I posted a long answer on Quora.com where it sort of didn’t do well. Answers given by others were much shorter but they seemed, at least to me, to lack geometric insights. After two days my answer was ranked as the most read, but for some reason no one upvoted it. It did receive a few positive replies, though.
I can’t help but believe that there must be nerds in cyberspace who might enjoy my answer. Why not post it on my blog? Maybe someday one of my grandkids will get interested in math and read it. Who knows?
I added some graphics here that wouldn’t post on Quora. The site lacks graphics functionality, apparently. Either that or I’m too dense to figure out how to insert something.
NOTE:24 Oct 2017: Today Billy Lee finally figured out how to post media on Quora.com. After admonishment and chastisement by the staff, he added a pic and a GIF to his “answer.” Unfortunately, Billy Lee never did get the GIF to run right, so he took it down. Otherwise, Billy Lee is doing good. He really is. THE EDITORIAL BOARD
Anyway, this pic and a working GIF below make a big difference in understanding, I hope. And anyone who doesn’t understand something can always click on a link for more information. (No one ever clicks on links, but I spend a lot of time adding them—maybe so I can click on them myself during times when remembering my name or where I live seems to lie just outside my intellectual skill-set.)
Here is the drawing I added and the answer:
What is ?
The expression evaluates to minus one; the answer is (-1). Why?
“e” is a number that cannot be written as a fraction (or a ratio of whole numbers). It is an irrational number (like π, for instance). It can be approximated by adding up an arbitrary number of terms in a certain infinite series to reach whatever level of precision one wants. To work with “e” in practical problems, it must be rounded off to some convenient number of decimal places.
Punch “e” into a calculator and it returns the value 2.7182…. The beauty of working with “e” is that derivatives and integrals of functions based on exponential powers of “e” are easy to calculate.
What is “e” raised to the power of (-iπ) ?
A wonderful feature of the mathematics of complex numbers is that all the values of expressions that involve the number “e” raised to the power of “i” times anything conveniently lie on the edge (or perimeter) of a circle of radius one. This happy fact makes understanding the expressions easy.
I should mention that any point in the complex plane can be reached by adding a number in front of to stretch or shrink the unit circle of values. We aren’t going to go there. In this essay “e” is always preceded by the number one, which by the familiar convention is never shown.
The number next to the letter “i” is simply the angle in radians where the answer lies on the circle. Draw a line from the center of the circle at the angle specified in the exponent of “e” and it will intersect the circle at the value of the expression. What could be easier?
For the particular question we are struggling to answer, the number in the exponent next to “i” is (-π), correct?
“π radians” is 180 degrees, right? The minus sign is simply a direction indicator that says to move clockwise around the unit circle—instead of counter-clockwise if the sign was positive.
After drawing a unit circle on graph paper, place your pencil at (1 + 0i)—located at zero radians (or zero degrees)—-and trace 180 degrees clockwise around the circle. Remember that the circle’s radius is one and its center is located at zero, which in two dimensional, complex space is (0 + 0i). You will end up at the value (-1 + 0i) on the opposite side of the circle, which is the answer, by the way.
[Trace the diagram several paragraphs above with your finger if you don’t have graph paper and a pencil. No worries.]
Notice that +π radians takes you to the same place. The value you land on is (-1 + 0i), which is -1. The answer is minus one.
Imagine that the number next to “i” is (π/2) radians. That’s 90 degrees, agreed? The sign is positive, so trace the circle 90 degrees counter-clockwise. You end at (0 + i), which is straight up. “i” in this case is a distance of one unit upward from the horizontal number line, so the number is written (0 + i)—-zero distance in the horizontal direction and “plus one” distance in the “i” (or vertical) direction.
So, the “i” in the exponent of “e” says to “look here” to find the angle where the value of the answer lies on the unit circle; on the other hand, the “i” in the rectangular coordinates of a two-dimensional number like (0 + i) says “look here” to find the vertical distance above or below the horizontal number line.
For example: say that the exponent of “e” is i(π/3). (π/3) radians is 60 degrees, right? The cosine of 60 degrees is 0.5 and the sine of 60 degrees is .866….
So the value of “e” raised to the power of i(π/3) is by substitution (0.5 + .866… i ). It is a two-dimensional number. And it lies on the unit circle.
The bigger the exponent on “e” the more times someone will have to trace around the circle to land at the answer. But they never leave the circle. The answer is always found on the circle between 0 and 2π radians (or 0 and 360 degrees) no matter how large the exponent.
It’s why these expressions involving “e” and “i” are ideal for working with repetitive, sinusoidal (wave-like) phenomenon.
Some readers might wonder about what radians are. A radian is the radius of a circle, which can be lifted and bent to fit perfectly on the edge of the circle. It takes a little more than three radius pieces (3.14159… to be more precise) to wrap from zero degrees to half-way around any circle of any size. This number—3.14159…—is the number called “π”. 2π radians are a little bit more than six-and-a-quarter radians (radius pieces) and will completely span the perimeter (or circumference) of a circle.
A radian is about 57.3 degrees of arc. Multiply 3.1416 by 57.3 to see how close to 180 degrees it is. I get 180.01… . The result is really close to 180 degrees considering that both numbers are irrational and rounded off to only a few decimal places.
One of the rules of working with complex numbers is this: multiplying any number by “i” rotates that number by 90 degrees. The number “i” is always located at 90 degrees on the unit circle by definition, right? By the rule, multiplying “i” by “i” rotates it another 90 degrees counter-clockwise, which moves it to 180 degrees on the circle.
180 degrees on the unit circle is the point (-1 + 0i), which is minus one, right?
So yes, absolutely, “i” multiplied by “i” is equal to -1. It follows that the square root of minus one must be “i”. Thought of in this way, the square root of a minus one isn’t mysterious.
It is helpful to think of complex numbers as two dimensional numbers with real and imaginary components. There is nothing imaginary, though, about the vertical component of a two-dimensional number.
The people who came up with these numbers thought they were imagining things. The concept of two-dimensional numbers was too radical at the time for anyone to believe that numbers could exist on a plane as naturally as they do on a simple number line of one dimension.
I read a report about the lunatic in Las Vegas; he was a multi-millionaire who owned nearly fifty high-powered guns plus a lot of other scary stuff. His dad was once on the FBI’s ten most wanted list—he was a fugitive for ten years.
These guns that many civilians now own were designed to shatter the bones and scramble the internal organs of victims—in violation of the spirit of international norms, agreements, and treaties that were agreed to by all countries before and after the second World War.
These Geneva Convention prohibitions (and others) were crafted to make hollow-point style ammunition illegal. To evade these restrictions, US gun-makers designed weapons to fire high-velocity bullets that tumbled—theyinflicted crippling injuries with more ferocity than even the banned hollow-points.
During combat officer training in the Vietnam era, I fired one of these weapons (an M16 rifle) at a bucket of water. The bullet went in clean but blew out the back. Shards of metal and water flew everywhere. The container exploded, basically.
Every massacre involving these weapons reaps what we sowed. The USA violated both the spirit of the international consensus and basic common sense nearly six decades ago. Our country put the lethality of heavy weapons into rifles that handled like toys. Weapon manufacturers created bone smashing ammo.
People shot by these guns don’t recover. Survivors carry their wounds to the grave.
Modern high-tech guns and ammunition are inhumane, lethal, and crippling. The military shouldn’t use them; neither should civilians; especially civilians who aren’t properly trained or supervised; some civilian gun owners have an unhealthy obsession with these kill-sticks; some are lunatics.
As for hollow-point ammo, police inside the United States ignore the international prohibitions. Many agencies use black-talon style hollow-points to reduce the penetrating power of tumbling slugs (that can kill bystanders) while dramatically increasing debilitation to the person shot.
Misunderstanding of the second amendment has put four million tumbling-slug killing tools into the hands of ordinary people who have no accountability and who are in some cases insane.
After all these years only God knows where these weapons are. What could possibly go wrong?
Despite being a pontificator who by definition lacks expertise, I don’t generally speculate about things I know nothing about. I really don’t. I try to not think about the hundreds of mass shootings that have taken place during past decades, because it is depressing and demoralizing (and scary) to believe that going to public venues is dangerous.
It’s hard to say who is worse off during these mass-casualty events, the dead or the wounded or those who witness the violence up close and personal. So many people are traumatized for no good reason. I suspect that even viewers of television coverage get a sick feeling in their stomachs when these horrors occur. I know I do.
The recent attack in Las Vegas was strange. Daesh—called ISIS or ISIL in the U.S.—claimed that the shooter was a contractor who worked for them. He was a kind of sleeper mercenary who was well-paid, apparently, and did what he was told when the time came.
His handlers—who may have helped to set up the killing zone—occupied the hotel suite alongside him during the attack. They might have killed him to make it look like suicide and exited the building via a service elevator disguised as hotel workers, maybe. It’s possible.
Another disturbing possibility is that they let the shooter live expecting that he would escape and join them in another attack. He might have been disabled by gas—perhaps injected under the door by police. If so, he is now in custody.
Anything is possible, when conspiracy theories start percolating. The shooter might have been a kind of patsy, like Lee Harvey Oswald claimed to be (for those readers who have convinced themselves that Oswald did not conspire alone).
If the Las Vegas massacre was an ISIS attack (as ISIS claims) it’s not likely that the United States will give the group the satisfaction of an acknowledgment. Disclosure would undermine confidence in law enforcement’s capability to protect the public from terrorist attacks.
Agencies will instead work behind the scenes to uncover, debrief, and terminate with extreme prejudice all the players. Justice will be served. It will be methodical and relentless. It could take time—months or even years.
Most Americans never fully understood the Iraq War that spawned ISIS and filled its ranks with experienced and ruthless fighters; nor have they grasped how powerful is Saddam Hussein’s family, his friends, and his army—once one of the world’s largest and most formidable. I’ve heard people say some dumb things about what all that fighting in the Middle East was about those many years ago.
Accounts I’ve read and heard from people I trust say that before the Iraq War Saddam’s family was one of the world’s wealthiest; they owned a lot of stuff—popular magazines and food franchises, even sophisticated enterprises, some with an international reach.
Saddam’s closest advisor and deputy—who President Bush called the King of Clubs—was never apprehended. His name is Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri. He is considered to be the mastermind behind the formation of ISIS.
A few years ago reports appeared in the press that Ibrahim died during an attack on his security detail. But no one saw him die. No one attended his funeral. His body (including DNA evidence of his death) is missing. Some say these stories of al-Douri’s demise were planted by ISIS agents. Ibrahim faked his own death. Who knows?
Anyway, my understanding is that ISIS was formed by members of Saddam’s family and loyal remnants of his army who are trying to take back what they lost during the Bush presidency. That’s how many see it, including reporters at Haaretz, an Israeli news organization.
When the USA conquered Iraq, Saddam’s army (and leadership) melted away, but they had billions of dollars stashed in banks, the walls of buildings, and in holes underground. They have not been afraid to spend it.
ISIS travels first class. It has the best of everything, including trucks, cars, weapons, and drones. It captured an astounding amount of USA war fighting machinery in fights with Iraqi Shiites (ISIS is Sunni) after the USA exited Iraq.
Some of the captured equipment included MRAPs (see earlier illustration). It seems unbelievable, but its true. (Note from theEditorial Board:Billy Lee helped design the run-flat wheel that permitted fighting vehicles in the Gulf wars to stay mobile after their tires were shredded, punctured, or shot through.)
The way I understand the conflict, the Sunnis of Iraq could reasonably be compared in some ways to the southern whites who served the confederacy during America’s Civil War. The Shiites in this analogy would be the negro slaves.
Think about it. After the Iraq War, the downtrodden Shiites (with help from the USA) took control of Iraq from the entitled Sunnis, much like blacks took control of the southern states after the Civil War with help from the north’s military occupation (called Reconstruction).
Southern whites eventually wrested control from their former slaves, but it took twenty years of terrorism by the Ku Klux Klan to make it happen. A similar dynamic is underway in the Middle East today, it seems. The Sunnis are reestablishing their control through terror, for the most part. Eventually they may win, like the Ku Klux Klan won their fight. In the meantime, a lot of innocents are getting hurt and worse.
The territory that ISIS controls in the Middle East is vast. It is comparable in size to the country of Egypt. Yes, some ISIS cities and towns have been recaptured by USA backed forces in recent months, but the fights have been costly in lives and treasure; the victories do not seem to have turned the tide of the war, at least not yet. Everytime the USA hits ISIS hard, as it has in recent months, ISIS seems to find a way to hit back.
It’s difficult (some would say, impossible) to defeat a determined foe in their own country. We learned this lesson in Korea, Vietnam, and Cuba. The fight against ISIS is going to be a long one. Our country might go bankrupt before victory comes. It’s possible.
No one wants to admit it, but the USA is teetering on the edge of financial collapse right now, as this essay is being written. Our last president, Barack Hussein Obama, (now called Barry Obama by friends) worked out some fixes to stave off an economic crisis, but the current president seems hell-bent on bringing our country to ruin.
The president and his wealthy friends seem to want to eliminate the estate tax so that they can leave thousands of millions of dollars (they call them billions) to their crazy kids who can flee with our national treasure to whatever solvent country will welcome them after the dust settles.
I’m told that the people around the president are Christian patriots who are determined to prevent really big screw-ups from being implemented. The country is safe.
More importantly, Christians don’t do genocides. They don’t do mass killings of civilians like that lunatic in Las Vegas. Yes, Hitler said he was Christian, but history has judged him differently.
The Christian patriots in the White House won’t permit the president to first-strike North Korea, for example, with nuclear weapons. They won’t kill ten to twenty million people over a few missile tests, which many countries conduct without threat of retaliation, including the United States.
The USA dropped dozens of hydrogen bombs in the Pacific Ocean, remember, and no one did anything about it. Countries around the world have conducted 520 atmospheric nuclear explosions and 1,352 underground detonations. We aren’t going to exterminate an entire country like North Korea over a few low-level, underground atomic tests. No rational, humanity-loving civilization would even contemplate such an atrocity.
So far, so good, I guess. Yes, we are in good hands, I’m told. No one is insane—not here; not there.
In time, no one will remember the killings in Las Vegas, anyway. No illusions. Everyone knows the truth when they see it, right?
When given a choice, decent people do what’s right, don’t they? Of course, they do. They show mercy; it’s what the Bible says God wants.
Nikki Haley, the UN Ambassador, told the world that North Korea is begging for war. Her statement reminds me of the rape defense that bad men used in decades past at trial before court—she was begging for it, they would always insist.
The victim—always a woman—exercised her constitutional right to dress any way she chose. A prowling lunatic observed her and believed instead that she was advertising a willingness to copulate with a grease-ball, so he attacked.
In today’s United States the grease-ball defense no longer works. Women (and countries) have rights. The courts protect them, most of the time. When they don’t, women have recourse to civil suits.
All countries (and women) have the right to defend themselves. It shouldn’t have to be said. But the United States has mucked-up the waters of international affairs by waging pre-emptive wars against communist and socialist countries for the past seventy-five years. It seems like these wars will never end.
It is the policy of the United States to undermine any country that espouses communism; it attacks using whatever methods are devised and recommended by the brilliant, depraved minds of our intelligence community. Despite all the evidence, despite all the complaints lodged against the United States before international courts and at the United Nations, most Americans refuse to believe it.
This war-policy against collectivism was birthed in the early 1900s when the first communist revolutions undermined the noble classes of eastern Europe. The well-connected saw what happened in Russia and Hungary and decided to do something about it. Writers like Aldous Huxley (Brave New World), George Orwell (1984), and Ayn Rand (We the Living) wrote short, easy to read tracks that portrayed life under communism as a personality-destroying nightmare. The public ate it up.
After World War II, the job of suppression was handed over to our newly formed intelligence agencies who gave the fight its name: the Cold War. With the recent CIA assisted transformations of the Soviet Union and Red China into oligarchies (marking a putative end to the biggest conflicts) other terms have emerged from inside the intelligence community to describe how the USA is continuing to war against what few holdouts remain. The current buzz phrase is strategic strangulation.
Billionaires don’t look at the world in the same way as the disenfranchised and exploited. In the neglected and overlooked far reaches of the world where billionaires don’t live, common people sometimes try to organize themselves by producing wealth cooperatively and sharing it as best they can. Once they attract the attention of the powerful, the powerful send in missionaries and agricultural-aid workers to undermine and disenfranchise their leaders.
If God and food don’t work, they send in assassins. It’s true. Since WWII, the United States has gone to war with one out of four countries. It has overthrown (or co-opted) many states, including Iran, Guatemala, Chile, Poland, Iraq, Afghanistan and dozens more.
Eventually, the USA sends in Coca-Cola and other first-line-of-attack companies to overwhelm the nascent economies of the sharers and cooperators. The wealthy move in to buy the arable land and lock up the country; billionaire power-brokers make it their business to bury every way of governance that might threaten their right to administer an economic empire built for one purpose only: to empower their own families and the families of their friends to rule unimpeded into perpetuity.
The USA is very good at undermining socialist countries. It’s why socialism doesn’t do well. When a communist country like Cuba manages to hold on somehow, they are tormented by embargos, infiltration by agents, sabotage, disinformation, slander, assassinations, and so on. Radio Free Whatever is beamed into the targeted country to undermine morale and brainwash listeners with the most seductive psychological warfare techniques in our arsenal. It’s why communist countries seal their borders.
The United States makes sure that no administrator can relax; none can kick back without constantly looking over their shoulder and keeping guard. As long as the privately-owned United States exists, countries of the opposite sex, that is socialist countries, are going to get blamed for however the rich and powerful choose to hurt them. The better these socialist countries do for their people, the bigger the target they become. Their success is their mini-skirt; their low-cut blouse. Obviously, they are begging for war, as Madame Haley so eloquently put it.
Blaming the victim is as old as Cain and Abel. It’s as old as history. The bullies win. They put on coats and tails, send their kids to exclusive schools, learn to speak with a different accent, and set themselves apart. They tell wonderful stories about themselves on TV, movies, radio, books, magazines, and the internet until people start to actually believe deep in their hearts that wealthy people are more wonderfully made than they or their kids ever will be.
The poor and disadvantaged admire their employers, because no one is left to help them understand that they are slaves; fools before a noble class that thinks of them as having no more value than farm animals. They live in the cow-pastures outside the gates of the wealthy. A few unlucky cows get a glimpse from time to time of what has been stolen from them; most of the time they are too incredulous before the view to believe their own eyes.
Today the billionaires are planning, as they have for the past seventy years, to obliterate the North Koreans. Tens of millions of Koreans will die in the first hours. The North Koreans and their Chinese allies were the first countries to challenge America after WWII. Apparently, our arsenal of atomic weapons didn’t intimidate them. The USA has a long memory.
If we use nuclear weapons in a first strike, no one will ever live on the peninsula again. That this threat has been floated by our new president (fire and fury like the world has never known) makes it easy to understand what the USA is all about.
Despite denials in the press, America may in fact have neutron bombs in its arsenal which kill people, but leave infrastructure intact outside the immediate impact zone. Only bunkers constructed from heavy concrete that is impregnated with barium sulfate can shield against both neutrons and the gamma ray by-products of collisions between neutons and the proton-rich substate of heavy concrete.
High level command bunkers are likely to be built with these materials. Otherwise lead and other heavy metals are generally used as barriers to nuclear radiation. Heavy metals are transparent and ineffective against neutron bombardment.
Neutron bombs emit little residual radiation, so they don’t contaminate the attack zone. An occupying force can be inserted with little risk of radiation poisoning. It’s possible the USA will use neutron bombs against civilians for the first time, if the Koreans continue begging our country to kill them all. A follow-on insertion of Marine and Airborne divisions would locate and destroy any surviving command bunkers.
The United States always seems to be first to try diabolical things. We used anthrax against Chinese troops during the Korean war back in the 1950s. Everyone knows about it but us, of course. We have short memories when it comes to remembering our own sins, like the genocidal Vietnam War and other cruelties such as the war against Iraq and the destabilization of the Middle East.
And no one seems to remember that it was a CIA agent (yes, he was disgruntled and no longer employed, the agency has insisted) who blew up the first commercial airliner and wiped out the Cuban Olympic fencing team. It was an act of terrorism that never happened, if you ask most Americans. Lee Harvey Oswald was disgruntled and no longer employed too, come to think of it.
Speaking of begging for war, is anyone out there begging for peace? The USA killed two million North Koreans during aerial bombardments approved by President Truman. What’s stopping us from doing it again?
During the first days of the Korean War, the South rounded up one-hundred thousand of its own citizens and summarily executed them, believing that each of their victims might be a leftist sympathizer of the North. The Korean War was an atrocity, which I’m not going to devote blog space to explain or explore. Click on links, those who want to know more.
The point is, we aren’t listening to the North or South Koreans. Most want the peninsula unified. We don’t. Most folks want to live in a safe and fair place where billionaires don’t reduce the average person to poverty. South Korea doesn’t want us to sacrifice millions of its own citizens in a military strike, possibly a nuclear conflagration, to make a point. It’s simple, really.
The only sensible solution is to leave Korea and to assist reunification as best as we can, if we are invited to do so.We aren’t leaving, obviously, because our policy is to topple socialism wherever it takes root.
We have demonized in the past so many of our enemies that it is confusing to know who the bad guys are this time around. We once called native Americans savages. We exterminated their food supply (buffalos), then their populations.
Right now, no one knows who to trust. With our new president, we will never know what the facts are. We will never know for sure who is begging for war, us or them.
From the EDITORIAL BOARD: Billy Lee supports private and public ownership of property (a mixed economy), but advocates for international limits to personal incomes and estate sizes to reduce the temptation that drives the wealthy to burn down democratic processes on altars of their own greed. Read his essay Capitalism and Income Inequality.
Billy Lee opposes war on humanitarian grounds. During war people get killed and are maimed in huge numbers. It sometimes takes generations for both winners and losers to emerge from the trauma and the horrors. Billy Lee supports the United States during war, but in peacetime reserves his constitutional right to pontificate freely.
The United States Navy insists that it has 277 ships on active-duty. About 132 are combat surface vessels; 75 or so are submarines. About 70 are logistical craft designed to supply the fleet. Do the math. 132 surface ships patrol the oceans. Yes, the Navy says they have a fleet of 160 or so non-commissioned ships held in reserve, but they are unavailable and ineffective during first strike scenarios.
The New York Times agrees with the Navy. Everyone agrees—we have 277 ships. I hope the Navy and the New York Times are lying, because if they aren’t, we are in big trouble. We don’t have enough boats. 132 surface ships can’t control the Great Lakes, let alone the world’s seven oceans. Submarines, everyone knows, are almost useless except when used for nuclear deterrence.
The Navy’s Seventh Fleet is headquartered in Yokosuka, Japan. The fleet is responsible to cover 48 million square miles—from Japan to South Korea to Singapore, unless the far reaches of the South China Sea are included; then the square miles are too confusing for anyone to compute. China claims the whole of the South China Sea as its sovereign territory anyway, including all reefs, atolls, and islands.
How many ships bear this awesome responsibility to keep the sea-lanes open and safe from pirates and hostile powers like North Korea? The Navy says, 70. The USA deploys one aircraft carrier and 69 ships. Some news outlets have reported that an additional carrier group has been sent into the Sea of Japan to augment the current force configuration. A typical carrier strike group consists of eleven vessels, two of which are submarines. So, the total as of the date of this essay might be as high as 81.
Sorry, but someone is ordering our sailors to do an impossible job. The job is too big, the resources are too thin, and guess what? A flotilla of 81 vessels scurrying about the South China Sea trying to keep a lid on China, which is expropriating islands that belong to Vietnam, Taiwan, and the Philippines while they build and fortify new ones wherever they feel like it is more than enough problems to exhaust any navy. People get tired. Accidents happen.
We have 70 ships in theater, the Navy says. We probably have 81. What does the other side have?
Well, we don’t really know. They lie. So do we. But we and they both watch; and we and they both spy and calculate.
Hillary Clinton—once upon a time (is there anyone who remembers?) she had the security clearances to know for sure—in one of her 2016 presidential debates, let it slip that Russian drone submarines are patrolling our coasts. These are cheap subs with no crews on board.
She said it once. Her assertion was never repeated in the press or public media. Everyone pretended they didn’t hear, for good reason. The number and types of ships in the Russian and Chinese fleets that are arrayed against our tiny arsenal of boats are state secrets. It’s all classified—out of reach of everyone except those with a clearance and a need to know.
It seems clear to more than a few casual observers of Chinese shipping that the Chinese are building the most high-tech navy the world has ever seen. They have been building it for a few decades now. They have regularly practiced their sea-going skills in coordination with the Russian navy since 2012. Last year the Russians and China held joint naval exercises in the South China Sea, of all places. Joint land-based military exercises started in 2007.
China is selling it’s naval technologies and hardware to smaller countries that don’t normally threaten us. Thailand is buying Chinese subs. With military hi-tech weapons spread among a dozen or more countries in secret alliances with China, well, if it’s happening more than we know, does anyone think it’s good for our side?
But really, what would any reasonable person suspect are the forces arrayed against us? Look around. Hundreds-of-thousands of Russians live on the island of Cuba, just ninety miles from the United States.
Go on Google Earth and look at the Cuban neighborhoods. Some nice ones have Russian street names. It’s true. The Russians have a number of wonderfully designed, modern military bases for both subs and ships; and oh yeah, they have fighter jets and missiles, as well. Let’s not kid ourselves. Go look.
Am I trying to scare the public? Doesn’t the public have enough to fear? Isn’t terrorism, immigration, climate change, distant war, disease, and precarious health care (that could collapse any moment now that the GOP is in charge) enough to worry about? Of course it is.
Besides, our country has ten-thousand nuclear weapons buried hundreds of feet below the cornfields and deserts of our heartland to extinguish any threats, should we lose our Navy. Until they rot and their plutonium leeches into our soils, why needlessly worry? Everyone should sleep well at night, right? I don’t want to alarm anyone, I don’t.
Secretary of State Tillerson said we should sleep well, so why not? He knows all about the Russians, having helped them build their oil industry over many decades. Depending on when anyone takes its measure, Russia’s energy industry is the world’s largest and most productive—bigger than Saudi Arabia’s. People don’t believe it, but it’s true. Russia is the world’s biggest oil and natural gas producer and exporter. Secretary Tillerson must know what he’s talking about, right?
Well, here is some stuff that is not so comforting. It might scare some people. Between 1975 and 2016 (41 years) our Navy experienced nine accidents, mostly between our own ships. Only two accidents involved the boats of foreign countries. That’s not bad. That’s not the scary part. But hear me out.
In 2001 a Japanese fishing-training boat, the Ehime Maru, with thirty-five Japanese citizens aboard, was obliterated near the Hawaiian island of Oahu, when the commanding officer of one of our attack submarines apparently hot-dogged the craft for civilian joy-riders. Our new president, George W. Bush, went on national TV to apologize to the Japanese, and the United States paid huge fines and compensation to the Japanese government and the grieving families of the nine who died, which included four high school students.
In 2004, the aircraft carrier, the U.S.S. John F. Kennedy, ran over an Arab sailboat in the Persian Gulf. 15 people died, but the Navy never identified who they were, apparently, and no one was compensated, as far as I know. Two jet fighters parked on deck were damaged. The Navy relieved the commanding officer.
The most serious accident was in 1975 when the same U.S.S. John F. Kennedy hit one of our own guided-missile cruisers, the USSBelknap, off the island of Sicily. The Belknap was completely destroyed; seven sailors died.
A fire burned on the Belknap for twenty hours just a few yards from the magazine where Terrier surface-to-air missiles were stored. The ship was constructed with aluminum, which caught fire. The entire above deck structure melted. It took nearly five years to reconstruct the ruined cruiser. In 1995, the Navy struck it from the Naval Registry and began using it for target practice. They sunk it during a live-fire exercise in 1998.
A year after the Belknap accident, the USS John F. Kennedy collided with another ship, this time the aging USS Bordelon destroyer during a refueling. The Navy struck the ship from its registry and sold it to Iran for parts in 1977. No one died.
So, during the forty-one years between 1975 and 2016, the US Navy had nine peacetime accidents, seven of which were friendly-fire and self-inflicted. 24 foreign nationals died; 7 U.S. sailors; 1 U.S. civilian. Ship losses: one cruiser and one obsolete destroyer. Maybe other losses occurred. I haven’t heard about them, if there were any.
And now comes the scary part; hold onto your pants: In the seven months since the inauguration of our comb-over commander-in-chief (and keeper of our nuclear codes), the U.S. Navy has suffered four major accidents that have killed 17 U.S. sailors and injured scores more. We’ve lost two of our most powerful missile-guided destroyers—the U.S.S. Fitzgerald and the U.S.S. John S. McCain. It will be years before they are back in service. Readers can read about the fates of the USS Antietam and the USS Lake Chaplain in the links below.
At least two dozen sailors and officers have been disciplined, including a Vice-Admiral, a Commander, and a Lieutenant Commander. Admiral John Richardson, chief of Naval operations, has ordered an “operational pause” to all fleet commanders. He’s ordered a months-long review of protocols, because, he says, “there’s something out there that we’re not getting at.”
All this commotion is happening during a time when we’re planning to conduct war games against North Korea and are daily challenging the Chinese in the South China Sea.
Can I put things into perspective? If the accident rate of the past seven months was applied to the past forty-one years, the U.S. Navy would be short another 85 ships and 800 sailors. Thousands more young men and women would be maimed and wounded, and 250 promising Naval careers would be wrecked. In peacetime, essentially, the U.S. Navy might have lost one-third of its fleet and some of its best sailors and officers at a cost of hundreds of billions of dollars.
Here are a few of the headlines from our country’s newspaper of record, the New York Times. All headlines are from articles written in 2017. I’ve read every single one of them. Readers can access their content by clicking on the links. The remainder of my essay is written below these headlines:
*Some readers may have noticed that the last headline seems to have no connection whatsoever to this essay. But they would be wrong. Recall that the battleship USSIndianapolis was the fiercest war machine we had during World War II in the Pacific. We used that ship to deliver the atomic bomb, Little Boy, (the bomb dropped on Hiroshima) to Tinian Island in the western Pacific Ocean sometime during July, 1945. It would be assembled and delivered to the Japanese people with terrifying effect on August 15.
From Tinian the Navy ordered the Indianapolis to advance to Leyte Island in the Philippines to prepare for an all-out assault and invasion of Japan scheduled to follow the atomic blasts that were soon to occur.
On July 30 the lumbering battleship encountered a Japanese submarine which delivered six torpedoes in the wee hours of the night. Two struck the Indianapolis. It took twelve minutes for the battleship to sink below the surface. The ship sucked four hundred men to the bottom and left behind an oil slick that would sicken the nearly one-thousand sailors and marines who survived to face the threat of death by dehydration, drowning, and sharks.
The Navy didn’t notice that their prized battleship was missing. After five days of vomiting, diarrhea, hallucinations, and shark attacks, three hundred men were still alive (some in lifeboats, including the Commanding Officer) when an aircraft on an unrelated mission saw something suspicious and flew down to take a closer look.
Twenty-two men who were pulled from the water remain alive today. The Navy court-martialed the commander, Captain McVay, and convicted him for not zig-zagging as he sailed. The Japanese sub-commander testified that zig-zagging would not have mattered. The Indianapolis was going to the floor of the ocean, in any event, he insisted. Nothing could have stopped what happened.
Losing a ship, even in war, is a big deal in the Navy. It’s not something that anyone takes lightly, even when there are extenuating circumstances and good reasons for failure. Captain McVay committed suicide in 1968—clutching a toy sailor in one hand and his service revolver in the other.
The Navy has a history of not being able to keep track of its ships. The earth’s oceans are vast, and we don’t have that many boats on them. Hiding ships from our enemies means we sometimes hide them from ourselves.
Civilian boats are another matter. Merchant fleets deploy 51,405 ships on our oceans. Most of them are bigger and longer and heavier than our 277 Navy ships. Almost all run on auto-pilot most of the time, especially at night when the crews sleep. If the computer directs the tanker to ram a boat like the Fitzgerald, that’s what is going to happen. In collisions, chances are Navy ships will lose.
Collision avoidance should be easy. Crews need only have situational awareness and the ability to steer the boat. The problem is that to perform these tasks crews rely on a complicated matrix of technologies that always seem to fail in critical situations like combat or rule violations by other boats.
These technologies should be used to confirm human observation and decisions; instead sailors confirm what the technology tells them, but only when something goes wrong, which is almost always too late. An alarm sounds and a glance at a computer screen shows that a tanker is 500 meters to starboard, so a crew member looks out a window to see if it’s there. No! That’s bassackwards and will get someone killed.
Officers might better demonstrate proficiency in the absence of high-tech aids for situational awareness and steering, then add high-tech proficiencies one skill-set at a time. Maybe they wear merit badges to enable COs to tell at a glance who can handle hydraulic controls and who is good at computer-aided navigation, for example.
Every officer doesn’t have to master every skill-set, and the least skilled officer should be able to turn off the high-tech systems they haven’t mastered in order to steer the boat and stop it using the skills they do have, when necessary.
Laser distance finders (like those used by golfers) and wide-field-of-view night vision binoculars should be standard issue. A half dozen or more sailors should be stationed around the perimeter of every boat and be required to report what they see or don’t see every five minutes or so. No snoozing!
Anyway, one thing about the four accidents this year (January 31, the USS Antietam; May 9, the USS Lake Champlain; June 17, the USS Fitzgerald; August 20, the USS John S. McCain) bothers me: the destroyer McCain was nearly sunk just two weeks after it challenged the Chinese at a contested atoll named Mischief Reef, which the Chinese have in recent years built-up into a military base.
I have a problem with coincidences that turn out bad for our side. Malevolent intent by an adversary is always possible. Every bridge officer should understand the protocols to avoid intentional (or unintentional) collisions initiated by rogue (or wayward) boats.
Our Navy is a mess. Everyone knows it. The optics of powerful warships limping into port under the power of a dozen or so tugboats emboldens our enemies and demoralizes our patriotic fighting men and women. We have the wrong ships, designed the wrong way, for the wrong wars, for the wrong reasons. And our Navy is overworked to the max. We all know it’s true. It doesn’t have to be. It’s good to have high-tech systems, but they are useless during a crisis. Everyone must be proficient at low-tech and know how to enable it. Seriously.
Politics and corruption, profiteering and greed, laziness and lack of zeal are going to kill us all if we don’t wake up. It’s time for civilians to step up and defend our way of life. It’s time for corporations and billionaires to do what’s right—not what makes them wealthy at the expense of our country’s defense and the prosperity of our citizens and the people of the world who are looking to us for leadership.
We are going to regret privatizing our military and using contractors instead of citizens to fight our battles. We are going to lose our freedoms and our country if we don’t fight for both. Everyone must do their part. Corruption can have no role in the process.
We must use our power to make the world safer, freer, and better for everyone, not just ourselves. People are sick and tired of “America first.” We have so much, already.
It’s time to share our advantages, with love. If we do what’s right, if we embrace public service and reach out to the disadvantaged in the world (the military, after all, doesn’t have the room or the money for every citizen), we won’t need to kill everyone who hates us like we’ve been doing for hundreds of years.
A year or two of public service by every American in bad neighborhoods and blighted communities might make a big difference in the why, how, and who we fight.
It’s un-American for the wealthy to leave fortunes to their children and grandchildren. It creates a caste system, which is what we fought a revolution to avoid. Under current tax policy anyone who dies can leave up to $5.5 million tax-free to relatives. Any excess above $5.5 million is taxed at 40%, generally speaking. It’s a bit more complicated, but taxation always is. Loopholes are important to rich people. They pay tax attorneys a lot of money to maintain their power and financial privileges.
Forty percent is not generous enough for people like our current president and his GOP associates. They want the “death tax” (as they derisively call it) eliminated. I’m arguing that the rate should be increased to 100%. Handing out hundreds of millions of dollars to spoiled brats is destroying the USA. A corrosive degeneracy is creeping into every sphere of the lives of the wealthy.
It’s not like there is no precedent. It happened in ancient Rome. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon was required reading when I was a young man in the 1960s. Modern printing companies have consolidated the history into three volumes and into an abridged version of one.
Gibbon, an English historian, published his first volume in 1776, the birth-year of the USA. His six-volume masterpiece relied exclusively on original sources and, as the remaining five volumes flowed out over the following thirteen years, heavily influenced the builders of the American republic for the next seventy years to the brink of the Civil War.
Gibbon disapproved of Catholicism and challenged its version of history and the role of martyrs. His history was controversial, which resulted in revisions that he continued to write until his death in 1794. His work remains controversial to this day for a number of reasons that aren’t going to be discussed in this essay. Gibbon understood that cruelty and insensitivity in an entitled class of rulers contributed to Rome’s decline. When the barbarians walked into Rome, they were greeted as liberators by ordinary people. Rome fell like a rotting apple. Gibbon’s History was a warning to the future.
In modern-day America creative workarounds have enabled the wealthy to hand out to crazy relatives a lot of clout they didn’t earn. Yes, it’s difficult to stand up to mob bosses, crooks, and their families. It should be obvious that it’s impossible to accumulate billions of dollars legally, but many have. Behind every fortune is a dark secret—sometimes many secrets. It’s true.
So much for freedom and equal opportunity. Freedom is easily lost to wealthy people who think that those who dare to challenge them are misguided misfits—lower and dumber than farm animals, in many cases.
Wealthy Grandpa, it turns out, had hundreds of legislators on his payroll, which bought him all the advantages of a modern-day emperor. His adult children—who haven’t done a darn thing but argue about which-of-them-should-get-what after Grandpa dies—seem to think that they deserve all the power and perks they didn’t work for and could never earn had they been born into the impoverished family whose mother got her start working in Grandpa’s sweat-shop.
I like math, so let’s do some. Divide the Gross National Product (the GNP ($17.1 trillion) by the population (309 million). Use a calculator, anyone who can’t figure it out on their fingers (just kidding!).
If incomes were equally distributed in America, a family of four would earn $221,000 per year. Yes, I agree, it’s not a lot of money—some folks would really suffer trying to raise a family on so little—but try to understand that half of black families earn less than $35,000; half of white families earn less than $70,000.
Unequal administration of legal protections and justice;
No access to health care for tens of millions (despite ObamaCare);
Discriminatory hiring, promotions, and firing based on race, political beliefs, and looks;
Defense by a mercenary military isolated from the general population—a major contributor to the collapse of the Roman Empire, according to Edward Gibbon);
Endemic corruption of politicians, church, civic, and business leaders.
Does anyone disagree with this list? Go to Florida and try to find a safe place to live. Gated communities dominate the new housing markets. The majority of Americans don’t have enough money to gain access to this private world.
As for legal protections, anyone who has suffered arrest and spent time in custody knows that indigent people rot inside our jails, because they can’t afford bail or high-priced private attorneys. It’s a no-brainer. Believe it or not, some of the incarcerated are innocent, but they are treated as guilty and forced to plea-bargain; many are unable to articulate a coherent defense. They end up with false criminal records that make staying out of future legal traps more difficult.
As for healthcare: Aided by the complicity of the Supreme Court, twenty-eight states refused to set-up health-care exchanges under ObamaCare. Twenty-one states (where five million low-income persons with no health care live) refused to expand access to the poor under Medicaid, despite it being fully funded and paid for by the federal government.
Tens of millions of poor remain outside the care of our state and national health care system of hospitals, medical specialists, and general practice doctors.Wealthy GOP donors hope to destroy health care for the poor and lower-middle class with the help of our newest president, because they don’t want to finance medical aid for indigent people—despite all the privileges and protections that they accrue by forcing a myriad of taxes on middle income folks (like social security and sales taxes), which the wealthy avoid for the most part due to their immense incomes. Also, many of the super-rich make their money in the stock market, where the capital gains tax rate places them in the lowest tier of tax-payers. It’s hard to believe, but it’s really true.
Has anyone ever wondered why so many of the racist, alt-right, neo-Nazi, white-supremacists are clean-cut, shaved, symmetrical, and well-dressed men? A visitor from the Philippines who attends a weekly Bible-study with my wife said that after watching the Charlottesville riots, clean-cut white American men now scare her.The reason these fascists look the way they do is obvious, of course. They have good jobs! Another reason is that they hide their nasty tattoos under expensive shirts, many of them.
Mega-millionaire business owners don’t hire people they feel they can’t trust. It’s that simple. Progressive, clear-headed men and women who care about fairness tend to dress and speak freely. They can be troublesome in a workplace, especially if they question unfair practices in pay, hiring, and promotions.
If you are wealthy and run a business, why would you ever hire anyone who thinks for themselves? Hire instead an ignoramus from the alt-right or the NRA. They follow their ideology like lemmings; discrimination against blacks, gays, women, and progressives doesn’t bother them.
Look at professional football, for an example. The billionaire owners of teams (many have the reputation of Neanderthals) hire players who have a PR (public relations) personality. Skill comes in second. Any high school coach in America could recruit a football team out of America’s prisons that could win a Super Bowl nine years out of ten. Yes, their players would be poor and in some cases, inarticulate.
In America, talent on the field of sport doesn’t work that way. Compliance is a player’s highest virtue, then charisma (as evaluated by billionaire owners), then talent. Hard work? Anyone can be forced to work hard, and most do who aren’t born wealthy. Any thinking fan knows it’s true.
Let’s move on. How come we don’t require people to fight for their country as a responsibility of citizenship? Everyone knows the reason. The wealthy don’t want to risk their kids in a potential combat where they might be wounded, maimed, or even killed.
And why should they? Hundreds of thousands of disadvantaged kids line up to sign-up for service “voluntarily”, because they need a job and, hopefully, an education they currently are unable to afford, even if they have a job. The military provides both, supposedly, but in recent years cut backs in benefits for non-officers have been enacted, because, once again, the wealthy don’t want to put up the money.
We hire a lot of kids from other countries to serve our military, both as “contractors” and as a “path to citizenship”. In conflict zones, like Afghanistan, the majority of soldiers on “our side” are foreign nationals. It’s the fastest route to failure according to Gibbon. Read his history, those who don’t believe it.
Many kids won’t re-enlist after their first tour. Military service, despite all the ads on TV, is a tour into hell for many of them. Living far from home and being under 24/7 control by officers who can throw anyone in the brig without trial for any reason is too much stress for most people.
The wealthy continue to degrade the benefits of service for the disadvantaged despite the fact that without a military to protect them, the wealthy could not hang onto their privileges. Common, everyday people are not as blind as the self-serving narcissists who refuse to do heavy-lifting, even as they order drones and the young alike into the killing zones of battle.
Moving to number six on the list—endemic corruption—let me ask this question. Is it honest to accept money for political favors? Just asking. Enough said. I’m not going to waste your time or mine discussing the obvious. An encyclopedia could be written about the history of corruption in the United States. At least one volume could be devoted to corruption during the twenty-first century, a short period of seventeen years.
The most honest man in the FBI, James Comey, helped the Russians wreck our last presidential election by responding to fake news reports planted by Russian agents. Comey behaved like Inspector Javert in the Victor Hugo novel, Les Miserables. He pursued the Democratic nominee relentlessly during her campaign.
He went for her jugular in the final week by reopening a closed investigation and holding a news conference to smear what little reputation and dignity she still possessed. He undercut Hillary Clinton in the final week of the 2016 presidential election. He changed the trajectory of our nation’s history in a way that won’t sit well with future generations.
Corruption disguised as virtue is vice. Any idiot can figure it out. And now our country is paying the price. We elected an unqualified buffoon to be our president. We hope against hope that someday he will change. Maybe someday he will. Who knows?
Let somebody else write about graft; about dishonesty; about slander; about lies; about corruption. I haven’t got the energy. Who wants to be killed for writing what everybody already knows is true? I don’t.
My general statement is this: the United States is hiding behind a pack of lies about its past, present, and future. It’s not so easy to tell the truth to people when large numbers of them start to read your stuff. Fortunately for me, few people see my essays. Yes, I’ve been threatened, but thus far the threats have been manageable.
I don’t know what the solution is. I do know that our current president is making a bad situation worse and less safe for average people. Character is destiny, some say, and I believe it. The president lies and slimes and slanders pretty much everyone except sycophants. He plays the bad boy on an almost daily basis. It’s not going to end well for him or us, if we refuse to do what’s right.
We are so screwed. Read my essay, RISK, those who don’t believe it.
Risk has little to do with who is president, but admittedly some presidents increase risk. The verdict is still out on our current president.
I heard Elon Musk say that our country is like an aircraft carrier with a small rudder. The president sits by the rudder—it’s about a foot wide and three feet tall—and tries to steer the carrier to the right. By the end of his term, the carrier will not have turned much. However, its forward momentum is unstoppable. Are we headed toward the correct horizon? Does anyone know for sure?
It’s not good, peeps, what’s about to come. My advice is to take things a bit more seriously and prepare as best as anyone can for whatever problems might arise from poor leadership and the neglect of minorities, the impoverished, and the disadvantaged that always seem to follow.
Everyone wants to live as long as possible, right? Well, maybe not everyone.
Someone confided in me that their nightmare was that they would never die; they would never get respite from an existence that terrified them, that depressed them, that hurt them, that disappointed and discouraged them; that humiliated them; that abused them; that made them wish they were never born.
Another friend confessed that she wished she had never been born, because she was afraid to die. The certainty of death made living not worth the trouble. Anxiety about the end of life robbed her of joy. She found that she was unable to kick back and relax, because dark angels circled just outside her field of vision; one day, she was certain, the angels were going to pounce. The end would be brutal.
I remember hearing a story about a young mother who lay dying while her family knelt at her bedside. A scene of sweet-sorrow unfolded as the woman struggled to breathe in the presence of loved-ones. A worried husband, anxious toddlers, her parents, and a few close friends sang hymns to reassure and cast comfort. They clung to one another united by the belief that God would carry momma gently to heaven in his caring arms.
Momma didn’t experience death that way. She bolted up, away from her pillow. She stared wild-eyed at something behind her visitors; something no one saw. She screamed. No! No! No! She dropped off the bed, slammed to the floor, and rolled onto her back with a loud crack—like a toppled refrigerator. She stared at the ceiling, face frozen, eyes open and crazed, except that now she was dead and too heavy for anyone to move.
Some people love life and don’t want to leave. I remember Steve McQueen, an actor from yesteryear who had everything to live for. He was a happy race-car enthusiast, a leading man in movies, incredibly handsome, kind, and grateful for every blessing his wonderful life showered on him.
He got cancer. Stateside doctors told him he had no chance. Death was certain. He traveled to Mexico to seek out a cancer recovery center he learned about from friends.
I remember hearing him weep during a radio interview, because, he said, the director of the center had saved his life. He thanked him again and again. He couldn’t say it enough. I felt touched. He loved life, and he had the voice of an angel. I would gladly have traded places with him.
Two days later, the newspapers and television news shows were reporting that he died. What went through his mind when he finally realized that his life wasn’t going to turn out the way he planned?
For people who seek death, death is easy to find—if they have the courage to face what comes after; if the pain of living exceeds the risks of non-existence or the risks of being reborn as someone new; or the risks of hell or whatever they imagine might be the alternative to the pain of life on earth. Relief is as close as the closest gun, the nearest bridge, the bottle of medicine in the bathroom cabinet.
I feel bad for people who have been ruined, I do. Far more people kill themselves than are killed by others. No one believes it, but it’s true. I don’t want to dwell on the ruined, because another class of people—a smaller group, I sometimes wonder—want to live.
These are the folks who never suffer from depression; never experience a major illness; never spend time in hospital or prison; never lose a child or spouse; never worry about the sparkle of a crooked tooth or the part on their head of radiant hair; they don’t worry about any lack of symmetry that might render them unattractive; or about getting their way in life, because they always do.
I want to talk about the powerful, beautiful, effective people who everyone seems to want to be. I want to talk about the happy people like Steve McQueen who will always chase a fantasy, because they want to live in the worst, most desperate way.
I want to talk about the people who freeze themselves in the hope that in some future time they will be thawed, and life will continue; I want to talk about the people who take 150 pills a day to prevent every ailment and strengthen every sinew in their bodies. I want to talk about the brilliant, optimistic people who expect that if they can just figure things out the right way, life awaits them for as long as they want it. It’s up to them. They will find a way to make it happen, because they always have.
Is it time for a reality check? Is this a good time to reveal some truths?—shocking truths, perhaps, for a few readers? I want to predict our futures—all of our futures—as separate individuals with private lives; and as a species—a species anthropologists describe by the Latin mass noun, homines sapientes, (smart people), which they use among themselves to differentiate you and me from all the other groups of living things we rarely notice or even think about.
Let’s smarten up for a few moments and defend our reputation among the kingdoms of the animals and the plants. Let’s think about best case scenarios for survival and whether we can make them come true. One statistic to keep in mind that is easily verified (and it might startle some readers): one-third of all deaths are not caused by aging.
So let’s move on. Who wants to start with species survival? Who would rather answer the riddle about how to lengthen an individual life?
Ok, the responses I think I hear in my head are nearly unanimous. People want to know how they themselves can live longer. Correct? People want to know how long they will live, if everything is set right.
So, why not start with a best case scenario for individuals? I promise to address the issues of survival for homines sapientes later, after a few more paragraphs.
Here are some simple, best-case-scenario assumptions. Assume that disease is eradicated. We reach a state under the auspices of ObamaCare (or maybe TrumpCare, who knows?) where no one dies in hospital anymore; all diseases have cures and can be prevented; in fact, disease is eliminated from the face of the earth—no more bacterial or viral infections; no malevolent genes gone haywire; no more Alzheimer’s or mental impairments; no more skin rashes or herpes or warts or annoying ear-wax that turns infectious.
Disease is gone. Now take another step. Make a leap of faith. Assume that the genetics of aging is solved and that no one grows old. No one deteriorates. Skin does not wrinkle; no more age spots or rotting teeth; loss of hair and muscle-mass becomes a thing of the past. Aches and pains and constipation and diarrhea and acid reflux—what be them? They gone!
Our long medical nightmare is over, to paraphrase the words of President Gerald Ford on the night he pardoned Dick Nixon so that no prosecutor could ever charge and convict him for being a crook and throwing an election.
OK. What now become the odds for our survival? How long can one person expect to live? I think everyone can see, there’s something we didn’t consider; one thing no one thought of; a missing piece in the puzzle of living-large that is going to leap up and grab each of us sooner or later—unless we live bundled by bubble-wrap in a bunker miles below the surface of the earth. We all know what it is, right?
It happens when we bike on a country road, and a candy-coking cell-talker in a Corvette runs us over. It happens when we climb Mount Everest (just to cross it off our bucket-list) and whoops! someone in the group forgot to tie their shoelaces. People see a video on the evening news—dead people buried in snow.
It happens when flying an aeroplane—a flock of geese smashes the windscreen. The pilot gets sucked out the opening—shredded by shards of glass.
We visit an amusement park to thrill ourselves on a ride that throws us upside down and—oops again!—an unscheduled stop; a mechanical malfunction. Two hours later, rescued, we’re vegetables. Homo sapiens don’t do well hanging upside down for long periods.
Yes, the one thing no one counted on is accidents.
Accidents kill a lot of people every single day. And nothing is going to change that fact, unless people decide to live in virtual reality and never get off the couch or go outdoors to walk their dog.
Well, every year one person in a thousand dies in a screw-up by somebody, usually themselves. It doesn’t sound like much, but for the person who dies, it’s one death too many. Anyone who expects to live 25,000 years should do a statistical analysis to see what the chances are they’ll live that long. Why guess?
The way the math works is this: figure the chances of living deadly-accident-free for one year (it’s 999/1000), then multiply this number by itself for each year of life. Save time by using the exponent key on a calculator to enter years, anyone who doesn’t want to spend a week multiplying the same number over and over 25,000 times. The result will give the chances for survival over a span of that many years. Try some other numbers to make comparisons.
The bottom line is this: no one has any realistic hope at all of living more than 10,000 years. Of the seven billion humans alive today, just one person in 22,000 can expect to live to the age 10,000. A mere two-thousand people will survive to see year 15,000. There’s a small chance (one in ten) that a solitary person might make it to twenty-five thousand years, but they will be an outlier; a statistical anomaly. Who wants to be an anomaly? Not me.
In most cases; under the most realistic scenarios, the chances are that everyone alive today is going to be dead at age 25,000 because of accidents alone. They will die healthy, though. It might be consolation for some.
No one will make it to year 25,000. That’s my bet. It’s not going to happen ninety-percent of the time. Accidents happen.
OK. Now that we know that our individual situation is hopeless, what about the survival of our species—the human race (for those who disdain the scientific term, homo sapiens)?
I am sorry to report that the survival odds for our species are actually far worse than the odds for our survival as individuals. This depressing fact means that we can totally ignore the individual survival scenario we just took so much effort to describe. If our species dies-off early, individuals are going to die early, too.
How can this terrible situation be possible? It seems so unfair.
I’ve been reading the book, Global Catastrophic Risks,—a collection of essays edited by Nick Bostrom and Milan M. Cirkovic—first published nine years ago (in 2008) when species survival was more certain than it is now. These brilliant men collected essays written by other forward thinking geniuses who describe in delirious detail thirteen (or so) existential threats to the survival of humans. Some readers might want to review the list.
The authors argue that certain scenarios involving these threats will create an inevitable cascade of events that lead to the melt-down of civilization and a kill-strike against the human-species. I decided to assign a one in ten-thousand chance of occurrence to each of these thirteen catastrophes and crunch the numbers to understand how much danger people on earth might be facing. What I discovered scared me.
For one thing, it’s not possible to know if one chance in ten-thousand is an optimistic or pessimistic assessment of each of these risks. Nuclear war might be one in a hundred; climate change—one in fifty; asteroids—one in fifty-thousand; supernovae—one in a hundred million; artificial intelligence—one in ten. Who knows?
Can humans survive ten-thousand years without a pandemic or nuclear war? No one knows. Experts resort to heuristics, which erupt from biases even they don’t know they carry. I suppose a gut-check by an expert has more validity than a seat-of-the-pants guess by a pontificator. I will give you that. But the irony is that no matter who is right, no one will know, because we are all going to die.
Evidence in the fossil and genetic record already shows that at least three human-like species are known to have come and gone during the past several hundred thousand years or so, including Neanderthals and Denisovans. Extinction of intelligent, human-like species happens more often than not—three out of four times that we know of, maybe more, if scientists continue to dig and look.
My number-crunching shows that if my once in ten-thousandyears risk assessments are anywhere close to being realistic, humans have no more than a one-in-four chance of avoiding extinction during the next one-thousand years. Our chance to survive approaches zero as the number of years reaches into the realm of five-thousand years and beyond.
Humans have recorded their stories for five-thousand years. Some call these stories, history. Sometime during the next five-thousand years, history will end unless we can lower the odds of these catastrophes to much less than one in ten-thousand.
We are truly stupid—we are dumber than earthworms—if we refuse to make the effort to increase our survival prospects by lowering these probabilities, these ratios, to one in one hundred-thousand or better still, one in a million or, even better, one in one-hundred million. Why not one in a gazillion?
How? That’s the big question. It’s urgent. The answer seals our fate.