The tide is turning

One of the initial “problems” following my TBI was separating symptoms. It seems odd to me, although many things seem odd to me, that my doctors appeared to be dodging responsibility, blaming various symptoms as resulting from a condition in which they did not specialize. “Oh you’ll need to see a (insert specialty) about that” was a shared mantra; was it the MS, or the TBI, or maybe something else? As I zeroed in on the diagnosis of SCDS, I found another area of overlapping symptoms. As I heal from that surgery, I find many of my TBI/MS symptoms relieved at least in part. Much of the brain fog has lifted, I am able to focus and organize thoughts better. My neuropsychologist discharged me from therapy the other day, satisfied that although my recovery is not complete, I have the necessary tools and coping skills to move forward on my own, I am capable of self evaluation.

As I considered the topic I will be writing about this time, it occurred to me that this may turn out more in the style of some of my earlier writing, a variety of events tied by synchronicity. It may end up appearing as the ramblings of a damaged brain, or it may be clear enough to communicate a hidden reality.

I want to start with the “March for Science” held this year on 22 April, at various sites around the globe. I wrote about the march previously, it had appeared to have lost a true science base, appealing to populists who talk about science without understanding it. Nonetheless, it appears some scientists did not care they were being represented by a steampunk contingent and a celebrity with a bachelors degree in engineering, or perhaps they were reacting to the farcical world in which anybody can call themselves a scientist. A group (thirty thousand) of scientists spoke out about global warming. They stated global warming is a hoax. A non-scientist friend disagreed, and presented the following graph.

 

Misrepresentation of CO2 levels

 

As someone with the dignity and respect for scientists not to call myself a scientist, I point out the features of this graph. The graph is properly indexed, with the first eight hundred thousand years of data identified as coming from ice cores. The last sixty years of data were drawn from another source, an observatory atop a volcano. The graph indicates a series of cycles, each roughly one hundred thousand years, in which the level of CO2 rises and falls. At the point the ice core samples revealed the latest peak, the data source changes to Mauna Loa observatory, which indicate higher levels of CO2 than had ever been recorded in an ice core.

There is no indication of the data from Muana Loa previously (largely because the data was not being collected), we have no idea how the measurements made there compare to samples from ice cores. All we know is in the last sixty years the levels from the Muana Loa data have been exponentially higher than any ice core sample.

We also do not know how this might suggest global warming, as actual temperature data from the last twenty years have shown steady  global temperatures. While there is a debate as to whether CO2 is a warming or cooling effect on the globe, the cyclic patterns which took place for six hundred thousand years before there was a species identified as remotely human would indicate humans had nothing to do with those CO2 levels. As those levels in Mauna Loa’s data peaked over the last one third of their data, actual temperatures have remained stable. But it is a shocking graph, until you read it.

When I was twenty, I drove an ice cream truck, for a company called Tropical Ice Cream. In one of the neighborhoods in my territory lived a man who owned his own ice cream truck, and was not a friendly competitor. One day a little boy was among the crowd at the window, and he said “Tropical Ice Cream is bad, they gave me wrong change.” Not recognizing the child, I asked him why he said that. “Bill (the other ice cream truck driver) told me.” Some folks just repeat what they have heard, without considering the facts. I’m sure the AGW fanatics will continue to argue about science with actual scientists, after all, they heard it from Bill Nye the science guy.

Another science based theme which has been pushed since the March for Science is the anti-vaccination cult. It took the British medical journal, The Lancet, nearly twelve years to retract Dr. Andrew Wakefield’s 1998 paper suggesting a link between childhood vaccines and autism, as “utterly false.” His license to practice was revoked six months later. But the anti-vaccination crowd will hear nothing of it, continuing to insist on various reasons vaccines must cause autism without any data to back their claims.

This attack on science is more direct. Rather than falsely claiming to be backed by science, the anti-vaccination crowd contends the scientists who have failed to find any data connecting vaccines and autism are corrupt, paid off by pharmaceutical companies. When it comes to anything even resembling facts in the matter, they are misunderstood or misconstrued. Nonetheless, the anti-vaccination front was represented at the March for Science. Of the many reasons I did not participate in the march, this hypocrisy is the epitome.

Science is designed to be challenged. It is designed to be challenged by other scientists, not celebrities and laymen. It will always be misconstrued or denied for political reasons, it took the Vatican three hundred and fifty years to apologize to Galileo. This year, after an election that highlighted false news, a populist March actually revealed truths; not from the lips of the marchers, but from the scientists to whom the marchers claimed the desire to provide a voice. Many of the marchers are like that little boy next to the ice cream truck, repeating what they heard. They tend to passionately defend the beliefs they have been told they hold, but the scientists are standing up, and their response has been “That is not what we said, that is not science.”

The tide is turning. It may require another three hundred and fifty years, but eventually science will be respected again.

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The war to end all wars

One hundred and two years ago, in July of 1914, the first tendrils of the flame which would become known as The War to End All Wars were sprouting. It was not an accurate name, later it was referred to as the first World War, even before we started numbering them, because it was recognized the world was at war. About 4600 years earlier, the first recorded war, the Battle of Ur, involved the world of the time. There is little doubt there were wars before that, the desire to write was never as strong as the desire to kill.

Humans have always been at war with each other, there have been more than one hundred major conflicts since the War to End All Wars. It can be difficult to tell when one ends and another begins, the “first World War” began as a conflict between Serbia and Croatia, which continues today despite numerous “peace treaties.” The latest spark being when the cases each had against the other for genocide were dismissed in February 2015. The Prussian military analyst Carl Von Clausewitz (1780-1831), in his book On War, calls war “a continuation of politics carried on by other means;” the Serbians and Croates always seem to find those means so something should be happening over there soon. And in Syria, The Ukraine, Afghanistan, Pakistan, The Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Israel, Iraq, Nigeria, Libya, and The United States of America.

Yes, I am hearing the call here in the states. Credible calls which I shall not spread less I be accused of sedition. Hatred and mistrust is at an all time high in the states, look at a political candidate, the one who you won’t vote for, and realize that person’s supporters feel the same way as you. Their candidate has been unfairly vilified, the process was rigged against them, there are multiple conspiracies against them, and the other (your) candidate is the worst being to ever cobble together 46 chromosomes.

I am quite accustomed to hearing young people talk about revolution. I refrain from laughing out loud, they are often passionate, but direct action has no safe spaces.  When our forefathers signed the Declaration of Independence, they said “we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” They understood the meaning of their words, they had lives, fortunes, and honor to pledge. The rumblings I am hearing today come from such people.

Recent events have been disturbing. Using a variety of ruses, the Bill of Rights has been under attack. In California, a law criminalizing speaking against climate change failed to pass, but the Department of Justice is considering civil actions to bypass the first amendment. The second amendment is dying the death of a thousand infringements. The third amendment, prohibiting forced quartering of soldiers, is in question in a case arguing that forcing land owners to allow government designated endangered species habitat is a violation. The fourth amendment has been all but overruled by the NSA. The fifth and sixth amendments, guaranteeing due process and listing rules of evidence and testimony, have been bypassed not only with drone strikes enforcing the death penalty against uncharged American citizens, but also in calls to use “no fly lists,” secret documents compiled without evidence, as reasons to deny second amendment rights. The seventh amendment, guaranteeing a speedy trial by jury, has not applied to the inhabitants of Guantanamo Bay or victims of countless other renditions, both within the continental United States and elsewhere. The eighth amendment, protecting against cruel and unusual punishment, was saved by a filibuster, narrowly preventing drone strikes on American soil. They are currently used on foreign soil to avoid renditions, which can cause bad public relations; better to kill than imprison. The ninth and tenth amendments have simply been ignored, as the federal government created new rights, sometimes (as in the case of Same sex marriage) overruling the voice of the people who passed contradicting laws by referendum. The president has scoffed at separation of powers with his statements of “I have a phone and a pen,” essentially saying “I can do whatever I want, nah nah nah.” The corruption revealed in the FBI and DOJ deny our intrinsic faith in the rule of law, and in any power the Constitution might still hold. Rules are meaningless without enforcement.

The calls for rebellion have many sources, the tinder already glowing. The first war encompassing the world started with a botched assassination in Sarajevo, the American revolution was sparked by a tax on a breakfast beverage.

The horns are blowing with the winds of change.

 

 

 

Let it snow

SNOWFLAKE

My first memory of snow is from, of all places, Texas. I was younger than four, living in Trinidad Texas. I had done something which was going to result in a spanking, so I ran out the back door, and was unable to move. Must have been a drift, there was snow up to my waist. I recall the confusion, the unexpected barrier was both scary and fascinating. After the inevitable spanking, my mother made ice cream with the snow.

I can look back on the experience (which is rather amazing in itself, I have about a dozen distinct memories from Trinidad) and see it as a formative moment. An entirely new substance, which fell from the sky, which could turn into ice cream. What an incredible planet I found myself on! As I got older and examined the incident it became even more interesting. Living on an island in Texas named for a Caribbean nation, hydrogen bonds creating hexagon based crystals which lock together turning an inch of rain into a foot of snow. Memories of a three year old that remain strong fifty years later. A lifetime of incongruity.

It snowed a few more times while I lived in Texas, once in Dallas we built an igloo. Twenty years later I found myself back in Dallas as an adult, four inches (10cm) of snow causing panic, without snow removal equipment the city was a catastrophe, tire chains were placed on the Police cars to handle the “treacherous” road conditions. In the interim I had been skiing in the mountains of several states, and lived in New Jersey and Pennsylvania through some heavy Winters. The biggest road hazard was not the snow, it was the other drivers.

The severity of a snowstorm is best measured by the affected area’s ability to adjust. Snow in the Northeastern States is routine, they are better prepared for snow removal than areas in which snow is rare. As a young man in North New Jersey I drove a car with a four inch ground clearance (and a pointed nose) through drifts higher than my bumpers, driving in snow was an excellent exercise in inertial navigation. My Subaru makes it far too easy.

Imagine my dismay upon returning to the Northeast a few years later. I might retain memories for a lifetime, but my neighbors could not recall how to deal with snow from one year to the next. The first snowstorm each year is a disaster, even a dusting is more than some people can handle. There is another “tradition of ignorance” that amazes me even more, which I refer to as “French toast syndrome.” Rooted in the days before commercial bakeries and dairies, the days before a forecasted storm there is a rush on the grocery stores as families stock up on bread, milk, and eggs. The supermarket I frequented in South Philadelphia placed those items near the door in winter so people could grab everything and get out quickly. People who don’t even use these staples anymore go out and buy them before a storm.

Which brings me to today.

We’ve had a few inches of accumulation, and the forecasts suggest there may be a foot (30cm) of snow tomorrow night. I probably won’t go to Gallucio’s, my typical Monday night of music and dancing will most likely take place at home (If anyone would care to join me, the couch folds out to a bed). Most annoying, it is time for my weekly shopping trip, and crowded grocery stores remove the joy (yes, I love shopping for food) from the excursion.

The cold still paralyses me, shutting down my motor control and causing immense pain from direct exposure, but I do love the snow. I can bundle up, looking rather healthy in heavy clothes, and adapt to the environment. A warmer climate would probably be better for me, but then I couldn’t dress like this.

1531727_10151873223641587_667217877_o

If you live in this part of the country, relax. Snow is an above ground reservoir, allowing moisture to slowly melt into the ground for next Spring’s seeds. It absorbs sound, muffling humanity’s noise allowing an undisturbed view of nature’s beauty. With any luck it will knock out the power, forcing you to actually talk with your loved ones. Get out and make snow angels, make a snow Al Gore, make ice cream.

 

 

The cover of a book

Let us get this out of the way from the beginning. I prefer that my cover tells nothing about the contents. You may assign that trait to any part of my development, then think about it again. I prefer my cover tells nothing about the contents. What you think about the cover is what I find interesting. After you discover the contents your reaction is the very best part. One friend said “It’s not what you think, it’s never what you think.” That said this article is inspired by a shotgun blast of reality today.

I’m fairly complex, as I suspect many people are. I cannot be judged at first glance, so I try not to judge others by the first glance. Nonetheless, many people do. I was talking to a friend today who had made a career choice based on his appearance. He had wanted to be an interpreter of American Sign Language, but he has a less than “usual” appearance, tattoos, ear gauges, that sort of thing. Although Smith has all the qualifications, and the hearing impaired community has few prejudices, the interpreters guild is much more conservative. The guild would have problems with his appearance, but his other career choice would not. The losers? Those of us who need an interpreter for American Sign Language.

My outward appearance has varied, I rather enjoy it when I am not recognized, I’ve even had people tell me stories about myself, not realizing who they were talking to. That is so much better than finding people who only judge the cover, recognizing you are listening to someone who didn’t even get a good look at the cover.

Smith recognized me today, I haven’t seen him in four years, back then I had long hair and was walking with a cane, I wore a nice (not to brag, but $100) tie every day tied with a perfect Full Windsor knot. Today I was far more casual, short hair and a sweater with jeans, walking fine in my Doc Marten’s, beret pulled back to my left. He wasn’t expecting me, but when he saw me he came out from the kitchen and hugged me. I haven’t been touched that deeply in awhile.

He made me a lovely brunch, the atmosphere was very comfortable, relaxed, it suited us both. I invited him and his bride to visit, I love to cook for guests and they really should get out of the city occasionally. Smith hadn’t even seen a tumbleweed in Ft. Worth, but you can see his soul is in tune with the universe. Don’t over think that.

I come home and find as I scan the news sources that racial tensions are at an all time high. Excuse me? How did that happen? How many divisions do we need to create? When do we get to the point of accepting at the most basic level, what makes us the same is the way each and every one of us is different?

I asked Smith’s advice about a piercing, so while I was near South Street I stopped at Infinite Body Piercings. It isn’t a huge community, my first body piercing was done at Infinite. I had a piercing in which I wanted to wear a piece of jewelry that had belonged to Emma. I had taken her ring out, and the hole had shrunk. I started the process of widening the hole, I’ll have her ring in by New Year’s Day. But it’s not like anyone could see it. I have a tattoo, same story. If those decorations were more conspicuous they would be more offensive, why? They would be on parts of my body which by every definition are less intimate.

Kurt Vonnegut had said “Be careful what you pretend to be because you are what you pretend to be.” I pretend to be happy, it usually works. Popeye said “I am what I am, and that’s all that I am.” I am in control, I am confident.

Who cares? All some people see is that which they fear. Xenophobia at the pinnacle of its expression.

I am so very very sad.

I expected so much more from humanity. I had not realized the upward swing was that of a pendulum (why does that theme keep occurring?). This is where it gets creepy.

I find it alarming that those so dedicated to natural processes refuse to accept humanity as natural. This is simply the way it is supposed to be. You cannot forestall extinction events, they will depend upon the gene pool. If all traces of civilization are destroyed, how civilized will any survivors be?

You want to know about me? Ask. At the same time I was wearing $100 ties I was wearing $30 shoes. Is who I am based on the altitude of the observer’s gaze? I’ve done some fairly crazy things but most people think I am a conservative. Is who I am based on the fourth dimension of time as it intersects your inspection?

You know that “Judge not, yet ye be judged by the same measure” bit? Matthew 7:1 ? The advice has been out there for over two thousand years. The negative effects of not following that advice have been obvious for far longer. There is no excuse, it all begins with you.

You really can change the world. Just by changing yourself.

And now, a random yahoo on the street

In the classical sense, an opinion is based on understanding a subject. We all may have differing opinions, but the subject is static, Our opinions may vary based on differing levels of understanding, or on differing priorities. If someone has differing priorities, you can reach an agreement that you both understand the issue and do not agree on the implications. If someone does not understand the subject but will not let go of their opinion, there is no point in discussion, they have nothing to teach you about the issue, and they do not care to learn anything from you.

This is why I love popular discussions. I have learned the most from people I disagree with, sometimes the enlightenment has caused me to change my opinion, sometimes it has reinforced my opinion, but I do my best to separate my opinion from “the facts”. Apparently that skill is not as appreciated as it once was, the power of opinion seems to be more valuable than the power of facts these days.

An example would be our president. I don’t like him. I find him to be a poor president, but I do not think he is a poor leader in every sense. He certainly has a fanatical strong following, I just don’t care for his methods or where he appears to be leading the country. I don’t care what race he is, or which religion if any he follows. I have had discussions about his qualities, and can acknowledge the things that he has done right. When I am in a discussion and someone brings up the “fact” that he is Muslim,  my first response is “Our constitution guarantees freedom of religion, his religion is not pertinent to his leadership”, usually followed by “and he claims not to be Muslim anyway.” If the person I am talking with is basing their opinion on false information that has something to do with what we are talking about that is one thing, if it is based on irrelevant information their opinion is even more distorted. It goes both ways. If I say “Obama is a lousy president” and the response is “you’re a racist” I attempt to enlighten my adversary to the notion that his color is unimportant, irrelevant to my opinion. If their opinion is based on the belief that any disagreement has nothing to do with the issue but is instead based on irrelevant information, their opinions are as distorted as the person who is biased against him because they believe him to be Muslim.

I have had the benefit of a wide breadth of experiences, and have also been blessed with a few intellectual tools such as curiosity and insight, so I’ve learned a lot about a variety of subjects. I am a rarity, in that I recognize the limits of my understanding and try to learn more.

We are bombarded by opinions, with few facts to be found in most conversations. Slowly there has been a shift from relevant facts to popular opinion, and while someone with no basis upon which to form their opinion might be interesting to listen to, they are not furthering the understanding of the subject.

During the search for the missing Malaysian airliner, facts have been thin so space was filled with opinion. Even Courtney Love came forward as a photo interpreter. Having spent some time with people who spent careers interpreting satellite images, I understand the intricacies involved. Courtney Love’s opinion was immediately dismissed because she was Courtney Love, but when the Prime Minister of Australia came forward he was taken seriously. Neither was a trained photo interpreter, and my friends and I all had a good laugh at the surreal nature of taking a celebrity opinion over an expert analysis. The entire world buzzed anyway.

This morning, on a web site devoted to astronomy, a woman asked where she could see the two stars in the sky. She had seen an article about it on the internet. A few people were quick to remind her that stars do not travel into different systems, and at least one person suggested she could see two suns on Tatooine. She is a regular on the site, and probably considers herself an amateur astronomer, I just hope she isn’t dispensing her opinions on astronomy to her friends as facts.

I have friends who are avidly against Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in food. There may be valid reasons for their beliefs, but until there is documented research showing GMOs are in any way harmful, their beliefs are based on fear of the unknown. This dovetails into Anthropogenic Climate Change (AGW). When an actual scientific study produces data indicating there is an anthropogenic element I’ll take the issue more seriously, but presently a political organization is the only source of alarms, so I have to view the issue as political. Are there perfectly good reasons to control pollution? Absolutely, but they have nothing to do with climate change. I have seen office workers treat used toner cartridges as toxic waste, because they believed they were filled with carbon. Sorry, there is no carbon in the empty container, it has been printed onto all your copies, and carbon is inert, totally safe unless you inhale it in high concentrations. You exhale more carbon than you inhale every time you breathe.

These examples bring me to food allergies. Celiac disease affects one percent of the population, and has serious consequences for those affected. Half an aisle in my supermarket is devoted to gluten free products. There is no reason to avoid gluten if you do not suffer from celiac disease, yet the products are very popular, there’s even a quinoa vodka which is advertised as gluten free. In case you were not aware, all vodka is gluten free, as gluten is cooked out during the distilling process. In the same way that a mattress made from aloe vera leaves (I have seen them) has no affect on your skin, quinoa vodka has no unique benefit if you are avoiding gluten. Someone with celiac disease would know that, which is my point. Fear of a substance is marketed to people who have nothing to fear. Their opinion on gluten has been formed based on an impression that gluten is bad for everyone. Several of my friends go out of their way to avoid gluten, but only three of them have any need to do so.

Opinions about subjects fire intelligent discussions, and I honestly believe that positive ideas bubble to the top. When I was first diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), the accepted medical opinion was stress does not exacerbate MS. I suggested to my neurologist directly, and to several others through other patients, that stress exacerbates the impact of symptoms, so from the patient’s point of view, stress does exacerbate MS. Within a few years the opinion was being discussed in medical circles, and today the link between stress and MS is widely accepted. Change is slow, but in scientific communities a rational argument goes a long way.

A reasoned, rational argument can break any barrier, an uninformed, irrational argument builds barriers where there were none. Knowledge is more powerful than you might imagine.

 

 

Climate science

I have some background in science, enough to know when I have to hit the books rather than depend on instinct or “the buzz”. Some issues are obvious, others less so. The trouble is, most folks don’t know when something isn’t obvious. The ability to analyze and interpret data is a skill no longer taught in schools as a part of general education. We teach young people they have a right to speak, a right to their own opinions, yet we don’t teach them how to form intelligent opinions.

At our fingertips is access to all the information of the world, but without the ability to discern fact from fantasy, how do we really know to discard the web page from Elvis’ lover from outer space? In a large number of cases, we trust certain sources to be accurate, but there remains massive amounts of people who will believe anything, and once they believe, their faith cannot be shaken.

You may or may not believe in what is now called “Anthropogenic Climate Change”. It was previously called Climate Change, and before that Global Warming, and before that Weather. One clue an idea is without merit is when it keeps changing its name.

The idea of Anthropogenic Climate Change became popular after Rachel Carson’s book “Silent Spring” was published in 1962. Carson’s focus was the use of pesticides, notably DDT, which could be directly linked to genetic damage in wildlife. Her book launched the environmental movement, which at the time was warning air pollution would cause a decrease in planetary temperatures by blocking sunlight, bringing on an ice age.

There are wondrous benefits to humanity to be gained by realizing where “away” is when we throw something away. Archeology provides several examples of societies that polluted their environments, and either moved on to pollute new locations or found themselves trapped in an environment that could no longer sustain them. There is no question that we can foul our immediate surroundings, or consume all of the locally available resources. Today we see ourselves as a global community, we realize we might actually be able to use all the resources on the planet, the pollution we ship off to someplace we can’t see can wash back up on our doorstep.

Somewhere in there is the break in logic. Maybe if we compare the issue to physics, where we recognize the rules change with scale, we may be better served. The thin crust of humans on this planet can destroy individual species, and in some cases those species may be keystones in the environment. We can do a lot of damage, and might even be able to make the entire planet hostile to human life. What is far more likely is we will find our pattern unsustainable, and due either to wisdom or necessity reduce the number of humans on the planet. Fewer humans, fewer resources consumed and polluted, the environment heals. If we do manage to drive our own species to extinction, should we shed a tear?

Everything works in cycles, we might mourn the loss of the Snail Darter, but is anyone campaigning to bring back Tyrannosaurus Rex? Part of our minds accepts, even embraces the cycles of lives, another insists on controlling them. Perhaps Homo Post Sapiens will do better.

For me, the issue of  “Climate Change” boils down to a few critical points.

First, “Is it happening?”. Despite what either camp is shouting, the answer is “The jury is still out on that one”. There is adequate data to indicate we are following natural cycles, and there is adequate speculation extrapolation of that data to indicate the trend might be towards unnatural warming.

Second, “Is there anything that should be done about it?”. Note that before even questioning if how or if we can, the question is “should”. The questions that arise here are “Is this a natural process?” and “Is there some reason to believe altering a global process could have positive results?”. We put on sunscreen before going out in the sun, and carry an umbrella in the rain, but is it a good idea to stop the sun or the rain? If it does turn out that humans have caused Climate Change, are not humans part of the ecosystem? Everything humans do is by definition natural, so should we consciously attempt to alter the climate of the entire planet?

Third, “What can be done about it?”. If there is climate change (Anthropogenic or not) and we determine we should attempt to alter it, what should we do? How precisely will allowing some countries to pollute more, and assigning fines to countries that have been arbitrarily chosen to pollute less, affect the climate in any possible way? If the problem is carbon in the atmosphere, and the problem is a global one, why is it a solution to allow Russia to buy India’s capacity to produce atmospheric carbon? Wouldn’t the solution be closer to eliminating atmospheric carbon production altogether rather than transferring currency?

My skepticism on the subject is not assuaged by the fanatics that claim humans are responsible for climate change. Starting from the beginning, are not weathermen the least trusted when the question is accuracy? Maybe they can forecast today’s weather, but next week? Next century? Ten thousand years from now? These are people who can’t remember not to wear green in front of a green screen, their only interaction with technology each day.

Chroma key at work

Chroma key at work

Our local weatherman mentioned today the wind chill temperatures would be lower in a certain area because they had more snow on the ground.  There is more snow on the ground there because it snowed there yesterday. Wind chill is determined by air temperature and wind speed, snow on the ground does not factor at all.

A fake petition was passed around at a global warming rally (I’m just guessing they’re against, and not for, global warming) requesting the United States government to lower the temperature of the sun. Stupid followers do not enhance your public image. People claiming that global warming “deniers” are ignoring science might want to check where that thermostat on the sun might be, and share with us why they think Americans have access to it.

Gallup recently presented the results from a poll, indicating “More than four in 10 Americans say the seriousness of global warming is generally exaggerated, while one in three say it is generally underestimated and about one in four say it is generally correct”. Despite the odd presentation (4/10 + 1/3 + 1/4 = 1) the poll was not about the science, or even about the scientists, but about public opinion, what people thought the scientists (more precisely the media) were saying. And this is my point. People are arguing about their opinions, with no knowledge of the facts. Despite the fact public opinion has nothing to do with the validity of data, it is interesting that even though more people believe scientists believe in global warming, more people than ever believe that global warming claims are exaggerated in the media.

Climate change deserves your attention. I have seen nothing that convinces me it is not a totally natural process, but regardless of your beliefs, seek out facts to support them. Don’t listen to wankers, they’re on both sides of the issue.

Seeing is believing

There has been a trend against language for some time. The masses, easily misled by words, prefer pictures.

Several alleged “news” sources simply post video. No analysis or comment, occasionally going as far as stating “At 2:15 he makes his point” suggesting I should watch two minutes and fifteen seconds of a video to discover what the point might be. Just tell me, I can read, and I can read much faster than the video can tell its story. I have seen “articles” that consist of a collection of “memes”, with no original content. A string of pictures with captions rather than an actual opinion. “You know what I mean” moves to the next level.

“Meme” is derived from “mimeme”, meaning to imitate. The person who coined the word (Richard Dawkins) was looking for a monosyllabic expression. Rarely does a word fit its own definition so well, in some ways an intellectual onomatopoeia.

Recently footage of a chunk of ice falling off a glacier into the sea was headlined “Watch as a piece of the planet disappears forever!”. I watched, and saw ice fall into water. Nothing disappeared. Nonetheless the site was filled by global warming enthusiasts wringing their hands over the shame of it all. Pictures are like that. This is why anti-abortion activists carry pictures of aborted fetuses. The portion of the brain that reacts to visual stimuli skips the part that weighs facts and balances arguments. It’s a function of the survival instinct.

I’ve also noticed a grotesque misuse of graphs. A line on a page is not a graph. Unequal indices and unequally spaced indices are misleading. A graph with missing indices is just a set of meaningless lines. Yes, we can all see the line goes up as it moves from left to right, which influences my opinion as much as a picture of the guy from the Dos Equis commercials. But look! The line goes to the upper left hand corner! Turn the page ninety degrees, has the data changed? Why does the line go down now?

You may have noticed certain words in my articles are underlined. This was once the common way of letting readers know they could click on those words to link to an article verifying the information. Even that simple non-verbal form of communication has been corrupted. In a recent article about climate change, more than half the links were “broken”, that is, they lead nowhere, most often to a “404 Error” page. The casual reader would think there was documentation. Whether this was an intentional ruse to mislead readers or this was a case in which the documentation had been withdrawn is purely speculation.

The written word is not a natural form of communication. It is the product of intellectual evolution. De-evolution is a choice, it is a failure of intellect, and a great band from the ’80s. It is not the path a “progressive” should be attracted towards.

Numerals

Numerals are the names we give to numbers. Twelve, 12, Dozen, XII, Двенадцать, Twaalf, and Doce all refer to the same number. The number is the collection of objects, so the numeral is an adjective describing the collection. In the sentence “Bob has twelve blue eggs” the words “twelve” and “blue” describe the eggs Bob has. If he gives away an egg, the collection has changed as much as if he had bleached one white.

Just wanted to get that out of the way. The word “number” is in some ways similar to the word “anesthesia”, something that makes you numb. Maybe not you, but many people.

Most people do not understand numbers or their relationship to each other. As the data is translated into numerals, the level of understanding does not increase. Part of this is rooted in language, almost everyone understands the difference between addition and geometry, without realizing the difference between million and trillion is geometrical rather than linear. Moving a decimal point is not a function of counting, the simple addition or subtraction of a single unit, it is the multiplication (or division) of a number by a factor of the base. We use base ten, one hundred is ten times ten, or ten squared, one thousand is ten times ten times ten, or ten cubed. One is ten divided by ten, zero point one (0.1) is ten divided by ten divided by ten. 0.1 is related to 10 the same way 10 is related to 1,000. Decimals are easy, fractions drive people insane.

Really big events are often expressed using numerals, but if numerals and the numbers they represents are not understood, the event isn’t understood either. It is often said “Numbers don’t lie”. Words don’t lie either. Both can be used to tell lies.

I give you this as a preface to some numbers I’ll be referring to in the coming weeks. I’m going to be exploring some common myths in our culture, and I want to get your minds in a place where they can analyze the data without taking my word for the meaning of the numbers. For today, I’m just going to go over a couple of ways numbers have been used to lie, or at least mislead.

I have nothing against H&R Block, I’m using their ad as an illustration.

There is a commercial for H&R Block in which they state one billion dollars in tax deductions are missed by people who complete their own returns. We’re going to accept this as a fact without any verification, one billion dollars in deductions. As anyone who has prepared a tax return is aware, one dollar of deductions does not equal one dollar of taxes, but this is an ad for people who haven’t done their own tax returns, so why not go ahead and accept that one billion dollars in taxes have been overpaid. I won’t go into the representations of one billion dollars used in the commercials other than to say there would be different results if the money was in one dollar bills, hundred dollar bills, or pennies.

The population of the United Sates is estimated to be just over 316 million people in 2013. That means the one billion dollars is about $3.16 per person. Using the logic presented by H&R Block, your family of four is due an extra $12.65. Knowing that, are you ready to spend thirty dollars to have them prepare your taxes?

Of course, my numbers are wrong. Although each person should be represented on a tax return, each person does not file a tax return. Of actual tax returns, less than half are individuals (people rather than businesses). A small number (relatively speaking) are filed on paper rather than digitally. That small number is estimated as less than ten percent of the total number of returns, or a little over twenty four million returns for 2013. What, you didn’t think twenty four million was a small number?

So who knows what H&R Block is referring to in its commercials? All that is important is you should get your share of one billion dollars. If that share is a three hundred sixteen millionth, it isn’t much of a share, but you’re not supposed to think about anything other than the pile of bills shown in the commercial.

Next we’ll talk about graphs, visual representations of numbers.

 

 

Know Nukes

I always find the phrase “Nuclear family” rather funny.  Even though my parents divorced when I was twelve, I still think of my childhood as nuclear, just a different kind of nuclear. Dad worked in the scientific instrument field, so we had radioactive supplies around the house quite often.

I did the “Duck and cover” drills in elementary school, I grew up with the knowledge that a fission device could end the lives of everyone I knew at any moment, and that liquid scintillation counters used radiation for life saving research. I knew some forms of radiation were safe and some were not. I learned that some chemicals keep us alive while others are toxic. I learned that some plants are natural medicines, and some are natural poisons. I learned when to be afraid, and when not to. I used a cooler that my father had carried radioactive isotopes in to carry beer to concerts. There was no residual radioactivity, but I would joke about it and say “I didn’t want to have kids anyway”. It was a joke, okay? I’ve got four kids now.

Back then, all that information was in books. It still is, but it is supplemented, and sometimes supplanted by the internet.

The internet is a social forum. It is not a font of knowledge, it is a sewer of information. Sure, there may be a discarded gold watch in there, but it’s covered with feces.

There is a reason why scientists are respected. Because they are trained in critical thinking, and have studied their respective fields. When Emma had cancer, we didn’t seek the advice of a nuclear physicist, we were fortunate enough to find a premiere oncologist, Dr. Charles Yeo. When I’m looking for information on Global Warming, I don’t call Dr. Yeo, I check peer reviewed studies from respectable institutions. The resources available on the internet are amazing, and so is some of the garbage.

There is a lot of fuzzy logic out there. People who have no idea how to apply critical thinking are unlikely to apply any critical thinking to their sources. It’s maddening that people who say they don’t believe anything will believe anything, as long as it has no connection to actual research. For some reason fear mongering is popular. Maybe it’s the release of frustration, maybe it’s the need to control other people. Look at the various theories floating around, is there one that is based on a positive event?

Usually the false information is harmless. If people want to get worked up over issues that don’t exist that’s fine, just don’t try to get me worked up about it. Don’t come to my  door (this actually happened a few years ago) and insult me because I don’t believe your bullshit. If you don’t want there to be fracking, or a pipeline, or offshore drilling, then drive your SUV off a cliff. If you want to eat, drink, and breathe asparagus to cure your cancer, go right ahead. I’ll be pursuing therapies that actually have positive results. I don’t see a problem with genetically modified organisms. Gregor Mendels began the research in 1856, we’ve been modifying plants and animals at a genetic level for one hundred and fifty years. Suddenly it’s the end of the world?

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There is stuff to worry about, and insufficient time to worry about things that don’t matter.

The Fukushima disaster has caused a great deal of wringing of hands. Radiation can be scary, especially in the country where it brought Godzilla to life. I’ve read a lot about it, but actual verifiable information is being crowded out by fear mongering. If you’re afraid of nuclear power, fine, turn off your computer. Nuclear power has caused fewer deaths than any other source of power, when compared on a watt to death ratio. What that means is that more people die generating one hundred gigawatts of electricity in coal based generation, petroleum based generation, hydro-electric generation, and even solar generation than in nuclear generation. Wind power costs twice as many lives as nuclear per watt, while providing one seventeenth as much of the world’s electricity (I know that statistic could be claimed to be misleading as I’m using two different measures, read it carefully).

Fukushima survived one of the largest earthquakes in history. Measuring 9.0 on the Richter magnitude scale, with an epicenter less than one hundred miles away, it is not the kind of event that can be factored into safety engineering. The Onagawa Nuclear Power Plant, even closer to the epicenter, survived undamaged. Eight gas fired power plants and two refineries were damaged. Nearly sixteen thousand people died, but no deaths are tied to exposure to radioactivity, although several people died due to the evacuation around Fukushima.

There has been a good deal of speculation and outright lies in the reporting of the impact of the earthquake. When people don’t understand that there is a level of background radiation that occurs naturally everywhere on Earth, they are easily fooled into a  post hoc ergo propter hoc reasoning when shown background radiation in an area they don’t expect to see it. This is similar to the concern over radiation in the waste water from fracking. Uranium is a naturally occurring element, if it is in the soil where fracking is taking place, it will be in the waste water. It is no different than the cognitive dissonance which takes place when people see a bear in a semi rural neighborhood such as my own, and ask “where did it come from?”. We move to the woods to be closer to nature, yet are surprised by its presence.

One of the reasons we need to be aware of our surroundings is so we’ll know the difference between normal and abnormal occurrences. This way we know when to be afraid, and when not to be.

Know nukes. No fear.

 

Save

Conspiracy theories

Conspiracy theories are fascinating. To me, they indicate a variety of things.

The first is essentially insecurity, there are monsters under the bed. The other is a feeling of helplessness, the monsters are everywhere. Yet another is actually a belief in basic human goodness, this can’t be the work of one man, it must be a conspiracy.

The JFK theories persist because we’re uncomfortable believing that one person, acting alone, could kill the President of the United States. It was easier for Hillary Clinton to put forward the idea of a “vast right wing conspiracy” than to acknowledge that her husband had a history of marital infidelity. Conspiracy theorists create a conspiracy of their own, a denial of rational thought, and anyone who disagrees with them is simply a member of the antagonistic conspiracy. Global Warming, a theory allegedly based in science, uses as its argument that people who don’t “believe” are “deniers”. There is no discussion of actual facts, just an argument of faith. Despite claims of a consensus being proven fraudulent, believers still invoke the claims. Doesn’t sound too scientific.

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Studies of people who believe in conspiracies show that the leading indicator of whether a person will believe in a conspiracy theory is if they believe in other conspiracy theories. That is not to say they’re gullible, there are just no other commonalities. We used to consider these people “foil hat wearing lunatics”, but as more and more people feel life is beyond their control, they are more likely to believe they are being controlled by evil cartels and a bad turn of fortune. We can call an uneducated Arab a fanatic terrorist and then justify torturing him without acknowledging our own fanaticism. People can praise the “Affordable Care Act”, embracing the name “Obamacare” and attacking the “evil conservatives” for fighting against it, but once it has taken effect the same people claim that the entire program was developed by the conservatives and pushed through congress by Republicans.

Subscribing to conspiracy theories requires a suspension of rational thought. Attempting to have a rational discussion on a topic with someone who has abandoned rational thought only results in frustration for both parties. It is not a question of logic, it is a question of faith. Global Warming has caused increased ice packs. The NSA has developed energy beams which they control you with through your computer. Vaccinations cause autism. The Illuminati are poisoning us with with chemicals sprayed by aircraft. There is an invisible planet that is streaking towards the Earth. Anything can be evidence, it doesn’t have to make sense.

There is no common background in people who believe in conspiracies. They come from the Left, Right, and Middle. Well educated people are as susceptible as the illiterate, because it has nothing to do with intelligence, although the “believers” almost uniformly accuse the “deniers” of inferior intelligence. Because it’s obvious to them. It isn’t a conspiracy theory to the people who believe it, it’s the truth. To them, the truth is the propaganda.

There is a lot of money to be made by manipulating who believe in conspiracies. “Secret documents” available only through the mail, “research” funding, and millions of website hits. Heroes of the cause, brave crusader’s who need your five dollar donation to continue spreading the “truth”. The twisted logic of the believer supports the crusader, who has been shunned by his colleagues due to his “refusal to bow to the establishment”. And that’s only the “wacky” conspiracies. The really big conspiracies thrive on the wealth of entire nations. Choose a conflict in the Middle East and one side is blaming the other of taking part in a multinational conspiracy.

Why do I mention all this? Because it hampers free thought. It masquerades as critical thinking while it is anything but. It can happen to anyone, and it can also be avoided by anyone.

It is healthy to question everything, including yourself. That’s what science is all about. Being able to accept and evaluate new data is how growth takes place. Being able to say “Well, that’s what I used to think, but I was wrong” is evidence of growth.

 

 

Hoax hoaxes

‘Tis the season to be gullible.

By “season” I mean geologic age.

For all our talk about “the information age”, people are, by and large, more uninformed than at any other point in history. You read this on a computer screen, one web page among billions you could choose. You are bombarded with information, but unless you know how to sift through it, you are no more informed than an encyclopedia. Less so, because an encyclopedia rarely contains opinions.

This is the point I’ll start from, the difference between an opinion and a fact. The difference seems to evade many people, who use “opinion” and “fact” as interchangeable terms.

If you use Facebook, you may have noticed recently “related articles” following posted links. A friend posted an article lately, one that I have seen several times before. The article purports to be a “Cancer Update” from Johns Hopkins Hospital. It contains a number of “new age” ideas about curing cancer, and states that traditional therapies do not work. Having lost a loved one to cancer I was intrigued the first time I saw this a few years ago, but after reading a paragraph or two it was obvious that no one in the medical field would have ever written it. It is a dangerous hoax, possibly steering people away from life saving therapies, at best it only blames the dying for causing their own condition.

So I commented on her post, leaving a link to the snopes page debunking the “update”. I then noticed two related articles Facebook had attached to her post. One was a page from Johns Hopkins, declaring her post to be a hoax, the second was the snopes page. Anyone who came across this post would see the disclaimers and not be fooled right? Wrong. Another friend of my friend came along and posted “The article seems very accurate, even though it may not have been published by Johns Hopkins”. “May not”, with a denial from Johns Hopkins attached. He went on “Although snopes can also be accurate it has been known to ” sway” a story, years ago I checked on snopes about BPA in plastics. At the time snopes said the cancer reports were false”.

I offered to him that his ability to discriminate between facts and opinion was skewed. There is no evidence that BPA causes cancer. There is a great deal of speculation, which has spurred hundreds of studies, and still no causal link. But because he believed the rumor, he discredited snopes, which justified discrediting Johns Hopkins distancing themselves from the hoax. To this he replied “Thanks for your opinion”. The facts were my opinion, his opinions were the facts.

This is the environment that allows hoaxes to flourish. The Johns Hopkins Cancer Update hoax has been going strong since 2007. The BPA hoax has been alive since 2004. The correct information is available, buried under opinions.

Speaking of the environment…

The Global Warming Hoax continues, fueled (with the greenist of energies) by the best of self loathing intentions. The other day, it popped up within another hoax. Julian Lennon was publicizing the “anti-gravity moment”, now set for 4 January 2014 at 0947. This hoax has been around for almost forty years, dating from a 1976 April Fools joke. A reading of the article should shake one’s faith immediately, even if you didn’t know that British astronomer Patrick Moore died in 2012. Referring to a gravitational effect of “the planet Pluto aligned with the Planet Jupiter” might make anyone who is aware that Pluto has not been referred to as a planet since 2006 take pause. Of course, anyone who understood why Pluto is no longer referred to as a planet, because its mass is so insignificant, would know its gravitational effect on objects on Earth is ZERO. Nonetheless, numerous comments asked which time zone 0947 referred to, and one person said “Enjoy it while you can! With what we’re doing to this planet it won’t happen again!”.

Deep breath.

Yes, our pollution of the planet will cause it to change its orbit. Wow, if only our minds were as powerful as carbon emissions.

The next one would sound like a hoax, but isn’t. Despite the physical evidence, a group of free lance researchers (ironically offering a “warm feeling” in return for a $5 donation) headed into Antarctica to, among other things, collect data on Global Warming. They didn’t make it to their base camp on the Antarctic coast, their ship got stuck in the increasing polar ice cap. Not only that, but the rescue ship got stuck as well. You can’t make stuff like this up. Real scientists, on the other hand, acknowledge the Earth is actually in a cooling trend. Not that facts matter.

Sometimes just the source brings an article into question. That’s one reason I avoid linking to stories in FOX News, which is unfortunate. If the same information is published in multiple sources, why do I prevent FOX getting credit? Because almost half the population dismisses them out of hand. I caught a story the other day from the Iranian press. It was a marginally believable story about the pope. The Iranian press listed their source, so I checked it, and found it was a satire blog. It started as a joke, and a major outlet repeated it, and some people didn’t look any deeper, so it became the truth to seventy six million Iranians, and millions of others around the world who believe it, saying “The Western Press doesn’t report these stories”.

The silver lining to that episode is the person who initially publicized the story didn’t delete it, she edited it to indicate the story was a hoax, helping to slow its spread, and allowing the laughter the original satire piece deserved. In other situations I’ve frequently seen people say “It doesn’t matter, it sounds like something he’d say”, allowing the opinion to run over the fact.

We live in a world where a college football player plays into his own hoax of a dead girlfriend, continuing to “mourn” for her after he finds she’s not real. Millions of people say “What an idiot” and send money to a waitress who claims she wasn’t tipped because she’s gay. Turns out she was tipped, but she needs those donations because now she’s out of a job for lying. The biggest hoax of the year, the “Affordable Care Act”, continues to be spread, by people claiming how much help they have received. An amazing feat of time travel, as the act only takes effect today.

So I am clear, I am not suggesting you shouldn’t believe anything, I’m saying you shouldn’t believe everything. You should verify everything, even when it sounds believable, because that’s how hoaxes start. The believable lie, repeated over and over again, creates its own verification, popular support. If you don’t know that it is true, don’t repeat it.

Don’t be insulted when people question you, be happy you have intelligent friends. Show them how intelligent you are by backing up your words with facts. Real facts, not just opinions.

Liberty

There is an exchange between Naji Al-Hadithi and Robert Wiener in the film “Live from Baghdad”. It may or may not be based on an actual conversation, we are often much more clever in our memories.

Al-Hadithi says “You people take a  lot of liberties”

Wiener replies “We’re the liberty people”

That was 1990, the world has changed. A nation which Abraham Lincoln described as “conceived in liberty” seems to have lost interest in freedom.

Oh, they don’t like to admit it. In a twist of speech that would make George Orwell proud, the definition of “freedom” has changed from “the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action” to “the compliance with necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action”. You have the freedom to do as you’re told.

Intellectual growth springs from the free exchange of ideas. Not only because we build on each others ideas, but because the act of thinking about new ideas stimulates our brains, and we in turn come up with more new ideas.

This is why we once led the world in innovation, and today can’t replicate what we once invented. Seriously. One NASA scientist has said we couldn’t build the space shuttle today because it’s “too complicated”. We could build it fifty years ago when no one had done it before, but not now. A space walk on the International Space Station is hyped as being extraordinarily dangerous. When Alexey Leonov stepped outside Voskhod 2 on 18 March 1965 it was extraordinary. Forty years later it was all but routine. Today it’s scary news?

An example of the mind numbing effect on a grand scale is China. Centuries of repression has left the nation bereft of innovation. They are excellent at replication, although without innovation in the west, they’re even falling behind with that. The Soviet Union landed on the moon in 1959, America in 1962, Japan in 1993, the European Space Agency in 2006, India in 2008, with China finally managing a hard landing in 2009. The Chineese government, seeking to increase innovation, has mandated 3.5 new patents for every 10,000 people. You cannot mandate creativity.

Not that I care. The measure of humanity is not technology, it is spirituality. You can frame this any way you wish, but who we are is defined by how we treat each other. The growth we have experienced through the revolutions of the eighteenth century and experiments with other social systems is regressing. Our freedom of education allowed the freedom of ignorance. Ignorant people prefer to be told what to do. They’re more comfortable when everything is the same, surprises, differences, can cause them to become agitated. This is the flaw of pure democracy. The weak minded need to be taken care of, so when they speak out they ask for uniformity.

After the fall of communism in the Soviet Union, there was a segment of Russian society that expressed a desire to return to totalitarianism. This is why Russian society has not progressed as quickly as other Eastern Bloc countries. They have elected leaders from the old school.

The desire to be taken care of leads the voting block that empowers totalitarian leaders. Well meaning but uneducated activists manipulate this voting block. It is important that we take care of each other, but legislating compassion is as useless as mandating creativity.

Over the last decade or so I have seen an increased move towards totalitarianism. An outright campaign against free thought. It most often masquerades as free thought, enlightenment, or intellectualism, and the weak minded fall for it. Those that don’t embrace the campaign are bullied into submission or ostracized. This should be obvious to an observer, but no one likes being chased by an angry mob.

There are plenty of problems with our political process, one of them being a lack of alternative ideas. So how can eliminating one of the two political parties be a solution? Yet that is the chant of the “progressives”, who envision an end of the Republican Party. Not to be outdone, the “Tea Party” dreams of the destruction of the Democratic Party. Both sides are calling for totalitarianism! Open your eyes and recognize these people are not talking about democracy. They are not talking about working together, they are not entertaining compromise, so do they represent you?

If it was only politics it wouldn’t be as disturbing. The recent “Duck Dynasty” debacle has illustrated intolerance in the name of tolerance. The hyperbole used to attack a person for their beliefs would be untenable were those beliefs of any different origin. The same people would insist on his right to express his beliefs were he Muslim, so the problem isn’t that he belongs to a religion that says being Gay is a sin, the problem is that he’s Christian. If he were Muslim he wouldn’t be saying “it’s up to God”, he would legally (under Sharia) be killing Gay people in the street. The same people who decry Phil Robertson’s “judgement” in quoting the Bible, are perfectly comfortable calling him a racist, homophobe, Aryan, and member of the KKK. It would appear, absent of Tourette syndrome, such words require a judgement. Not a rational, fact based judgement, but judgement nonetheless.

I used to believe that facts were the realm of science, but even the world of science has been over run by irrational thought. Despite all the data actually pointing towards “global cooling”, the “global warming” chant is relentless. Carbon Dioxide, a product of warming and thus a result of a period of global warming, has been used as an explanation of impending global warming. The effect cannot be the cause within a scientific statement. Research is ignored, rational discussion is abandoned, and the chant continues.

Another scientist I once respected has used his position as someone with an allegedly inquiring mind to stifle the inquiries of others. Neil DeGrasse Tyson  has joined the ranks of those that believe that creation is inconsistent with its creator. Belittling others for their religious beliefs is not within the purview of an astrophysicist, but Neil seems to believe science and religion are mutually exclusive, and as a premiere scientist he can speak about religion. Were a priest to lecture on astrophysics I would have the same confidence in their views (none). Neil is not alone, another “humanist” recently said to me “The number of us who think humanism needs to supplant ancient flat-earth superstitions is definitely growing”, displaying an unbelievable ignorance of both world religions and demographics. Not that religion is, or is supposed to be, a democracy. Every religion I can think of teaches individual responsibility, the individual’s relationship with God is all that matters, which can only be vindicated at death, so how does that threaten the non-believer? Unless that non-believer thinks we should all believe exactly the same thing.

Our most precious liberty is the freedom to think for ourselves. If you deny that freedom to others, you have already denied it to yourself.

Just use it

Think for yourself

 

The world turned upside down

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When I travel, I often think of my place on the planet in terms of “The Little Prince”. Speaking with friends on other continents I see us as two large figures on a small planet.

Being from the Northern hemisphere, it seems natural to picture myself standing atop the planet. I wonder how people in the Southern hemisphere would picture it. There is no “up” and “down” in space, so our view of Earth is influenced by our interpretation of “North” and “South”. Approaching Earth from a different star system, how would we orient ourselves?

Add to this the fact that such measurements as magnetic poles change over time, and you see the lack of meaning in words like “upside down”. The magnetic poles of the Sun, a measurement we might use to determine how to view our solar system and thus Earth, flip every eleven years, so the “top” surface of the plane of the solar system has changed five times in my life.

But it takes something truly amazing to realize that the world has turned upside down. Like the Russians presenting themselves before the United Nations as champions of democracy.

Raised in the KGB, Vladimir Putin understands how a good dictatorship works. It’s a cushy job to control other people. It’s also quite obvious when someone else starts pulling the strings. The global warming scam was acceptable propaganda when Russia was racking up carbon credits. But when the Conference of Parties decided that Russia was being given an economic advantage based on the Kyoto protocols prejudice towards underdeveloped nations, they decided to change the terms.

The irony in all of this is incredible.

A consensus of propaganda

A consensus of propaganda

 

For any great propaganda campaign to be successful, reality must be altered. The lie becomes believable when the language is changed in such a way that misinformation can pass as information. The key to the global warming scam has been altering the understanding of the term “consensus”.

Reality is not democratic. Six hundred years ago, scientific consensus held that the earth was flat, and the Sun orbited the Earth. In a world of populist movements, it is important to remember that it doesn’t matter how many people think something, it matters how many people who know what they’re talking about think something. Survival in the academic world means toeing the line, much as it did in Galileo’s day.

Despite evidence that the much celebrated “consensus of climatologists” is a fabrication, The propaganda machine rolls on. When the only papers being allowed publication agree with the “consensus”, the belief that a consensus exists continues. Simple facts such as observations not matching projections are dismissed. Attributing every major event to global warming continues, but actual scientists are starting to publicly back away, realizing that one day credibility will come back into vogue.

So back to the Russians. Happy to accept carbon credits based on the “consensus” that global warming exists, and the “consensus” that it is caused by humans burning fossil fuels (but not by biofuels), they’re not too happy with a consensus they have received an “unfair” advantage. Now they want to see democratic, transparent procedures followed. In English, we say “You’ve made your bed, now you must lie on it”.

The world cannot turn upside down, because there is no such thing as “up”. It is hilarious listening to everyone talk about the sky falling.

 

 

In all honesty

Our gubernatorial election is on Tuesday. At least, Governor Christie and a large percentage of the population believe it is. Democrat opponent Barbara Buono seems to think that she’s the only one running.  Her ads are quite amazing, unless your question is “How is a Democrat trailing in a traditionally Democratic state by more than thirty points?”.

Politicians are quite used to simply saying things which have no basis in reality. Sometimes it’s purely delusion, sometimes the politician has been misinformed, sometimes it’s just a semantic issue. As in when Obama said “If you’re happy with your healthcare, you can keep it” when what he meant was “If I’m happy with your healthcare, you can keep it”. The truth is, if your healthcare doesn’t meet the standard, you probably weren’t happy with it.

I’ve lost most interest in political speeches. I hear excerpts of the President speaking, saying “I want…” and I wonder if he realizes just how few people care what he wants? When was the last time he asked what I want?

I don’t mean to sound self involved, but there’s a lot going on out here. And the more I know about what’s going on, the more I realize that I just can’t care about everything. I have to prioritize, or my commitment becomes diffuse, and eventually meaningless. I’m approached about animal cruelty at least twice a week, bullying at least once a week, natural disasters happen routinely. Discrimination, Education, The Homeless, Autism, Cancer(s), and Mass Transit all tugging at me, and I’m supposed to care about what the President wants?

I recently saw an article with the headline “Jimmy Carter calls Obama an incompetent president”. I wasn’t a big fan of Carter, so his opinion isn’t that important to me, even if I agree with it. When I checked the article’s source, Carter did not say Obama was incompetent. He had said that Obama’s major accomplishment was Obamacare, and the implementation of Obamacare was “questionable”. I find myself in the uncomfortable position of defending Obama, who is certainly incompetent, but was not called such by an equally incompetent president.

An article in Snopes took apart misquotes of George W. Bush (with an obvious slant). We want to believe things we agree with, but as prominent Climatologist Kerry Emanuel of MIT commented about the false information tying superstorm Sandy to Global Warming, his statements still carried a headline implying that Sandy was the result of Global Warming and more storms of the type would occur. He was saying that false headlines damage credibility. I find myself in discussions with people who believe they are well informed because they read the headline, but having read the article and its sources, I have an opinion opposite of theirs. The false headline clearly damages the credibility of the person who repeats it.

A recent article in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette took an “Emperor’s New Clothes” approach, claiming that Global Warming caused the dull leaf hues this Autumn. The article itself was filled with invalid conclusions and a little bit of absolute nonsense, but what was amazing to me was the online comments. The majority of comments pointed out that the autumn leaves were unusually colorful, and that the paper had in fact predicted brighter colors due to the amount of rain in the spring (which they also had blamed on Global Warming). Moving beyond “anything that happens is because of Global Warming”, they take a “Even if it isn’t happening, we’ll say it is and blame it on Global Warming”.

There was an article in Scientific American, reporting that Public Health England (PHE) had studied fracking and found that public health concerns were minimal if operations are properly run and regulated. Rather than embrace the study as evidence of negligence in the situations in which fracking has resulted in pollution, the article was attacked, with many suggesting that Scientific American should be banned. Could it be any more clear that some people have absolutely no interest in the truth? Have we reached the point where we just can’t do anything right, so we should stop doing anything at all? Public opinion says that nukes are unsafe, fossil fuels are either going to pollute us to death or run out within our lifetime, carcinogens are a byproduct of solar panels, wind power endangers wildlife, bio fuels require an unhealthy diet of deep fried foods, and we need to consume almost nineteen trillion Kwh of electricity every year.

We have to make some important decisions in life. We can’t make those decisions in an intelligent manner if the information we receive isn’t presented honestly, and we are hopeless if we can’t be honest with ourselves.

Who do you trust?

I don’t know how other people choose what to believe. Most of us go with our gut feelings, but some of us have better trained guts than others. Some people choose to believe things despite hard facts to the contrary. Telling a delusional person that they are delusional is pointless, just remember that by rule of mathematics, half the population has a below average intelligence level, and have another glass of wine.

I have been blessed (or cursed) with a strong sense of observation and memory. I have a good sense of people, I feel their vibe. Sometimes I’m wrong, but usually I’m right, and the weight I apply to the decision is based on the importance of the decision. In addition to those skills, I have this handy little guide for evaluating information:

First evaluate the source,

A – Reliable: No doubt of authenticity, trustworthiness, or competency; has a history of complete reliability
B – Usually Reliable: Minor doubt about authenticity, trustworthiness, or competency; has a history of valid information most of the time
C – Fairly Reliable: Doubt of authenticity, trustworthiness, or competency but has provided valid information in the past
D – Not Usually Reliable: Significant doubt about authenticity, trustworthiness, or competency but has provided valid information in the past
E – Unreliable: Lacking in authenticity, trustworthiness, and competency; history of invalid information
F – Cannot Be Judged: No basis exists for evaluating the reliability of the source

Then evaluate the content,

1 – Confirmed: Confirmed by other independent sources; logical in itself; Consistent with other information on the subject
2 – Probably True: Not confirmed; logical in itself; consistent with other information on the subject
3 – Possibly True: Not confirmed; reasonably logical in itself; agrees with some other information on the subject
4 – Doubtfully True: Not confirmed; possible but not logical; no other information on the subject
5 – Improbable: Not confirmed; not logical in itself; contradicted by other information on the subject
6 – Cannot Be Judged: No basis exists for evaluating the validity of the information

Some of you might be familiar with that system. You evaluate the source, then you evaluate the information, and you have a metric to compare data. Obviously, A1 is almost blind trust, E5 is useful only in knowing the information is false, F6 is between C3 and D4, and there are thirty six permutations. It’s a basic thing that some of us do subconsciously, but it works so well it’s been codified into intelligence agencies.

In a world where we are swamped with information, being able to know what is “true” is a valuable asset. In a world with opinions driving the course of society, it is invaluable. This is one of the reasons I enjoy having a wife who constantly questions me, I am reminded to evaluate my opinions and their sources daily.

I find it frustrating that the general view has moved from trust to belief. One symptom of this is the “accreditation” given to Jenny McCarthy, by her placement as a co-host on “The View”. To me, this just furthers my appraisal of The View, and opinions produced by it, as E5. But millions of viewers will adopt the “I saw it on TV” attitude and believe. Jenny has a child with autism who received childhood vaccinations. In the 80’s a preliminary report linked autism to vaccines. That link has since been refuted. But Jenny continues her crusade against vaccines.

When I was in the Air Force, the preliminary study made headlines. NBC ran an “investigative report” on the subject. A Staff Sergeant I worked with said to me “If you love your kids, you’ll watch this program”, to which, after I restrained myself from punching him in the face, I replied “Never question my love for my kids, I’ll read the study“. I did, all my kids received their vaccinations. Since then Measles epidemics have run rampant, causing thousands of deaths every year. Mumps have gone epidemic. God only knows how many birth defects can be traced to exposure to Rubella.  Other children, with even less intelligent parents, have been left at risk of Diphtheria, Pertussis, Hepatitis, Polio, Tetanus, and Pneumococus. Evolution at work.

When the “Global Warming” furor began, I gave it a C3. When Al Gore got involved it became an E3. After going over the data it moved to E4. Now, there is adequate data to confirm it at E5, and in fact, false. Nonetheless, egos have continued to refuse they were wrong, and a large percentage of people believe it to be true. My mother told me not to argue with crazy people, so I have removed myself from most arguments on the subject.

I do not seek marital advice from people who have not had successful marriages, but some people will trust a friend, regardless of their actual experience. Presently the President of the United States enjoys almost messianic, and certainly maniacal, immunity from his history. I can understand forgetting the man made a cornerstone of his campaign transparency, and now runs the most secretive administration in history. Heck, 2007 is ancient history, right? People who really remember ancient history agree that Obama is worse than Nixon. Nixon, that horrible guy that everyone can remember, or at least claims to. Selective memory, that cognitive dissonance that allows people to forget what Obama said six weeks ago, but “remember” to hate the previous vice president runs rampant.

We live in a society led by individuals who have earned a D rating at best. They are driven by information that rates a 4 or worse, and have demonstrated opinions with a value of 5 routinely. When they make decisions that can be corrected at the next election cycle, I try not to get upset. When they drive us toward a World War, I feel the need to become more vocal.

Although I have used the term “acceptable losses” in the past, there are no acceptable losses prior to entering a war. Zero is the acceptable number, best achieved by staying out of the war.

Watch out now, take care
Beware of greedy leaders
They take you where you should not go
While Weeping Atlas Cedars
They just want to grow, grow and grow
Beware of darkness (beware of darkness)

Couldn’t stand the weather

The weather here is unusually warm. A string of days with sunshine and 24°C (76°F) days. We draw stares when we’re out walking in this heat.  We always bring odd weather with us, the 25 centimeters of snow the first time, the tropical storm during Pukelpop another. We visited relatives in Texas and it was cold. In 1979, I lived near Three Mile Island, in 1986, Lieve was at an outdoor concert near Chernobyl. I’m beginning to think there’s a connection.

I was having lunch with a vintner in the Finger Lakes region once, he was telling me how some years he’d be snowed in for months. I reminded him that the roads went South, and in fact I’d be traveling in that direction in just a few days if he needed a ride. I have often thought that the key to peace in the Middle East was air conditioning. It’s just too hot there, if they could cool down they wouldn’t be so cranky.

Weather is a subjective experience. We acclimate to our surroundings, and accept what some would call severe weather as normal. As human beings, we’re adaptable. We have inhabited every nook and cranny of this planet, we’ve set up habitats under the ocean and in outer space. These are good thing, the planet cycles through droughts and ice ages, species that cannot adapt face extinction. The surface of the planet shows wild shifts in temperature, sea levels, and vegetation over he ages. A number of people believe that an entire continent has sunk below the surface of the ocean, a little thought places Noah and the society of Atlantis at the same time.

That is our truth. it is neither convenient nor inconvenient, anymore than breathing oxygen is an annoyance. The climate changes routinely.

It is mainly ego, the impression that we are more important than we are, and isolation, the impression that for some reason we are separate from nature, that one incredible ego ignited the idea of “Global Warming”. The data is truly all over the place, but taxing society for existence is one of the greatest money making scams ever.  Wasn’t it just a few decades ago that Rachel Carson was warning of global cooling? Have we not gone through several decades of “connecting to Mother Earth”? And, in fact, have not global temperatures remained stable for the last sixteen years?

If it rains for a week, do you build an ark, or do you assume it will pass and collect the rainwater for the dry season ahead?

Our choices in diet do not alter the carnivorous habits of the rest of the species on Earth. Our choices on cruelty do not alter the way other species treat each other.  What we do, what we are, is nature. The only difference is whether we accept our place, or try to claim responsibility.Whether we curtail our use of fossil fuels, or use them up entirely, we will need to find a new source of energy (and plastic) within the next few decades.

We are humans, we will adapt.

 

 

 

 

 

It’s the end of the world as we know it

I don’t know if more people are pondering the end of the world lately, or if it’s just more popular to talk about it. I recall the “duck and cover” drills when I was in elementary school, believing that hiding under my desk would protect me from nuclear annihilation, but by doing so we were pretending that we would avoid the end of the world. Sometime during my teens I decided that I really didn’t want to survive, knowing that it would be the end of the world as I knew it. The end of civilization. If Disco was the best we could do, I was rather looking forward to an end.

Punk Rock came along and I regained my will to survive, and even though I worked on war plans to most efficiently end the world in the Air Force, I was reasonably sure that MAD, or “Mutually Assured Destruction” (That’s almost an onomatopoeia, when something sounds like what it is), would prevent anyone from actually using the arsenals at their disposal.

Then we won the cold war, and all those weapons in the Soviet Union were up for grabs. Most folks focused on the nukes, but there were loads of chemical and biological weapons that remain unaccounted for. I suspect some of them ended up in Iraq and Syria, I’m fairly sure some made their way farther south on the African continent. Some twisted cycle there in some sense, weaponized viruses returning to their land of origin.

And then…The hype began about Global Warming. Having been an early environmentalist, spurred by Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring“, I found the idea of Global Warming an odd turnaround. Rachel had warned against Global Cooling. Looking back farther, I found warming scares earier in the twentieth century, when the ice caps were melting and Manhattan was going to be flooded by 1940. Nonetheless, respected scientists confirmed that there was indeed a warming trend, traceable to millions of years before the existence of thermometers. Scientists who disagreed were no longer burdened with funding, their evolutionary path was certain.

It only took a few nasty winters, replete with snowmen wearing Al Gore masks, to change the tune to “climate change”, the phenomena previously known as “weather”.  Even though this climate change was still portrayed as a global event, that would involve warming temperatures, the name change had to take place. Public Relations means never getting laughed off an airplane, even when it’s your private gulfstream. Oh yes, climate change was still due to pollution, most notably that evil building block of life, carbon. You know that your propaganda is working when people are afraid of pencils. I had a woman ask how to dispose of used toner cartridges. I told her she could simply throw them in the garbage, but she thought they would need to go to a toxic waste dump because they contained carbon. I explained that they were empty now, the carbon was on all the pages she had printed.

There are the numerous asteroid collision fears and an odd group that quite seriously believes there is a rogue planet that will collide with Earth. There are fears that the Sun will explode, or send flares so intense they cook the Earth. The Mayan calendar ended last December, throwing millions into a panic, but the Mayans had succumbed to Global Warming thirteen hundred years ago. My calender ends every December, Barnes and Nobles has a nice selection.

End of the world cults started popping up a few years ago, I never understood these people. They believe the world is going to end, so they commit suicide. Were they trying to save God the trouble? Or were they just terribly embarrassed when the world did not end at the prophesied time? (Literally embarrassed to death). I don’t mind so much the cults that kill them selves, but I’m annoyed by the ones like Aum Shinrikyo, the one in Japan that used Sarin gas in the subways, because apparently they didn’t think God could pull it off on his own. There’s bound to be a word for that level of faith, but all that comes to mind is “moronic”. My feeling on Armageddon are based in believing that if God wants to end the world, he will, with the ease with which he created it. He doesn’t require assistance, and nothing is going to stop him if that’s what he wants to do, so why worry about it?

There are people who worry about it. People who worry not about Armageddon, or the end of the world, but the end of civilization. I’m tempted to say “too late, it’s already happened”. All you have to do s spend a day in a major city riding public transportation to know that civilization is just a rumor. Nonetheless, there are people stockpiling food and weapons so that they can survive when the lights go out. I’ve met some of these people and I don’t care to have them as neighbors in a post apocalyptic world.

There are a few things that I know for certain. If the world comes to an end through some cataclysmic event, literally destroying the planet, there is nothing I or anyone else can do about it, and most of the scenarios would be over before we are aware they happened. If the planet becomes uninhabitable for humans, whether by simply a geological change or by the hand of man, it will happen no matter how much anyone pays in taxes. I believe that human beings are animals and have as much right to inhabit the Earth as the Dinosaurs did. If we run out of petroleum, and have chosen not to develop other forms of energy, it’s going to get a little quiet on the internet. We will, as we did on the way here, adapt. There may be a couple of tough generations, but as I recall, there has been no civilization based on small groups of survivalists in the history of mankind. We do best as a herd, even when that best is Donna Summer, because we know there will be another season in a few months, and it might bring Joe Strummer.