Category Archives: Society

The Mars Plan

spacex-mars-interplanetary-transporter-launchTo say that I was excited about SpaceX’s mars plan announcements last month would be an understatement.  Their plan is ambitious and exciting and my first thought was: “where do I sign up?”

For those of you who haven’t heard at this point, they want to transport people, 100-200 at a time, to Mars to found a colony and they want to begin doing it in 2024.  SpaceX’s goal is to do this in eight years.  Eight years.  After they get the tech ironed out, they want to have a real colony, planning on a million residents.

To say this is a big effort would be a massive understatement.  Can they really do it in this period of time?  I have no idea. There’s so many regulatory and technological hurdles, that I wouldn’t be surprised if they run into delays.

But all the same, I’m hopeful.  Over the past twenty years, it seems all that governments have done with space is to say “we can’t.” I’m excited because SpaceX is trying.  It’s going to cost them ten billion dollars… but if they pull it off it will be incredible.

Still, that leaves me with some comments on their plan.  They’re going to use liquid oxygen and methane for their ITR.  It makes sense, they can probably produce both on Mars once they have a colony up and running.   I can’t help but feel nuclear propulsion, that is, using fission processes to heat water or gas and then ejecting it out a rocket nozzle,  would be a more viable alternative.  It’s far more fuel efficient and when you’re going to be reusing a rocket anyway, it seems like a better alternative.

Granted, that might limit the rocket’s use to space due to the general public’s terror of all things nuclear and radiation.  Still, build it on Earth, get it into space, and then use it as a space-taxi to service all your needs.  Maybe in a few years, huh, guys?

My other thoughts: assuming this does get off the ground, it’s going to be huge.  We’re not talking a visit and that’s it, we’re talking a million people living on another world.  Our technology now makes that a long voyage under the best of times.  This will be our generations’ Plymouth Rock (Hopefully not Roanoak).  This is the start of something new, something amazing… and we need to do our best to make sure it succeeds.

I tip my hat to Elon Musk… and I’m glad he continues to dream big, especially when so many other people are looking at the ground.  I’ll finish this with the first question I asked: Where do I sign up?

 

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How Pokemon Go is Changing the World

Pokemon-GOI took a walk last night.  And before you roll your eyes, no, I’m not playing Pokemon Go.

What I was doing was walking around and watching people (I do that as an author, it helps write better characters).  I’ve seen a number of disturbing trends in our society, not least of which is a decline in, well, being social.

What I saw was a park filled with people, more people than I’ve ever seen there before.  Old people, young people, black people, white people, Hispanics, Asians, families, and individuals, all of them walking around, pausing to talk with one another, and then going about their business.  They’re playing a silly game… but more importantly they’re having fun and they’re thumbing their noses at the cynicism and world weary attitudes that have made our current society so dark.

I hear nothing but criticism online and especially through the media. What that tells me is that the usual magnets of entertainment are afraid.  They’d rather you were glued to your smartphone reading the latest bad news (shootings, now with more bloodshed!) or absorbed in the current trainwreck of an election cycle.  The last thing they want is people outside, talking with one another in a friendly fashion.

Pokemon Go isn’t anything particularly new.  It’s a rehashing of a 1990’s era Nintendo game which at its root is just a scavenger hunt.  If it gets people out of their house, out of their normal comfort zone and most importantly, talking to one another in a civil, friendly fashion… then what’s the problem?

I’ve heard criticism from all kinds of angles.  “Criminals are using it!” Well, hate to break it to you, but criminals also use dating services, want-ads, and the internet.  “It’s disrespectful to have them chasing these things through location X!”  At least it has people showing up, there, right?  The vast majority of people I’ve seen playing this game aren’t just walking around, their noses pressed to their screens.  They’re walking around looking at things, checking their phone and walking again.  If this gets someone to visit a memorial or a church, then they might see something or experience something that they wouldn’t either see or do.  And I’m sorry, but I can’t think of anything that would be inappropriate about the happy laughter of kids  in a place like Arlington National Cemetery.   You know what that is?  It’s freedom to live life and it’s wonderful… it’s what those who gave their lives for.

There’s plenty of other spurious arguments.  Most of them come back to “it’s silly.”  So is being a grumpy curmudgeon.  Go out and watch people.  They’re having fun, they’re being a little silly, and if you ask me, that’s just what this country needs right now.

Memorial Day

Memorial-Day-Hero-2-HMemorial Day is supposed to be a day of remembrance and reflection.  To honor those who gave their lives for their country.  To those who have served, it’s often a somber day.  Many of us have lost friends, even family, in military service.

It’s a day to honor those who gave the ultimate sacrifice, to those who gave their lives.  I’d like to say that means a great deal to our country… but I’m afraid I’d be lying if I did.

War and hardship are things that are foreign to the vast majority of Americans.  The very concept of fighting and dying is an alien idea to many.  Less than .45% of Americans serve in the military.  The vast majority of  Americans haven’t been exposed to the military in any real sense.

The cost of war, the sacrifices made, are something that isn’t real to many.  Until you lose a father, brother, sister, mother, daughter, or son, it isn’t something that hits home.  Until you spend six, twelve, or sixteen months of anxiously worrying about a loved one who is in a combat zone, none of it is really real.

And that’s the way most Americans like it.  They want war to remain something that is distant and unknown.  That’s the reason that many of us serve, after all, to protect our nation from those hard truths.

Memorial Day is a day to honor the fallen… but it’s also a day to remind us all of the cost –the terrible human cost– spent in protecting our nation.  I ask that if you haven’t been a part of that cost, that you take some time from your day.  Go to your local veteran’s cemetery and walk among the tombstones.  Visit a civil war or revolutionary war battlefield.  If you’re abroad, visit Normandy Beach or Bastogone or one of countless other places where men fought and died for the freedoms that we all take for granted.

Remember them, honor them.  They died for you.  It’s the least you can do.

 

Wile E. Coyote

Sort of how I'm feeling...
Sort of how I’m feeling…

Robert Heinlein wrote a few times about the “Crazy Years” which he plotted pretty much where we are now.   He didn’t go into much detail, besides off-hand mentions of the general collapse of nations and civilization and all the things that go with it: war, famine, riots, looting, you know, all that stuff that we’ve been without for a very long time.

I’m talking about serious privation, not the sort of distant wars we’ve seen since WWII… real, genuine hard times.  In David Weber and John Ringo’s Empire of Man books, they mention the Dagger Years, a similar time of chaos and bloodshed.

Looking out at the world and internal to our country, I’m worried that we’re headed that way.  There’s too much rhetoric and finger-pointing and no one really wants to fix these problems.  Problems, after all, employ people in the progress of fixing them.  The bigger the problem, the more people will allow “temporary” measure to repair them.

I feel like the US has run out, chasing the road runner… only to find ourselves running on empty air.  The rest of the world, is watching, some of them hoping for us to fall and others are encouraging us to keep running, insisting that we’ll find solid ground under our feet soon enough.  Meanwhile, here we are, the average person, starting to watch the ground approach.

How we got here isn’t important right now.  The important part is putting together some way to actually prevent that  impact with the hard edge where ground meets sky.

I’m increasingly coming to the opinion that we can’t avoid that impact.  In fact, it sometimes feels like Wile E Coyote’s rocket boots are running us full blast towards the ground.  People on all ends of the political spectrum are madly cackling as they pile up dynamite to cushion the fall, and, yes, someone has replaced the parachute with an anvil.

Where am I going with this?  Well, it isn’t all doom and gloom.  We’ve got enough people trying to rein in the crazy that we might just pull out of this death spiral.  What we need to do is start being rational.  Anger, hate, these lead to the dark side, yes?  We’ve got to stop looking for simple solutions and smooth-talking liars to fix things for us… we’ve got to fix things ourselves.

Be the example for your friends and neighbors.  Teach your kids the importance of hard work and independence.  Walk with your head high and be not afraid.  Fear is the mindkiller.  Speak your mind and most importantly… listen.  Communication has always been the ally of those who want control.  Don’t give up.  Don’t ever give up.

Do not go quietly into the night.  Rage, rage against the dying of the light.  Keep pumping those feet and maybe, just maybe, we’ll get across this empty space to the other side.

Sense of Wonder

13062223_673625313510_708827011624143409_n“Stop and smell the roses.”  It’s cliche for a reason.  Human nature being what it is, we adapt to things, we take things for granted.  What seemed wonderful and amazing only yesterday quickly becomes mundane and common.  The fantastic gets ground down in the daily grind, as we focus on doing the things we need to do to survive.

Along the way, I think we lose a vital part of ourselves.  We live in an age of wonders.  Running water, central heating, clothing, food, these are all things that we take for granted every day.  Internet, entertainment, and all the rest, these are elevated into the realms of magic and myth compared to the lives of people even a hundred years ago.

Having endured some hardship, I’d like to say that I have the ability to value these things more.  The truth, though, is that you have to take the time every day to remind yourself of the importance and value of the little things.

Take the time today.  Tell the people you care about how much they mean to you.  Take the time to appreciate the sunset or the snow on the mountains.  Feed your sense of wonder and fight some of the cynicism.  Stop and smell the roses

Skidding Sideways on the Ice

Now on my Wednesday morning commute, we had what they call a “blizzard”.  You know, whiteout conditions and lots of this fluffy white stuff everywhere. (25 inches of it at my place, with drifts over four feet in height)

More or less in the middle of this commute, I watched several vehicles driving sideways down an off-ramp, tires spinning as they fought for traction… and oddly enough I had something of an epiphany.

As I read the news and watch television, I realize that we are all doing the same thing.  As a society, as a nation, we realize that we’ve lost control and that something is wrong.  Watching the faces of the drivers, I saw anger, fear, panic, and even some people having fun as they careened down to the highway.  As our world spirals out of control around us, people, in turn, are reacting in similar fashions.  Some are angry, some afraid, and some people are completely panicked.

Just like those people (who thankfully made it onto the freeway without collision), we all react to the situation in different ways, but we all have that sick, sliding feeling as we know that something is going horribly wrong.

It is human nature to want someone to blame for the situation.  So that fear and anger gets turned to whoever we decide must be to blame.  After all, this has to be someone’s fault… right?  The people who are willing to place all that blame on one cause, one set of policies or one method of behavior scare me.  The unstable conditions we face can be traced back to a number of causes… many of them to our own action or inaction, rather than those of others.

Then there’s the people who enjoyed the loss of control, the same people who are gleefully saying “burn it all.”  In some ways, these are the most terrifying people.  These are those who have either given up hope or never had it in the first place… or else they don’t understand the consequences of their actions.  Seeking to pull down entire nations in the hopes that what will rise from the ashes will be better (or at least different), is much like sliding down a hill in a multi-ton vehicle with only a modicum of control.  At the end of it, everything might come out alright… or you might end up with a pile of shredded wreckage.  Worse, even, are the people who want to throw out all the controls or to hit the gas in the hopes that more of the same will pull us through.  (Don’t even get me started on the people who want to light the car on fire because it’s their passenger’s fault they’re in this mess)

What stuck with me, though, was the calm determination on the faces of some of the drivers.  They weren’t professional drivers, they didn’t know exactly what to do, but they knew they were in trouble.  They fought for control the whole way down… and when they got to the bottom, they had to fight their way through traffic to get to work.  They might have felt some or all of the emotions that the other people did… but they focused on doing what they could to make a crappy situation better, and they weren’t crying for attention while they did it.

Those people.  We need more of them.

 

Are You Human?

LItany-Against-Fear1I remember reading Frank Herbert’s Dune as a child and being at once excited and awed by some of the concepts.  One of the big ones, one of the ones that stuck with me, was what I remember as the “Human” test.  Basically, you stick your hand in the box and the box gives you excruciating pain… while someone has a poison needle against your neck.  The test was simple: pull your hand out of the box because of fear and pain and you get a needle in the neck and die.

The whole point of this test was to find who could overcome fear and pain, to rise above their animal natures.   It sort of fit with a lot of the metaphysical ideas that went around during the time, the mind over matter mentality.  What bothers me, I suppose, is the underlying assumption that you have to prove yourself to be human.

It is an uncomfortable thought,  when you dig into it.  How does one prove something like that, after all?  Even in Dune,  the test is shown to be subjective as the Bene Gesserit who gives it to Paul Atreides admits to herself that she tested him far more harshly than she planned.

The worst part, I think, is that if you accept this test in concept, you then create people who, strictly speaking, aren’t “people.”  If you have some arbitrary test that separates them, then you dehumanize everyone who doesn’t pass your test.  They become human-shaped animals… and whenever someone does that in history, bad things tend to happen.

When you draw lines in the sand, when you go beyond separation of “us” and “them” and into “human” and “subhuman” you start creating some very dangerous circumstances.  Humanity, as a survival mechanism, tends to think in social groups as “us” and “them.”  It is a mechanic of social trust and community.  To an extent, you can’t break us of our tribalism, we all feel the need to identify with something.  We all feel the need to fit in, to conform (even if you identify with the ‘counter culture’ you’re still conforming, just with a different social group).

This, by nature, causes rivalries.  These rivalries can be as healthy as athletic competition or as unhealthy as genocide.  They are driven as much by a need to conform as they are to succeed.  The darker side of this success and conformity is, as I said, when “they” cease to be considered human by “us.”

In these circumstances, any method of success is considered justifiable.  Normal people don’t consider a mouse as “owning” land or property, nor, when they have allowed themselves to consider “them” as human-shaped animals, do they bother to value “them” as having a claim on life, liberty, or property.

So why the lengthy explanation and what does this mean?  I look out on the interwebz, and I see a lot of fear.  I see a lot of anger.  I see people in their social groups rationalizing why their opponents aren’t logical, because they disagree.  This is, I’m afraid, human nature.  We’ll continue to argue and disagree as long as we exist.

What I also see, however, is the denigration of “them.”  It comes from that anger and fear, the uncertainty over the times.  When people begin to tell themselves that they know better, that they know what is right, their next step is to believe they are right because they are superior… because those who disagree with them are less than human.  The ugliest part of this is that it robs us of our humanity on both sides of these kinds of divides.  To treat our opponents as human-shaped animals is to open a door to unspeakable horror.

What’s the solution?  I can’t say.  I’m almost afraid that we are past the point of a solution.  Anger, fear, and divisiveness are the tools of those who already think themselves “superior.”  They’ll cheerfully put us at one another’s throats, because in their minds, they already know that we’re all just human-shaped animals who can be pitted against each other for their own benefit.

Take some time, talk, listen.  Put down the cell phone and get out from behind your computer.  Talk to people.  That’s the big thing, people don’t talk, they’re afraid to be grouped as “them” and cast out of their social group.  Tear down the walls, discuss the things that you’ve been afraid to talk about and don’t be afraid to argue your point.  Above all, treat everyone with dignity and respect, even if they don’t agree with you.

Most of all: don’t be afraid.  Fear is the mindkiller.