29 December 2006

Some material may not be suitable…

Dark, edgy, realistic, sobering, humanly humorous. No this is not a description of a visit by your dysfunctional cousin, it is a short set of thoughts on the new movie Children of Men Children of Men. The film is complex and yet eerily easy to follow. It also includes an “alternate reality” site The Human Project which complements the realism of the movie. Alternate Reality on the web is another topic which is worthy of mentioning, but later.

Citizen Une and I viewed this film last night. The movie is set in a near future Great Britain in which it remains as the only viable nation state. The world has essentially collapsed with the impact of numerous wars, illnesses and most importantly, a mysterious global infertility among the planet’s women.

There are no true bad guys, save the possible self serving nature of humans. The “resistance fighters” are ruthless, the government is uncaring and the general population is numbed by the continuing onslaught of all they hold stable and secure.

The movie is loaded with great action, solid acting (Clive Owen and Michael Caine are brilliant) and some very gritty urban combat scenes. All of the elements are really reflection (in my opinion) of present fears and events. There are even several not so subtle references to Iraq and some of the errors of the United States.

At the heart of the movie is the rising, legitimate concern over global fertility and population. In sharp contrast to the Malthusian notion, (he was somewhat of a jerk) the world population growth is projected to slow dramatically in the coming half century. The world grew from 2.5 bn persons in 1950 to over 6 bn in 2005. The number is projected to be 9 bn by 2050, certis paribus (all things constant – ooooh, Latin!). In some areas of the world, national levels are expected to decline. Many developed nations in Europe are expected to decrease in population. It is worth reading the executive summary as the demographic makeup of the globe’s population is critical to its future.

Why has fertility declined? There are a number of reasons posted, from environmental to social. Understanding these reasons will be essential for governments and societies to act in their behalf.

I am not a Cassandrist, I do believe that our globe is subject to very strong, macro forces which shape the direction of human and planetary society. Some are out of our control (eventual aging and deterioration of the Sun, for example) many are within our power to affect (almost everything else). I would like to see more discussion on legitimate science and its impact on our globe. This includes the biological, environmental and social as well as the physical.

Nonetheless, see the movie. It’s gripping and thought provoking. The violence is graphic and one feels a bit relieved to emerge back into a world which is still (more or less) sane.

25 December 2006

God Bless us Everyone...

Well, it's Christmas. A great holiday for reflection and remembrence. I for one am remembering my dog, Inga. Just about the greatest hound on the planet. She was a rescue dog we saved from the Baltimore Humane Society in 1993. She was literally on death row, no doubt a victim of Mike Nifong's erroneous prosecutorial conduct. After fourteen year plus of great life, her little doggy body had just worn out.

I like to think that her spirit is romping in the realm of perpetually falling slices of beef and panicky small animals.

In the meantime, a posting of some underway time on the USS CARNEY DDG 64 during UNITAS 2006. We were taking on fuel from the Chilean oiler ARAUCANO. On the starboard side of the ARAUCANO was the USCG MOHAWK.

Merry Christmas to all!

23 December 2006


One must find a production of the Very Merry Unauthorized Children's Scientology Pageant . The performance I and Citizen Une saw at Dad's Garage in Atlanta last night was nothing short of riotous.

The entire show takes place as a dead serious children's pageant for Scientology. Years ago my uncle was an editor for the Clearwater Sun. Now Clearwater Florida is gorund zero for the nut cases group championed by Kirstie Allie, Tom Cruise and John Travolta. The show has some great lines and truly ridiculous songs.

As a dyed in the wool "unbeliever" I found it refreshing and sobering. In preparing for the show we reviewed some of the basic tenets of Scientology. It's a scary group, but here in the open USA, we can tolerate these folks and many, many others.

See it if you can.

18 December 2006

Friends like these...

I had a delightful weekend in our nation's capital. Ostensibly, I was there for the annual senior leadership meeting for my Navy community. The topics were sobering and at times frustrating, but the caliber of personnel involved is humbling. My community is comprised of some of the most brilliant minds in the nation today. To give you a perspective, one of the former leaders was selected to run Los Alamos. These folks are heavy hitters in science and technology.

But the good feelings and high tension of a meeting of senior Navy officers is not what I want to talk about. I had the chance to reconnect with a variety of old friends. Scoot was there along with Lauren, of Physical Mind fame. We had a superb dinner at Belga Cafe in the recently restored Marine Barracks area of DC. The food was great and the conversation better. Lauren looks great. Although I may have been a tad abrasive, I have always admired her quest for knowledge and tenacity for accuracy.

Scoot had just come off the incredibly successful production of the Laramie Project at his high school. Taking a cadre of overly emotional high school kids (even bright ones) through that show is nothing short of heroic. We shared good food, some drinks and great conversation. At the Navy meeting I reconnected with two old colleagues of mine, Dr. Mike Richman and Ron Cherry. Both are now Lieutenant Commanders and taking on their first units. It is interesting to note how we have changed from the frantic ensigns scrambling through the hulls of ships under repair at Norfolk Naval Shipyard.

They are both doing well and we reflected that our greatest accomplishments still lay squarely in the realm of our families. What were we doing to help our children, to insure their future and to make sure we took care of ourselves. When did this happen? What switch flipped to turn our attention from so deep within to so far without?

I recall remarking that when my oldest was born, it was like someone had flipped a switch and a whole new vista opened up to which I had been blind before. No longer would I stay up all night drinking tequila and popping wheelies on my Suzuki in a Speedo on the main drag in Virginia Beach.

Not that I ever did.

But the point is that all of these people (children, friends, spouses, family) have an impact on your life. You are there for them during good and bad times and hopefully they return the favor. You can sympathize, but you will rarely (if ever) truly understand their feelings.

And that's okay.

It is enough, sometimes, to know they're there.

11 December 2006

Mighty War Hoover...

The above video is a great view of a carrier landing while flying the S-3. The S-3 is a twin engine, jet aircraft which performs a variety of critical roles for the carrier air wing. It is an EW (electronics warfare) platform, ASW (Anti-Submarine Warfare), aerial tanker and C2 (command and control) plane.

It earned the moniker from the distinctive sound in the cockpit.


UPDATE - Oh my spelling!

07 December 2006

To the Moon...

We have forgotten some of our greatest achievements as a species.

No, not the invention of the piano necktie - rather the landing of humans on the nearest planet to our own, the moon.

NASA, which actually stands for Not Another Shuttle Accident, has declared they intend to return to the moon by 2020 and set up permanent residence by 2024. This is in keeping with a pledge made by President G W Bush to get back to space. Stephen Hawking has stated that our only hope for survival relies on our ability to leave our earthly bounds and colonize the planets.

I concur.

Let us set aside the erroneous predictions of the Malthusian followers. Rampant overpopulation and shortages have not consumed the earth. We have made great strides in understanding our impact on the planet. Nations, like India, have worked miracles in providing for their peoples (try googling the "green revolution"). Although the threat of worldwide warfare or plague still looms, that threat is receding.

So what do we do for an encore? The last vestiges of dark age mentality (and by this I mean radical Islam) will eventually pass away. Education and a desire for a better life from the underclass will triumph where US military might has stalled.

Ad astra per aspera.

To the stars from the mud.

NASA has uncovered strong evidence of liquid water on Mars. The uniqueness of planets is no longer restricted to our solar system and now the likelihood for life on other worlds has risen dramatically. The amount of energy and technology required to economically colonize beyond our earth will require a global effort. This effort will naturally result in the furtherance of complementary technologies, alternative energy, better food production, medicine and other spin-offs much as the moon effort yielded.

Private enterprise must be engaged as well. The market is always the best force for change, remember Columbus' voyages were essentially entrepreneurial ventures.

Besides, I always wanted to wear one of those cool silver jumpsuits.

06 December 2006

Race Matters...

Here is a reproduction of Michael Shermer's commentary on Michael Richards' ill chosen comments from early November. The commentary is not particularly insightful, however it includes a link to Harvard's IAT. The topic is well summarized in the last quote from Dostoyevsky. Our culture defines us and places in our hearts and minds many ideas and notions. Some of these are good and useful. Some are artificial constructs which may pose serious dangers to our growth and development. Some are leftover items from the times in which we travelled in packs across the plains. However they arrived, it is up to each of us to confront these relics and make a conscious determination to nurture and propgate them or weed them from our cultural psyche.

You can hear the podcast here National Public Radio (NPR).

Kramer’s Conundrum What the Michael Richards Event Really Means
opinion editorial by Michael Shermer

After a paroxysm of racial viciousness at the Laugh Factory Friday night, November 17, 2006, Michael Richards, the 57-year old comedian who played Kramer on Seinfeld, explained to David Letterman and his Late Night audience the following Monday, after a barrage of negative publicity: “I’m not a racist. That’s what’s so insane about this.”

Michael’s shattered demeanor and heartfelt repentance leaves us with what I shall call Kramer’s Conundrum: how can someone who spews racial epithets genuinely believe he is not a racist? The answer is to be found in the difference between our
conscious and unconscious attitudes, and our public and private thoughts. Consciously and publicly, Michael Richards is probably not a racist. Unconsciously and privately, however, he is. So am I. So are you.

Consciously and publicly, most of us are colorblind. And most of us, most of the time, under most conditions, believe and act on that cultural requisite. You’d have to be insane to publicly utter racist remarks in today’s society … or temporarily insane, which both science and the law recognize as being sometimes triggered by anger. And alcohol — recall Mel Gibson’s drunken eruption about Jews, or the college Frat boys slurring alcohol-induced insanities about blacks and slavery in Sacha Baron Cohen’s film Borat.

The insidiousness of racism is due to the fact that it arises out of the deep recesses of our unconscious. We may be utterly unaware of it, yet it lurks there ready to erupt under certain circumstances. How can we know this? Even without anger and alcohol, Harvard scientists have found a method in an instrument called the Implicit Association Test (IAT), which asks subjects to pair words and concepts. The more closely associated the words and concepts are, the quicker the response to them will be in the key-pressing sorting task (try it yourself at IAT).

The race test firsts asks you to sort black and white faces into one of two categories: European American and African American. Easy. Next you are asked to sort a list of words (Joy, Terrible, Love, Agony, Peace, Horrible, Wonderful, Nasty, Pleasure, Evil, Glorious, Awful, Laughter, Failure, Happy, Hurt) into one of two categories: Good and Bad. No problem. The next task is a little more complicated. The words and black and white faces appear on the screen one at a time, and you sort them into one of these categories: African American/Good or European American/Bad. Again you match the words with the concepts of good or bad, and faces with national origin. So the word “joy” would go into the first category and a white face would go into the second category. This sorting goes noticeably slower, but you might expect that since the combined categories are more cognitively complex.

Unfortunately, the final sorting task puts the lie to that rationalization: This time you sort the words and faces into the categories European American/Good or African American/Bad. Tellingly (and distressingly) this sort goes much faster than the previous sort. I was much quicker to associate words like “joy,” “love,” and “pleasure” with European American/Good than I did with African American/Good.
I consider myself about as socially liberal as you can get (I’m a libertarian), and yet on a scale that includes “slight,” “moderate,” and “strong,” the program concluded: “Your data suggest a strong automatic preference for European American compared to African American.”

What? “The interpretation is described as ‘automatic preference for European American’ if you responded faster when European American faces and Good
words were classified with the same key than when African American faces and
Good words were classified with the same key.” But I’m not a racist. How can
this be? It turns out that this subconscious association of good with European
Americans is true for everyone, even African Americans, no matter how color
blind we all claim to be. Such is the power of culture.

We are by nature sorters. Evolutionists theorize that we evolved in small bands of
hunter-gatherers where there was a selection for within-group amity and
between-group enmity. With our fellow in-group members, we are cooperative and
altruistic. Unfortunately, the down side to this pro-social bonding is that we
are also quite tribal and xenophobic to out-group members. This natural
tendency to sort people into Within-Group/Good and Between-Group/Bad is shaped
by culture, such that all Americans, including those whose ancestry is African,
implicitly inculcate the cultural association, which includes additional prejudices.
The IAT, in fact, also demonstrates that we prefer young to old, thin to fat, straight to gay, and such associations as family-females and career-males, liberal arts-females and science-males. Such associations bubble just below the surface, inhibited by cultural restraints but susceptible to eruption under extreme inebriation or duress.

Michael Richards’ sin was his deed; his thoughts are the sin of all humanity. Only when all people are considered to be members of one global in-group (in principle, if not in practice) can we begin to attenuate these out-group associations. But it won’t
be easy. Vigilance is the watchword of both freedom and dignity. We should
accept Mr. Richards’ apology for losing his temper and acting out those hateful
thoughts. Perhaps we also ought to thank him for having the courage to confess
in public what far too many of us still harbor in private, often in the privacy
of our unconscious minds. As the Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote:

Every man has reminiscences which he would not tell to everyone but only his
friends. He has other matters in his mind which he would not reveal even to his
friends, but only to himself, and that in secret. But there are other things
which a man is afraid to tell even to himself, and every decent man has a number
of such things stored away in his mind.