Saturday, January 30, 2016
That belief manifests as an instinct in humans has now been well documented. It is mainly in the field of evolutionary biology that much of the research into this instinct has been done, including by Dominic Johnson in his new book, 'God Is Watching You - How The Fear Of God Makes Us Human'. Of course, neither Johnson or other evolutionary biologists are touting an actual deity in which belief is invested, but rather a creation of the human brain that offers unique evolutionary advantages.
But religious belief, as in investing one's mental capital (to the extent of conviction) into a given religion's credos and dogmas, must not be confused with God belief. The conflation of the two is what leads many to think religious belief is wired into the brain. It is not. Rather the brain's temporal lobes are predisposed to supernatural beliefs in general, whether devils, angels, ghosts or vampires. Johnson himself argues that belief in supernatural forces (and especially an "angry god") that can punish is a useful evolutionary adaptation in that it can steer adherents toward moral probity and societal cohesion, progress.
How come? Well, while rape for instance, might have enabled primitive, amoral tribes to spread their genes indiscriminately, once language and a god-fearing culture developed the putative presence of an invisible and angry monitor would have prevented tribe members from incurring high social costs. Also, it would save the tribe social capital by having to decapitate so many offenders if the invisible censor in the members' brains was already eliminating potential vicious acts before they could manifest.
Johnson himself also argues that god-fearing societies with high moral senses would also be more likely to be established and grow given they'd more likely punish even minor offenders. For example, he argues that societies that punish cheaters more consistently and aggressively are more likely to prosper. This can also explain why so many of these god fearin' societies have little tolerance for atheists, especially in holding high office. Johnson quotes the 17th century English philosopher John Locke, for example:
"Those who deny the existence of the Deity are not to be tolerated at all. Promises, covenants and oaths, which are the bonds of human society, can have no hold upon or sanctity for an atheist"
Of course, this is all bare balderdash, with Locke merely invoking another form of the ignoratio elenchi fallacy. Generate a false premise, i.e. "atheists deny the existence of the deity" (which we don't, we merely withhold investing belief in an unproven entity) and ergo we will have no truck for oaths, promises and covenants. But this is also a non sequitur even if some hard core atheists did "deny" a deity, because the rejection of bonds and covenants would militate against their own self interest!
But again, there is no real deity only a concept of one, what we call a "God concept". If religions or religionists claim they are advancing the SAME God but in different ways, then the critical thinker must point out the redundancy and superfluous nature of most. Since they will never agree on whose God meets that standard, then we must come back to the notion of relative and subjective God concepts.
The use of the term God-concept then recognizes implicitly that the nearly universal allegiance to some God belief or other is separate from the issue of any factual existence of a deity. In other words, the widespread use and appeal of God concepts does not mean that there is a genuine correspondent in reality. In fact, humanity's penchant for creating Gods via God-concepts is fully explainable by appeal to brain architecture and tendencies such as described by Michael Persinger in his monograph, The Neuropsychological Bases of God Beliefs, 1983. As he noted therein:
"The God Experience is an artifact of transient changes in the temporal lobe”
But that doesn't mean it isn't evolutionarily useful. Persinger was merely among the first to recognize that human brains possess a hyperactive agency detector device, thereby seeing unseen "agents" - spirits, demons, angels, gods and the like in natural phenomena as well as random happenings. (I.e. a person come through an airplane crash unscathed and insisted "God was protecting me!" - but somehow in his infinite power missed the dozens of other passengers.
As for natural phenomena, like solar eclipses, powerful lightning strikes, tsunamis etc., it was to be expected primitive humans - before the advent of modern science - would latch onto supernatural agents as the primary causes. They had no theoretical or rational wherewithal to come up with anything else. Still, as Johnson puts it:
"Learning religion is part of human nature. Learning science is against human nature"
Especially as much of modern science (e.g. quantum mechanics) goes directly against our dictates of common sense and simplistic versions of causality. Our basic nature is to use these as guiding standards but in QM and relativity, for example, they are useless.
As Johnson and many of his peers have noted, there is little harm in reacting to something that turned out not to exist but dismissing an unseen agent causing rustling in the thick brush might have dire consequences. Those primitives that ignored it might become meals for a saber tooth tiger. So, no surprise that the benefits of survival would be mutated to a pattern of evolutionary selection in seeing agents everywhere. I mean, hell, the instinct is even easily triggered in atheists. How many times have we walked down dark city streets late at night, and suddenly heard a noise behind us, then picked up our pace? Maybe not a goblin, but could be a mugger.
All of which discloses that perhaps there is something to be said for controlling the belief instinct in certain venues - whether of politics, our modern culture, or psychology. If then belief is allowed to run amuck, say whether in unhinged paranoia (such as circulated on Alex Jones' "Info Wars"), or in accepting all Muslims are terrorists, or in supernatural cataclysms (e.g. the Armageddon fantasy) then we may pay the price. In the latter case , for example, if Ted Cruz seriously believes in Armageddon and that - if elected President- he has the power to bring it to fulfillment, we may all be in serious trouble.
But even in less serious or intense scenarios managing the belief instinct can prove valuable..
Friday, January 29, 2016
Bernie Sanders has now become the next thing to Count Dracula to the scheisters of Wall Street and the Neloibs.
NO, it wasn't surprising to read in the WSJ yesterday that the Democrats on the Hill, feckless wusses that they are, refuse to support any of Bernie Sanders' proposals in their 2016 platform. These were Nancy Pelosi's own words, quoted: "We have no plans to include any tax increases in our platform!" Oh yeah, Nancy? Then what will you and the other Neolib Dems do when Bernie starts a campaign roll with twin wins in Iowa and New Hampshire then moves on to take SC, Nevada and other key states. Still gonna piss and moan about socialism?
But it isn't just the traitorous Dems, who now only give token support to the Middle Class, having abandoned the working class. As long ago as ten years, Michael Tomasky observed ('Dems Fightin' Words' in The American Prospect) that the pussified, wussified Dems had lost the will to fight for the working class and even most of the middle class. He observed, accurately I believe - from what I have witnessed - that the Dems eschewed political point-making and "hard nosed", no-holds barred political partisanship sometime in the early 70s. They replaced it with discussing fact-based policy points, which appeal to "reason" and "temperance" but do little or nothing for core partisans. The very people Dems need to get out to the polls each mid-term election.
As he wrote:
Apart from judicial battles, the Democrats don't have much fight in them. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
So it isn't really surprising now these Milquetoasts would all be lining up behind Hillary especially as they're all terrified of the Republicans' scare mongering about Sanders' socialism being a millstone round their miserable necks in the election. They should be so lucky!
But what is more obvious is how the Neoliberal and corporate press has come out against Bernie. Including the Washington Post, one of the most Neoliberal whore rags of all - ever since Phil Graham took it over back in the 80s. Recall Graham made profit more important than genuine investigative journalism, such as evidenced in the Watergate era (with Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein's work). So no wonder the WaPo has come out whining about Bernie "creating his own brand of fiction". No one should be surprised at the propagnda cant of these PR bootlickers for the Neoliberal State.
Then there are the WSJ nabobs like Burton Malkiel ('The Bernie Sanders' Attack on Stock Trades', Jan. 22), who have tried to tear down Bernie's plan to pay for free public college by imposing a 50 cents transaction tax on stock trades. Malkiel basically claims Sanders' plan would distort the capital markets making it more difficult for capital to flow and essentially creating a "hidden tax" to further undermine the economy. But as one WSJ letter writer already pointed out (today, p.A10), if Malkiel was truly worried about reducing comparative advantage and creating societal distortions he need "look no further than the effect on markets of high speed trading".
As author Michael Lewis (of 'Big Short' and 'Flash Boys' fame) already pointed out, these high frequency trades basically render the stock market a rigged game. The FT guys can literally make millions of bucks in redemptions before Joe Schmoe can even get his hands on his cell phone to his mutual fund co. Look, these fuckers (and their apologists) full well realize how many billions would be reaped via this tax each day given most of these SOBs now use flash trading to turn ten thousand trades in a few minutes with special algorithms and computers, see e.g.
As the WSJ letter writer critic observed:
"If the exchanges and regulators clamped down on the 'flash boys' corrupting markets, the only domestic employment it affects would be their own. Mr. Sanders's income transfer is the right tax to levy.It would never affect the markets all the way out to our economic expansion and employment at Malkiel claims."
Apologists like Malkiel yap as if Sanders' proposal is revolutionary but it was offered as long ago as 1992 by William Greider in his book, 'Who Will Tell The People - The Betrayal of American Democracy' and then some years later in Greider's book : One World Ready or Not - The Manic Logic of Global Capitalism, Simon & Schuster,1996.
Among the proposals advanced in the latter book:
1. Independently writing off, liquidating debt of poorer nations, e.g. as France has done in the case of Honduras' destruction by Hurricane Mitch.
Then there are the disinformationists and obfuscators like Megan McCardle of Bloomberg News ('Sanders' Health Plan Is Missing the Price Tag') who, using a series of ignoratio elenchi arguments, concludes that Sanders' plan would bust all future budgets if allowed to pass. The ignoratio elenchi argument, as we know, puts forward a preposterous premise and then draws irrelevant conclusions from it, hence the term "ignorance of the refutation". This is analogous to the misleading argument made by Burton Malkiel on Bernie's stock trading tax.
One of the irrelevant, bogus conclusions of McCardle is that single payer would only cost less if you make hospital staff "accept less pay". In fact, this is horse manure. The plan costs less because there is one single payer administrator - say much like CMS in Medicare- instead of hundreds of private insurers each taking their piece of the pie. She also doesn't even factor in the fact that a "Medicare for all" system would not be 100 percent "free" in any case. Just like actual Medicare, it would not cover any dental expenses, or eye exams, glasses, and in addition would cover only 80 percent of actual treatment costs with the patient paying the other 20 percent. So all her numbers end up being inflated.
She also yaps about "raising money for single payer", totally oblivious that it is already expected that NO private insurance exists to enhance those medical costs. Hence, one is already ab initio cutting out the private parasites' cuts! Sanders' $1.35 trillion a year estimate then, is predicated on removing $2 trillion in private premiums, costs. McCardle's arguments also betray ignoratio elenchi overtones when she says "if you make health care absolutely free to patients and refuse to allow insurers to deny treatments then people are going to use more health care"...and break the system. No, they won't because again, the single payer Sanders is advocating is not absolutely free, as I noted. Because they are not absolutely free, patients will be more inclined to be circumspect in their use of health care than reckless.
But realize these are just the tip of the iceberg.
For example, the effects of language and PR debasement of reality (the REAL Orwellian Newspeak!) extends to the whole political system which can best be described as one of legalized, corporate-fuelled bribery. While citizens do get to vote every two or four years, in reality it's only to choose their next set of Overseers, errr....Overclass masters. Once the votes are in, the true powers - the corporate ones- take over and direct (via their money and lobbyists) the real choices and possibilities. All Sanders is trying to do is to fracture this unholy nexus and liberate the public consciousness to choose its own best outcomes that favor the general welfare not the corporate (or military) welfare
Why? Why aren't the little guys more aware of how they're being shafted in a rigged system? Maybe for the same reason, as former trader Michael Lewis observed two years ago (CBS Early show to promote 'Flash Boys'), they're not paying attention to how flash trading is ripping them off via "millisecond" advantage and thereby gaining pennies on the dollar with each trade made. The FT'ers essentially gain those pennies (which add up to billions over time) by getting shares redeemed before you can via that slight micro-time advantage.
Why doesn't the SEC do anything to stop this baloney? According to Lewis, because once they leave the SEC they will be looking for jobs on the Street so don't want to alienate it with antagonistic regulations or judgments. So don't look for the SEC honchos for any guidance or alerts to help you with navigating the swamps of Maul Street. You are literally on your own - with maybe this blog and a few others to try to provide some heads ups.
Thursday, January 28, 2016
The Challenger blows up thirty years ago over Cape Canaveral
It is safe to say that every sentient person alive 30 years ago recalls exactly where he or she was when informed of the news that the Challenger Space Shuttle had blown up. I was holding office hours for physics and space physics in the Physics Bldg. of the University Alaska-Fairbanks. A student had rushed through the door, barely coherent, and yelped: "The Space Shuttle just blew up!" Few could make sense of events from the assorted blurting so it was natural for people to find the neaarest television and turn to CNN as soon as time allowed.
As in the events of the Kennedy assassination, the horror and shock of the moment engulfed everything at the time. No sense could be made of the causes - only seeing the endless loop of disastrous imagery - that insane, peculiar Y-smoke plume engraved on an otherwise pristine sky over Florida.
The final answers wouldn't emerge until after the formation of an actual government commission (unlike the PR Warren Commission set up by LBJ to investigate the Kennedy assassination) and the stellar work of one bold physicist: Richard P. Feynman. It was, in fact, Feynman who conducted a simple ice water experiment before the Challenger commission to show it was none other than the failure of an obscure mechanical component (O-rings) in freezing temperatures that triggered the cataclysmic event.
Most of this is written up in over 135 pages of his book, 'What Do You Care What Other People Think: Further Adventures Of A Curious Character', 1989. What we learn is how Feynman painstakingly extracted the information to conduct his "little experiment" - as he called it - by pursuing points with the Thiokol engineers and other personnel. He learned, for example (pp. 134-35):
- There were images of hot gas leaks from previous flights - or what the engineers called "blowby"
This inevitably left a "blackening behind an O-ring where hot gas leaked through."
-In some instances, it left an "erosion" where the O ring had actually been burned by the gases a little bit.
-There were charts of all the flights showing how seriously the blowby and erosion manifested on each one.
Basically all these aspects were relevant as Feynman learned something else: During any given Shuttle launch there occur vibrations which cause the rocket joints to move a little. (Bear in mind the O-rings are directly attached to the solid rocket booster) The O-rings are placed inside the rocket joints and are intended to make a seal and - as Feynman learned - without the O-rings the solid booster's hot gases would expand through the joint and cause a catastrophic event.
On further discussions with the Morton Thiokol engineers, Feynman learned these O-rings had zero resilience at low temperatures. Having lost resilience, they'd be next to useless and then would not keep the crucial seal and so allow hot solid fuel booster gases to expand precipitously, He learned that on the morning of January 28th, 1986, temperatures had actually reached as low as 22F at the Cape, or 10 degrees below freezing.
It was time for his experiment!
Seated at one table he had asked an assistant staff member to bring him a glass of ice cold water (with ice actually in it to ensure it was at 32F). As Feynman describes his testimony, after switching on his microphone (p. 151):
"I took this rubber from the model and put it in a clamp in ice water for a while. I discovered that when you undo the clamp the rubber doesn't spring back. In other words, for more than a few seconds, there is no resilience in this particular material when it is at a temperature of 32 degrees. I believe that this has some significance for our problem."
And in typical, understated Feynman fashion, he blew the minds of the commissioners and others to smithereens. Showing with a simple physics experiment the central cause of the Challenger explosion: the Shuttle was rushed out for a launch in freezing temperatures, causing O-ring failure and the hot booster rocket gases to explode outward - claiming the lives of all eight astronauts on board, including teacher Christa MacCauliffe:
One narrative uncovered by Feynman, in the wake of his experiment, was that NASA wanted the Challenger launch made that icy morning, because it coincided with the date of Reagan's State of the Union speech. Then Reagan could tout the triumph, e.g. of space made even safe for school teachers, during his appearance on national TV. Instead he had to deliver a somber eulogy.
But Feynman's experimental exposure of NASA's callous neglect was so devastating and incriminating that the account would only find its way into an Appendix of the Proceedings.
Showing once again that too many humans can't handle the truth!
Two of the right wing clowns who've been involved in an armed standoff at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge
Well, it's been a rough week for the Right wing nuts so far. It started with a Texas grand jury - if you can believe it - issuing a decision Monday to clear Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing and instead indict two wacko activists associated with the loopy bunch known as the "Center for Medical Progress" - which ought to actually be known as the "Center for Medical Regression".
To remind readers, these assholes entered a California PP clinic under false pretenses and with fake IDs (California fake drivers' licenses - a felony), as well as using the fake licenses to steal a woman's identity (ID theft -another felony) to get access into closed medical conferences. They then made assorted videos which they submitted to fictitious editing and released them to try to prove fetal tissue from abortions was being sold by Planned Parenthood. The TX grand jury wasn't buying their appeal to righteousness and instead indicted the pair.
The worst thing is that this foul play not only angered the usual hysterics in the Repuke Party but also likely incited a right wing terrorist to kill three here in Colorado Springs, in an attack on Planned Parenthood, e.g.
The grand jury basically agreed with Planned Parenthood that it broke no laws and that the illegally obtained videos were edited to be deliberately misleading. Worse, for the activists of the Right, they face even more challenges and lawsuits according to a WSJ piece ('Group Behind Videos Faces Challenges', Jan. 27, p. A3). These include a lawsuit filed in San Francisco by Planned Parenthood which mirrors the charges made in the Texas grand jury case - including violating non-disclosure agreements by secretly videotaping conversations at PP sites.
Then, in Oregon, the fake wackadoodle patriots led by the spawn of Cliven Bundy - Ammon and Ryan- had their little occupation of Malheur Wildlife Refuge disrupted after they were busted by local cops - ending in a shootout. The Oregon cops had orders to grab these miscreants, on their way to a community event, but the 'reckless militiamen' (including one woman) decided to try to fight their way out and paid with 2 getting shot, one killed (Lavoy Finicum). To hear the Repuke candidates (like Marco Rubio) screeching you'd think it was a bunch of actual patriots getting whacked as opposed to poseurs and pretenders.
As Bill Maher noted in his last 'Real Time' episode:
"How tough can you rugged individualists be when the first thing you did after storming the rest stop was to post an appeal online for supplies? A shopping list, really, that included such items as throw rugs, shampoo, foot warmers, and French vanilla coffee creamer. What, no scrunchies so you can braid each other’s hair?”
As the audience howled, Maher went on with another jab at these mock patriots:
"The reality is, if these idiots were all that “ready to die, we’ve had a few wars they could choose from. You can go fight ISIS, ’cause what you’re doing isn’t saving the republic, It’s more like when you’re a kid and you run away from home by hiding in the backyard.”
Meanwhile, after the altercation, 40 or so high tailed it back to their digs, despite Ammon telling them to give it up. But these knuckleheads are too dumb for that and probably now will await the FBI, ATF and even National Guard dragging their sorry asses out. In any case, they're squatting on native American land. It's not theirs. As The Economist also put it in a recent piece ('They the People', January 9, p. 24):
"Any private claim to personify the 'We' in the constitution's 'We the People' is ominous. In the case of the Bundys and their sort, it is also spurious an not only because locals in Oregon want to be rid of them. Other citizens - including hikers and tourists - also have claims to the public domain. So, for all the ranchers' rage, do other species ...
Gung -ho individualism is only compatible with egalitarianism when resources are infinite and the individuals are few."
A good point also - that last line - for the economist morons who keep chirping how we need "more people" for economic growth and life quality.
In the end, Martin Wolf - in his article in The Financial Times ('The Economic Losers Are In Revolt Against The Elites') may be correct when he attributes all this nativist fanaticism of the Right to phony (e.g. elitist) populists like Trump. Those who seek political advantage by stirring the embers of grievance and victimization, because 'them furriners got more than us'.
As Wolf reminds us, most of this white male (mainly) grievance commenced with the 'Southern strategy' of Richard Nixon, who deliberately fed the fires of hatred by exploiting lower middle class and working class white "rage over racial, gender and cultural rage" - now bearing a bitter fruit.
Speaking of Trump, the final element of the Right's misery trifecta this week was his refusing to appear on the Republican FOX debate stage tonight. Evidently, it's true that the ferocity of FOX moderator Megyn Kelly really does terrify the Donna. I mean, after she hosed him good in the original debate, one could understand why the Donna would not wish to go toe to toe with Megyn again.
Meanwhile, the WSJ's Holman W. Jenkins in his column yesterday pointedly asked:
"Why vote for Trump? He's adopted positions on abortion and gun control that nobody believes."
But one wonders, if the Donna can't face Megyn Kelly how would be able to stand up to Hillary if she's the Dem candidate, or Vladimir Putin if (god forbid) he somehow gets enough morons to vote for him? And why would anyone waste a vote on 'Donna' if no one believes his positions? Inquiring minds want to know!
Time will tell.
Wednesday, January 27, 2016
[(1.38 x 10-23 )(10 7 K) (8.85 x 10 -12 F/m) / (4p) (10 29/m3) e2 ] ½
( 10 29 /m3) (1.9 x 10 - 10 m) 3
The number of particles in the Debye sphere:
= 3.0 x 10 9
N = 4p (3.0 x 10 9 ) / 3 = 1.2 x 10 10
The underlying problem is that caucusing is much more difficult for Democrats than Republicans, since it embodies genuine participatory democracy - not just stuffing ballots into boxes. In the latter (R) case, the voter writes the name of his preferred candidate on a piece of paper, hands it in and then the various paper ballots are counted. The winner is announced and delegates are then awarded.
For Democrats it's not so simple, or isolated. Some pundits have described it as a "game of political musical chairs". First, a campaign representative shows up for each candidate, adjacent to their designated areas, and makes a pitch. The pitch person's job here is to briefly sound off on the great qualities of the candidate that should make him or her the preferred choice of caucus goers.
After that, caucus goers break into groups for their candidate, flocking to the areas designated. The undecided voters are shepherded to a separate area of the precinct floor. The numbers are eventually counted for support of that candidate, A, B or C. The percentages of support are then calculated and a candidate's support is deemed viable if (for the vast majority of caucus locations) they get 15 percent or more.
Caucus goers whose candidate doesn't make the cut can re-align to another campaign, or try to reach the 15 percent viability by recruiting additional supporters. For example, if O'Malley's supporters fail to get to the 15 percent mark on Monday night they can engage Sanders' or Hillary supporters to try to convince them to move their way - to increase the percentage to the magic number.
The other option is to go to the undecided area and be recruited from there, say by having excellent pitches made from the supporters of the two candidates who reached viability. This process repeats until all the remaining candidates are viable, i.e. at 15 percent or over. Then delegates are awarded according to the percentages.
The process, unlike the Republican one, can take hours - though in most cases a caucus finishes in under an hour. But it does require a commitment of time and patience and this is why the turnout for the Iowa caucus has historically been low (e.g. 16 percent back in 2012).
Barack Obama secured his victory from his youthful supporters back in 2008, but it remains to be seen if Bernie Sanders can do the same. One thing that would help is getting young voters together for 'teaching moments' on the caucus process so they know what to expect and don't enter the precincts looking like they just stepped off a space ship onto an alien planet.