Tuesday, July 2, 2024

States of Change Chapter 40: Mount Rushmore (South Dakota)

 


States of Change is an ongoing work of serial fiction.

The speculative story-line seeks to inspire thought on ethics, culture and our planet's future.

The year is 2076, decades after Oosa's defederalization. 

Fifty independent States have forged unique societies from 

revolutionary technology and ideology



"Protocol polar bear sandwich!"

Pickleball drone alpha arced behind Crooks in a deft swoop. Terry's spin slam was vicious, but Crooks was able to deflect it upward enabling his alpha drone to meteor a kill shot that pulled Terry's drone far back in the court for the save resulting in a high lob back to Crooks. Terry compensated by shifting to midcourt, but before the drone could recover Crooks sent the graphene pickleball sailing to the corner out of reach of both Terry and his drone.

"Polar bear sandwich. What kind of protocol label is that, Crooks?"  Terry's cardinal scalp tufts   were matted from the last two hours of gameplay, but his normally gentle demeanor had finally cracked.

"Standard drone shuttle pass shift. Though I must admit the name itself was designed to get your metaphoric goat. You vegans are so thin skinned."

"Well come on. You're a conservation freak too. The polar bear extinction is a soft spot for anyone who is concerned about global ecosystems."

The two twenty-somethings approached the net, each dousing their thirst with chilled water from drink spheres.

"The extinction is a ruse, I tell you. The WALDEN report is meant to keep us down and focused for confinement. Post Oosa has been a boon for wildlife everywhere in the state. Just look at the comeback of bears down by Rapid City."

The pickleball drones dropped in parallel to the charging posts at either end of the net. Their deflector shields swiveling to their apex to permit electrical contact.

"Well, that's because we stopped hunting them, and gave them a bit more space. Until WALDEN came along the slaughter of wildlife was out of control. Oosa and corporate globalism be damned."

Crooks laughed with a wise-cracking snort to punctuate her words.

"Not arguing with you, Terr. In fact, there are two verified brown bear sightings up north in the Black Hills. That sounds like a win to me."

"Really, you'll have to send me the feed...with citations please."

The two friends, pickleball gear in tow walk toward the waiting public shuttle. Mount Rushmore glints in the distance, four adjacent solar panel pyramids that power the entire northwest.  It's unlikely anyone in South Dakota nowadays could name the Oosa fab four. 

History moves forward.


Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Prime Directive...Reformed!



I've been a Star Trek fan since my childhood. The Star Fleet universe captured my imagination well beyond the Star Wars paradigm. A friend of mine describes Star Trek as "competence porn," meaning that throughout all of the series, the show highlights the organization of skillsets from many different backgrounds, coordinated with compassion and zeal to overcome obstacles that solve challenges.

Star Trek Discovery is closing out its series run with Season 5, and I am totally enthralled by the variety of characters and character development. Captain Michael Burnham rising from rebellious prisoner to starship command as a woman of color takes center stage. Lieutenant Tilly kicks butt as a no-nonsense science officer. Open and welcome non-binary, trans, gay couples, and diverse humanoids of color (blue, green and brown) round out the starship's crew. In this sense, Discovery has followed through with the Roddenberry dream of a future of diversity and progress and succeeded in spades.

However, the plot of season five has had all the watcher appeal of a cheesy, half baked escape room. Replete with an ultimate weapon that must be found by season end, a faltering attempt at a villainous lover duo serving as parallel nemeses, and not so  cryptic "clues" that should at least be named something more compelling like "astral-prints," "quantum-quips," or frankly anything that a writer spent more than five seconds concocting (that's all the time I spent coming up with those two far superior replacements...lol)

Nevertheless, I must say Season 5 Episode 6 Whistlespeak knocked it out of the galactic park for me. (Spoilers lie beyond here). 

The episode has the Discovery hunting down the next "clue" [groan] on their path to find the progenitor's ultimate weapon. (generally I'm dismayed with the choice to have all humanoids of the galaxy unified by a god-like progenitor race who spread the humanoid life spark...it stinks a little too much like alien creationism trying to suplex darwinian evolution from behind).

Anyway, the infamous "Prime Directive" comes into play, as in order to search for the missing puzzle piece, Discovery must avoid affecting the local, primitive (pre-warp drive) civilization. This trope has gotten a touch worn over the years, but this latest treatment really connects with the idea that there is a compassionate way for an "advanced" culture to communicate with a less advanced once. Captain Burnham has a tour de force scene where in order to save the lives of her crew member and a local humanoid, she must confront the local tribe's shaman. She manages to discuss with loving intensity the imperative to leave behind an old tradition for a more well thought out decision making.  All while not causing offense to the shaman's belief in gods. (and as is typical with Star Trek competence porn, it's done in an exceedingly (if unbelievable) time constraint, that permits the episode to wrap up in under 60 minutes).

My world view as a hybrid atheist/agnostic/vegan/secular humanist/sentientist (yeah, that's quite a mouthful) resonates so amazingly with this scene. There are so many backward traditions our Earth civilization holds (gods/fossil fuels/meat eating/tribal hating) AND YET, I get it, people hold these generally misguided traditions as sacrosanct. Nevertheless, I feel it is my task as a compassionate and well-reasoned human to find a gentle way of influencing beyond the Prime Directive (live and let live, essentially).  

For all of us I suggest considering adopting a Zeroth Directive in our lives! What better application of ethics is there but to compassionately encourage family, friends, and anyone we come across to consider the evidence to reform out-of-date beliefs to improve the well-being of self, community, and planet.

Competence porn aside, Captain Picard used to be my favorite captain (James Kirk was a bit too much of a sexist brute imho), but Captain Burnham moves ahead of the pack as ultimate starship captain, for now. (damn, I hope she turns out to be vegan).





Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Your Name (an anime film analysis)



Your Name delights the senses with its Japanese stylized, animated near-future sci-fi fantasy flourishes. The main characters Taki and Mitsuha are reluctant soul mates in a plot that pushes an array of Freaky Friday, Deep Impact, Back to the Future and Romeo and Juliet buttons. The film manages to pull the human viewer into an imagined world where star-crossed lovers fight all odds to find each other. Despite being a swirl of derivative ideas, it is a film well worth watching...

...and contemplating upon.

I found the primary premise (two minds swapping bodies every other day) to be an interesting take on the typical Freaky Friday exchange. The dualistic belief that our bodies and our minds exist separately is completely bonkers given the modern understanding of neuroscience. Yet something primitive, perhaps primed by our cultural upbringing and evolutionary nature succumbs to the possibility of this ultimate form of empathy.

Soul switching, impossible as it is, conveys the idea that we can put ourselves in another's shoes. And when it comes to loving someone, that imagining might very well permit us to care for someone as if they were ourselves. Such duality belief leads to the two parts of the same being abstraction and metaphor. Truly, if one finds deep love with another person, the hope that both lives can be enhanced bye each other in an ongoing relationship is a compelling pursuit.

Perhaps, all our mental abstractions fall short of the reality. The perception of free will, imagining of an afterlife, wish for telepathic understanding, and the possible union of souls all build upon our human need for social fulfillment. The fact that our minds are marooned in a body and brain doesn't minimize the power of such abstraction. In truth, we are all marooned on the same planet and though imperfect we can communicate with each other, share experiences, and work together to accomplish goals. It is a bit depressing to recognize our fantasies can never be truly realized.

At one level all this magical connection is wishful think voodoo madness, at another it is delightful and entertaining metaphor. Maybe, loving someone as deeply as we can benefits from a little abstraction, encouraging us to strive for supernatural levels of compassion to max out our real life love experience. 

In Your Name, Taki and Mitsuha only find each other after weeks of knowing from a great distance and in each others body. When they finally meet face to face, it felt as if a miracle had happened. Maybe our modern human minds need a bit of training to feel the same way when we make a connection with someone real. 

Thursday, June 6, 2024

States of Change Chapter 39: Flickertail (North Dakota)

 

States of Change is an ongoing work of serial fiction.

The speculative story-line seeks to inspire thought on ethics, culture and our planet's future.

The year is 2076, decades after Oosa's defederalization. 

Fifty independent States have forged unique societies from 

revolutionary technology and ideology


"What's for dinner, Jean Henri?" 

"Flickertail."

"Not again? Well I guess I shouldn't even ask. Other than Old Man Crayburn down in the valley, we haven't seen a critter bigger than a cockroach in ages."

"Cockroach pie is always an alternative, if you capture enough for me to make buggy mince pie with."

"Durn climate change. Who'd have guessed that all the animals west of Fargo would die off or migrate in one man's lifetime, all 'cept the damn ground squirrels."

"I'll take that as a yes to roast flickertail. What kind of sauce would you like with your meal?"

"Doesn't matter."

"Spiced flickerblood it is."

"Hey, Lumas. Any chance there's a can of beans somewhere in the old store house?"

"Not unless it's buried under the cockroaches and cobbies."

"Funny. You know, one of these days one of us is gonna get tired of this desert expanse, and go and string up the other for supper."

"Think so?"

"Yeah, I do. I know we's childhood friends since the 40's but sometimes life needs a bit of a change."

"Time will take care o' change, all by itself. No matter climate change, AI ultimatums, or viral outbreak. Death'll get us all one by one."

"Ya going philosophic on me, man?"

"Just questioning and speculating...if that is philosophy than I'm guilty as charged."

"Well shut up and hand me that flickertail so a man eat in peace then. Questioning ain't done anyone any good from where I's sitting. Life is shit and we's in it."

"I got no answer to that un, 'cept life must be good enough that we keep gettin' on."

"Clearly. Maybe we can try the story night thing again if'n the stars come out."

"I'd like that."

"I said maybe. Now eat somethin' y'self, or I'll be talking with a corpse later."

"Right ya be."



Sunday, April 7, 2024

The 2024 Total Eclipse, A Celebration of Awe


Luna Has Her Eyes on Sol One Week Before the 2024 Eclipse (Marineland, FL)

Tomorrow the moon will pass in front of the Sun for two hours. Millions, including myself, are scrambling to get to the path of totality. I've been surprised that some have no interest at all in the eclipse, wondering what's the big deal?

How to answer such an offhand, indifferent question?  Sure, it's easy to say an eclipse is cool, but a total eclipse is quite unlike any partial eclipse experience. If you are in the path of totality and the sky is clear, you will experience a strange twilight. The Sun's atmosphere, the corona, will be on display. And nature will experience a bit of a jump scare, as the reliable solar entity we take for granted too often, will be obscured. Birds tend to take flight in uncertainty, and humans will be all astir, too many probably taking selfies.

But the awe in the moment reaches well beyond the visceral experience of one. For a human we can take stock in the fact only for less than 500 years have humans generally accepted that the Earth revolved around the Sun. So even though some ancient cultures had calendars that predicted solar eclipses, only very recently have we grasped the scale of what's involved. The alignment of these three bodies in space due to their orbits, tilts and sizes is quite thought provoking. Here are a couple photos to scale to reinforce this arrangement.

To Scale, The Moon's Size and Distance From the Earth

To Scale, The Sizes of Earth, Moon and Sun as well as the Moon-Earth Distance 

I hope these two images give you an appreciation for how perfectly aligned Sun, Moon, and Earth must be to have the shadow of the Moon fall on the Earth. Not pictured, the distance of the Earth from the Sun itself is gargantuan. Add to that, the knowledge that the Moon is slowly drifting away from the Earth in its orbit, and in a few million years (a small percentage of the 4,000 million year age of the Earth and Moon system) a total solar eclipse viewed from Earth will no longer be a thing. We are living in a very special time.

So a total eclipse can be a moment of world solidarity, a time to celebrate the shared universe we live in, to forget about political, financial, and existential strife that we humans create for ourselves. A total eclipse can ground us in the fact that we live in a shared foundation of reality that we can agree upon. This foundational evidence, and the astrophysics we've assembled since Copernicus, puts to shame divisive world perspectives including Flat Earth theory and every religious creation myth our ancestors came up with as first-stab, imaginative hypotheses. It also gives us as individuals a chance to walk away from social media, content streaming, fantasy novels and celebrity gossip to experience a slice of real being. 

On the other side of the total eclipse all the divisiveness and distraction is sure to return. Still, just maybe that shared moment of awe might give us as a global community an inspiration to work together in the real world toward making our planet a better place to live for all its sentient beings, amateur human astronomers included.

Thursday, April 4, 2024

Christian Reflections



I was raised a Christian. At an early age I was taught biblical morality, especially that Jesus's teachings were central to living a good life. By rote, I believed he was crucified to absolve sins I inherited and those I committed during my life,big I prayed for forgiveness and believed in the Christian trinity. Further, I believed that his storied resurrection demonstrated his power over death and that believing that he was the son of the Christian god would earn me eternal life.

Then I grew up. 

At first, I discovered all the biblical miracles and creation myths obviously conflicted with reality. It was a revelation to think for myself, and I had a visceral "how could I be so gullible" reaction throughout my twenties. It felt like religion and the elders I trusted to guide me had lied to me and all of its followers.

Then I became better acquainted with biblical doctrine.  I was severely repulsed by the old testament's god-decreed violence, tolerance of slavery, killing of children and patriarchal rule. These atrocious tenets far outweighed for me any new testament nods to good samaritanism and promises of salvation. If the teachings of the bible were supposed to instill good ethics, to much of its lessons were duplicit and evil.

These contemplations opened a portal to atheism for me. But lacking belief in any of the thousand of supposed gods and goddesses was only a first step, as it simply wiped my world view clean of supernatural silliness. Now I could investigate better ethical ideas with the mind of an adult engaged, rather than of a unquestioning child mesmerized by fairy tales.

Reason led me to embrace scientific skepticism which honestly attempted to sift truth from falsehoods in the world. It led me down the mindful and kind path that ebodies secular humanism. This world view sought to build community toward doing good in the world for the simple sake of doing good without empty threats and rewards. 

As a secular humanist I developed a heartfelt compassion for all living beings. This inspired me to ratchet up my ethic by participating in selfless environmentalism, veganism, and minimalism, all while taking joy in the wonders that life offered.

In the end performing such loving acts for the world, its communities, those beings in my circle and myself taught me that an ethical life stance required continual contemplation and an openness to adjust my behavior given new information. (Thinking better to act better)

Surely, I'm imperfect at this, and my attempts to influence others to see a similar light has been rather limited. Still, if I cannot inspire others, I am joyful to be on an honest path of goodness, seeking to grow and learn at every step, and living by example.

It is hard, still I understand that people need to find their own path to attain self-actualization. Yet, sometimes people get stuck in circles on that journey because good feelings get intertwined with moral teachings, even if those lessons don't stand up to honest questioning.

And it can feel good by having faith during troubled times that a higher power is watching over us with a promise that a better life waits after death. But why not have faith in our family and communities themselves, since they are the ones there giving living support? 

I see how imagining a loving teacher like Jesus who is always there for us can be powerful. And prayers to a higher power can be a source of hope when life is a downer.

For me, it's the teaching itself which is important. "Love thy (human) neighbor" is a  good one. "Do unto others (humans) as you would have done unto yourself," has its merits too. 

Why not challenge yourself to do the most good without all the divisive and questionable baggage a hundred different religions have been spouting for millennia. You might just find that being a good person is reward in itself.

"Have compassion for all beings!"


Sunday, March 24, 2024

Rick and Morty Fanfic Episode 4: Ca-Farce-Is

I have a running Rick and Morty geocache series based in the Stuart, Florida area. This is the final entry in those cache listings. 

The original geocache listing for this story is Ca-Farce-Is

If you're a fan of the Rick and Morty you'll either appreciate or condemn my take on the series. 

If you're not a fan, the storyline might still offend you. So be it.

There is an embedded puzzle in each story, but you can ignore them unless you have a bent toward puzzle solving or geocaching. 

(apologies to the letterboxers of the world)


"Did we survive, Rick?"

"I'll bypass the obvious rant-laden comeback, Morty."

"We survived!"

"If I weren't assessing the situation, you'd be tempting my ire, Morty."

"We survived. We survived! We survived!"

"Universe assessment complete. No offense intended, but your nascent ignorance actually served as a solid calibration point in evaluating the simulation matrix that reformed around us. Thanks for that."

"Thanks? Thanks!? Let it be known to the Universe, my grandfather Rick, alleged curmudgeon, mad scientist, and supreme, anti-villain unchallenged, has expressed thankfulness to me. What joy!"

"Normally, I'd respond with a searing, multi-teared comeback, but given my assessment of Universe v42 that's not going to happen; apparently the reconstituted Universe simulation we're in is a Neartopian Nightmare."

"Wait Rick...dare I point out the oxymoronic quality of that universe label? How can the world be nearly perfect, yet nightmarish simultaneously?"

"Well, Morty, how would you describe a 21st century world where societal progress has unified global civilization into a single restorative democracy? On top of that, all religions in Universe v42 have disbanded and have embraced a Saganesque world view of scientific skepticism and spiritual naturalism. Further, minimalism, veganism and conservationism have not only stabilized all environmental cycles; they've also enabled the return of 95% of Earth biomes to native wilderness habitat. And remarkably under the guidance of enlightened AI constructs, humanity has been able to reduce its population to a sustainable 100 million while maintaining technological, artistic and explorational productivity concurrent with a happiness index of 99.7 that has lasted for decades."

"Not to be a schadenfreude party pooper, but where's the nightmare in that?"

"Well, dear Morty, simply put, the sapient denizens of the Universe v42 simulation are in harmony with this AI-tweaked Eden. They have experienced supportive families, communities, education and progressive, participatory governing for the whole of their lives."

"Okay. Soooo....still not seeing the nightmare."

"Dearest Morty, we are the square pegs in their round hole world. You see, the Universe v42 simulation will never allow us to express a single seditious slanderous iota of negativity. Sure, we'll have thriving, joyful lives here forward, in a sense, but our the very fabric of our minds will be in torment, ever frustrated from being able to act on the core essences of our beings. Additionally, because leaving this universe would itself be perceived as a negative action, we can never act on our innate desire to flee this Universe v42. To forge a metaphor, we are barbarians trapped within the gates of civilized Rome."

"I don't believe you, Rick."

"Go ahead give your best potty mouthed rant a try."

"SEA-SERPENT EMPRESS EXTRAORDINAIRE VENUTIAN ISLANDER!!!"

"Well put, Ovid."

"CEILING-WAX ELEMENTAL EXCOMMUNICATED EYE-ROLLING VIREO!!!"

"And that's it Morty. All our adventures of ingenious insanity and influential invective are once and for all, over."

"Oh...fudge.."


(Somewhere, an omniscient Simulation programmer sits astride Universe v42 watching, while also noting a geocache in Universe v1.0 pays homage to the end of Rick and Morty's epic side quest. The cache sits at coordinates N 27° 02.xxx W 080° 07.xxx for those who can tolerate and discern pseudo-random and profane gibberish)