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The List

The first question that I might ask about this picture is where? Is it Mars, or someplace beyond Betelgeuse? It can’t be our own hunk of rock, can it?
The next question might be when? If it is our own Earth, is that a picture from the past primordial time Before Life? Or is that in a hundred years? After Life. Could that happen so soon?
Some may ask Why? If it is in our future, why would we allow it to happen?
Because: if I said, “Yes that is in our near future”, what would you do about it?
Deny.
Explain away.
Hide it.
Ignore it.
Get angry at the messenger.
Have an argument with the cat.
Back to “normal”.
So, that is why we will stumble down the parabolic slope toward that picture.
At this point it is looking, quite simply, inevitable.
Deny.
Explain away.
Hide it.
Ignore it.
Get angry at the messenger.
The picture does not show it but there will be life left on our rock. Life like what is on Mars. Tenacious little clumps of organic molecules that may, on what will be left of Earth, take another billion so years to become complex once again. Complex as in single-cell slithery things.
What happened on Earth over the past 4 billion years is a gobsmackingly unlikely situation. No, there are not “billions and billions of stars with millions and millions of planets out there, many of which are home to ET. The facts in that sentence drive to a conclusion that is unsupported by anything more than belief.
Sorry. Not a scientific conclusion. Not by a long shot.
What happened on our Earth probably could never happen anywhere else. We invented money.
Leading up to that mistaken pinnacle of achievement were an impossible series of big and tiny events that just chanced, eventually, on “sentience”.  H. sapiens is at the zenith of that absolutely unlikely plethora of events. That’s us.
The problem is, we have come to believe our own press. When we turn our thoughts to ourselves (when does that not happen?) we call ourselves rational beings.
Well, Rational Person, have you created yourself into “the perfect body-mind entity” whose interpersonal relationships are absolutely beyond reproach? And do you, every day, create some wondrous artifact or hypothesis?
No. And we adroitly rationalize that away by saying, But nobody’s perfect.
Of course, nobody’s perfect! That imperfection factor is the essence of life: always changing; fractally different; mutating into this (whoops – that didn’t work), or that (what the hell was that?), or something completely different… Endlessly
We know that life is always working, randomly, toward … “improvement”? Well – toward something! Surely! There must be some vector. A direction and a velocity. Science tells us that everything has that property of a vector. Doesn’t it? Simple question: Why should it? Is there a string connecting one random change to the next? A string that carries some super-sentient purpose?
Perhaps, but the random walk is usually toward entropy. That means chaos. Where every little thing falls apart into the smallest pieces and they eventually stop jiggling. Complete and utter death of the universe.
So. Might I respectfully ask: Why the hell are we helping entropy to happen faster by doing things to kill off life as we know it?!      ?
Perhaps, as one US Congressman said recently, about the lockdown versus the economy: But there is something more important than life and fighting the virus! There’s the ECONOMY!

Thank God we invented money! At least that trumpabolic supremity will survive until the end of time!

Please help by suggesting peer-reviewed articles to support each item, or comment to correct an item, or add items (this is a long-term project)

The List

  1. At the instant of the Big Bang in this universe, having energy that conformed to certain laws
  2. Us being in the distant arm of a spiral galaxy that has no currently rowdy neighbours (at this time – one suggestion is spiral galaxies are the result of galactic collisions)
  3. Having a complete mix of elements in the original cloud of our proto-sun out here on the distant arm (perhaps because of that distance, where heavier elements accumulated after the collision?)
  4. Having just the right amount of matter in the maelstrom that coalesced into a stable sun of a sufficient size and ultimately stable life cycle
  5. Having adequate amounts of heterogeneous material in the regions around the sun to enable the bits of mass to coalesce into rocky planets: https://carnegiescience.edu/news/when-it-comes-planetary-habitability-its-whats-inside-counts
  6. Having the mix of elements that formed into our rock include a large volume of water
  7. Being smashed by another rock of about ¼ Earth mass early in the solar system formation to have eventually produced a large satellite
  8. The collision being of such force, and no more, that it burned off much of the volatile elements from the surfaces: https://aeon.co/videos/a-massive-collision-or-something-stranger-an-epic-exploration-of-lunar-origin-theories
  9. That mass hit our rock at just the right angle to produce a particular angle of perturbation of spin around our rock’s axis
  10. That colliding mass, whose debris later coalesced into a satellite, now the Moon, established at a distance that was sufficient to become a long-term stationary orbit, and which directly affects our rock, now the Earth, such that the flexing of the surface and mantle due to tidal forces produces a heating of the mantle which largely counteracts loss of infrared energy into space
  11. Life from organic compounds
  12. Single-celled life
  13. Mitochondrial invasion of cells producing energy factories
  14. Oxygen formation at just the right density

Here’s Us

covid-19

This is a lovely picture from a science site (? Science) of the covid-19 virus.

I put together a rather rough video on how the virus thinks of our bodies, and how to keep it from becoming as bad as the 1918 Spanish Flu.

After we come up with a vaccine and we can escape from our fearful isolation, what are we as a world population going to do? Are we going to party as crazily as we did in the 1920s? Remember October 1929?

And I’ll Go Outside

Beaver Lake, Stanley Park

A middle-aged man is lying on a cardboard and newspaper nest. Several papers have been opened up across the length of a green bench in the lightly manicured park. The afternoon sun dapples its way through magnificent oak trees. Butterflies move gracefully and aimlessly amongst the flower beds between some of the oaks. The bouquet rising from the flowers wafts delicately over the homeless man.

His bouquet is not so fetching. Clothing of indiscriminate style, with plaids and stripes clashing, fit loosely around his gaunt body.

He groans and shifts on his nest. “Owww.”

A passing park attendant, with the name badge “Mitch”, notices the groans. “Willie. You ok?”

“Bugger off, Mitch.”

“Listen, man. I told you we’re here to help. That bed at the Gospel Mission…”

“Leave me alone, dammit. Don’t want no holy-rollers nattering at me all fucken day.”

Willie rolls sideways carefully to get at least one ear away from Mitch.

“Ahwww.”

“You can go through all the vowels you want, Willie. If you don’t want our help…”

Quietly, “Just bugger off.”

Mitch shrugs and saunters away toward Artists Circle, muttering, “Not sure they’d take the old grouch, anyway.”

From the bench, a muffled, “Heard that.”

Coming down the path from the Artists Circle, Willie hears the distinctive nattering of his arch enemies. He growls to himself, “If those damn holy-roller do-goodies stop here, I swear I’m gonna jump in the drink. I am. No fucken doubt about it…”

Three ladies come up to Willie’s bench to contemplate his back. As he tries to tighten into a fetal position, his back goes out entirely. “OOWWWW!”

He attempts to straighten his legs but spasms, and falls awkwardly off the bench. Willie’s head bounces hard against the edge of the bench.

The lead lady grimaces, “Ow, I felt that.”

Without his bidding – as he is apparently unconscious – Willie is taken in an ambulance to a clinic; he is prodded; tut-tutted over; shot up with an experimental depression drug, to which he has a bad reaction; spends the night in delirium; then, next day he is dumped surreptitiously back into the park onto a bench.

Later that day, Willie wakes up to find himself lying on a new cardboard-and-blanket nest on a different bench. His back is still sore and he now has a splitting headache; his clothes are all different and he is cold. Very cold.

Mitch comes by, holding two coffee cups, and sees someone who he thinks is Willie. His face is more drawn and grizzled than before. His body is shivering.

“Willie? Are you alright, Willie?”

With a quarter turn, Willie covers part of his exposed back. He roughly spits out, “Goddamn holy-rollers took me away again. Shot me up with something again. TELL ’EM TO LEAVE ME THE FUCK ALONE!… Splitting headache…”

Mitch sees/smells that Willie has been cleaned up. He steps forward to pull Willie’s fresh blanket up onto his back. “Wouldn’t want the crows to peck away at your hindside, Willie.”

Showing his unappreciation for the uninvited help, Willie shifts so that the blanket falls away to uncover his back once more. As Mitch stands there for a minute, Willie begins to shiver again. He rolls ever so slowly to partially cover his back.

“What are we going to do with you, Willie? You know how I hate to load my quad with cold bodies.”

“B-b-bugger off! LEAVE ME THE FUCK ALONE! Don’t want your help!”

Mitch shakes his head in resignation. “I’ll just leave this extra coffee here below your head, Willie. Still hot.”

As Mitch walks away, Willie turns to peek with one eye to see if he is gone. Satisfied with his triumph of opposition, Willie turns to find the coffee. He captures the cup, wrapping his hand tightly around the warm sleeve. He slowly, carefully, puts one foot, then the other foot down onto the grass. The freshly cleaned blanket smells like chemicals.

“Damn holy-rollers. DON’T LIKE CHEMICALS. Kill you. KILL you, dammit! Want my own blanket.” He pulls the offending blanket off with his free hand and tosses it onto the bench-back.

He wraps both hands around the warm coffee cup. Fumbling and mumbling at the “stupid lid thing,” he pries it open enough to suck out a mouthful of hot liquid. “Too much cream. Makes it cold.”

After a while, Willie starts to shiver again. He absently reaches for the blanket and wraps it around his shoulders, then he shakes it down against his lower back, still holding the cup like a candle in his lap.

He slowly slips into a lean over his legs, then jerks back. Touching the cold bench slats, he jerks away. Willie shifts to find the right equilibrium, then slowly oscillates between the cold bench slats and leaning too far forward.

He dreams. The beach sand is sun-warmed hot. The bright blue sky stretches across the prairies forever. A hazy speck of darkness is away off on the horizon. Horses graze peacefully in a nearby meadow. Now a dark someone is racing through the grass, over the grass, scattering the horses in terror. The darkness flies right at Willie into his head and sticks inside, smashing around inside his mushy red head, smashing out all light, smashing…

“DADDY?”

Willie is shouting running between the oaks, past the dark pines, through the flowers, pounding, sweating… until he falls into a panting disorientation onto a bench.

No cardboard. No blanket.

He shivers in the shade of a dark hemlock.

Willie curls up like a withering fern into a tight fetal position.

Some time later, as the evening stars can almost be seen in the pastel sky, one of Mitch’s co-workers waves at Mitch from across the meadow. “Mitch!”

As Mitch nears, the co-worker points to a cold body curled up on the bench. “Know him?”

Mitch walks behind the bench to better see the heavily grizzled face. “Willie. Poor old Willie… Sad case.”

“Which one isn’t?… You wanna bring the quad?”


“Soon this place

Will be too small,

And I’ll go outside”

: Lhasa – 2003 – The Living Road

Reprogramming the Mind

from Dr. Michael Catchpole, author of Anxiety: Debug It Don’t Drug It:

The brain is not really a computer. This is merely a convenient analogy.

The key point I want readers of Anxiety: Debug It, Don’t Drug it  to understand is that the brain is a physical entity composed of neurons and neurotransmitters. These are things one can touch and feel. The mind however, in my view, is metaphysical and thus cannot be held in one’s hand. It is nonetheless just as “real” as the brain.

Cognitive neuroscience is the field (along with philosophy) that attempts to bridge the gap between the physical brain and the metaphysical mind. The former, the study of how our brain works, is the discipline of neuropsychology. The latter, the study of how our mind works, is cognitive psychology. To date the gap between these two sub-fields of psychology is narrowing but remains very, very large. We do now know that the physical brain and the metaphysical mind have significant influence upon each other.

In terms of this bi-directional influence, drug companies look solely at the way drugs affect neurotransmitters, which then affect the mind. They have had some partial successes with this approach and certainly have derived remarkable profits from doing so. Importantly, however, and this is my central thesis of my book, simply drugging the brain, be it with medications or for that matter psychedelics, has proven a failure in treating the vast majority of mental disorders drug advertisements and media hoopla to the contrary.  

My own view is that influence in the other direction (that the metaphysical mind can affect the physical brain and more importantly that it can be trained to fix itself ) has been much neglected perhaps in part because resultant treatments cannot be patented or monetized. To return to my point, “reprogramming” a mind (via CBT) is certainly more effective for the anxiety disorders than is drugging brains, though the latter approach is occasionally a good adjunct. Also it is true that changes in the physical brain that result from CBT may help solidify CBT treatment gains.

Others’ thoughts on this topic would be most welcome.

Petition to Support OK Attorney General

I have composed a petition to support Oklahoma’s Attorney General, Mike Hunter as he leads a coalition of 48 attorneys general against Big Pharma.

Can you please support the petition by going to this link: http://chng.it/XNhzDYpGBL

Here is the petition:

The opioid crisis had several causes. The primary cause was the rampant greed expressed by Big Pharma, as detailed in the cases against Johnson & Johnson, and Purdue Pharma. Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter, supported by 48 other attorneys general, has taken on Big Pharma and won.

Even so, the people behind the corporations like the Sacklers are twisting and turning to try to hold onto their billions of blood money. The loud voices of the people must be heard saying, “That is enough!” The deaths of thousands is enough! The suffering of hundreds of thousands is enough!

Suckering the medical community into the role of shills for Big Pharma must stop!

Spreading addiction, destroying families, creating zombies of honest people must stop!

While opioids could have a place for alleviating suffering caused by certain diseases, opioids and benzodiazepines have been unwittingly prescribed for things like anxiety-related disorders. These are of the mind, not the brain. The brain may be treated with invasive measures but the mind should not be. That would be like taking a scalpel to a thought. That is not the way it works. Books such as Anxiety: Debug It Don’t Drug It, by Dr. Michael Catchpole explain the difference.

Send your support to Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter by signing this petition. Help him carry on the fight for reason.

Punishing Your Body

The jaw-dropping cache of documents made public by the Washington Post – https://www.washingtonpost.com/investigations/six-takeaways-from-the-deas-pain-pill-database/2019/07/16/ [paywall]- and reported further in Ars Technicahttps://arstechnica.com/science/2019/07/76-billion-opioid-pills-in-7-years-how-pharma-companies-drowned-us-in-drugs/ – can hardly be believed.

The article starts with this paragraph: “Between 2006 and 2012, opioid drug makers and distributors flooded the country with 76 billion pills of oxycodone and hydrocodone—highly addictive opioid pain medications that sparked the epidemic of abuse and overdoses that killed nearly 100,000 people in that time period.”

Should these prescriptions even be given?

Any medication that punishes the body when one tries to stop taking it needs to be prescribed with extreme caution.  The current and tragic opiate crisis is a direct result of such caution not being exercised.  As I explain in my book Anxiety: Debug It, Don’t Drug It, published by Rutherford Press, the next shoe to drop will be the massive over-prescription of benzodiazepines (“tranquilizers”) for anxiety.  Many people say these drugs are even harder to give up than opiates. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has a proven track record as being far more effective for treating anxiety than do these medications, especially over the long run.   Both the rationale for CBT’s application as well as a step-by-step process for enacting it also are outlined in my book.  :Dr. Michael Catchpole.

Where Are We Going?

Photo by Roi Dimor on Unsplash

This election cycle may be our last chance. Work HARD for the Progressives, do the best you can to see them elected, and vote as if all our lives depend on it, because they do.

Comment by “Art” in https://theintercept.com/2019/07/05/shell-conference-climate-change/

This brief comment to the article in The Intercept was one of several by “Art”. His other comments were a depressing, long list of scientific findings that he, as a climate scientist, offered to support his reasons for being so blunt.

To those who said it is too late, or that we, the people, have no power to make a change, Art replied, ” Your nihilism is duly noted but I refuse to give up.”

To which “mgr” wrote:

Art: Spot on! That’s really what it comes down to. We may win, or we may lose, but giving up is always defeat, from the inside out. It comes down to making a choice.

Where are we going?

For the sake of our children and their children, we have this choice: follow the platitudes of our current leaders as they follow the money dangled before their noses; or put your hand up and vote for a future that will include humanity. A future that will include breathable air, enough clean water to drink, sufficient vegetation and animals to maintain the only place, the ONLY place, in this universe where we can live.

The money being dangled before our noses cannot be breathed or eaten.

It is way past time to be nice. Our very lives are at stake.

There are no passengers on spaceship earth. We are all crew. Marshall McLuhan

The Trappings of Science

Square Rigged, by Ben Nuttall-Smith

– How science is being eroded as an objective agent for our species

I recently underwent a grueling exercise with an individual who is exceptionally intelligent. I describe it as grueling because he clung for the longest time to a perception of “science” that is, regrettably, common. Nevertheless, that perception is not real science.

In a textbook, he was given three descriptions of science from which I asked him to choose the option that best matched his understanding of “science”. May I humbly suggest that only one option is worthy of that label.

Proposition A: a person of science will develop a theory, then apply evidence that can be found that will support that theory.

Proposition B: observations will be seen to have apparent relationships. A hypothesis is developed that encompasses those observations with a possible explanation of why or how they relate to each other. Evidence is gathered using observations and/or controlled experiments; assessments are made as to whether the evidence supports or does not support the hypothesis. If there is found to be sufficient support, a theory may be developed. The theory is tested continually to determine if it is still supported by new evidence.

Proposition C: an authoritative person pronounces on a theory which may be based on common sense, long practice, or even logical deduction or reasoning.

Prop C actually contains several distinct propositions. I will refer to them a group.

Discussion

Plato and many famous philosophers since have used logical deduction to explain the wonders of the world. Within the toolbox of science, this can be a useful method for arriving at possibilities. The main problem with that is, it may be useful but it often doesn’t use feedback from objective evidence. To offer a simple example, it is observed that a penguin is black and white. By logical deduction we know that snow is white and coal is black, so that must make a penguin equal to snowy coal. While an artificial intelligence (AI) program may produce that kind of logic, people understand it to be silly.

Another Prop C option: Aristotle was an admired and authoritative figure. Despite the prior writings of Pythagoras and others who came up with close approximations of the great size of planet Earth, Aristotle suggested with respect to the disappearance of a ship over the horizon, “…All of which goes to show not only that the Earth is circular in shape, but also that it is a sphere of no great size: for otherwise the effect of so slight a change of place would not be so quickly apparent.” (from Aristotle’s On the Heavens). No.

Prop A looks promising. This was chosen by my exceptionally intelligent friend (he is still a friend, by the way). It was also chosen by many other intelligent folks, such as Sigmund Freud (for personality development, in which he argued that personality is formed through conflicts among three fundamental structures – however, in testing that theory, the actual existence of his concepts has been fraught with partisan arguments, rather than objective evidence); John Locke (babies are born with a blank slate – which we now consider inaccurate); Aristotle (spontaneous generation of life, wherein he “observed” life starting from apparent nothingness). In essence, Prop A says that a smart person can come up with a theory and cherry-pick observations that may approximate what the theory suggests.

A theory, however, is never “proven” – merely supported by evidence, or not. A theory must be able to make predictions that can be tested. If we presume that penguins are snowy coal, observations and comparisons would quickly invalidate that “theory”.

When we look around at some of the marvels of the modern age, most of them have something to do with, or are enhanced by, digital technology. When da Vinci sketched out his plans for a helicopter, the reality of building one was stymied by rudimentary materials technology and lack of an understanding of aerodynamics (each field having recently received considerable impetus via digital technology: “computers”).

A computer, however, is merely a tool. If digital technology is relied on to be the magic bullet, depending on it as if it were the final answer usually leads one far down a garden path. When proponents of instant language translators say that they are on the cusp of a perfect solution, one would be wise to read what a professional in the field of translation has to say:

https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2018/01/the-shallowness-of-google-translate/551570/
Douglas
Hofstadter is a professor of cognitive science and comparative literature at Indiana University at Bloomington. He is the author of Gödel, Escher, Bach.

“I’ve recently seen bar graphs made by technophiles that claim to represent the “quality” of translations done by humans and by computers, and these graphs depict the latest translation engines as being within striking distance of human-level translation. To me, however, such quantification of the unquantifiable reeks of pseudoscience, or, if you prefer, of nerds trying to mathematize things whose intangible, subtle, artistic nature eludes them. To my mind, Google Translate’s output today ranges all the way from excellent to grotesque, but I can’t quantify my feelings about it. Think of my first example involving “his” and “her” items. The idealess program got nearly all the words right, but despite that slight success, it totally missed the point. How, in such a case, should one “quantify” the quality of the job? The use of scientific-looking bar graphs to represent translation quality is simply an abuse of the external trappings of science.”

We are inundated in the media with assertive pronouncements regarding the efficacy of certain products. Imprecise statements, cherry-picked observations, and outright fabrications are used without regard to the harm they cause. The harms extend beyond merely loss of money in buying worthless stuff. Purchasers may be conned into spending their meager resources and time on the worthless stuff to the detriment of using an approach that can be of actual value to them. This is particularly egregious in the medical and pharmaceutical fields. People who have become addicted to drugs such as opiates are dying in the thousands after being prescribed the drug and not being followed up properly, or where the prescription was for a symptom that should never have been treated with drugs in the first place. (See Anxiety: Debug It Don’t Drug It, Dr. Michael Catchpole 2019, Rutherford Press.)

One must ask, what harms are yet to be caused by AI in charge of ground and air vehicles. Analysis of the recent Boeing 737 Max 8 plane crashes will take some further work, but we understand a lot at this time (see https://avherald.com/h?article=4c534c4a). Those tragic results cannot be placed solely at the feet of artificial intelligence residing in the software, but it may turn out that a significant component could possibly be attributed to a culture of hurried development and over-dependence on the “magic bullet” of AI, as alleged by pilots and engineers at recent Congressional hearings. Perhaps that culture has been fostered by a subliminal dependence on, and shifting of responsibility to, the lines of code on a silicon chip. Getting that shift wrong with a new laptop design is an entirely different order of mistake than getting it wrong with a new airplane that can carry over 200 lives on board. (see  https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/27/business/boeing-hearings.html)

Trust in Science

Is trust in science  misplaced, or is it conveniently used as a replacement for deeper understanding?

Considering the difference between denialism and skepticism, a study found evidence, yet again, that presenting a denier with objective facts was not an effective strategy:

Because this denialism springs from motivated reasoning, science advocates are scrambling to understand how to debunk misinformation in a way that motivates their target audience to accept it. [added emphasis]

https://arstechnica.com/science/2019/06/debunking-science-denialism-does-work-but-not-perfectly/

Being “motivated” means that a denier is self-censoring anything that does not conform to the way the topic is stored in their mind.

A recent study of 140,000 people worldwide proved instructive. Here are the main highlights:

Trust in science and health professionals

Globally, 18% of people have a ‘high’ level of trust in scientists, while 54% have a ‘medium’ level of trust, 14% have ‘low’ trust and 13% said ‘don’t know’. This ranges from a third of people having ‘high’ trust in Australia and New Zealand, Northern Europe and Central Asia to around one in ten in Central and South America.

from: Gallup (2019) Wellcome Global Monitor – First Wave Findings
https://wellcome.ac.uk/sites/default/files/wellcome-global-monitor-2018.pdf

The study is both fascinating and frustrating. The breadth of the study needs to be read to be fully appreciated. Any study that includes 140,000 subjects who answered such a range of questions is to be commended as a considerable feat.

May I humbly say, however, that frustration arises in those numerous instances where the numbers being thrown at the reader elicit questions of greater depth. Take this statement in Chapter 2’s Summary:

Worldwide, more than half the people aged 15–29 (53%) say they know ‘some’ or ‘a lot’ about science, compared to 40% of those aged 30–49 and 34% of those aged 50 and older.

Is age a causal variable, or correlational, or coincidental. For instance, might it be that older folks have matured into the realization that the more they know, the less they understand? And that certainty is best left to the young blurs that pass by on their respective missions? Is there a whiff of something like the subject of Douglas Hofstadter’s article on translation: all the right words – absent depth?

The reason for my skepticism is outlined below.

Human Rights or Social Permission

Do humans have rights? Are they “inalienable”; or are they subject to the will – or lack of will – displayed by a political community? This was explored by Kenan Malik:

So, what should we do? Our starting point must be the recognition of rights neither as inalienably rooted in human nature, nor as gifts bestowed on citizens by the nation state, but as aspects of human social existence continually created through struggle and contestation. Rights are, as the political theorist Lida Maxwell has put it, ‘collective achievements rather than individual possessions’, and achievements that are ‘fragile’ and ‘imperfectly realised’.

How does the topic of human rights fit into this discussion? One way is that it shows the value of skepticism in approaching a subject for which so many people hold hard views.

The Science of Skepticism

For those who consider it “good science” to first develop a theory and then try to prove it, the field is open to cherry-pick whichever evidence can be shoehorned into the most compelling package. After all, the right words are being employed by proponents of their pet theory: science, reasoning, evidence, clinical, proven

No. Science depends on skepticism: questioning the evidence which supports or doesn’t support a hypothesis; constant review of evidence; the belief that a belief is a blindfold…

Malik’s analysis of human rights, above, lists ideas and their proponents who wish to bestow a conceptual construct into human genes. They insist that the only way to combat discrimination is by saying that people are “born with rights”. A corollary of this approach, however, allows some to say that only certain humans have the “rights gene”, therefore discrimination against the defective elements of the population is permitted.

The more difficult approach to fighting the many forms of discrimination is to freely admit that rights originate in words; they are born in the fire of social discourse. And there, the rights may be either eroded away or strengthen for those who must depend on them the most. That fire may wane or flare, so it is incumbent on the people of a political community to keep feeding oxygen and, yes, fuel, into the fire.

Skepticism is one such fuel. A skeptic’s voice must be heard by all who wish to contribute to the discussion.

Denialism is not, however, the same as skepticism. Denialism is a soggy blob of retardant on the fire of social discourse.

The trick, then, is to find a method that distinguishes motivated reasoning from healthy skepticism.

Yes, this is hard.

Free Speech?

From https://kenanmalik.com/2019/05/31/who-has-the-right-to-speak/:

…It is, in my view, precisely because we do live in plural societies that we need the fullest extension possible of free speech. In plural societies, it is both inevitable and important that people offend the sensibilities of others. Inevitable, because where different beliefs are deeply held, clashes are unavoidable. Almost by definition such clashes express what it is to live in a diverse society.   And so they should be openly resolved than suppressed in the name of ‘respect’ or ‘tolerance’. And important because any kind of social change or social progress means offending some deeply held sensibilities. Or to put it another way: ‘You can’t say that!’ is all too often the response of those in power to having their power challenged. To accept that certain things cannot be said is to accept that certain forms of power cannot be challenged.

The notion of giving offence suggests that certain beliefs are so important or valuable to certain people that they should be put beyond the possibility of being insulted, or caricatured or even questioned. The importance of the principle of free speech is precisely that it provides a permanent challenge to the idea that some questions are beyond contention, and hence acts as a permanent challenge to authority. This is why free speech is essential not simply to the practice of democracy, but to the aspirations of those groups who may have been failed by the formal democratic processes; to those whose voices may have been silenced by racism, for instance.

The real value of free speech, in other words, is not to those who possess power, but to those who want to challenge them. And the real value of censorship is to those who do not wish their authority to be challenged…

My comment to the above post:

Having been censored from this blog, but nevertheless continuing to value the ideas placed here, I have to gulp.

I don’t know why my comments have been censored. I am certain that in the present readers’ minds, the very fact of my being censored by Kenan must be a damning statement that must immediately put me into the very back of a deep cell.

To go back to examine my previously accepted comments, and then those that were censored, I am at a loss. The contents really do not appear to warrant such action.

Perhaps it is because of my visible name? [not given in the Comments] Having been in programming, the desktop computer field and bulletin boards and all their subsequent iterations since 1972, I have seen the best and the worst of it. For that reason, I am averse to placing my given and family names onto an internet platform. Sorry about that. If that is sufficient to get me automatically damned, so be it.

To the substance of the post: I am in complete agreement with Kenan’s philosophical argument that free speech ought to be “free speech”.

Similarly, I fully agree that the law in a democracy ought to apply to every person equally.

Then we get to reality. Those with heavy duty lawyers and access to the various gatekeepers in the judicial system will always have the law bend toward their side. In a copyright infringement case where I was an expert witness for the other side of the table from a major Hollywood producer, who was backed by a formidable team of lawyers from cities across North America, funded by a major film production house, the plaintiff had no chance. That my suggestion even allowed his single non-specialist legal counsel to fight them to a draw was a miracle. It is undeniable that the full-court press tactic, even without a “win”, caused a major chill across the community of writers.

There are way too many cases where the law is most certainly not being applied “equally”. Witness the very recent official admission that indigenous peoples in North America, and specifically in Canada, have been subjected to nothing less than a “genocide”.

So, in which of the endless universes is there equal treatment under the law?

Back to free speech, and back to you the reader’s undoubted innate response to my starting statement that Kenan censored me: we all depend on some basic platform from which to gaze upon the actions around us. Kenan’s Moral Compass, therefore, must be considered such an absolute reference point. And if HE censors someone, boy! that guy must deserve it!

Whether Kenan’s reason was trivial or substantive is not the issue, is it?

Dare I ask, was Kenan being ({[hypocritical]})?

No. (Providing, it wasn’t, in fact, some AI contraption that did the dirty deed.)

Kenan was being HUMAN. We, at this point in our evolutionary stage, depend on some stable reference platform upon which to stand. Is that a point to be argued? Whether it ought to be so, is not the argument.

Individually, we are not yet points of energy that have no need for relativity.

Until that simple situation can be accepted, philosophical discussions of oughtness must be tempered by what can be done with what we are given.

What do you think of “free speech”? Before answering, I urge you to read the full post: https://kenanmalik.com/2019/05/31/who-has-the-right-to-speak/

From Whence Comes Anxiety?

Anxiety comes from…

The mind or the brain?

If it is the brain, there are a phalanx of drugs being promoted that purport to alleviate the symptoms.

If your anxiety comes from your mind, it can be eliminated by professional coaching.

Your choice: drugging the symptoms, or removing the anxiety by having a direct conversation with its cause.

Weigh the consequences of either option: Drugs such as benzodiazepines, opiates or alcohol are dangerously addictive and only mask the reason for your anxiety; Coaching by a certified psychologist using CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) will attack the source of your anxiety and place in your hands the proven tools to stop anxiety from taking over your life.

To mask anxiety or to get rid of it?

Your choice. Read Anxiety: Debug It Don’t Drug It, by Dr. Michael Catchpole, available through Rutherford Press:

Anxiety: Debug It Don’t Drug It

Is the Internet Breaking?


One hundred-and-fifty years ago, most countries had a postal service that enabled citizens to send and receive five or six messages every day. If you wanted to have afternoon tea with a friend, you could place the request into an envelope, drop the envelope into a mailbox by 10am, and have confirmation in time to dress for the occasion.

Today, we do the same with a variety of synchronous (phone, video) or asynchronous (text, email, etc.) technologies. The outcome has changed little – though, it is more likely to be coffee instead of tea.

With the vastly increased complexity of our new communication technologies – exacerbated by our loss of community oversight to private interests with only profit and corporate benefits in mind – there has been an equal increase in the number of access points for the transmitted information. And where there is such access, someone will seek to use it to personal advantage. “Community oversight” is now considered too naive a concept, so we have rules. As each rule is circumvented a new book of rules is required. The volumes of rules now requires armies of people in each country – bureaucrats and lawyers – to adversarially determine which “t” needs to be crossed and at what profit to whom.

We still know that we need some way to communicate with friends and family regarding the afternoon tea, so, holding our nose, we still use the services of the private, for-profit organizations to perform the human necessity of maintaining contact.

The unfortunate result is that humanity has created a virtually autonomous monster called “the internet”. And we really have no idea how to moderate the monster’s negative effects.

In fact, unknown to all but a tiny number of users of the internet, there are dedicated people working mostly as unpaid volunteers who struggle to deal with this monster. One such group is the European “RIPE”, described in Wikipedia: “RIPE is not a legal entity and has no formal membership. This means that anybody who is interested in the work of RIPE can participate through mailing lists and by attending meetings.”

Here is a fascinating peek into that mysterious world:

…………………………………

Posted by anti-abuse-wg ; on behalf of; Ronald F. G******* :

Perhaps some folks here might be interested to read these two reports, the first of which is a fresh news report published just a couple of days ago, and the other one is a far more detailed investigative report that was completed some time ago now.

Dossier Gubarev – Russian hackers

Court Document

Please share these links widely.

The detailed technical report makes it quite abundantly clear that Webzilla, and all of its various tentacles… many of which even I didn’t know about until seeing this report… most probably qualifies as, and has qualified as a “bullet proof hosting” operation for some considerable time now. As the report notes, the company has received over 400,000 complaints or reports of bad behavior, and it is not clear to me, from reading the report, if anyone at the company even bothered to read any more than a small handful of those.

I have two comments about this.

First, I am inclined to wonder aloud why anyone is even still peering with any of the several ASNs mentioned in the report. To me, the mere fact that any of these ASNs still have connectivity represents a clear and self-evident failure of “self policing” in and among the networks that comprise the Internet.

Second, its has already been a well know fact, both to me and to many others, for some years now, that Webzilla is by no means alone in the category commonly referred to as “bullet proof hosters”. This fact itself raises some obvious questions.

It is clear and apparent, not only from the report linked to above, but from the continuous and years-long existence of -many- “bullet proof hosters” on the Internet that there is no shortage of a market for the services of such hosting companies. The demand for “bullet proof”
services is clearly there, and it is not likely to go away any time soon. In addition to the criminal element, there are also various mischevious governments, or their agents, that will always be more that happy to pay premium prices for no-questions-asked connectivity.

So the question naturally arises: Other than de-peering by other networks, are there any other steps that can be taken to disincentivize networks from participating in this “bullet proof” market and/or to incentivize them to give a damn about their received network abuse complaints?

I have no answers for this question myself, but I felt that it was about time that someone at least posed the question.

The industry generally, and especially in the RIPE region, has a clear and evident problem that traditional “self policing” is not solving.
Worse yet, it is not even discussed much, and that is allowing it to fester and worsen, over time.

It would be Good if there was some actual leadership on this issue, at least from -some- quarter. So far I have not noticed any such worth commenting about, and even looking out towards the future horizon, I don’t see any arriving any time soon.

Regards,
rfg
…………………………………

Time to Recycle (or Dump?)

Pile of Letters

Isn’t the internet great? Anything you want to know is right there at your fingertips!

There are a few problems. Wherever people and their ideas congregate, somebody wants to make money out of it. So, there are ads coming out of your keester, hucksters trying to spam/phish/scrape/? your i.d. and your id. Grumps and haters YELLING AT YOU!

And there are just too many new words and terms to keep straight – ah, correct.

We all have vague memories of some really neat stuff that we read. Somewhere. Sometime. Maybe. If only all that miscellaneous disconnected data would just stop flying at my aging greying cells!

Where was I? Oh. Recycling. Well here are a few facts that were posted in the last century. They have each been debunked – which is to say, “proven to be factually untrue”. But that won’t stop the internet from recycling them (wry grin):


In the 1500s baths consisted of a big tub filled with hot water.  The man of the house had the privilege of the nice clean water, then all the other sons and men, then the women and finally the children — last of all the babies. By then the water was so dirty you could actually lose someone in it.  Hence the saying, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water”.

True or false?

In those old days, they cooked in the kitchen with a big kettle that always hung over the fire. Every day they lit the fire and added things to the pot. They ate mostly vegetables and did not get much meat. They would eat the stew for dinner, leaving leftovers in the pot to get cold overnight and then start over the next day. Sometimes the stew had food in it that had been there for quite a while. Hence the rhyme, “Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old”.

True or false?

If you would care to see the debunkers at work, check out these two sites:

“Snopes”

“History Magazine”

There’s a Story in Here Someplace

The Intercept has a recent article: Stock Market Swings Tell Everything You Need to Know About Our Rigged Economy

The recent Dow Jones fluctuations have very little to do with a legitimate fear of inflation. The stock market panicked largely because CEOs and shareholders fear that they’re losing their upper hand over a workforce that’s cutting increasingly into their record profits. The Fed’s response to that may well be worse for the average American than anything that happens on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange: It may throw workers who are already hurting under the bus in the name of a stopping something — inflation — that’s nowhere to be found. There’s an outsized chance it could even trigger another recession, as more dramatic rate hikes have been known to do in the past.

Mascots Commissioned by Committee

 

What is Cultural Appropriation?

Do the CA Cops have their hackles raised by even having that question asked? Does it mean that only a person with bona fide genetics, having been raised fully within the culture, is permitted to comment on or write a story about, say, a cult like Bountiful?
Bonny Brooks, writing in Quilette on 30 Jan. 2018, and linked from Pandaemonium, suggests we shake our heads and rethink what is being done being blindly raising the CA flag.
Yes, there should be the occasional slap on the wrist for blatant commercial appropriation of culture, but:

We often call this a ‘cultural appropriation’ panic, but the animus driving it is reaching into the deepest crevices of writers’ private lives and personal histories. I call this the memoirification of literature; the lovechild of a justifiable call for more diverse writers and a social media marketing imperative, this drive to personal confession demands ever more particularised voices prepared to share their particularised testimonies under the banner of literary forms that are not, by definition, supposed to be testimony. And increasingly there are penalties for those who appear not to ‘stay in their lane’ and write endlessly about themselves.

There is no appeasing this impulse. In the last few weeks, I read an article asking who ‘gets’ to write fiction about sexual abuse and another telling writers how they must do so should they dare. The current zeitgeist for biographical vampirism is even pushing journalists reporting on issues of public interest to qualify themselves. As James Bloodworth recently put it, having fielded online jibes for writing a reportage book about low wage labour in Britain while not actually being (or no longer being, in his case) a low-wage labourer: ‘A peculiar thing about our age is that one of the easiest ways to get ahead is to talk endlessly about yourself. If you aren’t prepared to emote publicly about how ‘tough’ things were for you personally, you’re effectively at a disadvantage to those that are.’ Were his critics not sure what journalism is?

For those of us that have memoir-worthy backstories but are more memoir-averse, this trial-by-testimony approach to choosing and marketing literature is alarming. As it happens, I fit within several historically ‘spoken for’ and much written about groups. However I don’t write testimony and I do not own these issues. There isn’t one way to emerge from adversity, so demanding a paint-by-numbers approach to its portrayal is frankly childish, reductive, and philistine. Characters should be three-dimensional beings, not mascots commissioned by committee.

 

image from Algonquian tradition

A Letter From Inside

Detained in solitary confinement, Osman Kavala has been able to get a letter out.

When I was taken into custody on board returning from Gaziantep, I was not worried. I counted on that it would be understood immediately that the suspicions against me are unwarranted. Yet, my arrest and the accusations that led to my arrest came as a surprise to me…

…read more: Letter from Osman Kavala

Is Equality A Good Goal?

First, some definitions. “Equality” is what? Income; access to making income; material goods; time to enjoy one’s pursuits; treatment vis-a-vis others; treatment vis-a-vis authorities/gatekeepers; access to the necessities of life; and so on.

“Good” may be considered from the personal, family, community, social, species, biosphere perspective.

“Goal” may be a clearly defined end result; an achieved state or condition that extends though a period of time; a stretch goal; a general state or condition whose definition depends on a consensus arrived at by personal, family, community, social, species, or biosphere agreement; serendipity accepted as willful action.

Looking for something?

For most people the response would be, “It’s my ox being gored so that is how I will choose to see it.

In his opus, The Quest for a Moral Compass, Kenan Malik, in chapt. 2, touches on Plato’s views on equality and democracy:

A democrat puts all “his pleasures on an equal footing”, “always surrendering rule over himself to which ever desire comes along, as if it were chosen by lot”. Political equality inevitably leads to a coarseness of culture and to an anything-goes morality, a claim that finds an echo among modern conservatives.

The only society worse than a democracy is a tyranny. This is not the opposite of democracy but is rather democracy fully played out, a society in which every form of behaviour, including murder and disrespect for law, becomes acceptable.

Note that this was written before the current US President’s statement, on the campaign trail, that it would be acceptable for him to shoot a person on a New York street, or his subsequent disparagement of court rulings that were against his wishes.

In Ethics, Responsibilities & Sustainability, Robert Sexty, in chapt. 2, defines “equality of opportunity”:

The assumption that all individuals or groups have an even chance at responding to some condition in society.

Sexty goes on to say:

Many of those involved in Canadian business in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were attracted to Canada because there was less influence exerted by nobility, landed gentry, and a rigid class system in North America than in Europe.

He goes on to offer an interesting take on the difficult dichotomy between a capitalist system and the goal of equality of opportunity. Presuming that capitalism is self-defined as producing inequalities such as of income, the goal is switched to “equality of results”. Perhaps this redefinition is another way of saying, “It’s not the gun that kills…”

The human resources text, Strategic Compensation in Canada, by Richard Long, understandably avoids discussion of individual equality and moral or ethical implications therein. Long does define equity theory:

Employees’ base perception of equity (fairness) on a comparison of their contributions/rewards ratio to the ratios of others perceived as being similar.

The HR business requirement is, of course, to maintain harmony in a company and to promote effective use of employees’ capabilities to the benefit of the organization. This common understanding of “fairness” in a relationship seems to be the only universally agreed definition of equity that can withstand the contemplative slings of philosophers.

It has not been long, historically, since some people in society first turned their attention in specific ways to the possibility of a society that is predicated on non-privileged expectations like “liberty, equality, fraternity”. Or, in the USA, their 14th amendment to the constitution which states all citizens shall be afforded “equal protection of the laws”. In Canada, and in other countries that used the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as a model, equality rights are clarified: “Everyone has the right not to be discriminated against by the government based on personal characteristics”.

These examples refer to an individual’s rights with respect to government action or inaction. The intent was to place on the table a template by which individuals or business entities were expected to model their non-governmental behaviour. It was subsequently found necessary in every case to enact legislation that went beyond the expectation of voluntary compliance.

Equality, however one defines it, is new. Its application in societies that have professed to adopt it has been spotty. But many writers and activists have gone further to say that some form of equality should be codified into law.

In factors such as health coverage, it is instructive to discover the dichotomy that can arise between constitutional equality and corporate profit. A 2011 OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) study, echoed in 2017 with similar results, found that the USA stands out: “the United States spends two-and-a-half times more than the OECD average health expenditure per person.” (http://www.oecd.org/els/health-systems/health-data.htm).

While all the other countries studied have some form of universal health coverage, only the USA does not. The cost per person for health care in the USA averages about $8000, while the OECD average is about $3500.  The profit motive easily trumps the 14th amendment right to equal protection under the law.

So, equality is at risk whenever it bumps up against the financial interests of privileged groups. Far from being a universal Right, equality is easily reduced to a glimmer in some unimportant eyes.

Can the topic be approached in a different way? If you can’t beat them, should they be joined? In Nautilus magazine, an engineer by the name of Venkat Venkatasubramanian offers the opinion that there is a mathematical formula for the ideal level of inequality (http://nautil.us/issue/52/the-hive/is-there-an-ideal-amount-of-income-inequality). The purpose seems to be finding that level of being held down by gatekeepers of the privileged groups in such a way that it does not bring out the urge to gather pitchforks.

It may be argued that the Occupy movement shows we have passed beyond that level. However, the sound of swooshing pitchforks that were heard in Paris of the 1790s are absent today. Outside of the folks involved in movements such the Arab Spring, those of us thinking about the subject briefly between our 2 or 3 jobs may have forsaken direct action for a more sedate round of periodic (and usually virtual) “activism”.

Is the formula correct? Perhaps the right level of inequality has been found.

Perhaps equality is not a worthwhile goal? Who really wants it, anyway?

Publishing and Dinosaurs

x
Literary artists may wish to note, if it is of any interest, the plaintive honks of a scribe committed to a dying industry. He/she neither seems to be familiar with the current terminology nor how to read statistics.
From BC Bookworld, Summer 2017 edition, page 41:

Hardly anybody would listen, but we did tell you that ebooks were a trumped-up fad, mostly promulgated by self-interested parties, and the format is so obviously inferior to the feel of a printed book that it couldn’t possibly replace real books. According to Publishers Weekly, ebook unit sales from reporting publishers were down 16% in 2016 from 2015. The sky has not fallen.

It is the publishing paradigm that is failing.
“Ebooks” are only a component of the new paradigm, and to isolate one’s analysis to that aspect is to emulate the brontosaurus tribe who were looking up at a falling asteroid and saying, “That’s just a chunk of rock. It can’t do us any harm.”
Like Sears, Eatons, etc., the self-absorbed gatekeepers of a dying business model that are to be found in the remnants of “the publishing industry” seem to have learned skills that serve only to advance their narrow view of the world. Large and lumbering as they are, it remains to the brave adventurers of a different sort to dash around the plodding fossils.
There are a few in that traditional industry who have, in fact, moved on. But why would they mentor their fellow dinosaurs? The small, quick and agile publishers will keep their new knowledge to themselves, allowing the designated scribe-gatekeepers to pompously proclaim that the sky isn’t falling. We know, of course, that the only surviving dinosaurs are now known as “birds” – a radical departure from the lumbering behemoths of the pre-asteroid days.

SUPPORT BOTH THE BIRDS AND THE SCURRYING MAMMALS!

Pandaemonium – a Blog with Brains

If you would like to read a blog that asks you to think hard about your conceptions and preconceptions, take a look at Kenan Malik’s Pandaemonium. Kenan is a London-based philosopher, who, despite that description, lives in anything but an ivory tower:

“Pandaemonium”

Oh – watch out for that first comment, which is from me. Apologies for the convoluted train of thought.