Space

Elon Musk, Starman

By Andrej Mrevlje |

A week ago I considered the dilemma between humanity and artificial intelligence; have we created our own damnation? I wrote a little about Elon Musk, the owner, CEO, and designer of cars and spacecraft. He is a formidable figure, a man quite inarguably of his time but who gives the sense that, no matter the epoch, he would be pioneering on a frontier. This fascinated me, so I spent more time this week learning and thinking about Musk, the innovation of his ideas, and the stagnant world that respects and opposes him. Musk exudes, publicly and intentionally,  uplifting and optimistic ideas, but also elicits doubt.

Soon after Musk’s SpaceX launched the Falcon Heavy, the world’s most potent operational rocket, capable to carry a Boeing 747 into space, Elon Musk’s success raised some questions and quite a lot of envy. Public doubt about whether a substantial part of the nation’s space industry should slide into the hands of a single private operator is considerable and fair. The conquest of new planets by an individual, no matter how smart and capable of acting in the interest of the whole of humanity, recalls the seeds of absolute statehood.

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Artificial Intelligence

Salvation Versus Elimination

By Andrej Mrevlje |
Artificial Intelligence and NASA Data Used to Discover Eighth Planet Circling Distant Star. Credits: NASA

Our civilization has, in an unprecedented time, run the distance between the desktop computer and a simple navigation app, self-driving cars and the ever more dominant use of artificial intelligence in our lives. It’s a race we’ve run without sight of the finish line, and the question of whether humanity is saving or damning itself with the help of AI remains. I have no firm stand on either position.  It’s without any doubt, however, that if we want to find a safer place in outer space, we will need tons of AI to get us there.

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Vatican

Backroom Battles as Vatican Courts China

By Andrej Mrevlje |
Pope Francis, Cardinal Zen and the letter.

The old, retired cardinal has had enough. He does not like what the Vatican is doing in China. He takes a plane and asks to be received by the Pope. But instead of bringing it to an end, the encounter of the two men escalated the tensions of the Vatican’s pending agreement with China, a peace brokerage between two opposing arms of Catholicism in one of the most strictly controlled regimes in the world.

The outcry of betrayal came from 86-year-old Cardinal Joseph Zen, affectionately named “Lion in Winter.” For decades, Zen has been urging the Vatican to take a stronger stand in defending the Catholic Church from persecution and control by Chinese Communist authorities. Cardinal Zen, now retired, was native to Shanghai but fled to Hong Kong to escape Communist rule at the end of the Chinese Civil War. He spent almost whole his life in Southeast Asia, traveling to China often.

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Writing

Mirage of Words

By Andrej Mrevlje |
Rancho Mirage, location that hosted all the writers. Photo: Andrej Mrevlje

“How many of you in this room had parents or grandparents that were not born in this country,” asked Dr. Khoi Le, a cardiologist born and raised in Vietnam who moved to the United States at the age of 14. Dr. Khoi tested the audience during his onstage interview with compatriot and writer Viet Thanh Nguyen, who became a celebrity after his novel The Sympathizers. It was the first day of the Rancho Mirage Writers Festival and one of the big conference rooms of the local library was packed. Aside from a few exceptions, everybody raised their hands. I looked around the bright room, its glass walls reflecting palm trees and mountains–a mirage! Those who raised their hands–first or second generation immigrants–were, on average, over seventy years old. The audience appeared much older than the celebrity writer and successful cardiologist on stage; they became wealthy and influential in the land of opportunity and, in their retiring age, came to listen to a younger and different generation of immigrants, born in Vietnam but made in the USA, as Nguyen describes in his popular novel.

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Geopolitics

China’s Great Game

By Andrej Mrevlje |

Sometimes history plays like a strange game. According to a once-respected voice of Karl Marx, history can only repeat itself as a farce. I wrote this piece because of that very possibility: that the sheer oblivion of history might create, rather than reasoned evolution, conditions for terror.

In my piece from two weeks ago, I wrote that the surprise meeting between the two Koreas was a deception. I was not able to indicate who, in that bizarre game, was making the moves, and who was being played. As the result of that meeting, though, North and South Korea have agreed to participate in the Winter Olympics under a single Korean flag. In other words, North and South Koreans will march together at the opening ceremony in Pyeongchang under a “unification flag” depicting the whole peninsula. So the horrific and the most dangerous border in the world, the Demilitarized Zone, will be symbolically obscured and the flag of United Korea will be raised up; the 38th parallel will be open after 70 years.

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North Korea

Happy New War?

By Andrej Mrevlje |

At the year’s start, I called a good friend in Europe who I haven’t talked to for a while. Toward the end of the conversation, I asked him if he would come visit me in D.C., but he declined to come to America again. So we talked politics a bit; I told him how the 45th is tearing down the country. My friend, who is informed but not as passionate about politics as I am, did not want to follow when I tried to explain the consequence of Trump’s politics: the U.S. drowning in international isolation. “I do not care what Trump does in the U.S. as long as he would let us live in peace,” my friend said. We did not pronounce the word, but it was apparent that we were talking about war.

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Media

Who Will Write Tomorrow’s Papers?

By Andrej Mrevlje |
Glorious times of journalism: Malcolm W. Browne's story behind the photo he took of a Buddhist monk's self-immolation, in 1964, was one of the major revelations about the Vietnam war.

We live in a period when the journalistic need to praise one’s own industry is supported by Hollywood movies. The Post, which just came out in the movie theaters, is a prime example. I will be glad to go and see this movie considering how much I enjoyed Spotlight, the popularly-awarded movie about the investigative team at the Boston Globe. Added to the Hollywood’s journalism canon, with All The President’s Men and Citizen Kane, the picture of what journalism likes about itself becomes clear. But these movies are similar to the movies that continue to show us the battles and illuminate the personal struggles of WWII; a genre is born. This piece is about what you do not see in the movies. It is about an industry that is changing as quickly as the world spins.

Is journalism dead? The crisis of the industry began with the interminable development of the web sometime in 2002 and, by 2008, for the first time, more Americans reported getting their national and international news from the internet than from newspapers. For the last decade, the media has announced the death of the printed press, the advancing march of digitalization, whilst attempting to create its own life raft with the build-up of new platforms and, of course, the intense search for a successful and miraculous business model that will bring truth-telling back into the margins of profit.

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America

Dirty Hands

By Andrej Mrevlje |
Photo: Andrej Mrevlje

As a man, it is hard to contribute anything to the present debate on sexual harassment without being embarrassed or in fear of saying or doing something wrong. It is a moment for women to try to educate men about them and their struggle for power and equality. It is the time that women’s bodies stop being used as objects, in the same way as it’s time to end the exploitation of and systemic racism toward black Americans. I hope their moment is coming soon too. Looking forward, I am aware that during that future vindication of African Americans, I will again have to be silent because of my cultural background, so deeply rooted in customs established by and enforced for centuries by the white, Catholic world, a narrow world that lacks elements and experiences of other cultures except in their subjugation. So how could I contribute to this contemporary cause? And while, at my very adult age, I can still learn from the woman I live and work with, women I was raised by and with, and who I interact with every day, I cannot do the same with black culture. I came late to a multicultural society, have no African Americans friends I can learn from, and have taken few opportunities to make them. Now, I am asking myself, is what I just wrote racist?

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America

Who Smokes Dope Anymore

By Andrej Mrevlje |
Euflora Cannabis Dispensary, 16th St. Mall, Denver. Photo: Andrej Mrevlje

As I was about to start writing this story on Denver, I read the news in the Cannabist, an extremely interesting Denver-based online daily. The publication, which evidently spends most of its time reporting on the marijuana market in Colorado, is well researched and accurate and reported that “Denver police on Thursday raided eight Sweet Leaf Marijuana Center locations in Denver and Aurora, and arrested 12 people, as part of a yearlong investigation into illegal marijuana sales.The criminal activities alleged included the sale of cannabis in violation of the 1-ounce-per-person, per-day limits established under Colorado marijuana law.”

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America

Impeachment Menu

By Andrej Mrevlje |

Just a month into Donald Trump’s presidency, my European friends and colleagues wanted to know what I thought of the unusual behavior of 45. As I’m no expert on American law or the constitution, I could only give them my impression as a political observer, and U.S. resident. Trump, after his move to the Oval Office, continued to express seemingly thoughtless statements (Tweets) and act in an unpredictable and senseless way, far from the norm of presidential behavior; it is no wonder people desperately sought to reason. It is my opinion that a superpower like the U.S. cannot afford (and, therefore, nor can the world)  to have an erratic person lead the country for a long period of time, and since the White House did not change, or make Trump more presidential–a hope many Americans were holding onto–my gut told me that he would soon hit a wall and there will be somebody, somewhere, who will invite him to leave office. I could not imagine how this irrationality could last more than a year. He will be out by Christmas, I kept saying.  

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