Problem: Semiconductor Supply Chains--Solution: Increase Trade with Taiwan

The U.S. has a semiconductor problem. There aren't enough being made, not enough being imported, just not enough. The White House has warned of "escalating vulnerabilities" from the shortage. 

But there's a solution: the U.S. could pursue a broad and generous free trade deal with Taiwan, or the Republic of China. The small nation has a strong record in the production of semiconductors and chips. Taiwan has controlled the talent in the industry for fifty years; it was Taiwanese scientists who were responsible for the "boom in semiconductors and applications that spans from Silicon Valley to Asia." The U.S. may have a booming industry in data appending and management, but Taiwan can help the U.S. supply chains for hardware.

The time has never been better. Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen has three years left in her second term. It's tough being president of the Republic of China because the whole of your country's being exists in relation to the People's Republic of China, mainland China, and so ROC/Taiwanese politics is all about spending political capital in foreign relations. So because this is Tsai's second term and she won't be running for re-election, she can spend that political capital on finalizing a trade deal with the United States. That, along with the devolution of tech supply chains, makes this a key time to pursue such a deal. 

In general, Taiwan sees its economic security as a prerequisite for its national security. The less powerful and self-sufficient the Taiwanese economy, the more leverage mainland China has over the smaller country. China can leverage this explicitly or even just implicitly, just hanging the threat of tense relations over the heads of trade between the two countries. And since Big China doesn't recognize the island as independent, Beijing is likely to take advantage of any opportunity to flex its economic muscle to manipulate the political process. 

A U.S.-Taiwan trade deal, however, could provide political cover for other countries to begin negotiations of their own with Taipei. Other countries don't do much of that now, because they fear retaliation from Beijing. The U.S., however, has no unique reason to be afraid--already-existing tensions can absorb the risk of making China mad, giving room for other countries to trade in more limited degrees. 

According to the Heritage Foundation: "A free trade agreement with Taiwan would increase trade for both countries, increase U.S. exports to Taiwan, and provide market-based alternatives to China." Increasing trade relations with Taiwan not only provides a solid foundation to the United States for economic growth, but a foundation for smart and responsible growth, because as cavalier as the U.S. sometimes seems with respect to labor and environmental standards, Washington actually does a better job on them than a few other countries. Thus, "A BTA between the United States and Taiwan has strong merit. Taiwan would make for an excellent trade agreement partner for the United States, given that the island already has well-established environmental protection, labor, and intellectual property rights laws—common issues of concern for the United States in evaluating its economic partners."


Mortgage Lenders, Interest Rates, and Data Management

From being underwater, shooting up faster than we can see it go, to being many kilometers above water: that's the best metaphor to describe the dramatic changes in the housing industry and mortgage rates over the last several months. COVID had tanked home sales, but now home prices are experiencing record increases. And even though new construction and the high costs the market has borne out now will slow this trend a little bit, the heat of the market will continue--discouraging some buyers, but incentivizing wealthier buyers (or financial entities) to purchase for long-term value. 

The Real Deal blog points out that although mortgage rates were at record lows at the beginning of 2022, they have increased around 1.5 percentage points since then, "the most rapid increase since 1994. More than half of that rise was in March," leaving home buyers aghast. Some experts say this shock reflected being "spoiled" by having low interest rates for so long. And even though more homes are being built, the overall supply remains on the low side. Buyers will also downsize their expectations, but keep buying. Inflation and its discontents also play a role. The Fed's interest rate hike at the beginning of May, a half a point, was the largest in decades, affecting some mortgage products like ARMs and home equity loans. 

So all that said, one tool that the mortgage business absolutely needs to be aware of is data management. That's right--just as political campaigns, retail and wholesalers, and other persuaders in the market need to know as much as there is to know about people--names, addresses, neighborhood characteristics, ever-changing contact info, preferences and values around countless things--lenders need the data tools to create and build their own relationships. Data append services are critical, helping lenders help their marketing departments and loan officers prospect, acquire, and retain customers.

There's still a lot of uncertainty and heat in the market to ride out. Such a long period of low rates created far too much demand to keep up with in an efficient or thoughtful way. The involvement of Wall Street financial firms in the family rental market, something many would see as an anomaly, further heated up the market. In the eyes of some lenders, the mortgage industry "has come to a screeching halt." Of course, it hasn't in reality. People are adjusting downward or taking their time a little more, and some people may be bailing on a market they probably couldn't have afforded to engage in the first place. What's clear is that we're in uncharted territory. 

As coaches are fond of saying to competitors, there's so much we can't control, so let's control what we can. What can be controlled is relationships with prospective clients, new clients, and long-established clients. Accurate information is key to maintaining and growing those relationships. 


Is Bad Data Better Than No Data?

TLDR: We should always be working to improve our specific data. But let’s keep in mind that the process itself builds our general knowledge of the world. And the real solution is to increase the number of people viewing and contemplating the data.

Nate Silver recently said: “We’re not that much smarter than we used to be, even though we have much more information — and that means the real skill now is learning how to pick out the useful information from all this noise.” How true is this statement, really? We might not have reached our knowledge or wisdom capacity, but we are smarter, at least commensurately with the objectives of big data. So while it’s true that “marketers might know less about individual consumers than they think,” maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe understanding the abstract consumer is better — politically, economically, and ethically — than knowing everything about every individual consumer. Not just because of information overload, which is an important concern, but also because we don’t necessarily need that level of accuracy to build general and universal knowledge about our society and species as a whole.

That’s why, although professional concerns and wanting clients have the most accurate and up-to-date data they can remain priorities, we are not necessarily panicking at the continuous flow of anecdotes and surveys indicating we’re in a “bad data epidemic.” Take the recent Deloitte University study of U.S. professionals: a little over a hundred professionals were asked to privately study their own data (that is, the things about them others have extracted) and 71 percent overall found substantial inaccuracies, with a high of 84% inaccuracy for economic data, and a low of 41% for “home” data. Sure, that’s concerning in terms of reaching specific customers, but even inaccurate specific data (wrong addresses, age off by a year, profits miscalculated) may aid in (or at least not overly hinder) the generation of metadata for purposes of things like consumer analysis, AI, and some sociological data.

What inaccurate data can’t generate is good choices for those whose primary use of data is personal contact and the maintenance of contact-based relationships. So this isn’t so much an issue of data failing because it’s so often inaccurate, but that the “art” of metadata and the “science” of work that relies on specific accuracies and the ability to append diverge, at least to a degree.

For those that rely on strict accuracy, if we do the mathsix percent of annual revenues (on average) are lost to bad data. This is bad for consumer-driven work where small margins can keep a business in business or kick it to the curb. It’s bad for political work where a candidate needs every extra vote they can get in a tight citywide or district race. In the world of metadata and broad analysis, people are more “fungible” than they are in tight races and competitive markets.

In fact, since we are always (hopefully) in the act of improving the specific and objective accuracy of data we might also consider how to improve its general insights and usefulness. One way to do this is to further “democratize” data, increasing the number of “eyes” on it, from the collection to the integration to metaanalysis. Democratized data gives us the best kind of accuracy — accuracy that serves the people.

To determine how democratic data actually is, we can ask questions like: can everyone locate the data? Recently, Wichita State University wanted to get better measures of student satisfaction, retention, and dropout rates. In order to do this, a team of analysts created a “data fabric architecture” eliminating “silos across departments” and providing “a single view of university data regardless of its location.” The work made it easier for everyone to report new data. The result? “WSU got to the root cause of why students leave, deployed mitigation plans and increased the numbers of alumni who graduated. The agile, scalable AI and analytics platform enables further examination of student and operational trends.” The more people can see the data, particularly those people with a stake in the knowledge, the more likely we will be able to maximize both the short-term details and long-term wisdom of its conclusions.


Why Not Just Let Us Be Spaceships?

Sure, we manage your data, but what if that data were to gain consciousness? AI sentience scenarios are ubiquitous, but one important subset of them, sentient spacecraft, is worth considering more closely. Sentient spacecraft are now a staple — a main trope, even — in science fiction. They are “living ships or brains in a box“: either the ship itself is a sentient creature, or the hardware of the ship is controlled by the wetware of another (usually human) creature’s brain, if not otherwise integrated into the hardware (computer programs are a frequent conduit). Living ships are so standard now that they figure into cutting-edge science fiction podcasts like Khôra Podcast and We Fix Space Junk. The device reaches across a wide readership demographic too, with Lydia Kang’s young adult novel Toxic also featuring sentient craft.

The range of themes and creativity around the conscious craft trope is remarkable. First, the themes of works featuring intelligent spacecraft are often very political. Take, for example, the political implications of sentient craft without the rights aspirationally afforded to sentient beings in liberal societies. In We Are Legion (We Are Bob), the titular character dies after being hit by a street vehicle and wakes up more than a hundred years later as an AI unit derived from a scan of his original brain activity. In the new society, AI replicants are slaves, and the government uploads the replicants into space probes to explore strange new worlds.

Perhaps this political angle feels especially appropriate for fiction about ships that are so often used as platforms for war. In Embers of War by Gareth Powell, these ships organize together in a post-war galaxy to aid distressed spacecraft in a kind of redemptive philanthropy. Or take the first-in-a-Y.A.-trilogy Honor Among Thieves by Rachel Caine & Ann Aguirre, where an entire race of sentient ships, called the Leviathan, visit earth to share their knowledge benevolently.

Second, the personalities of the ships are often their key feature and might offer an even lighthearted tone to the story. In Ian M. Banks’s Culture series, the spaceships speak in different styles that match their consciousness and personalities: the ship Serious Callers Only speaks cryptically, skittish about being dragged into a conflict it wants to have nothing to do with. The ship called Sleeper Service is a detective and entertainingly talks like a detective noir character.

And sometimes the explorations of ships’ or people-to-ships’ personalities are treated more seriously, psychologically or sociologically. The great Anne McCaffrey wrote a highly imaginative series in the 1960s, including The Ship Who Sang, The Ship Who Mourned, The Ship Who Killed, The Ship Who Dissembled and others. People born with physical deformities are offered up as cyborg-brains for various machines including ships. In The Ship Who Sang, one of those cyborg characters, Helva, learns that she can sing beautifully in her new “body.”

Finally, the presence of sentience can invite analysis of the logistical, physical and moral hazards which are being discussed around autonomous vehicles. AVs are accused of being vulnerable to attack, in danger of accidents or even radiation exposure, and causing social calamities like mass unemployment. But this is where my proposal comes in: what if we were the vehicles? We’ve already seen a huge sci-fi precedent for such transformations. What if we simply modified our own bodies to synthesize with space travel-ready hardware?

If so, data management would presumably play a central role in this modest proposal. If humans are fused with spacecraft, or spacecraft fused onto and then built on us, our brain functions must be capable of navigating a complex ship’s worth of details, meaning either that our brains will be augmented with faster (perhaps quantum) data processing skills, or we will have amazing data management systems at our fingertips (or whatever our new appendages are). Regardless, it’s worth hoping that the spaceships that we are turned into look more like the Enterprise than the Millennium Falcon.


The Impact of Animal Testing on the Environment

We often process information and advocacy about animal testing in “ethical” terms, but there are “utilitarian” reasons (or secondary harms) to consider even if one prioritizes the ethics. The Faunalytics website platformed a great 2014 study by a number of researchers on animal testing’s role in laboratory waste production, sourcepoint pollution, effects on lab workers’ health and biodiversity implications. Important insights included recognition that a single toxicity test project can use between 6,000 and 12,000 animals over the course of several years, and that animal testing is uniquely energy-intensive, requiring heavy ventilation, lighting, space to accommodate animals, and “barrier protection from outside pathogens”.

Moreover, animal testing uses a wide range of chemicals, including toxic and carcinogenic substances “for extended time periods and in large quantities.” The study’s authors pointed out that “millions of animal bodies — as well as supplies such as bedding, caging, needles, and syringes — are disposed of each year. The routine disposal of hazardous waste also produces harmful substances and air pollutants.” Animal carcasses and tissue themselves are contaminated and toxic, particularly after testing.

This “secondary” harm from animal testing, a harm that also befalls the non-human realm, is an interesting reminder of the multidimensional case against anthropocentrism — the view that humans are, if not the moral “center” of the universe, at least the subjects of primary concern and have an innate right to prioritize and exploit other forms of life. This larger insistence on decentering the anthropocene stands out and even goes beyond “environmentalism,” because in some instances standing up for nonhuman rights may itself harm the “natural” environment, such as the case against horse removal in the fragile ecosystems of the mountain west. Kristen Stilt wrote last year that “some environmentalists view the horses as ‘feral pests’ that damage the fragile ecosystem and compete with wildlife — and privately owned cattle — for resources.” But opponents say the rounding up of horses is needlessly cruel and that the cattle grazing those lands are no more entitled to do so.

Similarly, prioritizing the comfort and reducing the suffering of animals used for testing (an ethical consideration in favor of animals) is very energy-intensive, meaning the ecological impact of taking care of those individual animals tends to be high. The case for animal welfare in science is thus materially (if not essentially) at odds with the case for environmental protection — that is, unless we find alternatives to animal testing.

But the controversy over animal testing is still volatile because defenders of the practice insist there are no feasible alternatives, and that testing is necessary for the rapid development of vaccines. This is a timely enough argument that even the National Institute of Health, through its National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases group, put out a statement last year titled, “The Important Role of Animal Research in mRNA COVID-19 Vaccine Development.” Not only are rodents critical to this process, according to the statement, but ” primates are used during the later stages of vaccine development and typically build upon the knowledge accumulated in earlier small animal studies.” This was critical to the 90-ish percent effectiveness of mRNA vaccines against COVID-19, and with variations continuing to spread, modifications of these vaccines will require even more animal testing, according to NIH.
Meanwhile, though, animal testing continues to be environmentally harmful, its impacts largely unaddressed and unregulated. An Australian report suggests that the breeding and possible escape and mating with wild and native populations, are another potential complication. Like the report mentioned earlier, Australian researchers also point to “particulate matter, organic compounds, pathogens, and radioactive materials may be released as part of the incineration process and exposed into the surrounding environment.” Perhaps the competing needs of the pharmaceutical industry and the environment will soon prove incompatible, and new methods of research will need to emerge.


Military Space Tech Enables Commercial Internet in Space

Imagine waking up in a hotel room overlooking the moon. You eat breakfast in the hotel lobby, from which you can see Earth — a blue marble in the distance — and a space station compound in a geostationary position relative to both. You drink your coffee and orange juice and go about your morning as usual — checking your emails or posting something to your favorite social media network. you sit down and check your email or post something on a social media network. Later in the “day,” you’ll likely meet others staying at this space hotel, each filling various societal roles: telecommunications, education and training, engineering, even law enforcement and conflict prevention. The possibilities for business and commerce in space are endless.

Now, consider that at present we’ve never had more than 13 human beings in space at the same time. Nevertheless, multiple corporations are racing to build space hotels, some with outlandishly ambitious construction dates (this year). Last September, according to Business Insider, Bigelow Aerospace invited NASA astronauts to tour its “life-sized prototype of an inflatable habitat that could one day house astronauts on a journey to Mars.” This is technology that would almost certainly also accommodate tourists. In fact, according to the same article, reservations for soon-to-be-build hotels are available for booking now.

This all belongs to the “space-for-space economy,” where productive activity in space requires secondary economies, residences, meetings, people and things needing to show up in the right place at the right time. And, where recreational and other interactive activities will necessitate entire economic ecosystems. Think of businesses along a frontier, but without easily attainable natural resources. Supply lines are everything in such a scenario, and to be successful they’ll have to be clustered.

Similar to on Earth, the most common harbinger of what becomes widely-used technology in space will be governments and their militaries. Recently, for example, there have been efforts to development of internet services in space (rather than satellite internet tech for terrestrial use — part of the “space-for-earth” economy to extend the above phrasing). Writing for Space News, Sandra Erwin reported on March 22 that “LEO [low-earth orbit] constellation moves DoD closer to a ‘hybrid architecture’ with a mix of satellites in different orbits, providing more resilience against cyberattacks or anti-satellite weapons.” Those needs translate into innovations for wireless internet availability in orbit, able to connect to users on earth in decentralized ways. As early as 2004, NASA tested “Tropos Wi-Fi mesh network gear for possible use on future missions to the red planet.”

It’s also good PR for the military-industrial complex. MIC consultants like the Center for Strategic and International Studies believe it is very important to emphasize those military-private sector connections in order to get taxpayers and elected officials firmly on board with those investments. So, statism and technological capitalism combine to create a culture of partnership between owners, entrepreneurs, and the military. In fact, NASA already has the “Deep Space Network”,  a radio precursor to what will eventually be an interplanetary internet network. Experts have been speculating on space communication from both a military and commercial standpoint for as long as we’ve known space travel to be possible.

Business Week article predicts: “Space tourists could one day get an immersive astronaut experience, be wined and dined with incredible views of the Earth, or even play zero-gravity games like Quidditch.” This kind of luxurious wining and dining is a feature, not a bug, of statism, a hierarchical view of governance that makes militarism necessary in the first place. Let’s just hope that workers at the hotels and telecom firms unionize and push back against the drive to extend labor exploitation into space. It’s not without precedent.


Could Asteroid Mining Stop Mineral Injustice in Africa?

There are two sides worth considering in discussions about the privatization of space. The first is the view of cynical realists, who see space development as the next frontier of exploitation. The second is that of the wide-eyed, but critical optimist, who characterizes space development very differently.

But it’s not hyperbolic to say that whatever these big projects turn out to be, humanity needs to be prioritizing equity; and, as unpopular as it is in some circles, it needs to be committed to righting historical wrongs.

There’s a strong and justified suspicion on the left that space development will just replicate earth development: colonialist, imperialist, neoliberal capitalist. In the words of Victor L. Shammas & Tomas B. Holen, space development is a project and paradigm benefitting “a specific set of wealthy entrepreneurs, many of them originating in Silicon Valley, who strategically deploy humanist tropes to engender enthusiasm for their activities . . . the arrival of capitalism in space is fueled by the expansionary logic of capital accumulation” and particularly a hack allowing “capital to transcend its inherent terrestrial limitations.”

But socialists would also be quick to point out that this criticism isn’t intrinsic to the core idea, the science and, to an extent, the technology of space development. Like any collective labor, space development is good if it serves humanity as a whole, for example by allowing for collective reparations and rectification of past wrongs, or if it promotes a reciprocal relationship with the laborers and ecosystems from which the value of such labor comes. However, if it reproduces and empowers the exploitative logic of capital, it’s not good.

This is why it’s important to consider the view of space tech writer David Oni, who, in his case for asteroid mining, points out that Africa is a site of great material oppression around the mining of rare earth metals and critical components of technology (as well as traditional precious metals and diamonds). Terrestrial mining has destroyed much of the environment and trapped countless people into brutal working conditions. “Ongoing mining projects worth more than US$1 billion are taking place in South Africa (PGM 69%; gold: 31%), Guinea (bauxite and aluminum), Madagascar (nickel), Mozambique (coal), Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia (cobalt and copper), Nigeria and Sudan (crude petroleum), Senegal (iron), among others.”

Tech optimists say asteroid mining could save the planet, allowing unlimited extraction of resources at what we currently believe is relatively little environmental cost — presumably none to the “space” around the rocks (although who knows what we’ll learn) and, once we develop renewable rocket power for launches and do most of our productive work in space, at much less cost to earth. On earth, mining will always be disastrous and traumatic: “To establish a mine,” Oni writes, “a portion of vegetation is cleared. This causes deforestation (and eventually, erosion and flooding) as well as the loss of biodiversity, which adversely affect native inhabitants. Leakages and tailing dumpings have raised serious environmental concerns.” But with countries like South Africa, Zimbabwe and Nigeria developing their own technology to join together with current tech giants in China, Russia, and the U.S. the possibility exists that developers from around the world can co-create relief from terrestrial mining.

This doesn’t make the exploitative nature of either capitalism, space tech companies or mining go away. It’s possible that being a space mine worker will be every bit as exploitative and asymmetrical as being an earth-based one. But it does present an opportunity to change the landscape, or in this case change landscape to spacescape, transcend limits and, potentially, open up space to facilitate environmental and humanitarian relief from existing capitalist exploitation on ecologically scarred land.


Conceptualizing the Jetsons’ Flying Cars

Iconic scenes from an iconic TV cartoon: the clean, benevolent whirring of future flight; a family with smirks on their faces racing past towers and saucer-shaped houses on platforms; “traffic jams” of whirring machines; a foldable car. One blogger calls the Jetsons’ flying car “[o]ne of the most easily identifiable elements of the show” and it is as universally recognized as anything in American cartoons.

We all want(ed) the small, car-like flying vehicle featured in the cartoon. And it seems we might have one now, although it’s a propeller vehicle. The Jetsons’ vehicle, as we will see soon, has an engine, or maybe more than one. In the Jetsons’ society, acquisition of the car is an expected consumer endeavor. Paleofuture blogger Matt Novak puts the Jetsons’ flying car into historical perspective, describing the episode where “George and Jane set out to buy a new car and arrive at Molecular Motors where they and the viewers at home are treated to a car salesman’s pitch from the year 2062.” As Novak explains, these flying machines had been in the imagination of both artists and entrepreneurs for many years before they were developed for the cartoon.

In another article we learn that in 1954 Ford Motors designed a concept car that would later be modeled by the cartoon’s creators. with “far out styling, a Jetsons-like cockpit, a centralized driving position, joystick controls, and a rear monitor meant for who-knows-what purpose,” FX-Atmos, as it was called, would have been impossible to fly conventionally, “unable to roll under its own power,” the article points out.

The Jetsons’ car sure runs, though. Way back in 2010 John Pearley Huffman wrote a piece on the vehicle for Car and Driver speculating on precisely how – a question for which there’s considerable data, but, as far as I know, no uniform canon. Huffman observes that in the “Jetsons’ Night Out,” episode, the car runs out of fuel, which George Jetson refers to as “fuel pellets.” He asks for “high-octane pellets” at the gas station and asks that the vehicle’s radium be checked. We thus learn that the car also runs on radium, although it’s unclear how much of one and how much of the other. Huffman theorizes that “there’s some sort of pressurized nuclear reaction going on. Going out on a limb, it’s probably cold fusion, with each putt in the putt-putt sound from the car’s exhaust representing a new, heavier nucleus being formed.” This means the Jetsons drive a hybrid.

A comment on the same article adds: “In the episode ‘The Space Car,” George instructs his wife, Jane, that a little button on the left activates “the horizontal power cluster.’ This leads us to conclude that the Jetsons’ car uses multiple separate systems for generating both the vertical anti-gravity effect and horizontal propulsion.” The idea that one system makes the vehicle defy gravity, and the other accelerates and propels it, might violate Occam’s Razor – the simpler explanation would be a singular hybrid fusion engine.

The Jetsons’ aesthetic is so recognizable that most people reading this post will have scenes and snapshots of the series in their heads as they read it. In another article, Matt Novak, who loves writing about the Jetsons so much he wrote a 24-part series on the show, calls that aesthetic Mid-21st Century Modern, citing Danny Graydon, author of The Jetsons: The Official Guide to the Cartoon Classic. It was actually a look into the Los Angeles and Hollywood architecture of the time, though added in were platforms hundreds of feet above the ground. The cars matched the architecture. Everything was curvey and sleek and shiny and clean. Whirrrrrrr.


Theater of the Absurd’s Most Absurd: A List

There were really interesting developments in theater during the 20th century. Not only were there revolutionary changes to dramatic theory, manifested in Bertolt Brecht’s epic theater, but there also emerged Theater of the Absurd, with works emerging from the premise that there are no premises – essentially, that there is no meaning to the world. Often in such plays, nothing happens, or characters return exactly where they began, having gone nowhere at all. Endings are unpredictable and, well, absurd, offering no closure. It’s possible that these plays are either enjoyed or hated; but this writer happens to like them.

This post presents a short list of some of the most absurd plays of an absurd style. Several notable avant garde plays were intentionally left off the list, because they’re too “on the nose”; these include Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot or Israel Horovitz’s first play, Line, which is about people who fight while standing in line. I’ve even left out a personal favorite, Jean Genet’s The Balcony, a microcosmic play about revolution and the absurdity of social rank. Instead, the pieces on this list are equally thought-provoking but more difficult to interpret. They present the world as a paradox and humans as infinite and inconsistent. They present a deep incongruity of reality, often funny and silly, with no promise of eventual coherence.

If I found videos of the plays, I linked them. It may be worth having a screening party – perhaps any guests, following Ionesco’s The Chairs below, will be invisible.

First is Eugène Ionesco’s Jack, or The Submission: In this “family” piece, the main characters name is Jack, and all the other characters are named after him – Father Jack, Mother Jack, and so on. Jack, however, is a disappointment to his family because he won’t marry the woman they chose for him.

Next we have The Skriker, by Caryl Churchill. This piece features an ancient fairy pursuing two teenage mothers, along the way turning into all matter of objects and people, and speaking in a rhythmic arcane language Churchill invented for the play.

Though we’re skipping Waiting for Godot, Samuel Beckett still makes the list with his extremely abstract Nacht und Träume. A figure sits alone in a dark room, music by Schubert (also called Nacht und Träume) starts to play, and hands come out of nowhere and tease and touch him. That’s it. That’s the play.

Speaking of human parts, The Gas Heart by Alfred Jarry and Tristan Tzara is top absurdist form, as it centers on the personification of facial parts – ear, nose, neck, eyebrow and eye – in nonsensical, circular dialogue, the random (or deeply metaphorical) lines mentioning emperors, mollusks and pockets. This is an explicitly Dadaist playDadaism was absurdity as protest, formed in response to the horrors of World War I.

Next, is Arthur Adamov’s Ping-Pong, a play about two characters inside a sentient pinball machine who dialogue about being in a pinball machine, unable to transcend their surroundings. It has a strong Marxist vibe, with a Chaplinesque trapped-in-the-machine flavor, and lots of despair.
Finally, Eugène Ionesco earns a second entry on the list with the utterly delightful, utterly nonsensical, and a little touching The Chairs. You want to read this play and watch the video as well. An old man and an old woman are preparing for a party by arranging chairs throughout the play. It may take place in a post-apocalyptic world where there aren’t going to be any guests, or the old man and woman may be ghosts and the eventual (invisible) guests the real beings, but the ending introduces a new, completely paradoxical character into the mix, shattering whatever we might have thought we’d figured out by then. Perfect absurdity.


Is Climate-Sensitive Space Flight Possible?

The optimism of the coming Space Age 2 – with its tourism, mineral mining, colonization and endless derivative benefits – may be short-lived if we kill ourselves faster back on Earth from the carbon cost of accelerating such an era. The footprint of a routine space launch is around 100 times larger than a long airplane flight, already substantial. Furthermore, launches release large amounts of soot, hurting both the stratosphere and the ozone layer. As Rebecca Heilweil at Vox reports, “a study from 2010 found that the soot released by 1,000 space tourism flights could warm Antarctica by nearly 1 degree Celsius.” That’s why the scientists interviewed for Heilweil’s article make clear that they do not think space tourism and the like come close to justifying their wider environmental costs.

So: is climate-sensitive space travel possible? That’s a difficult argument to answer. At present, researchers are testing a variety of green fuel fixes that could change the risk assessment considerably. All of these solutions presuppose that enough shareholders and stakeholders will demand that the fuels be prioritized even if they cost more in the short term, and that governments will incentivize or mandate the transition. If that were to happen, we could likely mitigate the carbon impact of launches, although the technology may not be carbon neutral as carbon would be a necessary ingredient in the manufacturing of the technology itself.

Importantly, this green technology already exists. The challenge, however, lies in scaling and adapting. While it is possible that rockets could become smaller in some cases, ultimately we will have to eliminate carbon from the process, or at least use a much smaller amount that’s offset elsewhere.

“Green hydrogen” is “produced using water electrolysis (using electricity to extract the naturally occurring hydrogen from water) and renewable energy sources.” The BBC reports that it’s both completely carbon neutral and currently very expensive. The same BBC article discusses a second option, bio-fuels, which are “produced from organic material” or biomass like plants, animal waste, food waste, that kind of thing. At the center of any discussion, however, is the recognition of whether or not we have the political will to develop something or take a certain action. In many ways, the development of biofuels epitomizes this: it proves both that the harnessing of alternative and widely available energy sources is possible, and also that their role in transitions are not inevitable.

One source of optimism is that entrepreneurs themselves talk a good game and, in doing so, make themselves publicly accountable if they drag their feet later. For example, the Los Angeles Times reports that the chief of executive of British rocket developer Orbex openly says climate change is real and that making the emissions problems a thing of the past is imperative. Orbex “uses bio-propane that it says can cut CO2 emissions by 90% compared with traditional launch fuel,” which is huge if true. Similarly, a German satellite maker has developed a “mini-launcher,” a very small rocket with an environmentally-friendly propellant, which has the potential to become a model for light-load tourist launches. Stefan Brieschenk, the chief engineer at Rocket Factory Augsburg, the German satellite maker, shared an interesting observation with Reuters: He is only 34 years old, and his colleagues not only at RFA but throughout the industry are mostly young like him. As such, they understand there is a climatic responsibility that’s been placed on their shoulders and they accept their consideration of climate change in their work is a necessity.

Finally, it’s important to keep in mind that if we create permanent bases, colonies, and off-Earth construction and industrial operations, we likely will no longer need to burn anything near the amount of fuel required to leave Earth. That being said, we must simultaneously be committed to preserving the living systems on Earth, regardless of where we are in the universe; and the elimination of carbon from space flight, especially if/as it becomes more common, is both a moral and ecological imperative.