Quote of the Week – Chuck Palahniuk

“Experts in ancient Greek culture say that people back then didn’t see their thoughts as belonging to them. When ancient Greeks had a thought, it occurred to them as a god or goddess giving an order. Apollo was telling them to be brave. Athena was telling them to fall in love.

“Now people hear a commercial for sour cream potato chips and rush out to buy, but now they call this free will.
At least the ancient Greeks were being honest.” – Chuck Palahniuk, Lullaby

Quote of the Week – Isaac Asimov

“A number of years ago, when I was a freshly-appointed instructor, I met, for the first time, a certain eminent historian of science. At the time I could only regard him with tolerant condescension.

“I was sorry of the man who, it seemed to me, was forced to hover about the edges of science. He was compelled to shiver endlessly in the outskirts, getting only feeble warmth from the distant sun of science- in-progress; while I, just beginning my research, was bathed in the heady liquid heat up at the very center of the glow.

“In a lifetime of being wrong at many a point, I was never more wrong. It was I, not he, who was wandering in the periphery. It was he, not I, who lived in the blaze.

“I had fallen victim to the fallacy of the ‘growing edge;’ the belief that only the very frontier of scientific advance counted; that everything that had been left behind by that advance was faded and dead.

“But is that true? Because a tree in spring buds and comes greenly into leaf, are those leaves therefore the tree? If the newborn twigs and their leaves were all that existed, they would form a vague halo of green suspended in mid-air, but surely that is not the tree. The leaves, by themselves, are no more than trivial fluttering decoration. It is the trunk and limbs that give the tree its grandeur and the leaves themselves their meaning.

“There is not a discovery in science, however revolutionary, however sparkling with insight, that does not arise out of what went before. ‘If I have seen further than other men,’ said Isaac Newton, ‘it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.”
– Isaac Asimov, Adding a Dimension

Quote of the Week – Stephen King

“The 3 types of terror: The Gross-out: the sight of a severed head tumbling down a flight of stairs, it’s when the lights go out and something green and slimy splatters against your arm. The Horror: the unnatural, spiders the size of bears, the dead waking up and walking around, it’s when the lights go out and something with claws grabs you by the arm. And the last and worse one: Terror, when you come home and notice everything you own had been taken away and replaced by an exact substitute. It’s when the lights go out and you feel something behind you, you hear it, you feel its breath against your ear, but when you turn around, there’s nothing there…” – Stephen King

Where is my future?

As a kid I never expected to see the year 2000. Especially just before the end of the Cold War, when it seemed like the stalemate with the U.S.S.R. would continue for millennia, and knowing that the missile base just miles from our house was a prime target for a nuclear strike.*

My lack of expectations for the new century were so low, particularly when you add in the vague but ominous threat posed by Y2K, that I remember saying goodbye before going to bed early on December 31, 1999. I fully expected that whatever came next would be in a new, different world. I woke up in the dark of the early morning on January 1, 2000, surprised that death didn’t look much different than life had, and then further surprised that the world hadn’t ended, that Chinese and old Soviet missiles had not struck Japan, where I was living at the time, when their controller computers failed (an event that appears to never have happened – maybe the old communist programmers were smart enough to avoid the kinds of programming shortcuts that resulted in the whole Y2K disaster).

I think that the morning of Y2K may have been the start of a new world for me – one that I hadn’t expected would exist. Because the world was supposed to end before the year 2000 (at least that was how I thought it in my head), I hadn’t expected that I would really have to plan for my future, that I would never have a chance to finish college or have a career, because I would only be 20 at the end of the world.

Apparently, these were all the same feelings that were shared by the captains of our global science-industrial complex, the ones responsible for making the things that make the future. Today is Marty McFly day. But it is a very special Marty McFly day. As you have doubtless seen all across the Internet today, October 21, 2015 was the date that Marty and company went forward, riding in a flying Delorean, into the future in the movie Back to the Future II. In that movie, we are introduced to all of the great things that the future has to offer – flying cars, self-lacing shoes, sweet futuristic 80s clothes, instant biofuel, and most importantly: hoverboards.
So my question on this High Holy Day of geekdom is this:** Where is my hoverboard? What have the captains of industry been doing the last 25+ years? Did they believe, like me, that there never would be a year 2000, let alone a year 2015? Did they think that there would be no reckoning and that no one would think to ask them what they had been up to instead of creating our future, all the while that our future was slowly creeping up on us?

It seems to me that perhaps this recent fascination with all things vintage and retro (think the hipster styles that are the very image of rockabilly) is just a cover by science and industry, a distraction, to keep us looking backwards so that nobody ever realizes that nobody was looking forward. If you can’t have the future in your future, just fill it with the past?

Whatever the answer, I guess I will have to make do for now with my trusty longboard and hope for a future of our future where hoverboards really are a thing.***


*It really is true that I never expected the world to continue past the year 2000

**It is not really true that I blame industry alone for the lack of future in our future – there are so many awesome things in 2015 that go beyond even what was imagined in back to the Future II. Internet, smart phones, stuffed-crust pizza, no long distance on calls in North America (depending on your service plan). Life isn’t too bad. It just isn’t very futury.

*** And by I thing, I don’t mean those fake hoverboards that have to run on a super special track with super magnets underneath. I’m talking about hoverboards. That hover.

Being Hungry

“I’m hungry.”

“I’m starving.”

“There isn’t anything to eat.”

“I think I’m going to die.”

These are actual quotes from my children. My children who with only a few very short exceptions have never known actual hunger. What they actually mean when they say those things is “I’m bored,” “I don’t like what you made for my lunch,” “There isn’t anything in the house I want to eat,” “I threw my lunch away and you aren’t making dinner fast enough.”

In the experience of my children, the most hungry they have been is the regular Saturday morning when my wife and I decide to sleep in and the children are too lazy to make toast or pour cereal. Even during our hardest times, at the end of the month when the checking account and the cupboards were both bare, it wasn’t the children who went without food.

“If we can conquer space, we can conquer childhood hunger.” – Buzz Aldrin, 

Today is World Food Day, originally established to celebrate the founding of the United Nations’ World Food Programme, an organization which has as its mission the eradication of hunger and malnutrition, with the ultimate goal in mind of eliminating the need for food aid itself.

And there is a lot to celebrate. The WFP and organizations like it in the world have made a lot of significant progress. Worldhunger.org reports that during the period between 1990-92 and 2012-14 we “saw a 42 percent reduction in the prevalence of undernourished people” in developing regions.

And yet, in spite of the successes, there is still so much more work to do. My children have never known real hunger, but there are many, including children, even in the developed world who are on a first name basis. I know of, and know personally children in my own community who, if they did not have access to free breakfast and lunch at school, would not have anything to eat. Have you ever considered what these children eat when they go home, or on the weekends and during the summer when there is no school? Some of children I know of, even when they do have food, are living on a diet made up almost entirely of instant ramen.

And although there are still problems in the developed world, things are still worse in the developing regions. The World Food Programme reports some sad statistics:

  • Some 795 million people in the world do not have enough food to lead a healthy active life. That’s about one in nine people on earth.
  • 12.9 percent of the population in developing countries is undernourished.
  • One person in four in Sub-Saharan Africa is undernourished.
  • Poor nutrition causes nearly half (45%) of deaths in children under five – 3.1 million children each year.
  • One out of six children — roughly 100 million — in developing countries is underweight.
  • One in four of the world’s children are stunted. In developing countries the proportion can rise to one in three.
  • 66 million primary school-age children attend classes hungry across the developing world, with 23 million in Africa alone.

Thankfully there are things that can be done about it – and it isn’t just food aid, although that is important too. WFP suggests that “if women farmers had the same access to resources as men, the number of hungry in the world could be reduced by up to 150 million.” I remember learning something growing up about two birds and a single stone. A boost for gender equality and a punch in the eye for world hunger? Yes please.

“The best way to perpetuate poverty is by spending on arms and military, and the best way to fight terrorism is by fighting the basic needs of humanity, because hunger and poverty perpetuate crime.” – Oscar Arias

In addition, WFP calculates that US$3.2 billion is needed per year to reach all 66 million hungry school-age children in the developing world. $3.2 billion to send every kid in developing countries to school with a full belly. That’s a lot, right? Consider that the B2 bomber costs somewhere around $2 billion. Each. The new Long Range Strike Bomber program? Expected to cost around $55 billion. We aren’t even talking about a a clash between humanitarianism and national defense. We can have our birds of death out of a horror story and feed the hungry as well*. Just buy two less bombers.

But it’s a hard, intractable, complicated issue, right? I refer you to the Buzz Aldrin quote above. If we can send human beings into the vacuum, radiation, and all-around danger of space, land them on a distant piece of spinning rock, and then bring them back entirely alive, what is it in the logistics of growing and transporting that is so difficult to feed to world’s hungry?

These are not problems that can’t be solved. They are problems that we don’t want to solve because they are inconvenient and we are scared of going hungry ourselves if we help.

There are things we can do. But’s it’s like anything else – if you never start, you never accomplish. Here are a couple of resources to get you started.

“Our foremost priority is the removal of poverty, hunger and malnutrition, disease and illiteracy. All social welfare programmes must be implemented efficiently. Agencies involved in the delivery of services should have a strong sense of duty and work in a transparent, corruption-free, time-bound and accountable manner.” – Pratibha Patil

*You may have noticed a slight anti-war leaning. You weren’t mistaken. I agree wholeheartedly with the Oscar Arias quote above.

Quote of the Week (1 of 2) – Jonathan Sacks

“Close to a billion people – one-eighth of the world’s population – still live in hunger. Each year 2 million children die through malnutrition. This is happening at a time when doctors in Britain are warning of the spread of obesity. We are eating too much while others starve.”
Jonathan Sacks*, British rabbi, philosopher and scholar of Judaism

*Note: Today is World Food Day!!!

Because Real Life is Supposed to be Better