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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.

Decades ago, protesting aircraft noise flightpath changes at Heathrow Airport near London, resident protesters simply stayed home. All the phone number exchanges in and around Heathrow—including all baggage handling, security, emergency services, hanger lines, refueling operations, and air traffic control—were within two sets of main prefix numbers. That meant there were only numbers equal to 9,999 times 2. All protesters had to do was allocate a handful of numbers to  a couple of thousand protesters who idly called each of those numbers all day long – and Heathrow ground to a halt. 

Did it work? Sure, for one day, maybe two, but the assumption was that people would get bored of running up a phone bill and protests would simply fade away. That’s what happened. Oh, and lawmakers quickly passed a law prohibiting willfully tying up phone exchanges for protest reasons... so much for free speech.

The “me” generations have morphed into the “my own little world” society. What is happening across the globe are retrenchments politically, the rise of dictators and tyrants (the ultimate “my own world” perspective), splits of unions big and small (nations and work forces), everything the individual wants becoming accessible (from Tinder to on-line divorce), and, never least a general distancing from family and friends, relatives and siblings, as the individual surrounds him/herself with modern tools allowing only a singular personal perspective.

Television was a water cooler discussion until the advent of VCR and then DVR. If you missed a recent episode of the most popular show friends could clue you in on the morning after—they all would have watched it at the same shared moment in time. Electricity companies could tell when a popular show was coming on because dinner would be prepared just before. Sanitation companies could predict flow during commercials. Marshall McLuhan predicted uniformity of society/thought as these common events happened every day in synch. Does any of that exist anymore? Hardly, sure HBO knew that the water cooler the next day would be on Game of Thrones or a football result, but how many of us have heard, “Don’t tell me, I’ve recorded it...”

It’s amazing what people are determined to remain skeptical about. I actually heard someone the other day say that they don’t believe dinosaurs had feathers or colored skins. When shown recent dig and DNA results from China, they scoff, preferring to hang on to their belief in early Disney TV show animations of lumbering green-skinned monsters. Similarly, the nay-sayers of climate change and human raising of CO2 levels persist in debunking anything that could upset their belief of dominance over the planet—and the creatures over which “God gave dominion.” That very religious belief is, perhaps, at the root cause of many of our planet’s woes. I do not want to hurt folks and their belief in the god of their choice, but when they use their absolute belief to kill us all, I do think it’s time to draw a line.

Most Americans may not know what the Skunk Works are. A division of Lockheed set up after WWII, headed by the genius Kelly Johnson, the Skunk Works was namedafter the comic strip, "Li'l Abner," in which there was a running joke about a mysterious and malodorous place deep in the forest called the "Skonk Works."

Since that time, the Skunk Works (now the company logo) has developed, produced and secretly engineered some of our nation’s greatest out-of-left-field breakthroughs, from radar technology, aircraft development, computer technology and—yes, they are innovating again—energy production. 

To explain their current progress, I need to explain the difference between fission and fusion technology in a nuclear reactor. Nuclear power plants today utilize fission power, (AvWeek) “a process which involves the splitting of atoms to release energy for electricity.” However, nuclear fusion fuses together (AvWeek) “...two hydrogen isotopes; deuterium and tritium. Not only would the subsequent reaction create abundant carbon-free energy (deuterium is produced from sea water and tritium from lithium), but it would theoretically do so with no major environmental impact, shorter-lived residual radiation and no meltdown risk.”

At a 1969 gathering at NASA Hq. in DC two weeks before the launch of Apollo 11, dignitaries met to celebrate the impending historic event that George Bush Sr. would later call the greatest advancement of science since DaVinci’s journals. At the gathering was Arthur C. Clarke (he of the geosynchronous orbit invention and Sci-Fi book fame) and Brian Duff, the Public Affairs Officer (PAO) for NASA. Arthur told me this story that Brian Duff later confirmed when he was PAO at the Air & Space Museum for an opening of never-before seen space images I held there in 1985 called “Sightseeing.”

Arthur: “I cannot wait for those first live television images from the surface of the moon.”

Brian: “What television images? We’re not taking a camera for that.”

Arthur, incredulous: “You mean to say, you’re going to go to the moon, talk to people on the radio, take images and movie footage, carry it back to Earth, wait 30 days for quarantine and then expect people to believe you were there?”

I do not know why there is still a question of why the Amazon is important. The millions of unknown species that are there, the value of the carbon held there instead of released into the atmosphere, the need for the water flow for life and Atlantic Ocean wildlife... the list of critical life-giving factors is almost endless even before you throw the silly slogan “lungs of the earth” at it.

Dr. Normal Borlaug (Nobel laureate from Minnesota) showed, conclusively, over 30 years ago that if you carve out 1 square kilometer of rainforest (he did this in the Yucatan) then, a year later there will be sand dunes. Ten years later? Sand dunes. 30 years later? Sand dunes. 

History: If you don’t learn from history, you are doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over until you perish. Modern archaeology has found that the Sahara was once a vast tropical forest. Let’s go back in time...

There is a shortage of aircraft. Demand outstrips free seats and all those 737 MAX planes will be going back into service. So, it may help to know what’s being done and, more importantly, what mistakes were made to create the issues in the first place. Two crashes later, Boeing and the whole aviation industry is learning lessons on what not to do, starting with one big lesson: take your time, don’t look for what’s wrong, make sure everything is right.

Back in early 2010 Boeing planned to make a clean-sheet plane to deal with better fuel efficiency demanded by the airlines, especially their biggest customer American Airlines (AA). Since Airbus – their only competitor – didn’t have anything in planning Boeing thought they had time. “Not if we’re convinced a new airplane will be coming at or near the end of the decade,” then-CEO Jim McNerney told Aviation Week in mid-2010. “I think our customers will wait for us.” But then Airbus made a blind statement they planned to launch the 320neo before 2020 and promptly got 1,000 orders before a single rivet was driven home. And to make matters worse, AA ordered planes from Airbus... only agreeing to split the order with Boeing if Boeing quickly had a comparable fuel-efficient plane. Boeing freaked, scrapped the plans for a new plane and set about modifying the 737 to take the more fuel efficient LEAP engines from GE. Even GE were caught off guard, “Up until a few days before the American Airlines deal, Boeing was still saying they were going to do an all-new airplane,” said GE’s Chaker Chahrour in 2013. “It was amazing how, literally within a few days, things had turned around.”

If you look at precedent (legal eagles always use precedent to prove court cases) as well as US law history, immigration has varied from wide open (give us your huddled masses), to “we can throw you out if you’re not born here,” to transgress across our border is a misdemeanor offense, to overstaying a visa is a misdemeanor offense subject to expulsion, all the way to today’s interpretation of “if you didn’t get our okay before you step foot into the country, you are a criminal.” The point here is that we’ve varied the law and interpretation of the law as a country so many times that the concept of what is legal and not legal is confused, to say the least.

Is a woman and child watching from across the Rio Grande breaking the law? Not yet on US soil, no law broken even if you could say the intent is clear. If she sees a Border Patrol agent and deliberately crosses asking for protection and refuge, is she breaking the law? Up until 2017 she was not, now she is and can get separated from her child and thrown across the border with or without her child. You read that right with or without, usually without, her child. Why do we do this? Ostensibly as a deterrent. Does that work? Possibly, but it certainly works to deter the rest of the civilized world from having any respect for our pontification as being “the land of the free.” To quote one French commentator, “Land of the Free” has come to mean “free to mistreat humans and deny human rights.” 

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