The Fermi Paradox

Posted May 19, 2019 by tomfudge
Categories: Uncategorized

I was a sophomore in high school in my hometown in Iowa when Mr. Malcolm, my English teacher, was talking about writing fiction and explained why, despite the many stories about them, nobody will really ever build a time machine.

If people, some day, will be able to go back in time, why haven’t we met any visitors from the future?

I call it the Mr. Malcolm paradox. Or I have, ever since I read a book by David Brin called Existence, which introduced me to the Fermi Paradox. Like many books of science fiction Existence examined the possibility of life on other planets and the possibility that we may encounter it.

Enrico Fermi

Enrico Fermi was a great physicist who – the story goes – was discussing the possibility of extraterrestrial life with colleagues when he said… if alien races exist, “Where are they?” His larger question was this: If there is life on other planets, and interstellar travel is possible, we should have been visited by these space travelers long ago and probably more than once. We would have at least encountered their probes.

And yet, we have only the great silence of the cosmos.

Given the vastness of space and of time, any reasonable person must agree that there is other life out there. The vast nature of time tells us there’s a very good chance that other intelligent life was spawned much earlier than ours, possibly by millions of years.  Therefore they’ve had a lot more time than us to develop science and technology that would allow interstellar travel… if such a thing is possible.

Is it possible? All we know is so far is there ain’t no ET’s knocking on the door or calling us on the phone.

Of course, the physical realities that hold back space travel have no grip on our imaginations. We got to the moon so why not go further? Science fiction has created warp speed and “worm holes” that will allow us to bust through space at rates that will get us from here to there. In Star Trek and the like, humans and their galactic cousins are out there exploring the universe, colonizing other planets and forming political alliances with other groups of beings. But any reality check brings us back down to earth in more ways than one.

And it brings us back to the Fermi Paradox. What makes us think we can get there if they can’t get here? And as far as we know they never have.

It is possible that life, that’s evolved to the level of human thought, is extremely rare. It is possible that the distances between the stars and their planetary systems are so great it’s simply impossible for anything but light to travel that far.

Existence also offers the theory that there is a kind of “filter” that human-like races must pass through to continue thriving, innovating and surviving. Call it the nuclear bomb problem. The advance of human technology ultimately reaches that point where people have the ability to annihilate themselves or destroy their planet’s environment. That reduces even more the number of planets that harbor intelligent life because not all civilizations make it through the filter.

This stuff must be pretty depressing to a lot of people. The stars we see in the sky will never be places we visit. Space may be the final frontier but it’s one we’ll never really get to.

Maybe one answer to this dilemma is faith.

Faith in God allows us to believe there is a supreme intelligence in the universe that we can know and understand. There are people who have a similar faith in progress, which allows them to believe we will explore new civilizations and boldly go where no one has gone before, even if the evidence suggests otherwise.

Existence ends with the creation of a manned telescope in the far reaches of our solar system, which is much more powerful than any telescope we’ve ever seen. Even if we can’t travel to the stars, we can keep looking at them and learning and wondering. Maybe that’s enough.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Harp Concert

Posted May 9, 2019 by tomfudge
Categories: Uncategorized

The people in the room wait for the next girl

Who comes up to perform the harp with practiced

Notes and cool confidence but I, my eye

Pays no notice to them and gazes to see

My girl with moist eyes and a reddened face

And she moves at a hurried pace to a place where no attention

Weighs on her… and the weight can be held in silence.

She feels small but she’s tall enough to be

An adult that hides the child I remember when she

Burst onto the earth with a fearless cry.

But now failure before a crowd chills the joy she brims with

And I can say nothing because I have no answer.

Nothing to change what happened.

Nothing to make things right.

Only love. Only mute, stupid love.

 

A New Battery for my Prius

Posted April 9, 2019 by tomfudge
Categories: Uncategorized

At the end of this alley they sold me a hybrid battery.

What do you do when the hybrid battery on your Prius dies? I didn’t know because I’d never fully appreciated the terminal nature of losing your hybrid battery. The battery is the car. When one of them goes, you can forget about what’s left. And replacing the battery is a big investment I was hoping to put off.

After the battery conked out I was driving on only the gas engine. The car was sluggish to put it politely. It actually slowed to a crawl sometimes, and I’d soon have a deep stack of traffic stuck behind me on fast-moving single-lane streets when I couldn’t push the speed above 30 MPH. One time, I was literally passed by a cement truck going uphill.

But I had an inside source on the battery problem. Pat was a friend of my mom because she was a soloist in the Methodist church choir who also sang with the San Diego Opera. But I digress. More to the point, she drove for Uber and Lift and she had a Prius that had 290,000 miles on it.

She never had to replace her battery but was dreading the prospect, so she took tremendous strides to find the best possible deals. I texted her on the subject and her responses began pouring in. The ratio was four texts from her to one of mine. She sent me web links to battery dealers from here and yon.

When I finally got on the phone with her she told me she had just got off the phone with a dealer in Pennsylvania who had a crazy low price for a new battery… about $1500, if I remember right. No, they said, we wouldn’t mail one out to San Diego.

Obviously, she was hard to get off the phone once she got onto the subject. But she gave me a lot more confidence that I’d know a good deal when I saw it.

In the end, I called a local place called hybridbatterysandiego.com. They had a pretty slick website and a guy picked up the phone the first time I called. But when I found their location, it didn’t look like any location at all. In fact, I couldn’t see the address they claimed was theirs, located on a block in Spring Valley that was a one of those commercial graveyards of slap-dash, low-rent businesses selling tires, wrecks and auto parts behind rusty gates.

I called the guy again, and he told me to find an alley next to a sign and go to the end of it. The guy was Chris, and he ran through the options real quick with me. And without giving it a lot of thought I told him to install a new one, not a reconditioned battery, though the reconditioned one would be less than half the price.

I got out of there for just under… well, never mind what I paid. If I paid too much I’m not going to tell the world. Anyrate, I have a new battery that will probably take me at least another 150K miles down the road. Let’s hope the rest of the car holds up that long.

Estate Sale

Posted March 20, 2019 by tomfudge
Categories: Uncategorized

The first I noticed there was something unusual going on at Bob and Jeanine’s house was when I saw a small crowd of middle-aged people standing in their driveway first thing Saturday morning. I should have guessed: An estate sale.

Not a garage sale, mind you, where people try to unload the crap they don’t want anymore. But an estate sale, where everything in the household is up for sale, including a lot of valuable possessions.

Bob and Jeanine were already an old couple when I moved into the neighborhood nine years ago. Now, Bob is dead and Jeanine is in an assisted living residence. They were both native San Diegans. Jeanine went to Hoover High School and Bob attended San Diego High. Their high school yearbooks were among the things for sale.

I bought Bob’s 1960 yearbook that was filled with signatures of favorite teachers and best wishes written in neat cursive and signed by students. The school was racially mixed even back then, with many black faces shown in the clubs and sports teams. You saw black and white photos of the members of the school’s Hilltop Choir, donning concert robes. The Thespian club dramatically posed. The girls in the Pom Pom Corps and Homecoming Queen Alice Cruz. They had a Russian Club, despite the Cold War.

Bob owned five bags of golf clubs. At the end of the sale none had been sold. He had a bunch of Minolta film cameras. Jeanine had a small collection of sacred art, some of which she bought on visits to Europe. I bought a small crucifix and a stylish bronze Last Supper print that I added to my own collection.

The biggest thing I bought was a mission-style loveseat that was only $38 by the last day of the sale. Nicholas and I carried it across the street and put it in our living room. A couple of estate sale veterans looked at it and said I should check for an emblem on the bottom to see if it was a Stickley. If so, it would be worth a couple thousand bucks, they said.

I did check, and there was a tag calling it a Gustav (Stickley’s first name) and saying it was delivered by Jerome’s, a local furniture store known for bargains, not arts and craft collectibles. OK… so it’s a Stickley knock-off, but still a nice bit of furnishing.

The loveseat has moved to my house.

I guess the best thing I saw was a picture of the lives led by two neighbors I would chat with on the curb outside but never really knew that well. I hope it’s OK, Bob, that I got your old high school yearbook, and I ended up with that loveseat.

 

Frontage Roads

Posted December 31, 2018 by tomfudge
Categories: Uncategorized

The San Diego landscape is pocked with canyons and hollows that stop roads before they can connect more than few miles of a mesa top. That’s one reason why four-laners and freeways, that follow the bottoms of valleys, carry so much traffic. In fact, it can be hard to go any distance without travelling a freeway corridor.

This sucks for me, San Diego’s fearless bike commuter, because even I don’t have the balls to take a bike on Interstate 8. But thankfully I’ve discovered frontage roads.

It’s not much of a discovery because we all know of them. That’s where you end up when you take the Mission Road exit. They’re usually lined with suburban office buildings or stripmalls. Once you end up on one of these roads in a car you try to get off it as quick as possible.

But for a bike, they are a great way to go. Because cars avoid them, you rarely confront heavy dangerous traffic. You can move fast. They’re pretty flat and that reduces the physical stress. It only sucks when you have to cross a freeway to continue on the opposite frontage road, which means wading into roads full of cars that are bound for the freeway onramps.

The other day, I actually rode my bike all the way the Midway District for an appointment. It was about 12 miles. It took an hour and my underestimation of travel time made me 20 minutes late.  But hey… I got there. I traveled the I-8 corridor nearly the entire way and I didn’t feel like I had put myself in the hands of God. Thanks to the frontage road.

Making a place a good place to ride a bike takes time, and in San Diego it’s moving pretty goddamn slow. If gas remains cheap we may never get there. But I’m trying to do my bit. Cars have to see some bikes out there if we want them to think they don’t own the roads.

The Truth

Posted December 29, 2018 by tomfudge
Categories: Uncategorized

I’m a journalist and twice I have spoken to academic classes about journalistic ethics. One was an ethics class, taught by the religion instructor at St. Augustine High School, and the other was journalism class at San Diego State.

In both places I offered a theory about truth… that thing reporters are supposed to be devoted to. I said truth is like God. St. Thomas Aquinas once told us, ‘We will never know what God is. We can only know that God is.’ We can know those constituents of the truth, which are facts. But we can never fully know the truth.

Truth and facts can be mean, ornery things because they ultimately defy all hopes and expectations. We want to believe what we believe, and we seek out the facts that support our philosophies. But that doesn’t add up to the truth.

And we must be devoted to truth. I have noticed this more than ever in the political age of Donald Trump, whose untruthfulness surpasses all other American politicians who have ever bent or manipulated the facts. There can be no democracy without a devotion to the truth. Dictatorships are built on the lies that suit the oppressors. Trump would feel very at home in that kind of government.

Mind you, the truth isn’t everything.

To say ‘All men are created equal’ might not, strictly speaking, be true. But it is a belief that’s vital to our democratic way of life, and conducting ourselves with that understanding is vital to keeping a just society. But even when we preserve a philosophy that unites us we can never lose track of the truth.

Human values may shift and evolve but they must be built on truth. Here’s what Cormac McCarthy said about the enduring nature of the subject in his book, No Country for Old Men.

I think that when the lies are all told and forgot the truth will be there yet. It dont move about from place to place and it don’t change from time to time. You cant corrupt it any more than you can salt salt. You cant corrupt it because that’s what it is.

But we will never entirely know what it is.

When I Cancelled my Subscription to the Paper

Posted September 14, 2018 by tomfudge
Categories: Uncategorized

A couple of weeks ago, I canceled my daily newspaper. It was the San Diego Union Tribune. But it could have been any other paper in any other part of the country.

It was the paper that would land on my sidewalk or driveway in the morning. I’d never taken an evening paper. All my life, it seemed, I got those folded pages of newsprint that told me, every morning, what was important in the world. It divided the world into sections that gave me news that was local, national and international. It told me the latest sport scores and developments. Sports must be very important since a whole section of the paper was devoted to it.

My front walk when I don’t get a paper.

It gave me the funnies which my children actually read every Sunday for a while, until they got computers and smartphones and stopped looking at newspapers altogether.

I didn’t stop my subscription because I was  dissatisfied with the Union Tribune. It’s because it seemed more and more absurd to have a car drive by my house in the morning and throw a wad of paper at my doorstep with news that I already had, via the Internet. It seemed like a waste. It seemed like a custom that only continued thanks to the habits of people who were dying out.

I never really liked the business of reading a broadsheet newspaper. It was big and cumbersome. Holding it up for any length of time made my arms weary. Back in the old days the ink of the newsprint would leave black smudges on my fingers that I would  transfer to shirts and towels. It was little more than the weight of habit and custom that made me still read them.

But that weight of custom – the years of momentum that kept daily papers going – was a great gift to journalism. Nothing surpassed the daily paper as a bastion for factual reporting and for telling American citizens what they needed to know to live in a democracy. As the institution and the business model of the newspaper has faded away, nothing else has adequately replaced it, and we still don’t know if anything will.

After I cancelled my subscription to the U-T, a funny thing happened. They still deliver it to me on weekdays. I thought maybe my delivery man (there are no more paperboys) was confused. But now I wonder if maybe the U-T wants to keep delivering it to me to keep their circulation numbers up. Even though I’m not paying for the delivery, maybe it’s financially worth it to them to keep telling their advertisers that I’m looking through the pages of their paper.

And I do, and I will, as long as I keep getting it for free. I’ll still flip through it and make note of the headlines. If I land on a story that’s especially interesting I’ll read at least the first few paragraphs, if not the whole thing. I’ve been reading a daily newspaper for decades, and old habits die hard.