Independence Day, History, Technology, and Making A Better World

Independence Day is a few days away here in USA.  It is a time to reflect on sacrifices of current and previous generations of military personnel during times of war and crisis in my nation’s history.  It is also a time that the public at large gets some refresher courses on American history.  One of my Independence Day traditions is to watch the fireworks after dark while I have songs like “America the Beautiful” playing courtesy of Google’s Youtube (both tech firms that were started in the USA).

While it is a celebration of the USA’s beginnings and struggles to become what we are (and what we can become in future generations), for me it is also a time to remember the efforts of non military personnel and brilliant leaders.  I remember the contributions to the USA and the world of immigrants like Nikola Tesla and Andrew Carnegie (among numerous others) in the fields of science, industry, and commerce.  While they were not born here, it was here in USA that they had the opportunity to follow their dreams.

I remember the science breakthroughs in agriculture and food production led by such people as Norman Bourlag, the Armour family, the Cargil family, and Roswell Garst that made crops and food available to, not just Americans, but to billions of people all over the world that will probably not know their names.  In fact, we now have more people on earth being overweight (slightly over 2 billion) than we do have people suffering from insufficient food (around 800 million).

I remember that it was computer scientists and engineers from America that were among the big drivers in getting personal computers and internet access made available to the public at large. It was this year (2019) that we crossed the threshold where now slightly over 50 percent of the world’s population has access to internet, whether it be smart phones or tablets or full size computers.  It was also primarily American scientists and engineers (and immigrants working in American based firms) that got GPS navigation going.

I know some people (myself included) sometimes get irritated by American pop culture, tv shows, music, etc.  But no one forced me or anyone else to pay attention to our culture.  I, and many others, sometimes get upset about how much war my nation has fought over the course of history.  Yet, most previous powerful nations annexed or colonized the territories and peoples they won wars over. Many powerful nations in past eras colonized territories that weren’t on even the same continents as the home nation. Yes, our practices of slavery and taking land from the Native Americans will be a dark mark against my nation for the rest of history.  But many nations won’t even acknowledge their past sins and transgressions.  A couple of weeks ago I heard there were talks before congressional committees about possible reparations for past practices during slavery.  The idea of reparations can be debated one way or another ad nauseam, but at least there is even talk about attempting to make amends for past sins.  Every civilization as far back as we can tell had some form of slavery, indentured servitude, etc.  Yet it wasn’t until a few centuries ago that people began to acknowledge that the idea of one human owning another the same way one would own a building or a horse, even in past times, as disgusting and barbaric.  Now slavery is officially illegal in every country of the world.  It still goes on in the forms of human trafficking, sex slavery, etc.  But even two hundred years ago, that would have been acceptable in the entire world.  I don’t write this to justify my nation’s past sins.  We certainly made our mistakes.  I won’t hide our mistakes. But I also won’t hide the progress my nation or my species progress.

On another note, many advances we take for granted in 2019 were pioneered in the USA. This includes things like electric light bulbs, telephones, airplanes, people on the moon, common pharmaceutic medications, do it yourself investing in the stock markets, television broadcasts, much of what computers, internet, and cell phones have become.  Even with our current internal strifes and issues, the USA is still a world leader in the emerging fields of Artificial Intelligence, Quantum Computing, nanotechnology, fusion technology, robotics, autonomous automobiles and drones, etc.  Even though our government officially pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreements, many local and state governments, along with private businesses and industries, are still implementing nonpolluting technologies and power generation.  Many businesses and individuals, are voluntarily severely limiting their uses of disposable plastics.  Even the people I personally know who are skeptical of the sciences behind climate change, most of them still recycle their garbage, take car pools to work, limit their uses of pesticides, use less water than previous generations, drive fuel efficient cars, use solar panels to power anything that can be by traditional grids, or allow wind turbines and solar panels to be built on their farms and ranches.  Even though our elected leaders may not see that renewable and recycling tech are the future, most of my countrymen see that it is even if they don’t accept or understand the science behind climate change or environmental pollution.

I know I am often tough on my friends, family, countrymen, etc.  But I am tough because I know even ordinary people are capable of accomplishing great things.  Even though I see ignorance and stupidity every day, I also see people doing great things and changing for the better every day.  Sure the ignorant and hurtful actions catch our attention more because it is natural for us to pay more attention to negativity than positive news.  I wasn’t born an optimist.  I had to become one by forcing myself to find out the good that is going on out in the world and in my hometown.  And thanks to inventions like internet, search engines, and social media, it is far easier to find such good news than even twenty years ago.  Sure some people will abuse such tech.  Every tech in history has been abused by at least one person or group.  A sharpened stone tied to a long stick can kill a deer and feed a family just as easily as it can kill another man and be used to enslave his survivors.  And on it goes.

I should wrap this up.  Sure much bad has been done in the name of my nation and science.  Yet, much good has been done too.  We rarely acknowledge anyone’s decency simply because we are not hardwired to do so.  Many cool things are happening right now.  And among the leaders forcing these positive changes are American scientists, engineers, medical personnel, teachers, craftsmen, construction workers, factory workers, farmers, students with dreams, business people, etc.  It is an eventful and hopeful time to be alive.  I am grateful to live in a college town in America in the early 21st century.

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Trouble Isn’t New

It’s been quite some time since I last posted.  For that I apologize.  I thought that a repost was in order.

You see it on the news all the time.  In fact, it’s all you see anywhere on TV, the internet, or any kind of media.  Of course I mean absolutely nothing but bad news.  If all you ever saw or experienced was what was being shown on the major networks, CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, etc., it would be understandable why so many people are sad, depressed, and convinced the world was heading to hell in the proverbial hand basket.  It would be easy to believe that all this trouble and chaos is something new and that the past eras were far more stable and peaceful if all we saw was what was shown on modern media.

Oh how sentimental we are.  As someone who grew up in the 1980s, I remember some of the Cold War and the thought that we Americans and the Russians could start a nuclear holocaust.  Three of the earliest movies I remember seeing were ‘War Games’, ‘The Day After’ and ‘Red Dawn.’  As a child, for awhile I was dead convinced that we would get nuked any day.  That was until my parents explained how they had the same fears growing up in the 1950s.  They even told me about the ‘duck and cover’ drills they used to do in school.  My father and grandfather, on separate occasions with almost the same words, finally told me something that stuck with me ever since.  “Trouble ain’t anything new and the good ol’ days ain’t all they’re cracked up to be.”

Let that sink in for awhile.  Sure we have problems.  We’ve had problems.  We’re always going to have problems.  Let me tell you about a little about a time in America’s past.  We had an unpopular war going on.  We had a president, who was hated by some and revered by others, get murdered.  We had draft dodgers and race riots. We had magnificent technologies that got going strong.  Which era am I talking about?  If you thought the 1960s, you’re wrong.  I was actually talking about the 1860s.  Simply replace Vietnam with the Civil War, JFK with Abraham Lincoln, and replace Watts with New York City, the Space Program with The Transcontinental Railroad, and we have the same story line but in entirely separate centuries. 

Sure we have our problems with the NSA issues, debt issues (both national and individual), endless wars, poverty, new sicknesses, etc.  But would we rather have the threat of foreign spies in our highest levels of government (like America did in the 1950s) or the KGB  (as communist Russia had)? Or the debt issues that much of the world outside America has? Or the endless wars that were the Crusades, the 100 Years War, or the such long wars of empire building that ancient Greece and Rome had?  Or would we rather deal with Swine Flu or the Bubonic Plague that claimed close to 1/3 of Europe in the Middle Ages or even the Flu Outbreak of 1918?

I don’t write this to demean the problems we have right now.  I simply write to state we’ve found solutions in the past to past problems and the human spirit that resonates in every one of us has, is, and will keep finding solutions to our problems.  Just as there has always been trouble in the world so will there be people at all levels of societies working on the solutions.