The End of the World as We Know It

Writing a list is a cheap way for a journalist to fill up space which, as we all know, is the main the endpurpose of journalism, two or three levels above ‘informing the public about events that matter which are currently happening in the world,’ and responding to that list is an even more pathetic way for a blogger to fulfill his self-imposed goal of writing a blog every day, but it’s late and I don’t have a better idea, so here you go. The list is from the Guardian, of the 5 greatest threats to the continued existence of the human species.

The writer started off fine.  Nuclear War and some kind of bio-engineered pandemic are definitely threats to human existence.  I don’t know if I’d have put them in my top 5, but I’d certainly put them in my top 10.

But then the author talks about superintelligence and nanotechnology.  These are not, by themselves, threats.  Superintelligence may, indeed, lead to the creation of a cyberspecies which supplants the human race, but not in a hostile sort of way.  It is not  extinction, unless you think that a parent becomes extinct when their child is born.  It is passing the torch, and there is an important distinction.

Nanotechnology could be used to develop powerful, and extremely insidious weapons, but it could also be used in medicine, in computers, in a whole bunch of other useful stuff.  Like nuclear technology, it is a double edged sword.  There’s a threat there, but also a promise.

Then came #5, which was a huge cop-out even by the standards of listicle writing: Unknown unknowns.  Way to cover your ass, psuedo-journalist dude.

There are many more things which could go on a list of greatest threats to the survival of mankind: a meteor strike, global warming, the extinction of the honey bees, environmental degradation, a supervolcano, or an alien invasion (a real one, from outer space, not the kind the teabaggers are always bitching about).

There are also some things which did not appear on the author’s list and which could not appear on any similar list written by a sane person of normal intelligence: gun control, abortion, marijuana, immigration,  and the overall poor quality of television programming.

We can just stop worrying about those.

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Back Door, Man

Sometimes, there is near unanimity in the response to a news story. There is lots of disagreement about what’s happening in Gaza, and about who shot down the Malaysian Airliner and what should be done about it, but everybody was saddened by James Garner’s death. Nobody didn’t like James Garner.

You can stay, if you come in the back way (not a photo of  the actual door)

You can stay, if you come in the back way (not a photo of the actual door)

Another story where the response was near unanimous was the revelation that some new buildings in the more expensive parts of Manhattan (not that any place on the island is cheap, but there is a difference between expensive and ‘for rich people only’) have decided to segregate their entrances. Not by race, or gender, or age, or sexual orientation, of course. That would be illegal. Strictly according to money. People living in the more expensive apartments get to come in through the front door, people renting the more affordable apartments will have to enter from the alley.
Pretty much everybody agrees that this is disgusting, and tacky, and horrible. I agree, too.
But there isn’t a damn thing anybody can do about it. The developers, if they’d had their way, wouldn’t have provided any middle class apartments at all. The city has passed a rule that new buildings have to have a certain percentage of affordable housing, and they are complying with that rule, up to and not exceeding the bare minimum. The city government did not even think to say “and everybody must have access to the main entrance” because nobody even thought of that, but there you go. There’s no law against being disgusting, and tacky, and horrible.
The rich people, coming in through their rich, hotel lobby style entrance, are not likely to object. They are not even likely to think about it, after a day or two.
Those forced to come in at the back are not likely to protest too much. If they really objected, they wouldn’t be buying in that specific building.
It’s disgusting, and tacky, and horrible, but it’s not unique. If you get on an airplane, the passengers are separated into first class and coach. When you arrive at JFK, if you are rich, there is a limo waiting for you. If you are middle class, you might take a cab. If you are poor (poor enough that you have to think about how much you’re spending on stuff) you take the bus to the train.
If you aren’t rich, there are restaurants you can’t eat at, clubs you can’t get into, shoes you will never get to wear.
It sucks, but the ‘poor doors’ in New York are only a symptom. Even if it was possible to force the building owners to change their policy, it would make little difference. The doors are not the problem. Income inequality, and the caste system that goes along with it, are the problem.

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The difference between liberals and conservatives, essentially, is that liberals believe “we’re all in the same boat,” and conservatives believe that everyone is responsible for themselves.  Liberals believe that everyone should have access to clean water, breathable air, a decent home, health care and a shot at a decent education.  Conservatives believe that nobody should get anything unless they are willing to work for it.

It’s possible to find a compromise between these two positions.  It’s not possible  to find a compromise with the extreme right wing nut jobs who have control of American politics at the moment, and who are making inroads in  some other countries.

Those people are just mean and vindictive and want people to suffer, and will never compromise with anybody, as a matter of principle.  But if you define the positions as I have above, it’s possible to reach a compromise.

Give everybody who doesn’t have a job a job.  There is work that needs to be done.  Building or restoring homes so that everyone has a place to live.  Covering all the roads of the world with solar panels.  Planting trees.  Establishing urban gardens.  Recycling absolutely everything.  Digging canals and laying pipe and setting up desalination facilities.  Creating the world of the future.

Of course, everybody needs to get paid and the question is “Where is all that money coming from?”  First, money is an abstraction.  When you have a jobs program like this going, you actually would be creating wealth.  But, back to the short term – where is the money going to come from?

Well, it’s the government that prints the money so they would just have to print enough to pay everybody.  That’s not quite as crazy and inflationary as it sounds, because almost all of the money would be poured straight back into the economy.  Some would be withheld from paychecks to pay for the houses which the homeless would be building for themselves.  Some gets taken out for health insurance, making health care affordable for everybody.  Some, of course, is going to be spent on alcohol, drugs, and junk food, but that’s going into the economy as well.

Vendors of alcohol, drugs and junk food have families to feed, too.

It wouldn’t eliminate poverty right away, or completely.  But it would eliminate the lowest level of poverty, the desperation poverty.  And, as it does that, it also makes the world a better place.  Physically, structurally, a better place.

Does anyone disagree with that?

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The Moon and Beyond

Today was the 45th anniversary of the first moon landing.  It passed largely unnoticed.  That’s not too surprising.  Nobody pays attention to the moon any more.

There were a handful more expeditions after the first one, but no colony was ever established.  I don’t know exactly how many men (all men, I’m pretty sure of that) have walked on the moon, but it was fewer than 20.  In another decade or two, it is very likely that there will be no  one left alive who has ever walked on the surface of any rock in space other than the Earth.  Unless we get to Mars in that time.

One Giant Leap

One Giant Leap

Basically, after a few expeditions, the scientific value of going to the moon had reached the point of diminishing returns.  It’s a lifeless rock, with no commercial value.  The same, unfortunately, holds true for Mars.

Still, I want us to go.  I want to see colonies on the red planet, I want to see a space elevator, I want to see hotels at all the LaGrange points, I want mining colonies on the moons of Saturn and Jupiter and Uranus and Neptune.  It can be done.  It will be done.  But it’s going a lot slower than I’d hoped.

There are a couple of areas where we are way ahead of where we were in 1969, and they are major.

In 1969 we had not found any planets orbiting other suns.  We figured they were there, most science fiction is based on that premise, but we hadn’t found any.  Now, we’ve found several hundred and we are discovering them at assembly line pace.

Space telescopes are getting better, computers are getting way, way better – it’s pretty staggering to realize that Apollo 11 had less computer power than the average mobile phone does today.  We are discovering more and more about the nature of the universe.

Robots are getting better, and the ones that are rolling around Mars now are doing a job that no humans could do – at least not for very long.

Also, the price of space exploration has almost come down to the point that some very wealthy individuals can launch independent missions.

When that elevator gets built, get ready for another rapid expansion.

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Superhero Suit

I love science, although I am not a scientist.  I am fascinated by all the new developments, but don’t have the patience or mental rigor to understand them in any  depth.  That’s O.K.  If you want details, there are places you can  get those.  I offer speculation, for what it’s worth.

Ocean Man

Ocean Man

Science is a pretty broad term, though.  I am very interested in space, particularly the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence.  They’re out there, and contact could change everything,  be a major shortcut to the future.  I’m also quite interested in any life extending technology, because I’d like to live forever, if at all possible.  I’m interested in cybernetics, for the same reason.  The singularity is coming, and I hope it comes soon.  I get excited about any article on the intelligence, and psychology, of the great apes.  No particular reason, I just think they are cool.

For some reason, deep  sea exploration doesn’t usually interest me the same way.  I know there’s an alien, exotic world down there, completely different than the one we inhabit,   but it’s only fish.

This development, though, is amazing, and has on-land implications.  It’s a diving suit, it looks a bit like a space suit, but it allows the wearer to go down to about 350 meters, have total mobility (plus some pretty cool prosthetic attachments for collecting and analyzing samples), and stay  down for up to 50 hours, although nobody’s going to stay down that long because people need to sleep, not  to mention eat and drink and pee and poop.  I don’t know, maybe they’ve worked those out as well.  It also has jets to help you  get around quicker.

People are calling it the “superhero suit” and that’s sort of what it is.  That’s why I say it has on-land implications.  Some day, we will have  superheroes walking around doing all the dangerous jobs.  Firemen will have suits like this, so they can walk right through flames.  Policemen and soldiers will have supersuits, which is  not necessarily a good thing.

There is the problem.  How do we make sure the good guys become the superheroes, when our society  is, quite clearly, being run by  the  bad guys?


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Bicycle Path of Discovery

I love this city.  Last night Helena and I went to see a movie, 50č apiece so tickets for both of us plus snack and drink was still less than cinema price.  It was outdoor cinema, and the film was a piece of crap called “Divergent” but they might as well have just called it “Everybody Loved Hunger Games So We Just Decided to Copy That.”  Didn’t matter.  It had some good action scenes,   and watching outdoors was fun.

I believe this is the stretch between Vysočany and Hloubětín

I believe this is the stretch between Vysočany and Hloubětín

This evening we went for a bike ride, in the direction of Vysočanska and then we kept going, getting a lot farther than we ever did when the kids were with us (They’re with the grandparents, up at the cottage.  We’re going up there tomorrow.)  It was a warm evening, light until about 9:30.  We saw joggers, walkers, roller bladers, a bunch of people sitting in front of a pub where they had a plastic kiddie pool set up and the adults were getting in and splashing each other, some people exercising in the park, some people splashing with their dogs in the stream which was a bit off, because it looks like a bit of a sewer to me and I think the whole atmosphere could be improved dramatically by cleaning it up a bit, then we were past the park at Vysočanska and into territory I’d never explored before.  There were just a couple brief sections where it looked urban, but 90% of the time was through park space and it was lovely.

On the way back, we stopped at an outdoor cafe next to a fitness center, it was at a high point of the path and had a really great view.  As I said to H, in view of the fact that I’d never been in that neighborhood before, it was just like being tourists at an outdoor cafe in a strange city.

I’ve lived here 16 years and still find new stuff all  the time.  I love this town.

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Two Russian Mysteries

There’s almost no possibility that the two incidents I’m going to write about in tonight’s blog are connected, except that they happened in the same country, which is not such a great coincidence since Russia is an absolutely massive country, the largest in the world by far, and one of the events didn’t actually happen inside Russia, it’s just all about them.  Also, I think the proper response to both of these situations is the same.

All of a sudden, igt was just there

All of a sudden, it was just there

The first incident took place in Siberia, clearly inside Russian territory.  A giant hole, which is apparently NOT a sinkhole, although I don’t understand what the difference is, has suddenly appeared.  Aliens? A meteor? Fracking? Military testing?  Global warming?  Nobody knows.  It’s about 80 meters across and nobody knows how deep yet.  It was discovered when a helicopter flew over the area.  Remember, this is Siberia.  Nobody lives nearby.  No lives were lost.

The second incident, of course, is the shooting down of the Malaysian airliner over eastern Ukraine.  Maybe the Russians thought it was a Ukrainian plane, maybe the Ukrainians thought it was a Russian plane, nobody knows.  In either event, it’s at the very least a high level of military incompetence, because they should be able to tell the difference between a large airliner and a fighter jet, and they could have checked with air traffic control at the nearest airport.  Of course, there are other possibilities, such as metal fatigue, mechanical malfunction, a terrorist bomb on board having nothing to do with either Russia or Ukraine, or something else.

The proper course of action, however, is exactly the same in both incidents.  Let the investigations proceed, find out what actually happened,  and then (and not until then) start discussing what to do about it.

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