Monday, December 31, 2007

New Year's Ball Drop

Happy New Year!

Across the continental U.S. (and even farther out past Hawaii and Alaska) it takes several hours for our nation to celebrate the New Year. However, a lot of Americans count the ball drop in Times Square as an official passing of the old into the new year.

This is the 100th anniversary of the ball drop, which started in 1904 when Alfred Ochs, the owner of the New York Times, put on a fireworks display to welcome 1905 and celebrate the opening of the newspaper's new offices.

When city authorities banned the fireworks display on security grounds, the first ball was introduced -- a 320-kilo (700 pound) steel and wood sphere lit up with 100 light bulbs.

The Times Square ball has marked every new year since then, except in 1942 and 1943, when wartime regulations restricted lighting in the city.

In 1955, a new aluminum ball was unveiled and remained in use until the 1980s, the traditional ball came back seven years later, computer control started in 1995 and aluminum replaced by crystal for millennium eve in 1999.

This year's ball lights green and is made of 672 crystal triangles, weighs almost 500 kilos (1,100 pounds) and is lit by 9,576 energy-efficient light emitting diodes, which replace the halogen and strobe lights in last year's ball.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

The War

I finally just finished watching Ken Burns' excellent documentary about World War II - "The War."

If you haven't seen it yet, you should.

"The War" exhibits the incredible attention to detail and quality that all of Ken Burns' stuff does (remember the Civil War documentary that came out a while ago that used Sam Waterson's voice with interviews of Shelby Foote? The was Ken Burns).

What really struck me about "The War" was the extent to which the US government under FDR was able to motivate and inspire the population through sacrifice and massive hardship and loss of life - for 4 long years.

During World War II the American government sent all the right signals to the people and provided the leadership that allowed our nation to marshal its great strength against tyranny.

It occurs to me that immediately after 9/11 - there was an opportunity to marshal that strength again against our current challenges. But that opportunity was wasted when the government asked people to "go shopping" and though people wanted to sacrifice and do something in the wake of those terrible attacks - the government pointed those eager to help to the malls.

As "The War" shows, government has the power to do better.