Fantasyland (Part 1)

               The rise and establishment of fantasyland has already happened, and while it has been a common theme, one which has persisted through the colonization of America, it has never been more dangerous now that before. For great read about what constitutes Fantasyland, Kurt Andersen (no relation, though he is a fellow Nebraskan), wrote an excellent book called Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire, A 500-Year History.

               The main premise of Fantasyland is that your belief is superior to anybody else’s belief, even if your belief has no credibility or is rooted in reality. The assault of the uneducated, the crackpots, and the fringes of both sides, used to be contained before the rise of modern technology of the radio, television. Though the fringes were given a new outlet, they remain contained until the creation of the Internet and social media, which has given every person access and a means to share their thoughts. (Yes, I can laugh at the irony, this is being shared by a website and has links on social media).

               The problem with every person having the ability to instantly share their thoughts is, not everybody is educated or knowledgeable about everything going on. I don’t claim to be fully educated and a subject matter expert on everything – there is simply no way to know everything in the world. There is not enough time in the world to read every book or watch every documentary, and you simply cannot download the information from the Matrix. However, not having enough time is not an excuse of being ignorant about the issues.

               A wide plethora of information is easily at our finger tips, but the problem is not the information or data but the way it is presented. With the initial creation of Fox News in 1996, a conservative slant was created for the presentation of a new truth. The majority of Fox News on-air talent are not journalists (off-hand only Shep Smith and Chris Wallace are journalists), but are entertainers like Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, and Judge Jeanie. Just because the right-wing has their own media bias, is the left-wing of politics absolved of any wrong doing. There are crazies on the left, off-hand thinking of Keith Olbermann. The problem with both sides stems down to education…

               A lot of the right-wing talent really isn’t remarkable, they are mostly high school graduates and college drop outs (assuming they even attended). Their talent stems from creating a Joseph Goebbels level of spin of the original facts or by presenting alternative facts. If that doesn’t work, there is always the massive level of what-about-ism. Hillary Clinton last held public office in 2013. Her handling of the email fiasco is not unprecedented, as former Secretary of State’s Powell and Rice had used personal email to conduct official government business. During the George W. Bush administration, millions of emails were deleted. There is no what-about-ism here, simply government officials on both sides of the political spectrum have been fast and loose with rules about using personal email to conduct government business and then deleting emails.

               The problem I think is Fantasyland has become so entrenched into the American psyche, it has had twenty years to fester with creation reality television and non-stop twenty-four-hour news coverage. The constant need to fill the air created a demand for even the slightest happening becoming news. This growing infection has created celebrities out people offspring of famous parents – think Kardashians. Television has allowed the rich and the famous a chance to rehabilitate their image, first Reagan who had a weekly program, a radio show, and wrote a multitude of opinion pieces from 1976 until his election. Reagan’s transformation from a B-list movie actor is nothing compared nothing of the grade A bullshit Donald Trump was able to spin with The Apprentice. He made millions believe he was a successful business person, when in reality he most likely isn’t.

               What kind of steps can be taken to help remove the delusions of greatness or the rightness of their political beliefs?  Unfortunately, I think the answers are in the realm of fantasy because I do not think there is one easy solution or cure-all or instant process to eliminate the delusion which has been established and taken a firm hold. The biggest cure-all which would probably help eliminate Fantasyland is better programming on the 24-hour news networks. Not everything is newsworthy and needs or deserves to be reported – for example giving a celebrity who is a Flat Earther time on the air isn’t exactly beneficial to anybody. The networks can still offer around the clock news, but more programming time should be dedicated to a credible debate about the issues, not just a summary of talking points. I know it asking for a lot and is probably a far-fetched dream of having solid debates and polite but heated discussions, but it would help dispel the fantastical myths (like an imaginary sky figure telling a person to run for political office).

               A better starting point would be re-introducing the Fairness Doctrine which essentially states both viewpoints need to be presented in an equal manner. The problem with the Fairness Doctrine is it only controlled the airwaves for television and it would be near impossible to implement on the Internet, and one which would rightfully face a lot of lawsuits. The idea sounds improbable and maybe in the future (probably far future) when the political situation has become more stable and rational and not dominated by deranged fantasists, can the Fairness Doctrine come back. There will always be wing nuts on both sides of the spectrum, but the Internet has eliminated most control over how far the crazy is allowed to spread.

               I think the best starting point would be to greatly tweak our education system. In practice there are 50 different education standards (for the 50 states), but Texas due to its sheer size has generally held a monopoly on content. This has slowly changed with the ease of making different electronic/digital books for school districts; however, this is not an ideal solution. In the global world of today, I think there needs to be a federal standard of education and one which you cannot label the American Civil War as the War of Northern Aggression, gloss over the Civil Rights Movement or only mention the good moments of our nation. By limiting a person’s education and denying them the basic understandings of history and civics, you are entrenching another generation into Fantasyland.

               There is no easy solution to combating the fantasy that one person’s beliefs are superior to another’s. There is no simple cure all potion to drink which will make all our problems and ignorance go away. It is not easy to tell a person they are wrong and even if you do summon up the courage to do so, they are unlikely to change their ways. We have all become willing or unwilling participants in America the Fantasyland, we have idolized our founders and past-presidents into mythical, God-like status, even though they were flawed individuals like us. The majority of our electorate has succumbed to receiving soundbites from talking heads on the radio or television. The vast majority of Americans said they have never or picked up only a few books after graduating high school.

               We have a choice to make, continue living in a Fantasyland as the rest of the world develops and leaves us behind or to act and join the modern world. Cast off the idea of American exceptionalism, the idea of a imaginative figure in the sky who talks to us, and battle to save ourselves, our species, and our planet.

Natural Disasters Are Becoming Man-made Disasters

               With an alarming rate, natural disasters like floods, hurricanes, severe thunderstorms, and tornadoes are occurring with more frequency and severity. There will always be natural disasters, it is part of being on a planet which is always evolving and changing. Earthquakes will always occur and may increase volcanic activity, which in turn creates another disaster. It is only with the spread of human civilization to almost every nook and cranny of Earth have natural disasters become a catastrophe which garners media attention and elicits a human response to help others in need. I’m sorry dinosaurs, but I’ve seen enough Jurassic Park movies where I’m thankful the asteroid helped eliminate you from the planet.

               How can we help reduce the severity of natural disasters? It is a simple question to answer, with an easy solution, but the implementation of said solution would be very difficult to carry out. There have always been natural disasters, very few which had global consequences or impacted hundreds of thousands to tens of millions of people at one time. That is until the spread of humanity to all the habitable continents of the globe. By spreading our wings, we have made certain almost every severe thunderstorm capable of producing a tornado, torrential rainfall from a series of storms or a hurricane with storm surges, can cause havoc and extreme destruction of our cities and infrastructure.

               I live in Nebraska, born and raised. And currently we are going through flooding which is slowly receding, which has caused at least a billion dollars in damage and lost revenue – though it is too early to know full extent of the damage and financial impact. Current estimates put just the agriculture damage at a billion dollars, including dead livestock, crop storage wiped out, and the possibility of not being able to plant crops for current season. Today’s disasters effect everybody, when California was facing severe drought, it strained the system because a large majority of America’s fruit and nut crops are grown in the Golden State.

               The impact of natural disasters will only grow as more people call Earth home, and our cities and towns expand horizontally. Climate change is the biggest disaster, one which is slowly unfolding. The biggest impact from climate change will be the rising of sea levels, which threaten every coastal city and billions of people. A temporary solution to battling the effects of sea rise caused by melting ice caps is to create massive sea walls to protect our cities and other areas. This is a massive feat and one which is unprecedented on a national scale, let alone a global scale. The other solution is to abandon or relocate cities which will be impacted by rising sea levels.

               I’ve written a lot about creating a new set of cities, a cluster of buildings called Sky Cities together, capable of housing a minimum of 40,000 people, schools, hospitals, businesses, and residents. These cities within cities will help locate humanity into a much smaller presence on Earth (and maybe other planets we eventually inhabit). The idea about mitigating impact of natural disasters is helping our species survive – and reducing the enormous cost of rebuilding and the emotional toll of losing family and friends. The task of creating these enormous Sky Cities is difficult.

               First, the technology to reliably build these megastructures needs to exist, we are getting close but have not quite reached the ability to build structures a mile high or taller. Possibly when graphene is mass produced, then we can conquer the first step of mitigating natural disasters and the man-made disasters of climate change. Secondly, finding geographic locations where the risk of earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions are as low as possible. Though, it may be a moot point if we have the technology to build structures one to two miles high, we may have the technology to create buildings which do not crumble or sustain damage from earthquakes, tsunamis, and are resistant to molten lava.

               Once these buildings are built, the human challenge takes into shape, getting people to live in these new cities, one which I have briefly covered before and is also alluded to in my novel, Within the Grasp of Ordinary. There are a lot of elements which are controversial in getting peoples into the cities, and I’m not advocating for them – even though I thought of them. That is part of being an author, thinking outside of the box even if it does not fit your view/beliefs – you have to be open to new ideas and thoughts, even if they make you uncomfortable. Forcing people from their homes, like what happened in the story’s universe, is uncomfortable and highly unethical, but it occurred under the mantra of saving humanity from itself.

               In Within the Grasp of Ordinary, the mega structures which house humanity have a trade-off. The risk of natural disasters is small as humanity has technology evolved to make structures capable of withstanding disasters, moved away from areas vulnerable to rising sea levels, flood plains, earthquakes, etc. The risk comes from terrorist attacks, where when one Sky City structure is destroyed, the death toll is in the tens of thousands. Putting it bluntly, terrorist attacks like natural disasters will always happen but terrorist attacks right now are easier to prevent or foil through due diligence by law enforcement. Natural disasters aren’t preventable, but we can mitigate our risk by transforming the way we live.

               I’m no expert but I believe the current method within this country of denying climate change and its effects will only make us worse off. Tens of billions of dollars of damage are done every year in property to American cities and families, that’s not mentioning the emotional damage from the loss of loved ones. If we do nothing to change our behavior and mitigate our risk to natural disasters, we are stupid because we have seen countless film reels of destruction hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, etc. Natural disasters will always happen but humanity’s folly does not need to contribute to the innate destructive powers of Mother Nature.

Climate Change, What if we are too late?

               Right now, most scientists predict that 2030 is close to the point of no return, where by then the damage to our polar ice caps and glaciers will be irreversible. The amount of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide and the more damaging methane) are at the highest parts per million in recorded history – though we know Earth had more carbon in earlier stages of development. For an excellent explanation of the effects of greenhouse gasses, here is a paraphrased example from Cosmos. Imagine on a scale of 1-6, the lower number being no greenhouse gases, the planet would be an ice world. At the highest number, Earth would resemble Venus. Either case, life as we know it would not flourish on the world we call home. Right now, Earth was about a 3 on this scale, but we are slowly increasing upwards, a slight increase is probably manageable, but turn the notch up to a 4, 4.5, or 5, who knows dire the effects will really be.

               Currently, there is a good framework offered by the Paris Climate Agreement in cutting back greenhouse gas emissions and generating energy from renewable sources. Under the leadership of one of the most uninformed and curiosity-challenged executives, the United States withdrew from the agreement because it is allegedly hurting America. The argument it is hurting America is bullshit, because climate change will hurt America, it will destabilize other parts of the globe, which will in turn threaten American interests and strain current humanitarian aid, and possibly draw us into more armed conflicts. The point of this writing though isn’t to argue how misguided withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement is, it is to ask the question: What if we are too late in in acting to mitigate the direst effects of climate change?

               If we are too late, it doesn’t mean we should cease efforts to further mitigate climate change. If the sea level rises only ten feet, it is better than twenty feet. If sea levels dramatically rise, the coastlines of all the continents will be altered, some greater than others. Asia will suffer the worse, with tens of millions in low-lying areas, especially in Bangladesh. More islands, some have already disappeared, will be claimed by the sea. There is no telling how many humans may lose their lives – and what kind of economic impact it will have on their nations and the world. Highly populated areas tend to have a higher means of production, and the loss of these areas would be devastating. A lot of clothes Americans wear are manufactured in Bangladesh, Vietnam, and Taiwan, which would be greatly devastated by rising sea levels.

               Millions may die and tens of millions being relocated, especially in a short timeframe, would be devastating to areas not directly impacted by rising sea levels. The infrastructure like accommodations, food, drinking water, electricity demands, healthcare, etc. are something that takes a lot of planning to pull off successfully, and on a short notice there will be dire consequences. The mass relocation of people, without proper planning, will cause further strain on systems which are already under strain, and potentially a catastrophe of epic proportions. There is no guarantee that even a disaster of this scale, caused by climate change, will make the numerous deniers change their thinking or ways. Change is not easy but in terms of grappling with climate change, it will be necessary.

               But what if nothing is done, and we cross the threshold, the point of no return. What will need to be done to save our species? What changes will we have to make to ensure Earth remains the primary home of the human species? What about animals, insects, etc.?

               This is something I’ve thought a lot about, because I wrote close to fifty pages of a backstory exploring the world which led up to my novel’s premise 200 years in the future. In Within the Grasp of Ordinary (the book), the events of the backstory are referenced several times to its main character, David Ross, and the actions he took as In the Night They Came. It is best to describe the events as:

               The many nations of the world have strived to meet their greenhouse gas reductions goals, reduction in pollutants, and renewable energy targets, the polar ice caps, and Greenland ice sheet continue to melt, and sea levels rise. Businessman David Ross, a billionaire (really a secret trillionaire), along with a group of like-minded partners have come up with a plan to save the human species from itself. In remote facilities they begin fabrications of humanities new homes, and the implementation of the world’s biggest migration project. After working their way into the halls of power in the world’s most industrious and mighty nations, David Ross and his group launch the world-wide coup.

Slowly reports begin to air on major television news of the murders of prominent climate change deniers. Then an entire broadcast is dedicated to the construction of massive new structures, reaching a mile or higher into the air, called “Sky Cities”. Most of the parts of these structures have been pre-fabricated and then are erected within three months, and have areas dedicated to businesses, schools, hospitals, homes, gardens, etc. These structures, on top of being durable, are constructed with material which acts like a solar panel and has wind turbines. At first, people voluntarily move into these new Sky Cities which are constructed in metropolitan areas.

Soon though, people from smaller cities, towns, and villages are forcibly relocated into the expanding number of skyscrapers. A second revolution begins, as the smaller population areas are relocated, the old places of human habitation are demolished. In some cases, Mother Nature is allowed to reclaim the land. In other cases, the massive hydroponic farms are created to feed the population with fresh produce. In labs, genetically-modified animal fats have been used to create “meat” which tastes, smells, and cooks like meat from an animal. Our dependence on massive number of cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys, etc., which only help exacerbate our greenhouse gases problems (mostly by methane emissions), is eliminated.

The third step in David Ross’s plan is the final relocation of the world’s big cities. Over a twenty-year period, billions of people are relocated from millions of villages, towns, cities, into 200 metropolitans consisting entirely of Sky Cities. There is space between each structure, the ground level serving as areas for recreation, open space, etc. The need for cars has been eliminated with public transportation available from structure to structure and from one metropolitan area to the next. A drastic change in the way humanity lives has occurred, and it wouldn’t be our first. Initially we were all hunter-gathers, slowly coalescing into villages with the development of agriculture. Since the start of the Industrial Revolution, we have formed denser and highly populated cities, most of the world’s population now lives in areas urban areas. David Ross’s vision is fiction but one which while science fiction, may someday become science fact.

The plan I imagined is fictional and I am aware of the very high cost it asks of people, uprooting their lives, often at gun point. Several characters in the story, Within the Grasp of Ordinary, and the in the works sequel, reference the enormous costs and tragic consequences. In this fictional universe, the defenders of Ross’s actions argue the end (humanity saving itself from climate change) justifies the means (brutal relocation, planetary exiles, etc.). In the real world, the result rarely justifies the means and I think we need to act now to prevent the worst possibilities of climate change. The Green New Deal, and Paris Climate Accord may not be enough, but it is better to aim for the stars than not to even try at all.

The Youthful Inexperienced Fallacy

              There is nothing wrong with a person’s age. Whenever a younger person as an opinion, or takes a stance, there is criticism about the person’s age. Yes, young people make mistakes, they can be naïve, ambitious, foolhardy, and full of themselves, but so can everybody else. The consensus is the older one gets, the wiser one acts, this isn’t always the case as witnessed the numerous politicians, their elderly supporters, and those who constantly bash millennials and post-millennials as being lazy, entitled, naïve, full of themselves, and lacking experience in the real world.

                Some of the three youngest heroes of the American Revolutionary War are John Laurens, son of Henry Laurens, who was in the Continental Congress and later its President. Next is Alexander Hamilton, and then Layfette, all of them in their late teens until mid-twenties from the start to end of the war. Though the life expectancy of people was a lot lower then, and norms way different than today, it does not change the fact that three young people were very fundamental in serving General Washington as aides, advisers, and field commanders in winning the war. They were surrogate sons who made up the military family of the commander and chief, and their opinions were valued.

               Shortly after the Parkland school shooting, a common criticism lobed against those who spoke up is they were young teenagers who knew nothing about the world. Yes, it is a common complaint about younger generations, they are ignorant, they don’t have much experience in the world and how it works, and so forth. In their defense, we were all teenagers once, and our dreams reached for the stars. We do grow up and see our dreams tempered by setbacks, by whose who wish for us to fail, and because the economy and great game of life has been stacked in favor of the rich and those who are already in power.

               The young people of today have the most to lose from inaction taken by politicians and business leaders who currently control the halls of power. Climate change is the biggest challenge, one which a lot of older people seem to ignore. The world is certainly changing, and yes it has always gone through periods of change, but the rate of change is something we have never experienced before. Younger people are pushing businesses to be more aware of their environmental impacts, and businesses have responded by launching recycling initiatives, redesigns of products to use less plastic, and making products from alternative energy sources like wind and solar. The green revolution is still young, but AOC’s Green New Deal is promising because it will not only help Americans in trying to stave off the direst effects of climate change, it will create a lot of new jobs. Green energy employs more people than coal, which even without the expansion of alternative energy was losing jobs.

               The millennial and post-millennial generations are not only trying to save America (and humanity) from climate change, but from the massive income inequality. There will always be income inequality, the top echelon of management will always make more than the lowest worker, however it doesn’t need to be a massive 300 times more. The young people of today overwhelmingly support legislation which will help restore the top rates to closer to the times when the government invested money into policies which made life better for people. Higher tax rates in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s allowed for expansion of Medicaid and Medicare, the Interstate Highway System, the Space Program, and research and development of other technologies, leading to arguably one of the most important: The Internet.

               The youth of the nation is important and there is a dire need to make sure the current and future generations are well served by a government that cares for their wellbeing. Everybody deserves the chance to go to school and succeed, to progress to technical schools or universities free of cost. Everybody deserves affordable healthcare for themselves and their children, and should not have to worry about missing a day of work and pay for calling in to care for a child, and elderly parent, or themselves.

               I don’t think youth and the perceived lack of experience from youth is as bad as people make it out to be. I believe by being young, you aren’t exactly set in stone about how things operate, how things have always been done, you are willing to try new things. In America, the youngest president we have ever elected was JFK at 42, and before him, Teddy Roosevelt was 43 – though he wasn’t elected president until he was older (he became President on McKinley’s death). Currently Mayor Paul Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana is running for President in the 2020 cycle, he is 37. Sure, there have been other young contenders like William Jennings Bryan aged 36 in 1896, and Al Gore aged 39 in 1988. Age isn’t everything and the way the baby boomers have run America since acquiring power, really makes me believe we need the millennials in power to help save the country and the world.

More than Science Fiction

What do you think of when somebody says science fiction? Do you instantly think of ships in space, space battles, far away planets and all that jazz? I once had the privilege to attend a hand-selected workshop with an award-winning author from Kansas who has written numerous short stories and non-fiction work.  The author requested a longer submission, approximately 10,000 words, give or take a little if there would be an unnatural ending point. I combed through what I had written and corrected obvious mistakes and submitted the work. A total of three other students were selected in this process, all of whom I remain good friends and in touch with.

After two weeks, the author from Kansas arrived on campus and we had our one on one sit downs. My first friend, an older non-traditional student, ended up taking over two hours in her meeting, and would have been longer had the Department Chair who organized this and selected us not intervened. I was up next and went in and immediately was red with fury but bit my tongue. The guest of honor admitted he did not like science fiction and wasn’t really drawn into a first-person narrative. When submitting the work, I described it as a coming of age, political thriller set in a science fiction environment. I tried to steer the conversation towards thoughts on character development, the story so far and didn’t get much except he didn’t trust the narration of the characters (which is one of the points of first person narration).

I politely endured the hour-long one-on-one because I thought I would gain insight but instead mostly heard him talk down science fiction and say it needed to be more grounded. There is one positive from this awful experience, I changed the prologue’s narration from one character, Philip, to his mother.

Science fiction lets writers explore contemporary issues in a different setting. The re-imagined Battlestar Galactic is more than about the last vestiges of humanity of trying to find Earth, it was a critique of the post-9/11 world and insurgencies where the supposed enemy looks and acts like us. Star Trek the Original Series is more than exploring new worlds and civilizations, it is about bringing together humanity (a mixed cast and other ground-breaking norms for the time).

If the award-winning author took time to read my submission without prejudging it, he would have seen the prologue and first three chapters are about family strife. Philip’s father is away at Mars and in command of bringing an end to a rebellion / insurgency movement (based upon my coming of age of Iraq). Nathan’s father, a Senator is running for President. Tristan, Philip’s best friend, has recently lost his father in a boating accident, which has also scared Nathan and Philip.

The science fiction environment allows for a more open story, one which is unconstrained by traditional environments. Imagine trying to write a story about the effects of not combating climate change in set in the 1970s. Very few people know about climate change in this environment. Or a more current, every day topic, writing about a corrupt, criminal chief executive in the current environment of the second decade of the 21st century.

Why does science fiction explore the past in a futuristic setting? I believe it because there will always be timeless issues which need to be explored and discussed – dysfunctional families, the rise and fall of politicians, independence movements, terrorist organizations, insurgencies, the desire to explore new worlds and star systems, espionage and grappling with right and wrong.