Respect for the top job?

Many of my scifi ebooks look at the question, how do people respond to the group, i.e. following fashion, or responding to conditions imposed by governments, or worse still, by religions? In the first novel of my “First Contact” trilogy, a party of five had found that aliens expected humanity to behave better before it thought about going to other star systems. In my second novel, Dreams Defiled, four of them set out to accomplish difficult tasks. The objective of two was to make things fairer for all citizens, of one to manage the greatest engineering feat of mankind, and of one to try to make the settlements on Mars more achievable. The fifth had only one dream: to be important, by any means possible.

The trilogy is really about for most the desire to comply with the group, for a few, the desire to be different, and for some, the desire to take advantage of everything they can, at the expense of all if necessary. The background is one of economic stagnation, where almost everyone works in a corporation because there are very few resources available for the general population, and because it is the political fashion to do so. There are those who do not, and the majority react badly to them. The story revolves about people who have great ability, but who will be subverted by lesser people, and also of how corruption and lack of attention to maintaining solid moral and ethical values amplifies the evil in weak people. Part of the story involves the tendency of the group of people to pick on those who are not part of the group fashion, and those who would betray anyone for money. Also, the story required the most evil person I could manage to create for the third book in the trilogy.

When I published this, it was with a little tongue in cheek. The mindlessness could not happen. If people stepped too far out of line, public opinion would bring them back into line. There is nothing wrong with opposing government actions, and indeed countries following the British parliamentary system have what is called “the loyal opposition”. The idea is, those who lost the last election have the task of keeping the winners honest, and producing arguments to show the flaws in the policies of the winners. It may not always end up quite so “pure”, but in general, that is supposedly what they do. But surely deliberate subversion is out? We may not agree with the top men (or women) but surely we accept they are there.

Unfortunately, it seems to happen, albeit on a much smaller scale. Recall the birthing issue with President Obama? Let us suppose this was truly an issue, what is the correct way to go about dealing with it? In my opinion, simply provide evidence that there was a problem. Fair enough to raise the issue, but without evidence, it cannot go further. And surely, there would be many others who had looked at this first. Then look at President Obama’s record, including what seems to be referred to as Obamacare. This was a policy announced as a candidate, so when he won the election, surely he was required to carry out such a policy. The people had voted for him, hence they voted for his announced policy. Is that not what the electoral system is supposed to mean? Should not those who lose accept it, at least until the next election?

The real question may be, why does the man at the top polarize opinion so much? Is it because we place too much emphasis on the person at the top? In business, do you really think the man at the top actually does what makes the business work? Or is it all the underlings? While there is the occasional great person at the top, most of the leaders I have met are depressingly ordinary, and have got there largely because they have one big ability: the ability to gest to the top.

The theme, if you like, is the place of the individual with respect to the greater group. Everyone cannot be President, which raises the question, why is doing the best you can be a lesser role? Perhaps one of the most admirable examples was that of Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa. Without Agrippa, Augustus would have been nothing, because Agrippa was the man who won his battles, and he was the person who got things done. When another aqueduct was needed, Agrippa arranged for its construction. And Agrippa was always in the background, leaving Augustus to take the credit. The point is, this did not matter to Agrippa. Governments need more people like this.

Why raise this now? Dreams Defiled will be on an Amazon countdown discount as from September 11, so now seemed to be the time ☺

Politicians behaving badly

I am writing futuristic science fiction, and in my First Contact trilogy, and in particular the second Dreams Defiled I focused on people in government, and of course to make a story, some had to behave badly. At the personal level, they behaved extremely badly, but in terms of their job, I rather fancy I sold myself short. I would never have predicted that they could behave quite as badly as some American Congressmen seem to be threatening, at least. My characters’ bad behaviour tended to be either through incompetence or for personal gain in terms of power and influence, i.e. knives out to get to the top. While this is not exactly something to approve, it is at least more understandable (to me, anyway) than the current problems.

A democracy can really only work if a new intake of politicians honour the commitments made by their predecessors. They make new laws or regulations, or put forward new policy to change what is happening, but they cannot simply refuse to honour the debts of their predecessors. The reason, of course, is that it is not their predecessors’ reputation that is at stake; it is the validity of the government itself. 

I have no comment on Obamacare; the value of that is something for Americans to decide for themselves, but it was passed into being by a previous Congress and in the next election President Obama stood on that platform, amongst others, and was elected with a sound majority in the electoral college. The current Republicans have got to accept that for the moment at least, Obama has been given a mandate by the American people, and they should live with it. Instead, from a foreign perspective, they are behaving a little like spoiled brats. They have some leverage, or so they think, and they have made President Obama an offer they think he cannot refuse. The problem for them is, they have made him an offer he cannot accept, because if he does he effectively has given up on being President, and they have the opportunity to deliver repeat performances at will. The problem then is, the Republicans have also boxed themselves into a corner from which it is difficult to see an escape route. The simplest way is for the vote to go to the floor of the House, and hope that enough Republicans cross the floor to get them out of this mess.

What happens if they do not? I do not know, but when the United States Government stops paying its bills in mid October I think there will be economic chaos. It is not so much what is really happening, but what the panic-stricken think might be happening. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that the United States is the greatest economic powerhouse on the planet, and it has always had the reputation that it honours its debts. Once it starts not to, nobody will know what to trust. Too much of the world’s money that is needed to drive commerce is tied up in greenbacks, mainly because the objective is to tie it up in something that cannot fail. Trouble is, it might, not because the United States economy is going to fall to bits, but rather because some Congressmen have their noses out of joint. These Republicans could do far more damage to the world economy in a month than Al Qaeda could ever do, and in my view, they qualify as fiscal terrorists. Maybe they should be rehoused in Guantanomo!

Rocky planets, atmospheres and aliens

This week, the second ebook, Dreams Defiled, in my trilogy, First Contact, was published on Amazon. The trilogy is nominally about contact with aliens (at least an alien hologram in A Face on Cydonia) and its consequences. It is also about how civilization might deal with (or perhaps fail to deal with) certain crises that appear to be inevitable. One solution to a crisis that you may or may not like is the proposed solution to the fuels/transport crisis, for no matter what, it is unlikely the whole planet can continue burning energy at the rate some western countries do so now. Check out my solution, and see what you think.

In the meantime, back to the issue of how many planets could have alien life. In previous posts I made an estimate of the likely number of stars that have rocky planets suitable for life. While most stars are not suitable, there are still billions of stars that are, even in this galaxy. The rocky planet then has to be within the right size range. It would have to be somewhat bigger than Mars to ensure it held a significant atmosphere, and there will also be a maximum size, but we do not know what that is. According to my theory, to keep within the right size range, the star has to clear out the accretion disk early, but up to half the stars do this. So, the next question is, will they have water and atmospheric gases? Where do the gases come from?

The usual argument is that the rocky planets get their water and atmospheres through later being bombarded by small asteroids. I don’t believe this either, since, as I show in more detail in Planetary Formation and Biogenesis, since Venus, Earth and Mars have totally different atmospheres, they have to be bombarded selectively by totally different types of asteroids that, as far as we can tell, no longer exist. Thus Venus has about four times as much nitrogen as Earth, but negligible water. Mars has a reasonable amount of water, but almost no nitrogen. How does that come about?

My answer is that the rocky planets form by cement-like dust joining rocks together, and that is where the water comes from. The available cement depends on how hot the solids get during primary stellar accretion, and at what temperature they set during the late cooler accretion disk. Earth happened to set at the optimum temperature – the first stage had been hot enough to get the best cement made, while the second stage was cool enough to let the cement set with the most water. Venus had the same cements, but it was hotter, so it did not set with much water, while Mars had only a limited cement, so while it was cooler, it did not have the means of setting much water. Subsequently, the water reacted with solid sources of carbon and nitrogen and made the atmosphere, and Venus, because it was hotter, had more carbon and nitrogen, so it used up most of its limited water making its very dense atmosphere. If that is true, then most stars that can form rocky planets will have one like Earth in the habitable zone.

That means there are billions of planets in this galaxy capable of forming life. That does not mean that the galaxy is teaming with civilizations. For example, the nearest suitable single star, Epsilon Eridani, is only about 900 million years old. At that age, Earth may or may not have got around to having primitive single-cell life. Of course, in Dreams Defiled I give hints there is a civilization there. How could that be? There is an obvious possibility, but to add to the mystery, I provide evidence that in this fictional story, the food on the rocky planet around Epsilon Eridani and on Earth is each compatible with both life forms, and in general, life forms that evolve separately find that they can only tolerate food that evolved with them.  Now can you guess where this plot is going? As you might guess, I am trying to write stories that also try to impart some scientific knowledge, and which I hope readers will find interesting.