With the Thanksgiving holiday upon us, it seems obligatory to say something thoughtful and hopeful about the state of the world. Frankly, though, the state of the world has me worried, which leaves me with two options. I can ignore what we lightly call 'current events' and trot out the tried-and-truisms, which seems deliberately Pollyanna-ish. Or I can tackle the mess in the Middle East and elsewhere, raising people's blood pressure and bringing to the Thanksgiving dinner table a cynicism that generally leads to indigestion.
What to do?
As many writers do when they are stumped, I've been indulging in the usual dodge of wasting time. We call it 'gathering material'. The same technology that brings the horrors of truck bombings into our living rooms and onto our desktops also provides a wealth of opportunity for the time-waster and opens up endless byways for purposeless meandering.
I can usually rely on science news to keep my spirits up, and there are lots of exciting things happening right now. In just a few more weeks, the Mars expeditions launched by the European Space Agency and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration will arrive at Mars and begin surprising us. On the medical front, the Canadians have begun animal tests for a SARS vaccine, and the first clinical trial of a test vaccine for humans could begin in January. And we appear to be getting close to having a vaccine for the horrible Ebola virus. US researchers have begun the first human trial of the vaccine after trials on monkeys succeeded beyond anyone's most optimistic hopes; the vaccine worked after only one injection and prevented infection in all of the vaccinated animals. The vaccine will not only benefit humans. Ebola is also decimating Africa's already-threatened gorilla population and researchers have been discussing ways of vaccinating healthy animals to help save our beleaguered cousins.
I suppose I ought also to be thankful for the cold weather that's nearly upon us. If you want to see democracy in action, visit the northern United States in winter: we're all created equal and it isn't pretty. You may see yourself as a savvy, drop-dead gorgeous individual, but come winter you're bundled up like the rest of us in parka, boots, and itchy long underwear. You look like the Michelin tire man and your nose is dripping and - whoa! - watch out for that ice! Just like our pioneering ancestors, we're up against it with Mother Nature, a crafty and experienced old broad who is reminding us just who is in charge around here. And like our ancestors, we're grateful for a full stomach and a warm place to sleep.
If you're of a political bent, you can to see more democracy in action by checking out the rhetoric being tossed about nowadays. It seems we no sooner elect a President1 than we start working on getting him chucked out of office. It's rather like hunting season, only we're gunning for the guy in the White House. The next Presidential election will be held in November 2004 and already a large number of would-be candidates are 'testing the waters'2. The American voter tends to be a disaffected soul, although the events of September 11, 2001 and subsequent terror alerts and a war against terrorism have brought him up sharply. Fear and anger often lead a person to display the less attractive aspects of his character, and it's sobering to come face to face with that part of oneself. Amid the tedium of posturing and ranting and general blowharding, you can see a nation asking itself again just what it thinks it's doing. I'm thankful that we can disagree with each other, vehemently and noisily, and no one will get thrown into prison for his opinions. Yet.3
On the whole, I find myself both worried and optimistic, which I suppose pretty much defines the human condition. To end on a positive note, here is my personal and eclectic list of things that keep me going these days:
- I thank all the people who continue to be hopeful about mankind's prospects and who remind me of this whenever I'm convinced we're going to heck in a hand basket. Which reminds me...
I thank all the gods that be for Terry Pratchett. Long may he write.
I'm grateful that founding father Benjamin Franklin did not succeed in making the wild turkey our national bird and that we don't have to eat stuffed eagle for our Thanksgiving dinner.
I'm happy for an excuse to bake dozens of cookies during the next few weeks, on the theory that I'll give them away as presents. Well, most of them. I do have to eat some - quality assurance, you know.
A thousand thank yous to whoever invented fleece fabric.
And thank you, Peter Jackson and company, for The Return of the King. Frodo lives.
And last but definitely not least, I'm thankful for H2G2 and the people who make this such an interesting place to hang out. Long may they write.