“Near the Day of Purification, there will be cobwebs spun back and forth in the sky.” — a Hopi Prophecy
Elon Musk’s SpaceX has sent hundreds of internet communications satellites into low Earth orbit, and has plans to launch thousands more such satellites in the near future. Other companies, among them Jeff Bezos’s Amazon, have similar plans. Within the span of several years, the number of satellites launched into orbit could double from the amount that have been launched since the beginning of the Space Age in 1957. The clutter could interfere with astronomers’ observations and measurements, and even with casual enjoyment of the night sky by lay people.
“A Fleet of East Indiamen at Sea”, an 1803 painting by Nicholas Pocock (1740-1821).
There are terrestrial alternatives to webbing near Earth space with tens of thousands of satellites in order to get internet service to rural communities around the world. in the United States, rural electric cooperatives have worked steadily for years to overcome infrastructure and regulatory obstacles to provide internet service along the last mile to their members. It is the big telecommunications and cable television companies, with their friends in big government, that have often made operations difficult for alternative internet service providers. Even when the local governments of towns and small cities try to cooperate with small internet service providers, their efforts are often undercut and overruled by larger government entities working at the behest of large corporations that will brook no competition.
Now comes SpaceX’s Starlink and Amazon’s Project Kuiper, backed by their founders’ deep pockets and enabled by their existing links to big government, links that will only strengthen and deepen as the companies take over near Earth space and provide launching and communications services to government agencies. The partnership with government may even prove to be the primary consideration for both companies, and providing internet service to private individuals a secondary, though lucrative consideration. The partnership could develop into a Space Age equivalent of the British East India Company’s close association with the British Empire, which saw the two entities merging in so many areas public and private that eventually one could hardly tell where one left off and the other began.
In addition to the Space Age, the modern era has come to be known as the Information Age. The internet via the world wide web has become the chief vector of information in these times and, as many have often observed, information is power. In the days when the British East India Company held sway along with equivalent companies sanctioned by other European powers, trade goods from far off lands were the valued currency that governments sought to procure and protect. Governments guarded the trade routes to and from the far off lands as well as the lands themselves. Over time, the various East India Companies adopted their own paramilitary arms to protect their interests. Similar relationships could develop in the coming years as companies seek the help of government in protecting their interests in space in return for providing essential services.
Why should SpaceX, for instance, invest hundreds of billions of dollars in the infrastructure needed to establish colonies in space with the potential for enormous profitability in the long run without being assured tens of billions of dollars in government contracts in the short term and the perpetual cash cow of providing internet service to billions of people every day? Look up in the night sky for answers and soon enough you’re likely to see the winking reflections off tens of thousands of satellites, glinting like dew along the strands of a spider’s web.
The last scene of the 1982 meditative documentary Koyaanisqatsi, directed by Godfrey Reggio, with cinematography by Ron Fricke and music by Philip Glass.
“We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people.”
— from President John F. Kennedy’s “Race for Space” speech delivered before students and faculty of Rice University in Houston, Texas, on September 12, 1962.
Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of the walk on the moon by Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, an event witnessed on television by people around the world. The achievement after a decade of hard work and dedication by NASA personnel was enormous, of course, and as a prestigious accomplishment in science and engineering it has not been topped in the 50 years since July 20, 1969.
The feature that stands out after a half century is how little the actual landings on the moon, by Apollo 11 and by subsequent missions, has mattered in the lives of people on Earth. It was all the technological and scientific discoveries and advancements made along the way to landing astronauts on the moon which have made the most impact on the lives of many people. Giving astronauts prominence before the public and making them integral to the Apollo program garnered public support while increasing the expense and difficulty of the missions. Having the Apollo astronauts bound around the surface of the moon for a few hours and gather up some rocks made a comparatively small impact on the wealth of scientific and technical knowledge NASA reaped from the program, while keeping up public interest and support.
“Earthrise”, a photograph taken by astronaut Bill Anders aboard Apollo 8 on December 24, 1968.
Of all the insights common people gained from the Apollo program, perhaps none made a greater impression overall than the famous “Earthrise” photograph taken by Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders on December 24, 1968. In the foreground is what astronaut Buzz Aldrin would seven months later call the “magnificent desolation” of the moon, and viewed from a distance of about 240,000 miles, in a perspective never before seen by anyone on Earth, is the partially sunlit Earth, our home, appearing fragile and jewel-like in the black emptiness of space.
That picture and the emotions it stirred gave impetus and urgency to the environmental movement, and before the end of 1970 people around the world recognized the first Earth Day and in the United States the Environmental Protection Agency began operations. To strive for a decade to land astronauts on the moon, increasing knowledge and spurring progress all along the way, and then to have those astronauts turn around and look back toward the earth, sharing that view with everyone, that was perhaps the greatest legacy of the Apollo space program.
The opening sequence of the 1982 meditative documentaryKoyaanisqatsi depicts the Holy Ghosts portion of the Great Gallery pictograph in Horseshoe Canyon in Utah, followed by the liftoff of Apollo 11 from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on July 16, 1969. Godfrey Reggio directed the film, Ron Fricke was the cinematographer, and Philip Glass wrote the music. The title comes from the Hopi language and the film makes oblique and direct references to Hopi prophecies, or warnings; and while the Great Gallery pictograph did not originate with the Hopi, they believe it and other pictographs in the Four Corners region are the work of their ancestors and they hold them sacred.
The headlines in the corporate media after the Democratic primary victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York’s 14th congressional district on June 26 often omitted her name in favor of touting the loss by her opponent, establishment Democrat Joseph Crowley, whom the corporate media did name. Brushing aside the intentional or unintentional slight of the old boys’ club in the corporate media and Democratic party establishment, the victory of Ms. Ocasio-Cortez in the 14th district in New York, a district encompassing the eastern Bronx and part of the Queens boroughs of New York City, was a major step forward for the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), of which she is a member.
A panoramic view of the antennas of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) on the Chajnantor Plateau in the Chilean Andes against a starry night sky. The Moon and the Milky Way are visible across the center of the sky. Photo by Babak Tafreshi. The Democratic Party establishment keeps looking for new stars to lead it, ignoring the new leaders emerging from the grass roots and pushing them aside.
Fox News blowhard Sean Hannity posted the following list on his television show of the points in Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s platform, no doubt with the idea of horrifying his viewers with her plan for destroying America, if not all of western civilization:
Medicare for all
Housing as a human right
A federal jobs guarantee
Gun control / Assault weapons ban
Criminal justice reform / End private prisons
Immigration justice / Abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
Solidarity with Puerto Rico
Mobilizing against climate change
Clean campaign finance
Higher education for all
Curb Wall Street gambling / Restore Glass Steagall
Actually, that all sounds pretty good! Thanks, Mr. Hannity! With that agenda, it’s no wonder Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the DSA are worrying not only the retrograde part of the electorate represented by Sean Hannity, but the Democratic Party establishment lately represented by Joseph Crowley. Let’s look forward to that agenda catching on with voters and being pushed by them across the country in areas beyond the Democratic Party stronghold of New York’s 14th congressional district.
The ending of Ron Fricke’s 1992 film Baraka, with music by Michael Stearns.
“Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs, but not every man’s greed.” ― Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948)
The title of this post is a paraphrase of the Buddha’s Second Noble Truth, which states that desire and ignorance are the causes of suffering. The paraphrase states something similar in a different way because of the two meanings of “want” in English. “Want” can mean desire or greed, because it goes beyond “need” into territory destructive both to the wanter and to the ones from whom the wanter takes. “Want” can also mean a lack of things mental or physical to meet one’s needs. The haves and have nots, with the greed of the haves causing suffering for the have nots.
As the population of the worldcontinues to grow past 7 billion toward an estimated 10 billion by mid-century, agronomists are hard at work figuring out how to feed all those people. One school of thought has it that the current agricultural system is no system, and therefore is inherently inefficient, requiring more central planning to efficiently allocate resources and achieve economies of scale for each crop throughout the world. Another school of thought has it that large scale agriculture is destructive of the environment and ultimately leads to worse yields as soil health declines, and forces farmers to become dependent on a capricious international financial cartel rather than building local networks they can rely on in bad times.
Both schools of thought seem to believe their system is the best way forward in order to feed a growing world population. Both are right and wrong, for different reasons. Without going into a specific comparison of the two agronomy models, the main point is that hunger has always been part of the human experience, and it will continue as long as there are greedy people who take more than they need, and in so doing deny to others what they need. The problem is not an agronomy problem, though since people are bound to increase their numbers for the foreseeable future it is good and necessary that well-meaning farmers and scientists continue working to increase agricultural yields, but the problem is one of human nature and an economic system that rewards the worst part of that nature.
A sculpture of Lord Buddha. Photo by Priyanka250696.
There is food enough already in the worldto feed everyone adequately, yet more than a billion people go hungry every day. It is not a distribution problem, either, as some have suggested in the past, as though the food would be evenly distributed if only the logistical problems could be licked. No, it is a problem of poverty and income inequality, and therefore of the will of the haves to share with the have nots. The haves rationalize that if the have nots would only show the gumption to pull themselves out of poverty, they could partake in the bounty of the haves, never mind that the haves often stole the bounty from the have nots in the first place. The haves apply rationality to the problem when rationality is besides the point because they are standing with their boots on the necks of the poor, yelling at them to get up. That is the economic system and the crass part of human nature it enables and rewards.
A segment of the 1992 film Baraka, directed by Ron Fricke. Music for the film was composed by Michael Stearns, while this portion, a song called “The Host of Seraphim”, was written and performed by Dead Can Dance, an Australian duo comprising Brendan Perry and vocalist Lisa Gerrard. The spiritual and ethical systems in place around the world help redress some evils, but they have not been enough. The more populous the world becomes, the greater the economic inequities, like a pyramid growing ever larger but retaining the geometric relationship of its parts. Any person who gets in at the top of a Ponzi scheme knows that the wider the base of the pyramid, the greater the wealth accruing to those at the top. Two thirds of the world’s adult population lives on less than $10,000 per year, which is poverty level in the United States, where the threshold for one adult is about $12,000. Economic standards differ throughout the world, of course, but it’s a good guess that getting by on less than $10,000 per year anywhere in the world does not leave room for addressing anything much beyond basic needs.
There’s food enough for everyone, though the poor can’t afford to buy their share. There’s food enough for everyone, though the wealthy have no interest in sharing what they don’t need. Growing more food won’t solve the problem, only maintain the status quo as population increases. In the current economic system, the haves will always have and will have even more as more people come into the world, while the have nots will have to make do with less no matter how much food is out there, always out of their reach. The problem is one of spiritual and ethical guidelines existing separately from and in parallel to a corrupt economic system that benefits only a privileged few, rather than informing and guiding that system for the benefit of all.
“God does not play dice with the universe.”* ― Albert Einstein (1879-1955)
There are patterns throughout nature, from the rhythm of waves striking the shore, to the sand dune crests farther up the beach, to the leaves and flowers on plants and trees inland. Many of those patterns arise because of physical constraints operating through a medium, for instance the waves rise and fall regularly due to tidal influences from the Moon above and gravity from the Earth below, while sand grains in the dunes react to wind and water, and leaves and flowers allocate space for themselves in tune with the Sun and their plant neighbors.
The beauty of Coconut (Cocos nucifera) with its radiating pattern of fronds; photo by Krajaras.
An Italian mathematician of the 13th century named Leonardo Fibonacci, more commonly known just as Fibonacci, described natural patterns mathematically and he has since become well known for the Fibonacci sequence of numbers that add to each other infinitely, and for the Golden Ratio of 1.618, denoted in equations by the Greek letter Phi, which when employed in the Fibonacci sequence eventually yields Fibonacci spirals on a large scale. Less well known is that Fibonacci advocated the change from Roman numerals to Hindu-Arabic numerals in his 1202 book Liber Abaci, a book on calculations.
The shell of the nautilus is often cited incorrectly as a Fibonacci spiral. It is actually a logarithmic spiral. For whatever reason, the idea of Fibonacci spirals has taken hold popularly on the internet, to the point that some people appear eager to impose Fibonacci spirals on nature where patterns either hardly exist, or where they could be more accurately described with some other mathematical model. Perhaps the appeal lies in being able to ascribe patterns to a model proposed by one man, and saying “Fibonacci” has a more poetic feel than “logarithmic”. At any rate, there are many more patterns evident in nature than can be put down to chance, and that after all is the definition of a pattern.
Looking up along the deeply fissured bark of Cottonwoods (Populus deltoides) into the sunlit canopy of leaves; photo by Atiwis.
Barakais a 1992 non-narrative film directed by Ron Fricke, with music by Michael Stearns. Fricke has described his film as a “guided meditation”. Baraka means “blessing” in a multitude of languages.
We seem to prefer patterns over chance, and order over chaos, and therefore we sometimes struggle to impose a pattern where perhaps none exists. It comforts us. It can even be a matter of belief. Some of us, maybe most of us, find it unsettling to contemplate a natural world and a universe where things happen randomly with no rhyme or reason. How can you set a schedule for yourself and your family in such a universe when you are unsure what might happen from one moment to the next? How can you plan your life, if you are so inclined? Depending on your belief in the reliability and predictability of the patterns you see in nature, you may be able to conduct your daily life with some confidence everything will go mostly as planned. With that in mind as you go about your everyday affairs, you may take time to notice how the patterns in the natural world around you guide your beliefs, whether or not you believe there is, in turn, someone or other guiding those patterns.