Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Sports, Ebola, and NASA

In a couple of hours, a parade will pass nearby to celebrate and honor the Denver Broncos - the team that, two days ago, won Super Bowl 50. It is all many people have been talking about these past few days.

It made me think . . . did the people who went to Africa to fight the Ebola outbreak ever get a parade?

THAT was a winning team.

I don't think any of its team members ever got offered a 7-digit salary as a result of their skill on the field. Nor did I see them on television making lucrative product endorsements.

Here's another interesting pair of numbers.

The year is 2014.

The amount of money that NASA spent on everything from the International Space Station to Hubble to probes to planets and asteroids to airplane safety (the under-appreciated "aeronautics" part of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration) - $17.6 billion.

The amount of money that sports teams earned in 2014 for moving a ball down a field or running around in circles touching all the bases, or to put a puck or ball through a net - $60.5 billion.

A part of my interest in this has come from people who complain that the money given to NASA is wasted. Specifically, they argue that we should not devote any money to space exploration and development until we have solved the problems we have here on earth first.

While space exploration must be put on hold while we deal with issues on Earth first, no such argument is given to driving cars around in a big circle for hours to see who can do it the fastest without crashing.

This year, Obama asked for $1 billion dedicated to finding a cure for cancer, and $1.8 billion to fight the Zika virus (a mosquito-borne disease that scientists strongly believe causes severe birth defects if contracted during pregnancy).

This is not an argument to the effect that we must give up everything that is fun until every problem has been solved. In fact, if we got into details, I would argue for adding fun to that which has more social utility, and reducing it in that which does not. Furthermore, I will confess that I spend more time and money on frivolities than I am morally comfortable with. However, I do not rationalize it away with obscure rationalizations. It's a weakness - one that I wish I did not have, but I do.

None of this changes the fact that we can make some adjustments - that we can put a bit more effort into honoring and recognizing people who have done things for which we have reason to be grateful.

For example, those people who went to Africa to deal with the Ebola outbreak.

THEY deserve a parade.

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