Doug's Darkworld

War, Science, and Philosophy in a Fractured World.

Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

The Three Biggest Issues Facing America, What Do They Have in Common?

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In my considered estimation (I have a lot of time to think at work,) the USA has three issues facing it that dwarf other issues of the day. These would be the upwards transfer of wealth, the so called “War on Terror,” and global warming. What do these all have in common, aside from taking place on Earth? Easy, as I’m sure my astute readers recognized, all three were basically completely ignored during the election. Furthermore, they get short shrift in the mainstream media at the best of times. The upwards transfer of wealth is the most ignored, most Americans aren’t even aware that the middle class and poor have stagnated since the late seventies, while the rich got ever richer. Global warming gets some coverage, but it’s lame coverage that claims there is still scientific controversy about the topic. And the War on Terror gets lots of coverage, all of it ranging from sickening adulation to criticism so tepid it’s embarrassing in a  so called free society. This is why we’re doomed, the agents of our destruction are running amok, and our national debates are about abortion, gay marriage, and marijuana.

The first of the big three would be the upwards transfer of wealth. This isn’t debatable, anymore than Evolution or Young Earth Creationism are debatable. Since the 1970s the rich have gotten ever richer, while the poor and middle class have stagnated. A process that continues to this day, over 90% of the gains from the last few years of “economic “recovery” have gone to the 1%. This is both a recipe for disaster, and the complete opposite of what made America great in the first place. Sure the richer the rich get, the more they figure out ways to make even more “wealth,” but none of that money goes anywhere. Having trillions of dollars sitting in financial instruments may make the rich very very rich … but it not only does nothing for the economy, it’s a brake on the real economy. This is why interstate banking shouldn’t be allowed, along with a host of other now-gutted laws and regulations that kept money circulating locally instead of piling up in offshore accounts. The Occupy movement at least succeeded in getting more people aware of this, but unless it is stopped, we will eventually (and maybe sooner than later) be a land of poor serfs with a  few fabulously rich overlords. History teaches us that this isn’t the road to national prosperity, it’s the road to national disaster.

Then there’s the endless “War on Terror.” OBL gave the people who want to maintain western hegemony over the planet, IE the upwards transfer of wealth on a planetary scale, a blank check. And they have spent it on building a vast “security” state and creating an overt world wide empire. This is crazy on several levels, not the least of which it’s the greatest over-reaction to a threat in history even on the face of its putative rationale. It in essence is a staggering waste of resources that would be far better spent on infrastructure, education, and health care. The US is lagging well behind the rest of the developed world in all three, just to maintain a military larger than the rest of the world combined? A military largely designed to fight a war with a country that no longer exists? And yes, building a giant security state is a threat to our liberties; it’s both unnecessary  and will eventually be misused when the wrong person gets in power. Lastly, waging war around the world and the ever increasing use of flying death squads, aka drones, isn’t making us safer, it’s creating new enemies. Look how well that policy has worked for Israel, they live inside of a fucking giant wall in complete isolation from their neighbours, yeah, that’s peaceful co-existence.

And lastly, the elephant in the room so big that it’s started flattening whole states, global warming. The facts behind this are overwhelming, the world is rapidly getting warmer, and human activity is contributing in a major way. Yet the energy industry’s legions of well funded think tanks, not to mention their just plain overt influence on the mainstream media and politics, continue to confuse the issue and create the illusion that there is some sort of scientific debate. And this process is made worse by a religous-political party that is actively denying all sorts of science, not just global warming. And when they aren’t denying it, they are claiming we can adjust. That makes about as much sense as “adjusting” when your house catches on fire. When your house catches on fire, you put out the goddamn fire, you don’t “adjust” to it.

Sadly I don’t see much chance of any of these issues being addressed any time soon. I hope I’m wrong.

(Noah’s Ark, oil on canvas painting by Edward Hicks, 1846 Philadelphia Museum of Art. Since it was painted in 1846, under current US copyright law this image is public domain. It’s a painting of Noah’s Ark, a Bronze Age myth that apparently many adults still literally believe in.  I still find it hard to get my mind around the idea that functioning adults believe in the reality of something in the same category as Santa Claus. Kinda scary really. Maybe I should have listed religious fundamentalism as the fourth crisis facing America, but I dunno, in some ways it over-arches all the others. Hell, in some way all of the crises facing America, and much of the world, have their roots in religious fundamentalism. A topic for another day.)

Hurricane Sandy and Related News

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This close to the election, everything seems to revolve around the election. At least if one is a hard-core Republican. Or more on point, everything seems to revolve around hating Obama. The bodies weren’t even cold in Benghazi and Romney was heaping criticism on Obama, and he never let up. Odd, I don’t recall the GOP ever criticizing Bush for his military fiascoes, but once Obama was in charge, nothing but criticism. Hurricane Sandy appears to be the same. A Republican governor praises Obama for his prompt and effective response to Hurricane Sandy, and right wing pundits are foaming at the mouth. Classy, real classy. I used to be a Republican, but the party I knew at least acknowledged that we were all Americans, and that it was the politician’s job to work together to run the country.  Now Republicans seem to be trying to outdo themselves at reaching ever more ridiculous levels of partisanship. Granted there are voices on the left falling into the same trap, but I’ve yet to hear any liberals criticizing Obama for helping out a Republican governor. Plenty of them have praised Governor Christie though, I was impressed. Yeah, the storm was a break for Obama, but the Republicans could have handled the situation with far more dignity, instead they made it clear no matter how bad things get, no matter how many Americans die; Obama and the people who support him, tens of millions of Americans, can go f**k themselves. I’ll be glad when the election is over and Romney can move on to being a rodeo clown.

Speaking of Hurricane Sandy, or Superstorm Sandy as some are calling it, it was quite the storm. At least 90 dead in the USA, far more in the Caribbean. It wasn’t a super powerful storm, but it was super huge, one of the biggest hurricanes on record, it affected 24 states in the USA and numerous nations in the Carribean. Sandy wasn’t unprecedented, but it was certainly unusual. It’s already on track to be the second most damaging USA East Coast hurricane ever. Still, several times a century a storm like this can be expected to hit New York. And the frequency will be going up as the tropical seas get warmer. The real damage was caused by the storm surge. A storm surge is a pile of water pushed ahead of a storm by winds, surges of over 30 feet have been recorded. Think a tide thirty feet high. Not a pretty sight, storm surges are the big killer in hurricanes and cyclones. On the plus side, they can be prevented. A storm surge killed thousands in Holland in 1953, giant coastal defenses were built to prevent it happening again. Such were suggested for New York long ago, the idea is being revisited in the aftermath of Sandy. We’ll see.

A discussion of Sandy wouldn’t be complete without some mention of global warming. Was Sandy caused by global warming? It’s impossible to say, global warming is about climate, not weather. A fact that global climate change deniers conveniently ignore pretty much every time there is a severe snowstorm somewhere. Granted plenty of global warming activists are claiming that Sandy is clear proof of global warming. I feel their frustration, the globe increasingly is having the kind of extreme weather events that global warming predicts, the fact that it’s not possible to conclusively say that a particular event was caused by global warming is very difficult to explain to people who want to resist science they don’t approve of. However, even if global warming didn’t cause Sandy, it made it worse. That seems to be pretty clear to the climatologists. And at least it got the topic back on the news, that’s a good thing. Good for everyone except the coal and oil industry, sadly they own a lot of think tanks, politicians, and journalists … and they’re not afraid to use them.

In other Sandy  news, a Brazilian model, Nana Gouvea, thought it would make a nice backdrop for a photo shoot. One pic helpfully posted above. Her pics went viral. She got heaps of criticism and outrage. Granted it is a tasteless and tacky thing to do. On the other hand, she got tons of publicity. No harm, no foul. It’s not like she’s aspiring for political office, and she didn’t actually hurt anyone. I think it’s a clever idea. Ya, people are outraged. So what? On a scale of one to ten when it comes to outrageous items in the news, this is a zero. There’s tons of sleaze and crime every day far more deserving of outrage than a tasteless photo shoot. Priorities people, priorities. Heck, as my friend Steve Burke said: “Some guys will be seeing the damage for the first time thanks to these photos.”

Have a great weekend everyone!

(The above images are claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law, they aren’t being used for profit and are central to illustrating the post. I don’t know who to credit the top one to, the second I assume is owned by Ms Noumea herself. Since I linked to her site and praised her photo shoot, hopefully that’s attribution enough. It would be nice if someday copyright law could be re-written to reflect reality, alas industry is easily the slowest element in a culture to adapt to changing times, and often uses its influence to impeded progress.  Another blog post for another day.)

The Simulation Argument, are we living in the Matrix?

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The Simulation Argument goes as follows, one of the following three statements has to be true:

1. For whatever reason intelligent species such as ourselves never progress to the point where they could run computer simulations of the human brain.

2. For whatever reason if such species do acquire the ability, they don’t exercise it.

3. We are more than likely living in a computer simulation.

That, in a nutshell, is the simulation argument. Discuss?

There’s a couple of codicils of course. By computer simulation of the human brain or computer simulation I mean having a computer powerful enough to create a simulated brain and its environment so detailed that the brain in question thinks it is a real brain living in the real world. And the scientific consensus at this point that such is possible with a powerful enough computer. Yes, gentle reader, it’s entirely possible that you and everything you know are simply historical simulation software running on a  far-in-the-future’s High School Student’s desktop computer.

Let’s look at the statements in their turn. Can we assume that humans have no technological future and are inevitably going to wipe themselves out or revert back to the Stone Age? No one really knows, and there are statistical arguments saying that the odds aren’t good. Still statistics and reality are two different things. I for one am going to assume humans have a future unless there is proof otherwise. So for the purposes of argument, I am assuming statement one is false.

OK, statement too. Future humans won’t have any desire to run realistic simulations of human beings? That would assume that humans who develop such capable computers lose their scientific curiosity and their desire to play computer games. Neither seem likely. Or for some reason such simulations are insanely dangerous or otherwise unlikely to be widely pursued. Basically for this statement to be true, we have to assume that the nature of the human race will change in the future, or there is some unforeseeable practical objection to such simulations. I think it’s safe to say that logically then this statement is unlikely to be true.

Lastly, if the first two statements are false, why is the third statement likely to be true? Because once humans start making such simulations, more than likely eventually countless simulations would be made. Even just looking at the Civilization game series, the number of “people” simulated on millions of computers has to be billions times millions. And that’s just one game. The odds are simply overwhelming that we are living in such a simulation, like it or not.

Fascinating, but aside from the intellectual heebie-jeebies, this is all moot, there’s no way we could tell whether or not we are living in a  simulation, so there’s no way to actually prove the Simulation Argument true or false right? Well, turns out there is. There are some ways that in theory we could today look at certain Cosmic Ray measurements and see evidence that we are in a  simulated world. I don’t fully understand it, particle physics not being my strong suit, but the gentle reader can read about it here.There are also some other implications of the Simulation Argument that I didn’t cover in the brief analysis, the actual argument in all its glory can be perused here.

I for one hope they make these measurements, science may not be able to prove God doesn’t exist, but let’s at least try to find out if we are living in the Matrix. Have a great simulated weekend everyone!

(The above image is taken from a promotional poster for the movie The Thirteenth Floor. It’s claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It’s not being used for profit, and its a low resolution partial copy of the original poster. I also highly recommend the movie to my readers. Credit and copyright: Centropolis Entertainment. Vanilla Sky is another movie along those lines, and also recommended.)

Written by unitedcats

October 13, 2012 at 1:22 pm

America, Idiocracy in the making?

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Anyone who hasn’t seen the movie Idiocracy should consider it. It’s about a dystopian scifi future world where the average American IQ is about 70 and the average American isn’t even literate. Granted the premise of the movie is brain-dead stupid, the idea that stupid people having children is lowering the average IQ. That aside though, it’s a lot of fun. The movie is a comedy so suspension of disbelief is pretty much required, but as modern American comedies go, it’s funny. It doesn’t have Will Farrell for one thing. And anyone smart who has been paying attention the past few decades has likely noticed some decline in the intelligence of the average American, and can only wonder if that’s where we are headed as a nation. At least that’s my thinking, here then are some of my observations along those lines.

Vocabulary. While some wild numbers have been thrown around, the consensus is still that American’s working vocabulary has declined some the past decades. There appear to be a number of reasons for this. Reading isn’t as popular as it once was. The homogenization and dumbing down of the mainstream media. Standardized national testing. However we got here, people today, especially younger people, appear to have a vocabulary less than their forbears at the same age. I’m actually sometimes surprised that a word I use isn’t understood, and it’s almost always a younger person who doesn’t understand. All is not lost, Clinton used the word disparate on TV the other day, but people as smart as him are rare.

Graffiti. Does anyone remember graffiti from the 60s or earlier? I loved going into public bathrooms as a kid, there would be jokes, poems, and witticisms abounding on the toilet stall walls. Nowadays there’s nothing but crude drawings and swear words. It’s not my imagination, the literary quality of graffiti has gone down considerably since I was a kid. Quantity is up though, and it’s a lot more stylized these days. I know trains weren’t covered with graffiti when I was a kid, they are now. Not a good sign.

Intellectuals, lack thereof. An observation from my personal life. On a trip to New Zealand my then wife and I met a couple of nice German fellows at a youth hostel. (Yes, this was awhile ago.) We invited them to visit us in California as they were planning a trip to the USA at some point. And a year or two later they did indeed drop by for a visit after hitchhiking across America. They had a question for me and my then wife. “Where are all the intellectuals?” We didn’t know what to say. I still don’t.

Other lines of evidence. American’s have the lowest IQs in the developed world, lagging behind 22 other countries. From the book IQ and Global Inequality. In math skills Americans also test out very poorly compared to numerous other countries according to the Program for International Student Assessment. “American adults in general do not understand what molecules are (other than that they are really small). Fewer than a third can identify DNA as a key to heredity. Only about 10 percent know what radiation is. One adult American in five thinks the Sun revolves around the Earth, an idea science had abandoned by the 17th century.” From a study and survey in the New York Times. (Hat tip to “Are Americans Stupid? Statistics, Studies, and Research.” ) Granted none of these track a trend, but I just wanted to show that there is ample evidence that Americans don’t seem to be on top of things when it comes to being smart and educated.

How did this happen and what does it mean? I have some ideas, and it means we’re screwed. I mean, the government is carrying on about Iran’s nuclear program and only one out ten Americans know what radiation is? One in five adults thinks the Sun revolves around the Earth? At least this makes it clearer how our leaders can promulgate the most egregious nonsense, and Americans take it in stride. And that will be the topic of the next blog, the egregious nonsense being touted by some of our leaders. As I am saying all too often these days, this isn’t going to end well.

(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It’s not being used for profit, etc. I got it from the fine web site. It’s titled Prank Fail … a bad idea about to get worse. No kidding. Like the guy in New York who wanted to pet a tiger so he jumped into a tiger cage. He got his wish apparently. The tigers got their wish too … a chance to maul a human being. And no insult to tigers is meant, apex predators in captivity know they are being held in captivity, and they know who is holding them captive. Lastly I have no idea of the actual origin of the photo above, what the hell were they trying to accomplish? Teaching lions to hunt?)

Written by unitedcats

October 8, 2012 at 6:48 am

Sliming Towards Babylon

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I’ve been involved in a  work project the past four days that has kept me tired and covered in sawdust. Neither is terribly conducive to blogging. I did get one post sort of written, but it stalled. So here I am, churning out a random post. Well, not entirely random I suppose. In fact generating a post by random would just yield gibberish in virtually all cases. No, these are the disjointed and tired thoughts of an aging hominid on the surface of an unremarkable planet orbiting an unremarkable star. OK, mostly gibberish.

Well, Romney looks like he’s going down in flames. He can’t even make a joke anymore without getting pilloried. He does seem to have a way of putting his foot in his mouth. I’m back to my original 2012 election analysis of some time ago, The Repubs will field a weak candidate because no one in their right mind wants to take on Obama. And the Repubs are also paying for four years of obstructionism; I mean, for four years, if Obama did it, they were agin it. Their programmed core voters of course all know Obama is a socialist who is destroying the country, the same way Liberal core voters think Obama is some sort of liberal humanitarian, but to win the election the Republicans needed to appeal to middle of the road voters and just in general people who don’t strongly identify with either party. And not only have the Repubs failed to do this, they seem to have gone out of their way to alienate a number of demographics. Right now I’m calling the election for Obama.

In science news, scientists have been studying how slime mould might take over the world. Helpful illustration above. Yes, scientists really did cover a globe with agar and corn flakes to see how a slime mould would spread. For those unfamiliar with slime mould, it’s a mould that grows branches in search of food. Is there any practical use for this research, or are scientists just wasting money? Of course there is! People who think scientists should study useful things are idiots. Idiots in the sense that their opinion shows they know dipsquat about science. There’s nothing stupider than someone who holds an opinion about something they are ignorant about. Why is it idiocy? Because there’s simply no way to tell in advance what research may lead to useful advances. In this case scientists are interested in slime mould’s pathfinding ability, and this research someday might contribute to designing transportation systems. That’s a pretty practical application from growing mould on a globe.

Speaking of the global scene, the chances of war have gone down, though it’s still ugly. And it’s already war, so I mean a bigger war. It is fascinating to me how we have drifted from being more or less at peace to being in constant war. In the eighties if a US serviceman died overseas, it was front page news. Now they die all the time and no one cares. (Political posturing doesn’t count.) Syria is in full armed insurrection. It’s not really a civil war, but the media’s use of war terminology is muddy at best. Ahmadinejad showed that his international diplomacy skills are on par with Romney’s. A lot of what he says makes perfect sense, but if he’d leave out the egregious insults to Israel and Jews he’d make a lot more headway on the world scene. His term is almost up, that should be interesting. Afghanistan: We’ve surrendered to the Taliban, but aren’t going to admit it until after the election. IE all joint training and exercises with the Afghan army have been halted. It’s over folks.

BS aside, world drought and climate changes are the elephants in the room. My contacts in the Midwest say they’ve never seen anything like it before. There’s been serious global drought issues for a number of years now, and it may get worse. Arctic ice is at unprecedented lows this fall as well. World wide bacon shortage unavoidable at this point. Some sort of secret plot of Obama’s no doubt. I think humanity may survive, but the global civilization we have built has foundations of sand. And a Wind is Rising.

(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It’s not being used for profit and is being used for educational purposes. The fine scientist who holds the copyright: Professor Adam Adamatzky. I’ll end with a science nerd joke: We don’t allow faster than light neutrinos in here, said the bartender. A neutrino walks into a bar.)

Could Neanderthals Speak?

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I had an interesting debate the other day. Could Neanderthals speak? For the longest time the answer was “No!” However, this was more based on prejudice than anything else. IE when Neanderthals were first discovered it was more or less assumed they were a brutish forebear to humans. The quintessential ape-man as it were, basically because the were discovered and described in the early/mid nineteenth century at a time when it was assumed that humans were the apex of creation and nothing else approached us. And the view that Neanderthals couldn’t speak was reinforced by lack of any evidence that they even had the physical capability of speech.

In recent decades however the debate has been re-opened. For one thing an intact Neanderthal hyoid bone was found. This is a bone in the larynx, and it was essentially identical to a human’s, indicating they could make a wide range of sounds. Another recent discovery was of their ear bones, again, it indicated they could discern a wide range of sounds, substantially different than a chimpanzee for example. And it was pointed out that the nerve channel that led to their tongue was similar in size to a human’s, indicating they had the ability to shape a variety of sounds with their tongue. Lastly it was discovered that they had a gene called FOXP2, in humans this gene appears to be essential for speech. This of course doesn’t prove Neanderthals had complex language, but it certainly shows there is no reason they couldn’t, they had the physical capability to make and hear the sounds required for a complex language.

Other arguments for Neanderthal language are their tool use and lifestyles. Especially their hunting, Neanderthals were definitely apex predators, bringing down very large game in group hunts. Though recently it has been discovered they often did have veges with their meat. It has been argued that the complexity of some of their tool-making  tasks, let alone hunting large dangerous animals, would have require complex language. Still, prides of lions and other carnivores bring down large game in group hunts without language, so it’s certainly not definitive. Other arguments include recently discovered cave paintings by Neanderthals, and what has been interpreted as a flute made by Neanderthals. The flute (pictured above) may have just been a  gnawed bone though.

There are still strong arguments against the Neanderthals having complex language. For one thing they were around for several hundred thousand years but made almost no technological progress during that time. Unlike Cro-Magnons, who lived in groups of 30 or more, Neanderthals lived in small and apparently isolated bands of about ten people. There is no evidence that Neanderthals engage in anything resembling trade or other long distance commerce, which humans were fully engaged in starting at least 150,000 years ago. Only a very small number of tools found at Neanderthal sites originated other than locally, and even those few were never from more than 100km (60 miles) away. It’s been argued that these were “gifts” by adolescents trying to ingratiate themselves into a new group, there had to have been some interbreeding between groups. Nonetheless Neanderthal’s apparently primitive, isolated, and non-evolving culture does argue that Neanderthals didn’t have complex language.

The jury is still out on the issue. Basically the debate is about whether Neanderthals were another species, or another race. They did have larger brains than us, though they were structured somewhat differently. It’s been argued that compared to humans, Neanderthals were extremely neophobic, dogmatic and xenophobic. Afraid of anything new, afraid of strangers, and stuck in their ways. Yes, Neanderthals were the Archie Bunkers of prehistory.

So myself, I prefer to think they had language. If nothing else, imagine the sit-com one could base on it, a band of surly cavemen sitting around suspicious of everything:  “If it was good enough for your great great great great great grandfather, it’s good enough for you son!” or “No you can’t date that Cro-Magnon boy, those people have no respect for tradition!”

Feel free to add your own. Have a great weekend everyone.

(The above image is from Wikipedia, so I’m assuming it’s OK to use non-commercially. And yes, there is a middle ground between complex language and no language, but I can only cover so much in 800 words or so.)

Written by unitedcats

September 21, 2012 at 7:46 am

No war yet, but we’re not out of the woods, and other news

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Introduction. Above is today’s Facebook gleaned image. I could post an image every day from Facebook if I wanted to. A very very carefully selected image. Many people I know on Facebook post dozens of images a day. I’ve even unsubscribed to people because they posted so many images, cartoons, bon mots, quotes, etc. Even if I agree with the sentiment, unless it really grabs me or makes me laugh, I’m not inclined to forward it. This one though makes me laugh. As with most things that make me laugh, it’s because I see layers and subtlety in it. Or in more common parlance, it appeals to my particular sense of humour, warped though it may be. Anyhow, moving right along …

Random news. Terrible police shooting in England. Two policewomen were lured to an abandoned building and shot to death. The shooter turned himself in afterwards. It’s the worst police shooting in the UK since 1966, which kinda shows how Britain is still head and shoulders above the US in regards to gun violence. Just in the past few years I know there were several policemen killed in a bi shootout in Oakland. Most cops in the UK still don’t carry guns, neither of the women were armed. And apparently there isn’t much call for them to do so, which again shows that in the USA a frontier mentality still prevails. Maybe we’ll grow up as a nation, but we got a ways to go yet.

Random musing. People pairing up and becoming couples, sex or no sex or whatever, is the most natural thing in the world. People were doing it long before we were even people, if there was no culture or religion and we just lived in little bands of family and friends … couples would still form. It’s kind of at the core of what it is to be human. This is why the primitive religions try to define and control coupling, because if they can get people to surrender control of their core identity … it’s a easy slide to completely controlling them. Religions that completely control their followers are the ones that try and impose their beliefs on other people. It’s … a shame … that fundamentalism persists on a large scale into the 21st century, but the fact that huge numbers of Christians, Jews, and Muslims have managed to reconcile their faith with the 21st century gives me hope. I mean, any sort of just God would want us all to get along with each other, nu?

Random true story. This young to-be-famous-someday author was waiting for a boat one fine day. Standing on the dock next to him was a “slip of  a girl” in his words. And in one of those impulses humans have, he pushed her off the dock. He was instantly mortified, he didn’t even know if she could swim. Moments later, she came to the surface, and flashed him a beautiful ear to ear smile. He immediately thought “My God, that’s the woman I’m going to marry someday.” And he did.

Random science. Or random nonsense science as the case may be. A book was just published that claims to re-examine Velikovsky’s theories. The interview at the link is fascinating. This man has carefully cherry picked a host of scientific mysteries and uses them to support Velikovsky’s whack-job idea that Venus was ejected from Jupiter in historic times. I wonder if he’s a con-artist, or does he actually believe his theory? I am going with “he believes it.” Lately it’s become very clear to me that there is an amazing similarity between the thought processes of those people who fiercely believe in “alternate” theories, from Creationism to Velikovsky to the Electric Universe. All of them appear to be absolutely convinced that theirs is the only possible explanation and there is a conspiracy among mainstream thought to suppress their version of reality. Then they carefully pick and choose whatever little bits of whatever that “support” their theory. Sometimes these things fade with time, like the Face on Mars nonsense, and sometimes they don’t, like Velikovsky apparently. To be fair, I tried to read one of Velikovsky’s books once. It was one of his later books where he tried to support his theories using only “modern” scientific data. I didn’t get far, because it quickly became clear that the man had obsessively read several centuries worth of geology books and papers, and carefully selected the paragraphs, sentences, and sentence fragments that, taken out of context, supported his “theory.” Um, any theory could be “proved” this way. It also should be noted that Velikovsky was motivated by religion, he was very much trying to prove that the events of the Old Testament were literally true. It was nonsense when he wrote it, and it’s nonsense now.

Closing. Well, no war yet. America’s foreign policy in the Middle East does seem to be unravelling though. Whether by accident or design, the recent anti-Islam movie has proved to be a lightning rod for anti-American sentiment. And the USA has created a lot of anti-American sentiment throughout the Muslim world since at least 1953 when the USA arranged a coup against the democratically elected government of Iran and installed the Shah in its place. There have been some positive points in US policy in the region, like in 1956 when Eisenhower told the British, French, and Israelis that the USA would not stand for their invasion of Egypt and acquisition of the Suez Canal. It’s pretty much been downhill since, and took a nose dive after 9/11. Compound that with an increasingly government/corporate compliant media, and we have created a situation where the USA is wildly and justly unpopular throughout a vast swath of the Muslim world, and the vast majority of Americans are not only clueless, a lot of what they do “know” abut the situation is simply wrong. On the plus side, if Romney gets elected, we’ll be able to dispense with further foreplay and proceed directly to World War Three. That will be some fun blogging.

(Once again the above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. I don’t know where it comes from, it appears to be a picture of something stuck to a wall. That’s how images like this were disseminated in the old days. Say, the 1990s. If one wanted to post this image in say, the building next door, a copy of it had to be carried by hand to the next building! Hard to believe, eh?)

Written by unitedcats

September 19, 2012 at 12:06 pm

Paradigm Shift? Plate Tectonics on Mars!

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Well, every geologist knows that Earth is the only planet in the Solar System with plate tectonics. This means that the crust of the Earth is made of interlocking plates, like a jigsaw puzzle covering the surface of the Earth. Over the millennium these plates slide around and rearrange themselves, also known as continental drift. The margins of the plates are where most of the world’s earthquakes and volcanoes occur. Get that all? There will be a test.

Well, until a few days ago it was thought that Earth was the only planet in the Solar System with plate tectonics. There were a few hints Mars might also have crustal plates, but there was also reason to think they didn’t. Olympus Mons, the largest volcano in the Solar System for example. For it to have grown so large implies that it was stationary for its entire life, instead of moving over a hot spot on a crustal plate like the Hawaiian Islands. Without plate tectonics there would be just one Hawaiian Island, as large as all of the Hawaiian Islands combined. There were other hints as well, but hints aren’t proof in the world of science. In the world of conspiracy theories, Bigfoot, and UFOs, yes; in the world of science, no.

So have scientists proved Mars has plate tectonics? Well, no. What has happened is that a scientist named An Yin, a planetary geologist at UCLA, has written a paper where he describes the various things he sees in satellite images that are indicative of plate tectonics. And this is a fellow who has spent his scientific career studying plate tectonics on Earth from satellite photographs. He concluded that Mars has a much more “primitive” system of plate tectonics than on Earth, by which he means the plates don’t move nearly as fast as they do on Earth, and there are only two of them, as opposed to Earth’s seven large plates. He thinks the study of plate tectonics on Mars may give insight to how plate tectonics started on Earth, so this is exciting news for planetary geologists and just plain Earth geologists.

Aside from nerd appeal, this also means that the chances of life on Mars may now be greater. Mars plate tectonics means volcanism, especially low level volcanism like hot springs, might be more common on Mars, especially in the past. It also means more chemicals and minerals may have been carried from inside Mars to the crust. Both of these make Mars a more hospitable place for life, either for life seeded by meteorites from Earth, or for life to be created in some warm primordial chemical rich ooze. And in a stunning example of serendipity in science, NASA just landed a nuclear powered lab especially designed to look for life. Woohoo! Now its chances of finding same seem even brighter, I’m certainly betting that it will. Lastly it means that Mars might have more seismic activity than thought, it was not thought to have any really. Marsquakes in other words.

So what now? Now scientists will endeavour to prove or refute the new theory. Just because it “looks like it from orbit” isn’t proof. From orbit Mars looked like it once had flowing water and bodies of water, but science considered the case for water on Mars open until the last two rovers found several lines of unmistakable chemical and geological evidence for same. I suspect it will be the same for plate tectonics on Mars, in fact it’s a good bet now that scientists are thinking about ways to look for proof of Mars plate tectonics with the new Curiosity rover. They will also be scanning satellite images of Mars to see what they think of professor An Yin’s evidence, not to mention looking for geological evidence for past Marsquakes. Lastly, I think it’s safe to say that planetary geologists are now plotting  just how they might get a seismograph to Mars.

Is there a point to this post, other than the nerd appeal? Just a minor one, this is a wonderful example of how science works. A theory is proposed in a  scientific publication, and scientists will now test it vigorously in various ways. By testing it, I mean they will look for other signs that are expected to be seen if Mars does have plate tectonics, as well as looking for signs that it might not. Depending on what they find, the theory will get stronger or be discarded. Stay tuned.

(The above image seems to have been generated from a  Google Mars map. I’m claiming it as Fair Use under US copyright law, it’s not being used for profit, and its use here in no way interferes with the copyright holder’s commercial use of the image. And lastly, the burning question that is now haunting some of my gentle readers: What makes Earth and Mars crustal plates move? The scientific answer is: No one knows.)

 

Written by unitedcats

August 15, 2012 at 8:43 am

Through Thick and Thin

with 7 comments

It’s been awhile since I wrote a “Through Thick and Thin” post. The phrase still and likely always will appeal to me. Partly because it’s a reminder of a more bucolic era, it is an old phrase. Partly because I like running around in the woods and fields myself. I don’t do as much of it as I used to. Moving right along, a lot has been happening lately, so why not comment on several trending events?

Chick-Fil-A. Sigh. This has gone off on so many tangents it’s gotten truly bizarre. Note above image. Conservative black churches tend to be very anti-LGTB. So we have people who in living memory were a terribly discriminated against minority … actively advocating continued discrimination against another minority. It’s images like this that explain why the aliens haven’t contacted us yet. While I respect people’s right to oppose gay marriage, I won’t dignify their opinion by referring to it as a “defence of marriage.” Marriage is not under attack, it needs no defence. In fact, if marriage is such a good thing, why shouldn’t any two adults be allowed to get married? So much silliness though. Tortured explanations from the left as to why it’s OK to use the power of the state to discriminate against Chik-Fil-A. I still don’t think so. Claims by Chick-Fil-A’s defender that this is a freedom of speech issue. No, aside from some rhetoric, no one’s freedom of speech has been threatened. Yet. I’ve seen a mangled Lincoln quote trotted out by LGBT defenders to bolster their cause. Yeah, adopting Faux News tactics doesn’t impress me.

Granted, some of the groups that Chick-Fil-A has been funding (it’s not just their owners, the corporation itself is a big donor) have been designated as hate groups. I find the appellation “hate group” as annoying as “terrorist group.” It’s a label to demonize a group and their opinions. Neither terrorism nor hate is an ideology, so when it comes right down to it, as a descriptive label its misleading as best. It’s an attempt to frame the discussion in such a way that the other side’s concerns can be ignored. That’s not really a good way to resolve an issue. Lastly, after defending Chick-Fil-A’s right to donate to whoever they please, let me say this. They are donating to some groups that are spreading the most horrific lies and falsehoods about homosexuals. Groups that are advocating the death sentence for gays in Africa. Not cool, not cool at all. I won’t be patronizing Chick-Fil-A, and I heartily encourage others not to do so.

Syria. Sigh. I’m writing a post about it, but it’s complicated. Kofi Annan is quitting as UN-Arab League envoy for the Syria conflict at the end of the month, he claims foreign meddling by both sides is making his job impossible. How the UN ever got involved in an internal, not international, dispute is not mentioned. China and Russia support the Assad regime. The USA and the west are supporting and arming the Islamist revolutionaries. Yes dear readers, China and Russia are supporting the secular government of Syria, while the USA is arming Islamist rebels, including Al-Qaeda linked groups. The people who we call terrorists when they are fighting us. As my more astute readers know, supporting Islamist rebels was such a  great idea in Afghanistan, how could it go wrong in Syria?

The Mars Curiosity Rover sets down on Mars this weekend. Hopefully. It’s the most amazing rover ever deployed, jam-packed with whiz-bang experimental gear. If it lands OK and functions OK, it will be like the Hubble on Mars. If they forgot to convert English measurements into American measurements, or installed something backwards, it will be a waste of over 2 billion dollars. This is what the old folks called “putting all of your eggs in one basket.” I still think that at a dozen cheaper rovers based on the wildly successful Spirit and Opportunity rovers would have been a better option. I hope I’m wrong.

The Aurora shooting … conspiracy theories abound! This is priceless. Yes, it looks like this will be as good as the Truthers or the Birthers, or maybe it will be a flash in the pan, who knows. It’s a fascinating how some events can trigger conspiracy theories. Scientists are no doubt gathering data and examining this as I type, this is like seeing a supernovae. So much can be learned about the psychology and sociology of conspiracy theories if one watches one actually spring forth. In this case, the current Holmes version is that this was some sort of false-flag government operation to act as an excuse for gun control. And that the person being tried isn’t actually Holmes. Pass the popcorn.

Australia refuses US carrier base. Yes, Australia in no uncertain terms said they saw no need to have a US naval base in Australia. No doubt the USA will punish them for their refusal in some way, but it’s nice to see a bit of sanity in the world. WTF does Australia need with a US base, and all the attendant problems that go with it? World War Two is long over, there is no threat to Australia that requires the presence of an American carrier task force. And why does the USA want a naval base in western Australia? It’s all part of the militarization of the world, apparently we are going to be the world’s policemen now. I’m not kidding, Marine units are now being trained to act as world policemen. There’s so much wrong with this I don’t know where to start, so likely there will be a post on it in the future.

Lastly, a bonus image to share. This made me laugh. Have a great weekend everyone.

(The above two images are claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. Both have gone viral on Facebook, so I think they are pretty much public domain, I have no idea who to credit them too. Heck, I could make an entire blog just from the interesting images that crop up on Facebook daily, I’ll certainly try to post more of them here in the future.)

Written by unitedcats

August 3, 2012 at 8:40 am

The Bell Island Boom

with one comment

Bell Island is a small island off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada. (No, that’s not it pictured above.) It’s only about 13 square miles in area, and pretty low, never even reaching 400 feet in elevation. It was first settled in 1740, and was sparsely inhabited for the next century and a half, home to a few fishermen and farmers. In the late 19th century extensive iron ore was discovered on the island, and for decades it was one of the largest producers of iron ore in northeast North America. The mines extended well underwater though, and required constant pumping to keep them in operation. In World War Two the ore loading docks were twice attacked by German U-boats, 4 ships were sunk and 70 lives were lost. At low tide the wreckage of the sunken ships can still be seen. After World War Two extensive iron ore deposits were found elsewhere in Quebec and Newfoundland, deposits that could be accessed by railroad and didn’t require constant water pumping. By the 1960s the Bell Island mines could no longer compete, and they were shut down and quickly filled with water. Most of the population left, and the island faded into obscurity.

Until the sleepy Sunday morning of 2 April 1978, when Bell Island was rocked by a thunderous explosion, an explosion heard over 40 miles away. There was extensive damage to electrical wiring, and on one farm there were holes in their roof, the roof of their chicken shed was blown off, several chickens killed, and their electrical appliances literally exploded. Near the chicken shed there were several holes in the ground, as if buried explosives had gone off. Afterwards more details emerged. Some people reported a “bell like” sound before the boom. One person on the mainland reported seeing a “shaft of light” slant up from the island when the boom occurred. A young boy on the worst hit farm claimed to have seen a “hovering ball of light” after the blast. Ball lightning was first suspected, but meteorologists confirmed that conditions weren’t right for lightning, what the hell had happened? Deepening the mystery, two American scientists, John Warren and Robert Freyman from the Los Alamos National Laboratory (then called the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory) in New Mexico, showed up shortly after the blast. Why was the American government sending people to investigate a boom on a remote island in Canada?

Cue twilight zone music. And cue conspiracy theories. There were a number of conspiracy theories, all revolving around some sort of secret US or Russian weapons test. The main one involved some sort of electromagnetic beam weapon, where possibly the beam was “attracted” to the island by its vast amount of iron. All given credence by the US investigation, what had the two scientists been there for and why had they been so secretive about what they discovered? The US government certainly never made any announcements. To this day there are TV “documentaries” and web sites espousing weapons conspiracy theories about the Bell Island Boom.

Sigh. I wish people would wake up to the fact that people promoting conspiracy theories lie. They make stuff up. They omit key details. They speculate wildly, bolstered by scientific sounding words, even though their speculations usually make scientists cringe. In the Bell Island Boom case, we see all of these factors operating. Yes, the US government has experimented with beam weapons. And the results haven’t been promising. They take enormous amounts of power, and the beams produced aren’t anything like the phasers of Star Trek. Hell, a light mist or a dusty day can pretty much reduce even powerful beams to little more than a flashlight in no distance at all. The reason armies don’t use beam weapons is simple, guns and missiles are far cheaper and far more effective. And the idea that some sort of electromagnetic beam is going to be “attracted” to a deposit of iron ore apparently doesn’t even pass the laugh test.

And then there’s the “secretive” scientists. In actually they weren’t secretive at all, and freely discussed with the islanders what they were doing there. They were studying superbolts. Superbolts are extremely powerful and extremely rare bolts of lightning. They were discovered by the VELA satellite, which was designed to detect nuclear explosions. They occur in clear weather, almost always over the ocean. The two scientists heard about the Bell island Boom, checked the VELA records and determined that a superbolt  had occurred on Bell island, and went to check it out as it was extremely rare to have a supervolt over land, let alone to know where it had touched down. And they weren’t bashful at all about explaining why they were there, both to the islanders and the press. Their conclusion? It was a superbolt, all of the things that happened were consistent with a large lightning strike. The “beam” seen from the mainland may have been lightning, but it may have been anything, including imagination. Other similar reports like the odd sound before hand were all extremely anecdotal and unreliable. Lighting can and does blow holes in buildings, kill chickens, make holes in the ground, and often blows up electrical equipment. In fact the only thing the two scientists found at all surprising, was that the supervolt hadn’t done more damage!

Is there a point to this post? Yes. One, to show how conspiracy theories can grow on the shallowest of ground. This was only a mystery for a few weeks, and no scientist has any problems with the superbolt explanation, but to this day some people still cite this event as a “mystery” event. As a codicil to this point, a follow-up post will document a similar event that is a mystery still, and may indeed have been a secret weapons test. My second point was that superbolts are just another reminder that new things are being discovered on Earth all the time. One could literally write a book on the dozens of similar type things about Earth that have only been discovered in the past few decades, reality is amazingly complex. I wish I had the words to express that correctly, we live in a  magical world is the closest I can come. Lastly this post was a great vehicle for the image above, that’s a Canadian Forces helicopter that landed on a  sea stack off of Bell Island. Yeah, that’s something Canadians would do.

Have a great weekend everyone.

(The above image was released into the Public Domain by its creator, David Barkes.)

 

 

Written by unitedcats

July 27, 2012 at 8:33 am

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