Space Is Big. Really Big.

No one knows the full extent of the size of the universe we inhabit because we can’t see it all, and we never will. In the part we can observe, there are at least two trillion galaxies, which contain many more stars than there are gains of sand on the Earth.
 
Many of these stars may have a solar system of planets, so there might be as many or more planets than there are stars. Earth is just one of these planets in one of these solar systems in one of these two trillion galaxies in the observable universe.
 
It is hard to contemplate the magnitude of what I’m trying to say….
 
What we can see in all directions is rather BIG. There are other planets in our solar system that are bigger than our planet, the sun is much bigger than any of the planets in our solar system, and there are plenty of other suns that are much bigger than our sun. And there are bigger things than stars. And there are all those massive Black Holes in the centers of most galaxies and sprinkled throughout them.
 
We used to believe that all of reality turned about us, that we were the center of the universe, that it was ALL ABOUT US. We used to think that the Sun revolved around the Earth, then we found it was the other way around. We used to think that stars were just small celestial spheres in the dome of heaven above us, now we know that our solar-system is just one of perhaps tens of billions of solar systems in the Milky Way (maybe as many as 100 billion). We used to think our galaxy was the whole universe, now we know that there are so many other galaxies that if ours disappeared, no one might notice (and maybe there would be no one to notice). We used to believe that ours was the only universe, now some think that there might be an infinite number of universes.
 
On the Grand Scale of Things, our Earth may be much, much tinier in relationship to the universe (or multiverse) than a subatomic particle is in relationship to us.
 
In 1977, NASA launched the space probes Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 on a Grand Tour to the planets in our outer Solar System. In 1990 when Voyager 1 was approximately 6 billion kilometers or 3.7 billion miles away and had completed its primary mission, astronomer and science popularizer Carl Sagan convinced NASA to turn around its camera and take one last photograph of Earth. The resulting image of Earth took up less than one pixel (0.12 pixels) in the 640,000 pixel photograph.
 
The Pale Blue Dot, Earth


Here is what Sagan had to say about it later in some of the best lines ever spoken by anyone….
 
Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there–on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
 
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.
 
Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.
 
The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.
 
It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.
 
Launched in 1977 and traveling at 17 kilometers per second (11 mi/s), it wasn’t until August 25, 2012, that Voyager 1 became the first spacecraft to cross the boundary between our sun’s solar wind and the rest of the galaxy and enter interstellar space. In about 40,000 years it may pass within 1.6 light-years of the star Gliese 445, which is racing towards our Solar System at 119 km/s (430,000 km/h; 270,000 mph).
 
However big many objects in the observable universe may be in relationship to us, they all pale in relationship to the size of the observable universe itself. Despite the fact that the number of stars we may see are possibly 10 times more numerous than all the grains of sand on Earth, they are very far apart from each other.
 
Our own Milky Way galaxy contains between 200 and 400 billion stars, and the distance between the local stars in our galaxy is proportional to two grains of sand more than 30 miles apart.
 
Proxima Centauri is the closest star to us after the sun is about 4.24 light years away. If Voyager 1 was headed in that direction (which it isn’t), it would take 76,000 years to make it there. Using some kind of Gravity Assist method like Helios 2 did to get a slingshot effect from the Sun (setting the record for the fastest man-made object ever at over 240,000 km/hr or 150,000 miles/hr), it would take about 19,000 years.
 
Some proposed technically feasible methods include the Radio Frequency (RF) Resonant Cavity Thruster (or EM Drive), which would reduce the travel time to 13,000 years, and the Nuclear Thermal and Nuclear Electric Propulsion methods which might cut it down to a mere 1,000 years.
 
Proposals for more theoretical methods like Nuclear Pulse Propulsion, Fusion Rockets, Fusion Ramjets, and so on could cut the travel time down to a few dozen years but are problematic for many reasons and aren’t very economically feasible. A Laser Sail method could get us there in a dozen years or so, but it would take a steady flow of all the power consumed on Earth every day and a sail hundreds of miles in diameter. Using some kind of Antimatter Engine could cut the time down to as little as 8 years, but it would require hundreds of thousands (maybe millions) of metric tons of antimatter fuel, but it currently costs over a trillion dollars to produce just one gram of antimatter, and the total amount we’ve ever created is less than 20 nanograms (this is not counting the tremendous size and cost of the ship and many other technological hurdles that would have to be overcome).
 
Even if we could travel at or very near to the speed of light, it would still take 4.24 years or more just to reach the nearest star beyond our sun. And traveling at or close to the speed of light may not even be possible. As you approach the speed of light, whatever spaceship you’re traveling in becomes increasingly more massive requiring more energy until the amount of energy required approaches infinity. The speed of light is the cosmic speed-limit because reaching it may require an infinite amount of energy.
 
Of course, the most theoretical proposed method is some kind of “Warp Drive,” where you would ride in a kind of “warp bubble” that stretches out the fabric of space-time into a wave to cause the space ahead to contract and the space behind to expand. You wouldn’t be violating the speed of light cosmic speed limit because you wouldn’t actually be moving through space. You would be resting in a bubble that would be warping the space around it. This method could cut the travel time to less than 4 years, but it may not be actually possible. It may require a prohibitive amount of energy to work, and we may find that it violates one or more of the fundamental laws of nature.
 
Our Milky Way galaxy is 100,000 light year in diameter (tiny compared to the galaxy M87 at 980,000 light years in diameter or the galaxy Hercules A, which is 1.5 million light years across). If Voyager 1 were headed to the center of our galaxy (which it isn’t), it would take more than 450,000,000 years to make the trip. Even if it could travel at the speed of light, it would take over 26,000 years.
 
The two trillion galaxies in our observable universe are separated from each other by even greater distances than local stars are within these galaxies.
 
The Milky Way has some smaller satellite galaxies around it, but the nearest major galaxy to the Milky Way is Andromeda, 2.5 million light-years away. Even with some kind of light-speed rocket or Warp Drive, ever making a trip like that may forever be beyond us.
 
The Andromeda Galaxy is estimated to collide with the Milky Way Galaxy in about 4.5 billion years, so it may be easier to wait for it to come to us. But aside from galaxies which are gravitationally drawn to each other in local groups like Andromeda and the Milky Way are in ours, the universe is getting bigger all the time due to Dark Energy at an ever increasing rate. The 2.5 million light-years from the Milky Way to Andromeda is a short hop compared to the size of the observable universe which has an estimated diameter of 93 billion light years and a radius of about 46.5 billion light years. And the universe is getting bigger and bigger at an exponential rate all the time.
 
As Douglas Adams said in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, “Space is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly hugely mind-bogglingly big it is.”

 

Moon Landing 50th Anniversary – Part 2

Before a joint session of Congress on May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy made this proposal:

“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.”

At Rice Stadium in Houston, Texas on September 12, 1962, he said:

“We choose to go to the Moon! We choose to go to the Moon…We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win, and the others, too.”

These are some of his remarks about the challenge to go to the Moon on November 21, 1963, the day before he was assassinated in Dallas:

“Frank O’Connor, the Irish writer, tells in one of his books how, as a boy, he and his friends would make their way across the countryside, and when they came to an orchard wall that seemed too high and too doubtful to try and too difficult to permit their voyage to continue, they took off their hats and tossed them over the wall–and then they had no choice but to follow them.

“This Nation has tossed its cap over the wall of space, and we have no choice but to follow it. Whatever the difficulties, they will be overcome.”

They were overcome and Kennedy’s challenge was met.

Before the decade was out, on July 20, 1969–with over 530 million people watching from Planet Earth–the Lunar Module ‘Eagle’ carrying astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed at 4:17 p.m. EDT.

At 4:18 p.m. Armstrong said:

“Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”

Attached to the ladder on the descent stage of the Lunar Module was a plaque with this inscription: 

“Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon July 1969, A.D. We came in peace for all mankind”

Later, at 10:56 p.m. Armstrong stepped onto the Moon surface and said:

“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Aldrin joined him about 19 minutes later, and together they spent a little over 2 hours on the Moon.

They returned to the Lunar Module at about 1:10 a.m. EDT July 21st.

If someone had to pick a date to start counting from as the dawn of a new era, July 20, 1969 is a worthy choice to consider.

The ‘political cartoon’ that appeared in the paper I have from the next day I thought was especially poignant.

Moon Landing 50th Anniversary – Part 1

A friend asked me once what I thought was the most significant news event to happen in my lifetime. He thought I my answer might be the 9-11 attack, or the John F. Kennedy assassination, or something along those lines.

I answered that I thought it was when we landed on the Moon.

That was a massive accomplishment!!!

It was the culmination of millions of years of evolution, including thousands of years of advances in mathematics, science, and technology.

It should be a national and international holiday.

In May 1961, when Kennedy proposed that the U.S. “should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth,” he was raising the bar about as high as it could have been raised. It was an incredible challenge that would require new concepts, new designs, and new technology. It would also require tremendous effort, tremendous investment, and tremendous coordination.

Growing up, I had been a big fan of NASA ever since I could remember….

I was born when Explorer 1–the first satellite launched by the United States–was still sending data back to Earth, and a little over 5 months before NASA was formed. At one time, I knew every mission, the astronauts that flew them, the nicknames of the spacecraft, and what happened with each one.

By July 1969, I was following the flight of Apollo 11 as closely as I could. I was one of millions of people all over the world watching the Moon Landing (on CBS with Walter Cronkite, of course).

The technology was fairly primitive by today’s standards….

Nevertheless, the Apollo Guidance Computer was a massive breakthrough at the time with 2k of memory and 32k of storage to land on the Moon, and it could preform 8 tasks at once!!!

During the descent they first had some trouble with communications, and then, after that was resolved, two computer alarms went off: 1202 and 1201.

The astronauts had been trained in simulators for almost everything anybody could imagine happening. Usually, if anything like this happened, the answer was to “abort” the landing.

The astronauts didn’t know these alarms meant and had never trained for them.

And at first, even NASA didn’t know what they meant either.

Basically, what was happening was that the computer was getting too much information to process. However, it was set to reboot automatically when that happened and return to the same place it was before it had to reboot, so it was more like some hiccups in the system, and Mission Control was still getting data.[The people who wrote that software in assembly language to land on the Moon probably had to be more succinct in their coding than most any other software program that comes out today, and it wasn’t a fault with the software that caused the problem, it was when Aldrin turned on some radar that would be useful if they had to abort. Aldrin also noticed the correlation and suggested that his action was related to the alarms. The extra data coming in as a result of Aldrin flipping that switch was enough to exceed the computer’s capacity and sound the alarms.]

Imagine you are one of the two people in the Lunar Module on your way down to be the first in all of human history to land on the Moon. You’re doing something that’s NEVER been done before and millions of people all over the word are listening to every word you say and every breath you take. The hopes of humanity are all focused on you, your margin of error is incredibly tiny with death just out the window, just one small mistake away…. and alarms are going off on your landing computer.

NASA came back with a “go” on those alarms. In other words, “ignore them” and “keep going.”

When Armstrong could get a good look at the landing site situation, he realized that it wasn’t the one projected. They were 2 seconds off, so they were two miles further downfield than they planned.

They were headed to land in a crater with car-size rocks all around.

Armstrong decided to take control of the landing to the extent he could. He expended almost all the remaining fuel in the lander to land passed that. This took them another two miles away from the original landing site.

At the end, when his fuel was about to run out, and dust was blowing up from the landing thrusters–making it difficult for him to see exactly where he was landing (or what he might be landing on)–they finally touched down so gently that it was hardly noticeable.Buzz Aldrin says, “Contact light.”

However, they actually hadn’t ‘landed’ at this point. The landing legs had probes extending down and he was reporting that at least one of the probes had touched the surface.

Then Neil Armstrong says, “Shutdown” and Aldrin responds, “Okay. Engine stop.”

There was a short technical exchange between Armstrong and Aldrin that was part of the post-shutdown process, then there was the “official” announcement by Armstrong: “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.” [Houston was where Mission Control was located. Armstrong come up with the name “Tranquility Base” because they had landed in the lava-plain Mare Tranquillitatis (“Sea of Tranquility”). The “Eagle” was the name of the Apollo 11 Lunar Module.]

One can make an argument for any of these as the first words spoken from the Moon.

Regardless, considering all the pressure they were under and ongoing drama going on I just relayed, the words exchanged between the two astronauts and Mission Control during the entire descent are exceedingly calm.

Mission Control expresses the pent-up relief everyone must have felt once they had landed in their response, “Roger, Twan…Tranquility. We copy you on the ground. You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We’re breathing again. Thanks a lot.”

Keeping all that in mind, this video is one of the best there is to watch the landing.

Persuasive Technology & The Attention Economy

A while back, I ran across several videos and articles by a “technology design ethicist” named Tristian Harris–who also appeared on 60 Minutes–about how technology is manipulating us into spending more time online and the consequences thereof. He says, “I call it the race to the bottom of the brain stem.”

From a November 2016 article in The Atlantic:

“‘Our generation relies on our phones for our moment-to-moment choices about who we’re hanging out with, what we should be thinking about, who we owe a response to, and what’s important in our lives,’ he said. ‘And if that’s the thing that you’ll outsource your thoughts to, forget the brain implant. That is the brain implant. You refer to it all the time.'”

I can’t find one good single video to cover all the things he gets into overall, though SOME of it overlaps aspects of what I’ve been arguing for years that have to do with what is evidently called the “Attention Economy” and how it encourages short attention spans, desires for instant gratification, black and white thinking, and isolates us into our own content bubbles of conformation biases (which drives us further apart).

As he says in another article, “But it also changes us on the inside. We grow less and less patient for reality as it is, especially when it’s boring or uncomfortable. We come to expect more from the world, more rapidly. And because reality can’t live up to our expectations, it reinforces how often we want to turn to our screens. A self-reinforcing feedback loop.”

But most of what you’ll find in these videos and articles has to do with some examples of what is evidently called “Persuasive Technology” designed to continually capture our attention until it becomes like a drug.

“There’s this whole discipline and field of persuasive technology…. What is the ethics of persuasion, especially when the consequences in this case now affect billions of people?”

A few other interesting phrases I ran across diving into this were: “Choice Architectures,” “Design Ethics,” and “Continuous Partial Attention.”

In his appearance on 60 Minutes, professor of psychology at California State University Larry Rosen–a researcher of the psychology of tech–said typically, people check their phones every 15 minutes or less. They’re not just craving dopamine; he said they’re seeking relief from the stress hormone cortisol.

“Half of the time, they check their phone, there’s no alert, no notification,” said Rosen. “It’s coming from inside their head, telling them, ‘Gee I haven’t checked on Facebook for a while, I haven’t checked on this Twitter feed for a while. I wonder if someone commented on my Instagram post. That then generates cortisol and it starts to make you anxious. Eventually your goal is to get rid of that anxiety, so you check in.”

In an article by professor of psychology at San Diego State University Jean M. Twenge titled: “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?” she worries post-Millennials are “on the brink of a mental-health crisis.”

She says, “There is compelling evidence that the devices we’ve placed in young people’s hands are having profound effects on their lives—and making them seriously unhappy.”

Some aspects of this remind me of the Star Trek Next Generation episode “The Game.”

The plot of the episode from Wikipedia:

“Riker returns from a vacation on Risa with a game that he is eager to share with the crew. Unfortunately, the game is psychologically addictive (making the crew suffer from Virtual Reality Addiction), and it quickly turns nearly every member of the Enterprise’s crew into a mind-controlled pawn of the Ktarians, who are using the devices to gain control of Starfleet.”

All this resulted in me creating the image meme at the top of this post.

This is one decent short introductory video about it….

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MacJ4p0vITM

Here are a couple others that are a bit longer….

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zE2rTXySkbQ

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jT5rRh9AZf4

Here’s a link to Tristian Harris’ site:

http://www.tristanharris.com/

The Library of Babel

Imagine a library where every combination of letters, spaces, commas, and periods is accessible, where anything that has ever been said or written or thought—or ever could be said or written or thought—is there. It would include news stories about the future, descriptions of your own birth and death, the secrets of the universe, and so on and on (both true and false, of course).

According to Wikipedia, “‘The Library of Babel’ (Spanish: La biblioteca de Babel) is a short story by Argentine author and librarian Jorge Luis Borges (1899–1986), conceiving of a universe in the form of a vast library containing all possible 410-page books of a certain format and character set.”

This short story was published in 1941.

A couple years ago, someone decided to build a website to implement the idea. The video at the bottom of this post is set to start at the 17:10 mark where it talks about how it works.

The problem with this is that because there are more possible combinations than you could ever sort through, the vast and overwhelming majority of it is gibberish. And just as in the short story, spending time trying to find something useful in all the gibberish could result in “suicidal despair.”

However, the site does allow you to find anything you type in to search for within the library.

What’s also weird is that the library on the site has the same thing for images.

As it says on the site about that section of the library:

“Instead of letters and punctuation marks, the Image Archives permute the 4096 colors, and rather than a page of 40 lines each with 80 characters, the images are pixel grids with 416 rows and 640 columns. It contains every image that ever has been or could be created with this color palette in these dimensions, including portraits of every person who ever lived at every moment in their life, digitized versions of every work of art ever created, even those lost to history, as well as every work of art which ever could be created, and photographs of your own birth, wedding, and funeral.”

As intriguing as this might be, again, the vast majority of images look like static. And again, you could look for something by uploading an image and it will find where it would be located in the library.

While it might seem to be some kind of trick—that the only coherent thing you might find is what you input—the site doesn’t store any text or pictures. As the person who built the site says, “Since I imagine the question will present itself in some visitors’ minds (a certain amount of distrust of the virtual is inevitable) I’ll head off any doubts: any text you find in any location of the library will be in the same place in perpetuity. We do not simply generate and store books as they are requested – in fact, the storage demands would make that impossible. Every possible permutation of letters is accessible at this very moment in one of the library’s books, only awaiting its discovery.”

As compelling as this might seem, I imagine hunting for something in all the static could lead to madness.

However, it is kind of disturbing to consider the implications. It has been bothering me ever since I learned about it.

Here’s the video:

https://youtu.be/GDrBIKOR01c?t=17m10s

Here’s the site:

https://libraryofbabel.info/

Generation Jones

I recently discovered that I may be in a generational sub-group of the Baby Boomer generation. I was born in 1958 and have often felt that being on the tail end of the Boomer Generation was actually very much like being whipped around like the tail of a larger beast. It was like having a lot of the idealism of that generation while seeing the mistakes the Boomers were making, but not being able to do much about it. It was like coming late to the party when most of the cake was gone and the party prizes had already been given out (not as much at first, but more later as we entered the workforce). It also felt like we came of age just when there were beginning to be blow-backs and cut backs from the excesses from our older brethren (which only seemed to increase over time).

“Generation Jones is a term coined by the author Jonathan Pontell to describe those born from approximately 1954 to 1965, while other sources place the start point at 1956 or 1957. This group is essentially the latter half of the baby boomers to the first years of Generation X.”

–snip—

“The generation is noted for coming of age after a huge swath of their older brothers and sisters in the earlier portion of the baby boomer population had come immediately preceding them; thus, many Generation Jones members complain that there was a paucity of resources and privileges available to them that were seemingly abundant to those older boomers born earlier. Therefore, there is a certain level of bitterness about and a ‘jonesing’ for the level of freedom and affluence granted to older boomers but denied to their generation.”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Generation_Jones

Cats

I’ve had a number of cats as pets over the years (or they had me). I’d probably still have one, if I wasn’t somewhat allergic to cat hair. I like them for several reasons. Among those reasons, they are independent and fairly low maintenance (unlike dogs). I was even able to teach a couple of them to fetch, which was much easier than I expected.

The first time happened by accident. I had just finished a pack of cigarettes and crumbled it up. I noticed the sound of crumbling cellophane drew the attention of my black, short-haired cat Nadir (I called him that because he was frequently directly underfoot). I continued to crumble the cigarette pack up into a ball until I had his total attention. Then, threw it across the room and he chased after it. He batted it a couple of times and then got it into his mouth. As soon as it was in his mouth, I called him to come to me. He got most of the way back before he dropped it, so I picked it up and did it again. He understood the game I was playing with him right away. After that, he could be totally asleep on the couch, but he would come instantly alert whenever I crumbled up a pack of cigarettes, ready to go chasing after it and play fetch with me..

Once, around the holidays, he was sleeping on the top of the couch. I stuck a couple of gift bows on his butt. Then, I crumbled up an empty pack of cigarettes. He sprang up, alert, and ready to play fetch. I threw the empty cigarette ball across the room. He dived after it and started running toward it, then he realized there was something on his butt. He suddenly lowered his butt in mid-stride and started dragging his butt across the floor, as if a big weight had unexpectedly been put on his back half.

It was pretty funny.

I had another black cat I was able to teach how to fetch later named Milo (or Milo Cat, or My Little Cat), but not every cat I’ve had was able to pick up on it. [I also used to be able to play hide and seek with Milo, but he was the one that always hided. Whenever I discovered him, he would jump up about 4 feet into the air sideways 2-3 times, before he would run off to hide himself again. He also didn’t mind riding in the car and would look outside the window at what we were passing.]

It’s funny how each cat has such a different personality from other cats (I assume that’s the same with other animals as well). Perhaps male cats are more aggressive in general, but it was a female cat that killed a bird to present to me in the bedroom. From what I can tell, no two cats are any more alike than any two humans.

Even earlier, I had a calico cat I named Loblolly, who was very independent. If I ever reprimanded her for anything, she would go to hide under the bed in the guest bedroom until I came and apologized to her. Nadir was one of her kids. If I reprimanded him for anything, he would be back in my face in a few minutes, begging for love and forgiveness.

My very first cat was a very beautiful white cat that I first named Fantasy but quickly renamed her Reality. There were a lot of jokes I could make about that. I could lose Reality, or hold Reality close, and so on. I finally had to give her up to a friend because I couldn’t keep her in the college dorms.

I’ve always had a weak spot for cats. Even after I had decided to never have another one (because of my allergies), I ended up semi-adopting one that I found in a very bad condition. She came up to me looking like she was starving. She was torn up like she had recently been in a fight, and she was the ugliest cat I had ever seen. I named her Grendel and took her back to my place to feed her. At that time, I lived in a garage apartment in the nicest section of town in Wilmington, NC. She ended up getting pregnant and having her kittens under the house next door. The kids in the house next door found her and her kittens, and her and her kittens ended up being adopted by the neighbors. So, there was a happy ending to that story.

This is me with Milo Cat almost 30 years ago…


Thank You, Science

I wake up to the alarm on my phone….
 
I turn the thermostat up to 74 from where it was set before I went to sleep at 72.
 
I brush my teeth in the bathroom sink, where I can get water on demand.
 
I spend several minutes on the toilet, where I can easily flush my waste.
 
I take a shower. I step into an alcove in my bathroom and all I have to do is pull a lever to adjust the rate the water is falling on me and how hot or cold it is. I can even adjust the showerhead to spray me with water in any direction (or remove it to direct it where I wish).
 
While I’m waiting for my hair to dry, I can check any new emails I’ve received on the internet, I can check to see if anyone has responded to my FB posts, and I can check CNN and CBS News to find out if anything major has happened.
 
Just think about all that for a second….
 
I had a comfortable room to sleep in; if I didn’t wake up myself, an electronic alarm would have done that for me; I was able to instantly control the temperature of my environment and almost instantly dispose of any human waste I had.
 
I had instant access to however much water I wanted at any speed or temperature from any direction to brush my teeth and take a shower.
 
I had instant access to anyone sending messages to me from anywhere in the world while I was sleeping, as well as what was going on all around the world that was being covered by the news media.
 
If I wanted to, I could drive out to the airport and buy a ticket to another part of the world and fly there!! I could travel to the other side of the Earth in less than a day.
 
And I could listen to whatever music I wanted to hear or whatever podcast or other broadcast I wanted to listen to along the way.
 
I have the internet at my fingertips. It’s better than having the Library of Alexandria in your pocket.
 
I can take pictures and videos at a whim, play games, or live stream some experience.
I can talk to people in real time all around the world.
 
When I come home in the evening, I can take some food out of the refrigerator and put it in the microwave or cook it on the stove, OR I could have it delivered to me in 30 minutes.
 
There are about three things to take away from this….
 
The first thing is that we are living better than kings used to live, but we don’t appreciate it. We tend to judge ourselves in relation to our contemporaries and not what conditions were before us.
 
The second thing is that these conditions were all brought about by science, not faith in religion, which would have left us all in the dark ages forever if religion had its way. Science has given us everything from refrigerators to the internet.
 
The third thing is the reason of science make sense, and it helps us progress into the future and improve our situation.
 
[Note: not everyone is there yet; this is a first world scenario, but things are hopefully moving in this direction as they have continually been, if you look at the bigger picture.]

An Argument for ‘Xmas’ as a Secular Holiday

I’ve always thought these other holidays like HumanLight and Festivus were kind of lame attempts to compete with Christmas. After all, Christmas has a lot of cultural evolution behind it that has caused it to succeed very well.

Everyone should know that Christians have appropriated many older customs to form this holiday to try and make it their own. I don’t see why we can’t appropriate it for ourselves just as they did. It is already well on the way to becoming a “secular” holiday anyway, so maybe we can just push it the rest of the way.

There are many Christians who don’t understand the history of why it is sometimes abbreviated as “Xmas,” and they object to that abbreviation because they think it is “Xing out Christ from Christmas.”

Rather than trying to continually enlighten them about this issue, why not embrace their misunderstanding? We can say, “Yes! that’s exactly what we are trying to do!!! We are going to celebrate Xmas just like you celebrate Christmas, but without the Jesus BS.” We can still have the tree, the lights, and the gifts etc., but without a Jesus in the manger.

If Christians can steal it from pagan traditions, then we can steal it from them.

It could also be considered somewhat edgy, just like the X-Games relate to the Olympics. We could add our own extra flourishes to replace those that we are excluding (possibly crowning the tree with a Flying Spaghetti Monster rather than a star, for example).

I think it may be easier to appropriate it than to compete against it.

The ‘Rigged’ U.S. Election System

How many ways is the election system rigged in the U.S.?

First, there are various voter suppression tactics used by those in power. Wikipedia currently list examples including: impediments to voter registration, photo ID laws, purging of voter rolls, limitations on early voting, felon disenfranchisement, transgender disenfranchisement, disinformation about voting procedures, inequality in Election Day resources, closure of DMV offices, caging lists, gerrymandering, and off-year elections (Voter suppression in the United States). Other tactics can include changing polling locations, changing polling hours, reducing the number of polling places, and under-staffing and limiting the number of voting machines in select areas. There may be others I failed to cover here.

Second, the antiquated Electoral College system which allows the possibility that the winner or the popular vote could still lose the election. It also causes the votes of some to count more than the votes of others, and it causes parties and politicians to pander to and focus more on the concerns of some states over others.

Third, the two-party system has become so embedded that makes it almost impossible for third party candidates to have a realistic chance of winning, and the two major parties that have the power have an incentive to keep it that way. Independent or unaffiliated voters (which are currently 38 percent of the country vs. 32 percent Democrat and 23 percent Republican) may have difficulty finding candidates to represent them, and, depending on the state and party, they may or may not be allowed to vote in the Republican or Democratic primaries.

Fourth, there may be other issues with candidates going against those in the “establishment” within the respective parties. Possibly the most obvious example is the power of so-called “Super-Delegates” in the Democratic Party.

However, possibly the most significant way the election system is rigged is the influence of big money in politics….

Some time back, Larry Lessig presented a great TED Talk about ‘Lester Land’ and how we all live in it. The idea is basically that it’s the people with money who decide what our choices are. It costs quite a bit of money to run for office, and the higher the office the more it costs. Unless someone has money or wins the favor of those who do, they are less likely to get elected. So, our choices come pre-selected and only those candidates who are willing to support the interest of the ‘Lesters’ will come into power.

A 2014 study conducted by Princeton and Northwestern universities concluded that “In the United States, our findings indicate, the majority does not rule — at least not in the causal sense of actually determining policy outcomes. When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organized interests, they generally lose. Moreover, because of the strong status quo bias built into the U.S. political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favor policy change, they generally do not get it.”

The peer-reviewed study also said, “The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on US government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence” and “Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association and a widespread (if still contested) franchise. But we believe that if policymaking is dominated by powerful business organisations and a small number of affluent Americans, then America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened.”

The study found that the influence of the average American is at a “non-significant, near-zero level.”

I’ve seen many people reference George Carlin’s comments on the matter to explain why they don’t vote. Carlin argued that “The real owners are the big wealthy business interests that control things and make all the important decisions. Forget the politicians, they’re an irrelevancy. The politicians are put there to give you the idea that you have freedom of choice. You don’t. You have no choice. You have owners. They own you. They own everything. They own all the important land. They own and control the corporations. They’ve long since bought and paid for the Senate, the Congress, the statehouses, the city halls. They’ve got the judges in their back pockets. And they own all the big media companies, so that they control just about all of the news and information you hear. They’ve got you by the balls. They spend billions of dollars every year lobbying ¬ lobbying to get what they want. Well, we know what they want; they want more for themselves and less for everybody else.”

Carlin argues that we only have the ‘illusion’ of choice. The Princeton and Northwestern study indicate this may be the case, that we really have an oligarchy posing as a democracy.

This is not inspiring, and it may largely explain why a great many Americans don’t bother to vote, why they might vote for a third party, or why they might be so frustrated they are willing to see it all burn down.

Unless we can begin to address the main issue concerning “economic elites and organized groups representing business interests” running the show, we aren’t going to be able to do much to address the other issues. Some Supreme Court cases will need to be overturned, or new laws or amendments need to be passed by Congress (which they will not be inclined to do). Larry Lessig has some suggestions, as do others like Cenk Uygur of the online TYT Network (see: Wolf PAC). Perhaps there are others….

However, until we can get big money out of politics, we aren’t going to have much control of anything.

Major Study Finds The US Is An Oligarchy

The US is not a democracy but an oligarchy, study concludes

Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens