Tuesday Morning. Don’t really have time for a full review. Christians are fleeing to what is now effectively Kurdistan. The Kurds have announced they have no interest in helping the Maliki regime recapture Mosul. No kidding, they have their homeland and they are digging in, at some point soon I would expect them to declare independence. And fighting has gotten closer to Baghdad, the ISIS appear to have resumed their push south. The city of Baquba is being fought over, less than 40 miles from Baghdad. It’s an important city of 500,000, many whom are fleeing south. I think the image is Iraqi volunteers heading north out of Baghdad.
Tuesday Evening. The ISIS appears to be advancing on Baghdad. A few larger perspective points. Right now, the events of the past week appear to have been game changers. I don’t see how the clock can be turned back and the “status quo,” whatever that was, will be restored. I think that the Sykes–Picot Agreement, the unnatural borders imposed on the former Ottoman Empire by France and England after World War One, may finally be unravelling. A major war may be in the offing, no one knows how those ever turn out. The ISIS advance so far has been stunning and almost unprecedented. Certainly in recent history. Other points:
“It’s Obama’s Fault.” Sigh. Well, at least the GOP is consistent. Anything bad is Obama’s fault. On the first pass, Obama’s foreign policy was the same as Bush’s foreign policy in any significant regard, so, wtf? Secondly, Bush was the one that invaded Iraq on lies followed by an occupation based on wishful thinking. Bush couldn’t fix the mess he created in his six years, so it’s Obama’s fault he couldn’t fix it? I don’t think anyone expected the ISIS to explode, although I was raising alarms a few months back, but the GOP certainly wasn’t. In any event looking for blame in a situation like this is like blaming Pearl Harbor on Roosevelt. Which the GOP didn’t do. The rise of the ISIS is the worst crisis the US has faced since 9/11, partisan politics has no place here. At the very least they should tone it down and try to help.
As a codicil to this, the people who thought the invasion of Iraq was such a great idea in the first place are now doubling down. Excuse me, but could we just give Senator McCain and his ilk rifles and send them to Iraq? Misguided US military action is what created this mess, it’s clearly not the solution. As Obama recently said, paraphrasing here, “Just because you have the best hammer, doesn’t mean every problem is a nail.” Sure, the US military could likely recapture Mosul and the rest more or less with ease. Then what? The ISIS would just melt into the population and wait for us to leave. They aren’t from Mars for God’s sake, they live there.
Which is the last point, the Manichean heresy. In essence, the idea that there are good guys and bad guys. And by extension the idea that if the good guys just kill all the bad guys, everything will be just fine. (That’s been tried repeatedly, it never works.) Or as the Manichean heresy might be called today: the 12 year old boy’s comic book view of the world. The ugly truth is that people are people, they are all pretty much the same, and differences between them are due to circumstances and history, not inherent good/evilness. I’m not saying there aren’t just wars, and indeed people like Hitler do show up. My point is that when leaders say “They are the bad guys, we must wage war,” it’s not a logical argument. The first is simplistic at best, the later is a does not follow argument.
We’ll see what tomorrow brings. There are other points I should toss out for discussion. Like the fact that this could result in a huge loss of American influence in the world. Two Saudi Arabias, neither of which require the US as an Ally. Sleep tight.
(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It is not being used for profit. It is arguably an historic image. I will gladly properly attribute it if I find out who to attribute it too. God save us all.)
As anyone knows who hasn’t been in a coma the past week, Iraq has exploded into war as the jihadist group ISIS has roared through northern and central Iraq, the Iraqi army basically cutting and running. As a person who was adamantly opposed to the US invasion of Iraq, this is all very disturbing to me. This is the legacy of the senseless toppling of the Saddam regime. It’s easy to turn a country into a failed state, putting it back together again is a whole other kettle of fish. In any event events on the ground are moving too fast for me to write dedicated posts on it, so I am going to just start posting updates once or twice a day. I have been following this situation intensely since it exploded on the scene last week. and at least have some grip on what’s going on. Things are changing quickly though, sources tend to be very unreliable in situations like this, especially since all involved are lying as they try to manoeuvre for their advantage. My opinions may very well change as new information arises, or gentle readers argue otherwise. As ever, I am on the side of all the innocents caught up in this unholy mess. Here then is my latest update. I also have a group on Facebook, Doug’s Darkworld, readers so inclined are welcome to join the debate there.
Monday Evening, 16 June, 2014.
Well, the ISIS have been broadcasting their war crimes. They are trying to demoralize the Iraqi army and the Shiite militias still opposing them. They may also be trying to goad the US into doing something stupid. War is insanity, what can I say. And sadly the ISIS has no monopoly on senseless violence. In other developments a Shiite militia column on the way to Samarra was ambushed by the ISIS with heavy loss of life. However enthusiastic, untrained militias mostly consisting of teenagers are unlikely to prevail against the ISIS. As the map shows the ISIS now controls more territory that many countries. The UN is pulling personnel out of Baghdad, the US has sent more troops to defend the embassy. I can only assume that even if nothing else, the US forces sailing into the Persian gulf are preparing to evacuate the embassy in a hurry if need be. The Kurds and the ISIS appear to have a defacto truce, not good for Iraq, but makes sense for the Kurds. Lastly, the Syrian Air Force has launched airstrikes in Iraq against the ISIS. Might seem odd, but the Assad regime, Iran, and the Maliki regime have been cooperating for a long time. Maybe it wasn’t such a great idea to destabilize the Assad regime, but good thing we didn’t go further when the pressure was on because of their (alleged) gas attacks. The ISIS would be all the stronger. Again, no clue how this is going to turn out, but the longer this goes on the more impossible it will be to put Humpty Dumpty back together again.
(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It is not being used for profit. Credit and Copyright: Wall Street Journal. lastly I note that Paul Bremer, architect of the utterly botched and disastrous US occupation of Iraq is now sharing his “wisdom” on NBC. No wonder Americans are clueless about the world.)
Well, there it is. Patomsky Crater. A 40m high crater in remote Siberia. Discovered in 1949 by a geologist named Vadim Kolpakov. Well, discovered by the outside world, the locals had known of it. It was made sometime in the past few centuries. How was it made? That’s the mystery. Geologists have been studying it for decades, and they still don’t know. Yes, scientists don’t know how this pile of rock was made. I’d say it was like a crop circle made of stones, but scientists know how crop circles are made.
What could it be? At first it was thought maybe it was something that Stalin had made by gulag labour. It’s certainly possible, he had some odd things done. However, geologists visiting the site ruled that out, it is clearly a natural formation. One possibility was that maybe it was some sort of explosion caused by uranium ore going critical. Something similar happened in Gabon, Africa, some 1.3 billion years ago. Alas, no Uranium or radioactivity has been found, so that idea was ruled out. Impact? Well, some scientists still think so. In fact for awhile it was thought it might be related to the Tunguska impact of 1908. Alas, no meteoric material has been found. And its date has been pinned down to about 250 years ago, long before the Tunguska event.
So, volcano? Well, there’s no volcanic rock in the region. The crater itself is made of limestone, hardly a volcanic materiel. There’s no volcanoes or extinct volcanoes in the region. And it doesn’t resemble any known volcanic crater. Still, most geologists think it must be some sort of eruptive process. Some geologic process heated ground water causing one or more phreatic eruptions. Research continues.
The significance of this discovery? It’s interesting on several levels. The first thing is that it is an example of the limits of science. Lay people, especially fundamentalist religious types, often seem to be under the impression that scientists know everything. No, they don’t. In fact it’s safe to say that what scientists don’t know is vastly, maybe infinitely, greater than what they do know. Every new scientific discovery expands the boundaries of what we know … and expands the boundaries of what we don’t know. It’s certain religions that claim to understand everything, most scientists long ago got over that conceit.
Anything else? Well, the woo woo crowd has weighed in. Some have claimed that Patomskiy Crater is a crashed UFO. Some reports claim that a cylindrical object has been identified buried in the crater. I’m pretty sure if Russian geologists had actually identified some mysterious object was buried in the crater, it would have been excavated promptly. Still, it’s not a big topic in the woo woo crowd. Which in and of itself says something. they aren’t really interested in mysteries, only mysteries that can be easily folded into their pseudoscience view of the world.
Yes, I’ve become more intolerant of science deniers. The religious ones are worse, because they are destroying the political process in the USA. That’s a story for another post. The woo woo ones, well, they aren’t helping. Because science doesn’t yet doesn’t have an answer for something, UFOs aren’t the default. Or angels. It’s the beauty and wonder of the world, science has discovered that there is no need for supernatural explanations, and right now UFOs are as supernatural as angels and demons.
So, what created Patomskiy Crater? I’ll certainly go with the scientific consensus. Some sort of as yet unexplained geologic process. Still, the exotic impact theory hasn’t yet been ruled out. Exotic as being an impact of something other than the typical stone or ion meteorite. Something much denser than either. The universe is stranger than we can imagine, Patomskiy Crater is proof of that.
And the most wonderful thing about science, when it does explain Patomskiy Crater, it will make our understanding of the world a little bit bigger. We will not understand everything, but the more we understand, the safer we are. Our campfire in the dark gets a little brighter.
(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It is not being used for profit and is central to illustrating the case. I don’t know who the copyright holder is. And lastly, a joke. Some claim that the Tunguska event was caused by Nikola Tesla. Enjoy.)
A friend of a friend has been documenting the plight of Syrian refugees in Turkey, his blog about his experiences is a good read. In this day of embedded
journalists propaganda regurgitaters, and the corporate lamestream media, we need all the independent journalism we can get. Mr Ludowitz is trying to raise the money to get into Syria itself, and I urge my readers to visit this page and donate, or at least share the link. I may regret this, but I will write a blog post on the topic of their choice for anyone that donates $20 or more. There’s only a few days left, don’t delay. Thank you.
I will resume blogging this week. I’m going to be blogging on scientific mysteries, Japanese pop groups, and mountain climbing cats for awhile. Current events are just too upsetting right now. Have a great Memorial Day everyone. I urge everyone to honour the fallen by opposing efforts to send brave Americans abroad in yet more senseless wars that have nothing to do with defending our freedoms. God bless.
Doug Stych — May 26 2014
(The above image is being used with the permission of the person running the donations site. Credit and Copyright © Kyle Merrit Ludowitz 2014.)
The US Goverment Offers Crimea to Putin on a Silver Platter, Then Freaks Out When He Accepts Their Gift
Ukraine. Crimea. Putin. Russia. What a mess. If the gentle reader can’t find Crimea on a map, fair warning, this post might make them angry. That’s what the comment section is for. Here goes: By any definition, the Russian actions in Ukraine far more fit the definition of “humanitarian intervention” than say, the US invasion of Iraq. I think the death toll was, what, zero? And the majority of people in Crimea actually wanted to be part of Russia, not living in Ukraine … especially a Ukraine with a nationalistic government that clearly wanted to treat ethnic Russians as second class citizens. While Putin’s actions were clearly self-serving, Crimea is of paramount strategic importance to Russia, the idea that this is some sort of Hitleresque invasion is nonsense. US foreign policy has become so knee jerk and predictable that it’s easy for clever mofos like Putin to take advantage of them. And that’s exactly what happened, the US in it’s mindless zeal to expand NATO and the EU right up to the Kremlin’s doorstep essentially handed Crimea to Putin.
How’s that? How much the US influenced the ouster of the democratically elected government in Ukraine is debatable, but they certainly played a role, possibly a large role. And they got their wish, the government of Ukraine was overthrown and a government much more to their liking (profoundly anti-Russian) was installed. (This was not some sort of popular revolution against a dictatorship, it was mob rule at its ugliest.) A “government” who decided that their first order of business was to pass laws diminishing the status of Russian speakers in Ukraine. A government that the US immediately recognized as legitimate. And this is where the shortsightedness of America’s current policy becomes clear. What, exactly, did they think Putin was going to do? Did it even cross their minds that Putin might do exactly as he did some years earlier in Georgia, send in the troops to protect Russia’s interests? Apparently not, since their reaction to Putin’s move has been mindless hysterics. As is the case with so much of America’s modern foreign policy, there was no plan B.
Even the sanctions are looking to be a joke. The Europeans are in no mood for an actual economic war with Russia or something as mindless as a resumption of the “Cold War.” So the US is reduced to histrionics. I suspect that after all is said and done, Crimea will remain part of Russia, and the US will blame the “loss” of Crimea on its allies … and carry right on with further ill conceived foreign meddling. There will not be a resumption of the Cold War, there will not be World War Three, nor does this have any similarities to the rise of Hitler. The fact that the US media and most Americans can only think about foreign policy in terms of cartoonish similarities to past events is a wonderful example of how uneducated the public discourse has become in modern America. And sadly many of our leaders are just as uneducated and shallow in their world view. This is what happens when religion and ideology become the basis for getting into office, you get parrots spouting nonsense to their base instead of educated people trying to run the country effectively.
On the plus side, boy, Putin came out of this smelling like a rose, demonizations in the western press notwithstanding. In one fell swoop he humiliated the USA, reasserted Russia’s historic control of Crimea, brought large numbers of ethnic Russians back into Russia … and made himself one of the most popular leaders in recent Russian history. His approval ratings are the envy of Obama and Congress. The lesson here of course is that foreign policy needs to be based on a realistic assessment of the world. “Might makes right” does work sometimes, but it’s not a substitute for things like diplomacy and common sense. And instigating trouble in Ukraine made about as much sense as Russia trying to stir up trouble in Canada or Mexico. Even if they succeeded, and a pro-Russian government came to power in either, the chances the USA would sit back and do nothing would be zero. Yet that’s exactly what the US did in Ukraine, and then acted shocked and surprised when Putin did exactly what any sober assessment of the situation would have strongly suspected was a possible consequence.
Watching US foreign policy is like watching a train wreck in slow motion. It’s also a wonderful illustration of one of the definitions of insanity. Insanity is repeating the same actions, but expecting different results. The US will continue to meddle in “unfriendly” governments, and continue to achieve results that weren’t what it expected, or even the opposite of what was expected. It’s easy to destabilize a government and make a mess of things, it’s much harder to put together the pieces afterwards. Maybe someday Washington will learn that.
(The above image is Public Domain under US copyright law. It’s German soldiers retreating from Crimea during World War Two. Foreign armies have been fighting in Crimea for centuries, one can only hope we don’t backslide that far this time.)
I’m getting really tired of certain Christians claiming that their religious liberty is under attack in the USA. Or worse, that they are being prosecuted for their beliefs. Right. The above illustration is Christians being persecuted for their beliefs. When was the last time Christians were rounded up and killed in the USA? Their churches systematically destroyed? Their faith being illegal to practice? Never. And no one has proposed anything even remotely like that, at least outside the lunatic fringe. The chances that a nation that is overwhelmingly Christian would start persecuting Christians is essentially zero.
Yet that didn’t stop certain quarters from claiming that, for example, the veto of Arizona’s anti-gay law was the “new Jim Crow” and telling Christians to “move to the back of the bus.” Let me see if I get this straight, a law that would have allowed Christians to discriminate against anyone they perceived as gay was about religious liberty? If one’s religion says don’t be gay, then don’t be gay. It doesn’t give one the “right” to define how other people live their lives, nor does it give one the “right” to discriminate against them. One’s religion may give one the “right” to be a bigot, it doesn’t give one the “right” to practise that bigotry in public commerce or enshrine their bigotry in public law.
And we are talking about bigotry here. Gay people are just that, people. The scientific evidence is in, and its overwhelming. As anyone who ever actually got to know gay people would know. Whether it is a lifestyle choice or biology is irrelevant, there’s nothing inherently wrong or unhealthy about being gay. There have always been gay people, there always will. The only difference now is that our society is maturing (we don’t burn witches, keep slaves, or sell daughters into marriage anymore) and gay people and their allies think it’s past time that they came out of the closet and enjoyed the same rights and privileges as everyone else. Gay people are our friends, our family, our neighbours, our siblings, our co-workers. Over a third of them have children. That’s right, 37% of gay people have children. And they want those children to have married parents like everyone else.
Frankly Jesus said that the Old Testament no longer applies, and he said nothing about gay people. So people who are selectively hating on gays because “the Bible says” are simply using the Bible as cover for their bigotry. The Old Testament also says that adultery, lying about virginity, eating shellfish, and working on the Sabbath all merit the death penalty. Yet the Biblical gay bashers don’t get all hot and bothered about these or any of the other few dozen things prohibited by death in the Old Testament. And no, gay people are not out to “convert” anyone. In fact the only way a straight person could even think that was possible if they were gay themselves and in deep denial about it. Nothing could make me find men sexually attractive, I’m just not wired that way.
The so called Christians who are all about persecuting gay people and driving them back into the closet are on the wrong side of history. Gays want the same rights as everyone else, because they are everyone else. They are no more going to go back in the closet than blacks are going to agree to be slaves again. And this is a good thing. Sadly the Old Testament Christians don’t see it that way. They want to go back to an America where they got to define social institutions for everyone. In other words an America where Christians could freely persecute people they disproved of. That’s not Christian, that’s Satan doing his finest work in the name of Christianity. (It’s also an incredibly weak faith if the mere sight of people who don’t adhere to its Bronze Age proscriptions is a problem.)
And of course, what about God? Let’s see, Canada has effectively had gay marriage since 1999, and gay marriage in every respect since 2004. God has had over a decade to punish Canada for this terrible transgression against his purported wishes. Have plague, pestilence, and God’s wrath descended on Canada? Not that I’ve heard of. Have gays taken over, forced millions of Canadians to be gay, promoted paedophilia, or outlawed heterosexual marriage in Canada? Again, it doesn’t appear to be making the news. In fact the only thing that has happened is that they don’t call it gay marriage in Canada any more. They just call it marriage.
Frankly these Old Testament selective moralists give me the creeps. I don’t mind them having their Bronze Age prejudices, but I’m damn sick of them thinking they still get to define morality for everyone by their own outdated standards. Hopefully most of them will get over their umbrage as the calamities God is going to heap upon us for marriage equality don’t manifest. At the very least they hopefully will be consoled by the fact that they won’t be forced to be gay married, won’t be forced to attend gay weddings, and just in general if they want to close their eyes, they won’t see gay people at all. Hell, the Duggar daughters already signal their dad and brothers so they can avert their gaze in case a pretty woman is on the street, now they just have to come up with a “gay signal” so that their dad and brothers don’t see some gay person on the street. Problem solved.
Tomorrow, the insanity of redefining marriage.
(The above image dates from the nineteenth century and is public domain under US copyright law. It’s called “The Christian Martyrs’ Last Prayer” by Jean-Léon Gérôme 1824–1904. It’s a tradition that Christians were fed to the lions in the Colosseum, not historical fact. Some Christians have always been obsessed with martyrdom and persecution, I guess that natural for a faith that worships a dead guy nailed to a stick. Jesus wept.)
Well, an acquaintance showed me some exciting video the other day. It was of Kanzi, a Bonobo that has learned to communicate with humans by pointing at symbols. Kanzi knows thousands of symbols, and videos of him are all over youtube. It’s pretty impressive stuff. Kanzi can give and understand a vast array of commands, and interacts with his handlers regularly using the symbols. To primatologist Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, who has been studying Kanzi all Kanzi’s life, Kanzi exhibits “advanced linguistic aptitude.” Kanzi has even been interviewed on TV, heck, how many people can say that? Is the Kanzi the breakthrough primatologists have been striving for for decades, have humans and an animal learned to communicate? Well, yes. The more important question though is this, is Kanzi the the holy grail of animal communication research, has Kanzi learned to speak?
Alas, while there is a lot to be learned from Kanzi research, don’t place any pre-orders for handy Bonobo house servants. Let’s start from the beginning. In 1969 a chimpanzee named Washoe rocked the scientific world, the first chimp to learn sign language. Washoe was a media sensation, and launched a whole raft of primate sign language research. People everywhere loved the idea that chimps could talk. Sure, their vocal cords can’t pronounce human words, but with sign language, that barrier was broken! Unfortunately, upon closer examination, Washoe well, washed out. Her handlers had been wildly optimistic about their interpretations of many of her hand movements. Even one of her most famous examples of “speech,” her making the signs for water and bird upon seeing a swan, isn’t particularly amazing. A swan is a bird, and it was on water, all it really showed was that Washoe knew the signs for water and bird. Science moved on, and while a few researchers went forward, other than in the popular perception, signing chimps were a dead end.
Then, along came Sue Savage-Rumbaugh and Kanzi. No messing around with ambiguous hand movements, by learning actual symbols, his communications were clear. Kanzi learned thousands of symbols, and could use them to signal his wants and even to some extent communicate his internal states. Watching the videos of him is pretty amazing, at least on a superficial level. Kanzi can hear complex commands and act on them, surely that means he is using language similar to how humans do. Had Sue Savage-Rumbaugh done it, was Kanzi the first animal to speak with a human?
Alas, no. There’s a number of problems with the “Kanzi is speaking” scenario. The first is how he acquired language. When human babies start learning words, they almost immediately begin constructing sentences out of them. And as they learn more words, their sentences get longer and more complex. When Kanzi (or other “talking” chimps) start to learn words, they pretty much don’t make sentences out of them. And as they learn ever more words, their sentence construction remains at their initial very modest levels. Kanzi’s average sentence length is … 1.15 words. In other words, Kanzi for the most part uses exactly one symbol to express himself. And while Kanzi’s understanding of symbols might seem impressive, it’s more substance than real. Yes, Kanzi seemingly can understand commands involving several words, but that is not necessarily language. IE if one tells Kanzi to “put the doll in the bucket in the other room” all Kanzi really has to know is that he is expected to manipulate the doll, the bucket, and the room. That’s not language.
More accurately, Kanzi does not appear to understand grammar at all. Grammar is how words strung together modify each other, the essence of language. IE take these two sentences, “Man bites dog.” and “Dog bites man.” A human child can understand the clear distinction between these two sentences almost as soon as they start learning to speak. Kanzi can’t, when carefully tested with simple sentence pairs like this, his “understanding” doesn’t rise above chance levels. Despite learning language for decades, Kanzi is 26, he doesn’t understand grammar at all. As one primatologist puts it, no ape has ever asked a question or expressed an opinion.
Will humans ever communicate with animals? Not looking good, human’s facility with language most definitely is something that no animal, no matter how clever, has ever demonstrated. Is there a lesson here? Of course, I’m always illustrating some point or other. The main point being how people’s public perception of science is often at odds with reality. Most people one talks to about signing and symbol using chimps are absolutely convinced that indeed, these animals are “speaking.” I suspect this is a combination of wishful thinking; both on the part of the public, the media, and on the part of the very sincere researchers involved. Sadly, just because a handful of researchers and the public thinks that something is a scientific reality, doesn’t actually make it so.
Lastly, Kanzi is a curious example of borderline research. Nothing is ever black and white, the boundaries between science and nonsense aren’t as clear cut as many would believe. Talking apes aren’t pseudoscience, actual scientists are working in the field. And they sincerely believe they are onto something. I suspect the amount of research devoted to this will decline over time, that’s usually the case with unproductive lines of research. Still, all this talking chimp research has at least cleared up one thing: Chimps can’t be taught to talk.
(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It’s not being used for profit and is central to illustrating the post. I got it from this fine site, which presumably holds the credit and copyright. And yes, I have been ill. I have returned and am blogging again. That’s good or bad depending on one’s perspective I suppose.)