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

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[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.

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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. 

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

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

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[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