Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Klan Plans to Rally Support For the Confederate Flag on July 18th - More Proof It's The Symbol for Varmints and Haters!



I am really getting tired of these whiny-ass Johnny Rebs and those who defend them. Especially those who KNOW in their heart of hearts the Confederate Battle Flag is a flag of hate given the species of vermin that out and out defends it. Now, we know that case is closed, given the Ku Klux Klan plans a rally at the South Carolina State house on July 18th to defend it. Why would the Klan - the embodiment of black lynchings and cross burnings throughout the South - want to defend it? If you can't figure that out you flunk the history IQ test! (And probably ANY IQ test!)

According to Brian Gaines, a spokesman for the S.C. Budget and Control Board, "The Loyal White Knights" (guess there's no "black Knights")  of the Ku Klux Klan requested the rally from 3 to 5 p.m. on July 18,  The Klan is expecting 100 to 200 to attend, according to a copy of its state event form.

Calling itself the “Largest Klan in America,” the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan are based in Pelham, N.C., according to the group’s website.. One inbred fool identifying himself as the “great titan” of the N.C. chapter of the Loyal White Knights left a message with an online site saying his group is holding the demonstration because “to us they are erasing white history and white culture right out of the history books. That’s why they want to take that flag down.”

Puh-leeze! NO one is "erasing white history" - you can find the legitimate sort in any proper history book such as A People's History of the United States, by Howard Zinn.  What we are erasing is the ignorant jabberwocky that the South fought the Civil War for any other reason than preserving slavery - so its plantation overseers could whip and rape and brutalize African -Americans at will.

As for the hog shit about "fighting for state's rights" - sorry my bumpkin friend, there isn't any such thing. States have prerogatives, not rights, because states exist as governmental entities not as persons-individuals. Prof. Garry Wills (‘A Necessary Evil: A History Of American Distrust of Government’, Simon & Schuster, 1999) further reinforces this point in his chapter ‘Constitutional Myths’(p. 108):

“The states have no natural rights. Their powers are artificial, not natural – they are things made by contract.”


 Why is this so hard to process? Well, because these hateful yokels never learned proper history or Constitutional government, to begin with.  SO they will twist it any way they can including using false equivalence (almost always citing that "Lincoln himself was no abolitionist", and "the North imported cotton" etc.) in order to try to make the  Sophist's case that the North was as bad and god awful as the South. No it wasn't. It didn't base its whole economy on the management of vast plantations where slave masters ripped families apart, raped slave women at will - and flogged male slaves half to death. So don't even go there.

The other thing that galls me no end  is the Reb defenders' incessant efforts to create specious "hypocrisy" exhibits- mainly by staging mock events. For example, the incident now being circulated around youtube of the ISIS flag sold at a Walmart after the Confederate flag was pulled. But here's what these dishonest twisters  aren't telling you:

- The guy that requested the ISIS cake,  Chuck Netzhammer of Louisiana, is a pro-Rebel asshole who got his panties in a twist because Walmart wouldn't make him a Confederate flag cake.

- PO'd, this goober got a lowly, forlorn, ignorant (of current events) Walmart "associate" to make an ISIS flag for him which this rascal then put on youtube to try to expose Walmart's "hypocrisy"

Uh, no,Jasper. All you exposed is how overworked these Walmart associates are to the extent that they don't even have the time to keep up with current events.

These latter day Rebs are now all calling for a "new Civil War" - and I say bring it on! Evidently "y'all" didn't get your asses beat badly enough in the last one so now we have to finish the job!

Maybe instead of trying to stage rallies to defend their loser flag they'd be better off getting some research talent to try to clone what's left of Robert E. Lee.  They'd have just as much chance of success!

See also:

http://www.smirkingchimp.com/thread/robert-parry/62863/confronting-southern-victimhood


Excerpt:

"Unlike the Germans after World War II who collectively shouldered blame for the Holocaust and the war’s devastation, America’s white Southerners never confessed to the evil that they had committed by enslaving African-Americans and then pushing the United States into a bloody Civil War in their defense of human bondage.

Instead of a frank admission of guilt, there have been endless excuses and obfuscations. Confederate apologists insist that slavery wasn’t really all that bad for blacks, that the North’s hands weren’t clean either, that the Civil War was really just about differing interpretations of the Constitution, that white Southerners were the real victims ..."

And this link about an ignorant black Confederate "flagger":

http://www.salon.com/2015/06/30/african_american_flagger_says_confederate_flag_isnt_about_race_slavery_was_a_choice/

Monday, June 29, 2015

Space -X Resupply Rocket Blows Up - But Don't Say "Space is Hard'!

Image for the news result

Elon Musk's Space- X resupply cargo rocket, carrying supplies for the International Space Station (ISS) as well as 30 student experiments, blew up two minutes after launch yesterday. Musk tweeted in the aftermath:

"There was an overpressure event in the upper stage liquid oxygen tank. Data suggests counterintuitive cause."

Which is counterintuitive bafflegab and bollocks. Why can't this guy just admit he's not investing enough money and resources into the damned thing, and trying to cut too many corners?

Astronaut Scott Kelly - in space for a year long duration experiment- watched the launch from the ISS and also offered a more or less dimwit comment:

"Sadly failed. Space is hard".

Uh no, it's only "hard" when you don't devote the resources, time and energy needed for success- lessons we've learned over and over since the Challenger disaster in 1986.

Another NASA honcho echoed the same refrain that "It's not easy taking care of a space station, I think sometimes folks think its easy or routine. That's when we get into trouble."

No, we just think you get into trouble doing it on the cheap - using private entrepreneurs, as opposed to an experienced cast and resources NASA had for decades -is a formula for disaster. (Yet some in that previous NASA cast are now helping the military get Shuttle-type launch vehicles put into space with no problems at all!)

So let's cut the crap.

We've seen a similar act play out last year when Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic "Spaceship Two" came crashing back to Earth, e.g.
SpaceShipTwo crash
This was to be the craft to give wealthy hotshots a chance to say they'd at least been to the edge of space (to experience weightlessness) at a quarter million bucks a pop. The total duration of each flight? Five minutes.

Loren Thompson, an analyst at Virginia's  Lexington Institute, who's consulted for Boeing and Lockheed Martin, offered the most blunt perspective on commercial space junkets in a Financial Times piece (Oct. 31, 2014):

"What we're learning is that consistent success in launching space vehicles requires a much bigger investment of time and money than most entrepreneurs are willing to make".

Duh! This has been exactly my point for the past five years, since the retirement of the Shuttle - at least for cargo shuttling purposes to the ISS.  But the entrenched optimists who run these small time commercial outfits simply refuse to accept it. Refuse to accept you ain't going to the Moon, far less Mars, or even to the space station by using relative chump change operations (maximal outlays on the order of $10m or so when the Shuttle program exceeded $300 b) and minimal resources. You need instead the resources of a whole nation and that's why the key successful space missions now are compliments of national efforts (e.g. China and India),  not private company efforts.

That so many people of even above average intelligence can't process this or accept this is simply amazing, but perhaps speaks to the overwhelming power of PR and manufactured malarkey dominating today's 24/7 news cycle.  And so, one must not be too surprised that too often PR can gut and overcome rational and analytical critical thinking faculties.

Scott Kelley and others can spin this latest disaster as "space is hard" if they want, but most of us with a historical perspective know better. A pity most others would rather buy codswallop that these magnates running private, commercial operations  can compete with what a government entity using interconnected talent and resources could do.

Why Were So Many 'Muricans Cheering for the Escaped NY Killers?



With the shooting and capture of David Sweat 2 miles from the Canadian border yesterday afternoon, the saga of the two escapees from Dannemora's Clinton Correctional Facility came to an end.

Still, it left me slack- jawed,  while watching Michael Smerconish on CNN Saturday, to learn that hundreds of people were cheering for the escaped New York killers, Richard Matt and David Sweat. Smerconish had received a ton of tweets on it, and put up one from a woman whose hubby was actually a cop, insisting they were both "rooting for these two guys, don't ask why- LOL".  But one must ask why!  And it's clear the couple hundred tweets Smerconish received, cheering these slime balls on, could not have been the only ones.

How to address it? Well, when all else fails bring in a psychiatrist, or shrink! And so he did. His guest therp proceeded to explain this misshapen phenomenon on the basis of "fantasy" - assuring Smerconish and his viewers that one must take care to distinguish one's wild, untamed thoughts from what one would actually DO. So we could be sure if either killer came knocking at one of the cheerleaders' homes, they wouldn't hesitate to call the cops and not sit down and pour out a glass of Bailey's to make a toast.

What manner of "fantasy"? Typical of the shrink profession - known for churning out BS and twaddle (see e.g. 'The Book of Woe: The DSM and the Unmaking of Psychiatry'),  we learn it has to do with the basic reality that we are all "prisoners". Workers feel in prison as a result of their 8 to  6  jobs, from which they can't escape. And hubbies may feel "prisoners" of their marriages which keep them tied down with kids and chores instead of doing what they want and when.  Thus, the daring escape of Sweat and Matt from the Dannemora upstate NY prison was like a breath of fresh air, in that it provided a vicarious escape for all those who feel confined to their own little prisons.

Can we all call out 'Balderdash!' on this? If so might there be some other less obvious explanation that doesn't require dime store psychology? Possibly!

Let's begin with the sad situation of a surfeit of trite, crappo, low grade, PR-infested bilge generated by a co-opted corporate media, devoted more to manipulating citizens' minds than informing them. This abomination  has perhaps been no better expressed than by author Chris Hedges in his terrific book, ‘Empire of Illusion’ (p. 45):

Hour after hour, day after day, week after week, we are bombarded with the cant and spectacle pumped out over the airwaves or over computer screens by highly paid pundits, corporate advertisers, talk show hosts, and gossip-fueled entertainment networks. And a culture dominated by images and slogans seduces those who are functionally literate but who make the choice not to read…….

Propaganda has become a substitute for ideas and ideology. Knowledge is confused with how we are made to feel. Commercial brands are mistaken for expressions of individuality.   It’s in this decline of values and literacy, among those who cannot read or have given up reading, that fertile ground for a new totalitarianism is seeded.”


Which is to say, false consciousness has been inserted into too many millions of our fellow citizens' brains-  turning them into repositories (I say "garbage dumps")  for the propagandists and disinformers. This is exactly why the excess media barrage is dangerous, because it makes discriminating selection so difficult and too often encourages the choice of lowest common denominator fare.

What is false consciousness? It’s the name given to a false information system that's been absorbed in part or whole, osmotically or via direct mental ingestion, by the majority of a population.  It has specific uses in the Neoliberal Corporatocracy to mislead a population about how things actually work. The political system ('democracy' is the rhetoric, but corporate dictatorship the reality), the economy ('free market' the rhetoric, but controlled markets the reality) and so on. If understanding can be obfuscated, and attention deflected to specious distractions and titillation, then the people can be disempowered. And even cooperate in their own economic (or social, political) subjugation.


As Carl Jensen also notes (Project Censored Yearbook: The News That Didn't Make the News and Why, 1995, pp 12-13):

"More than a half century ago Hitler said the masses take a long time to understand and remember, thus it is necessary to repeat the message time and time and time again - the public must be conditioned to accept the claims that are made no matter how outrageous or false those claims may be. We as a society, appear to have been well-conditioned to accept any number of claims regardless of how detrimental they are to our environment or to our own well being."


How to break out of this web of illusion? The solution, which terrifies the corporatists, is independent citizen expression! But….it assumes the citizen himself is well-informed, and armed to the teeth with bona fide knowledge (not false knowledge) – whether of history, science, economics, or whatever,  and also endowed with formidable critical thinking skills. Otherwise, the citizen’s independent expression is really just an extension of corporate propaganda and false consciousness with the effect to reduce us to the level of dependency of children.

Blogging is the ultimate citizen individual expression, which has as its prime objective to break free of the corporate media matrix and lies. But again, the blog that aspires to this objective must reflect and embody not just opinions – but opinions predicated on facts- supported by critical thinking and reasoning, analysis.

But what about all those with less than stellar writing skills, or who simply don't have the patience to blog - which, after all, requires some background research for each topic and dedication? Then, there is always the promise of a temporary real time spectacle, especially one which puts the media on its heels, as well as authority figures for the modern Neoliberal corporatocracy.

Thus, the escape of Matt and Sweat signaled for these less skilled folks a "breakout" from the norm in which their lives experienced a "collateral breakout" from the usual 24/7 media PR themes that instill false consciousness. And indeed, the media's coverage of the 21 day chase showed just how many times they screwed up in one detail or other or how their accounts varied. They simply couldn't keep track of the unfolding story and often, contradiction was the rule. Were the killers in this cabin? NO - in the other 200 yards distant! Were shots fired here? No way over there! Was one of them wounded? Yes, Matt was maybe on the foot....or maybe it was a mosquito bite that became infected. At times it became amusing to behold that neither Linzie Janis or Stephanie Gosk could seem to relate the same account, the same night.

So the explanation for the cheerleading is more down to earth than fantasizing about a vicarious escape from a job serving as a "prison". It is more about an actual escape from false consciousness.  After all, the pair had succeeded in their breakout by literally digging through hundreds of feet of  steam pipes and underground utility lines to reach a street and a manhole cover by which to claim freedom. There was no confection or manipulation of reality in this narrative - which also explained why the media (experts at canned PR) couldn't keep up with the facts.

Hence, for the duration of this epic, viewers - many of them -also attained a measure of escape from false consciousness, given the real life spectacle playing out before their very eyes in real time. Hell, it was better than watching 'Big Brother'!

The sad thing about all this? It shouldn't take a real life escape of killers or a natural catastrophe to enable Americans to escape from the media-sown false consciousness. People ought to be able to do it on their own, using their own critical thinking and energy.

The problem is that, as Hedges points out, most choose not to. After Matt was killed and Sweat captured yesterday the residents of the area breathed  a collective sigh of relief. As one put it: "Now we can get our lives back to normal". Or, maybe false consciousness?

Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Case For Particle Accelerator Experiments in Near Earth Space


What do we know about the aurora? Well, we know that high above Earth's surface, high-energy electrons and ions rain down on the upper atmosphere - spiraling along the planet's magnetic field lines. When the particles strike the upper atmosphere they excite (ionize) nitrogen or oxygen molecules producing the glowing display known as the aurora.

While computer simulations and numerical analysis have dominated auroral studies, such as at the Geophysical Institute of the University of Alaska, there is a less well known way to study this phenomenon. This entails injecting electrons artificially using a space -borne accelerator.

Few are aware that NASA has previously flown devices that fired beams with energies of a few to tens of kiloelectron volts (keV).  In a new study, Marshall et al (Journal of Geophysical Research, Space Physics, 2014) have used computer simulations to explore the capabilities of a small but powerful particle accelerator positioned at an altitude of 300 km and aimed at the atmosphere.

This accelerator would feature energies three orders of magnitude greater than the actual ones already used by NASA. Thus, it would be capable of generating a beam with particles in the 0.5 - 10 MeV range via pulses lasting 0.1 microsecond and carrying 0.1 amp of current. The simulated specs for the device are based on the Compact Accelerator for Space Science (COMPASS) currently being designed by the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and the nonprofit research institute SRI international.

The authors note that deploying such a device would offer many scientific opportunities to study the behavior of particles in the upper atmosphere. We'd see, for example, the paths of injected electrons trace out the arcing field lines of Earth's magnetic field - illustrating how they bend and snap during intense geomagnetic activity caused by magnetic storms.

We'd also see how visible, aurora-like emissions would be generated as the particles descend into the Earth's atmosphere and strike atmospheric molecules. Make no mistake this is exciting stuff especially for those involved in space physics. If such a particle accelerator could shed more light on magnetic substorms it would be more than welcome.

In most current substorm models it is required that there exist some dynamo action which sends currents to specific regions to provide a Lorentz force: (J ⊥ X B). At a particular altitude then, these J ⊥ currents can trigger a substorm. In the proper space physics (magnetospheric) context, a “neutral wind” arises from a force associated with the neutral air of the Earth’s atmosphere (e.g. Hargreaves, The Solar-Terrestrial Environment, Cambridge Univ. Press, 1992, p. 24). This force can be expressed (ibid.):

F = mU f

where f is the collision frequency. It is also noted that this wind blows perpendicular to the geomagnetic field (ibid.)

If one solves for f above, and uses the magnitude of magnetic force (F = qvB) where B is the magnetic induction, and v the velocity one arrives at two horizontal flows for electrons and ions moving in opposite directions. mU f = qvB = (-e) vB = (e) vB

Thus,

v1 = mU f / (-e) B and v2 = mU f / (e) B

A terrific articulation of the process has been done in a paper by Syun-Ichi Akasofu ( Auroral Substorms: Paradigm Shifts in Research', Eos Transactions, Vol. 91, No. 31, August 3, 2010, p. 269) wherein the author points out:

"The transfer mechanism of solar wind energy to the magnetosphere...is now known to be a dynamo process that converts the kinetic energy of the solar wind to electrical energy on the magnetopause - because most auroral and geomagnetic phenomena are various manifestations of energy dissipation processes."

This amounted to a brilliant recognition of the energy aspects but more work needs to be done, especially in developing self-consistent models for "loading" and "unloading" processes.  These refer to two distinct energy paradigms, the B-v (driven) and E-J . In the former observations of the magnetic field and motions govern the models, in the latter it is the magnitude of currents or current densities (J ).

Ideally, use of the type of particle accelerator proposed may actually one day be able to replicate actual auroras such as the one we observed and photographed in Chena Hot Springs, Alaska in March, 2005 e.g.


Meanwhile, Marshall et al's computer modeling shows the injected beam would leave a visible, glowing trail that could be measured from the ground with a peak emission occurring at an altitude of about 44 km. How to explain? As the incoming electrons are jerked around by the molecules of the atmosphere they'd also emit x-rays that could be seen from high altitude balloons operating at around 44 km - thereby providing a further prediction for the model.

One drawback, we need to be sure to inform the public via popular science articles or blog posts so as not to incur a hysterical reaction - such as been the case with the HAARP (High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program).   See more on this program here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High_Frequency_Active_Auroral_Research_Program

As noted in the above link:

"HAARP was a target of conspiracy theorists, who claimed that it was capable of modifying weather, disabling satellites and exerting mind control over people, and that it was being used as a weapon against terrorists. Such theorists blamed the program for causing earthquakes, droughts, storms and floods, diseases such as Gulf War syndrome and chronic fatigue syndrome, the 1996 crash of TWA Flight 800, and the 2003 destruction of the space shuttle Columbia. Commentators and scientists say that proponents of these theories are "uninformed", because most theories put forward fall well outside the abilities of the facility "

Once again, then, we see the emergence of really nutty conspiracy theories which must always be judiciously and relentlessly separated from those which have validity. Simple conflation of all conspiracies is, of course, the easiest path to take - but also the intellectual coward's and non-critical thinker's. We cannot be that blasé and lazy.

The way to do this for space physics developments - like the proposed particle accelerator- is to keep the public informed, and also hope that current science education can keep up with current scientific advances! Briefly put, we need much more attention to high school physics - as well as college physics!

El Rushbo Blows It On Atheism, Pantheism & the Pope's Science Advisor


"El Rushbo" fulminates in the midst of a brain fart.

transcript of a recent Rush Limbaugh show obtained by one salon.com writer was entitled “The Pope’s ‘Science Advisor’ Is an Atheist Who Worships the Earth,” which began:
 
My friends, not one to let things go, I have dug deep, and I have found out practically everything there is to know about the science advisor to Pope Francis on this encyclical. And the main thing you need to know, the guy’s an atheist.”
Of course we know, especially from one University of Minnesota (2006) survey by Penny Edgell that atheists are living slime, the next thing to Islamic terrorists and hence evil, and therefore their judgment can’t be trusted. One could as well trust a radical Muslim.  Given Limbaugh's limited intellect, exposed when he tried to go against Sandra Fluke, this is what we know about this overstuffed hog.

Limbaugh then attempts to deliver a mini-lecture on different religious beliefs and blows it with one brain fart. He blabs:

 “the word for it in the story that I found, one of the most credible stories, is a pantheist, which is a variation of atheist.”

Actually, no, you dope. Pantheism holds that nature and deity are bound up as one entity – most often either as a single oneness, or in terms of the regularities of natural laws. Thus, when one worships nature one worships God, or when one appreciates natural regularities – evinced in natural laws- one is indirectly worshipping God.

In terms of crude or unrefined pantheism, the totality of the universe, its energy and all relevant fields are equated to a “divinity”. This is, when one thinks about it, merely a mammoth expansion and extrapolation of Sun worship. Instead of worshipping one immediate celestial body, one is worshipping all of them as a collective.

A much more subtle form is natural law Pantheism which received much attention after Einstein referred to it as “Spinoza’s God”. When pressed to explain himself, Einstein went on to aver he didn’t believe in a personal God, but rather “Spinoza’s God, the order and harmony of all that exists.” In other words, the principle of regularity of natural law at work in the cosmos elevated to a kind of impersonal deity. However, it’s wise not to read too much into this, and it clearly doesn’t come across as anything to be worshipped!

By contrast, the implicit atheist withholds belief in a deity pending adequate evidence being forthcoming. He isn't trying to "dodge" anything, and certainly wouldn't be asking for evidence if he regarded a divine entity as linked to "impossibility of knowledge". The explicit atheist by contrast, rejects outright all deity claims.

Limbaugh also errs by asserting that a “pantheist is somebody that believes the earth is a living organism that has the equivalent of a brain and reacts to horrible things done to it by humans,” and that in this view “the earth becomes the deity and there is no God.

But this is in conflict with the previous definition and also confuses pantheists with those who believe in Gaia. (The concept of a self-regulating Earth)  Gaia theory is a hypothesis formulated by the chemist James Lovelock and co-developed by the microbiologist Lynn Margulis in the 1970s, that proposed that organisms interact with their inorganic surroundings on Earth to form a self-regulating, complex system that contributes to maintaining the conditions for life on the planet. The philosopher Michael Ruse notes in 2013 that “as science, Gaia never really made it, but it has provoked important scientific work nonetheless. The world as a whole, its homeostasis or lack of it, is interesting, important, and worthy of investigation,” More to the point, even if Gaia theory hasn’t been accepted by most scientists, say like Continental Drift theory, the generic discipline of Earth Systems Science flourishes.


Limbaugh’s minor mental excavations actually raise more questions than answers. Does the Pope’s science advisor, Hans Schellnhuber, really believe that the Earth is a living organism like you or me — or God? And if he does, does it matter? Do only atheists believe in anthropogenic global warming? If so, how does El Rushbo explain someone like Katharine Hayhoe, an Evangelical Christian who “believes her religious faith obligates her to spread the word about climate change”?  Limbaugh should really worry more about her because she has the power to change Christian minds. Christians certainly aren’t going to be swayed by an evil atheist pantheist.

However, given Limbaugh can't even distinguish between atheists and pantheists it more than makes sense that he'd  make no effort to understand how an Evangelical Christian could believe that “among climate scientists, people who spend their lives researching our world, there’s no debate regarding the reality of climate change and the fact that humans are the primary cause.”  Given the magnitude of cognitive dissonance it would sow in El Rushbo's sclerotic brain,  it's little wonder the porker doesn’t even mention the fact that she’s a Christian. It turns out that just mentioning her on his show was enough to discredit her, though; Gingrich subsequently cut her chapter out of his (climate change) book completely.

For a sane and rational person - which clearly El Rushbo is not - a  charitable reading of Schellnhuber would lead him to conclude that the papal advisor is not shilling for a new religion. He’s using Gaia as a metaphor to help him understand the issue. Schellnhuber also says that this “hotly debated ‘geophysiological’ approach to Earth-system analysis argues that the biosphere contributes in an almost cognizant way to self-regulating feedback mechanisms that have kept the Earth’s surface environment stable and habitable for life.” Perhaps Rushbo didn't notice that Schellnhuber uses scare quotes to describe Lovelock’s idea of studying the Earth’s “body.” He also utilizes metaphorical language again when he says that the Earth acts in an almost cognizant manner. That is, almost but not really.

Can El Rushbo make the distinction? Why would he if he can't even tell a pantheist from an atheist? The man's drug-addled brain is so bereft of its moorings and rational bearings it would be like trying to train an ape to grasp differential calculus applied to Moon rockets.

Never mind El Rushbo's mental deficiencies, it’s clear that the Earth system science that people like Schellnhuber and others invoke makes generous use of metaphors both to understand the issue of global climate change and to communicate this understanding to the rest of us. Whether it’s called “Gaia” or “God’s creation,” it’s a poetic metaphor that has the power to motivate us to make the necessary changes because it shows how much we’re actually invested in it.

Alas, right wing trolls like Limbaugh will never make such investment because it's not in their interest to do so. Apart from the fact they lack the mental wherewithal to be able to do so to any substantive level.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Have Humans Really Never Had It "So Good"?



A current meme making the rounds - especially amongst academics- is that modern day humans have "never had it so good". While they may be getting ground under by the one percenters and corporations, and many can barely make ends meet - never mind- they can still get to Walmart for a new DVD, video game or whatever.

One part of this meme is that humans are too attuned to "look for trouble" rather than be grateful and appreciate what they've got. Why are they bellyaching, for example, about Confederate flags no longer being sold at Walmart when  - compared to a Middle Ages serf - they are basically living like Kings with their own home ("castle") and even enough money to buy HDTVs, guns and even swimming pools?

One strong advocate for this put on the happy face and be thankful for what you have is Dr. Steve Mason in his Integra (June, p. 21) article, 'A Happy Face'.  But before we get to Steve let's deal with another powerful meme related to it, promoted by another Steve named Pinker. This is that compared to past eras human violence has decreased qualitatively and quantitatively. Pinker frames it as a "decline of evil".

 If indeed the aggregate indices and totality of human-instigated evil have declined,  it means nearly all the apocryphal tales of religious books and literature are wrong or at least exaggerated. It means in addition, that the entire meme of Eschatological Messianism is defunct and debunked. The latter, of course, refers to the period of glorious dominion presumed to follow the last period of world history, after Armageddon, when the "Antichrist" ( the ultimate Evil-doer) is due to briefly reign, followed by a Second Coming of Christ. This is all according to evangelical-fundamentalist Christians in the U.S.

Countering the Armageddon bafflegab is the strong evidence that violence in toto appears to have declined around the world relative to other eras. If this is valid, and not merely a statistical quirk, it means at least one element of human evil is in decline. These propositions, or their derivatives, are implicit in Stephen Pinker's recent book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. I am deliberately associating violence with manifest human evil as at least a proxy indicator of its extent. Pinker's arguments are essentially based on two propositions that he sets out to prove:

1) The past was far more beastly and vicious than presumed to be, and

2) The present is vastly more peaceful, contrary to appearances.


 In a way these propositions are fairly sound. For example, in the immediate past rationalism was virtually non-existent and when rationalists did emerge, they were rapidly eliminated. Not only their minds, but bodies too, as well as property and often any offspring. Most of this was done via the Inquisition which lasted for nearly seven hundred years. Though they’d never admit it in a million years, the Vatican and Roman Catholic Church actually harbored one of the most malignant forms of human evil, in that same Inquisition.

 In his excellent monograph The Inquisition of the Middle Ages, Henry Charles Lea, in his chapter Subjection of the State  notes how papal bulls and direct threats were used to subvert and co-opt all state, civil authorities. This was to render them useless to oppose the will of the Inquisition. One such bull issued by Pope Innocent IV on May 15, 1252, is described as[1]: a carefully considered and elaborate law...to establish machinery for systematic persecution as an integral part of the social edifice in every city and every state

Each ruler or magistrate thereby became the extension of the Church itself, and could apply bans, imprisonment, property confiscation or outright punishment to those deemed heretics and do it in the name of the Holy Inquisition. In this way, a civil metastasis of the physical evil embodied in the Inquisition could be spread far and wide.

 Ad extirpanda ensured that the vicious violence perpetrated under the guise of protecting dogmatic or doctrinal purity was applied to a vastly larger population than it otherwise might have been. Because of its violent extent, especially in relation to seizure of property, it's estimated that by the middle -1300s half the population of then western civilization had been subjected to it, an unheard of proportion.

 By comparison, the most recent outbreak of  mega-magnitude violence was World War II in which some 73 million are estimated to have been slain, either in direct combat, or in brutal purges and  mass exterminations such as the Nazis perpetrated in their concentration camps, including at Mauthausen, Treblinka and Auschwitz. Even so, 73 million dead would not even comprise 10% of then populated western civilization, say ca. 1944-45. Meanwhile, the proportion butchered or with property seized by the Vatican’s Inquisition represented a far greater proportion than 10% of the then human population.

Thus, although modern era evil and violence appears more extensive and vile, it really isn't. It's a trick of our perception and historical selection bias. Pinker himself argues that "murder rates in England peaked in 1300 and in New England in the late 17th century. Afterwards, both fell dramatically."

 Pinker also accurately notes that in the modern era (from late 19th century through today) wars rather than tribal - religious wars or crimes, accounted for the lion's share of violence, and hence evil. But even given greater numbers killed in such conflicts, this form of mega-violence has been in marked decline for the past two decades. And while we may see genocides in these conflicts, such as in Rwanda in 1994, they pale beside the disproportionate genocides conducted by ancient Israelite Tribalists. These were all.in the name of Yahweh, i.e. against the Canaanites, if Genesis is to be believed. Indeed, if those accounts are true, it means some 500 -1000 times more humans were wiped out (as a proportion of then population), never mind the justification for it.

In this sense, Pinker's excellent graphs tell a lot of the story. For example, as expected. World Wars I and II show highly peaked points, then there's a bumpy but consistent trailing off following World War II. In terms of statistical frequency, the twentieth century naturally stands out for the sheer scale of the destruction of human life, including via atomic bombs, gas chambers and other devices.

However, when one normalizes the graphs to the actual populations present in the key eras, one finds that the past was actually far more vicious as well as the violent deaths - including being carved open by an Inquisitor with entrails removed and fed to the fires - much more common than the vile acts in 20th century or even the present (including mass shootings, terror attacks and beheadings). Is dying by Zyklon B in a Nazi gas chamber worse than an inquisitor using his knife and pliers to extract your intestines while you're awake and cook them in front of you? I'm not sure I even want to go there. But the fact is, by proportion of the respective populations, many more humans were dispatched in the latter mode than the former.

 Pinker also expatiates on the neuro-plasticity of the human brain and its ability to change in response to experience. He implies from this that people are less likely to resort to violence in their daily lives than their forbears, and that other behavioral changes and strategies work better. Of course, this assumes all factors are equal and they may not be. For example, verbal violence using computers (say on social network sites) now often takes the place of physical violence. However, the consequences can be just as terrible with the victims taking their own lives. Is this a retrenchment of evil? I would argue, no, only casting the evil in a different guise.

 Then again, there’s no assurance any current epoch for relatively less evil will continue. As a case in point there is the catastrophic approach of Peak Oil. Indeed, one issue of MONEY magazine actually warned[2] that “global oil supplies are near or past their peak, while demand for energy product shows no signs of abating”.

 Even before the MONEY article appeared, warnings have been repeatedly sounded though one wonders how many have paid attention. For example, Peter Tertzakian[3] has used a somewhat different term – the break point- to describe an analogous phenomenon for which oil prices continue to rise as more efficient forms of oil (e.g. light sweet crude) continue to go down, forcing deep sea drilling, access to tar sands oil and oil shale fracking.

T. Boone Pickens, one of the most famous oilmen and the ultimate pragmatist, has asserted that[4]:  We’re now at the point where demand for oil is 87 billion barrels a day, while only 85 billion can be produced.”  This is acknowledging Peak Oil by any other name. The Financial Times article further noted that the world’s premier energy monitor was “preparing a sharp downward revision of its oil supply forecasts”[5]. The full formal report pointed to “global oil supplies plateauing even as demand continues.”

 The article also noted[6] that a growing number of people in the industryare endorsing a version of the ‘peak oil’ theory: that oil production will plateau in coming years, as suppliers fail to replace depleted fields with enough fresh ones to boost overall output.”
The drastic consequences of energy supply and infrastructure  collapse in the face of exponentiating demand have been well described. The data show a disturbing gap by 2009 of nearly 2.1% between the total energy actually produced from around the world, and that consumed[7]. Much of this can be traced to the inability of fossil fuel production to keep up with population growth and energy demand[8]. Many experts, indeed, are convinced Peak Oil occurred in 2005.

 Why the concern? Because we will face perhaps the most intensive external agent driving masses toward human evil in our history. Many may not buy this so we perhaps need to delve deeper and one can cite Richard Heinberg[9] who has laid the case out in crystal clarity by using the primary quantifier of EROEI or energy return on energy invested.

Oil in the U.S. used to have an EROEI as high as 18 fifty years ago[10]. It only took one barrel of oil to extract eighteen barrels of oil. This was such a fantastic ratio that oil was practically free energy. But the latest data show this fallen to around 9 is still falling[11], a sure sign we are in energy trouble, since the minimum EROEI required for the basic functions of an industrial society is in the 5-9 range[12].

 More critical is the food component of oil that's hardly mentioned except by the inner circle cognoscenti. To be blunt, oil = food given that it provides the primary bulk of fertilizer to support the green revolution  or what's left of it. Take away the oil fertilizers, not to mention the petrol to run farm machinery, and famine follows on a mass, global multi -billions level scale.

In his essay Thoughts on Long-Term Energy Supplies: Scientists and the Silent Lie, physicist Albert Bartlett pinpoints the failure to name human population growth as a major cause of our energy and resource problems[13].  Bartlett avers that scientists display a general reticence to speak out on this issue which stems from the fact that it is politically incorrect to argue for stabilization of population, at least in the U.S.

To put the numbers in more stark relief, Bartlett, in a follow-up extended letter in Physics Today[14], noted that in the 1970s there were about 2.2 liters per person per day of oil. Of this, one could estimate that just over half or nearly 1.3 liters went to food production, processing, preparation or distribution. This was in a world with nearly 2.7 billion fewer people! Today, we are down to a production level of barely 1.6 liters per person per day while the consumption level approaches 4 liters per person per day. After Peak Oil, the latter will continue to increase, while the former will diminish by about 2-3 percent per year.

 It doesn’t take a math genius to ascertain that this is a recipe for catastrophic crash of the human population![15]


Obviously, if the food supply is inadequate, we can expect violence will become commonplace as each person fights for whatever energy resources are available.  The gist of it is that as the oil to support our energy-intense civilization ebbs, it will become harder to obtain water, affordable food as well as other amenities now deemed basic for living a civilized life. Power availability, say merely to stay cool in a scorching greenhouse world, will be scarce. Since power is also needed to preserve foodstuffs, and run furnaces or air conditioning the catastrophe isn’t difficult to decipher.

  When the old energy order finally breaks down, with power grids kaput because of excessive demand during global warming heat spells, and food in too short supply, it will literally be every man for himself. In such a brutish world, it’s difficult to imagine brain neuroplasticity saving the day or spontaneously encouraging any better angels of our nature. The available useful energy will be too low to do such! More than likely, as the final food stores vanish, most of that brain neuroplasticity will be needed to mount defenses against marauding gangs, anarchists, cannibals and assorted other two-legged predators.

One must conclude then that given the cumulative harrowing facts and statistics, Pinker’s concept of diminishing evil being permanent or sustained is more a pipedream than a credible aspect for modern  human affairs. The most generous take for Pinker’s thesis is that he managed to capture a fraction of a cycle of human history within which violence did retreat from earlier epochs. However, he didn’t factor  in the energy parameters far enough into the future to see that ultimately human civilization, predicated on moral order can't be sustained without resources.


Steve Mason (op. cit.) portrays more modern concerns in the realm of inflated worries. He insists he's "not some Pollyanna nitwit bent on banning the death penalty and passing the chicken soup" but he does then appear to dismiss global warming as any real or abiding concern by naming it explicitly  after writing "human beings perceive as threats the silliest things".  Well, hate to break it to him, but global warming is not about some tiny little elevation of one's discomfort zone, it's about real, life threatening upheaval, e.g.

http://brane-space.blogspot.com/2015/06/separating-real-threats-to-human.html

Hence, people's concerns about this threat are not simply misplaced, or inflated, and one can argue such concern drives activism and practical response.

It is thus well to "ease the minds of the masses" as he proclaims his objective to be,  but not to have them blinded to real threats, or dismissing them as idle ones.  Mason also jumps a bit too rapidly into the claim that "famines and plagues are a thing of the past". Not really! They are only in hiatus. When our population exceeds the critical threshold that the narrow margin for resource support  provides, we will again see plagues and massive famines. It is as certain as the Sun rising tomorrow morning.

Mason's take on the "pesticide threat" is also dismissive, despite  the fact there's now good evidence that the death of one third of all honeybee colonies can plausibly be traced to a form of pesticide from a family called neonicotinoids—“neonics” for short—developed a decade or so ago to replace organophosphates and carbamates, which are also highly toxic but dissipate far more quickly. In case anyone forgot, the humble honeybee is responsible for the pollination of nearly half our food crops.

Mason writes: "I suppose the American Cancer Society can supply figures to support significant  increases in cancer deaths" - but he shouldn't expect that given the ACS is part of the problem!  See e.g.  http://brane-space.blogspot.com/2012/02/cancer-industial-complex-biggest.html

As noted therein, citing research from Breast Cancer Action:

"The Cancer industry consists of corporations, organizations, and agencies that diminish or mask the extent of the cancer problem, fail to protect our health or divert attention away from finding the causes of breast cancer...this includes drug companies that, in addition to profiting from cancer treatment drugs, also produce toxic chemicals that may be contributing to the high rates of cancer in this country and increasing rates throughout the world. It also includes the polluting industries that continue to release substances we know or suspect are dangerous to our health, and the public relations firms and public agencies who protect these polluters.

The Cancer industry includes organizations like the ACS that downplay the risk of cancer from pesticides and other environmental factors and which have historically refused to take a stand on environmental regulation".

Mason does aver:

"I'm not saying that we're out of the woods for good, that a stray comet's not headed our way, but for the time being at least, why not relax and enjoy?" 

Well, because too many parameters for  species survival criticality don't allow it!  Hence, one must resist the temptation to dismiss pessimistic emotions as pathological.  This is a point also reinforced by Barbara Ehrenreich in her book: 'Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America', Her book is worth it just to see the skewering of Stephen Covey's "Who Moved My Cheese?" crap in Chapter 4 and doing pretty much the same with Martin Seligman's "Authentic Happiness" poppycock in Chapter 6.

Seligman tries to make us believe that pessimism can have only adverse effects on one's thinking - but in fact, as Chris Hedges shows ('Empire of Illusion') pessimism can be a useful ally and antidote to the manifestly unreal and BS culture we inhabit - where most citizens' brains have already been colonized by "smiley face" bunkum and PR piffle. (Explaining why too many no longer know their own history.)  This leaves them more likely to be relentlessly exploited by capitalist elites and political predators: purchasing crap goods and services from the first, and buying empty promises from the second.  None of which is consequence free.

In my book, 'Atheism: A Beginner's Handbook' I tried to explain in the last chapter why Americans were almost universally distrustful of atheists (ranking them below Islamic terrorists and homosexuals in terms of respect).  I wrote that:

"Two factors drive this: 1) a brain architecture that favors an optimism dynamic and “hope” even when reality testifies to the contrary, and 2) a pernicious culture of “positivity” that reinforces this brain defect, recently highlighted by Barbara Ehrenreich."

Ehrenreich noted that American mass culture is saturated by a saccharine “cult of positivity,” with children brainwashed from an early age that they can do anything, and adults brainwashed to believe if they just work hard and long enough they’ll become super millionaires like Donald Trump. That no one has slain the insipid “Horatio Alger” myth up to now is really a testament to America’s  individualist hubris and false optimism.
 
 
The takeaway from all this is there is a decent literature in support of not fleeing from pessimism, negative thought or even from mild depression at the state of the planet (especially the extent to which we're trashing it). As one respondent to a Science News piece put it: "These emotions can be just another source of information".   (Science News, Dece. 14, 2013, p. 30).

Thus, I SHOULD  rationally evince pessimism if I learn about the CIA and its insidious tortures and what it has done to the reputation of our country  - even rendering us hypocritical when we squawk to  North Korea or China about human rights. If we don't practice them uniformly ourselves how do we have a moral leg to stand on? We don't. And that IS depressing!
 
Those who shut such emotions out are consciously limiting key sources of information and internal response - and perhaps putting themselves in the same place of too many hopeful Jews just after Hitler came to power in Germany. As one Holocaust survivor put it in one of the presentations in The Holocaust Testaments: "It was the pessimists who left the country early. It was the optimists who stayed and got sent to the camps."



[1] Lea,,op. cit. 33.
[2] MONEY magazine (December, 2011) 'Making A Bet on Scarcity',   70.
[3] Tertzakian, A Thousand Barrels A Second, 246-47.
[4] Pickens,: The Financial Times. May 21, 2010,  A1.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Op. cit.  A12.
[7] The World Almanac and Book of Facts: 2013, 142.
[8] See the site: www.dieoff.org which has a wealth of information, statistics for Peak Oil indiciators.
[9] Heinberg: The Party’s Over: Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies.
[10] Inman: Scientific American, (308), 59.
[11] Op. cit., 60.(chart)
[12] Op. cit., 61.(inset information)
[13] Bartlett: Physics Today,: 2004 (July) , 53.
[14] Bartlett: Physics Today.  2004  (November), ,18.
[15] At the heart of these considerations is the net energy eqn. (cf. Physics Today, Weisz, July 2004, p. 51):  Q (net) = Q (PR) – [Q (op) + E/T].  In effect, for break-even oil one would find Q(net) = 0  Thus, there is no net gain in energy given the quantity that must be used to obtain it. For the last 700 billion barrels, of hard to obtain oil (which we are fast approaching): Q(net) = negative quantity = -Q.  Since the rate of energy production (Q (PR) must be debited by the energy consumed for its operation Q(op), and the energy E invested during its “lifetime” T.  Thus its Q(PR) will be small in relation to the bracketed quantity. Thus, the problem in a nutshell is not “running out of oil’ but running out of cheap, accessible oil.  Bottom line, we need not run out of the stuff before the world economy runs into problems of untold, unspeakable proportions!

Friday, June 26, 2015

SCOTUS Gets It Right On Obamacare Subsidies - Despite Scalia's 'Jiggery Pokery'

 File:Antonin Scalia, SCOTUS photo portrait.jpg
Antonin Scalia - who believes we need more exorcists - referred to the Roberts' decision as "jiggery pokery".

Huzzahs and kudos to Chief Justice John Roberts, for clearing the air on the Affordable Care Act, and leading a 6-3 Supreme Court decision to allow subsidies for millions of people who otherwise would have been excluded given they don't live in states with health care exchanges. Of course, all the heads of the Reepo presidential candidates and  conservative hacks and lackeys simultaneously exploded in the wake of the decision - making one wonder what these mutts will do after the next SCOTUS decision to likely allow same sex marriage. In the wake of the Confederate flag being margnalized and removed in multiple forums, plus the Obamacare decision, I believe these punks will be all out of outrage by the time of the next big decision.

But maybe not. One thing the Right's babies - from Lush Rimbaugh to Bill O'Reilly - are really famous for is mock outrage and playing the 'poor widdo me' victim card. You see it everywhere, from the "victimized" Confederate sympathizers getting their flags taken down, to the other whiners trying to make the gullible believe the ACA was a "socialist invention". Errr no, a real socialist invention would be single payer Medicare for all, as Bernie Sanders has proposed, no insurance companies involved.

Look, the ACA -  otherwise known as "Obamacare" -  is not the greatest health care deal around. It was instead an original center -right proposal first advanced in the Nixon era then revived in the 90s (by the likes of Dole and Gingrich) as an antidote to "Hillarycare". Then it was actually put into practice in Massachusetts under then Governor Mitt Romney and became known as "Romneycare".

When the Obama-ites first proposed it, most of us who are true liberals screamed our heads off- demanding the public option, as at least a viable alternative. But a committee of seven headed by cornpone corporate Dem Max Baucus - plus three Reepo members - ensured that option died. Meanwhile, the great "socialist" Obama didn't lift a finger to come to the option's defense - and thus the insurance company-dominated ACA emerged as the only reality. So don't believe the Right's screech monkeys for one second when they yap about "socialism". The fact they do indicates they don't know beans about the evolution or history of this scheme.

Getting back to Roberts, and realizing fully that torpedoing the ACA subsidies would mean 6.4 million people would have nowhere to go, he delivered the only legal decision available and also scolded the critics for their too literal reading of the law (as well as congress for sloppy writing of the specific section to do with the exchanges).

Roberts noted that the three parts of the law are "interlocking" and that the insurance cannot deny coverage of pre-existing conditions,  everyone must get the insurance to spread the risk  and the subsidies (for low income people) make it more affordable. Take away the subsidies, and the system collapses.  As the Chief Justice put it:

"Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them"
.
In other words, blowing away the garbage from the protestors, the Court has clearly said the ACA conforms to constitutional law, it's told us what it means and the Obama administration has interpreted it correctly.

Which is just common sense. However, we know the court's three objectors - especially Antonin Scalia - don't possess that commodity. Scalia, in his reckless and hysterical dissent, wrote:

"The decision shows the court favors some laws over others. "

And:

"We really should start calling the law SCOTUScare"

Scalia also referred to the process by which the decision was made as "interpretive jiggery pokery and pure applesauce". Now this is a character who once pondered what happened to the Devil, as I noted in my post of Oct. 12, 2013.   His own words, from an October 6, 2013 remark:

"In the Gospels, the Devil is doing all sorts of things. He's making pigs run off cliffs, he's possessing people and what not. And that doesn't happen much anymore. He used to be all over the New Testament...What happened to him? He got wilier!"

Bill Maher's take on this REAL jiggery pokery on his REAL TIME show on Oct. 11, 2013 was:

"I don't care why someone acts like a fool, only that when they do we keep them away from decision making. It would be one thing if Mr. Scalia sold pizza for a living. But this is a man we go to to interpret our laws. It's like smelling a gas leak and calling an exorcist."

Maybe the best thing Scalia can do in future dissents, is let that dimwit Clarence Thomas (lowest academically -ranked justice to have ever been appointed - in other words, a true token black)  have the say. At least a dumbed-down dissent is probably preferable to a psychotic, Devil mongering wacko's jiggery pokery!.

Of course, the whole clown cavalcade of Repuke presidential contenders has insisted they will now work to repeal Obamacare. Good luck on that, you bozos, especially after the WSJ reported four days ago a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) finding that if Obamacare is repealed a budget deficit of $141 billion would result.

So these jerks ought to be getting on their knees and thanking Roberts for saving their bacon, because frankly they have nothing to replace the ACA if it was repealed. Would they really be so stupid as to alienate over 16 million potential voters to get the ACA knocked out with nothing to replace it? (Marco Rubio suggests "putting health care in Americans' own hands", which translated means give 'em "premium support". To see more on that go here: http://brane-space.blogspot.com/2012/03/premium-support-medicare-still-terrible.html )

Well, they're Republicans, so the answer is 'maybe'.

See also:

http://www.smirkingchimp.com/thread/tina-dupuy/62827/congratulations-conservatives-you-won

And:

http://www.salon.com/2015/06/26/scalia_thomas_alito_have_totally_lost_it_the_complete_and_utter_incoherence_of_the_conservative_supreme_court_justices/

Addendum:

On cue - let the conservatives' heads explode some more: The report now coming in on CBS is that the Supreme Court has just ruled 5-4  that the states do not have the right to outlaw same sex unions. The Court also ruled that all 50 states must recognize same sex marriages performed in other states.