July 04, 2016
July 4, 2016
Today is Independence Day in America, the 240th anniversary of its birth as a new nation. July 4th is a day of celebration and remembrance and in its honor we thought we would take a short respite from the world’s troubles and offer a brief essay from my partner Alex Jones who won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting at the New York Times. DailyChatter is not quite four months old but we are blessed with a smart and growing audience of people who are deeply interested in global affairs. Wherever you may be on this holiday, and on behalf of everyone on the DailyChatter staff, we wish you a wonderful and happy Fourth of July. We’ll be back here tomorrow in our regular format.
Very sincerely yours, Philip S. Balboni, CEO and Co-Executive Editor
Sleeping Under the Sahara Sky
By Alex S. Jones, Co-Executive Editor
In 1971, I set out with a back pack to see the world. I was 24 years old, fresh from three years as a junior officer in the Navy – most of it spent in the Gulf of Tonkin.
I wanted to see communism. I’d heard a lot about it and wanted to see it for myself.
My journey first took me to almost every East European country, and I learned that what I had heard about fear and repression in the Soviet sphere was absolutely true. “Capitalists,” as all westerners were termed, were welcome for their money, but it was forbidden to do more than give directions on the street. Despite that, the people seemed delighted to break the rules, if discretely. At the Black Sea, two Bulgarian sisters were informed upon because they had played bridge with me on the beach. They were told they must end such behavior or risk being kicked out of the Georgi Dimitrov Youth League, which would mean they could not go to university. They were scared. They feigned a show of defiance, but soon were on a train back to Sofia.
At that time the Vietnam War had created deep anti-American sentiment elsewhere in the world. But in Eastern Europe, resentment of Russia seemed to be near universal, and Americans were popular because they weren’t Russians.
In Transylvania, an old man stopped me on the street and asked, “Americanski?” When I nodded yes, he grabbed my hand and gave it a teeth-rattling shake. The mother on a Hungarian farm, where I had been offered food and a night’s sleep, was very concerned that my own mother must be worried about me. She spoke no English, but insisted that I address a postcard to my mother and wrote – in Hungarian – that I was fine and that she had fed me well on chicken paprikash. My mother was perplexed when she got it, and then hugely touched when it was translated.
It was the summer of the Boris Spassky – Bobby Fischer chess championship. One night over dinner at a restaurant in Bucharest, the waiter leaned over the table and discretely turned his head to the left and right to see if anyone was taking notice – a bow to genuine and realistic paranoia. He then muttered, “Bobby Fischer,” and kissed his bunched fingers in salute.
On that same nearly-two-year adventure, I crossed the continent of Africa from Tangier to Cape Town, hitchhiking across the Sahara where the sky was so gloriously packed with stars that you could lie on your side at night and see a milky host. There was no sense of danger, and as a solo traveler I experienced a bounty of kindness and curiosity. On a train in Cameroon, a young man pointed to my back pack and said, in his best English, “You are a travelah? I too am a travelah. I have been to Nigeria.” He then took me to his home in Douala where I slept on a mud floor and he told me fabulous tales of juju magic. His mother was a bit of a sorcerer, he said.
That was 45 years ago. But on this July 4, it is important to remember that the world is still a kindly and curious place. Is that Panglossian? I don’t think so. There was ample reason in 1971 to fear the world and dread the future, just as many do now. My belief is that, if you go out to meet the world, you learn far better lessons about reality than headlines often teach.
That is why the mission of DailyChatter is to nourish those who have that curiosity and yearn to engage the world. And it is why we always have a daily bit of wonder included in the form of the Discoveries item (and we have a special one for this Fourth of July). Think of that as our gift to those who can’t sleep under the Sahara sky, but would like to.
It is my honor to be sharing this journey with you.
Watch Out For Juno
NASA’s Juno spacecraft is slated to reach Jupiter on Monday, reaching the end of the beginning of a five-year, 1.8 billion-mile journey to the largest planet in the solar system, USA Today reported.
The spacecraft is now going to enter Jupiter’s orbit, braving the planet’s powerful radiation, in order to scan its surface. Among the important questions Juno might answer is whether or not Jupiter – whose massive volume could contain 1,300 Earths – is made up mostly or entirely of gases or whether a solid core comprises a significant portion of its size.
Uncannily, the planet appears to be welcoming the spacecraft as well as marking its arrival on American Independence Day. Charged particles caused auroras to become brighter and more dynamic than usual as the Juno has approached, scientists said.
It almost seems as if Jupiter is throwing a firework party for the imminent arrival of Juno,” University of Leicester astronomer Jonathan Nichols told the Atlantic.
Mon, 07/04/2016 – 06:30