Thursday, January 19, 2017

How we'll travel the stars

Despite being a favorite topic of classic science fiction, space travel is not a simple matter. 

Even close to the speed of light we could only travel a hundred light years or so due to our short lifespans. It will require several generations to travel any appreciable distance from Earth. 

There is a way we could overcome the limit of our short individual existence. Leave our meat behind. 

In the near future we will develop robots that can navigate a ship through space. That will eliminate the need for us to transport our bodies. Instead we will send our intelligence, either in the form of artificial intelligences or our own minds uploaded into hardware. Our bodies are encumbrances we really don't need for space travel. 

Likewise, we should abandon the idea we'll ever encounter aliens in bodily form. We should expect to encounter alien intelligences, not little gray men. 

Monday, January 11, 2016

Trump is the president we deserve

My credentials as a progressive liberal will likely be tarnished as a result of posting this but I believe the truth must be faced; Trump is the candidate America deserves to have as president.
Those of us who dread a Trump presidency like to imagine a government that once again makes its citizens the focus of its policies. We want to believe that our fellow Americans value freedom and the diversity that has for years been the bedrock of our national character. We are full of optimism for a more compassionate and enlightened future for the United States.

But it's time for us to face reality.

The reality is that a majority of Americans appear to believe that the poor are victims of their own bad choices in life and that showing compassion to them is enabling their bad behavior, that acknowledging the advances of science is tantamount to denying their religious beliefs, that the only way to curb gun violence is for even more people to carry guns everywhere, that anyone different from us ethnically, sexually, culturally or philosophically is the enemy.

Racism still exists.

Trump's minions remind us that humans are not as evolved as we would like to think we are. Human behavior is still closer to that exhibited in Quest for Fire than that of Star Trek.
We are more like the Flintstones than the Jetsons.

For all of our technology, we still depend on fossil fuels and ignore our impact on the environment. The majority of us still look for comfort and guidance from fantastic super-beings before we seek it from one another. We still engage in and profit from wars waged against other human beings over possessions and beliefs.

My fellow progressive liberals, it's time we admit that for the majority of Americans, Trump is a more appropriate candidate than someone like Bernie Sanders. Trump speaks the words they respond to, like a fourth-grader.

Sanders would likely try to eliminate terrorism through negotiation and alliances with other nations, methods that may or may not work. Trump would likely bomb the hell out the entire Middle East, which undoubtedly would eliminate a majority of the terrorists there, along with millions of innocent men, women, and children. I'm sure he'd simply shrug at that possibility. Domestic terrorists he'd deport, except for the White male ones.

Of course we have no idea how he'd improve an already slowly improving economy, reduce an already reduced number of unemployed, or resolve any of the other major issues facing us. He fails to offer specifics on any of the promises he's made about his future presidency. Bluster and bombast are sufficient for the Trumpanistas. Just knowing that their hero says he has plans to deal with the Mexicans, the Blacks, the Gays, the educated, and all the rest of those who are to blame for all the problems he says exist is enough for them.

Trump appeals to our lesser nature, our base and uncivilized selves. That he seems to have found such a large number of adoring fans ought to tell us that the future of America is dark and regressive, that racism and xenophobia will exist for at least another generation. Fear and hate will be the hallmarks of American policy, not peace or equality.

I'd love to be wrong. Get out and vote, prove me wrong.

(See also:

Saturday, January 02, 2016

Reflections on Philidelphia

Tonight I watched the movie "Philadelphia" on Amazon Prime movies. I know, it was released in 1993, and practically everyone I know has seen it at least once since then. But not me.

There are certain topics addressed by popular movies that affect me too deeply for me to enjoy watching them. I tried to watch "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" when it came out but had to stop about half-way through. The topics of mental health and insanity distress me to the point where I can hardly bear to discuss them, let alone watch a movie based on them. Those same elements, combined with the horrific aspects of war, kept me from enjoying "Apocalypse Now", which debuted while I was in the Army.

"Philadelphia" affected me deeply, too, and was quite difficult to watch.

The reason is intensely personal and one I rarely discuss with anyone. But tonight, watching Hanks and his amazing performance, I realized some truths about why movies concerning homosexuality touch me so deeply and make me so uncomfortable, and I think I can finally reflect on those truths publically. Perhaps others will recognize themselves in my reflections and come to accept aspects of their personalities previously hidden away.

I've known for over 40 years that I'm not strictly heterosexual, nor am I exclusively homosexual. I've enjoyed deep and meaningful relationships with both men and women though to be honest with myself and you I probably am further toward gay on the sexuality spectrum than straight. Maybe 70/30 gay to straight.

Even though I was born in the 50's I really grew up in the 60's. Despite the prevailing climate of free love and acceptance in the California of the 60's, most gays were still in the closet and homosexuality remained a forbidden topic. In the early 70's I had a roommate who had been dismissed from Catholic seminary for being gay, and in spite of the fact that I was attracted to him, we never broached the subject. It was never discussed let alone acted upon.

My first emotional relationships were in the 70's with both girls and boys. While it felt perfectly natural to me to be attracted equally to both, I was very much aware of society's disapproval of same-sex relationships. So I made sure to keep those hidden away, never to be spoken of or made public. In those days not only did society still demonize gays, gays themselves considered bisexuals as aberrations, gays trying to be straight. Bi's weren't accepted in either the gay or straight world.

Watching "Philadelphia" tonight I realized what a different person I would be today had I not succumbed to social pressure to be "a man" and spent the better part of my life trying to convince myself and everyone else that I was tough and unemotional. I denied a large portion of my character that was emotional, sensitive and caring. I would have been a much more loving man today had I felt free to express my emotions, perhaps even more artistic and creative.

It's probably too late now for me to make substantial changes to my personality no matter how much I wish I could. But there's still time for young people, kids who may be trying to accept aspects of themselves that others refuse to acknowledge or accept. Young people these days are certainly more accepting than when I was a kid, but there are still many teenagers who have been disowned by their families, tossed out of their churches and are persecuted within their communities for loving the "wrong" person. These youngsters need to know there are others who have gone through the same rejections and regret not having stood their ground and insisted on proudly being who they are.

Here are some links I hope will help.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Racism is but a part of our national problem

Racism is a hot-button topic these days. The truth is it's been a hotly debated and divisive topic in this country for well over 300 years. Practically every generation has produced an event that has brought the inequality between white citizens and those of color to the national spotlight.

And yet, the color of one's skin has not been the only cause of distrust and hatred. Since our country was founded we've invented reasons to deny equality to women, the poor, the Irish (and Italians, Polish, Japanese, Germans, Native Americans, and a host of other immigrants as well as those born on these shores), Catholics, Jews, Mormons, atheists, gays and other LGBT people, children, the elderly, the handicapped; almost every type of human being other than wealthy white males.

It's that history that makes me uncomfortable with the national focus on race.

Skin color is not the only component of race. Race is also determined by bone structure, hair and eye color. ( We also have a history of prejudice toward humans of various ethnicities, genders, sexual persuasions, etc.

Obviously we have a problem in this country, and not just between whites and blacks, gays and straights, men and women.

Our laser focus on race is blinding us to a larger problem. We are a nation of the intolerant.

Since the founding of the U.S. we have been intolerant of anyone who is different than us in any way imaginable. (For a satirical example, enjoy Tom Lehrer's National Brotherhood Week) This is the sad state of affairs in America. We are a nation of immigrants, for the most part, people of various color, national origin, gender, sexual persuasions, hair color, physical ability, handedness, belief...who look down on everyone who isn't like us in every way.

Racism is only a fraction of our national intolerance, our institutionalized bigotry.

Instead of stressing our common humanity and celebrating our similarities as human beings, we'd rather emphasize our differences. Instead of working together to make the world a better place for everyone, we'd rather fight wars and commit genocide based on our perceived differences.

I may be a progressive, but I've lived too many years to be an idealist. I'd like to think that we could dismiss our differences and unite as humans to create a better world. But I honestly don't think we've evolved that far yet. We are still too closely related to our territorial, tribal, hunter forebearers. We are closer to our cave-dwelling past than we are to our possibly utopian future. We are not yet able to think of ourselves as a single human race. 

I seriously doubt we'll accomplish that in my lifetime. It may take many generations, providing we don't manage to bring about our own extinction in the meantime. I do think it's a worthwhile goal. In fact I believe it's the only way we'll ever progress as a species and assure our continued existence. But it won't happen overnight. It won't be brought about by passing laws or shaming on social media. It won't happen by lying about our past and rewriting history. We won't change just because we take one flag off the pole. 

Our entire nation, every person in the country, will have to be educated and encouraged to reorder their beliefs. Cooperation will have to crowd out competition. Peer pressure will need to be applied until hating another person just because they aren't like us is no longer acceptable anywhere at any time. 

I sincerely hope we can. I hope we will. I hope we do. Because if we don't our future as humans is seriously threatened. 

Saturday, April 04, 2015

The forgotten factor in the "Religious Freedom" debate

The last few weeks have been filled with debates, from town halls to mainstream media, from congregations to social networks, over the merits and intentions of Indiana's "Religious Freedom Restoration Act".

What doesn't seem to be getting mentioned much if at all is one the foundational beliefs those who sponsor and back measures like this hold and believe deeply.

Many religious people, not just Christians, believe that homosexuality is a choice. They believe people make a conscious decision to be gay. Further, they don't accept that there's anything organic about being transgendered. They think that a transgendered person is simply someone displeased with their biologically assigned gender and who wants to think of themselves, and wants everyone else to think of them, as a member of the opposite gender.

The religious ignore any scientific evidence that supports a biological and genetic basis for people who are gay or transgendered. They believe that these are "lifestyle choices", that one day in 1986 little Timmy decided he'd rather have sex with Billy than Marcia, or that he'd rather be Theresa than Timmy. Yet when questioned directly about this belief, I have yet to encounter someone who can tell me exactly when it was they made the choice to be heterosexual. While they often say that gays must have suffered some trauma of a sexual nature in their youth that made them choose to become gay, they dismiss the testimony of those who have been gay since they were first sexually aware who had wonderful childhoods. Of course, there is trauma often suffered when attempting to come out to homophobic family members and friends. That's a whole other issue, a very real and painful one.

These religious people do not see this debate as one over equal, civil rights. I'm sure the majority of them see our treatment of Blacks as an issue that needs to be addressed, a situation that needs correction. They know that no one chooses their ethnic background, but they fervently believe that one does choose their sexual orientation. They cannot separate orientation from behavior. In fact, they see the entire LGBT community as a group who has chosen to behave in ways unacceptable to the majority of "decent" (i.e. religious) Americans. They reject the notion of orientation. Because of their failure to appreciate the difference between behavior and orientation, they cannot equate discrimination toward Blacks or women with discrimination toward LGBT people. 

Thus, this debate over "religious freedom" is less a civil rights matter and more another aspect of the religious right's ignorance of science, their preference for the Bible over biology. As long as they refuse to respect medical science and instead defer to their religiously inspired bigotry, they cannot "in good faith" support the fair and equal treatment of gays and the transgendered. 

Friday, August 22, 2014

We are the 99%

We are the 99%.
The beat down, the hopeless, the pointless, the useless.
Robbed of the dream, denied success.
The poor, the disenfranchised, society's mules.
Robotically working, mindlessly living.
Lacking vision, denied salvation by the gods.
Reduced to pretense;
“Let’s pretend we can still be anything we want to be”
“Let’s pretend our lives are following a divine plan”
“Let’s pretend hope, and love, and opportunity exist”
Unable and unwilling to face reality.
Displeased with what is, hoping to achieve what will never again be.
We are the 99%.
The disillusioned, the angry, the impotent.
We buy homes we can’t afford.
We carry guns we know we’ll never use.
We rage online, in words.
Yet we meekly go about our lives.
Our misery makes us weak.
The future is dark and mysterious.
We buy our lottery tickets, we drink our cheap whiskey.

We die still dreaming of being among the 1%.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

10 ways to thank a veteran for their service

Almost every time someone discovers I'm an Army veteran they will inevitably, at some point in the conversation, say, "Thank you for your service". 

I admit, I prefer thanks to chants of "baby killer" and accusations of being the tool of a fascist government.  

But all too often it's easy to see that the phrase is just a "feel-good" reaction, lacking any emotion or sincerity. It's as hollow as the "God bless America" that ends every political speech by every U.S. politician that has ever mounted a podium. 

My advice, as a veteran, is this: stop saying "Thank you for your service" or any similar trite, politically popular bullshit. 

You sincerely want to thank a veteran? Here are ten things (there are many more) you can do that will make every veteran's sacrifice and service worthwhile.

  • Vote
  • Defend and protect your family, friends, neighbors and children
  • Get involved in social projects that help less fortunate Americans: Provide jobs to the unemployed, provide shelter to the homeless and food to the starving 
  • Get your news from journalists, not commentators and entertainers
  • Champion honesty, compassion, empathy and generosity
  • Promote justice and the equal treatment of all Americans
  • Take care of our country; don't litter or waste resources
  • Don't give away your Constitutional rights for political expediency 
  • Understand we must work together to solve national issues
  • Realize that everyone who contributes to bettering our society is just as worthy of thanks as any veteran
In short, thank a veteran by working to improve the life of every American citizen, including yours. The American people are who we fought to defend and protect.