The Speed of Change


A couple weeks ago I was watching a YouTube video called “The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz“. The opening scenes says:
Unjust Laws exist;

Shall we be content to obey them or shall we endeavour to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded,

or shall we transgress them at once?

Pretty anarchic stuff! Well, I’m firmly in the first camp, obey the laws but endeavour to amend them, if doing so could improve the life of Society.

This reminds me of the Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr: –

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

What this post is about is that I firmly believe that the world and it’s people are at a stage of intelligence, thoughtfulness, consideration of the views of others and empathy, to create a proper, legitimate, mechanism for considering proposed changes and, for, trialling and implementing, those changes, if it is decided by all interested parties to do so.

Facilitating change could be through the courts, it could be through open debate. It is likely to involve both. The courts of the Western World, desperately now need to move firmly into the 21st Century and make themselves available to a more open and free Society, with diverse views. Views which impact this Society. The courts should not now strictly adhere to archaic, less grey (indeed less colourful), purely black and white matters of right and wrong. As important as those matters always will be.

John McAfee, the founder of McAfee Inc, the Anti-virus software company says that “the technology that we as citizens get to play with is generally fifteen years behind the military . . ” Well, that’s a sweeping statement, but it does indicate that some technology, at least, is withheld. We know, for example, that in 2000 Bill Clinton paved the way for civilians to use GPS with the same accuracy as the military had long enjoyed. My point here is that this would have been a conscious decision by the President and his military advisors, and it begs the question, were other interested parties, outside of the military, involved in this decision? My thoughts are that yes, other interested parties ought to be involved but, in this instance, the debate ought to be carried out behind closed doors. In that way, if the decision is made not to release military technology then it stays behind closed doors. This would involve the “other interested parties” having to sign some sort of non-disclosure clause, from the outset of discussions.

Around fifteen years ago I downloaded a video, via RealPlayer, that showed a Chinese man standing on a street corner wearing an “invisibility” coat. You could see, although hazily, the traffic moving along behind him, through the coat. The text accompanying the video briefly explained how it worked. Basically, the material was covered in little cameras and little screens. So whatever was show on one side was projected on the opposite side. Something similar is shown on the Daily Mail Website, “Gone in less than 60 seconds!” If I wasn’t able to find the Daily Mail article then I wouldn’t have alluded to it. People have short memories and maybe this particular technology is best kept secret. This cloaking technology won’t elude radar. Anyway, my point, again, is that although I am unable to find reference to the invisibility coat on the web I would guess that it has been hushed up. Would this have been a purely military decision or would it have involved others?

Also around fifteen years back, there was an article in the newspapers showing a “flying saucer” designed by some people in the UK. The article only mentioned that there did not appear to be any mirrors or any other trickery involved and that the device appeared to actually be flying, a foot or two above the ground. I have not been able to find any reference to this on the internet. But I do find all sorts of other wacky flying saucer stories. Even British Rail were experimenting with Flying Saucers at one point. So, was the technology that was shown in the newspaper article on the flying saucer that I saw, squirreled away for military use? I ask because just a few years ago gravity waves were detected, for the first time and one wonders if there is likely to be any technological spin-off associated with this. This is my main reason for including this post under the ‘Space Flight’ category.

On 14th December 2015 LIGO, the Laser, Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory, in Livingstone, Louisiana and Hanford, Washington, Gravitational Waves were detected for the first time, which were caused by the tremendous energy of two merging black holes, a billion light years away. This was just over 100 years after the first publication of Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. The General Theory, in a way, predicted the possible existence of Gravitational Waves.

According to Christophe Galfard, in his book ‘The Universe in Your Hand’, in 1951 French Physicist and Mathematician Yvonne Choquet-Bruhat, told Einstein that he was right, Gravitational Waves, ought to exist. But many people, Arthur Eddington, Hermann Weyl, etc all contributed to this theory of Gravitational Waves, over the years. LIGO had a difficult birth, because it was such a huge project costing tens, of millions of dollars. LIGO was first proposed back in the 1970s by such luminaries as the Physicist Kip Thorne, from Caltech. Indeed their work has been recognised by the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics.

Prof Kip Thorne at California Institute of Technology

Returning to the theme of ‘The Speed of Change’ the last century, or so, is packed with the movers and shakers of our world. So I shall talk a little about some of these people and their trials to make the world a better place and maybe summarise, what I believe may be a possible mechanism or the world to debate, facilitate and implement great change.

(1) William Wilberforce. Up until the middle of the nineteenth century, much of Britain’s wealth depended on the slave trade, and the work done by slaves. William Wilberforce had a real fight on his hands, both with the authorities, and with the dealers in slaves, in order get slavery abolished. My feelings here are best summed up by a letter to William Wilberforce from, his friend the founder of the Methodist Church, John Wesley:
“Dear Sir:
Unless the divine power has raised you up to be as Athanasius contra mundum, I see not how you can go through your glorious enterprise in opposing that execrable villainy which is the scandal of religion, of England, and of human nature. Unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils. But if God be for you, who can be against you? Are all of them together stronger than God? O be not weary of well doing! Go on, in the name of God and in the power of his might, till even American slavery (the vilest that ever saw the sun) shall vanish away before it. . . . .”
Indeed the American Civil War started because of uncompromising differences between the free and slave states over the power of the national government to prohibit slavery in the territories that had not yet become states.

(2) Henry Moseley. I include Henry Mosely for two reasons, firstly he lived just over 100 years ago and secondly he wasn’t himself a controversial figure, but the way that he was signed up to go and fight in a stupid war by the short-sighted authorities is controversial. So not a controversial person but his early death in WW1 made the authorities begin to re-think just who they sent to their deaths. Isaac Asimov wrote, “In view of what he might still have accomplished, his death might well have been the most costly single death of the War to mankind generally.” After much lobbying by Ernest Rutherford, the British government instituted a policy of no longer allowing its prominent and promising scientists to enlist for combat duty in the armed forces of the Crown. So another mover and shaker, Earnest Rutherford managed to persuade the powers-that-be to look to its drafting policy. But, the clue to his difficulty in doing so is in the Wikipedia contributor’s use of the term “after much lobbying”.

(3) Nelson Mandela. You can read about Nelson Mandela and the history of South Africa, over the last two hundred years, elsewhere. This is key though, because it would be unthinkable nowadays for one race of people to dominate a country and so subjugate the indigenous population as to make them second class citizens. Now, in the present time, reaching the first quarter of the 21st century, I like to think, we would consider other people’s point of view, especially if it involved tens of thousands of them.

(4) Emmeline Pankhurst. There is a link there to an article about Prime Minister Theresa Mays backing of an honour for Emmeline Pankhurst, the leader of the Suffragette movement at the turn of the twentieth century. Yet it is Millicent Fawcett, who distanced herself from the “militant and violent activities of the Pankhursts“, that is to have a statue in Parliament Square, in London. So which of these ladies created the most change? I think that Millicent Fawcett would not have met with the success that she had, if not for the activities of Emmeline Pankhurst. Yet MF is definitely getting a statue and EP is being “considered” for an honour, whatever that means. We need a Society, a hundred years on from the suffragettes, that is more open to change and more willing to consider it, through appropriate mechanisms. I think after 100 years the authorities (which now includes a large number of powerful women) should forgive and forget and not judge, even if sub-consciously, in this way the efforts of Emmeline Pankhurst and the Suffragette movement.

(5) Prince William. The i-newspaper and the Guardian reported, September 20th 2017, that Prince William was talking to some recovering drug-users and suggested that perhaps we could legalise drugs. This idea comes around again and again. Sure, taking hard drugs is bad for your health. Let’s look at the reasons why it would be a good idea, to legalise drugs. Well, firstly it would bring drug use out into the open. So users of drugs could be better monitored. There wouldn’t be the turf wars between suppliers of drugs, as the whole production and supply of drugs, could also be monitored, if that was made legal. Morally, this is probably wrong. Society cannot be seen to be condoning or even encouraging drug use. But isn’t that the same with cigarettes now? Every packet contains a health warning, there are advertisements on the hoardings detailing the health-destroying properties of smoking, and it works. Less people smoke nowadays. Controversial, I know but many prostitutes are controlled by pimps supplying them with drugs. Drug use amongst prostitutes would reduce if these poor women were better able to obtain counselling and a legal, regulated, supply of drugs, so that they could be weaned off of them.

As I say, the notion of legalising, so called ‘recreational’ drugs is visited time and again. But, now that we are a more “thinking” society, we need to once again re-visit this highly-controversial subject and assess whether the benefits, to Society as a whole, out-weight the disadvantages. The caveat ought to be though, that users couldn’t just be supplied in some sort of willy nilly, laissez-faire manner. Otherwise lots of youngsters would be ‘trying’ them, and my understanding of crack-cocain, for example, is that you only need to take it a few times to get addicted. So, some form of regulation/ prescription would be necessary. That way the users could be monitored, regulated and assisted. Courageous of Prince William to take up the baton all the same 😉

(6) Nikola Tesla. Nikola Tesla, as far as I know, didn’t actually do anything illegal, but he did ruffle a few feathers. He was one of the greatest movers and shakers of all time. Largely because he was so hard-working and so radical in his designs and innovations that he created. He did get us all to use an alternating current electricity supply, instead of direct current. He had a devil of a job to get acceptance for this, even though it was the only sensible and practical method to transmit electrical power. He also, apparently, managed to transmit electrical energy wire-lessly. An off-shoot of which was supposedly some sort of device for stopping the engines of aircraft. So this, if it existed, will have been hushed-up.
But there was just no mechanism in place in his day for his methods to gain acceptance. The decisions were all made by business people, who had their own interests, and there was no representative group of end-users, just Tesla himself.

The armature is caused to rotate, mechanically, by some means (wind, hydraulics, steam turbine or whatever), between the poles of a magnet, and creates an electric current. The huge generators employed in power stations haven’t changed much in design since Tesla first created them.
Where do We Go from Here?

Of course there are many, many more people who have tried to change things for the better, which just emphasises my point that it is about time that there are more streamlined mechanisms for doing so.
Most people don’t like ‘change’, per se. Unless it is some sort of exotic holiday, or new experience, in which case they are able to return to their tried and tested way of living afterwards. So much change is happening in the world, on a day-to-day basis, that no one person could possibly be aware of all important changes anyway.
In the USA there is Congress, and in the UK there is the House of Lords. Both of these institutions are involved in law making. I guess they take advice from technical and legal advisors. Perhaps they do their best, perhaps they should get more input from people affected by proposed changes. I still think that their methods could do with an overhaul. Perhaps the Lords and Congress should be more involved in final decisions and that the proposers of change ought to do most of the leg-work and get their proposals into a suitable form for consideration. There ought to be communication with affected groups of people so that their representatives could attend such decision-making meetings, and have their say. And the outcome doesn’t need to be “yes” or “no”. It can be “yes but” or it could be, “we need more information on such and such.” The amount of resources employed, in processing change, would need to be more.

As I say, current systems are archaic and were neither designed, or are large enough, to cope with the masses of changes, revamps and reforms that are needed in today’s world.

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