Mars or Bust II

It’s really happening.  Among Earthbound, upward-gazing humans, there has always been a deep-seated fascination with outer space; witness the huge popular reaction to the recent solar eclipse.  But efforts by SpaceX, Boeing, Blue Origin and other commercial companies to fly folks into low Earth orbit in conjunction with NASA signal an acceleration of that interest, or what has been called a “new space race.”  When rocket factories, cargo missions, passenger flights and space exploration open up “a whole new world of business,” you know that momentum will build.  According to a NASA director, a manned mission to Mars is “the pinnacle of Mt. Everest” at this point– but once Everest has been scaled, what will keep the momentum going?

In my science fiction novel Fourth World, NASA’s Tharsis Colony on Mars is left stranded when a great war results in the formation of one world government (the PWE) and the elimination of NASA.  Here’s an excerpt:

“At other times, Mr. Walker suggested that the colony’s downfall actually preceded the PWE, that the slow death- he termed it the “apoptosis”- of Tharsis Colony was encoded in its DNA at the very moment it was conceived.  To explain this apoptosis, Mr. Walker would use his guiding principle:  follow the water.  The second manned mission to Mars, launched in 2049 (thus nicknamed “The New Forty-Niners”) discovered significant quantities of liquid underground water, which had only to be mined in order to allow large-scale colonization. Of course, water was necessary for supporting life, but beyond that, water was found in perchlorates, hydrated salts which could be converted to solid rocket fuel (this was before the harnessing of nuclear fusion, Mr. Walker reminded them).  The seminal discovery of water, he said, sweeping both arms dramatically to his left, then to his right, essentially divided the history of humanity on Mars into the pre- and post-Forty-Niner eras.”

Regarding the former, Mr. Walker reviews for his second-grade class the decades-long history of Mars exploration:

“… Many other missions contributing to the ultimate colonization of Mars, such as Mariner, Pathfinder, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Opportunity and Spirit, were never forgotten by history.

Also never forgotten:  the fact that the United States agency NASA had been responsible for all of these missions.  Sure, Mr. Walker allowed, successful probes were launched by Russia, Europe, China, India, Brazil, New Zealand, and even private enterprises.  But only the United States had the means to access the water- to monopolize this most vital of natural resources- and establish a full-fledged colony.  Tharsis was a triumph for the United States, but to the rest of the world, it was only the latest example of American empire-building and colonialism.”

But merely finding the means to colonize Mars doesn’t explain the need to colonize, does it?  There have to be assets to exploit once you get there (and in Fourth World, it turns out, there are valuable resources to discover).  Absent such assets, would escaping Earth justify the trouble and cost of such a long journey?  Despite Hurricane Harvey’s devastating effect on Texas and the startling rise in the number of 500-year floods in just the past decade, climate-change deniers in Congress and the White House still determine US policy.  It seems we will continue to prop up the coal industry until all the coal mines are under floodwaters.  In the original Mars or Bust (which appeared on this blog January 7th, while I was still in post-election shock), I coined a name for the manned SpaceX mission to Mars:  Elon’s Ark.  Let’s hope commercial space flight literally takes off:  when climate change can no longer be reversed, we’re going to need a lot more than one Ark!



Bully Pulpit II

Well, that didn’t last long (see my earlier post, Silence from the Bully Pulpit), did it?  If only our Chaos President had just played golf and not made it a working vacation.  While away from the White House, not only did Trump fail to give us all a break from his incessant tweeting, he managed to push us to the brink of nuclear war with a threat of “fire and fury.”  He further divided the nation after the Charlottesville murder by drawing a false equivalence between KKK/Neo-Nazis and anti-bigotry protestors, adding that there was blame- as well as “very fine people”- on both sides (being careful to point out, however, than only one side, the white supremacists, had a permit).  Then he reversed himself – not once, but twice, giving everyone a severe case of political whiplash- finally resorting to defending Confederate symbols as “beautiful statues and monuments,” treasures of culture and history on a level with statues of Washington and Jefferson.  Off Twitter, Trump gave a combative press conference in which he doubled-down on overt signals (I have a feeling we’re not using dog-whistles anymore, Toto) of support and solidarity to white supremacists.  On Twitter he blasted CEOs for abandoning his business councils.  And now he has decided to grind up and extrude Chief Strategist Stephen Bannon from his inner circle- along with Scaramucci, Priebus, Spicer, Walsh and Flynn, just another product of the White House Sausage Factory.

What continues to roil the public (now that the prospect of being nuked by North Korea seems to be receding) is Trump’s reaction to the violence in Charlottesville, which started with the plan to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee.  As the greatest general of the Confederacy- which sought to destroy the United States, at least partly in order to preserve slavery- Lee was a piece of history and culture that should be memorialized in the form of a “beautiful statue,” wasn’t he?  What if, after World War II, Germany had erected statues of Hitler, Himmler, and Eichmann?  Oh, that’s different, they weren’t the greatest generals of the Third Reich?  How about a statue of Rommel, then:  riding a tank on Unter den Linden Strasse?

Very funny cartoon from Tom Toles in the Washington Post today:  Trump pointing at a map of Europe 1944; a large swastika over Germany, and bold black arrows indicating the Allies closing in from all sides.  Trump says, “Sure, you had some Nazis on one side, but you had a group on the other side that came charging in, without a permit, and they were very, very violent.”

Trump’s Attorney General Sessions and many others have called the murder (a car slammed into a crowd by a Neo-Nazi) in Charlottesville an act of terrorism.  After the terrible tragedy yesterday in Barcelona (another motor vehicle driven into a crowd), for which ISIS claimed responsibility, Trump tweeted his opposition to terrorism.  But I was just waiting for him to point out that, in all fairness, there was plenty of blame to spread around…  I know, that would be ridiculous- but given the President’s distorted interpretations and chaotic maneuverings of the past week, nothing lies beyond the imagination!

Completely as an aside:  I wonder what’s taking so long with Robert Mueller’s investigation?


To Join This Couple

If only it were possible to love without injury- fidelity isn’t enough:  I had been faithful… and yet I had injured her.  The hurt is in the act of possession:  we are too small in mind and body to possess another person without pride or to be possessed without humiliation.”

The Quiet American, by Graham Greene


Proximity to several weddings and anniversaries has got me thinking not only about hope and wonderful relationships, but also- this may seem a bit neurotic- about the impossibility of attaining the ideal:  complete mutual understanding.  Ideal goals, almost by definition, are impossible to reach- and yet (one hopes) we strive on, grinding the rough corners, losing the old baggage, constantly adjusting our attitudes toward one another and admonishing ourselves to be better people.  In other words, if we are “too small in mind and body,” we need to keep growing!  If only there were an easier way; if only we had chimeric genes or the drug-induced ability to escape our limited dimensions and merge together, like Benn and Lora in Fourth World, both projecting their auras in an out-of-body experience:

“HUH!” was all Benn could manage as their two auras met.  It was not so much a physical joining of bodies- not the sensation he had hoped for, alas- but more like a merging of two liquids.  Lora feels like oil, the odd thought came to him: he pictured a large drop of oil falling into a pool of water.  As it splashed, the strong natural repulsion between auras took immediate effect:  the drop embodying Lora displaced a smaller drop- a portion of Benn’s aura- which rose straight upward.  Then the Benn-drop fell back in and splashed up an even smaller droplet- Lora again- which in turn fell, and so on, until inevitably the last micro-sphere of Lora was captured by Benn’s surface tension and could no longer escape.  As separate liquids, the two of them had different viscosities:  Benn flowed easily, whereas Lora’s character was thicker, more unctuous.  Their collision caused long, finger-like projections of Lora to penetrate into Benn’s aura, causing it to blush red before snapping back to attention.

He recognized her myriad layers, those melodic strains, the steady internal rhythm he had so admired.  With their thoughts intermingled, mutual understanding arrived instantaneously, and no longer required the cumbersome verbal exchange of ideas expressed ploddingly one at a time, over periods measurable on a stopwatch.”

If only we could do that!  But in the sequel, Fourth World Nation, Benn wrestles with the ups and downs of sharing auras:

“Benn thought long and hard before giving his answer.  Even though she had quickly apologized and even made a joke about it, Lora had meant what she said about the survival of their relationship.  Admittedly, he often worried about misconstruing her intentions, being insensitive, and appearing apathetic when he really did care; why would she not have her own set of worries about appearing moody, contentious, or needy when she was anything but?  Only when their auras fused together was there instantaneous and true knowledge of one another.  Who wouldn’t want a relationship completely free of misunderstandings, mistrust, manipulation, projection, guilt, dishonesty or domination?  No more mumbling, lapses of attention, slips of the tongue or difficulty hearing, either!  What could be better?”

Unlike Benn and Lora, the rest of us remain in separate, finite minds and bodies.  It’s as though we are talking through a wall, in different languages, our voices muffled and disguised.  Of course we’ll never achieve complete understanding that way, so we need to keep growing, grinding, adjusting.  But come to think of it, this continual striving on our parts reflects an untiring commitment to our relationships, doesn’t it?  We may not hear each other perfectly well, but that untiring commitment, I think, is at least one ideal we can attain.



Silence from the Bully Pulpit

Our Chaos President is off to one of his many golf courses again- but this time he won’t be back in Washington for two more weeks.  So maybe we can hope for a brief respite from the daily White House effluvium:  the constant stream of bullying messages directed at Congress, Democrats, Republicans who voted against Repeal and Replace, the Attorney General, the intelligence services, NATO, China, the Clintons, Obama, Muslims, immigrants, transgenders, insurance companies, Reince Priebus etc.– anyone but Vladimir Putin!  Maybe we’ll get a break from the early-morning tweets about witch hunts, transparent walls, 60-pound bags of drugs and fake news, SAD!  But look out:  resistance to Trumpism is increasing markedly within his own party, e.g. the bill on Russian sanctions he was forced to sign; several GOP candidates (including the V.P.) have started holding rallies, filling their war chests and sharpening their knives for the 2020 presidential election; Robert Mueller is tightening the circle of Russian collusion around Trump; John Kelley plans to instill White House discipline as Chief of Staff, when the most undisciplined person there is his boss; then there was the embarrassing leak of his conversations with heads of state in Mexico and Australia.  When the Tweeter-in-Chief returns from New Jersey, I guarantee the bullying will start all over again, with renewed viciousness.

On the other hand, maybe it won’t:  let’s not forget Melania Trump’s pet project; every First Lady takes one on (such as Hillary on healthcare, Michelle on nutrition).  Purportedly, Melania’s project as First Lady is to stop cyber-bullying.  Over the first six months, there are no indications she has done anything about this, but perhaps she’s just been waiting for the right moment to arrange an intervention with Donald.

Fourth World Nation, the second novel in my science fiction trilogy, is complete, except for editing and a final re-write.  Here’s an excerpt; in an early scene, Leader Chou Xia-Yu steps up to a huge podium at the gates of the Forbidden City:

Censors couldn’t possibly suppress every human interest story or news item, which would instantaneously feed the so-called free press and the voracious social media.  More  antisocial than social media, the way the tiniest bit of trivia would be blown out of all reasonable proportion, noted Leader Chou, who thought of the media collectively as a great shrieking voice.  And what if some rebel’s explosive were set off in the middle of Tienanmen Square today?  What would the great shrieking voice make of that?

The amassed throngs began to chant, but Chou couldn’t make out the words:  pronounced in Mandarin, it sounded something like, “More onions!  More onions!” but that seemed improbable.  He glanced at the numerous food stalls lining the periphery of the Square.  The aroma of smoke and grilled onions is already more than sufficient, he sniffed, while outwardly nodding with great seriousness, pretending to understand, and indeed to sympathize.  Enough:  he suddenly raised both arms to signal for silence.  The crowd had been rehearsed from this point by members of his military staff, and an anxious hush now fell upon the multitude, a wave of silence rising out of the ancient Forbidden City; crashing onto the thousands of people wedged together around Mao’s Tomb; then fanning out at the far end of the square, like a surge of seawater hissing into the sand.  Leader Chou spoke crisply in perfect English, with a slight accent he had acquired while a graduate student at Cambridge.

“People of Tienanmen.  People of Beijing and of the Asia Zone.”  He raised his arms again.  “UNITED PEOPLE OF THE WORLD!”  His salutation echoed across the square and was greeted with a loud roar of approval, only partially pre-recorded…