A reader recently sent me a marvelous computer -- animated video of our rover Curiosity landing on Mars in November of 2011. The depiction of the separation of various rockets, the bizarre complexities of the landing, the parachutes, the rover container bouncing across the sparse Mars landscape, the unfolding of the parts, and then the awakening of that marvelous creation of humans was simply amazing. Particularly for a young farm boy who often went to a frozen outhouse 50 feet from the house door when it was a -25 degrees. It took nine months to reach Mars 99 million miles away, traveling 352 million miles in various orbits to get there. The rover may have discovered a few tiny puddles of salt water. Could there be some kind of life on this desolate planet? It cost us $2.6 billion just for the rover named “Curiosity.”
James Wray, a scientist at Georgia Tech who helped develop the rover, says: “It always seemed completely crazy to me.” President Obama said: “The successful landing of Curiosity — the most sophisticated roving laboratory ever to land on another planet — marks an unprecedented feat of technology that will stand as a point of national pride far into the future.” George Bernard Shaw in his book “Maxims for Revolutionists”probably gave the best answer for why humans do this sort of thing: “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” Yogi Berra, the Yankee catcher-philosopher, may also have part of the answer of why humans do this sort of thing: “If you don’t know where you are going, you might end up someplace else.” Human actions indicate we don’t know where we are going because we are so unreasonable.
A 10-year-old Paraguayan girl went to a hospital complaining of a tummy ache. She found out she was 21 weeks pregnant by her stepfather. Paraguay, under the direct influence of the Roman Catholic Church, permits abortions only when a person’s life is at risk. The health minister of Paraguay says the girl’s life is not at risk so he opposes the termination of the pregnancy. A mature woman in Paraguay has a one in 310 chance of dying due to childbirth in that country. What are the odds for a 10-year-old? One out of 5-20-50-80? Are children’s bodies capable of giving birth? A prominent Paraguayan doctor says: ”It is cruel to force a ten-year-old girl to carry her pregnancy to term. Young adolescents have a high risk of eclampsia, infection, and preterm birth and intrauterine growth restriction compared to adult women. It also risks her emotional and mental health, her physical health, and even her life.” Currently Amnesty International is trying to get her an abortion. The United Nations has declared that lack of access to an abortion in this case is a form of torture. So far the Vatican and its representatives in Paraguay have remained religiously silent. Is the Catholic Church reasonable in this situation — or has it any idea which fork in the road it should take? Yogi also said: “When you come to a fork in the road — take it!”
Remember the “religious liberty” the five Republican justices on the Supreme Court gave to Hobby Lobby when it claimed it was a “Christian” business and should be able to dictate abortion and contraceptive rights to the sexually active women they employ? I wonder what the Court will do with this possible case. The Satanic Temple, an organization recognized by the government as a church, is demanding exemptions to Missouri’s anti-abortion 72-hour waiting period because it violates the Temple’s “Christian” beliefs and “religious liberty.” Let’s give the Court a hearty welcome to “unreasonableness” and Yogi’s rules about the fork in the road.
Once upon a time, in the age of the abacus, computers were created to speed up the process of crunching numbers and other data. The first real computer weighed several tons and could heat up several rooms. Today’s smartphones have more computing power than the first space shuttle’s computers. A few futurists are concerned that the “artificial” intelligence of computers will soon outthink and dominate human intelligence. Looking at the two political parties, that shouldn’t be too difficult. Remember when IBM’s Big Blue beat the world’s chess champion? Remember when Watson defeated the world’s “Jeopardy” champion? Several futurists agree: “In the next 10 years, we believe that computers will move beyond their current role as our assistants, and become our advisors.” Isn’t it reasonable to assume we have already passed that point? Stephen Hawking believes we may have already lost the intelligence battle. Will we save about 40,000 lives a year by having computers drive our cars? Just texting along and having a glass of wine … sounds great.
IBM’s Watson is currently digesting and storing millions, perhaps billions of pieces of medical data for future use of the medical profession. Jared Cohen, an advisor and director of Google Ideas for the chairman of Google, summarizes what Watson will do for doctors: “Data science will also transform medicine. Already, IBM’s Watson is crunching data from individual patient records to identify best courses of treatment. In the future, the impact of machine learning will expand to combat entire categories of disease. We imagine all biologic material becoming sequenced eventually, with all resulting data residing in a database for computerized analysis. The insights that could arise from computer-powered pattern recognition in this kind of data are staggering. Imagine expanding the scope of our analysis to include anonymous insights across an entire population, integrating data points that go beyond illness and include factors like environmental exposure, childhood nutrition and fitness habits.” Evidently some people are making the right turn at the fork.
Back in 1929 Sigmund Freud, fascinated by sex and human aggression tendencies, wrote in Civilization and its Discontents: “Man is wolf to man. Men are not gentle creatures who want to be loved, but rather, are creatures whose instinct is aggressiveness. We continue to meet the enemy and he is us. Yet if we cannot change, what will happen to our civilization?” Sigmund particularly did not like America and Americans. He thought we had channeled our sexuality into an unhealthy obsession with cold, hard cash. He also wrote this about us: “Is it not sad, that we are materially dependent on these savages, who are not a better class of human beings?”
One of those unreasonable savages Freud was writing about is certainly Republican State Senator Matt Schaefer of Texas. Schaefer put forward an amendment that would make it illegal to terminate a pregnancy after 20 weeks, “even if a fetus has a severe and irreversible abnormality.” With that attitude, ignorance, and rank scientific stupidity, Schaefer should get an immediate honorary appointment to the College of Roman Catholic Cardinals or to the U.S. Convention of Catholic Bishops. Shall we ask a prospective mother to carry a dead fetus for another 16 weeks because, and I quote this idiot, “Suffering is part of the human condition, since sin entered the world?” Here’s a guy who can’t even find the road to the fork. This amendment had to be part of other “stoopid wimmin” bills sponsored by Republicans in almost every state. How did Schaefer get elected to anything? Only in Texas—and Wisconsin. When Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was in the legislature he attempted to get a bill passed that would have allowed doctors to lie to pregnant women about a fetal disability! They are both a national embarrassment. Texan columnist Molly Ivins often put guys like Schaefer and Walker in their ignorant places: “I almost get the impression that somebody thinks women don’t have no moral sense at all. No women who seven months pregnant, ever waddles past an abortion clinic and says, ‘Darn, I knew there was something I’ve been meaning to get around to.’ This is ridiculous. You have those late-term abortions, because either the mother is going to die, the child is going to die, or both are going to die.”
During the three centuries of the American lynching period, Southern children up to the age of ten often were asked by their elders to bring firewood to the lynching site and to keep the home fires burning while the body of the victim was being consumed. Boys at a very young age were expected to participate in the lynching of blacks so they would be experienced in torturing and lynching when they reached adulthood. White children were often given black dolls to hang. Lynchings in the South became known as the game of Salisbury at the beginning of the 20th Century after the lynching of a black 15-year-old in Salisbury, North Carolina. Playing “lynching” was a popular game for white children.
Evidently the Alex Jones highly-rated conservative talk show is big in Southern states. His comments about blacks, particularly President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle, bring back memories of Salisbury days. Did you know that First Lady Michelle is a transsexual and that President Barack is bisexual? Did you know that Obama has used secret weather weapons to create tornadoes in Oklahoma? That the President has used helicopters and other aircraft to actually steer tornadoes to specific areas? Jones has asked why we haven’t used the weather weapon against ISIS in the Middle East. He also has accused Obama of putting juice boxes on the market containing drugs that can change the amount of testosterone in young boys so that they turn gay in adolescence. Jones also rants about fluoridated water on occasion and says government agents shadowing him wear “demonic” mustaches. Maybe Jones should volunteer to be the first person on Mars.
Andy Borowitz is a writer of satire for one of my favorite magazines, The New Yorker. I thought his recent piece about “fact-resistant” humans fits Alex Jones like a fork in the road: “Scientists have discovered a powerful new strain of fact-resistant humans who are threatening the ability of the earth to sustain life … Research by the University of Minnesota has identified a virulent strain of humans who are virtually immune to any kind of verifiable knowledge, leaving scientists at a loss as to how to combat them. Scientist David Logsdon says, ‘As facts have multiplied, their defenses against those facts have only grown more powerful … Our research is very preliminary, but it’s possible that they will become more receptive to facts once they are in an environment without food, water, and oxygen’.” This satire also applies to climate deniers, homophobes, and Bible Thumpers.
Perhaps some time in the future we will begin a new Age of Reason instead of being possessed by unreasonableness. Finland may have recently promoted it by practicing what could be called progressive punishment. Reima Kuisla, a businessman, was fined about $58,000 for speeding 64 miles per hour in a 50 mph zone. You see, Mr. Kuisla is a millionaire and speeding violations are calculated according to income. What would be the average fine in this country? $75-$150? That $75 would really hurt Joe Sixpack but not bother Bill Gates at all. But say we had the same progressive punishment as Finland. Bill is currently worth about $80 billion … Kuisla was worth only $7 million — pocket change for Gates and ilk. It’s a simple math problem …
By Gabrielle Herschgabbyhersch@gmail.comThink & Drink is coming to Fargo! Organized by Humanities North Dakota, Think & Drink is a happy hour series that hosts a facilitated public conversation about big issues and ideas. Lead by a…
by HPR Contributor
by Devin Joubertdevinlillianjoubert@gmail.comIt’s that beautiful time of the year that’s filled with seasonal decorations, sparkly lights, warm family gatherings, and delicious feasts. I love everything about this time of the…