Saturday, July 18, 2015

Science v. Killing

We watched one of the Star Talk episodes last evening, with Neil deGrasse Tyson speaking with another astrophysicist about Tyson’s interview with George Takei, about Star Trek. The interview and ensuing discussion was fascinating at many levels.

Watching Takei (Sulu to the uninitiated) speak of his early WW II experiences made me gasp. Takei’s entire family, including the three young children were basically arrested and shipped to an internment camp for the duration of the war, solely because they were Japanese-Americans. Note, please, that nothing remotely similar occurred to, say, Italian-Americans, or German-Americans. And, perhaps as bad, or maybe even worse, after the war ended, his family was simply released back into the ghettoes of America, with no money, jobs, or places to live.  When they were arrested, their entire assets and sources of income were taken away and not returned.  Thus when they were released, they had no wherewithal to continue life as it had been before the war. I have worked with one of those detainees, a remarkable woman who helped to found the Japanese-American Memorial Foundation ( .
What struck me about the discussion with George Takei, and my own discussions with Cherry Y. Tsutsumida was the calmness surrounding the discussions of this awful period of pure American racist policy. Both had moved on and become strong characters in their own right, and each contributing to our nation’s culture in wonderful ways, Cherry as a public health officer, and Takei as a prominent television actor.  Takei was just a little kid—he was interned between the ages of 5-9. Yet, here he is speaking with astrophysicist Tyson about the science of Star Trek and its impact on American life. Remarkable indeed.

Star Trek contributed not only some pretty fancy notions about future science developments, but its cast provided hope for a multicultural universe in our future.  We had Caucasian-Americans, Asian-Americans, African-Americans, Russians, Scots, aliens of several cultures, and both men and women in key roles. Racism, unlike on planet earth, seemed non-existent.  There were warring cultures, to be sure. Who could forget The Borg? Yet, there was even considerable hope for inter-species cooperation.

The science behind Start Trek ranged from the wholly plausible—personal communicators, doors that sprung open by themselves, fully humanized robots, microwave machines, laser weaponry, talking computer systems—to the not yet plausible – warp drives delivering multiple speed of light velocity, “beaming” people by disassembling and then reassembling their atomic structure in a different place and time. But the science was more fun than serious. It was the interaction among the staff and between that starship staff and other cultures that provided the most entertainment.

And remember, it was only a few years between the beginning of this show and our actual landing of men on the moon. Science was on the march. Could Mars and other planets be far behind? Indeed, could interstellar travel be far behind?

Well, it turns out that we humanoids preferred war to science—think Vietnam, and then our Middle East debacles (it would seem all enterprises in the Middle East are debacles by definition).  We do love our wars. So science has had to take a back seat to killing.

So, watching this program was an exercise in lost opportunities. We could have done so much to advance our knowledge of our universe. But we really do like killing better.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Hate as a Campaign Strategy

Hate seems to be taking hold in this land of ours. Apparently, it is now insufficient to simply disagree politically. We must hate one another. We must describe our competitors in the political arena as enemies of the land.  How has this happened? Has it always been thus?

It may be that my memory has become dimmed over the past 80 years.  I can remember vividly my first election—Eisenhower vs. Adlai Stevenson—the General who brought us victory against the intellectual Stevenson. Eisenhower won of course. How could he not? He had brought the war to a close successfully. And did he decry his opposing forces as the enemy? And did he, having won the office, decide to close down government, or privatize Social Security, or give huge tax breaks to his wealthiest donors? Well, no, instead he took the nation on an investment campaign to build a system of national interstate highways. He ran a civilized government.

And Ike was followed by JFK. Remember him? “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country” And then we had the Peace Corps, that wonderful group of activist young people who went out to places around the globe to do good. And, they did good.

Zoom forward to 2015. The GOP candidates most closely resemble a train filled with clowns, but where the clowns are no longer funny, but instead folks who seem to hate everyone who is not inside their little train.
What do they hate?

Anyone who is less white and less radical than they are, which means especially, multiracial folks, Latino immigrants, LGBT folks, trade unionists, LibDems. Oddly, at least to me, they seem also to hate the middle class. They decry the public school system, which is heavily responsible for creating a middle class, and they appear not to understand that the middle class (the 47% who Mitt Romney despises) created the America we know and so love.

We are a nation of immigrants—my grandparents landed at Ellis island and petitioned for admission to this country. Yet, Donald Trump is applauded for saying that the Mexicans here are mostly rapists, murderers, and otherwise evil folks (he allowed as how at least some of them must be normal).  And The Donald was applauded by his minions.

The most amazing thing about all this is that real Americans listen to such hate talk and applaud. Now, The Donald may not get nominated, but he does represent a sizable number of core republicans—mostly white, older Americans who hate folks not like them. The recent "debate" over the confederate flag brought out perhaps the best and the worst of us, and the worst of us seem to represent the folks applauding The Donald.

So, instead of focusing on what we need to do to keep America the great nation it became way back when, the GOP has decided to focus on hating. Mainly, of course, they are focused on ramping up the hate-machine (see Fox News) so as to keep the body faithful in full hate mode. It isn't enough to disagree with Hillary, or Bernie, or Elizabeth. No, it is entirely necessary to hate them for what they represent—all those nasty little, hateful people who are ruining America (folks like you and me).

And it makes me think about republicans madly spinning in their graves for what their party has become.  Poor old Ike. He may never rest in peace again.