My Mother’s Epic Battle with an Armadillo

I just found a hilarious tale about my mother (in L. Lee Cowan’s Except for All the Snakes, I just Love It Out Here: The News from Stone County, Arkansas, Where One Life is Put Down Straight Up, p. 120). According to this published account, I was four years old when her battle to kill an armadillo entered family legend. As you can see below, Mom credits both my sister and myself with keeping the story alive over the years. A good family friend, Bruce, played a key role in bridging the gap between my mother and L. Lee Cowan, the author of the book in which this was published. It’s an amazing thing to have found.

If you like this excerpt (shown below), please buy the book, as I have done.

LLeeCohan

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.]

On Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Birthday: A Public Service Announcement

This year, in the USA, the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is observed tomorrow. However, it is today — January 15th — which is his actual birthday. 

brand_bio_bio_martin-luther-king-jr-mini-biography_0_172243_sf_hd_768x432-16x9

Source of image: http://www.biography.com/people/martin-luther-king-jr-9365086

Explaining China, Part IV: A Response to “War with China” Hysteria

china-and-environs

[Note: the “Explaining China” series began here, and the source for the map above is given there as well.]

A persistent worry in the Western world, particularly among the political right, concerns a supposedly-coming-soon war with China, as if China were harboring ambitions to take over the world. Evidence for this idea’s existence can be easily obtained; simply enter “coming war with” into Google; it will supply China as the top choice with which to end the phrase.

People should stop worrying about a war with China. It isn’t hard to avoid one, and we have nothing to gain from such a war, anyway.

First, as with other nations, China will defend itself if attacked. Therefore, to avoid being at war with China, the first step is to refrain from attacking China.

The next step is to realize that China has a long history with invasion, particularly  from neighboring countries, and tries to maintain a “buffer zone” of controlled (or at least influenced) territory surrounding China — for defensive reasons, and with a rationale not unlike the one for the Monroe Doctrine in the Americas.

Since Deng Xiaoping changed the direction of China’s economy (“To be rich is glorious” is one of his famous quotations) from Maoist Communism to nominal-Communism, Chinese leaders have also become concerned about staying rich, and getting richer. To do this, they need markets to sell their stuff. Politically, what the Chinese want is simple: stability. Why? Also simple: China has had more than its share of instability, and this has often been fatal for millions of people. The Chinese have no desire for more instability. Therefore, they aren’t looking for a fight. They’ve let Hong Kong and Macau do pretty much what they want, relative t0 the rest of China, and they’ve tolerated their situation regarding Taiwan for decades. 

The only place where there has been outright war between the People’s Republic of China and the West has been the Korean peninsula, which is, of course, still a global “hot spot.” At the beginning of the Cold War, Korea was partitioned between the victors of World War II, as the USA and USSR, each with their allies, squared off against each other. This brought American troops into Korea. China did not become involved at first — not until Western forces were nearing the Yalu River, which separates North Korea from China. At that point, hundreds of thousands of Chinese “volunteers” crossed that river, pushing American forces back. Ultimately, a stalemate similar to the war’s starting point was reached, and is still there today, DMZ and all.

North Korea is dangerous, but that doesn’t mean China is seeking war there. Since the death of Mao, China has moved ever closer to the goal of political stability. The government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (the DPRK, or North Korea’s absurd-but-official name) is a destabilizing force. If necessary, the governments in Beijing and Seoul can deal with Pyongyang. It would be best if the West did not get involved, unless (and this is unlikely) our assistance is requested.

It is a fact that we (the USA) have treaty obligations all over the place, and that is a problem we should fix. World War II is long over, as is the Cold War. Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea can now afford to pay for their own defenses. We should let them do this, and renegotiate the various treaties which would make it difficult for the United States to stay out of East Asian conflicts, on the grounds that these treaties (in present form) are no longer necessary.

The Chinese aren’t looking for a fight; they are quite busy, and have been for decades now, making lots of money by making things we need, and selling them to us. That might anger some people who bemoan the associated movement of jobs to China, but it is certainly no reason for war. The Chinese certainly won’t seek out war with us, for, without us, they can’t sell as much stuff, and would therefore make less money.

The people of China want stability, wealth, and more stability. They know, from their own history, that the opposite of these things often results in millions of deaths. Overt war is not on China’s agenda, nor should we put it there, by indulging in ill-considered American military (mis-)adventures in East Asia. There is no good reason for war with China to ever happen again. To avoid it, we must only do two things:

  1. Don’t attack China.
  2. Don’t get into violent conflicts with lands which share a border with China.

It would also help if the American political right would tone down the saber-rattling, but that’s probably not going to happen. On the other hand, as long as the rhetoric is not mixed with actual military actions, it can be safely tolerated. We have been doing that for decades, anyway, after all.

A Music Video: Janis Joplin’s “Mercedes Benz”

“A song of great social and political import” from the 1960s, as well as a fun song for which to make a music video — or sing, a capella, in public, loudly and obnoxiously. =D

A Scenario I Would Like to See: Friendly Competition, Between Teachers’ Unions and School Administrators, to Help School Libraries Everywhere

school libraries

During the Cold War, the usual way nations compete (direct warfare) was taken off the table by the invention of the hydrogen bomb. With the alternative being mutually-assured destruction, the two sides, led by the USA and the USSR, had to find other ways to compete. Some of those ways were harmful, such as proxy wars, as happened in Vietnam. Others, however, were helpful, such as the space race. The United States put men on the Moon in order to beat the Soviet Union there, as this iconic 1969 photograph makes evident (source: NASA).

planting the flag

We are all still reaping the benefits of the technological and scientific advances made during this period, and for this purpose. The most obvious example of such a benefit is the computer you are using to read this blog-post, for computer technology had to be advanced dramatically, on both sides, in order to escape the tremendously-challenging gravity-well of the Earth.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if other conflicts in society took beneficial forms, as happened in this historical example?

This could happen in many ways, but the one that gave me the idea for this post is the conflict between teachers’ unions and school districts’ administrators, now taking place in school districts all over the place. I think it would be awesome if this previously-harmful competition changed, to take a helpful form: book drives, to help school libraries.

Please do not misunderstand, though: I’m not talking about taxpayer money, nor union dues. My idea need not, and should not, affect the budget of any school district, nor union budget. All that need happen is for individual people — teachers and administrators  — to go home, look at their own bookshelves, and help students directly, by donating some of their already-paid-for books to school libraries.

While I make no claim to represent any organization, I am a teacher, and a member of the NEA (the National Education Association) in the United States, as well as my state and local NEA affiliates. In an effort to start this new, helpful way to compete, I will give books to the school library where I teach, next week, which is the second week of the new school year. That’s a lot easier than, well, putting men on the Moon. 

This is something we can all do. All of us in the education profession, after all, already agree that we want students reading . . . and this is something we can easily do, to work together towards that goal. School libraries need hardcover books which are student-friendly, meaning that they appeal to a young audience, on a wide variety of subjects. Both fiction and non-fiction books are helpful.

Lastly, in the hope that this idea catches on, I will simply point out one fact: helping turn this idea into a reality is as easy as sharing a link to this blog-post. 

Explaining China, Part III: Basic International Etiquette Involving the Chinese, as well as their Korean and Japanese “Neighbors,” and Americans

 

Multiple East Asian nations are discussed in this post, the third of a series which began here, and is usually focused only on China, and the Han Chinese. Those nations are The People’s Republic of China (the PRC); Taiwan, officially known as the Republic of China (ROC); North Korea; South Korea; and Japan. Many Americans, when they see a person whom they think is from East Asia (based on appearance), will simply guess — and sometimes they go even further, and guess out loud. This is usually not intentional rudeness, but it is a socially-dangerous breach of etiquette, made all the more serious if a spoken guess is an incorrect one. The reasons for this are complex, involving such things as tense relationships between ethnic groups and historical atrocities. The etiquette-based solution to avoid walking into a metaphorical minefield, once understood, is a simple set of principles. If you simply want to look for the principles, and skip the explanation of how I learned these things, and why they make sense, simply look for the red, centered text.

1. Listen carefully, before and after talking.

2. Silence is seldom considered rude.

s-l500

3. Every interaction (as might happen playing the game above) is an opportunity to learn.

The board and stones above will be recognized, as the game of go, by many people around the world. Go is the national game of Japan. Although I would never say this if I were in Japan, this game originated in China. The Chinese call it weiqi (pronounced “way-chee”), and the Japanese call it igo (this word sounds like the English word “ego”). Japan introduced this game to the Western world, which is why its English name is similar to the Japanese, rather than the Chinese, name. However, I did not learn this game from a Chinese nor a Japanese person, so, when in the presence of this teacher (who taught me taekwondo as well), I had to remember to call the game baduk, its name in Korean.

4. If you must guess about ethnicity, keep your guesses to yourself.

At the time I learned both go and taekwondo, I was a young teenager. The angriest I ever saw this teacher was an occasion where an American adult assumed, out loud, that he was Japanese. Being young, I didn’t put cause and effect together by myself, but it was later explained to me: during World War II, which had ended less than forty years ago at that time, atrocities had been committed by Japanese during World War II in South Korea. My teacher immigrated to the United States from South Korea a generation later, in 1977, and the angriest I ever saw him was in reaction to this blunder by the American who called him Japanese, because of what had happened to his nation during WWII.

There have been many other conflicts between East Asian nations, as well, including China, which was also invaded by Japan. Following WWII (which ended with the USA dropping two atomic bombs on Japanese cities), the Korean War started, which brought China into conflict with both Koreans and the USA. All these conflicts are within living memory, meaning that there are people still alive who remember these things happening. These international conflicts (and earlier ones, of course) are a major reason for inter-ethnic conflict, and few people want to be confused with their historical enemies.

5. An understanding of history can explain much basic etiquette.

Later still, I encountered other ways people can make social blunders of related types. For example, anyone born in the USA is an American citizen, and can be legitimately called an American — and that’s a term to which most American citizens do not object. If the person’s parents came from, say, Taiwan, and they are ethnically of the Han, this creates a situation few Americans understand, for the whole China/Taiwan thing is certainly complex. Under such circumstances, it’s perfectly understandable that one might prefer to be called “American,” rather than having to try to explain exactly which China one’s parents immigrated from. Many Americans, after all, do not even know that two Chinese governments (the PRC’s in Beijing, and the ROC’s in Taipei, both claiming for decades to be the government of all of Greater China) exist. 

However, there is an even better way to refer to individual people — any people, anywhere.

6. When possible, use people’s names and/or titles, expressed politely, and pronounced correctly.

With my taekwondo and baduk teacher, for example, it was seldom necessary to call him anything other than “Mr. Lee,” or simply, “sir.” I knew he was Korean, and from South Korea, but that was seldom discussed. I learned much by simply paying attention to him, and he taught me a lot. Later, I learned things about Japan, mostly from exposure to, and conversation with, Japanese people. Still later, I began learning about China (both the PRC and the ROC) and the Han, and found that my best sources of information were — no surprise — people of the Han, themselves.

7. For more detailed advice on etiquette, seek insider sources.

This means that, if you’re preparing to visit mainland China (the PRC), and want advice to avoid social blunders there, you’ll get your best information from those who have lived in the PRC. Similar principles apply to other places, such as my learning elements of Korean etiquette from a Korean. With people who are currently located in the PRC, though, one must carefully stay on topic, and there is one topic which must be avoided.

8. To avoid putting them in danger from their own government, do not discuss political issues with anyone located in the People’s Republic of China.

This would also apply to North Korea (formally: the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or DPRK), but that is far less likely to come up, simply because the PRC now encourages foreign tourism there, while the DPRK remains a closed society, as the PRC was during the reign of Chairman Mao. Both of these governments are totalitarian, are perfectly willing to kill their own citizens, and will not tolerate any propaganda (discussing, say, democracy, or human rights, would count as propaganda), except for their own.

Principle #9, below, is essential to understanding anything about these East Asian nations. When I studied East Asian history in graduate school, this was my starting point.

9. China ≠ Japan ≠ Korea.

10. Remember that these are basic principles only, and use #7 to learn more.

It would be a mistake for anyone to take this as a complete list, for it is not.

[Image credit: I found the image of a weiqi/baduk/igo/go set on eBay, right here. It is for sale for the next few weeks.]