Friday, January 28, 2011

I shot an arrow into the air...

By the time the Challenger vaporized in real time before millions of stunned viewers 25 years ago I was already an avowed news junkie and I was auditing a course taught by the legendary Howard Ziff, founder of the highly regarded Umass journalism program.

Coincidentally enough he had scheduled the editor of the Concord Monitor, Christa McAuliffe's hometown newspaper, to be a guest lecturer that semester and he appeared only weeks after the disaster.

I asked him what he would have done if he absolutely knew beyond a shadow of a doubt the Challenger would explode that morning but had no corroboration. He looked me directly in the eye and said (with his voice somewhat trembling) he would have done "Anything--absolutely anything--to get the word out, including standing in town center naked with a warning tattooed to my butt."

Of course in 1986 the Internet was strictly a niche work area for nerdy scientists plus the founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, was not even born. Still, the viral spread of news about the stunning disaster was nothing short of amazing. Within an hour 85% of Americans had heard about it and most of them ran to their televisions to watch it...over and over again.

I knew one of the astronauts, Ron McNair--a traditional style black belt who fought in local karate tournaments in the Boston area even though NASA disapproved. And my only verbal interaction with him after we fought at Rocky DiRico's tournament was to tell him how cool I considered it that he still did what he loved even though it made his bosses nervous.

He said something to the effect that he also loved equally being an astronaut, and could not conceive of giving up either. Christa McAuliffe loved being a teacher. Ironically in a preflight interview she had said it would be cool to go from teaching history to making it.

I have often wondered if the Power of the Web had been harnessed prior to that ill-fated flight if it could have made the life or death difference? Perhaps a word of warning sounded by an engineer (on his personal blog) who helped design the o-rings and knew they were not safe in sub freezing temperatures would have brought further pressure to bear on bureaucrats who had put aside their engineer hats in favor of their manager ones.

But now I'm not so sure. Only nine months ago the Deepwater Horizon, a super-expensive, pride of American technology oil platform exploded in the Gulf of Mexico killing 11 workers and creating the worst environmental disaster in history. There too engineers put aside ethics in favor of expediency and the bottom line.

As Pete Seeger observed in a song so very long ago: "When will they ever learn?"



Anonymous said...

WBCN (then the *top* radio station in the Boston market immediately went to playing "Major Tom" and then discussing how they felt justified in doing that and THAT is how I learned of this.

I was working at the time -- selling broadloom carpet.

And the issue is not the ability to communicate but (a) the willingness of people to sacrifice careers on principle and (b) the social support of such folk who do. It didn't happen then, it isn't happening now.

If it was -- we would be seeing people coming forward about Maria G and saying why she would be a terrible choice for superintendent -- much like how launching that day was an equally terrible idea....

Anonymous said...

“The crisis was the result of human action and inaction, not of Mother Nature or computer models gone awry. The captains of finance and the public stewards of our financial system ignored warnings and failed to question, understand and manage evolving risks within a system essential to the well-being of the American public. Theirs was a big miss, not a stumble. The greatest tragedy would be to accept the refrain that no one could have seen this coming and thus nothing could have been done. If we accept this notion, it will happen again.”

Find out who the insiders are, and get rid of them. They only care about themselves. Can't you see this, Amherst?


Anonymous said...

"Mark Zuckerberg was not even born."

Uh, yes, he was.

You're entertaining, Larry, but you're a long way from being a journalist, especially if you can't even be bothered to check the most basic and easily verifiable facts.

LarryK4 said...

Actually I did check it, but I'm getting dyslexic in my old age.

I stand corrected: he was all one year, 8.5 months old (or maybe I should just round up to "2").


Anonymous said...

About Larry Shaffer (from online):

"Larry allow certain Town of Amherst Employees unethically to buy equipment with town funds, without paying taxes and no inventory controls. (100K missing) When the IT department bought this to his attention, Larry appointed someone to investigate these charges. Larry then fired that same person when problems were found. When that person fired, went to the Mass Ethic Committee and Local Police Department, the town pay that person to keep quite."

Larry do you know if this is true?

Anonymous said...

Who made the 100k purchase? Would that be someone in the schools maintenance department?


LarryK4 said...

All I know is that a former employee from the IT department sent an email to town manager Larry Shaffer making charges along those lines and copied the letter to the entire Select Board.

As such I considered it a Public Document. The town refused to hand it over and unfortunately the state ruled in their favor when I appealed it.

The person who sent the email/complaint is no longer employed with the town and I have heard (although not substantiated) that there was indeed a lump sum payment made to him in the neighborhood of $25,000.

Anonymous said...

"Mark's Meadow is a public elementary school owned by UMass, but the town pays no rent to use it. There have been questions over the years about whether the campus or the town is responsible for repairs and improvements.

The proposed agreement seeks equity in the financial trade-offs, Shaffer said.

It stipulates that the building would have value if it were leased and seeks to balance that with the cost to the town of educating the children of graduate students who live in tax-exempt UMass housing, he said."

"Ms. Geryk stated that her preference would be to move the two Regional alternative programs into the Marks Meadow building if the elementary school is closed, and she has written to the UMass Chancellor and the Dean of the School of Education outlining that proposal. She noted that Mr. Shaffer has also had preliminary discussions with UMass about the use of the Marks Meadow building."

Geryk doing all that she can to keep the tax dollars flowing to Umass?!!?

Can you say: So the university returns the favor later, should she need a job?

Yeah, I knew you could.

Anonymous said...

"As such I considered it a Public Document. The town refused to hand it over and unfortunately the state ruled in their favor when I appealed it."

What do they have to hide?

LarryK4 said...

I'm tempted to say, "Your guess is as good as mine" but yours would probably be a tad over the top.

And that's the problem when town officials refuse to turn over public documents: people will wonder what they are trying to hide and will conjure up all sorts of reasons in their own mind.

Kind of like the town recently turning me down on providing the minutes from that very hastily called Executive Session where they cut a deal with former Town Manager Larry Shaffer.

Anonymous said...

God I would love to know the details...