Sunday, June 5, 2011

Sword Fighting With Flame Throwers

There is the image of two men in a swimming pool filled with gasoline, each threatening the other to light a match. This was the analogy of the Cold War, with our nuclear arsenals more of a threat to all of us at once than anyone alone.

Humans tend to stand on the edges of apocalypses most of their lives. As children we play in a world designed by chemical engineers for whom safety was a laughable afterthought. I myself, hidden with my little friends in a bathroom, poured together whatever chemicals I could find -- chlorine bleach, lye, lime, and cleaning agents of many kinds, just to see what kinds of bubble or odors they would make.
I think that society as a whole is doing exactly that, and just as in this picture, a firestorm could erupt at any moment, as fools abound. As a young person, I would fill my car with gas, puffing a cigarette -- a complete fool -- even though there were many instances of filling stations lighting on fire because of that very thing. Eventually the business and communities got wise and most gas stations post "no smoking" signs, which I guess some number of people probably obey.

Wars are now fought between countries that threaten each other with weapons somewhat less frightening than nuclear ones, but nevertheless, no matter how technologically advanced or backward the combatants might be, they will each employ whatever tactics can achieve some semblance of a balance of power.

We, the US, have weapons that most countries cannot even imagine, and similarly we cannot imagine using them. The age of firebombing cities is hopefully in the past, so our daisy cutters and various massive bombs and missiles are probably not much use these days. However, if an enemy amassed itself in such a way that we could use them without destroying a nearby city, then they are still on the table. However it is not these weapons that are so frightening.

We also have biochemical weapons. We do not promote their use, and for the most part they are reserved for some ultimate future conflagration where all holds are not barred. The problem with biochems are that anyone, of any level of sophistication, is able to produce them fairly easily. Our advanced chemical skills might make the most deadly and insidious of those kinds of weaponized materials, but snakes, spiders, fish, plants, and microbes of all kinds are also very skilled in the production of toxins. 

Simply getting hold of pure elements, especially certain metals, can provide for very insidious and effective toxins that can be secretly and undetectably placed in food or water. But there are so many toxins available from natural ingredients, from man made sources and from accidental industrial activities -- it is a wonder we are still alive at all. Even natural disease organisms are continuously threatening us, with no enemy action whatsoever.

We have electronics, but as we can see in the ancient medieval lands like Afghanistan, electronics can be employed even by the seemingly illiterate mountain men of the nearly uninhabitable lands they call home. But regardless, the electronics we are so proud of are mostly manufactured in Asia -- not in the USA. We might reserve the most advanced stuff for ourselves, but we are not so ahead of that curve. Whatever fancy guided missiles, sensors, jammers, encryptors and so forth that we can build can be built by many others throughout the world.

The one thing we have that a primitive country does not is a fleet of satellites. We have the ability to peer down on just about anyone at any time, any place, day or night, clouds or clear. This gives us a lot of information so that all the warfare happens where the bad guys live, and not where we live. The bad guys cannot see us as well as we can see them. But, instead of surrendering in the face of overwhelming odds, they cover themselves with women and children.

So, even though we know where to bomb, we cannot do so. At least not if we are reluctant to "inflict collateral damage". I, myself, loathe the killing of noncombatants in any war. It seems like a form of cowardice to use any tactics that endangers the innocents, whether as an offensive or defensive posture, yet it goes on continuously in all the current battles, by all sides.

We have a few tricks that might sway the battles of those kinds in our favor. If we can make our stand-off weapons smarter -- the Predator drone weapons, cruise missiles, smart bombs, etc. --  and smaller, miniaturized to the size of beer cans instead of oil drums or Volkswagens -- then we can minimize the collateral damage. Extreme accuracy in every situation, such as being able to strike only the bad guys even in a crowded area filled with women and children, can also be achieved using some of our most sophisticated technology, smart bullets, special marking subtances, laser pointers and so on.

Yet, even then, should we be able to perfectly kill only the "armed combatants" in a mixed crowd, you can be certain that the enemy will consist of women and children, armed to the teeth. I can't imagine what we will become if we are still involved in these wars for very much longer. The game of measures and counter-measures between life forms has been going on for billions of years, and for humanity it will become far more grotesque should it continue for even a few more years. Not even technology can erase the horror of wars.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Another Unexplained Religious Day

Those who know me must also know that religion has always eluded me. Some might say that I eluded religion, instead. Whichever it is, the ideas that so many religious people consider sacred do not strike me as such.

There is nothing I can say to change their minds, nor anything anyone can say to change my mind. It is too late in my life to take on a new brain. My old brain has grown the way it has grown, and nothing can be done about it now. And I am not looking to change anyone else.

There are so many religions. There is at least one for every computer brand. There are several for each God, including hundreds for just messengers of God, and many just for messengers of messengers. How many there are in total, formally, I'm not sure. At least 20 flavors, and sometimes hundreds of sects for some of those flavors. There are so many Christian religions I couldn't begin to list them, and even just the major division are too numerous to bother listing. This post is not about that. For that, look at Wikipedia's list of religions.

For my family, especially the grandparents and various aunts and uncles who grew up in the far more stringent religions of years past, I try to honor their traditions, whenever possible, and I do not like to ruffle so many feathers. But the whole problem with being polite in the midst of so many who are impolite regarding my beliefs, or lack thereof, is what makes me have to write this stuff. I just need to get it off my back once in a while.

When people ask me how I can prove that there is no "God"-- first of all I can no more prove such a statement than anyone else can prove that alien lifeforms do not live on distant stars. For all I know there are dozens of gods, or even billions of them. I just have no idea which ones are real or not. The main thing is that I can't believe in so many at once. For that reason I don't believe in any at all.

What if I am forbidden from entering Heaven when I die, merely for refusing to believe in "Him"? I don't refuse to believe anything. Belief is not something that someone "does". Instead, belief is something that is either supported by facts or it isn't. If I can just believe any old thing I want, then I'd just as soon believe that beautiful girls carrying bags of gold as gifts are gathering around my house. If that would make them poof into existence, then I'd believe it in a second.
But that is like asking the Genie to grant 3 wishes, and then using one of the wishes to wish for infinite Genies. It is silly to believe in magical things like that, although it is fun to imagine such scenarios. There are many legends and fairy tales like that, but no single story is believable enough for me to believe it on faith alone.

But what about my belief in science? Is that not a religion? In some instances there is a degree of "faith" in science, but not because faith alone is sufficient to prove something scientifically. There are many concepts for which we have examples, like Gravity, Quarks, Neutrinos and numerous other elusive substances, but for which we have no way of demonstrating their creation or holding them in tweezers. We know they exist because of definitions, and because they have effects on our lives.

But if I stop believing in Gravity, it still remains in effect. I can refuse to believe in it if I wish, but it will not save me from falling off a cliff should I be foolish enough to test my disbelief. Similarly, if there is a God, then whether I believe that or not is not going to change anything for the existence of the world. In fact, there are millions of people who believe in absolutely opposite "truths" which do not effect the existence of reality in the slightest. 

Water still rains from the sky, the Sun still heats our planet, and all the cycles of nature continue, with us or without us, and even in spite of us, regardless of our beliefs. But, our refusal to believe in keeping nature "natural" may eventually come around to bite us. We can only ruin our environment to such an extent before we are ruining our own selves.

Things somehow popped into existence. People can believe what they like, whether religious or materialist or whatever their epistemology may be, and they can never explain the ultimate mystery of creation. If you believe God created everything, then somehow you must explain how God could exist in the first place. If you believe the universe can spontaneously conjure itself from cosmic nothingness then that also requires an explanation how nothing can become something. 
So far, regardless of the beliefs, scientific, animistic, creationist or naturalist -- whatever -- those questions always remain unanswered, and always will. Unless, that is, you are satisfied by "just because" as an answer.