I’m Walking on an Active Volcano at Yellowstone National Park

At the time my wife took this picture, I did not yet realize that we were walking around on an active volcano when we recently visited Yellowstone National Park. The outgassing behind me, which I had just walked through, should have clued me in, since it had a strong smell of hydrogen sulfide mixed with hydrochloric and sulfuric acids. At a gift shop, I found a book by Greg Briening called Super Volcano: The Ticking Time Bomb Beneath Yellowstone National Park. It explains the science of Yellowstone, and makes a strong case that the volcano that created Yellowstone will blow up again, possibly soon, with cataclysmic consequences worldwide.

Pictures of Delicate Arch, from Arches National Park

These pictures all include Delicate Arch, which I once painted, before first seeing it for real a few days ago. It’s the sandstone formation on the left.

We visited Arches N.P., in Utah, on our way to Yellowstone National Park. More vacation pictures are coming soon.

Places I Have Been, #3 (Updated for Yellowstone Trip)

My wife Dee and I live in Arkansas, the state shown in yellow above. This map shows, in pink, states we have visited together, between 2013 and the present. I just updated it for our vacation to Yellowstone National Park, which roughly doubled the pink area. States and provinces shown in blue are ones I have visited, but not with Dee, all before 2013. It is my ambition to visit other continents as well — it just hasn’t happened yet.

We took a lot of pictures on our trip, and they’ll show up here soon. First, though, I need sleep, for that was quite a long drive!

Thoughts on Colonizing Space

OSIRIS_Mars_true_color

[Image found here.]

It is no secret than I am not a fan of our current president, Donald Trump. I’ve been watching him carefully, and have found exactly one point of agreement with the man: humans should colonize the planet Mars. The two of us differ, however, on the details. What follows is my set of reasons — not Trump’s — for supporting colonization of Mars.

First, we should not start with Mars. We should start, instead, by establishing a colony on Luna, our own planet’s moon. There are several reasons for this. First, as seen in this iconic 1969 photograph brought to us by NASA, we’ve been to the Moon before; it simply makes sense to start space-colonization efforts there.

apollo-flag2

At its furthest distance, the Moon is ~405,000 km away from Earth’s center, according to NASA. By contrast, at its closest approach to Earth in recent history, Mars was 55,758,006 km away from Earth. With the Moon less than 1% as far away as Mars at closest approach, Luna is the first logical place for an extraterrestrial colony. It need not be a large colony, but should at least be the size of a small town on Earth — say, 100 people or so. There are almost certainly problems we haven’t even discovered — yet — about establishing a sustainable reduced-gravity environment for human habitation; we already know about some of them, such as muscular atrophy and weakening of bones. Creating a lunar colony would demand of us that we solve these problems, before the much more challenging task of establishing a martian colony. (To find out more about such health hazards, this is a good place to start.) Once we have a few dozen people living on the Moon, we could then begin working in earnest on a martian colony, with better chances for success because of what we learned while colonizing the Moon. 

An excellent reason to spend the billions of dollars it would take to colonize Mars (after the Moon) is that it is one of the best investment opportunities of the 21st Century. Space exploration has a fantastic record of sparking the development of new technologies that can help people anywhere. For example, the personal computers we take for granted today would not be nearly as advanced as they are without the enormous amount of computer research which was part of the “space race” of the 1960s. The same thing can be said for your cell phone, and numerous other inventions and discoveries. Even without a major space-colonization effort underway, we already enjoy numerous health benefits as a result of the limited exploration of space we have already undertaken. Space exploration has an excellent track record for paying off, big, in the long run.

Another reason for us to colonize Mars (after the Moon, of course) is geopolitical. The most amazing thing about the 20th Century’s Cold War is that anyone survived it. Had the United States and the Soviet Union simply decided to “nuke it out,” no one would be alive to read this, nor would I be alive to write it. We (on both sides) survived only because the USA and the USSR found alternatives to direct warfare: proxy wars (such as the one in Vietnam), chess tournaments, the Olympics, and the space race. In today’s world, we need safe ways to work out our international disagreements, just as we did then. International competition to colonize space — a new, international “space race” — would be the perfect solution to many of today’s geopolitical problems, particular if it morphs, over the years, into the sort of international cooperation which gave us the International Space Station.

Finally, there is the best reason to establish space colonies, and that is to increase the longevity of our species, as well as other forms of life on Earth. Right now, all our “eggs” are in one “basket,” at the bottom of Earth’s gravity well, which is the deepest one in the solar system, of all bodies with a visible solid surface to stand on. A 10-kilometer-wide asteroid ended the age of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, and there will be more asteroid impacts in the future — we just don’t know when. We do know, however, that past and present human activity is causing significant environmental damage here, so we may not even need the “help” of an asteroid to wipe ourselves out. The point is, the Earth has problems. The Moon also has problems, as does the planet Mars — the two places are far from being paradises — but if people, along with our crops and animals, are located on Earth, the Moon, and Mars, we have “insurance” against a global disaster, in the form of interplanetary diversification. This would allow us to potentially repopulate the Earth, after the smoke clears, if Earth did suffer something like a major asteroid impact.

Since Moon landings ended in the 1970s, we’ve made many significant discoveries with space probes and telescopes. It’s time to start following them with manned missions, once again, that go far beyond low-Earth orbit. There’s a whole universe out there; the Moon and Mars could be our first “baby steps” to becoming a true spacefaring species.

[Later edit: Please see the first comment, below, for more material of interest added by one of my readers.]

Just 14 States Choose America’s Next President

14 states decide who the president is

If you live in one of the states shown in gold, congratulations — both the Trump and Clinton campaigns want your vote, for you live in a “battleground” or “toss-up” state, or at least one that only slightly “leans Democrat” in polls, or “leans Republican.” 

The states shown in purple, on the other hand, are taken for granted by one campaign, while the other campaign regards them as “lost causes.” My own state, Arkansas, for example, is solid Trump territory, even though I can’t stand the man. These states don’t offer a competitive race.

In a presidential campaign where most people are voting against someone, rather than voting for anyone, this map is important for strategic voting. In my case, for example, I see the two major parties as offering me a choice between bad (Clinton) and worse (Trump). If I lived in a golden state, I’d probably hold my nose and vote for Clinton, for, in such a state, the urge to stop Trump would compel me to vote against the person with the best chance of beating Trump.

However, my state is purple. It’s solid Trump-turf. Hillary Clinton herself knows she won’t carry Arkansas. My anti-Trump vote is largely symbolic, and, as such, I want to use it to send a message to both the Republican and Democratic parties. It’s a simple message: “give us better choices.” To send such a message, I need to vote for someone else, and there are two major alternatives: Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate (his website is at https://www.johnsonweld.com/), and Dr. Jill Stein, the Green candidate (her website is at http://www.jill2016.com/). To make a statement that the government needs to pay more attention to carbon emission and climate change (and the major parties need to give us better candidates in elections), I’ve decided to vote Green this year.

This same logic would hold true were I in, say, New York, also purple. New York is purple because both candidates know it is a “safe” Clinton state. If I lived there, Clinton would carry that state with or without my vote, so, again, I would cast my protest vote for Jill Stein.

To the majority who live in purple states, and dislike both Trump and Clinton, I ask you to consider casting your vote for either Johnson or Stein. Voters in the golden states, on the other hand, are involved in competitive races, and (pragmatically) should vote for Hillary Clinton if they want to do anything to stop Trump, or vote for Trump if they are willing to vote for anyone to keep Hillary Clinton out of the White House.

It is a shame that votes matter more in some states, and don’t matter as much in others. For this reason, I would favor an Amendment to the Constitution to abolish the electoral college, and choose our presidents by direct popular vote, with a two-person, nationwide runoff election a month later, if the candidate with the most votes only wins a plurality of the popular vote in November.

Explaining China, Part II: What Do I Know, About China, and How Did I Learn It?

PRC and ROC and Barbarian Nations

In the map above, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is shown in red, while the Republic of China (ROC) is shown in yellow. “Barbarian” nations (from the point of view of the Han, or the ethnic group we call “Chinese” in English) are shown in orange, and both oceans and large lakes are shown in blue. The third (and only other) majority-Han nation, the island city-state called Singapore, is not shown on this map, as it is too far to the South to be seen here. From the point of view of the Han, “barbarians” have been, historically, those humans who were not Han, while “the Han” can be translated as “the people.”

This historical xenophobia I just described among the Han is hardly unique; it is, in my opinion, simply human nature. The British rock band Pink Floyd explained this, quite well, in the following song, “Us and Them,” from 1973’s classic Dark Side of the Moon. This album, in the form of a cassette tape which had to be purchased by my parents (for I would not let go of it in the store we were in), happens to be the first musical album I actually owned, back when it was newly-released (I was born in 1968). If you choose to listen to this song, please consider this idea of xenophobia, as simply being a human characteristic, while it plays.

Ancient Greeks had the same “us and them” attitude about those who did not speak Greek, and the English word “barbarian” is derived from Greek, with a meaning which parallels what I have described in China. Eurocentrism, in general, in the study of “world history,” is well-known. Moving to another continent, the people where I live, the USA, are famous for learning geography one nation at a time . . . as we go to war with them, of course. Only a tiny percentage of Americans knew where either Korea was located until we went to war there, and we (as a people) did not know where Vietnam was until we went to war there. More recently, Americans learned — twice! — where Iraq is, though many of us still, inexplicably, confuse it with Iran. This list of xenophobic nations is far from complete, but these examples are sufficient to make the point.

When, in 1939, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill uttered the famous phrase, “It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma,” he was referring to the Soviet Union (or USSR), although the proper noun he actually used was “Russia.” However, this quotation applies equally well to the PRC, which has one indisputable advantage over the USSR: the People’s Republic of China still exists, while the Soviet Union does not. In the last post here, I began an ambitious series, with the goal of explaining China. I promised, then, that my next post in the series would explain my qualifications to write on the subject of the PRC, the ROC, Greater China, and the Han — so that’s what I need to do now.

I am currently working on my second master’s degree, in an unrelated field (gifted, talented, and creative education). However, my first master’s degree was obtained in 1996, when Deng Xiaoping, while no longer the PRC’s “paramount leader,” was still seen as its most prominent retired elder statesman. It was Deng Xiaoping, primarily, who made (and defended) the decision to send the tanks in, and crush the pro-democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square, in Beijing, in June of 1989, which I watched as they happened, on live TV. I was horrified by those events, and this has not changed.

During the early 1990s, I began studying the economic reforms which made the era of Deng Xiaoping so different from Chairman Mao’s China, trying to figure out the solution to a big puzzle: how so much economic growth could be coming from an area dominated by a huge, totalitarian, country which, at that time and now, was one of the few remaining nations on Earth which still claimed to be Communist. This study was done during the time of the “New Asia” investment bubble, as it was called after it “popped” (as all investment bubbles do, sooner or later). New Asia’s economic growth was led by the “Four Tigers” of Hong Kong (still a British colony, at that time), Singapore, Taiwan, and South Korea. South Korea is, of course, Korean, but the other three “tigers,” all had, and still have, majority-Han populations. What money I had, I invested in the Four Tigers, and I made significant profits doing so, which, in turn, led to a general interest in East Asia. 

Motivated by simple human avarice, I studied the Four Tigers intensely, leading me to focus (to the extent made possible by the course offerings) on 20th Century East Asian history, during the coursework for my first master’s degree. There was a problem with this, though, and I was unaware of it at the time. My university (a different one than the one I attend now) had only one East Asian history professor, and he was very much a Sinophile. Sinophiles love China uncritically, or with the minimal amount of criticism they can get away with. When we studied the rise to power of Mao Zedong, and the PRC under the thumb of Chairman Mao, I heard it explained by a man who viewed China, and Chairman Mao, through rose-colored glasses, even while teaching about others who made the same error, to an even greater degree. I had already read one book about the Cultural Revolution, earlier in the 1980s, so I was skeptical, but he was also my only professor. The result was confusion. This was the book I had already read, along with a link to a page on Amazon where you can purchase it, and easily find and purchase the Pink Floyd music posted earlier, if you wish to do so. This is Son of the Revolution, by Liang Heng and Judith Shapiro, and you can buy it at https://www.amazon.com/Son-Revolution-Liang-Heng/dp/0394722744/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1468869380&sr=8-1&keywords=son+of+the+revolution.

Son of the Revolution

This book was read for an undergraduate sociology course, at my first college, during the Reagan years. The important thing to know about Liang Heng, the book’s primary author, is that he was, himself, of the Han, as well as being from the PRC itself. The professor for this course wanted us to see the horror of a mass movement gone horribly wrong, and she chose this insider’s view of the Cultural Revolution, during which I was born, to do that. What I heard from my East Asian history professor did not mesh well with what I was taught by my East Asian history professor, and so I left that degree program confused. This professor’s argument, in a nutshell, was Chairman Mao was a figure of tremendous importance (true) who had good intentions (false), and tried to do amazing things (half-true, and half-false by omission, for these were amazing and horribly evil things), but had them turn out wrong (true), with many millions of his own people dying as a result, over and over (definitely true; Mao’s total death total exceeds that of Hitler or Stalin, either one). The “good intentions” part was what confused me, of course, for Mao was a monster, yet, from my later professor, I was hearing him described as a Great and Important Man.

I would have remained in this confused state, has I not also read this book, also written, primarily, by a person of the Han: the amazing Jung Chang, who has her own page on Amazon, at http://www.amazon.com/Jung-Chang/e/B00N3U50ZO/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1468870698&sr=8-2-ent. (On that page, I notice she has a newer book out, which I have not read, and she is such a fantastic author that I am buying it now.) This, by contrast, was her first well-known book, and the one I read as an undergraduate:

wild swans

Wild Swans tells the story of three generations of Han women: Jung Chang’s maternal grandmother (who had bound feet, and could barely walk, for that reason), then the author’s mother, and then finally Jung Chang herself, who found herself a Red Guard during the Cultural Revolution at the age of 14. This book tells their story, and is riveting. It has nothing nice to say about Chairman Mao, and contains much criticism of “The Great Helmsman,” as his cult of personality enthusiastically called him, yet he is not the focus of Wild Swans. The author’s family, over three generations, is.

I did my master’s degree work from the Sinophile professor described earlier, and then, later on still, I encountered Sinophobes. The opposite of Sinophiles, people who have Sinophobia have nothing nice to say about China, nor the Han. They hate and fear things Chinese because they fear the unknown — in other words, Sinophobia is a more specific form of xenophobia. 

So, first, I read Liang Heng, and then, later, I started reading Jung Chang. Next, I heard the Maoist viewpoint explained quite thoroughly by my Sinophile professor, while my reading of Liang Heng and Jung Chang had exposed me to an anti-Mao, but non-Sinophobic, point of view, which is a direct consequence of the fact that both authors were actually of the Han, and had direct exposure to Maoism. Later came the Sinophobes, and their written and spoken, anti-Chinese, case for . . . whatever. (Actually, the Sinophobes never make a case for anything, unless one counts hating and fearing China and the Han as being “for” something. I do not.) Later still, one of my close friends studied ancient Chinese history and philosophy extensively, and we had (and still have) many talks about both ancient and modern China, including Chairman Mao, and the silliness of the Sinophobes, but this friend is more interested in talking about, say, Confucianism, rather than Maoism, or Mao himself. I was primed to learn the truth about Mao, but had to wait for the right opportunity.

Think about this, please. How many books have been written that accurately describe Stalin as a monster? How many exist about Hitler? I should not have had to wait so long to find out something about Mao I felt I could believe, and that described him as the monster he was, but wait I did, for no such book existed . . . until Jung Chang came to my rescue, with her next book, after 1991’s Wild Swans. All 800+ pages of it.

mao the unknown story

It took her many years to write this tome, and it was published in 2005. She grew up under Mao, having been born in 1952, not long after the revolution of 1949, which established the People’s Republic of China. Chairman Mao finally died in 1976. Two years after that, Jung Chang was sent to Great Britain as a college student, on a government scholarship. Being highly intelligent, and not wanting to return to China, she went on to become the first of the Han to receive a Ph.D. at any British university. This book, focused on Mao’s formative years, rise to power, and tyrannical rule, all the way to his death, is, as its subtitle states, “The Unknown Story” of this historical period. Jung Chang was uniquely qualified to write this story, having lived through so much of the events described in her book. She knew how expendable people were to Mao, having witnessed it, and survived. To the extent possible (and she was quite resourceful on this point) she used primary sources. This is why I give her much credibility. 

These are the ways I have learned about China: from three books by two of the Han, long talks with a personal friend, and two college professors with different points of view on China, and Mao in particular. I have rejected the points of view of both the Sinophiles and the Sinophobes, and now I try to learn what I can from other sources, especially sources who are, themselves, of the Han — although I am weakened in this respect by the fact that I am only bilingual, with my two languages being mathematics and English, in that order. If you think this approach makes sense, I hope you will read my other posts, past and future, about China and the Han.

Explaining China, Part I: The Scope of This Series, Which Includes the PRC, the ROC, the Han, and Greater China

China and environs

I’m bringing a new topic to my blog. I’m going to attempt to explain things about China, the largest nation in which the Han (that’s the way to write, in English, the Chinese name for the Chinese people, as an ethnic group) form the majority, as well as the largest nation on Earth, by population. The map above comes from this website. If you’re wondering why, in the map above, Taiwan is the same color as the People’s Republic of China, this series of blog-posts is definitely for you. In a future post, I will deal with the historical reasons for the China/Taiwan puzzle, and the current state of that interesting situation. (“May you live in interesting times” is not a nice thing to say directly to any of the Han, by the way, no matter where they live. It is considered by many people to be part of an ancient Chinese curse, although the veracity of this claim is disputed — a topic for another post, later in this series.)

If you find China, Taiwan, puzzles in general, mysteries which are not fictional, history, current events, and/or the Han to be interesting topics, then this irregularly-published series of blog-posts is for you. If you aren’t interested in any of those topics, my assumption is that you wouldn’t have read this far, anyway. To those who miss the other topics about which I blog, don’t worry: posts in this series will not be the only topic I blog about, by any means, for the fact that I am interested in many things, and blog on many topics, is not going to change.

The People’s Republic of China is also known as mainland China, Red China, the PRC, Communist China, or simply “China.” The government of the PRC is often referred to simply as “Beijing,” the city which is the capital of the PRC. Taiwan, by contrast, is officially known as the Republic of China, or the ROC, or even, by some people, “Taiwan, China” (a term I tend not to use). The ROC’s government can be referred to as “Taipei,” the ROC’s capital, to distinguish it from the government in Beijing. My preferred way to refer to the nation-state which is actually under the control of the Beijing government is to call it the PRC, and I use ROC, often, to refer to the nation-state actually under the control of the Taipei government, which most people call Taiwan, a term I also use. When I only write “China,” I mean the PRC. I also use the term “Greater China,” which is explained below.

The Han are in the majority in both the PRC and the ROC, and these two regions are collectively known as “Greater China,” which sounds like, and in some ways actually is, one nation with two governments, since both governments claim to be the only legitimate government of the nation which is all of Greater China (and, yes, that is confusing, along with “China Proper” on the map above). All of these topics: the nations, governments, regions, and people, are mysteries for most people on Earth — and topics for future posts in this series.

I am not of the Han. I do not speak, read, nor write any variety of the Chinese language. Also, I have yet to visit any part of Greater China. By contrast, I am known as a teacher of both science and mathematics, as someone who does “math problems for fun” (as my blog’s heading-cartoon, which I did not write, puts it), as well as a blogger on many topics that have previously had little to do with China, until this post, from yesterday, which analyzed current events worldwide, starting with recent developments in China. I do not want anyone to think I just started studying China yesterday, for that would not be correct. I do feel that I owe anyone who has read this far an explanation for exactly one thing: why should anyone care what I have to say on these subjects? I will explain that in Part II of this ongoing series . . . and tackling the PRC/ROC puzzle will be coming later, as will other topics.