The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Posts tagged ‘science fiction’

THIS UNCERTAIN WORLD

There are times that I lean back in my chair and think to myself, “Self.  Maybe the left is right.  (I really like that sentence for its internal absurdity).  Wouldn’t it be a wonderful world and a fabulous life if we all could have whatever we wanted without having to work for it; if we could know in advance what the next wonderful thing in store for us was; if we had no anxiety, no worries, no care; if we didn’t have to be concerned about our future because it would be clear to us what that would be?”

What would be the practical effect of actually knowing the future – even an assured future where everyone’s material wants were met?  I think the answer is – boredom – and the introduction of more anxiety.

Although it seems paradoxical as we all strive to eliminate uncertainty from our lives, it is uncertainty which makes life both interesting and challenging.  If we truly knew the future there would be no reason to watch a sporting event – or for that matter play it.  Imagine how inspired an infielder on the Yankees would feel if he knew that his team was going to lose to the White Sox that day by a score of 7 – 3.

The casinos would close their doors in short order.  Since 22 was the next number to come up on the roulette wheel, that’s where all bets would be.  And if we knew that a five was the next card that would be dealt, the astute blackjack player would take a hit on his 16, despite the fact that the dealer was showing a bust card.  Horse races would be a thing of the past and we’d have to find a different way to spend our Saturday and Sunday afternoons as football would hold no appeal.

There would be no stock market and no market for stocks.  Knowing the unfortunate end that it would meet, we would never have built the Challenger and we would have saved the lives of the seven astronauts who were on board.  We would not have spent months of air time discussing the mysterious disappearance of Malaysia Flight 370 as, knowing its fate, the Malaysian government would not have allowed it to fly and no passenger would have boarded it.

In such a world of certainty there would be no room for a Shakespeare or an Ibsen or a Hitchcock.  Drama and suspense can not exist unless there is the possibility of alternate endings.  The comedy clubs would close because we would all know the punch line.  In such a world would Michelangelo have begun the long process of painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel or Mozart composed his tremendous volume of work knowing that despite his genius he would never escape a state of perpetual poverty and be buried in a pauper’s grave?

Of course there is one other and perhaps the most frightening aspect of living in a world certain.  Each of us would know the exact time and means by which death would show up at our doorstep and come for us.  It would be as though we, like the “replicants” that were brought into being in “Blade Runner,” had an internal clock built into us by our maker, a clock that was sealed at the factory and which was constantly winding down, bringing us ever more closely to the moment we took our final breath.

What would people who lived in such an environment do with their time and their lives?  I suspect that it would be very little.  This would be a world in which ennui would have been raised to its ultimate expression.  There would be little incentive to succeed and no repercussions for failure.  This would be a world in which people saw little reason for hope and no reason for change.  It would be a world in which we had given over our lives and activities to fate – and accepted that “what would be would be.”

And if one day, we learned that a massive meteor was headed directly toward us and would impact the Earth three years later, would we be able to marshal the fortitude to try to defend ourselves from this potentially life-destroying event?  Or would we sit back and thank our lucky stars that finally something out of our control had come to put an end to our insufferable misery?

Advertisements

CRISIS

As a child, my parents and my teachers encouraged me to read.  Some of those books were pre-selected by them.  But my folks also took me to a wonderful local book store on Lexington Avenue in NYC that had started a children’s book and discussion club.

It was a warm and inviting place and to a child all the wonderful books with their hard covers, nestled in their assigned places, looked like a vast universe of story telling that were waiting to be discovered and devoured.  I loved the Worthington Book Store and Mrs. Bramley who owned the shop.  Somehow, she just seemed to be the exactly right person to own this wonderful place.

I think that it was a combination of her gray hair rolled into a bun and fastened with bobby pins and the beautiful but simple home made sweaters that she had knitted and wore in the store that conveyed that impression most strongly.  And she had a wonderful smile that welcomed all of us little visitors to join her in the quest for knowledge.

In 1956, Robert Heinlein’s science fiction novel, “Time For The Stars” was published.  On one of my Saturday visits I happened to see it among the stacks of books in the fiction section.  Science fiction was pretty much in its infancy at that time, despite the earlier contributions of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells.

The dust cover caught my eye.  There was a picture of one of the “torchships” that Heinlein described in his novel.  I’m not sure why but somehow I knew I had to read that book.  I’m glad that I did, finishing it in two sessions.  That book started me on a lifelong interest in both astronomy and science fiction.

Later I joined the Science Fiction Book Club.  They offered an introductory membership for ten cents.  In return they would send me any five books listed in their extensive catalog.  The synopsis of each book also made mention of the number of pages the volume contained.  So I chose the five longest books that they had listed.  I was determined to get my money’s worth.  That was a great investment.

As the genre grew a following, Hollywood got involved.  Science fiction movies began to proliferate.  At first, movies were made of the classics.  “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea”; “The Time Machine”; and “The War Of The Worlds,” were among the first, but certainly not the last.

Perhaps it’s a reflection off our way of looking at ourselves and the universe, but in most books or movies in which mankind makes contact with other species, the aliens are almost always portrayed as hostile invaders, bent on the destruction of humanity.  So for purposes of conversation, let’s assume that should actually happen.

Well, as one would imagine, suddenly our petty spats which we politely call wars would cease as we focused our attention on the greater threat of total annihilation by the invaders.  And, the United States, with our certain military superiority would lead the effort to save mankind.  That’s a frightening concept.

In making that statement I do not refer to the invasion but to America’s ability to respond should we encounter those invaders while President Obama is at the helm.  Consider how this administration has conducted business over the last five years.

Prior to the 2012 campaign, I asked a slue of Obama supporters why they were going to vote to retain him in office, based on what he and his administration had done in his first term.  While most of the answers avoided citing a specific achievement, the few people who came up with an answer considered Obamacare as a great accomplishment.  That was their reason for voting for a second term.

So today we have ten days worth of Obamacare under our belts with the rollout of the exchanges and the initial enrollment in the health insurance portion of the law.  I realize that any new computer program is likely to have some “glitches”.  That is normal – but minimizing those is usually done in beta testing before the product is released.

The initial bill for building this system was $57 Million.  However, in excess of $637 Million actually was spent.  A reasonable person would think that with all those extra dollars being thrown at this (those dollars belonging to you and me), the result would be spectacular.  And it has been – a spectacular disaster.  Even the administration is admitting that there are some “minor problems”.  For a group of people who seem to specialize in rhetorical hyperbole, that statement seems to be a bit understated.

This “signature piece of legislation” is proving in its implementation to be nothing short of a total disaster.  Considering the fact that the financial and healthcare assumptions made in writing this law are unrealistic, with such a bad start it is encouraging that there are a few dedicated members of Congress who have made it their mission to get it off the books.

But while this is the most threatening law ever enacted to restrict personal liberty, it is merely the outgrowth of an administration filled with cronyism, scandals, a CIC who is both petty and whose ego is inflated by hubris.  Our President is a man who has demonstrated a total lack of leadership.  With someone such as Obama as head of the ship of state, one can only hope that should the skies suddenly fill with hostile UFO’s, the Pentagon has stocked a large supply of white flags.

Even in my most imaginative moments, I don’t really expect us to be contacted by alien civilizations.  Why would they bother with us as we are little evolved from our primitive forebears?  And I’m sure there are other spots in the universe that are every bit as interesting as Miami or Laguna Beach.

If we as humans face a truly serious crisis, it is less likely to be launched by visitors from another planet than it is either by ourselves or by Mother Nature.  Tsunamis, epidemics, terrorists – these are not science fiction but historical fact.  And it seems that as we further devolve into our more primitive nature those that are going to be inflicted by men on his fellow man are likely to increase both in frequency and virulence.

Let’s postulate for a moment, that a serious viral or bacterial outbreak occurred which affected the food or water supply or both.  Whether it was a function of something that nature brought on us or whether terrorists were responsible is immaterial.  How much confidence should any American have in the Obama administration to handle this situation effectively?

Setting aside partisan politics and merely looking at Obama’s track record, I have to say that my confidence level in his skills suggests that if I am not prepared to try to cope with that sort of situation by taking my own steps to safeguard myself and family, I am doomed to be one of the many victims who will fall by the wayside.

And what will become of those who have entrusted themselves and their lives, given up their personal responsibility to take care of and fend for themselves to what they believe is a beneficent government?  As they lay dying, they will wonder why no one is answering their 911 call on their free, government provided cell phones.

THE CONSUMER

Have you ever played chess?  If you have then you realize the most important value of your eight “pawns” is that they serve as sacrificial lambs in your effort to checkmate your opponent.  American consumers are little more than pawns in the game of chess that our banking system including the Federal Reserve and  our politicians are perpetrating on the nation.

In 1988, John Carpenter made one of my favorite films, “They Live.”  It is a combination of science fiction and film-noire.  As it is probably a movie that most of my readers have not seen, here is a synopsis of the plot.

The film is set in Los Angeles.  Aliens have come to earth and they have allied themselves with the rich and powerful – titans of industry and those who are in political power – promising these people untold wealth and riches as they engage in their ultimate strategy which is to rape the planet of its resources before they move on to another planet to do the same.

The aliens have installed broadcast towers around the world which serve two purposes.  The first is to cloak the aliens from identification (Carpenter portrays their real form as Halloween ghouls) and the second is to allow them to put subliminal messages on advertising billboards which humans absorb but don’t actually see.  Those messages direct us to “Buy,” “Spend,” “Use,” “Replace”, “Throw Out.”  These are the ultimate consumerist messages.

The reason that the aliens want us to do this is that, even as they use us to help in their mission of despoiling Earth’s resources, they want us to work faster and harder and if we are perpetually nearly broke, we will have to continue on our unwitting assistance of their agenda.

A drifter, Roddy Piper gets work in construction and discovers a box of sunglasses which, when worn, reveal the aliens’ true form.  The sunglasses are later replaced with an updated version in the form of contact lenses.  Piper, who’s character is named “Nada” joins a movement of other humans who realize the truth of the plight of earth’s people.  Their goal is to tear down the broadcast tower which cloaks the aliens’ true appearance and emits the signal for their subliminal messages so that all people will see them for who and what they really are.

At the conclusion of the movie, the tower and signal are destroyed – but Nada gives his life in the process.  Presumably, humans learn the truth and the aliens will be routed, but that is a conclusion left to the viewer to reach.

The American consumer is responsible for  two-thirds of our Gross Domestic Product.  It is our buying, replacing, using and throwing out things that keeps our economy fueled.  We make purchases based on the latest fad and fashion and for many of those, the products are nearly obsolete as soon as they have been released.  These spending habits are why we have amassed the incredible amount of consumer debt that is on the books.

While we are cautioned about being in all this debt, it is really the only way that we can finance our need to buy and spend and use and throw out.  And the banks love it.  Lending money to the consumer at 18% – 24% while they borrow from the Federal Reserve at  0.25% is very profitable business.

And our politicians hope that we will continue on our present path – and accelerate our journey on the way since they depend on us to fuel the economy and their own re-election efforts.  A happy consumer is more likely to be a voter who will once again return the establishment to their places of privilege at the top of the food chain.

The motto of The Science Fiction Book Club is, “Today’s fiction is tomorrow’s fact.”    Some of Carpenter’s views in 1988 might have been fiction.  But if you look around you will see that a lot of that has indeed evolved into fact.

Is that because of alien intervention or is it because of our own foolishness and consumerism?  Does it really matter?  The results are the same.

WHO REALLY CAUSED 9/11?

I was speaking the other day with several people who were Obama supporters.  As I always enjoy hearing people’s well-informed opinions, I asked them what it was that the President had accomplished that most impressed them.

As I waited for a response, I noticed a lot of hemming and hawing as people tried to put their finger on something specific which they liked about the President’s policies.  The answer I got from most was, “Well, he’s a lot better than Bush – and all the problems we’re having are because of Bush.  They’re not Obama’s fault.”

I have an historical perspective of the world so the fact that the President of the United States might “inherit” problems from his predecessor is a thesis which I am willing to consider.  Combine my historical view with my interest in science fiction (how a change in the “time line” might have a profound effect on the future) and I am right in my element.  Allow me to offer a few examples.

An ordinary man, a husband, a businessman and the father of two is returning from a long day at the office.  Suddenly he runs over a massive pot hole in the street, loses control of his car and is killed.  The world will be a different one for his survivors, his neighbors and his business associates because of this tragedy.  However, his death will probably not have a profound impact on the world – because, as I said, he was an “ordinary” person.

A second case involves WW II.  Can you imagine how different our world would be if Adolph Hitler had succeeded in defeating the Allies?  If I were even alive to write this, no doubt I would be doing so in German, not English.  That change in what happened historically would have profound implications for our world and how we would have been living our lives for the last seventy years.

Certainly as  President of the United States the decisions and policies that that person makes are going to have a profound effect on the future of this country, its citizens and the world.  For that reason I wanted to consider the explanation that “it’s all President Bush’s fault.”  And in the interest of trying to find another instance where history determines the future I considered the tragedy that befell us on 9/11/01.  Who truly was to blame for this disaster?

I was born in Manhattan and as I watched the first plane crash into the Twin Towers I cannot describe my horror or my feeling of emptiness and disbelief.  This was an assault not only on my country but on my hometown.  I took this personally.  As the tragedy unfolded and the towers collapsed, I realized that I had three business associates whose offices were in those buildings.  Days later I learned that they had died.  I took their deaths personally – very personally.

In the days and weeks following, as I emerged from the emotional numbness that I’m sure most of us felt, I began listening to the reports about what had happened.  For the first time I heard the name Osama bin Laden.  I didn’t know the man – but I didn’t like him.  I didn’t like the sense of fear that most of us experienced, constantly looking overhead to see if another plane was going to drop out of the sky.  I didn’t like the heightened sense of security and having to worry that there were cadres of other terrorists – some perhaps planted in this country years ago – who might any moment receive their assignment to perpetrate another horrific act.  I don’t think that any American, or for that matter any civilized person throughout the world, liked any of this.

But after my conversation about how all of our present problems stem from President Bush I decided to question the reports about who was really responsible for over three thousand deaths on 9/11.  Was it truly this bin Laden character – or was he merely the person who had set the wheels in motion for a plot that had been conceived many years prior and by someone else?

In 1626, Peter Minuit purchased Manhattan from the Lenape Indian tribe for a reported twenty-four dollars.  The Dutch settled in the lower end of the island and began building a home for themselves in this New World.  There was a great deal of land on Manhattan Island and relatively few settlers – so naturally the buildings were generally one story tall, two at the most.  But over the years, these settlers had children, new arrivals came to America and so the settlement grew outwardly and horizontally.  There was no lack of land to accommodate them.

Over several centuries New York became a much more densely populated place.  The land had pretty much been used up and there was a lot of overcrowding.  But then came Elisha Otis.  The year was 1854 and the place was the New York World’s Fair where Mr. Otis unveiled his greatest invention – the elevator.  This invention forever changed the landscape and the skyline of Manhattan and the world.

No longer were we restricted to building one and two story houses – we could build skyscrapers – and the Flat Iron, Chrysler and Empire State buildings could be born.  Of course, so could the Twin Towers.  Had it not been for the elevator and its inventor, there could have been no tragedy on 9/11 because there would have been no buildings to implode.  But if Mr. Otis had a hand in that day’s disaster, he was not alone in this nefarious plot.

Enter the Wright Brothers, Orville and Wilbur.  We all have heard about their first flight in an airplane in Kitty Hawk, NC in 1903.  As culpable as Mr. Otis may have been in the 9/11 plot, his work was insufficient to carry it out.  He needed the help of others to complete this plan.  Had it not been for the Wright Brothers, mankind might have abandoned our dream of flying through the air in a machine.  And ultimately, it was the successors to their invention, today’s modern aircraft which enabled the co-conspirators to close the circle and engage in the devastation which occurred that fateful day.

Yes, the real perpetrators of 9/11 were the inventor of the elevator and those who gave us the gift of flight.  I believe my logic is consistent with my friends who support the precept that “everything is President Bush’s fault.”

But once set loose on a path and investigation I am as relentless as a pig looking for truffles.  Have I gone far enough – or is there more to be uncovered?

As I thought about it, if it had not been for George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and the other Founding Fathers, there would have been no America that the terrorists of 9/11 would grow to hate.  I must consider the possibility that our early American “patriots” might also have been involved in this plot.

I’ll let you know what I find out.

ON FAIRNESS AND STAR TREK

If you walk into a casino you know (or at least you should) that no matter what game you play, the odds are stacked against you.  This is obviously unfair but it is the mathematical model that the casinos have developed to make sure that they are guaranteed to make money.  That is their business model.

Of course, you have the choice (being the perspicacious person who you are) of not walking in and playing any of those games.  But perhaps you view the twenty dollars you are likely to donate as “entertainment.”  Well, that’s reasonable and hardly more expensive than a movie.  The interactive games that have been created are, frankly, a lot more engaging than most of the drivel that appears on our big screens.  Besides, there’s always the chance that this is you lucky night and you will walk out with more money than you brought to play.

I understand that. This is not meant to be a judgment on the virtues or evils of gambling.  As an informed adult you certainly have the right to determine how you spend your money.

When Gene Roddenberry’s original “Star Trek” series aired, I remember one episode in which Kirk, Spock, McCoy and an alien were playing a card game.  This game was exceptionally complicated for the alien because the three humans kept making up and changing the rules as the game progressed to insure that the alien could not possibly win.  (Today we refer to this behavior as a “scam”).  They played by one set of rules and set a totally different set of rules for the alien whom they were in the process of fleecing.

As I was thinking about today’s America, that Star Trek episode came to mind.

BmprStck15636

As I believe in advance planning I have set my agenda for the night of Election Day, 2012.  After hearing the results and weeping for an appropriate amount of time, I plan on taking my twenty dollars and going to a local casino where I will hopefully parlay it into kajillions.  (That is assuming our esteemed leaders in Washington have still allowed me possession of that much money by then).

TO SERVE MAN

The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Let me first say that I am only a “closet-vegetarian.” I put my morality and scruples aside and venture into the meat department and pick up some lifeless piece of flesh that will become my dinner. If I didn’t have that option and had to kill something for supper, I would be on-line with Amazon ordering every vegetarian cookbook they had for sale. (I already own a number of them and use them at least three or four times a week).

I do try to minimize my meat consumption and I don’t waste anything that I have purchased out of respect for the animal that was sacrificed for my meal. And I assuage my conscience by saying to myself – that even vegans and vegetarians kill something in order to sustain themselves.

When I was watching an episode of “The Twilight Zone” I realized that this particular story was not a Rod Serling original but was based on a story by Damon Knight that I had previously read. Nonetheless I was interested how this had been transformed for the small screen.

The story was set during the Cold War of the 1950’s. Three representatives of an alien race, the Kanamit have come to earth with their stated purpose of bringing humanity the health and peace and plenty that they had brought to many other races throughout the galaxy.

The Kanamit are as good as their word – quickly eradicating disease, showing us ways to get unlimited energy which results in the elimination of conflicts between nations because of the new plenty they have bestowed on us. Earth has truly been transformed into a Garden of Eden.

The Kanamit offer humans the opportunity to visit their home planet through ten-year long exchange programs. Many are anxious to travel through the stars and accept this invitation.

Shortly after their arrival, a UN translator (through whom the story is told) gains access to one of the books that the Kanamit have brought with them. The Kanamit have provided humans with a Kanamit-English dictionary and he begins translating this book. After several weeks of labor, our translator concludes that the title of the work is “To Serve Man.”

It takes several more weeks of effort but he finally realizes that the work which he is translating is actually a cookbook – and we’re the main ingredient in the menus.

We live in an unimaginably vast universe where anything can, probably has or may very well yet happen. It’s something for us who consider ourselves the “top dogs” – my apologies to my canine friends – to think about.

Bon Appetit!

 

THE PRECIOUS JEWELS

Henry Martin’s family had been working their farm in Iowa for four generations. They had seen their share of ups and downs as they plowed their fields and grew and harvested their crops. There had been more downs than ups – but they were dedicated to the land. It was their life.

They were simple, hard-working people. Henry and his sons would labor in the fields and mom tended to her large fruit and vegetable garden. Because of their efforts they had an abundance of food for the family. They had a little roadside stand where Mrs. Martin and one of her daughters would sell the produce that the family couldn’t use.

Then the disaster struck. A lethal virus swept the country. Some believed that the government had been developing the ultimate “defensive” weapon and the virus had accidentally been set free. Others thought it was God’s retribution for an immoral world. The truth is that no one knew its source – but there were few left to speculate.

The spread of the virus throughout America was rapid – leaving a death toll in its wake of nearly eighty percent of the population. The mortality rates were higher in the cities because of the concentration of population and the greater likelihood of coming into contact with one of the infected.

On their relatively remote and insulated farm, Henry and his family survived this calamity.

The breakdown of essential services in the country was felt everywhere, but most heavily in the nation’s urban centers. The supermarkets were raided by the survivors of the plague and their shelves were soon emptied. With the breakdown in transportation there was no one to replenish them. The survivors who were able to do so, left in search of food. One of those was a man who was a multi-millionaire.

With the decimation of government, paper money had no value. There was no longer a Federal Reserve to back up its worth. So the millionaire, who had invested much of his money in the finest quality diamonds, emeralds and rubies, took his collection from the vault in his home and began to look for food – intending to trade these precious gems for sustenance.

He got in his car and headed for the countryside. As he drove out of the city he saw the broken store windows where looters had done their deed. And on the sidewalks were the bodies of those who might have found a can of creamed corn and paid for their possession with their life. He drove more quickly.

In a few hours he came to the Martins’ farm and saw their roadside stand. The stand was closed – but he decided to go to the farmhouse and see whether the family had any food that he could buy. As he went to the front door, Mrs. Martin greeted him and invited him in.

The millionaire explained that he was in search of food and wondered if they had any they would be willing to sell him. He pulled out one of his bags of jewels and spilled a few of them on their kitchen table. At that point, Henry came home for his noon meal.

The Martins agreed to share their lunch with the millionaire but, as Henry explained, they only had sufficient food put up and preserved to last his family until the next harvest – if they had even that much. The only thing of value that the family had was seed to start the next crop – and they would not trade that seed for all the jewels in the world.

After lunch the millionaire thanked them for his meal and continued his search for someone who would exchange their food for his precious stones.

Moral: We do not extract precious jewels from the earth; we plant them within her.

 

Tag Cloud