Sunday, July 08, 2012

Where's my flying car?

Dang it, when I was a kid, they said we'd have flying cars by now.  Robert Heinlein portrayed mankind as living on the moon, with Mars not far behind.  (We'll kind of ignore all the stories about civilizations on Venus and Princesses on Mars, thankyouverymuch - though I DO want to see the movie!)

Periodically, I throw a virtual temper tantrum about all of my sci-fi dreams not coming true before I die.  Especially the ones about longevity treatments.  I do think I'd like to live to a ripe old age of 600, dagnabbit!

So, let's look at this for a moment.  Why not?  I mean, come on, when my mother was born, in 1914, electricity was mostly in the cities, and then not universal, telephones were a rarity for the rich, cars were just beginning their journey to popularity, and WWI had only just been declared (on her birthday, in Europe.)  Computers weren't even thought of in sic-fi (since it was an undeveloped genre), medicine was only grudgingly accepting the germ theory of disease, airlines were still a dream, and the Pure Food & Drugs Act that began the modern era for my employer was only eight years old.

By the time she died in 2005, the iPod was surging in popularity, the iPhone was only two years away, the internet had become a regular part of our lives and the way we communicate had been fundamentally changed and advanced by the connections it allowed.  One could fly between the US and Europe in less than three hours, man had already walked on the moon, flown past Mars so many times the news media yawned every time NASA did it again, and a man-made spacecraft was slowly making its way out of the solar system.  The automobile had advanced to the point where we have the technology for cars to drive themselves, television had run the course of broadcast distribution and was in the midst of an expansion into every pocket in the very near future.

So, doggone it, why can't we invent a flying car?  We've got the equivalent of the Dick Tracy two way TV watch, so what's so dang hard about flying cars?

Geez, people, we can fly drones into foreign countries to kill our enemies silently from ten thousand feet, read a newspaper over someone's shoulder from orbit, we've got bombs that can suck all of the oxygen from the air over an entire square mile and others which can literally turn the earth to glass and destroy half a continent.  We're developing drone miniatures which will look and act like insects so we can eavesdrop on our enemies' conversations undetected, for goodness' sake.  Scientists tell us that in a few years, we may even have the technology to make invisibility a possibility.  And just the other day, they announced the confirmation of the Higgs Boson, which is the key to mass in the universe, and may allow us to finally, FINALLY figure out how gravity works.

So, why can't we...wait a minute, hold it.  Maybe that's it.

Yeah, in the early 1990's, Congress killed the Large Supercollider in Texas.  Because, doggone it, we couldn't afford it!  Yet, in the meantime, we've fought at least three unfunded wars which have cost us many multiples of the amount we'd have spent on that piece of scientific equipment, which has set us back in that research by over ten years.

Yes, I'll admit that military research has often meant an accelerated timetable for the discovery of stuff we'd probably not have found in the civilian sector until later.  But at the same time, it has sucked off so much money and so much talent and killed so many promising young people, that it is impossible for us to truly compare whether that lost money, talent and manpower would have allowed us to find that stuff independently anyway.

It is time to back off on the military adventurism overseas.

I am not proposing "bringing the troops home".  In the midst of a recession, that would send unemployment through the roof and kill the economy for a decade or more.

I am proposing that we stop the adventurism which has sent so many of our kids overseas to die in causes that really make no sense.  Iraq is no better off, politically, than it was before.  Sure, it is no longer a dictatorship, but the political violence engendered by the sectarian strife is killing more folks than Saddam Hussein did.  I know, at least they are free to make those choices.  But we didn't really do what we intended.  We opened a can of worms.  Same thing with Afghanistan.  We allowed ourselves to get distracted by Iraq, which sucked off the troops we needed to finish the job in Afghanistan, which has kept us there well beyond where we should have left.  Which has had horrific affects in Pakistan, which is now in a turmoil, largely due to our drone campaign.  (I guess at least, we distracted them from India...)

Meanwhile in Yemen, the same drones are wreaking havoc with our enemies (yay!) while causing a "heads you win, tails I lose" kind of conundrum for us there.  We'd love to support the popular uprising against a dictator, but we need that dictator to continue our fight against the terrorists.  So, we lose no matter what we do.

Which is kind of the point.  No matter what we do, no matter how well intentioned we seem to be, we just can't seem to stick to an agenda and do what we came to do.  It always seems to get derailed somehow, so that we get stuck in some form of quicksand.  Sometimes, the tar baby that brother fox got caught up in comes to mind.

I am tired of our foreign policy making more and more people hate us.  It is time to stop shooting at people.  The way to friendship is trade.  Exporting education is the beginning of that trade.  The third world is so full of promise, so many people who could be buying American products - and would like to do that - IF they had the money and the products we could buy from them.  All they need is the education to start their own businesses and improving their own economies.

Education WE can provide, if we'd just stop shooting at people.  Instead of soldiers, we should be exporting teachers.

...and building flying cars...dammit.

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