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View from the Edge

Peter Riva of Gila has offered his many years of columns for this online newspaper. His writings have been published in East Coast newspapers, and he decided to share them with the Beat and you, our readers.

The Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres Global, is hardly ever heard from. He’s a bureaucrat and quite a calm individual.  That’s why it was somewhat of a surprise, mid-summer, to have him issue a global threat warning. For months he has been gathering data and input from offices of the UN in almost every country. And, because the UN’s Environment Programme has scientist friends in the USA government (even if those same scientists are now gagged by this Administration’s efforts to roll back any climate regulations) he was able to get real USA data from NASA and NOAA and otherwise silenced EPA scientists to confirm his fears and other countries’ data and worries.

Being a calm man, his warning was equally sanguine: Spotlighting global geopolitical hotspots, he affirmed that sudden global warming is causing rising political tensions that are dangerous and avoidable. Adding, that while there have always been hot summers, this is “not the summer of our youth,” but a climate emergency.

Like with most things, if you keep an eye on the most advanced processes and product, you can better plan for the future. You watch cooking shows to advance your knowledge even if, currently, some of those skills and tastes are a bit ahead of where you are. You watch NASCAR or Formula 1 even through the thought of reprogramming your car’s computer sends you into a sweat. Why do we want to know about things we can’t currently do? Because only by learning what’s to come can we plan for our own future or enjoyment.

Most of space and aviation innovation pushes the boundaries of what’s technologically possible. We went to the Moon with computers that today’s school calculators surpass in speed, ability and programming. Silly, lazy, journalists said that the Apollo program gave us Velcro and the heat-capable nose cone of the Saturn 5 rocket (material used in Corning Ware). The truth is, Apollo changed every single job on the planet from computers, to CT scans, to synthetic materials, to programming, to fuel changes, to the windscreen on every car (to name but a very few). 

Imagine if that car you bought was over 3 years old and you went to the dealer and they told you, “We no longer will service that model, it is too old, you should upgrade to a newer model.” And what if they then frog marched you over to the newer models and told you that unless you bought one of them, you’d have no car to drive any moment now? Where would your loyalty be to that car manufacturer? Out the window.

Speaking of Windows... It’s even worse than that. And in case all you Apple people are chuckling, think again. All new Apple software is built on Unix (which was a derivative of the original government-paid for IBM DOS software that Microsoft and others freely re-branded as theirs). The loopholes, backdoors and patches to Unix make a hand-sewn quilt look like child’s play. All these computers are, to again use the car metaphor, an accident waiting to happen. And when the accident happens you will get blamed... manufacturer product liability for computers is completely legislated against the end user. It is always the user’s fault, even if the wheels fall off or the highway you use has any bumps in the road at all. In fact, the only way to get a computer company to accept liability is for you to buy a new computer and never turn it on. That’s the only condition in which Apple or Microsoft based hardware purveyors will accept that you are not solely responsible. What, you accessed something on the Internet? Your fault. You opened an email? Your fault. You imported a photo from your phone? Your fault. You bought software not made by Microsoft? Your fault if Microsoft crashes.

Some reading this will remember when Berlin was a divided city. The western sector, part of free Germany was surrounded by the GDR or communist Germany controlled as part of the USSR. The industry around West Berlin burned coal, oil and, generally, polluted the air and water. West Berliners were trapped. Their main park, the Tiergarten, had the Berlin Wall running partway through it and what was left had Hitler’s bunker and other WWII constructions ruining its pastoral splendor.

What was Berlin to do? Its people had to fight back against the pollution surrounding them. The solution? Parks, hundreds and hundreds of them. Every street intersection, every triangle of open land was turned into part of the municipal park system. Trees were planted, grass was planted. In the end, West Berlin had a park system that, in acreage, rivalled Manhattan, and some of these parks were triangles less than 15’ on a side. Did it work? Yes. I had occasion to be in both east and west and east in ‘66 was far more polluted. Even in 1992, after reunification, coal burning in the east continued and the smog was considerable—but the west? Those hundreds of small parks kept the air cleaner, breathable.

The Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres Global, is hardly ever heard from. He’s a bureaucrat and quite a calm individual.  That’s why it was somewhat of a surprise, mid-summer, to have him issue a global threat warning. For months he has been gathering data and input from offices of the UN in almost every country. And, because the UN’s Environment Programme has scientist friends in the USA government (even if those same scientists are now gagged by this Administration’s efforts to roll back any climate regulations) he was able to get real USA data from NASA and NOAA and otherwise silenced EPA scientists to confirm his fears and other countries’ data and worries.

Most Americans may not know what the Skunk Works are. A division of Lockheed set up after WWII, headed by the genius Kelly Johnson, the Skunk Works was named after the comic strip, "Li'l Abner," in which there was a running joke about a mysterious and malodorous place deep in the forest called the "Skonk Works."

At a 1969 gathering at NASA Hq. in DC two weeks before the launch of Apollo 11, dignitaries met to celebrate the impending historic event that George Bush Sr. would later call the greatest advancement of science since DaVinci’s journals. At the gathering was Arthur C. Clarke (he of the geosynchronous orbit invention and Sci-Fi book fame) and Brian Duff, the Public Affairs Officer (PAO) for NASA. Arthur told me this story that Brian Duff later confirmed when he was PAO at the Air & Space Museum for an opening of never-before seen space images I held there in 1985 called “Sightseeing.”

Some reading this will remember when Berlin was a divided city. The western sector, part of free Germany was surrounded by the GDR or communist Germany controlled as part of the USSR. The industry around West Berlin burned coal, oil and, generally, polluted the air and water. West Berliners were trapped. Their main park, the Tiergarten, had the Berlin Wall running partway through it and what was left had Hitler’s bunker and other WWII constructions ruining its pastoral splendor.

20190414