Soldiers, Doctors and Bloated Criminals

Our leaders somehow just found $700 billion for the Pentagon to keep it running for just one more year. In comparison, the worst case scenario for the health reform price tag with a public option is $100 billion for one year. Often news outlets say that health care reform will cost $1 trillion, but what they don’t say is that it is spread out over 10 years. For the Pentagon and intelligence agencies, we spend over $1 trillion each year. If we look at the Wall Street bailout, the cost so far, including loans, is more than $3 trillion. So really, health care reform is just a very small drop in the bucket. And supporters even propose to pay for health care reform by raising taxes slightly on the wealthiest people in the country, so that it won’t cost us anything extra in budget deficits.

Still, I cannot understand how our leaders are so eager to give away our tax dollars to a perpetual war machine, and to corporate criminals who were likely very well aware of their nefarious actions upon our economy even as they committed them. Poorer people are having their property taken away by the very banks who caused the economic crisis, while those same banks continue getting more money and benefits from taxpayers. And yet so many of our leaders continue to claim we do not have enough money to care for our own people who cannot afford medical care. The insurance companies might lose profits. And if they do, our leaders fear that campaign contributions from the lucrative health insurance lobbies might take a significant hit. Right now corporate health concerns have six hired lobbyists for each and every member of congress and are spending well over a million dollars per day trying to control any health care reform that might happen.

Over the last few days I have had the fortune of reconnecting with an old friend who happened to spend years serving in our country’s military, including the Gulf War. The effects upon him from his service are apparent, physically, emotionally and mentally. Thankfully, he was both smart enough and humble enough to recognize that he needed help dealing with his situation, and has got some. But tragically, all at his own expense.

You see, our defense and intelligence agencies, despite their monstrous budgets, won’t pay for any of his medical treatment, neither physical nor psychological. And since we provide no health care for our own citizens, he has paid for his own recovery as best he can out of his own pocket. This has not been easy since some of the physical ailments suffered afterward left him hospitalized multiple times, and once with brain surgery for an infection that was somehow related to his lungs. He suffers from several chronic symptoms and has lost an inordinate amount of body mass. To top it all off, he also developed diabetes, requiring regular insulin injections, even though his family members have no history of diabetes. Interestingly, the Department of Defense and the Veterans Administration only recently acknowledged that the onset of diabetes was directly correlated to Vietnam Veteran’s exposure to chemicals, after more than 30 years of keeping people hoping for some type of financial assistance. Many of the symptoms exhibited by Gulf War veterans can be explained by similar autoimmune problems resulting from chemical exposure, including heavy pesticide use, forced inoculations for anthrax with vaccines unapproved by the FDA, experimental pills for biological weapons effect mitigation, and even such things as 300 tons of depleted uranium being dispersed in the skies. Yet these veterans are forced to claw their way through a dizzying maze of paperwork and departments to even prove they were deployed soldiers, let alone made ill during their service, in order to have any hope of medical assistance, and even then their efforts are often thwarted by one bureaucratic dead end after another. And it certainly doesn’t help matters when the DoD loses all records related to inoculations, both for the soldiers and for any scientists who may wish to study the causes of Gulf War Syndrome. No causes have yet been determined, yet the suffering of these soldiers is very real.

It angers me that we are a country who can treat its own people so callously, sending them off to war to risk their lives under the guise of an honorable patriotism that cares for its people, and then shrinks from its own responsibility to those people after they are spent. It angers me that we cannot even care for our own people’s basic medical needs. Because if we did care, at least these veterans would not need to try begging money to find treatment from the hands of those who sent them to die in the name of honor. Honor that is apparently nothing more than marketing tactics to the armed forces. It is clear: any claim to honor rests solely within the soldier alone. To our armed forces agencies, any notion of honor is meaningless. As meaningless as honor is to a medical insurance company, or any person who would deny anyone, soldier or not, the care of a physician in their illness or suffering.

I started writing this piece as a cost comparison to help us realizes the priorities our leaders have when allocating our public money. Their words are duplicitous, and any claims toward acting in our best interest are outrageous. Yes, that is a gross generalization. However, the voices of the very few leaders who genuinely do place our best interests first are drown out or marginalized into ineffectual whispers by the large money interests.

This friend I mentioned has, though he will not admit it, become demoralized trying for so many years to get the help he deserves, in futility, even as he continues to suffer with his afflictions. I am going to do all that I can to help him. Right now, he is grateful to me, but also laughing at me, saying he approached it with similar zeal until the bureaucratic behemoth finally beat him down. I expect all of you to help. Public money is our money, not just big company’s money. And we need to be there, for each other.

And for you conservatives who feel you know what honor is, look at yourselves. You cannot say it is honorable and necessary sending someone to die, yet dishonorable or unnecessary to help save someone’s life. To believe that is the mindset of a sociopath.

Convoluted Coffee

It’s one of those days where too little sleep leaves me unwilling to work, yet not tired enough to go sprawl out in bed. Such is the season of gas-powered leaf blowers wielded by morning-fixated do-gooders, who you can’t really condemn because their sheer weight in numbers grants them some ephemeral right to produce blaring noise outside your window.

So I’ll kill some time writing about something most of you will find completely uninteresting.

Not long ago I started another big project that requires the use of programming languages. I was a late-comer to object-oriented programming, and never really understood it until I gritted my teeth and dug into the formal structures. This, despite several times asking Anthony to explain it to me, which he tried, valiantly to do. It is, perhaps, like the concept of recursion – it just happens to you one day, and from that day forward, it just makes sense.

I would have explained it better than Anthony, though, I think, who focused upon the semantics. Object oriented programming is almost exactly like procedural programming, except that your functions have their own namespace (class), and multiple functions can be grouped together within that namespace (methods), sharing variables (properties) between them, or with a scope limited to a given function (method).

I think that would have made me understand object-oriented programming much easier, but through hindsight, it’s impossible to say. My apologies, Anthony, if I drove you nuts back then, trying to get me to understand the concepts and their relevance.

Object-oriented programming has become fairly well the de-facto way of programming for most applications. The sales pitch is, you can create logical objects that can be re-used easily by other programs, and it helps keep your code organized, both physically and logically, simply by adhering to the tenets of object-oriented programming. And, you can make changes in one place, without worrying that it will break other parts of your system, as long as you adhere to your defined interfaces and abstractions. It’s almost like utopia, really. Well, until you get there.

Like just about anything, it sounds great until you bring it home and live with it for a while. Then you like it, and you hate it, and helps you, and it gets in your way, etc., etc. What it does do, more than anything, is force you to think in terms of fitting blocks together, rather than flows. Oh, certainly, you can think in terms of flow to some degree with object-oriented programming, but only as much as blocks are allowed to flow. It becomes a balance, and a trade-off. Creativity can be messy, while organization can be restrictive. And one can come up with all sorts of reasons why one thing is worth the costs within the other.

Java is the language I was most interested in working with for this project, mostly because in all these years, I have never bothered to learn it. When it arrived it was meant to represent the pinnacle of the object-oriented approach to programming, with a minimal set of syntactical requirements, and the rest of the language’s functionality coming from the objects people would begin creating. After a while, people made quite a few objects, and they were put into various libraries. And marketing forces caused some of these libraries to be the more complex, “premium” libraries, while others remained in the core. However, after years of accumulating objects that represent the way things are to be done, there are so many objects, so many libraries, so many different standards that overlap, or duplicate effects, or are wholly incompatible, that Java appears to have reached an odd state of senility through its adherence to these organizational precepts.

That’s all well and good, I suppose – I don’t mind senility that much. But I do find it very difficult to chart a good course through the maelstrom of methodologies and standards that does not leave me in a position of reaching some dead-end to the path I have chosen to adopt, if contingencies might come into play along the way. Of course, you can always wrap this object in that one, and connect it over to here, when the original two were incompatible, but who knows what mammoth-sized baggage you’ll have to pick up and bring in along the way. It leaves me wishing, somewhat, that I could have grown senile along with it. But more, I think, happy that I did not. I’ve spent some good time with it and have learned it takes a good deal longer to accomplish many things with Java than it does using other languages. But it’s performance, after the fact, is almost worth it. For this project, no.

It’s so easy to fall back on PHP. You know why. It just fits right into web servers. No muss, no fuss, no effort. But it’s hideous, and clunky. I considered Perl as well, for the free and open fields, being object-oriented where you want, procedural, or even functional. Nothing is more versatile, even after all these years. Unfortunately, its use has become arcane to most, and I am not at all fond of ModPerl, which lets it run fast in web servers. Python is still transitioning between versions, and is fascist. Scala looks wonderful, but carries a good deal of Java baggage along with it, in the libraries, which some consider a huge benefit, while others consider it a nightmare. I’m left with the same, sad question from last year: where is my Perl 6? I’ve loved every bit of how it’s coming together. It’s gorgeous.

I’ll shamefully confess I decided to at least prototype in PHP. I’m telling myself, for prototyping, it’s just too damn convenient. Yet I also know, after having so much prototyping done, laziness will likely keep me with PHP. I need to be kicked in the head, shaken by the throat, then delicately caressed into doing something better, and more aesthetically enjoyable.

It may well be that I should back out, and just enter into the dark, murky swamp of Java, with all its quicksand and grabbing tendrils. Even though creating things is more time consuming, there is a final, satisfying quality to it, when complete. But I also don’t like company logos hanging off the various approaches I decide to take, and Java is packed with them.

The road through senility might just be the best path.

There Are Certain Realities

Knowing things can tricky. Ask any scientist in artificial intelligence and they’ll agree. But ask them what it means to actually “know” something, and they’ll find some way to avoid the question. I’m not sure why, but I can guess. Maybe they avoid the question because they know certain stuff, but can’t be bothered to share it. Or maybe they have some theoretical hope they wish to protect – a hope that some day they might build a machine that can know stuff. Their best answer so far is that believing we know something is an illusion; a by-product of our bio-mechanical mind shifting through stored memories using some unknown process, and somehow all this paper shuffling results in us tricking ourselves into believing we have a consciousness, when in reality, our awareness is just some fast and perhaps simultaneous memory trick, all brought together in one place, that, well, isn’t really a place. So really, they reason, we don’t know things. We can only remember things. Or, I suppose, forget them. This they know. Or, don’t, rather. And that’s why they avoid the question altogether, waiving their “get out jail free” cards.

But for the purposes of this essay I will not argue with them. In fact, I will agree with them in large part. Many things we believe we know are simply illusion, a form of self-trickery, where our more evolved and “larger” mind decides to play a subservient role to the more primitive and earlier-stage part of our minds that deals with such issues as survival, hierarchies, aggression (and love). In this way, we can act in accordance with our self-interests, justifying them through claims to a social order, even with our greater mind’s complete understanding of reasonable realities to the contrary. In other words, we can easily keep doing things and believing things even when we know better. This is a byproduct of our evolving mind that is often at odds with itself in an ongoing struggle between our more primitive adaptations and our more recently-evolved, higher cognitive abilities.

Empiricists believe that you must be able to touch something and measure it before it can be true. In other words, for something to be real, it must be able to hit you over the head and raise a lump. This is very convenient within the context of social orders, of all types, large and small. On the other hand, rationalists believe that something only needs to make rational sense, to be true. Of course, you can rationalize all you want that something is not hitting you over the head, but doing so will not keep you from getting a lump. And similarly, you can affirm all you like that being hit over the head, or hitting someone else over the head, is just the way it is – after all, you can feel it and measure it, right? But perhaps that is no longer a reasonable thing to do. Or perhaps other undiscovered and unmeasured clubs have already been pounding away, that will eventually change everything.

We can go clear back to the 1700’s and listen to Immanuel Kant about this issue. He demonstrated, and pretty well, that rationalists, without empiricism, were vulnerable to fooling themselves, while empiricists, without employing reason, can lose all context and meaning in their measurements and constructions. The interplay between empiricism and reason still happens today through the vessels of their adherents, who adhere strictly to varying degrees. But it turns out, the deftness at balance between the two is what separates the men from the boys. And the rest, who are the largest majority, are more akin to that Middle English poem about bulls leaping and farting in the Springtime.

My kung fu sifu once said, “you do not sing to cows – it is stupid”. That is when I first lost admiration for him. It has also been suggested, on more than one occasion, that I am “singing to the choir”. Could it be that you, reading this, are a farting, leaping animal in my choir of cows? I doubt it. You are all wildly different, with mostly unique backgrounds and certainly different priorities and beliefs. I would bet you are all farters, though, and that, at least, is comforting.

We’ve traveled a long way in our awareness since Darwin brought us back from Saint Augustine’s purely disembodied esoterics, reuniting us with nature, in all our crazy beastliness. Whether or not we are entirely biological machines changes nothing in our ethical imperatives toward one another. We are alive. We all feel pleasure and pain. We all experience hopes and disappointments. We can behave wrongly toward each other, or rightly.

The world of ideas dictates nearly all our actions. Ideas of ourself, and of others. Ideas of economic and political systems. Ideas of religion. Knowing anything may well be self-deception, just as some scientists claim (somewhat paradoxically). We pass ideas between each other, as surely as we pass them down to our descendants. They shape our ability to examine and understand the world and each other. Even the processes we use that lead to new ideas, are themselves, inherited ideas. How can we know anything true, when our very senses are merely tendrils that extend from that nexus we call our awareness? Not surprisingly, this itself is an idea that tends to appeal to and unsettle younger minds more readily than older. But after a while, we become settled within our experiences, having identified which hammers pound upon us and when, or which hammers we might possess in our arsenal to use. And this settling of our nature is the beginning of decay for any individual, and for any society.

Long before Kant, and long before Christianity, lived Socrates. We can trace the entirety of Western thought, the very basis of our intellectual abilities, both purely rational and scientific, through this line. Pythagoras, the “father of mathematics” had already completed his work in geometry fifty years prior to Socrates’ birth. Plato, who, like Pythagoras, was a lover of geometry, was a student of Socrates. However, Socrates was not entirely convinced that 2+2=4, when you really considered the question. Plato was convinced, however, and was even convinced that the mathematics of geometry were the basis for the atomic nature of the universe. In fact, the dodecahedron was so powerful that its existence was kept top secret, lest other, less worthy people, get it into their heads to play god. In fact, the dodecahedron was considered the “god particle”.

Socrates was more of a rationalist, however. He wanted things to make sense. And mathematics made perfect sense, as long as you remembered the context in which you applied it. Pythagoras, on the other hand, believed we could understand the universe through mathematics. He attributed a physical significance to numbers and gained a large following of his teachings, all of whom were tightly-knit collaborators upon their various mathematical equations and theories. Today, we would consider such a following a cult. At one point they were thrown into disarray and turmoil by the square root of two. You see, the universe likes whole numbers, or even ratios of whole numbers, which represent fractions. But the square root of two, they proved, could not be represented by a ratio of whole numbers, and the number two was far too important to exhibit such disturbing and provocative qualities. So the problem was downplayed, and even suppressed. They did not want this truth, even though they discovered it.

Plato, like Pythagoras, happily believed that the universe could be better understood through reason and mathematics, rather than relying on observations of nature, as Thales had said it must be understood. Most historians attribute Plato’s ideas that mathematics and reason are the best way to access the nature of reality as the primary force that kept science from advancing for well over a thousand years. In the meantime, Socrates, his teacher, who agreed that 2+2 may equal 4, but wanted to know what that really meant, was put to death by the Athenian state for embarrassing the ruling class by exposing their inadequacies as intelligent people who are obligated to lead well.

Some of you will see parallels in this, to the self-referential hallucinations that comprise a great portion of modern theoretical physics in its schism with the more sane disciplines of the observational. Some of you will see parallels with the insistently physical foundations of mind and consciousness, versus the more esoteric. And others will be gritting their teeth, wondering what on earth this has to do with the fleecing of the non-rich and the killing and torture of so many people. Still others will be convinced that this has nothing whatsoever to do with beer drinking.

The point is, people do have ideas, even if they’re only spouted when they’re drunk, and people do feel that they know things. And all these ideas have come to us, somehow. If we look back to Saint Augustine, we find a man who helped define what Christianity would mean for everyone who came after. He also was a philosopher, living long after the Greeks I’ve mentioned. He lived after Rome was transformed into something resembling civilization, after they conquered Greece. He lived at the time when Rome decided that Christianity was the one and only religion people could have. Saint Augustine was not a Christian then, but saw the light of Christianity while non-Christians were being put to death. One of his many contributions was giving us the concept of a “just war”, that is, a reasonable way to invade other countries, not because they have attacked you, but because they do not believe the right things, or because you would actually be helping them by invading.

Interestingly, it was around the same time that Rome was increasingly beset by the Vandals. No, they weren’t a punk rock band, but rather a very irritable group of Slavic and Germanic people who felt that they, too, were perfectly justified in doing and taking what they wanted. While Rome played their political games of backstabbing and power grabbing, the Vandals ran about pretty much willy-nilly through the empire. Saint Augustine actually died during a siege of Rome by the Vandals, probably from starvation. It’s certainly an interesting story about the power of the hordes.

Just a few nights ago I was talking, late at night, to a store clerk about the helicopters that always seem to fill the sky throughout the night. She told me that earlier that evening the Arco gas station had been robbed, and that her building had been painted with street images by vandals. She was happy the vandals had been apprehended by police. Also, her young daughter stays with her mom while she works at night, and she is worried about her daughter because she is very sick and nobody can tell her why. She had to move back in with her mother because she was trying to pay medical bills. Also, the thick metallic money vault behind the counter will only drop out $20 every hour, which she can use for making change. While I was there, one hooded man came in, buying lighter fluid and cold tablets.

She has trouble trusting people now because her boyfriend, a salesman, used to beat her when she questioned anything he said, and sometimes just when she was being nice to him. She wanted me to tell her that everything would be okay. Yet somehow, I didn’t know where to begin. What I did say was that I was glad she was standing on her own now, and that she was finding her own strength, which looked to me, to be considerable. And that none of that is me – it is all you.

Sometimes there are so many thoughts or ideas, with no obvious place to begin. Sometimes we may drown in them. An interesting thing about Socrates is that he never produced any writings. He believed that philosophy and discourse was meant to be alive, between people. He believed that it was better for people to consider ideas for themselves, reaching their own reasonable conclusions, despite what others might say, or what others might believe, or what any social order or government might compel. The Socratic Dialogue, or dialectic – the examination of ideas we might erroneously hold as truth, discussed and worked out between people. It is no place for the instruments of power and coercion. To the mind of Socrates, the dialectic ennobles people through the revelation of truth that might otherwise be obscured. A dialogue between people, two-way streets, without fear, with open minds, in the interest of all that is greater.

I couldn’t tell her all this, all at once, but only set a little sign. Small moves, Jenny at the store, as we find the little stepping stones. The paths that lead home, and the winding, rocky trails leading out into the world. Desperation, anger, clinging to the one thing that makes sense, the acceptance of a still decline, turning in one place – when there is no voice: it is illusion. All acts have consequences, as certainly as none do. And this is what creates, the entirety of our lives.

The big young man who got out of his car, as I was returning to my own, moved here recently from Texas. He met his wife while he was stationed at Fort Lewis, nearby, and they were married before he left to spend four years fighting in Iraq. He was overly gregarious and disconnected from our surroundings, seeing in the way only those who have known combat do. I walked up to stand in front of him and took his hand, looking him the face, so that I was all that he could see. “Welcome back home,” I said, “I’m very happy you made it through whatever you did.” Then I moved to stand beside him. “You’ll see more clouds here than you’re used to, especially this winter. Look at them, and pay attention to their shape and texture. Be unhappy or happy. And tell other people about them. We all learn, in the strangest ways.”

Progress, Destiny, Endeavor and the Unity Module

Money. I’m sure everyone has heard by now that 1% of Americans have more money than the entire 95% of the rest of us combined. The fact seems to shock many people, but honestly, I don’t mind. As long as we are free and not torturing or killing people or things without the most ironclad justifications, and we can live a modestly comfortable life in our homes, without starving or suffering unduly from disease, I am, at least perfectly content with someone else having as much money as they want. In fact, others can have whatever fetish they feel they need.

I don’t even mind if their fetish is a notion of power instead. Sure, you go have a great time making the laws we must live by, or enforcing them, as long as you must live by them too, and they conform both in letter and spirit to the boundaries we have agreed.

I’m curious how the new Michael Moore movie will portray Capitalism. Will he demonize it, or will he educate us? With Capitalism, like all academic constructs, the reality is, they are meant to be examined and studied — learned from — and only rarely taken as absolutes. They are meant to serve and better us, as humanity, not we them.

Right now a great deal of confusion is being generated through the people and mechanisms of this self-important abstract system, called Capitalism, that we have adopted. So much confusion is generated that we are even turning on ourselves. In essence, it is a holy war we wage, caught up in our own creation, adopted within our cultural myths and beliefs. And on all sides, real human lives are sacrificed in growing numbers upon the alters of progress. But what progress, really?

Is our measure of progress and success an accumulation of numbers, like the bizarre old woman whose attic gets filled to overflowing by her obsessive accumulation of trinkets? Or is true progress and success measured differently, more acutely, as the astonishing and previously impossible undertakings we have shouldered for one another in the interest of progressing our species onward to a better life for us all?

In a very real sense, Capitalism is a primitive structure, rooted in our most primal, and even barbaric instincts: conflict, gaining advantage, greed and strict boundaries. I can imagine no quality of Capitalism that cannot be reduced to at least one of those four. It is a reflection of our current world. It is a reflection of our beliefs, a reflection of work, and a reflection of nations. For most of us, it is a reflection of ourselves, even more so than a religion will shape even the most devout among us.

So what about the big bad word used by politicians and money interests to throw the brakes on any policy, law or even idea that tries to give, even the smallest amount of our public money back to the people who need it most, the ultra poor and even the mostly poor now, middle class? That’s right, I’m talking about the “S” word; Socialism, which, through a long history of propaganda, conjures images of evil Communists, secret police with interrogation cells, constant phone taps on citizens, disappearances, torture, and the invasion of foreign countries around the world to promote their oppressive way of life. Oh, wait. Hmm. Is that us?

Of course, there will be some among us who will claim, through hopelessly wrong reasoning, that it is the few wisps of socialist thinking recently entering into our political dialogue, that is to blame for our descent into that same state we claimed was so evil – evil, that is, when it wasn’t us. But that state is us, committing wanton acts of evil, and we are not a Communist state, nor even by a long stretch, a Socialist state. States become evil when they try, at any cost, to maintain themselves, unchanged.

I am not advocating Socialism, nor any other political or economic abstraction. However, I am advocating a thorough exploration of modern ideas, as well as old ones. It is unlikely that any one system will be good. We know that reality rarely conforms to ideals. Socialism is flawed because it requires that we can genuinely trust one another to adhere to the best principles for us all, through rational means. But unfortunately, we still have far too many liars. We still have far too many people who want things for themselves alone, despite the existence of other people. As long as this is true, more modern and humane systems like Socialism will be in danger of exploitation. We must learn to be honest, and care for each other, and not just in our own self-interest. But that does not mean we should avoid taking steps in new directions. In fact, we should. How better to learn, than to explore, with both our minds and hearts set to the task?

Pure Capitalism does not fulfill our social needs.It is wholly inadequate, and its shortcomings even go a long way to fostering ill for us, socially. Good does not arise, on its own, from greed. Capitalism is not wholly evil, either. But it impact upon our social structures must be tempered by something more humane than mathematics. It must be tempered by our desire to help one another, which all of us, when we are interviewed individually, possess a strong predisposition to do. We want to help others. And there is nothing wrong with that. And there is nothing wrong with making certain that those among us, who have benefited so greatly from us, also, to some degree, return benefit to us. There is nothing wrong with saying that ethics are every bit as important as profit. Doing so is a large step up in our social evolution and is one we are beginning to understand, and believe, despite the monumental efforts of purely capital interests.

Capitalism is not freedom. Nor is Socialism freedom. In the US, our notions of freedom arise from our founding documents, from which all subsequent law must, in theory, conform. Capitalism and Socialism are abstract ideals that we can look to and study, adopting those qualities we feel are right, for a given circumstance. I have heard it said by both liberals and conservatives, that the economic bailout of Wall Street was an act of socialism for the rich. That is not Socialism. Socialism would have that money go to all of us, not the banks, to pay off the mortgages. It was, instead, an act of Capitalism, and a telling example of how Capitalism can actually undermine a democracy – just as the trends in health care reform are also currently headed: a boon for capital interests, at our expense, with possibly something beneficial for us, coming down the road.

You know, I have given up being surprised by how many things lead me back to the general exploration of our universe, beyond all these ridiculous machinations. Those of you who follow NASA are familiar with the Augustine Report, commissioned to study NASA and its programs, then report back to the government. The preliminary report suggests that NASA needs more funding. And the GAO finds that NASA has not done enough to “develop all the elements of a sound business case” for its current human space flight plans.

If we used the money we have spent on the wars, and money we spend on the military in just one year, we would fully fund NASA, and more, for over 100 years, which is twice the agency’s current age. What “sound business case” is there for these wars, let alone humanitarian justification? The justification is oil, and its impending scarcity, and subsequent rise in value, which is also at odds with alternative energy development. Capital interests should not trump humanity’s interests. The question should not be how much money can we make, but rather, how much better can we make ourselves, through our understanding of each other and the universe we inhabit?

Imagine what we might come to understand and accomplish if just some tiny fraction of money were diverted from our military industry, or we decided to transform our military industry into scientific research? If we could just change from thinking in terms of offensive capabilities, to defensive, the savings would be enormous. The resources we could devote to energy, science and exploration could begin a new renaissance in our human endeavor.

I was listening to an astronaut speak a few days ago about his first sight of the Earth during a space walk. He’s a big, goofy Italian from New York, with all the trimmings. He said, it’s one thing when you look at the Earth through the window of a spacecraft, but it’s another thing altogether when you see the Earth clearly, right before your face. This big lug said, he looked at the Earth and words can’t even describe how beautiful it is. He looked away from it and thought to himself, God didn’t mean for anyone to ever see this. Then he looked again. And he thought, this is what Heaven must look like, watery-eyed, and worried that the moisture would do bad things in his suit, and that he would be given hell by his fellow astronauts now for telling this story. And then he thought no, this is not what Heaven must look like, this is what Heaven is.

It’s time we pull our heads out of money, power and war. It’s time we pull our heads out of never-ending ideological struggles that do not elevate us. It is time we devote ourself wholly to our own betterment as a species, not just to our own betterment. It is time we evolve. It is time we remember how, to show the way, by our example.