Vajont

As you can see the Italian school behind mine has its own 3D model, the white building in front does not

As you can see the Italian school behind mine has its own 3D model, the white building in front does not.

My dad and I are racing south from the Rhineland towards the Alps. It had been years since I had seen them, and their sheer peaks and narrow valleys towered over the castles and villas. We’re headed back just to see it all again, the place where I grew up. Oddly enough we’re making the journey in a small-block Dodge pickup that surprisingly handled the fury of the autobahn well.

My time spent attending “Department of Defense Education Activity” or “DoDEA” schools was probably representative of what suburban public education in the United States looked like. For one thing, my school wasn’t located on a military base. Until the late 1990s, the US-led NATO bases in the northeast region of Italy lacked centralized housing for American personnel beyond non-married GIs. Therefore, nuclear families like mine were dependent upon the local offerings for residence.

In the seemingly pax-Romanic period of the late nineties, my family settled into a small town called Malnisio on the outskirts of Montereale-Valcellina. Serving as a edge to this township was the westerly leg of the Torrente Meduna, a massive dry river-bed nearly a kilometer wide and ten long. At its northernmost point was a dam situated at the foot of Monte Fara, a craggy peak that serves as a gatekeeper to the Dolomites. From a satellite view, the bed’s dry white rocks are clearly visible, making the whole formation look like a large V-shaped scar on the Adriatic Plain. During heavy rainstorms the bed would begin to channel water but it seldom resembled an actual river. My school bus would traverse the nearly kilometer-long bridge spanning the Torrente, west to east toward Maniago and Vajont. Fast forward over decade later and I was finally returning to see what had become of my forgotten school.

Satellite Schools

DoDEA operated three elementary schools for kids living in towns surrounding the airbase. I attended Vajont Elementary School. The other two were Pordenone to the south west, and one in Aviano on a smaller installation away from the air base. Mine was a plainly styled concrete building with three main sections, a gym on its backside, and a playground behind it. On the other side of the fence bordering our playground was a local Italian primary school with similarly aged kids. We didn’t interact with them much except to play annual soccer tournaments and eat pizza with anchovies. I was shuttled on inconspicuous contracted city buses to school, catching it along a predetermined route that wound its way throughout the Friulian townships and countryside.

Dad worked munitions, so when he wasn’t working nights he would drive my sister and me to the bus stop near an Agip station. There an inconspicuous tour-bus would pick us up and take us winding through the towns and across the bridge spanning the great riverbed to school. Vajont today is descendant from the refuge remains of the former Vajont that was completely destroyed in a devastating landslide in the 1960s north of Monte Fara, in the mountain-lake country. The Italian government, gathering the few survivors, built dwellings and a township on the southern outskirts of Maniago safely in between the two riverbeds of the Torrente and away from any dubious mountainsides.

The school is drab and dated, made from a rough dark grey concrete with flakes of black and white pebbles. There was a small playground in the front, but only for kindergartners, and I started there as a first-grader so my playground was in the back with all the other kids. As my dad and I approached the town years later, I began to feel the relief of a nostalgic itch finally being scratched. As it happened, a few army Chinook helicopters were dropping paratroopers in a nearby field as we arrived.

We pulled up to the building with Chinooks beating the air into submission several miles away. I noticed that the school’s front gate was left unlocked, and the structure was clearly unoccupied with no one in sight. After briefly consulting with my dad, we decided that given how far we had traveled, a further investigation of the building was needed. I walked through the gate and was immediately reminded of a scene from my second grade, lining up out in front of the school in the small gravel courtyard. We huddled in puffy coats exhaling visibly and passing red, blue, and yellow plastic cartridges back and forth—I didn’t lend out my Blue Version very often though.

I approached the front door and found it unlocked and slightly ajar. The window was opaque and offered no view inside. I slowly opened it to peer into what-was-then the main lobby leading to the kitchen, gym, and first grade hallway. Inside I found the lobby adorned with canvases and easels. Buckets of color lined the floors and the smell of paint was strong. Before I could reach any conclusions as to the building’s new use, a middle-aged Italian woman approached me from the first-grade hallway. She was wearing a paint-smeared apron and seemed surprised but greeted me warmly. In a very broken and unpracticed attempt at Italian, I asked if she spoke English, and if it was okay to be in the building. She replied in fluent English that the building was recently used as a temporary art gallery and studio. Acknowledging this, I informed her of my status as a former student and her response seemed to suggest that I hadn’t been the first to return.

Soon into our conversation, a younger woman descended smiling out of the same hallway. I don’t think her Inglese was as comprehensive as her mother’s (I’m assuming), but a brief exchange between the three put us all on the same page. The older woman explained that they had been using the building as an art gallery and studio, making huge banners for town parades. Indeed as we walked to the right and into my old hallway, I saw a huge banner on the floor depicting a familiar scene from Italian folklore: a whale devouring a small ship with a flailing boy and a scrambling old man. What’s strangely coincidental is that I first learned of the tale of Pinocchio in a classroom in that same hallway.

I walked into my old first grade classroom stepping over upturned floor and fallen ceiling tiles. The cubbies where I’d keep my belongings were still there, as well as the exact hooks I hung my bag. The room itself was seemingly picked apart in a hurry, the board gone, the windows left dirtied.  I could see light-shadows left from posters that had once been plastered on the wall. The other classrooms were more or less the same. The room that once housed the server and computer lab had hundreds of feet of Ethernet cable spooling out of the floor. I found a stack of 5 ¼” floppy disks in a box near the door which I thought was weird—what was on them I wonder?

Aviano 2000 and September 2001

The Elementary was K-6. I was in fourth grade and my sister in first when 9/11 occurred, and our school-day had already concluded when we heard the news. In the following weeks the building went into lockdown fairly quickly. We had European contracted security guards walking around with handguns holstered, but they were friendly and would even play dodgeball with us during recess sometimes. We also had a ton of cameras installed and were subjected to more and more bomb, shooter, and fire drills.

By the end of fourth grade, the school in Vajont, as well as the other in Pordenone and the small one on Area-1 in Aviano were being consolidated into an on-base K-12 school. The new school was huge and yellow and had these great big windows in the library with a southward facing view. The view of course was obstructed by 200-plus square feet of blast netting. Sometimes I’d sit and read books and watch the blast net sway with the window ajar. Ironically, there was an actual attack on the airbase in the early 90s that involved both gunfire and grenades, however no precautions such as private security or blast netting was used following that incident.

It is worth mentioning that the plans to construct the monolithic K-12 on base school had been in motion for many years prior to 9/11. This project, called “Aviano 2000,” had been in full swing since 1994. Based on my impressions of the installation by 2013, this project was still very much in progress (Despite the project apparently being finished in 2009). But that new school sure got finished fast! I managed to dig up an old PDF on the DODEA website regarding the school there, it’s less than two pages.

Vajont circa 2013 was undisturbed for the most part. You always feel huge walking around your childhood jungle gym, and I definitely had that sensation many times during my brief return. It’s easy to see how the turmoil of the early 00s quickly altered the military’s policy toward children’s education. I remember the contests to name the mascot for our new and huge on-base school, us Vajont Vipers ended up calling the middle school the Aviano Patriots, and the Elementary became the Eagles. It goes without saying that the school colors for both the elementary and junior high were red, white, and blue. Even at the time though I felt that this was pretty reactionary and if anything an uncreative attempt to get kids to eventually graduate and join the service.

Before, the schools didn’t strike me as being avenues toward enlistment, I’m sure plenty of graduates did that by virtue of their exposure to that lifestyle, but it wasn’t overtly obvious until those towers collapsed in New York. Now through the power of the online dossier service called Facebook, I see all of these fellow classmates graduated, enlisted, and having tons of babies. To me, this whole scene of memory is like an old continent I left years ago, because the Air Force simply told us to. What’s left feels “old world” but going back put the “new world” in a very intriguing perspective.

What Remains

Many of the restaurants are closed, the owners of those that remain talk of economic downturns on a scale not seen for a generation. The villages and towns are quiet, and the GIs on base feel more isolated from the local life now that housing and schooling are centralized. Before returning to what I jokingly call “the old country,” I had this preconceived notion that being back would reaffirm my nostalgic stupor. I always knew I’d probably end up going back and that doing so would somehow make me a happier person. Like having that dream you’ve always dreamt of having. But seeing it again, as much as it bought me deep pleasure, gave me a new understanding of nostalgia and its clouding influence on one’s desires. What I missed is not merely a product of the passage of time, it was wiped from existence by forces at very high echelons.

The school, the community it fostered, and the locals we comingled with, are lost to that fateful autumn of 2001. We all knew the school’s days were numbered before 9/11, but after the attack, the move to consolidate the students was rapidly accelerated. To think that it was somehow a “better time” or a “simpler time” only occluded the geopolitical-military policies that was its eventual undoing. To my surprise, going back wasn’t like stepping back in time, it was like stepping into an abandoned museum. My experience in the past is relatable to that moment, but forever anachronistic. The painter in the school captured this sentiment well. I feel like the wooden boy turned flesh where, having been consumed and regurgitated by the whale of reality, I was left grappling with a real understanding of what had sailed away into fragments of bureaucratic past and personal memory.

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Brushing off the dust

AContinentIsBridged.png

A Continent Is Bridged – Franklin Booth (1940)

Now that I’m a fully graduated bachelor of political science, I can justify spending time writing things that I won’t be graded on. While not the best excuse I could come up with for not updating my blog in nearly a year, it will have to do for now. So instead of tackling complex moral issues, rambling about space, or ranting about stuff most people don’t even think about, I’m going to briefly give an update on what I’m reading, and what my thoughts on that are. I don’t remember exactly how I heard about Debord, but I found myself enraptured by his text La Société du spectacle, or The Society of the Spectacle.

Considered by many to be a landmark text in Marxist thought in the later half of the twentieth century, Debord effortlessly exposes and critiques the material conditions that have defined social relations in the modern capitalist era. I’ve read up to chapter 5 and it already has  altered the way I interpret media. Without going into too much detail, Debord believes that capitalism has invaded relations between individuals by reducing our mutual interactions to a mere exchange of images. This modern state of affairs is a direct byproduct of the class struggle according to Debord, and it functions to render impossible the proletariat revolution as predicted in the materialist account of history. It is very theoretical sounding, and I don’t think I possess a robust enough Marxist background to provide a summary that gives it justice, but having read lots of Marx and Engels as an undergraduate, it is refreshing to read Debord’s response to their works. I will post a more thorough collection of my thoughts, but as of now I don’t feel like I can give this text the review it deserves having only read a third of it. It’s free online (see the link above) and I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in such matters.

On a less arcane note–actually, I’ll just save that for the next post.

But What About the Children?


Now I promised myself I wouldn’t use my blog to spiel on topics pertaining solely to applied ethics, but this idea struck me a few days ago, and I’ve a ton of browser tabs open that I need to get closed. In this post I want to challenge our societal conceptions of entertainment, and our collective inability to consider the moral costs we subsequently incur by engaging in said entertainment. Now I could look at all sorts of disturbing or obviously ethically flawed forms of entertainment, and many already find themselves in very dire straights in regards to public perception (take bullfighting for instance!). I won’t deny that our general moral sentiments regarding entertainment have improved immensely since antiquity, but that is not to say that there isn’t work to be done. No, what I seek to challenge is the exploitation of children in the film industry, particularly in television. A lot of this discussion hinges on a wider cultural critique that seeks to highlight widespread exploitation, hypocrisy, and perhaps denial of the extents to which our entertainment industry furthers their own profit motivated aims. Likewise, it’s important to remember that I’m restricting this criticism to our societal conceptions of entertainment, and entertainment in and of itself is a highly expansive term when considering its history and esoteric subdivisions.

First, it is important to remember that the means used to retain the attention of an audience (Wikipedia’s oh-so-reliable definition) more often than not come at some cost to a provider. If I for instance sold you a board game I myself invented, it would have cost me the time and effort to produce said game, which when stacked against the average price of a board game to the average consumer, usually pales in comparison. More elaborate forms of entertainment are examples of mass collaboration, and require a great deal of time, effort, and energy in order to both retain and appease the attentions of a mass audience. Yet, the structure of a society determines to a very large degree, the cost, type, and appeal of certain forms of entertainment. Gladiatorial combat in Ancient Rome is an excellent example of how the pursuit of entertainment often came a great cost in an ethical sense, but provided a very strong stream of revenue, both in terms of political and public appeal. However, distinct from a pure capitalist motivation, gladiatorial combat in Rome was much more politically motivated, as rulers needed to provide tangible and lavish spectacles in order to demonstrate their ability to appease and rule over the masses (Commodus even went as far as to call himself “Hercules Reborn” while performing staged battles in the Amphitheater fighting ostriches). The point though, is that despite some ethical concerns by philosophers and thinkers of the time (Cicero in particular), the public as a whole largely fascinated and amused by the brutal blood-sport. The average person today would likely reel in disgust at the notion of watching slaves kill and maim each other in an arena for amusement (although millions of viewers tune in to watch fighters beat each other).  The overarching theme I’m trying to tease out of this, and eventually connect to modernity, is the systematic exploitation that is required in order to maintain these sorts of entertainment spectacles.

Modern society on the other hand has largely avoided “Thunderdome” style amphitheater battles, we still retain forms of entertainment that come at a cost to the performer– the very definition of exploitation. In this particular case, I want to briefly tackle the issue of child actors, and how putting them on industry treadmills leaves them more often than not deprived of the essential rights and benefits we as a society agree all children ought to have. Many child stars in the last few decades have committed crimes, engaged in illicit hard drug use, and ended up leaving their short acting careers inexperienced, uneducated, and unfulfilled. What’s more is that the United States in particular lacks any thorough legal barrier that prevents studios from essentially evading labor laws, forcing their child-stars to work long hours and face harsh psychological conditions. Despite this, we as a society have already determined that all children regardless of class, race, intelligence, and talent deserve an equal opportunity to attain an education, and through that experience an actual childhood. Prior to this standard, lower class children were often employed in factories and farms, working long hours and with little to no pay– their only reward being the minuscule wage they brought home to help feed their impoverished families (Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist comes to mind).  One however might object and say that child-stars are well compensated for their efforts, and that their talent is duly rewarded. To that, I would only remind them again of the objective and serious psychological damage inflicted by being both deprived of the aforementioned universal education and labor rights, and of the mass scrutiny and stress imposed by having an entire nation of viewers judging their every move. Mara Wilson (Ms. Doubtfire, Matilda) points out a lot of these pressures and expectations studios impose on children, and quite frankly, it’s hard to justify it beyond the financial gain a studio gets from exploiting their young talents. What’s worse is that we as a consumer culture largely drive this demand for child talent, and demand it to the point where it often becomes detrimental and deleterious to the child in question. Again, this doesn’t apply to all child actors, and many are lucky to escape it, but it certainly doesn’t mean that it isn’t common or likely given the circumstances they’re subjected to.

Again, it seems likes the blame falls back on the viewers though, if we all collectively wanted to reinstate gladiatorial combat as it was in Ancient Rome, and likewise lacked the moral fortitude to reject it, it would be commonplace on both television and in the general public. We however, have rejected this form of exploitation and violence largely; most people don’t wish to watch two men kill each other for sport in an arena, and it’s morally correct to not want to do so. But in light of the moral and personal costs to the many children who have fallen victim to an entertainment industry that has deprived them of any opportunity to seek out education and personal development, what does our moral compass tell us here? Is it really worth it? The bigger question I think is how do we solve it?

The Moral Limits of Religious Precepts (part two)

In my last post, I dug into the Euthyphro Dilemma, and extrapolated the second prong which states that “What is good is good because it is commanded by God[s].” Having thoroughly discussed the philosophical implications of holding a divine command theorist interpretation of ethics, I will now seek to address the first prong of the dilemma (yes I know I did it backwards, so what?), as well as using the distinction to springboard into a brief analysis of modern religious precepts, and the subsequent weight of their moral worth.

“God[s] command it because it is good”

While seemingly unassuming, this statement bears significant metaethical and theological implications that need to be discussed in order to get our footing for looking into the moral limits. On the other side of the fence from the divine command theorists, those that accept this claim are often referred to as moral objectivists, as they believe that morality has objective truth apart from the authority of God. While I won’t go into the deeper metaethical territory of moral realism, know that individuals who hold onto this theory believe that (according to the ever helpful Wikipedia) ethical statements are propositions with a true or false value– and thus they reject a subjective interpretation of ethics. This is important for religious folks who hold this view, because in order to do so, one must confront a few philosophical roadblocks along the way.

So why would it be troublesome as a Christian to accept an objectivist conception of morality, in light of the objections to divine command theory? Firstly, one would have to accept that due to the existence of moral truth apart from divine command, God’s omnipotence is in question. The notion of an all powerful God is at direct odds with an objective moral standard, as he would be incapable of acting out of accordance with it. By buying into moral objectivism, God is therefore subject to moral law, and no longer the “law maker.” And if you take this further and introduce the omnibenevolent property of God, you’re left with a God that merely acts out of accordance with moral law. But remember, God is also the creator, so we’re left with a case of God having created a rock he himself cannot lift– objective moral standards. At this point, God is seemingly reduced to merely conveying moral law, a moral messenger as it were– a significant challenge to traditionally held notions indeed.

Another interesting angle to approach this issue from is found in scripture, particularly the “Sermon on the Mount,” where Jesus tackles many pertinent moral questions. In Matthew 5, Jesus essentially lays out a sort of “expansion pack” for the moral law found in scripture, and he does so by addressing issues of moral motivation, rather than mere rule-following. Take for example his claim regarding murder: “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire” (Matthew 5:20-21).

He later goes on to expound upon other moral issues involving the old law, and hearkens to the congregation to consider their reasons for acting, beyond their mere adherence to the law. What Jesus wanted us to consider were our moral motivations– issues of the heart as it were. In the New Testament especially, many of Jesus’ followers seemed to have this fascinating association between morality, the law, and God’s commands. This attitude was a shock to his contemporaries because any expansion of moral instruction under theological pretenses seemed to bring into question the validity of God’s moral authority. If up to that point morality was incomplete (remember virtually all religious folks back then were divine command theorists), how were any of those who lived prior to Jesus morally accountable? Pontius Pilate, himself not even a Jew, washed his hands publicly in order to absolve himself of any blame for the mob-lynching Jesus subsequently received before crucifixion. There was this idea that physical purity, law adherence, and cleanliness were indicators of moral worth– and I think that this issue has a great degree of relevance in modern times.

So to conclude, if we are to assume an objectivist moral position, and attempt to retain theological notions, what sorts of religious virtues remain morally compelled, and what becomes of ones that bear no moral relevance? The bible is rife with many commandments, some having deep moral applicability, others having seemingly no moral relevance. Remember though, for the divine command theorist, all commands issued by God have the full weight of morality, which means that violating the two seeds per hole rule (Deuteronomy 22:9) is as immoral of an act as any of the other 600-some commandments. When, however, the moral objectivist attempts to morally assess a person who does not adhere to the faith, he must be careful to not construe religious precepts with morality. This applies especially to lawmakers who seek to promote public values, but fail to see the gulf between those values, and their own religious convictions. When lawmakers attempt to prevent access to birth control under a pretense of ‘purity’ or in the hopes of protecting the innocence of women, they often commit this fallacy of equivocating their religious precepts with that of moral values. Granted, most adhere to a divine command theory interpretation, so the distinction between the two is quite muddied in their minds. Ultimately, this is why we need to constantly examine the paradigms we use to justify our moral values. It’s not enough to simply hold a set of moral values, but we must be capable of defending the metaphysical basis thereof, otherwise we risk washing away our entire moral framework, “…like a man that without a foundation built an house upon the earth; against which the stream did beat vehemently, and immediately it fell; and the ruin of that house was great.” (Luke 6:49)

Have a nice day!

The Moral Limits of Religious Precepts


To kick off my foray into writing short pieces on applied ethics, I thought I’d first look to lesser discussed topics in the field. When one thinks of applied ethics, concepts like animal rights, international aid, and charity normally come to mind. Certainly these phenomena have much more weight in modern times than they have had in the past (Descartes after all had a pretty horrible track record with the animal rights bit). And while these examples of applied ethics have a great deal of importance in the modern moral discourse, I myself have a particular interest in the role religious precepts play in shaping (or perhaps distorting) one’s moral intuitions. This is not likely to be the last post I write that directly confronts the issue of religious dogma’s moral applicability, as I think that it is important to challenge traditionally held notions with firmly established conceptions of moral truth. In doing so, religious practices can be refined to better reflect moral values, while at the same time revealing the limits of ethical systems whose paradigms are hedged on theological grounds.

I usually like to retrace my steps in the metaethics before jumping into criticisms and analysis, so bear with me as I lay out a brief theoretical framework to work with. Religious folks, Christians in particular, usually fall under two broad categories when it comes to their beliefs on the basis for morality. One can start with Plato on this issue, where in the Euthryphro dialogue, Socrates essentially asks, “Is what is good commanded by the gods because it is good, or is it good because it is commanded by the gods?” What Plato seeks to demonstrate here is that there is a fundamental question for those who couch their moral basis in the authority of a deity. When we try to take either position, clear problems emerge. To start, let’s look at the second half of the “Euthyphro Dilemma”

“It is good because it is commanded by God[s]” 

This is the position held by “divine command theorists,” who hold that the source of morality is in the authority of a deity. For Christians, this position is assumed by both Calvin and Luther, and by a great deal of the Christian population (but not all, as we will see). For divine command theorists, all of God’s commands bear the full weight of moral duty, regardless of the recipient’s own intuitions. A clear Biblical example of this can be found in Genesis chapter 18, where after being told of his plan to smite Sodom, Abraham pleads to God saying,

“Peradventure there be fifty righteous within the city: wilt thou also destroy and not spare the place for the fifty righteous that are therein? That be far from thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked: and that the righteous should be as the wicked, that be far from thee: shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?”

Abraham’s moral intuitions seemed to be at direct odds to God’s intentions in this instance, and it drove Abraham to bargain on behalf of those in the city, and to even tell God that destroying Sodom would be “Far from thee.” As it turned out however, none but Lot and his wife were deemed righteous, and the city was subsequently destroyed by God. This story’s full context has a much richer theological interpretation, but the point I’m trying to get out of it is that there are cases in the Bible where God’s commands (which under Divine Command Theory have the full force of moral law) seem to cut against the moral intuitions of individuals.

Another issue with divine command theory that I find to be the most compelling reason for rejecting it, is the tautological problem with having a deity serve as the principal moral authority. If what is good is good because it is commanded by God, then what purpose does praising God’s moral virtue serve? Just reading the first five lines of “Amazing Grace” illustrates this philosophical problem plainly. It seems redundant to make claims praising his moral stature if morality comes from him. Take for instance Psalms 36:6-7 “Thy righteousness is like the great mountains; thy judgments are a great deep: O Lord, thou preservest man and beast. How excellent is thy lovingkindness, O God! therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of thy wings.” I mean to show that due to this problem in claiming that God is both good, and that what is good is such because it is commanded by god, one seems to strip the significance of his moral qualities to a mere redundancy. Metaphysically speaking, there is a great deal at stake for divine command theorists.

Relating this back to my original topic regarding religious dogma, one can clearly see the advantage holding this position would have if religious law was meant to be upheld to the utmost. Dietary law, rules regarding the planting of seeds, cultural customs, and the like are all in the same camp as moral law under divine command theory. This means that things that seem utterly amoral to nonbelievers have the force of moral duty to the believer. This is why the Christian evangelist is confounded by the secular moralist’s belief that he can be moral without having to appeal to a deity. It is an issue of moral paradigms, and for my next and final post on this matter, I’ll explore how the shift in paradigms can yield troubling problems for religious precepts that lack any conceivable moral force.

Have a nice day!

Stay tuned for part two… (probably tomorrow)

Why I’m not totally for nuclear disarmament (and not for reasons you would suspect!)

Now before I get completely buried in claims stating that I’m blind to the mindless destruction and geopolitical instability wrought by a whole half-century of nuclear brinkmanship, allow me to clarify. I am most definitely against the use of nuclear weapons, but not against the use of nuclear explosives. Sound strange? Yeah, I guess when I phrase it that way it kind of does. As they currently stand, the global supply of nuclear weapons held between the major nuclear powers stands at roughly 17,000. Most of these, especially in the United States, just sit in old Cold-War era launch tubes in the mid-west, awaiting that dreaded order to launch–which to this day has thankfully never occurred (although we came terrifyingly close several times). The point remains that in our hard earned era of 21st century relative peace, nuclear powers still retain the ability to destroy one another (and the world) in a Wargame styled full-exchange thermonuclear war. It’s really quite silly when one considers the role globalized capital has played in unifying international interests and breaking down traditional barriers to diplomacy and cooperation (perhaps we will see Kant’s “Pacific Confederation” in our lifetimes after all!)

However, I digress, my point is that we as a civilization actively maintain an aging stockpile of anti-everyone weapons that really serve no functional purpose in our age other than to “deter” others from using them. Attempts have been made in the past to use nuclear weapons for peaceful purposes, such as OPERATION “Plowshare” and “Chariot,” plans devised in the 1950s to essentially use nuclear weapons to cut away large swaths of earth in order to make harbors or canals. Insane yes, but this was the 1950s, and our collective understanding of the dangers of nuclear fallout were at that point embryonic at best. It’s hard to find any example of nuclear explosives having practical use on the planet– the risks of contamination, EMP, and fallout are simply too great to bear. So, we horde our weapons in holes, hangers, and hardened shelters, hoping to never have to use them in aggression ever. But what if we could harness the raw energy yielded by these explosives in a manner that minimizes the risk to life on earth while simultaneously broadening our understanding of interplanetary science? Look no further than “Project Orion.”

Yes. Let’s take our stockpiles of fission bombs, and place them in space aboard vessels specifically designed to use them as a means of wildly efficient propulsion (compared to our current systems). For those unfamiliar,  Project Orion was a type of propulsion system proposed in the late ’40s that would have used small controlled detonations of nuclear warheads to the rear of a spacecraft, compressing a massive shock-plate, and transferring the subsequent momentum onto the craft, accelerating it forward. It’s hard to think of a solid analogy, but I can remember as a kid placing tiny firecrackers under metal coffee cans, and watching from a safe distance as the resulting blast launched the can a good twenty to thirty feet into the air (Here is a guy on YouTube doing a much less safety conscious version of the same stunt). Crude, but the physics is more or less the same, just scaled up by several megatons. Imagine in the near future a craft being launched and assembled in orbit that would possess enough Delta-V to reach some of our loftiest space exploration goals by the end of the decade! I’m not saying it would be a cheap or even safe endeavor, but I personally would much rather have the risk of nuclear weapons on the planet’s surface removed, and can think of no better way other than disassembling them entirely and placing them under a mountain. So I ask you this: What kind of future do you want with regards to nuclear explosives? One where we slowly let them rust in tubes in Kansas, or one where you can literally ride their explosions and reach subluminal speeds, destined for exotic locations like Saturn, Neptune, or even Alpha Centauri? I know which one I want.

 

 

P.S. For further information, here’s a BBC documentary (I have yet to finish) with Freeman Dyson talking about the feasibility of this system– the dude knows what’s up, and here is another video animation of what this system might look like.

Things to come…

As this is my first ever blog (and thus first blog post) I’ll do my best to keep things brief as I explain what to look forward to in my future posts. I’m mainly interested in blogging as it appears to be an excellent venue for appropriately talking about what ever I want, and to hopefully stir meaningful and productive discussions regarding topics that range from philosophy to technology, literature, art, et cetera. I’m generally a person who likes to examine and hatch big ideas, and run them across interested parties, but by no means will this blog be solely devoted to mundane subjects. Like any good television show, the first few episodes can be a bit bumpy, but things can certainly pick up momentum as the creators get the hang of creating good content. Similarly, I’m hoping to see my blog develop as such (and if I’m using Star Trek TNG as an analogy, let’s hope I can avoid one of these!).

As I have mentioned, I have a very strong interest in film, technology, culture, and video games, and will likely be posting a great deal about those sorts of things in the form of reviews, opinions, and blurbs. The scope and breadth of topics to write about will certainly expand and diversify as I mature in my blogcrafting skills, so I hope to let my future posts speak for themselves rather than me tell you what to expect. I’m also a fairly frequent Twitter user, and have found it to be a much more amusing venue for short random blurbs than say Facebook– so I suppose in a sense I’m aiming to make my blog a sort of extended version of my tweets. I’ll randomly drop longer 1-2 paragraph posts about anything that peaks my interest. I suppose that a proper classification then would be to place “Mind Hiking” in the “Lifestyle” blog category, as it will more or less serve as a written companion to my daily thoughts and queries. 

To keep things interesting, here is NASA’s every-fifteen-minute updated orbital shot of the sun, and to quote Kim Stanley Robinson’s book 2312, “All these long spicules of flame dance in circular patterns around the little black circles that are the sunspots–shifting whirlpools in the storms of burning. Masses of spicules flow together like kelp beds threshed by a tide. There are nonbiological explanations for all this convoluted motion–different gases moving at different speeds, magnetic fields fluxing constantly, shaping the endless whirlpools of fire– all mere physics, nothing more–but in fact it looks alive, more alive than many a living thing…It roars in your ears, it speaks to you.”

 

Have a nice day!