baby

Our baby looks like an alien.

We visited the doctor today for an ultrasound – our first look at the infant in Michelle's womb.

What we saw was awe inspiring.

After the technician smeared some translucent blue goo on Michelle's belly and started rolling the transducer, black and white pictures started to flicker on the computer monitor. The images shimmered as the technician moved the device back and forth, blobs of gray bobbing and surging forth against a black background. I found it hard to decipher anything. Shapes shimmered and warped, as if Michelle's insides were a mirror at a carnival.

Then the technician zoomed in one area, and I recognized what I was looking at: Our baby's heart, beating away, the ventricles keeping time with each beat, the valves opening and closing like perfectly synchronized sets of doors. It was beautiful.

The technician zoomed out. There was the spine, a string of beads in unearthly white running the length of the screen. Look, there's a hand, with five fingers. Another hand. The two legs, moving around. The rib cage. The kidneys. The stomach. It was dizzying, seeing our baby's organs and other features so close up and personal.

After the technician took us on this tour de baby, it was time to take a picture. She moved the transducer from one end of Michelle's belly to the other, seeking that picture-perfect angle. But our baby was being rather uncooperative. She or he was lying face down, and raising her arms up and over her head, as if rubbing her eyes. Perhaps she's shy. Maybe he thought we were some kind of papparazzi.

"It looks like it's playing peek-a-boo," the technician said.

Playful little devil.

In the picture we have, our baby is turned on his side and is looking right at us. His eye sockets are hollow, and there's a big spot in the middle of his face reserved for his nose. It appears as if she has slung an arm across the middle of her face, and you can see the faint outline of her hand. That's pretty much it. Big head, with hollowed out eyes and nose, a shadow of an arm and a faint outline of a hand. An alien species.

About an hour and a half after we returned home, Michelle and I were sitting on the sofa when she looked at me and said, "the baby is kicking. Hard. You may feel it."

I placed my hand on her stomach, and she placed hers over mine and pushed it gently against her belly. Nothing for a few minutes. And then, a strong shove against my fingers. And another push. Pow, pow. Two more kicks, each more evident than the last. Our baby was moving alot, and we can already feel those movements from the outside. Can you imagine what it will be like four weeks from now, or eight?

Our alien is alive. And most definitely kicking.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Rising Waters

I imagine you have heard about the heavy rains that have spawned flooding throughout the Midwest. It cut closer to home today.

I was reading an update this afternoon in New York Times' online edition, and there was a report that residents in some neighborhoods in Cedar Rapids, Iowa were being evacuated because of dangerously high water levels in the Cedar River. I later saw a report on ABC World News, broadcast from Cedar Rapids, that said the downtown area had been evacuated, and the rising waters were threatening the Czech & Slovak National Museum. On a side note, I remember running a story in our newspaper, The Slovak Spectator, about the Czech and Slovak presidents opening the museum in spring 1995. I had no idea where in the heck Cedar Rapids was, and I never thought I'd actually visit the place.

But I have. Many times.

And the reason is because Michelle is from Cedar Rapids. Her mother and sister still live there. The house is about a mile away from the Cedar River, as the crow flies. I've run right along its banks several times. It's wide and flows placidly, probably because the terrain around it is flat. I was running there last winter when I saw a hawk take off from a tree along the banks, swoop upward, bank right and sail majestically to the other bank. Another time, I saw a bald eagle sitting in the branches along the riverside. Beautiful sights, all, from a languid-looking river.

Now, it's a raging, angry beast that's causing a lot of damage. You can see it from these pictures.

Michelle tried to reach her mother and sister this evening, but no one was answering. We're pretty sure they're dry and fine, but it would be nice to confirm that.

Until then, we'll keep reading the latest. It's supposed to rain there again tomorrow and perhaps the next day as well. The river will grow higher.

Let's hope that will be all that happens.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Baby Moves

Our baby has made its first move.

We don't know what he or she was doing. Maybe it was stretching its legs. Maybe it was exploring. Maybe it was doing a somersault. Maybe it was petitioning for food or drink. Maybe it was uncomfortable and was switching positions.

Who knows?

At this point, it doesn't matter much. What does matter is our baby has moved for the first time.

What a wonderful moment.

Michelle told me yesterday after I had arrived home from work. She was lying in the hammock, bundled up in a Red Sox blanket as the sunlight began its daily descent through the trees behind our property. She said she felt a little pressure in the lower part of her abdomen. Kind of like a poking, but very mild, gentle even.

Then she felt a twinge of levity, as if she were riding in a car that had crested a hill and its wheels had briefly, very briefly, left the pavement. You could call it a flutter. Maybe a pressurized flutter.

She said she had felt the sensation several times already, and always when she was lying down. Today, she's felt more of them. Still, only when she's lying down. My completely unscholarly

Maybe the baby is pushing back.

Irritated little sucker.

I'd like to think he/she is playing around. I especially like the idea that the baby is checking out its environs, taking stock of things, like any good reporter.

Michelle goes to her obstetrician tomorrow, so I think we'll learn a little more. I believe an ultrasound will be scheduled then – probably for next week.

It's getting really exciting.

impression is that the baby is feeling more of the weight of Michelle's rounded tummy when she's lying on her back.