View from the Edge

Peter Riva of Gila has offered his many years of columns for this online newspaper. His writings have been published in East Coast newspapers, and he decided to share them with the Beat and you, our readers.

If you have a part of your body replaced—a knee, a shoulder, a hip socket—are you less human? Currently, no one thinks that. So let’s extend it a little: if you have an organ replaced from a donor, are you still you? Currently most people think so (with gratitude for your donor of course). Now, let’s ask this current medical possibility: if you have a heart valve replaced with a part from a pig or cow, are you still you, still all human? It’s a psychological question many heart patients have had to grapple with. Obviously, the answer is yes. Modified, but yes, you are still you.

Now comes the hard part. Let’s say that instead of that donor part, or replacement knee, you have the chance to have a tailor-made biologically grown or 3-d printed replica part, a replica made from your own DNA. That isn’t really you, but a clone of you, so is it really you? If that’s a new heart, lung, liver, kidney, pancreas... grown from your cells into a replacement part... is the new you really you? On the one hand, your brain and consciousness grew up with the old part, understood it, watched it fail, and need to be replaced. Then, suddenly, there’s a new, completely perfectly new part. How will your memory, your connection in the brain’s neurons deal with this replacement which has no evolutionary pathway to understanding. Sure, in thinking about it, you’ll be cool, but will your brain accept that it is really you/yours?

Many of my friends know I follow aviation closely and ask what happened to the 737Max planes that crashed, why did they crash, why did the FAA take so long, why don’t the pilots know what to do, etc.? All of those questions are being answered in the media every day. Sometimes accurately – a brief iPad coaching session to overcome a dramatic plane deviation downwards in time of severe stress is asking for trouble. Sometimes inaccurately – the pilots should have known what to do is a lame cover-up for mechanical controls over-riding pilot commands. And sometimes missing the real issue: The FAA hires ex-employees from or, when retiring, FAA directors are hired by the airlines or manufacturers. It is an incestuous industry, exactly the same as the Coast Guard directors and admirals who all seem to drift to the major oil tanker shipping companies on “retirement” with full government pensions.

This last week, the flow for profit of government employees reached an all-time high with the staunch pro-Constitution Conservative, good guy, Paul Ryan signing a multi-million dollar book deal and taking a board of director’s job at FOX TV. Gee, I wonder if that was pay back for his help keeping FOX from being scrutinized by the FCC for the past 10 years?

The answer lies in the soil. There is nothing like good, old fashioned, wormy, loam. Good, honest, clean, dirt. But you have to ask, where did the earth come from? Unless you know where it came from, where it originated and why, you can never properly plan for your garden. A long, long, time ago, the Hudson Valley was rock. That’s all, rock, scoured glacial rock. Everything that once was there was picked up 10,000 years ago and carried south, deposited only when the glaciers retreated. Long Island is one huge sandy and pebble glacial deposit. All across the Hudson Valley region the only thing left was smooth rock. Okay, the glaciers – thinner and thinner each year – came and went, often dropping rocks and debris, but mostly the top feet of topsoil went south.

Then the beavers, microbes, fungi, and seeds got to work, breaking up the rock over thousands of years. Most of the depth top soil in the Hudson Valley is thanks to beavers. Rain up-state washed down silt which the beaver damns retained and, when the dams were filled up, the animals went up or down stream, leaving a rich loam behind. Over the millennia – yes thousands of years – they piled up the rich soil of the region.

This is a simple discussion when it comes to education and a complicated one when it comes to the free and capitalist society our republic has chosen. Say, you have money and you wish to apply it to your kids’ education. What could be more American than buying your kid a mechanical pencil, a calculator, better basketball shoes, hiring a coach for swimming or a tutor to catch up in math? If you feel these are acceptable, then it is very possible—and a very short walk—to the other side of the ethical line.  

All schools engage in pandering to parents, to one degree or another. They need to justify your kids’ attendance. They need to justify the fees they charge, the school taxes you pay, the results they need to achieve to get more money. There is always a negotiation between what the school wants and what the tax payer wants to pay – whether it is public school or private. That negotiation, whether it be at a PTA meeting, or a taxpayers’ meeting of the school board, or a private school’s tuition hike notification—that negotiation (for that is what it is) pits your needs and desires for your child against the school’s need to continue that level of education you demand of them.

Your brain works in a wonderful way. The things your eyes see, the senses of touch, the hearing – all these are data input traveling along nerves as electric signals, on or off, strong or weak. The brain then receives this data and organizes it along patterns it recognizes from learning since birth and stores it as engrams—analogue interpretation of data. 

Let’s take an office digital scan of a photograph. As the light and light-receptor passes over the image, individual points of data are “seen” and “recorded”—passed as digital impulses into a data file to then be reconstructed—dot by dot—on your computer screen or piece of paper (ink dots applied one at a time). At no time does the scanner, computer, screen, or printer recognize the whole image. But when you look at that image... your brain remembers the whole, all at one time.

The digital world is seeing a painting as brushstrokes, each one true, not seeing the whole. An analogue world is seeing the whole and then, if asked, seeing/recognizing what it is made up of, stroke by stroke.

Democracy and liberty are increasingly under threat around the world as capitalism and the digital revolution get together to rule your life. In fact, new and newer technologies are not only asking you—and you are willfully supplying—reams of data but--and here’s the big worry as outlined by Professor Shoshana Zuboff (one of the great minds at Harvard)—those collectors are modifying and manipulating your data even while you think it is still yours or certainly something you are clear about yourself on.

However, your behavioral data is being ripped apart, diffused all over the mainframes of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and others, and stored as tiny bits of factual data about you. It’s called digital abstraction. Say you like listening to Beethoven’s 2nd while sitting in the bath. Data? Bath time noted. Music choice noted. Bubble bath you bought weeks ago linked to your preferences. So too with those towels, the bathrobe, and maybe who you like bathing with (kids, etc.). The soap company will get an offer to sell you lotion as well as the constant pop-up messages to go with it. Bath time is noted and is added to your psychological profile. Beethoven’s 2nd will be played by Alexa or Google’s Home or maybe Siri as a background choice without you ever knowing why the choice was made. In short, they know you, they can pander to you and, without you knowing, can alter your perspective by playing that music, showing those images, enticing you to use that bubble bath... dropping hints to modify your life pattern.

While we all get distracted by the body (im)politic there is a ton of news the major media people are not covering for you. Readers of this column will know I focus often on aviation since it tends to be a signpost for what are good—and bad—indicators of progress.

By the time you read this, OneWeb should just have launched their first broadband satellite from Kourou, French Guiana. They are using a Russian Soyuz rocket run by ArianneSpace. Who’s OneWeb? They are launching 6 such satellites this year to eventually connect everyone on Earth with 5G communication. They will enable broadband access for every school, every farmer, every emergency service, even you on your phone, by 2022. How? Using an Arianespace factory manufacturing process (think Henry Ford), they are turning out satellites every week ready for launch. Cheaper, expendable, easy to launch, their goal is to connect every appliance, every phone, everything with 5G as fast as possible – with 900+ satellites. Where did they get the money? Dean Manson, Stephen Spengler, Richard Branson, Sunil Bharti Mittal, Greg Wyler, Tom Enders, and Paul Jacobs. Oh, and in case you’re wondering who these guys are... these partners are Coca-Cola, Airbus, Qualcomm, Intelsat, bharti, Hughes Aerospace, Virgin, and Salinas.

During WWII there was a Department of War. It had been called that since 1789. War frightens people. Defense, protection, doesn’t. So, in a genius move, the War Department became the National Military Establishment for a couple of years until it morphed into the Defense Department. Defending you, the citizens of America, is a generous, good thing to do. It evokes protection, safety, security. And, in a sense, that’s what the Department of Defense was designed to do – partially in name only. In large part, under the cloak of coddling the public, the Industrial Military Complex could really ramp up spending and profits. 

The problem we’re faced with today is that Defense Spending has gotten so big, so all-pervasive (politically and in employment numbers) that it cannot be halted. Take one small program, the F-35. Yes, the plane’s cost has been reduced to a paltry $85,000,000 each from $110,000,000 but that was done by an accounting procedure whereby amortization of fixing problems in the overly-complex machine were not affixed to each plane but to the overall project costs. The Sec. of the Navy, three years ago, in open testimony before Congress admitted that the overall cost of the F-35 program (planes, training, base and carrier modifications, airfields, spare parts, etc.) was perhaps $14,000,000,000,000 over ten years. And that’s one plane system, one point four trillion dollars a year.

Now, listening to the news carefully, you may have heard that this Administration has decided to create a Space Force. Well, since they kicked the Coast Guard out of Defense Budgeting (never cutting Defense Budgets!) and removing them from the Pentagon’s control – they are now part of Homeland Security—they want to find another program to feed the Industrial Military Complex. What have they come up with? Space Defense.