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.

mike riva rsIt is the little things that one remembers best. Moments of shared joy at RKO on 86th Street at the 25 cent matinee on Saturday morning seeing The House on Haunted Hill... the theater owner had rigged a skeleton to glide down on a wire half way through over our heads. No one was really fooled but the intent to frighten allowed us to play along and yell and scream as if we were terrified. Or playing handball or mumbly peg with pen knives and beating the older kid on the block, Chevy Chase (yes, that's his real name – same guy) who always lost for some reason. Or watching Marc Rothko and my dad paint the poured 16' concrete back wall an apartment building had snuck up during the summer of '60. The magic that Mark and my dad, a scenic designer, painted of a trompe l'oeil birch forest enthralled Mike, Kate (Mark's wonderful daughter) and I. Thirty years later it was still there only no one but us knew who had painted it.

Modern inventions always come with unexpected and possibly dangerous side effects. When the automobile first came out, horses were terrified and you needed to have a man walk before your car waving a red flag (I am not kidding). As speeds increased a claxon horn was employed constantly. In fact, in some countries the car horn is still used constantly. When microwave technology — first used for transmissions of data from one place, line-of-sight, to another — was employed, people in the way suddenly got headaches and got sick. I know a lawyer in the Citicorp building in NY who gave up his corner office and his headaches ceased.

We are all learning — in the news every day and part of the Mueller investigations — how viral media can be perverted for malicious intent. And we all remember that the NSA has access to every phone call made in the USA and most of the world. Okay, perhaps that's not all bad, but the possibilities of using benign cell phone call technology for unwarranted spying has been shown again and again. Now we're faced with Amazon's Alexa and Echo, Apple's Siri, and Google's Duplex (incorporating Home and Assistant) which are, by design, listening for your commands and, of course, picking up all sorts of other information. There are stories of those "services" listening in a bit too intrusively. A man talking on the phone to his brother discussing a serious medical issue of a relative. Next time the man went online, almost every site he went to and in his email inbox was filled with medicine recommendations for the same medical issue. When he complained he was told how to change the default settings to not listen until he called the device by name. But, one has to ask, did he turn off the commercial recommendations only? Were the recordings continuing anyway since the device is always on?

space command rsWhat do you do when your team, your staff, your employees, your chosen loyal subordinates won't listen? What do you do when you sound them out with an idea and all the experts on the topic disagree with your idea and, in fact, worry it'll start a race with adversaries for superiority – at a cost and risk that those same experts are uniquely able to judge? You? Are you an expert? Let's say that's unlikely.

ebola rsNo doubt, on the fringes of your reading of newspapers or listening to the news, you have heard there are new cases of Ebola in the Congo. That news is disconcerting enough. Normally, aircraft are not sterilized each flight, infected people have an incubation period, handled goods can carry the virus for weeks before it finds a new host. All this doctors and medical detectives are aware of and watching carefully. The good news is that people from the World Health Organization (WHO) are on it, trying everything they can to contain the area at risk, treat patients, stop the virus running rampant.

In a previous article, I explained that the commercialization of space is underway — whole new futures are available. Many readers contacted me to say they cannot see the economics of space travel — yet. Rockets and technology development are expensive. What the heck are investors thinking? Big risk, little apparent gains to make.

Okay, Falcon 5 flew and delivered a satellite into Clark Orbit (23,500 miles above the equator, geo-stationary). What's the big deal, we've been doing that for 30+ years. The big deal? 10% of cost by the same sized rocket, in real $ terms just 10 years ago. Falcon rockets' 1st stages land upright, ready to reuse. That is a big deal. But still, is that enough of a return for the billions invested?

When we moved onto our small farm in 1989 there was almost no ground bird population and only one pair of Turkey Vultures. So rare were the raptors (of all kinds- owls, eagles, Osprey, hawks) that bird watchers would come from all over New England to catch a glimpse. By the time we left, in 2007, on any summer afternoon, there were over ten Turkey Vultures flying. Similarly, in 1989, there were no bear sightings, no Mountain Lion either. But by the time we left, weekly roadkill on the Hutchinson River Parkway of Mountain Lions had the police worried. And bears regularly walked through our high-tensile electric fencing as if it wasn't even there.

What happened in those 18 years? DDT finally leeched out of the system and the food chain came back – insects- birds-rodents-and the predators they feed. Our population of Bob White quail went from zero to a regular flock of over 30 spotted any beautiful June day.

Date: May 18, 2018

Shifting Population

The immigration issue is complex, much more complex than simply calculating how many people have visas, those that do not, and those that want to travel over borders worldwide. No, what is complicating the whole issue is that at the turn of the 19th to 20th century, 65% of the working population of America – yes, even during that industrial boom – was involved in agriculture and fishing. Farms, farm suppliers, produce shippers, cattlemen, fishermen, all the way to milk deliverymen and women – 65% of the working population earned their living and worked in the food business. That is not counting bars, eateries, cafeterias, delis, and the like.

So, if you worked in the food supply business, then as now, you lived outside of the cities. As agriculture and cattle ranching and fisheries all have become massive in size, requiring fewer people to maintain that productivity – and as delivery systems have become massive in size (40% of all food takes the train - most a mile or longer in length traveling from California to NY) – the whole business of food has downsized labor needs in favor of new technology. Yes, there are exceptions, especially on a seasonal basis – bringing migrant workers in from Mexico, Haiti and other lands – but these people are not part of the census of residents.

Date: May 7, 2018

The Problem With Morality

People use the words "tribalism" and "opposite sides" to describe American moral ethos these days and I feel they are labeling the outcome, not the cause. If we do not understand the cause, the core reasons for people's decisions, for their seemingly intractable immoral positions, then they will never have any reason for listening, for reevaluating their position in the coming years. Whole civilizations have faltered in these divisive circumstances before.