The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

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MARS, ANYONE?

It was the best ten cents I ever invested in anything.  That was the price I paid to become a member of the Science Fiction Book Club based in Long Island.  For my little silver coin (and a three cent stamp) I embarked on the wonderful possibilities of intergalactic travel and exploring the vast cosmos.  In exchange for my investment I received five hard bound, large books and began my travels through the universe from the comfort of my home sofa.  And that got me interested in frequently visiting New York’s Hayden Planetarium which became my home away from home.  Somehow the vastness of the universe and the possibilities contained in it that we can barely imagine put our petty differences in perspective and reveal them for the insignificant things they are.

I thought about this as the kerfuffle erupted recently as both Indiana and Arkansas passed laws to re-emphasize the definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman.  Naturally, the left took a break from pushing for a higher minimum wage to jump on these two bills and castigate them as being horrifically anti-gay, despite the fact that the governors of both states clearly stated that was not the intent of either law.  That, of course, is a matter of speculation.  So what does all that have to do with space or at least a leap into it as plans are being made to invade the Red Planet?

As you may know, a Dutch company called Mars One intends to launch a ship to our nearest neighbor in the solar system, prospectively in 2022 and is currently recruiting applicants who would like to join the crew of explorers.  They received thousands of applications for what is billed as a one way trip.  The plan is to establish a permanent colony on Mars.  Needless to say, the colony will have to be self-sustaining.

Now Holland is a very liberal place.  In fact, they were the first country in the world to recognize gay marriage in 2001.  Although the Mars project is being funded and developed by a private company and not the Dutch government, it is reasonable to assume that those in charge probably share the same social views as many of their countrymen.  So that suggests one simple question.

Will those who are screening for applicants for this momentous mission consider including gay and lesbian women in the crew, knowing that they will be unlikely to contribute to the nascent colony’s ongoing genetic survival?  I hope that I’m here on Earth long enough to get an answer to that question.

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ON KNOWLEDGE

“Everything that can be invented has been invented.”

(Attributed {attribution disputed}) to Charles Holland Duell, Commissioner of the United States Patent and Trademark Office 1898-1901.

Whether Commissioner Duell made that comment or not, it is reflective of a mindset to which we humans sometimes turn.  That mindset is correctly called closed-mindedness.  We limit our thinking and box ourselves into our comfort zones and there spend our lives, unwilling to challenge our perceptions, content with the little universe we have created for ourselves.

But we know the universe is a big place – a very big place – an unfathomably big place.  And we know that our place in it is very small and very new.  Some people find that threatening.  I, on the other hand, think that is very exciting.  Just thinking about how little we know and how much we have to learn gets the hairs on my neck standing at full attention – and reverence.

Our most recent scientific estimate is that the universe is 13.5 billion years old and that the Earth formed about 4.7 billion years ago.  We also know that the Earth has gone through many transformations before it became the water world that it is today, providing the opportunity for life as we know it.

We shouldn’t be startled at this transformation as today we can actually see the creation of new stars being born in our Milky Way and we can observe the death of old ones.  Naturally, new and existing stars bring with them the possibility of new and existing planets orbiting them.  And if there are planets it is only reasonable to believe that there is the possibility of life.

The possibility of life on other planets is hardly a new theory.  Most of the founding fathers believed that was likely.  Certainly, as Galileo looked through his newly improved telescope, it is likely that these thoughts ran through his head as well.  But while we may propose this theory, we in our time await confirmation through personal encounters with these beings from another world.  But do we have to scan our skies looking for them or is there ample proof left on Earth that visitors from other worlds met our ancestors in remote times past?

The “Ancient Astronaut” theory sets out to prove that such visitations occurred thousands of years ago.  There is so much evidence scattered through different parts of the world that can be explained through no other theory as to be convincing to even the most skeptical observer should he choose to consider it.

If you are not familiar with the extensive writings of Eric von Däniken, who is an investigative proponent of this idea. then you may at least be familiar with the series of the same title which the History Channel has aired over several seasons.  The series explores examples of remnants of ancient artifacts whose construction can in no way be explained other than that mankind had “help” in constructing them by someone who was technologically far more advanced than they – or for that matter than we are today.

In the historical records of ancient human civilizations there is constant reference made to “the gods” coming to Earth.  Remarkably, though separated by thousands of miles and with no possibility of interaction between those recording these events, the similarity between the authors’ descriptions is amazing.

Is this a matter of group hypnosis between different groups who did not even know of each other’s existence and were separated by thousands of miles – or is the more plausible explanation that these various cultures were indeed visited by extraterrestrials whom they had no better word to describe than “the gods”?

There simply is no theory that has been so far advanced that can better explain how the Pyramids of Egypt could have been constructed – or those of the Mayans in Central America.

How could the “primitive’ Mayans have produced temples that were clearly based on mathematical and astronomic principles that were so exact as to produce a calendar that is more accurate than our own?  How could they have fitted these massive blocks of stone together with such precision that we would, with all the technological advancements we have made today, be unable to duplicate them?  How could they have mined the stone itself with the simple tools available to them to the degree of precision that they achieved without help from a more technologically advanced civilization?  And to what purpose were these monuments built?

For years Homer’s “Iliad” was considered a work of fiction.  The book was passed down through oral tradition, not unlike the tradition of aboriginal peoples in America and New Zealand and Australia and South America.  However, when the book was finally committed to paper several hundred years after Homer’s death, its description of the location of Troy was sufficiently accurate to allow Heinrich Schliemann to uncover that city’s ancient ruins.

We prefer to think of descriptions of “gods descending in winged chariots from the heavens” as mere allegory.  But what other terms would a people who had never seen anything other than birds fly use to describe the descent of an alien spacecraft?  And when the same term is used in disparate parts of the world, when similar pictographs and drawing are carved depicting people who bear no resemblance to those who were the artists for these works, are we to dismiss them as the mere meanderings of the creative mind?  Have we returned to the theory of “mass hypnosis” – but if that theory is valid, who is the hypnotist?

It is hard for me as a rational and open-minded person (or so I like to think of myself) to believe that we have attained the summit of all knowledge.  It is hard for me to believe that the Creator whom I revere as omnipresent and omnipotent has chosen just one little spot at the edge of an ordinary galaxy to convey intelligent life to the exclusion of the rest of His entire universe.  It seems to me that doing so is to limit God whom we describe as limitless.  And if mankind was made “a little lower than the angels,” perhaps in time we will advance to that point that we have taken our place by their side.

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

APOCALYPSE

SIX MONTHS TO GO AND COUNTING DOWN:

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THE DARK SIDE

When “Star Trek” was in its original incarnation, one episode told the story of a planet that was seeking admission to The United Federation of Planets.  As part of this process, the Prime Minister of the planet and his daughter were beamed aboard the USS Enterprise.

The planet seemed as though it would be a good candidate for admission.  They were a civilized people who had ended wars among themselves centuries earlier.  Murder was unheard of among the inhabitants of this distant world.  Disease had been eradicated.

But then as now, politics had evolved very little.  The Prime Minister’s real objective was not admission into the Federation, but rather that his daughter might be exposed to a virus from these star wanderers which she could then take back to her planet and infect the population which had grown far beyond its world’s ability to support.

She indeed contracted a disease and despite Dr. McCoy’s best efforts to convince her that he could cure her of it, she chose instead, on behalf of the people of her world to return and martyr herself, infecting the population so that they might through the deaths of billions regain the balance between man and nature.

This was an eerie and disturbing episode.

So what do pollution, cutting down the rain forests, children dying of starvation and all the other myriad human and ecological problems we face have in common?

The answer, whether you believe in global warming or not, is humanity.  There is no question that we have had the biggest impact on the ecology of our world of any species that has ever walked the earth.  And at the heart of the problem is the fact that we have “been fruitful and multiplied” far more than the planet can handle.   We might have fulfilled that part of the Biblical injunction, but we have certainly failed in another – “that we be good stewards of the earth.”

For a moment I’m going to delve into the murky world of conspiracy theory.  I am going to assert for purposes of discussion that a group, we’ll call them “the Illuminati” exist and that they are truly the master manipulators in our “Deus ex machina” world.  They are the puppeteers and it is our strings they are pulling.

Enter the AIDS virus.  Was this a freak of nature – or was it engineered by man with the express intent of lowering the earth’s population?  “Test it out on the gays – no one really likes them anyway,” went the conversation at one of this group’s meetings.  “After we find out if it’s effective we can introduce it to those who are really our targets – the colored races.”

If that meeting ever took place, as “illuminated” as these people are they would seem to have failed in their mission.  “Only” thirty million people have died since the infection began – which, while a staggering number, still represents a small fraction when considering a total population in excess of seven billion.

Yet the statistics from Avert – an organization dedicated to raising awareness about how to avoid and combat the disease worldwide give some credence to the theory that the targets are indeed races of color.

According to them there are, as of 2010 approximately 34 million worldwide who are living with HIV/AIDS.  Of those a staggering 22.9 million are in Sub-Saharan Africa and another 5.3 million in the rest of Africa and in Asia.  In other words, over eighty-five percent of those with HIV/AIDS are people of colored races.

Is this merely a coincidence?  Perhaps.  We could also argue that many of these people are less educated about the cause of the disease and therefore are not taking the steps necessary to prevent infection.  Or that they are poorer and do not have access to things that are available to sexually-active individuals in the more affluent parts of the world.  Both of those statements are probably true.

But if we assume this is the way AIDS came into existence, how can we support the idea of a conspiracy on the parts of the world’s most “intelligent” people when the outcome certainly did not meet their goals?

Enter short term motivation.  Even the most brilliant of us can be distracted from our ultimate goal by monetary enrichment.  And the amount of money that has been spent combatting this plague has been of Biblical proportions.  Could something as simple as plain old-fashioned “greed” explain the cause for this apparent failure?  I’ll leave that to you to decide for yourself.

Getting away from conspiracy theories and returning to mankind’s relationship with the earth,  Mother Nature may be filling in the blanks in helping us return to a relationship of harmony with her.  It’s called the Chagas Virus – a disease affecting nearly 8 million people in Central and South America.

The number of people who are infected is growing in the same exponential way as HIV/AIDS did in its early years.  It is caused by a blood-sucking parasite – and while far less lethal than AIDS is spreading in epidemic proportions.  It has been referred to as The New AIDS of the Americas.

If humanity is going to survive the journey on the road of our very short history as master of our planet, we are going to have to set aside our sense of domination and replace it with an appreciation for the world which sustains us.  Only then will we be able to emerge from the dark side and with a new vision and respect enter the light.

MY NIGHTMARE

This morning I awoke at four o’clock a.m., realizing that I had experienced a dreadful nightmare as I slept.  Perspiration lay on my face and body despite the cool temperature in the room.  I remember thrashing a bit as I awoke from my dream.  Gracie lay next to me, raised her head to see the cause of the commotion and then lay back down to complete her rest.  Apparently I had not shared my miasma with her.

This week I have been re-reading and thinking about some of the ancient philosophers as they debated the subject of ethics.  It amazes me that people actually sat and discussed these issues.  I contrast that with where we place our focus for discussion in today’s America – and in the world generally.

Sadly, I had combined this with a re-read of Orwell’s, “1984.”  It’s been a long time since I perused that work – at least ten years.  It was more chilling than when I read it the last time because we have moved much closer to having a society which resembles the one that author describes.

I thought about my nightmare which I remembered vividly and realized that the source for my unease was an offshoot of the Roe v Wade decision.  For those who feel the world of politics can be reduced to a single issue, this is probably the one which finds more partisans than any other. 

The question of whether it is “acceptable” to abort a fetus lies in our definition of what constitutes a human being.  Most mainstream Christians believe the embryo is a person from the moment of conception.  The teachings of Judaism say that until the child is able to breathe independently outside its mother it is not a person.

Both sides believe that their position on this issue is ethical.  Given the fundamental assumptions that the two sides hold I would have to agree that within their respective belief systems they are indeed both acting ethically.  But my nightmare came from the potential for extending the Pro-Choice position far beyond its present limitations – into a world of “1984.”

A quick review of the 20th century world suggests that sometimes people rise to great political power who do not share our generally-accepted concept of ethics.  Adolph Hitler was one – to cite an obvious example.  His vision of the world was one in which humanity had been purged of all those who were inferior.

He was magnanimous in extending that definition to people whose skin color was different, to the Jews and Slavs, to homosexuals, and to people who had been born with deformities.  These were all “lesser people” to his way of thinking.  Purging them from the earth was not only ethical – it was a responsibility.

His programs included the sterilization of members of these groups and the elimination of those who had already been born through the gas chambers in the death camps.  Who knows what our world today would look like if he and the Axis powers had prevailed?  And it was that vision that was the source of my disquietude as my mind thought about it in my nightmare.

If we are able to define someone as being non-human or at the least sub-human because of something as trivial as skin color or ethnic background, how big a step is it to start extending that definition to other aspects of our humanity? 

I pictured a world where the political powers had finally achieved their ultimate goal – total domination.  These were the true 1% – the rest of us being the 99%.

It was a world in which there was no Constitution, no Bill of Rights – no individual rights at all but to serve the will of the leadership of the state – that not being a right but a mandated obligation.  It is a world into which we are rapidly transitioning.

If we start with the premise that a potential mother has the right to choose not to become one for any of a variety of reasons – how big a step is it for us to take that the state might determine that she ought not to bear a child?

If we are to have a “productive” society, does it not make sense to ensure that those who have lived unproductively in poverty for generations not be allowed the right to bring more of their kind into the world?  That was the thought that motivated Hitler’s sterilization programs.

With our scientific achievements if we cannot already determine the potential intelligence of an unborn child – it will probably not be long before we can.  Then what do we do with an embryo who has a low IQ expectation?  At this moment, the mother would have to make a decision about whether she wanted this child.  But what if that decision were taken from her and lay in the hands of the state?

By further extension, with our present or futuristic scientific capabilities, what if we decide – that in the interest of a more perfect and uniform society – we refuse to allow those with “undesirable” physical characteristics such as hair or eye color or height or body type to be born?  Once we start down the slippery slope there’s no telling how deep lies the abyss at the bottom of the cliff.

Over the years I’ve known people who are both Pro-Choice and Pro-Life.  I find it fascinating that almost all of my Pro-Choice friends oppose the death penalty, while their counterparts almost universally endorse it.  I have never understood what I view as an obvious inconsistency in these views on life. 

I have also never understood why my Pro-Choice friends have not considered the possible scenario I outlined above – or why my Pro-Life friends have not incorporated these arguments in their dialectic against what they view as the most heinous “crime against humanity.”  Perhaps thinking about these sorts of things is too terrible for most of us to handle.

If that is the case then there is, at the least, hope.  That hope springs from the fact that we have found a common ground for our ethical standards on which we can build.  And I hope we indeed do build on that foundation.

I don’t want to experience any more nightmares like the one I just had.

THE RESCUE

https://juwannadoright.wordpress.com/2012/02/01/the-last-dog/

 

 Henry had decided that after his near encounter with the woman mobster that staying in the city was too dangerous. Besides, the human survivors of the Uprising had consumed everything that was edible. He had even seen instances where they were beginning to cannibalize each other. So he made his way to the outskirts of the city and into the country.

At least in the country there would be better places for him to hide and he hoped that there might be some food left in the fields. He did find some wild blackberry bushes and although the berries had not fully ripened and were bitter they provided him some nourishment. He experimented with trying to pull them from their branches without doing too much damage to his muzzle from their thorns.

Not far from this little stand there was a brook. Henry smelled the water and it was fresh and clean and cold. He drank deeply from it and felt the water re-hydrating all the cells of his tired body. There was a large clump of leafy bushes about one hundred feet from the brook. Henry pushed through them and found an area large enough for him to lie down and sleep. He felt safe in his hidden resting place.

When he awoke he considered what his plan of action would be. He determined to use his bush retreat as his home base and the brook as his source for water. He decided that he would make little forays in various directions to see if there were more food there – and he hoped that the remaining berries on the blackberry bushes would ripen quickly.

He went to the brook and drank just as the sun was beginning to rise and decided that morning he would head west, the direction he had taken to leave the city. He started on his hunt in the semi-darkness of the early morning.

After about thirty minutes of going at a small trot which was as fast as he could go in his weakened condition, he sat in the middle of an open grassy field and looked around him. He didn’t see any signs of food and determined to go back to his retreat. But as he was turning to return to his camp he saw a bright flash of light in the sky. The light grew in intensity as a craft of some sort descended from the sky.

Henry didn’t know what this was and it frightened him. He began to run back to his retreat as the ship landed in the field. But his curiosity caused him to stop as he saw a ramp extend from the ship. Henry tried to flatten himself against the ground to avoid detection but he realized that in this open field his camouflage was poor.

As he watched, several people left the ship. They were not like the humans he had known and loved in his short three years. These people were shaped differently, they were far taller and their heads were elongated. As best he could tell from his black and white vision, they appeared to be of a different skin color than any of the humans he had ever seen. Even at his distance of several hundred yards Henry noticed that they smelled different as well. But he didn’t sense any anger or maliciousness in these creatures.

He continued pressing himself against the earth to see what they were doing. And then two of them started to walk slowly towards him. He didn’t know whether or not he should run – but he felt a sense of warmth and love coming from them and so he stayed where he was. Suddenly he heard a voice in his head.

We mean you no harm. We have come to help you.” Henry believed that these aliens were sincere and so he got up and slowly started towards them. As he got closer, his sense of smell gave him reason to believe that they were being honest. So he walked a little quicker.

When he was about ten feet from them he stopped. One of the aliens sat on the ground and beckoned him to come to him. Henry went over to this creature and the alien gently placed his hand under Henry’s chin and began to scratch him. His companion joined the first alien on the ground and reached into a small bag that he was carrying. Inside was food – glorious food. They fed the contents to Henry who was grateful for this unusual but filling nourishment. For the first time in a week his tail began to wag and he put his weary head in the lap of the alien who had first greeted him.

The aliens continued to speak directly to his mind. They said that their civilization had watched humankind for fifty thousand years and had seen how they had treated their planet. They hoped that humans would see that the despoliation of their world and destruction of countless other species would ultimately result in their own doom. Sadly, mankind had not learned that lesson. So they had come to salvage what they could of planet earth – and they were here to take Henry home with them. Would he come with them?

Would he? Henry got up, his tail wagging and he quickly followed the aliens back to their spacecraft. When he reached the ramp, one of the aliens picked him up and carried him on-board and into the vessel. When he was inside the ship, Henry was overjoyed. All around him were thousands of other dogs. These were the rescues that the aliens found worthy to be repatriated to a new world – their world.

Henry might have been the last dog on planet earth, but he would be among many of his kind to start a new life on the aliens’ planet surrounding the star Aldebaran.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE SCIENCE FICTION BOOK CLUB

 When I was ten years old I became a member of the Science Fiction Book Club. I think I saw one of their ads in a comic book. I was drawn to their offer. Ten cents would get me five volumes of my choice (shipping included). And I only had to purchase another five additional books during the following twelve months. As I was a voracious reader I didn’t see any problem in fulfilling my obligation to the club.

 Before I joined I asked mom if it would be okay. She said that would be fine. So I wrote them a letter in my ten-year old handwriting, enclosed a dime which I taped to the letter and sent this off to their office in Garden City, Long Island. Every day I would come home from school hoping that my package of five books had arrived – and one day – about two weeks later it did.

 I was enthralled. As I began reading these works I thought about the SF Book Club’s motto – “Today’s fiction is tomorrow’s fact.” I was living in an era where Dicky Tracy walkie-talkie wrist watches were something that we might see in the future. Who knew that they would be eclipsed by cell phones?

 I remember the volumes I purchased. Three of the books were Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation Triolgy,” Robert Heinlen’s, “Time For The Stars” and an anthology of short stories.

 I couldn’t wait until I finished my homework so that I could dig into my new acquistions. I have to admit that I skipped through the homework without my usual thoroughness and focus.  

Fortunately for my academic career, my parents always reviewed my schoolwork and noticed the sloppiness with which I had completed it. As a result, I learned that breezing through homework didn’t get me to my sci-fi reading any quicker. If it weren’t satisfactory I had to re-do it before I was allowed to do my extracurricular reading. In later years I would learn to be grateful for my parent’s concern.

 But I forgot to tell you about the biggest bonus I got by joining the Science Fiction Book Club. With my five volume initial purchase I also received a certificate (approximately the size of a driver’s license) entitling me to a free passage on a commercial flight to the moon.

 I have kept this document for many years and as it started to fray with continued handling, I finally had it laminated. (The plastic of the lamination is now very yellowed with discoloration). But I’m hanging on to it.

When the United States sadly abandoned our space program I was disheartened. But now I hear that Sir Richard Branson is actively exploring the possibilities of commercial flights to the moon.

 If he is successful in his efforts, I plan on presenting my yellowed old certificate from the Science Fiction Book Club to him as evidence of my right of passage.

 I sure hope that he accepts it.

 

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