Universe older and larger than previously thought … alas, aren’t we all?

Sometimes, when life’s problems seem outsized and all encompassing, I find it useful to remind myself how laughably small I  – and my tormenters – really are. The universe is billions of years old and 93 billion light-years (or 93 billion times 6 trillion miles) wide. If we’re really, really lucky and resolve to live adventurous, expansive lives, we’ll be able to experience about 100 years and a few thousand miles of that. To say we’re like grains of sand in the Sahara would be to vastly overstate our significance. No, we’re all just passing through. It’s a fascinating – sometimes exhilarating – ride, but there’s a lot more under heaven and earth than is dreamt of in our philosophy.

In an odd, maybe perverse, way I find that comforting. How big and frightening can anything really get when measured against the grandeur of the universe? If even for a moment we can wrap our minds around the idea that all this sturm und drang isn’t really about us as individuals, then maybe we can begin to feel a sense of freedom from the relentless feeding of our own egos. Hey, anything’s possible, even for the most ego-besotted among us.

So when the news came out last Friday that the universe is about 80 million years older and 3% larger than previously estimated, it seemed odd that the story showed up on page A9 of the local daily and was treated almost dismissively by the early-morning newscasts – as if the cosmos were a waterskiing squirrel or another random Kardashian fetus instead of, well, everything.

I wish I were smart enough to really understand string theory, relativity, quantum mechanics, the Higgs boson, and the intricate models astronomers use to measure space-time. Unfortunately, I’ve long since come to understand my strengths, and explaining the Planck length and fully articulating the vastness of the universe are not among them.

So whether you’re religious, nonreligious, or completely baffled about the true nature of reality (as most of us, I suspect, are), at the very least you can stop to appreciate the mindboggling miracles that surround us every day. Sure, the universe can sometimes be a cruel place, but it’s ever a fascinating one. And in my book, failing to give stories of such cosmic import more attention is to tragically bury the lede.

And now, back to Earth …

… Or rather, the parallel universe that is Wisconsin under Gov. Scott Walker. (There is no possible artful segue from the vastness of the universe to the breadth and depth of Scott Walker’s mind, so let’s just move on, shall we?)

Remember a few weeks ago when Walker decided to turn down federal funds that would have gone toward expanding BadgerCare?

At the time I argued it was a stupid move, and now a national study has determined that it’s approximately $36 million worth of stupid.

Walker’s whole raison d’être is to buoy businesses in Wisconsin, but so far he’s delivered little more than a rising tide of excuses. Not only is he failing to create jobs at a pace even equal to that of our next-door neighbors, his anti-Keynesian approach could also, according to a new study from Jackson Hewitt Tax Service, Inc., directly cost Badger State businesses considerable cash-money.

According to the study, Walker’s decision could needlessly leave employers on the hook for federal penalties costing between $24.1 and $36.1 million per year. Essentially, Walker’s decision will funnel more people into health care exchanges who would have otherwise been covered by BadgerCare, meaning they – and their employers, if they have them – will be required to pay more.

You can blame Obamacare, of course – and that’s certainly fair (though I’ve yet to see a workable Republican alternative to Obamacare that both covers the uninsured and seriously attempts to get health care costs under control). But to continue to pretend that Obamacare is not the law of the land is not just delusional, it’s also irresponsible and costly.

That’s a lesson Scott Walker steadfastly refuses to learn. Unfortunately, Wisconsin will once again be forced to pay for his mistakes.


Finally … the Manski mess

As a Madison lefty in more or less good standing, I’ve been reluctant thus far to remark on the Manski/Mertz/Mirilli school board furor for much the same reason I prefer not to talk about Charles Martin’s infamous body-slam of Jim McMahon back in ’86 – a notorious cheap shot that may have cost the Bears a second Super Bowl championship. I’m a big fan of the Packers, and certainly no fan of the Bears, but right is right and wrong is wrong. And whatever else you want to say about Sarah Manski’s 13th hour withdrawal from the school board race, it was wrong.

Is it possible she knew two days after the primary what she didn’t know the day before – namely, that she would be unable to serve if elected? Possible, but highly unlikely.

I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt with respect to her intentions going in, but it’s hard to believe those intentions were pure in the days leading up to the primary. Unfortunately, Manski’s actions left her (and all of Madison liberal-kind) vulnerable to withering criticism – and left voters in the April 2 election without a real choice.

Not our finest hour, to say the least.

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