A Tour of the Solar System

Part of 2100 CE.

“For as long as humanity has looked to the stars to expand its reach, man has dreamt of ways to shape other worlds in our own image, a process called Terraforming—quite literally, ‘earth shaping,’” Walter Elias Disney said, “and for that reason, it has been the stuff of science fiction—until now.  Experimentation first began in the twentieth century with projects like Biosphere 2 in the American southwest or the BIOS-3 project in central Russia.”  The screen images of glass-ceiling buildings that looked like gigantic greenhouses.  “These proofs-of-concept demonstrated mankind’s ability to harness the power of nature for his needs.”  The screen at the front of the classroom changed to distant view of the red sphere of Mars.  “When humans first set foot on the red planet, we immediately began the process of adapting our environment to our needs.”  The image changed again to a room of people looking at a three-dimensional holographic image of a Martian city.  “Disney Imagineers were the first to propose a viable way of covering parts of Valles Marineris in order to create an enclosed habitat where the earliest Martian inhabitants may live free from the sandstorms that plague the planet.”

            Someone yawned loudly in the darkness of the seventh-grade classroom, a sentiment echoed by others throughout the video lecture and even the teaching assistant in charge of the classroom today.  The novelty of space settlement had worn off for most second and third-generation space residents, but to Laelyana Taylor, nothing could have been more interesting.  She and her family had emigrated from Earth when she was two years old, undergoing the months’ long voyage across interplanetary space.  Among her earliest memories were seeing the colonies in high Mars orbit under construction, red and green running lights outlining their enormous cylindrical silhouettes against the darkness of space.  Now, whenever Laelyana looked up towards the sky panels of Tsavo, her mind’s eye would trace imaginary interplanetary trajectories, the sketches of her dream to travel the solar system and see its wonders.

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Laika’s Revenge, Pt. 2

Part of 2100 CE.

Continues from Part 1.

By placing Laika station in polar orbit, DESS provoked a conflict with national powers meant to define the Directorate’s place on the world’s stage. Although officially under the auspices of the international confederation mandated by the Treaty of Reykjavik, as the only major international agency in outer space, DESS effectively operated independent of authorities on earth. With three orbiting bases from which to monitor traffic coming and leaving the Earth, it was feared that DESS would create a toll”pay-to-play” system for travel into orbit, particularly after DESS was tasked with providing customs services for the space colonies and the moon. For the superpowers on Earth in particular, this represented a veritable infringement of sovereignty, and there were many who questioned at what height national airspace terminated and therefore whether or not Laika violated that airspace, with the most hawkish among them suggesting the use of nuclear warheads to destroy the asteroid. Before any such drastic action could be taken, DESS once more demonstrated its ability to manage public opinion in its favor. The Directorate took great pains to demonstrate to representatives from the major powers the civilian nature of operations taking place on each of the stations, all the while citing figures which correlated a decrease in space traffic collisions and near-hits with the installation of the space traffic control stations and expanded communications arrays on the three stations. Combined with a social media campaign meant to display the wonders of the earth and space captured via cameras and instruments housed aboard Laika, Dess, and Nyphthys, the complaints were lost with time, and DESS established itself a global power.

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Laika’s Revenge

Part of 2100 CE.

It was a frigid day 31 October 1957 in the Tyuratam region of Kazakhstan, but the engineers and scientists assembled at the launch site that day hardly noticed the cold. Their attention was fixed on the rocket Sputnik-2 and its capsule; a copy of the more-famous Sputnik-1 satellite that had beeped its way into the Eisenhower administration’s nightmares, this second Sputnik was modified to carry a passenger. The first non-microbial life to enter outer space was not human, but was instead man’s best friend, a dog. Her name was ‘Laika’ (Russian Лайка, “barker”) and until a few months prior she had been just one of many stray dogs living on the streets of Moscow. After undergoing weeks of training meant to test primarily for psychological dexterity under extreme stress, Laika was selected as the primary candidate for spaceflight, with a second dog as her backup and a third as a control. She took her final walk and was placed in the capsule on 31 October, tethered to the inside of the capsule by chains attached to a harness she wore, giving her enough mobility to stand, sit, and lie down, but little more. She remained in the craft in this manner until the launch day of 3 November as both a final evaluation of Laika’s ability to handle stress and to give Soviet scientists enough time to correct for errors found in the rocket and its systems. During that time, Laika remained under the care of handler-technicians who looked after her, the spacecraft then being on the ground and the capsule still open to the air. At about 1 a.m. on November 3rd, Laika was secured one last time and the capsule was lifted to the nose of the rocket, where she awaited her voyage to orbit, all the while her handlers providing her freezing capsule with warm air fed via a hose until moments before takeoff. It was a small attempt to make her final minutes on Earth comfortable; handler and technician Yevgeniy Shabarov recounted that “after placing Laika in the container and before closing the hatch, we kissed her nose and wished her bon voyage, knowing that she would not survive the flight.”

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Confirmation Bias

con·fir·ma·tion /ˌkänfərˈmāSH(ə)n/ n : the action of confirming something or the state of being confirmed.

bi·as /ˈbīəs/ n : 1. prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair; 2. a concentration on or interest in one particular area or subject; 3. a systematic distortion of a statistical result due to a factor not allowed for in its derivation.

con·fir·ma·tion bi·as /ˌkänfərˈmāSH(ə)n ˈbīəs/ n : The tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one’s existing beliefs or theories.

10 Uncomfortable Statements that Need Retelling

1. The removal and subjugation of Native Americans from 1812-1924 would today qualify as “ethnic genocide.”

2. The first police departments in the United States were created to capture escaped slaves.

3. The American Civil War was fought over slavery: The South was fighting for the right to preserve their way of life, which was premised on the economic benefits of keeping others in bondage, i.e. slavery.

4. Iraq was not involved in 9/11 and did not have weapons of mass destruction in 2002-3.

5. News media is not hyping anti-police sentiment: The police’s actions are simply under greater scrutiny by the public because of advances in mass communication (i.e. the internet), the effect of which most police and certain elements within society do not like.

6. Confederate flags are technically illegal to fly under U.S. Federal law since they literally represent a group in rebellion against the United States of America, but ironically most people who display these flags today consider themselves “patriots.”

7. Monuments to the Confederate cause are inherently white supremacist in character because they memorialize the sacrifice made by some Americans for the preservation of the Southern economy, i.e. slavery. Most were erected following Reconstruction in the context of freed African-Americans being subjected to continuing, normalized oppression via social abuse (e.g. racial discrimination, vigilantism, lynchings) and state-sanctioned abuse (e.g. Jim Crow laws, the criminal conviction exclusions clause in Section 1 of the 13th Amendment).

8. A U.S. flag with a blue line across it or a red line across it or rendered in black-and-white – and other such variations of the flag – are technically illegal under U.S. Flag Code as they constitute a desecration of the flag and by extension the republic for which it stands, but ironically most people who display these variations of the flag consider themselves “patriots.”

9. Public housing and Native American reservations function as socioeconomic ghettos, receiving little and diminishing state assistance over the course of a few generations until eventually becoming abandoned (“slums”) or absorbed by the area around it (“gentrification”). Economic conditions further “price out” these communities such that they can no longer afford to repair or stabilize their own communities internally, rendering all such efforts fruitless without aid from wealthy donors or the state.

10. Public policy in a capitalist society will naturally tend towards diminishing investment in public programs, forcing individuals to become more reliant on personal economic means. Those lacking economic means beyond a certain and increasingly expensive threshold will be incapable of providing for themselves, thus requiring public assistance, which itself continues to diminish in potency. The effect of being incapable of reaching the aforementioned threshold of viable economic independence compounds with time; those people and communities which have historically been economically underprivileged will continue to become further incapable of achieving viable economic independence, while those who are “on the fence” will continue to face the prospect of falling below that threshold as its conditions become increasingly untenable. In a society which measures success based on economic stability, those individuals or communities incapable of maintaining viable economic independence will, in time, become social pariahs.

To an American minister

There can be no argument now that the rising tide of fascist and white supremacist ideology in this country has reached a tipping point. In Charlottesville it was the Alt-Right, in El Paso a lone gunman, and in Oregon the Proud Boys – add to this a recent string of foiled mass-shootings, and it would be impossible to argue that the political far right has not escalated the conflicts in this country. Historically when the far right has sought political power, it has done so primarily via violence, and although the same can most certainly be said for elements of the far left, there has only briefly been a radical far left in this country who viewed violence as a means to an end. The era of the Weather Underground is gone, but never has the era of the Ku Klux Klan or white supremacy been snuffed out in the United States, from Jim Crow to Oklahoma City to a Walmart in El Paso. A literal civil war was not sufficient to exorcise these elements from society, evidenced not by monuments to the failed Southern rebellion, but the actions of individuals like Timothy McVey and the numerous perpetrators of the church, synagogue, and mosque shootings in the past three years. A resurgence of xenophobia now combines the worst elements of racism with the empowering elements of political rhetoric – and in this country, political rhetoric echos in church sanctuaries.

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The Twelfth Epistle to John

When you approach the New Testament – and the Bible as a whole – as though it were a single text, implicit to that approach is a belief in an ahistorical unity of composition, as though the individual books were written with the intention of becoming a single volume. But this was not the case, and as the individual books of the New Testament were being written, there is absolutely no evidence that there was any thought given to compiling them into a single volume. That single volume was assembled by others, centuries later, and in response to very specific and particular historical conditions – to say nothing of the fact that the texts were then edited to agree with one another doctrinally. One glaring example of this comes from the very opening lines of the Gospel of Mark, which in later versions of the text have the words υἱοῦ θεοῦ (“son of God”) added. These are notably missing from our earliest extant copy of Mark, the Codex Sinaiticus, which anyone can verify online.

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The Core Message

It was represented to me that in my approach to the New Testament gospels I was missing the “core message,” and in the process I was seemingly denying the central tenant of Christianity, namely that Jesus is God. Although certainly central to Christian faith today, the notion that Jesus is God – that he was always and will forever be God – was not always quite so simple. Although it is evident that Christians believe Jesus is now God, there was at one point in time an extensive debate regarding the relationship between God and Jesus, a debate which ultimately culminated in the doctrine of the Trinity.

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The Eleventh Epistle to John

Historical analysis is not a judgement of truth. It is a judgement of fact, which is expressly different from the concept of truth. Simply because I am interested in exploring the larger historical context of the Bible in order to better understand Jesus, his followers, the community of believers, what they believed, the texts, the authors, etc., is explicitly not the same thing as avoiding its core message. I must reiterate that what you interpret as the core message in scripture is not necessarily the same core message that all other Christians interpret. This is even true today, with each “non-denomination” and denomination having its own emphasis of faith, taking conflicting stances among themselves on matters some find central to their beliefs. For example, how do you feel about the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s stance permitting same-sex marriage and the ordination of members of the LGBTQ community? There is clearly a question here about defiance of Law, as is often cited from the Old Testament. Do you think this means that PC(USA) is an illegitimate form of Christianity?

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The Tenth Epistle to John

On the webpage you sent to me, it states the following regarding Aramaic primacy: “Textual scholars have examined the Peshitta and found clear evidence of influence from later translations. The dialect used in the Peshitta is from a later time period than that of Jesus and His disciples.”  This is a fact, but it entirely ignores the fact that the earliest texts we have of the New Testament are dated precisely on the same methods they are using to criticize the Peshitta.  Both the conclusion that the earliest preserved fragments of the New Testament are dated to the 2nd-3rd Centuries and that the dialect of Aramaic used in the Peshitta does not match that spoken by Jesus and his followers is based entirely on the study of handwriting styles.

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