32 For the waywardness of the simple will kill them,
and the complacency of fools will destroy them; – Proverbs 1:32
Another blogger I follow published a story of a workman in a farming community who ignorantly, but purposely, set a blaze to burn cut brush in very dry conditions. It was a day with a light breeze. And it was next to fields that provide this blogger’s animals’ feed. Another quick-reacting farmer cut a fire-break that minimized the destruction that would have been – to the surrounding fields and forest.
My wife recounted by phone to me mid-day a terrifying encounter on a highway with a fool speeding behind her by inches, screaming, throwing the “finger” around, and swerving around and slamming on brakes. Worse still, he was taking pictures of her with a cell phone. A maniac on a mission to kill himself or others. She was shaken but unscathed. And her passenger, returning from a cardiac treatment, safe as well. And the often-maligned law enforcement officers were not present to intercept “road rage”.
A train operator in a large metropolitan center on the U.S. East Coast was distractedly using a cellphone while a train was traveling through an area too rapidly to navigate a turn. Of course it crashed. Because the automated speed-control feature of the track had not been installed at that time. In the IOT (Internet of Things), we are not yet at the future our futurist movies depict. But then fallible humans design them.
A Navy ship with a highly-advanced navigation console, but relatively unfamiliar operators and overly confident command authority, collided with a commercial ship. It resulted in death, destruction, and ruined lives and careers. This week, a social media post by a popular American television star, blatantly and undeniably abhorrent, resulted in firing and the show’s cancellation. A fool’s big mouth resulted in lost jobs for all those behind the scenes.
Ignorance, the root and stem of all evil. – Plato
People are often responsible – or irresponsible – for many problems that beset us. Many times, of course, the things that plague mankind including influenza or wildfires, earthquakes or volcanoes are beyond human control. But then, building a community on an active earthquake fault or on an island (Hawaii) created by an active volcano is by human design.
These behaviors and consequences are reasons to find comfort and instruction in the Proverbs of the Bible, wisdom of the ancient Greek philosophers, or other contemplative authors. Human behavior has been the same for thousands of years. Only the technology has changed.
Technology… is a queer thing. It brings you great gifts with one hand, and it stabs you in the back with the other. ~C.P. Snow, New York Times, 15 March 1971 via http://www.quotegarden.com
Stephen Hawking, theoretical physicist, died this week.
Lots of people are voicing condolence. Maybe people know of him due to the 2014 movie , Theory of Everything, that many who don’t understand his grand theories know his name. A very intelligent being nonetheless, and one of the most celebrated brains who had ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease). (As an aside, I thought Eddie Redmayne portrayed Hawking in stunning fashion in that movie.) Not having read any of Hawking’s work, I nevertheless learned a bit about him.
He went to the grave an atheist. Yet his religion was ‘science’, which for all the debate from atheists about facts versus myths, is still human observation of the universe and its interplay on physical objects. With every passing decade, a “fact” gets refined, or refuted, or re-interpreted. A deduced certainty – weather, tides, or planetary body is still victim to an “uncertainty principle”. Of course, we have launched satellites and people into space, but these have finite parameters. We cannot create an organism from a vacuum. Science still cannot define origins. It cannot define why – in our own solar system – life evolved to the scale it did from gas and dust. It does not explain the origin of the gas and dust. And science does not explain human thoughts.
Stephen Hawking for all his contribution to science wanted to determine a grand unifying theory for the universe. It eluded him.
Some atheists who really examine evidence and limit their biased presupposing, have admitted that they just don’t know. Those who believe what that grand unifying theory is, and have empirical evidence – also from human experience and perspective – in their lives, will continue onward. I do not pretend to know why some very intelligent scientists and scholars do not embrace belief in God, while other’s look at the same evidence and hold an awe for a Master Engineer at the center of everything.
Hawking may now return to dust from which he formed. Sagan may be “star stuff”. And it all may be a futile cycle of randomness that anything exists at all. But what if Eternity is … a corollary of the Grand Unifying Theory? And all that scientific dust….
I am trying my hand at some nautical fiction this month
April 20, 2021
As far as the world was told, late in November 2017, a rocky asteroid, a visitor from interstellar space passed through the solar system. But that was not entirely accurate. It actually struck the Earth, landing in the Pacific Ocean in a hundred thousand-square mile area northeast of Midway Island. That was not the unusual part – it decelerated before entering the atmosphere and landing in the ocean. Our surveillance satellites, as well as the Russians and Chinese – and Elon Musk’s SpaceX (under secret contract with the US Government) were temporarily (electronically) blinded before “Oumuamua” entered the atmosphere. So the approximate area is calculated and not confirmed. It is almost three miles to the ocean floor in that area so finding even a large object is no easier than the search a decade ago for that missing airliner somewhere in the Indian Ocean.
Now a Russian submarine we aren’t supposed to be able to track, we know vanished after it entered the search zone a day ago. My ship is scheduled to enter the same search box tomorrow morning at 0600.
Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
-Arthur C. Clarke, via brainyquote.com
Today I went to see the latest Star Wars movie, The Last Jedi. But this is not intended as a review of a movie that has been seen and reviewed by others. My thoughts run to (technological) life imitating (science fiction) art. Here’s what I will say about the movie: I enjoyed it. Humor, blasters, evil empires, love and courage. Okay, so some of the plot does mimic a progression that I saw in the original trilogy. And the feel is different from those original Star Wars (non-remastered, CGI -modified rework by Lucas) films I saw in the 1970s and 1980s.
I started thinking how science fiction, particularly Star Trek and then Star Wars, have given us a world where we have satellite-beamed entertainment, video-communicators in everyone’s pocket (Iphone and android), and space travel that is so routine, few are awed anymore. Yet we all yearn to visit other planets, other stars and engage with whomever is “out there”. How many were fascinated by the flyby of Pluto, and the still-communicating Voyager satellites entering interstellar space. We have started to change our view of aliens from those wanting to eat us to visitors.
What lists can you come up with of the science fiction later becoming science fact? Mine starts with writings from a hundred-fifty years ago.
From the Earth to the Moon, Jules Verne (1865) a vessel in which men travel to the moon.
Science: Sputnik, Soviet launch a man-made satellite into orbit.
2001: A Space Odyssey. Arthur C. Clarke (1951) Origins of man. Finding alien technology and a depiction of space travel (10 years before it became reality) with a supercomputer pilot to Jupiter
Science: NASA space program ( Project Apollo, 1963 -1972) overcoming technical hurdles and developing tools and systems to travel to the Moon, land and then safely return to earth.
Star Trek ( TV series, 1966 -1969) Drama and adventure at faster than light-speed. Stories on the difficulty of maintaining unity in the galaxy. Racial diversity, Love, loss, greed, lust, and alien civilizations.
Science: Apollo – Soyuz, Skylab (1973 – 1979) Initial efforts at cooperation in space, long-term habitation in space orbit, and coexistence on Earth.
Star Wars (1977). This story of good versus evil, love, journey to discover one’s identity and high-tech shoot ’em ups, started what became one of the world’s top-earning movie franchises in history. Planet-vaporizing weapons and plasma-laser light-sabers.
Science: the Strategic Defense Initiative in 1983 (called mockingly, Star Wars). Intent was to develop – particle beams, lasers and missile defense systems
Star Wars movie trilogy and Star Trek movie/ television franchises, (1980s -2009) Food synthesizers, medical diagnostics, hibernation, and transporter “beaming”
Science: quantum teleportation experiments and transporting particles in 2017 (“beam me up, Scotty!”) With quadrillions of calculations needed to beam Kirk about, the technology is still in a galaxy, far, far away.
Many people, myself included, refused for a couple decades to acknowledge that people could really affect the weather. My religious beliefs hold that God is in control of all things, yet God did put Adam as steward of the planet. Whatever your belief, in my lifetime, I have witnessed barely breathable polluted air over Southern California, rainy years, drought years, colder and milder winters, hotter and milder summers. Hurricanes. Tornados. Floods. Climate change is the topic that every schoolboy in the industrialized countries of the world has had stamped into their consciences in recent decades. Everyone from politicians in California to European “Green” parties demand humanity stop using resources that are “proven” to destabilize our climate and pollute the planet. For the last twenty years, politicians debate and people divide into camps. But does anyone really know a solution?
“something must be done”
There have, as yet, been no realistic nor popular solutions proposed nor any process enacted. One nation refuses to hinder their industrialization by employing technologies they cannot yet afford to mitigate pollution. Other nations have no solid infrastructure to enact regulation. In the First World, taxation is the first response to climate change, but hinders any real discussion or experiments at solutions that are not “lobbyist”-championed projects. (Several of these have all-but-embezzled millions of tax dollars.) For those of us who work many miles from our homes, lack of public transportation to get there is at odds with the government actions to dissuade personal vehicle use. (Population in most cities outside California is many factors more dense so personal vehicles are less efficient than mass transit.)
climate impacts humans
Geologically, human existence has been a blip on the clock. It is still unclear whether volcanism, sun spot activity, and tectonic forces are responsible for the oscillations in weather over millions of years. Weather changes created Ice Ages and in-between glacial periods caused sea level change. Drought, lasting decades and even centuries, put pressure on feeding ancient populations and caused ancient civilizations to decline.
Two in the Americas, Hohokam and Anasazi civilizations were very advanced, yet may have faded – centuries before European visitors – due to extended periods of drought.
A volcanic eruption of Santorini in the Mediterranean was a primary factor the successful Minoan civilization faded around 1500 BCE. From the Bible and other texts, years of record crops followed by drought and famine in the Middle East occurred. Yet history teaches us that human beings in sufficient numbers can alter the environment as well. The millennia that Middle Eastern, Egyptian, Roman and Greek people cut the “cedars of Lebanon” for ship timbers and structures has all but eliminated them. .
In northern Michigan 7000 years ago ancient ancient people mined copper; tailings and debris left behind tell the stories before 19th Century mining began there. But the growth of the world population and the demand for resources have caused more debilitating changes in many aspects on the planet. In more recent times, denser populations along the coasts – the heavy industrialization using coal, oil and natural gas for energy first in the Americas and Europe, then Asia and Africa have had unrestrained and inefficient (heavily polluting) consequences. After several decades, each region in turn developed a conscience about limiting “acid rain” and early deaths from lung diseases and cancers. Before government management in the Americas, clear-cutting forests and mining were damaging what we later preserved through government intervention. This is still rampant in Brazil and the Amazon Basin.
Strip mining that ruins the land and the chemicals used to extract metal poison groundwater in many developing economies. Of course, the topic that give California Jerry Brown the largest headache, is burning hydrocarbon fuels for energy,- releasing billions of tons of chemicals that were deposited over millions of years within the last century or two.
Less than two months ago, the Sonoma region of California became an inferno.
This week, another tragic environmental calamity is occurring not only a couple of hours north of me in northern Los Angeles but forty miles north of my home, the Lilac fire, in the hills at the edge of San Diego County. Wind-propelled wildfires have consumed the lives, property, and dreams of hundreds of residents, displaced thousands more. and killed dozens of stabled horses in the last days. Ten years ago, my third of the county was being turned to charcoal by wildfire. Coordinated effort of thousands of firefighters, military and civilians have managed to keep human casualties few while battling the environment.
Perhaps the Government and the governed can put down their acrimony long enough to work through “defensible space” in residential areas. Tangible efforts such as clearing wider swaths of highways near open country might prevent vehicle-caused brush fires. Remove diseased and non-native species of trees and plants, many of which are very flammable, by dedicated planned cutting and clearing. Allow natural clearing through regular controlled burning.
Living at the tectonic boundaries of continents, Asia-Pacific and western North, Central and Latin American residents, earthquakes, and the infrequent volcanic eruption destroy property, kill people living in un-reinforced structures, and wreak havoc. The residents of central Asia suffer a major quake every dozen years of so. A decade or more ago, a major earthquake severely damaged eastern Japan, and one previously induced tsunamis from Thailand to India. Volcanic eruptions occur over a geologic timescale, so it is often ignored by people from Indonesia, to Naples, Italy, to some Caribbean island residents who live on their slopes.
For those who live at tectonic boundaries, nations can provide technical expertise with construction, but it will be up to the affected nations to employ these methods and materials. While many nations do not have infrastructure, others have corrupt or ineffective leadership in their economies.
Hurricanes or cyclones or typhoons, and tornadoes are either more damaging now – or are more reported in the twenty-four hour news cycle. El Nino or La Nina cyclic ocean heating or cooling contribute to heavy growth of fuel for fires in wet years in the western US, then in dry years contribute to tinder-dry fire conditions; hot winds blowing toward the Caribbean from western Africa mix to become tropical depressions and then storms that churn into the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico or Eastern seaboard. For this hemisphere, it is a roulette wheel every June through September where storms will make landfall. Hurricanes in 2017 have ruined large swaths of the Caribbean, and flooded southeastern Texas. For other hemispheres, cyclones or typhoons have often killed many and displaced thousands in the Philippines, and coastal Indian Ocean countries.
Nature has a way of mitigating hurricanes through dense miles of mangrove swamps; humans building in flood-prone regions, building over land that would absorb or deflect flooding has had devastating effects. Home owners who have properties along the beaches where hurricanes have come ashore frequently make a choice to live there, yet the debris that piles up and down the coastline is environmentally damaging and take a long time to remove. With storms such as that which struck New York in winter, or Houston, or Puerto Rico and the eastern Caribbean this year, there may be more frequent and stronger storms in future years. Sea walls, restored wetland, stronger levees, stockpiled supplies and more durable materials are some of the things that people can demand.
From westerly ” Santa Ana” winds out of the deserts of California that dry out vegetation in the forests and hills every Fall (and sometimes Spring through Fall), to the tornadoes that develop in the Central and Eastern United States when cold air masses clash with the warm moist air from the Gulf of Mexico, to hurricanes, wind is a major force to be reckoned with. As part of the whole climate debate, people want to use wind to generate power yet curse it when it accelerates fires, lift roofs off schools, blow down trees or sink ships at sea. As a natural force, wind is not going to be stopped by human will. However, more intelligent design for buildings may mitigate storm damage.
I am so exhausted listening to everyone blame climate change for the problems in the world. It is not the weather “why” I care about. It’s how the world population – as a whole – intends to alter in meaningful ways the slide to more unstable and unpredicable future. As long as there is President Obama-style unilateral initiatives or Congressional “legislation” or California bureaucratic fiats without real adoption in the new industrializing regions of the world – there is no leadership. However social media page “Likes”, group-think, hysteria and the resulting inaction is a poor gift for future generations.
Fifty years ago, I became a fan of galaxy-traveling space technology wielded by an altruistic civilization. Star Trek seemed to define technology as idealistically and problem-free as Father Knows Best defined the American family; both had stories about the weaknesses that people possess resolved within a single episode. However, unless it was deliberate sabotage, technology always worked. Scotty always milked the dilithium crystals to eek more power. Technology like tri-corders and food processors rarely needed to be tweaked, banged, recharged, or be issued return-to-vendor tickets. In both shows, the fiction was total b.s. But I didn’t let that rain on my parade.
Having been a technical worker in a military organization, and later in several technical service and engineering firms, I know the sort of effort it takes to bring something from idea to working product and sustainable. However, I am still a fan of the fantastic sci-fi shows like Star Trek as well as the real wizardry of the Space Shuttle, the probe that went past Pluto or the ones now in interstellar space. The real wizardry is when a bureaucracy – which a large company is – can still produce something that sets the international standard. And just as I imagine that a “real” transporter or a “real” warp drive would probably have reduced first test objects to unrecognizable goo, corporate politics, bureaucracy, budget, schedule-limits and management missteps would have evaluated that and then spent twice as long at four times the cost of the original prototype, to then have the transporter redesigned with more rigorous, real-world and far less goo-like results.
Where Spock complains that he is tasked with building a complex device with “stone knives and bear skins”, it suggests that in his future, a lack of tools, materials or supply problems do not occur. However improbable that may be, a resourceful worker can work around conditions that hamper progress. That is where asking for forgiveness is often more expedient than asking for permission. And that is why, even in the future, where the Red-Shirt enlisted guy gets eaten by a monster, the senior officer gets the glory, the crew routinely drink, get drunk, fight, and at the point of certain death, can eek dilithium crystals to save a galaxy – or USS Enterprise – from certain destruction.