Sunday, August 27, 2017

Boldly Going

Pondering metaphysical concepts, without regard to crazy ass theories and ideas most normal people either discount or ridicule, is something I do many times in a twenty-four hours period, much to chagrin of my fuddy-duddy wife. While I've always been a person who likes to entertain ideas outside the realm of what normal people consider, when you work third-shift like me ruminating about the fantastic or improbable has the added effect of keeping my mind entertained.

Now, I also have to admit I'm particular about what I get metaphysical about, I don't waste my time on things like Bigfoot, alien abductions, UFO's that fly around trailer parks, anything about a literal Atlantis, or supernatural entities that terrorized little children and ruin real estate values. Long story short while I camp out in left field, most of my brooding is firmly on scientific grounds. I could carry on ad nauseam about my favorite subjects, like the possibility of life existing in the watery ocean under the ice of Europa, one of the moons of Jupiter. Another favorite is the future of Artificial Intelligence and how I'm ready to vote for a sentient computer to be president as opposed to the thing now living in the White House. And while I cringe when some bonehead brings up UFO's, I am always ready to discuss the current ideas about extraterrestrial intelligence and why Fermi's Paradox raises the hairs on the back my neck. PLEASE, someone ask me why Fermi's Paradox bothers me far more than it should. But remember I'm weird, marooned in a boorish suburban hell, and have no real life so my answer will be long, convoluted, and lean towards the fantastic.

But all that is for another day, right now I want to ponder the accomplishment of the Voyager 1 probe, which not only passed the forty year mark in its mission but is now the first human-made object to enter interstellar space. Launched back on September 5 of 1977 it flew by both Jupiter and Saturn before heading out into the abyss.
Due to a rather rare orbital aliment of the gas giants the planners back at NASA were able to leave the Voyager 2 probe the option of swinging by Uranus and then Neptune. For those not up on the orbital mechanics of “planets”, Pluto wasn't included on the Voyager Grand Tours because it simply wasn't in the proper position.

Which was all good because it allowed the wizards at NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory to design, build, and then launch the New Horizons probe so it could specifically visit the little runt several years later. In fact during New Horizon's long voyage to its intended destination, the International Astronomical Union demoted Pluto from being a full-fledged planet to “dwarf-planet” status earning the the ire from its hordes of fans around the world while confusing the crap out of many Americans.

Personally, I think Pluto's demotion to dwarf-planet was a good thing. Any decent planet should be able to clear its orbit of all that primordial trash left over from the formation of the solar system. Then there is the fact that Pluto's orbit is highly elliptical, so much that it sometimes dips in front of Neptune's path. All told, I liken Pluto to the drunk, irresponsible redneck that moves his dilapidated trailer right next an upper-middle class subdivision. You know given this criteria, it suddenly just occurred to me that except for the dilapidated trailer and being a drunk, my neighbors could call me Pluto, or at least Ceres, another dwarf-planet that somehow sneaked into the better part of town.

Getting back on the proper metaphysical track, it should amaze every literate person that humans have made an object that is now sailing through interstellar space. The first reason for this is that it was only a little over a century ago that we hairless primates began making machines that could take us up just a few hundred feet into our own atmosphere. Yes, it will take forty-thousand years before Voyager 2 passes within a couple of light-years of a star (Ross 248) and then almost another three-hundred thousand years before it passes within four light-years of the star Sirius, but nevertheless a human-made object is traveling interstellar space. Given our rapid progress from primitive, propeller-drive aircraft made of wood and canvas to complex space probes speeding out of the solar system it isn't wrong to hope actual humans might be heading out to the stars at some point. That is if we don't destroy ourselves by allowing too many more delusional and narcissistic morons access to nuclear capable political leadership. 

Cover for the Golden Record

Which brings up the Golden Records each of the Voyager probes carry on board. Back during the planning stages of the Voyager probes a team a of scientists, lead by the great Carl Sagan decided to include a type of time capsule with each spacecraft should it be found by space faring aliens or even future humans. On these phonographic records are samples of music from around the world, greetings from different people in many languages, and different scenes of our planet. To help out any possible aliens or far future humans who might stumble across the Voyager probes the records are encased in a cover that gives “instructions” on how to play them as well as other nice tidbits of information about their planet of origin.

The mind blowing aspect of the Voyager probes and their golden records is that their expected lifespan is in the billions of years. While the chances of them being discovered by an alien civilization is so low it would be far wiser for a person to expect to win a multi-million dollar lottery, the Voyager probes are a testament to the vision and hopes of a difficult and troublesome species that on occasion could rise above its limitations. Needless to say, unless we Homo sapiens really clean up our act and get supremely creative, the Voyager probes could ultimately be the last thing in the universe that say we ever existed.

As someone who enjoys solitude way too much, I've got to say there is something chilling to think about all those countless millennia the Voyagers probes will sail through the void as our representatives. Makes me hope that one day some future intrepid human explorers will head out and bring them back home.

Monday, August 21, 2017

The Power of Ideas and When They Fail

In what many will view as my ongoing efforts to be a pretentious pseudo-intellectual dick, I am now reading Yuval Noah Harari's, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. Needless to say it is a fascinating and thought provoking work that essentially states that what sets humanity apart from both its now extinct kinfolk and the rest of the animals is its ability to cooperate in large numbers.

Harari states in the section entitled, "The Legend of Peugeot" (starting at page 28 of my copy) , that biology prevents social animals like chimps and early humans from forming groups larger that about fifty individuals. Anything larger quickly destabilizes and ruptures with the result at best being the splitting of the group, or at worse open warfare until the numbers are reduced to proper limits. If I understand this correctly, biology essentially limited cooperation to groups that were often extended families.

What got Homo sapiens out of this rut was the Cognitive Revolution that occurred about 70,000 years ago. It was at that point Sapiens evolved the ability to gossip, but more importantly imagine abstract, fictional things like gods, empires, nations, money, and even human rights. Yes, even though through our civilized eyes all those things I mentioned are as real to us as the roads we drive our cars or the houses we live, they are all creations that our various groups have agreed upon as facts. I'll admit religion is a long lived sticking point but countless other gods throughout the ages have come and gone and not left any real marker of their supposed existence.

As for the rest, changes in circumstance have easily brought down the most powerful empires and nations sowing chaos in the aftermath. History has shown many times how fortunes can evaporate and that the observance of human rights can be ignored when times get slightly difficult. It was these unseen fictional concepts that allowed larger groups to form bonds of trust which in turn allowed things like the pyramids, grand cathedrals, and now in our times skyscrapers to be built, along with all the other niceties associated with civilization.

I came away from this particular section wondering about the basic concept of the United States. Recent events have shown that a certain segment of our population is fixated on the idea that we are still the same country that was founded back in the late eighteenth century. They chafe at the idea of other cultures, religions, ethnic groups, and many others sharing political and economic power here in America. This not only includes the truly evil spouting Nazi slogans, but those who portray to the world a thin veneer of civility while whining about the death of Western Civilization because northern European men are no longer quite the dominate force they once were.

Literally for all the decades during the Cold War we here in the United States reveled in our shared belief that it was our ideas that set us apart from the godless commies and all those other third world, banana republic countries. We told ourselves that democracy, free enterprise, and a society that embraces liberty would be the deciding factors in our eventual victory over the Soviet Union. During those heady days we welcomes millions of helpless refugee souls telling them that if you shared our ideas that you would be welcome.

When the Soviet Union did fall apart like a badly designed piece of cheap furniture, Americans congratulated themselves on their victory. The trouble though was that success went to our heads far too quickly leaving us vulnerable to the age old human affliction of hubris. A changing global economic landscape and simple technological progress eliminated millions of jobs that had once allowed families to plan a prosperous future.

With times becoming more difficult, instead of holding true to our ideas we have fragmented with conservative traditionalists many times seeking refuge in old hates and ethnic pride. Some have even gone as far as abandoning belief in our democratic principles and liberty by openly admiring the authoritarian thug ruling Russia and even the vile evil our grandparents worked and sacrificed so much to defeat during World War Two. My fellow liberals aren't much better, while they are, relatively speaking, the sane adults in government right now the leadership is deeply entrenched and without a real vision.

I have resisted this idea, but I've come to believe part of the Democrat's problem is that they have become so enamored with “identity politics” they can't see the forest for the trees. Instead of fighting for the entire country they fly off on different crusades that fall flat from exhaustion before any real change can be made. They also have a disturbing habit of vicious infighting with many subgroups always ready to chase third party fantasies or even stay home on election day pouting about not getting their way. It is so self defeating that there is a real chance the 2018 midterm elections will be another defeat for them with the Republicans holding possibly both houses of Congress.

I will admit circumstances are working against the Democrats in the United States Senate with them having more seats up for reelection in the coming midterms than their opponents. And with the House of Representatives heavily gerrymandered in Republican favor taking it is a heavy task. This is even with the orange baboon living in the White House showing us that if we survive his delusional time in office we will have to seriously rethink the old idea that anyone can become president.

Getting back to Yuval Noah Harari book, if ideas are the glue that hold large groups together Americans appear to have an almost suicidal desire to shred ours to the point they aren't practical anymore. We regularly elect people to Congress whose only goal is pass legislation from a strictly partisan point of view. Compromise is forgotten in favor of playing to an increasingly disturbed base that views the “other side” as un-American at best.

The idea of Democracy itself is put into question with a presidential candidate able to win the office without obtaining a majority of the votes because of the electoral college. Yes, I know the reason the Founding Fathers included the electoral college in the Constitution but with two recent presidential contests decided by it with one political party on both occasion going hooray while the other fumes is not good for the country. Just imagine if the Democrats had won either the 2000 or 2016 presidential election by it, the deranged minions on the political right would be threatening civil war even more than they are now if Trump is lawfully impeached and removed from office.

If ideas are the foundation of our country it should be clear to anyone with an IQ over 75 that ours is cracking with many working tirelessly to break it apart even more. What are the answers to solve this truly existential crisis? Personally, I believe everyone is going to have to become better informed and get involved, far too many Americans are ignorant slackers who can't see beyond their own narrow interests. But mainly it is up to the Democrats, with them being the sane adults at this moment somehow they are going to have to pull their collective heads out of their asses and regain the vision that lead to nearly all the real progress this country has seen since FDR took the country out of the Depression and through the worst of the Second World War.

Personally, I have my doubts but history is full of surprises.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

A Slow Moving American Disaster

Lets be clear here, long before that walking abortion decided to run for office I always felt Trump was a supremely sleazy individual whose only real accomplishment was being born into a  rich family. That's right, he is not a self made man, he inherited big bucks from his real estate-dealing dad along with a Rolodex filled with contacts. Trump is not a Bill Gates nor Elon Musk who both have created billion dollar businesses just with their tangible intelligence and talents.

A real look at Trump's attempts at business shows a long series of disastrous failures that left him back in the 1990's on the verge of utter collapse. After some strange loans from sources that has never been revealed, Trump became nothing but a celebrity trademark little better that some talent-less rich girl whose claim to fame is just a homemade hardcore sex tape.

Lets not leave out one of the most laughable attempts at business, Trump Steaks, whose CEO, Jerry Levin said, "we literally almost sold no steaks." This delusional pussy grabber is a prime example of what happens when a population forgets substance and becomes infatuated with spectacle along with being willing hostage to their fears and prejudices. 

Trump's one true talent, besides being a bully, is being a masterful con artist who can appeal to the less educated. Trump is the epitome of the big talking, low information voter who has no real concept to the complexities that exists in government. Simply put, a failed real estate developer with no intellectual curiosity beyond dumping his current wife then bedding a younger bimbo can't conceive of the intricacies involved in international relations, healthcare, or diplomacy. When the House finally passed their version of a healthcare bill to repeal "Obamacare" several weeks ago, Trump threw a massive ceremony at the White House that gave the impression to many that he thought an actual law had been passed. Of course anyone not living under a rock while watching Fox News should know both Trump and Senator McConnell's efforts utterly failed in the senate.

Now we have Trump siding with neo-Nazis after the riots on Charlottesville last weekend. Both his lack of response on Sunday, then his forced condemnation of white supremacists that was literally a wink-and-a-nod of approval to them on Monday were surreal for anyone calling themselves the leader of this country. Now today the country was witness to one of Trump's most hate-filled, incoherent rants excusing those racist monsters. When Trump took the oath of office back in January I knew were were in deep trouble, a fact that is proven true every time some information gets out from the Robert Mueller investigation involving the Trump Campaign and Russia. Our country is in grave danger, so severe that I could not have imagined the degree things could be corrupted by that narcissistic thing occupying the White House.


Sunday, August 13, 2017

Wasted Weekend

Been one of those weekends where I wasn't exactly sick but doing anything requiring movement or any real thinking was just to much trouble. Spent all day Saturday and most of today laying on the living room floor as my wife and daughter binge watched Game of Thrones reruns.  See, my fourteen year old daughter has just within the the last two weekends become interested in the show and my wife talked her into watching the entire series while giving a running commentary on the characters and situations.

Why did I just lay on the floor while my wife and daughter watched a show I don't have much interest in? Good question, but the only possible answer I can give is that while I felt terrible being cooped up in the bedroom just didn't appeal to me. Another reason could be that my wife gives the most amazing lectures on the fictional families and history of that show. And to think she calls me a nerd over what I know about Star Trek.

Whatever the case, somehow I am going to have to drag my sorry ass to work tonight. I've got too much to do and like I said, I don't think I'm really all that sick. Here is some tropical music to enjoy.    

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Tiki Inspired Dreams

Thinking back on it now, I find it astonishing that my dysfunctional parents somehow found it in themselves to cooperate enough to take my siblings and myself to Walt Disney World just one year after the place opened. The city of Orlando and the surrounding area were, compared to now, still overwhelmingly underdeveloped with mom-and-pop hotels and restaurants existing alongside the young and sleepy corporate giant. I imagine those quaint and genuine local businesses had no idea that just a few short years later they would all be wiped off the map as the joyful rodent's empire began expanding at an ever increasing pace.

Don't get me wrong, my wife and I love everything about Disney. So much that we have not only sunk more money into its Vacation Club than I comfortable thinking about but that I have honestly lost count of the times we have visited each of its parks. Like some pathetic stoner desperate to get a new fix, even now I am looking forward to staying at Disney's small resort down on Hilton Head Island in the summer of 2018 and then making our way back to Disney World itself in 2019.

It's hard to really describe why I enjoy the parks so much when stories abound about how some who visit them are overwhelmed by the crowds and the growing prices. Usually, I despise crowds myself but in all the times I have been down there with my wife and kids, I somehow found a kinship with the other parents in the long and meandering lines waiting for their turn to enjoy Walt's creation. There were numerous times where my wife and I and other parents in the lines shared vital supplies like baby wipes, spare diapers, juice boxes,and assorted prepackages snacks in an effort to get the kids through the long minutes of waiting. 

Another reason I fell in love with Disney World was my discovery of the Enchanted Tiki Room on my first visit back in 1972. For those who don't know, it is a “pseudo-Polynesian themed musical animatronic show” featuring over a hundred colorful robot birds handing down from the ceiling. The show has them singing and making jokes with the climax being when a group of Polynesian tiki gods, craved figures lining the walls, become angry and throwing a tantrum.

The interior of the attraction has fake windows looking out towards a tropical island scene with heavy foliage and mountains creating a sensation, at least in me, that you are somewhere in the beautiful south Pacific. When the tiki gods get angry the skies in these island scenes gets dark with flashes of lightning and the sounds of thunder and rain adding to the dreamy feeling. The thing that has always mesmerized me is that in one of the fake windows there is a simple thatched hut not far off in the distance. This will sound weird, but I have always found that scene to be incredibly peaceful, so much that every visit to the Enchanted Tiki Room I find myself looking at the scene instead of paying attention to the show.

The Enchanted Tiki Room at Disney World was my first exposure to what is normally called “Tiki Culture” which is a very Americanized version of Polynesian culture and art. First conceived in 1934 with the opening of Don the Beachcomer, a Polynesian-themed bar and restaurant, American tiki culture has to me always symbolized a laid back and easy going style of life. Restaurants and bars that go with this theme are known for their tropically-inspired drinks with their menus leaning heavily on Hawaiian and even Chinese dishes. 

While tiki culture-inspired restaurants and bars are quite rare in my area, it is the music that continues to offer up that relaxing, peaceful, and dreamy feeling. Luckily for me I found Exotic Tiki Island, a website that is dedicated to nothing but playing vintage Hawaiian, exotica, and tiki tunes that easily transport me to that island scene I first saw at Disney World so many years ago. Ran by a guy going under the name of Tiki Brian, the music he plays is one of the best ways to shed the worries and fears that are daily coming closer to overwhelming us all. If you get a chance, jump over to his website and listen to some of the many archived podcast shows he has available. Needless to say, one of my favorite things to do on the weekend nights when I am off is to fall asleep to the amazing songs he plays.