It’s a rainy night in London, and I am drinking a glass of whiskey in a bar at Terminal 2 of Heathrow Airport. I wanted to avoid the rush hour, so I left my flat earlier than needed, but now I find myself with a lot of time to kill in this place. I brought David MacKay’s excellent book “Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air”, and I am hooked on the technical chapter III.C (Planes II). This is one of those books that you enjoy more with pen and paper. In the 45 minutes that I have been here, I have scribbled four pages of equations and diagrams, following his derivation of the total power required to keep a plane in the air, and his formula of transport efficiency.
Two terrorists talk about their plans in a bar while having a couple of beers. The waiter, listening to them, approaches and asks: “Excuse me, gentlemen, but what are you talking about? “The terrorists look at each other, and after a brief pause, the first one answers: “Well, you see, we are planning an attack in which ten thousand people and a horse will die“. “A horse?“- says the waiter – “Why do you want to kill the horse? “. “I told you! “- shouts the second terrorist, scolding his partner -“Nobody will care about ten thousand dead! ”
If Colombia were a normal country, it would have 2,500 homicides per year, not 12,000+ as it happens now.
The previous is a strange sentence to write. It sounds like if there was something ordinary in killing; that there is an adequate number of murders; that we should aim to have a reasonable amount of homicides. It reminds me of that despicable phrase from former President Julio Cesar Turbay: “We must reduce corruption to its fair proportions.”
No. Just as there are no fair proportions of corruption, there is no number other than zero, of lives taken by the violence that we can tolerate.
In Colombia, the word “peace” has been corrupted up to the point of becoming just some cotton candy, sugary, colourful and frivolous. Its meaning has evaporated, rendering the term into a mass of threads, to which we have all become addicted, but that we consume without thinking for a moment if what we have in our hands is the real thing or just an artificial product.
Rodrigo Uprimny, scrutinising the methodology used by the Colombian government to conclude that the number of homicides of social leaders has decreased over the last year, wrote the following: “A single violent death of a social leader is unacceptable, and that is what makes so unfortunate to discuss the accuracy of their homicide rates, since the numerical debate can conceal the human tragedy behind each homicide.” Three years ago, I had the same feeling when I was estimating the potential impact that a deal with the FARC guerrilla could have in Colombia’s violence, specifically in the number of homicides. At the time, I thought that such “numerical debate” was a gross simplification of the horror that afflicts the lives of thousands of people. When I shared the progress of my results on Facebook, I did it with shame, almost excusing myself for having the boldness to project the violence of the country in cold numerical calculations.
Here is a personal anecdote, of something that happened three years ago, during the days of the referendum for the peace agreement in Colombia. It was the summer of 2016, and I was one of the millions of Colombians who were sure about the benefits of the deal that the government had reached with FARC for its demobilisation. I suppose that I will offend half of my readers when I admit that two years before I had already voted for the re-election of Juan Manuel Santos, precisely because at that time it seemed to me that it was best to let the process move forward. Calling the people to endorse the agreement was an absolute stupidity (something that I already wrote about in this blog before), but to me, voting in line with what the government had been working for four years was the most coherent thing to do. There was some light at the end of the tunnel.
The clock is ticking in a countdown for America to go back to the Moon. Back in March, Mr Pence announced that the current administration wanted to see humans again in our satellite by 2024. This announcement took everybody by surprise, as the most optimistic deadline for accomplishing this feat was 2028. Is this plan realistic? I personally don’t think it is, and I seriously doubt that NASA will be able to fulfil the promises of the Artemis program, the cleverly named project that will attempt to send a woman to the Moon for the first time.
It is entirely possible that other players get there in the 2020s, perhaps in the form of a private partnership, like the ones that have been suggested by some prominent billionaires, but it is improbable that it will be accomplished in the way envisioned by the Trump administration. To give a bit of context, I wrote in my previous entry the case of the failed Constellation program, which was born during the presidency of George W. Bush. In this entry, I want to draw some lessons from the most successful space program ever, the Apollo program, before going into the reasons behind my pessimism about Artemis.