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Despite technology, human nature will never change

- November 19th, 2014

When the Philae lander touched down on the surface of Comet 67P earlier this month, millions of people around the world were agog at the stunning achievement.

Science-fiction fans, however, had a different reaction to the news: Haven’t we seen this somewhere before?

In fact, they had.

Back in 1987.

That’s when Arthur C. Clarke published his novel 2061: Odyssey Three.

It was the second sequel to the landmark book/movie 2001: A Space Odyssey and in it, Clarke depicts a manned landing on Halley’s Comet. Maybe that’s even where the European Space Agency got the idea for its Rosetta mission.

Once again, science fiction has anticipated a real-world space-travel accomplishment.

It’s happened time and time again.

Before NASA landed astronauts on the moon in 1969, there was the 1902 movie Le voyage dans la lune.

Before we landed a rover on Mars in 1997, Edgar Rice Burroughs transported John Carter to the Red Planet in 1912.

And on and on.

If you’re a science-fiction fan, you can come up with your own examples. Communications satellites. Robotics. The internet. Women’s rights.

Seemingly every advance in our society has been predicted years or decades before the fact in one form of story-telling or another. Such is the power of the human imagination.

And it makes my head spin when I consider that a mere 27 years have passed since Clarke wrote 2061 and the Philae probe arrived at its destination. Yesterday’s science fiction becomes today’s reality at an ever-increasing pace.

And yet . . .

Science-fiction filmmakers and authors come up their fair share of false prophesies, which may be because they of the temptation to confuse technological progress with the evolution of the human soul.

The example that immediately comes to mind is another one from Clarke.

It was in the next novel in the series, 3001: The Final Odyssey, that human beings had evolved past their own selfishness. Committees run the world in that novel and Clarke sets forth a future in which people aren’t motivated by ego anymore.

Uh, no.

Apologies to the late author, but that isn’t going to happen.

As the old saying goes, history repeats itself because human nature never changes. We know how the human beings of tomorrow will act: just like us.

I can think of maybe one technological innovation that has changed human nature, the birth-control pill — and even that is a matter for debate.

My bet is that the human heart will remain more or less static in the millenia to come, with all of the ignoble and noble qualities that entails.

I would love to believe otherwise.

But what a study of history reveals is that for better or worse, the universe is stuck with us as is.

What you’ve seen so far is what you’re going to get.

Lost little hobo

- November 13th, 2014

Bettina

This message just in from my friends at Animalert. They would appreciate all and any help with this one!

Animalert brought in a foster dog, Bettina, from a high-kill shelter, to bring her to safety. Sadly, she ran out of the foster home after being there a week and has been travelling along the wooded part of the Thames River and bike path since Nov 3.

It’s getting cold out there and the more people aware of her and who to contact is so important.

She is getting thin and she is limping a bit. Very scared of people. We have a live trap in an area where she was seen the most.

We get sightings daily, but by the time a volunteer gets there she has melted into the woods.

We have put posters all along the bike path and in residential areas, but we go back and many posters are taken down. We don’t have the resources to keep putting them up. I assume the people think the dog is found.

We need her plight to get very public and are hoping you will do a write-up on our little hobo.

She pops up in dumpsters and garbages, but stays close to the woods to go back in.

Bettina (Ruby is the name her foster family called her) is only about 35 pounds. Looks like a miniature Boxer a bit.

You can call (519) 520-4980 and (519) 619-6770 to report sightings.

Animalert’s e-mail address is animalertpetadoptions@gmail.com.

They would appreciate if we all kept our eyes open for this little wanderer!

Not necessarily conscription, but conscription if necessary

- November 11th, 2014

Canada is at war.

But it doesn’t feel like we’re at war.

Canadians are certainly not at war in the same sense we were during the Second World War.

During that six-year conflict, the war in Europe was the central fact of every man, woman and child’s life back home in the True North.

Don’t believe me?

Talk to someone, like my father, who grew up on the homefront.

He will tell you about rationing, seeing German prisoners of war working the fields of farms here in Southwestern Ontario, and following the advance of the allies at the kitchen table every morning via the front page of The London Free Press.

For better or worse, when Prime Minister Stephen Harper dispatched our CF-18s to the Middle East, he committed us to a war against the terrorists of ISIS.

I am far from an expert on military matters. However, I can tell you one thing for sure: We will lose this war, unless we find a way to rally all Canadians – not just members of the military – to the cause.

Because we no longer have an army made up of conscripts, it’s easy for us to dismiss the bombing of targets in Iraq as solely a military problem.

During the Second World War, our entire society had skin in the game since the ones doing the fighting were the sons, brothers, cousins, uncles and parents.

Military service was the one thing every family in every town in every province had in common. The draft was a bonding experience, if you like.

After the world wars, for men of a certain age, the logical opening question they asked each other upon their first meeting was, “Where did you serve?”

Conscription meant every adult male was required to do his part.

I’m not saying I necessarily favour a return to the draft, although that would crystallize the question of support for the war against terror in a lot of minds pretty much instantly.

What I am arguing is Ottawa needs to come up with a way to make sure everyday Canadians realize it is not just our troops whose well-being is at stake.

With an all-volunteer army, it’s too easy to compartmentalize, too easy to say “ISIS? Let the soldiers, airmen and sailors handle that” while we go about our lives as if we have no stake in the outcome.

Besides, this is a different type of war, with a vaguely defined battlefield that extends around the globe.

As we have seen in recent weeks, when you declare war on terror, even the House of Commons can be transformed into a site where the battles are fought.

You could argue that the zealots who killed Cpl. Nathan Cirillo and Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent have provided ordinary citizens with the requisite motivation to rally behind our troops. I would like to believe that’s true.

If not, Ottawa needs to do more.

We need to be shown what we can do, even if it’s something as simple as car-pooling to cut down on the country’s use of foreign oil.

As I watched the Remembrance Day ceremony in the nation’s capital Tuesday morning, I noticed how the ranks of the Greatest Generation are thinning. We may never see their like again – and I mean that both figuratively and literally.

They may be the last of the Canadian citizen-soldiers who answered the call.

Now the nation is calling again. You and I and everyone else reading this needs to be galvanized into taking action.

Some leadership is called for.

I’ve got a secret

- November 4th, 2014

Let’s say you have a secret.

For the sake of argument, let’s say it’s a secret about wrongdoing by a high-profile personality at a prominent corporation that is known across the nation.

If the general public knew what you know, this person would be in a world of trouble. The company’s reputation would be damaged, possibly irrevocably.

There could even be criminal charges.

So what do you do?

Here’s the thing: You know there is a real risk to breaking your silence.

For starters, it’s very possible you won’t be believed.

The high-profile person in question is beloved by millions.

To most of your fellow countrymen, this guy is charming, well-known, trusted. He is one of the corporation’s stars, the beneficiary of its powerful national publicity machine. A lot is riding on his success.

The secret you harbour is so awful, you realize that many will reject you outright as a crank.

Your secret is of a personal, explosive nature.

In fact, you will likely be attacked by others for the simple act of telling the truth.

It would be much easier to just say nothing. To go on living your life in peace. To defer.

What’s the harm in letting the public continue to be fooled?

The more you think about it, the more you see only a down side to coming forward.

No one likes to have their heroes revealed as frauds, and by exposing him, the necessary side effect would be widespread disenchantment.

Besides, you are fairly sure there are others like you, who also know his secret. In fact, in some circles your information is a bit of an open secret. Why not let someone else shoulder the burden? Why should you stick your neck out?

And yet, a small voice nags at you . . .

This voice says the country deserves to know the full truth. The voice says he must be stopped before he harms others. The voice says, if you step forward, surely more will follow.

You’re also sick of there being a double standard — one for regular folk and one for the celebrated and famous.

You don’t want money. You don’t desire fame. Those things are Hollywood inventions that don’t even figure in your thinking.

You talk to a small group of friends. The advice they offer mirrors your own internal deliberations: Some say you have a duty to report the truth, some say it’s not up to you and you should let someone else bear the risks of being a whistleblower.

So you sit there, with your secret, trying to figure out the right thing to do. You stew.

All the while, the world goes on as normal, not knowing the horrible truth. Not knowing the monster behind the mask.

What would you do?

Proposed superhero flicks may never get made

- November 3rd, 2014

You can read my latest graphic-novel column by clicking here.

Enjoy!