Class Warfare Blog

May 30, 2018

Great Minds Think Alike!

Filed under: Business,Science,Technology — Steve Ruis @ 7:41 am
Tags: , ,

Over at GFBrandenburg’s blog he comments on the Monsanto GMO study I mentioned in my past post and includes a link to an article detailing it. Check it out.

Surprise: GMOs *Reduce* rather than Increase crop yields

 

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May 29, 2018

GMO Skepticism

A recent research effort showed than in some areas, anti-science attitudes are strongly correlated with religion (surprise, surprise). In other areas, there were correlations with science knowledge or rather the lack thereof, supporting those who think that science education is an effective way to combat anti-science attitudes.

One such example of the latter involved the safety of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. The researchers found that those who possessed more science knowledge favored GMOs and those with less science knowledge did not.

I have a fair amount of science knowledge and I do not favor GMOs … currently. My attitude was bolstered by the release … finally …. of studies that show that, once again, Monsanto Corporation is bilking the public. Monsanto created “Roundup” a weed killer that actually worked. The problem with Roundup is that if you spray it on a weed and accidentally spray a patch of lawn, it dies too. Roundup is a vegetation killer. So, Monsanto created GMO crops (corn, wheat, potatoes, whatever) that would resist the effects of Roundup, boosting the sales of Roundup as a weed-control agent for farmers and by creating a massive market in their new Roundup resistant seeds.

Monsanto promised increased yields using the new seed and Roundup weed control. So, is that what happened. Well, the study is now in and the difference between Monsanto-focussed fields and control fields is zero, zip, nada. Gosh, you spend that much more money and you’d think it just has to be better. well, it is … better for Monsanto’s bottom line.

Now I will not argue that GMOs do not have benefits, that would be silly. I would argue that we need to look carefully at the benefits and the costs, especially the potential costs. In the Roundup study, the costs were high and the benefits almost nonexistant.

When I first became aware of GMOs, the big “product” was a more “machine harvestable” tomato that had better eating properties. The way this was achieved was to splice into the tomato’s genome some DNA contributed by a trout, yes, a fish. My argument to “go slow” on GMOs goes like this:

We have been genetically modifying crops since the beginning of agriculture. We did this first by choosing to use the seed from plants that gave the best harvest or the best quality of produce and eschewing using seed from lesser plants. Further down the road, we learned how plants propagate and learned how to cross breed plants to make sturdier hybrids. (This is how we pulled off the Green Revolution; we made “dwarf” versions of wheat and rice that had shorter, stronger stalks that could support heavier grain heads, then we used chemical fertilizers up the whazoo to boost the seed cluster sizes (and as a side effect, we have polluted our waterways with these chemicals creating dead zones in our seas the size of small planetoids).)

These “traditional” processes allow nature to have veto power over anything we try. Each stage of a hybridization either produces a viable plant or not. If not, it produces no seed and that possibility is vetoed. It is a little like breeding horses. If horses are bred to horses, the offspring are viable and can breed. If horses are bred to donkeys, you get mules which are viable but cannot breed (end of the road). If horses are bred with cats … ? No one has ever tried this you say. Hmm,  I wonder why?

In the modern GMO process, the genetic material itself is changed directly and nature only has a say as to whether the end product is viable. The result has not been vetted by nature other than in this manner.

So, how do you cross breed a tomato and a trout? If you thought a horse-cat hybrid was crazy, what the hell do you think of a tomato-trout hybrid?

Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should. What happens to the trout genes in the tomato when the tomato’s genome gets out and interacts with the world at large? But, but, but farmers are used to hybrids that can’t reproduce, you argue. You should take it up with the farmers who are in court suing their neighbors who said the GMO crops they planted couldn’t possibly “get out” and start growing in their neighbor’s fields. (They did.)

Plus, hybridized crops do breed, they just don’t “breed true,” meaning you are much more likely to get the parent stock sprouting than the hybrid stock. I remember my father gathering up the tomato plants that sprouted in our compost heap each spring, replanting them, culling the “bad” ones, but then harvesting “heritage tomatoes” before that term was made common. They breed, just not true.

More info here.

May 20, 2018

Stupid, Stupid, Stupid

I read a comment the other day that set my head spinning. The comment pointed out that up until around 1970, the only way to increase agricultural output significantly was to put more arable land into production. Basically that had been done to all effective extents by well before 1970. We now note how people are trying to put very marginal lands into production with predictable disastrous results. (Hey, let’s cut down that jungle and raise crops! … jungles have notoriously poor soils.)

But right about that time came the Agricultural Revolution, sometimes called the Green Revolution. We managed to increase crop yields for our staple grains (rice, wheat, corn, barley) by the simple expedient of growing these grains on shorter stalks. Shorter stalks are stronger and they can support heaver seed heads without falling over from being too top heavy. We practically doubled our yields per acre of these grains.

This I already knew. What the comment pointed out that the old “acreage limited” model of agriculture, which took about 10,000 years to run out, supported a global population of about three and a half billion people. The Green Revolution doubled our grain supplies and, if you are not aware, those grains also feed our cattle and other livestock, so represent fairly well the entire food supply of the world. (You will find grain of some type in 90% of the foods you can find in a local market.)

So, we doubled our food supply starting in 1970 or so and now the world population is about seven billion people. It is an axiom of population biology that organisms expand their populations up to the limits of their food supplies. The fact that our doubled food supply (from 1970 levels) matches our now doubled population (3.5 to 7 billion) supports the idea that we are at the end of the effects of the Green Revolution.  This second phase took less than 50 years. (Think about it! Three and a half billion more people in just fifty years.)

So, what is next?

Since there is no intelligence in charge of humanity, it is likely that corporations that are exploring the genetic engineering of food crops will work up a solution. I have written before that these shortcuts to different organisms have more risks associated with them than the procedures used before (up to and including the green Revolution). But let’s say they whip up something that works and it again doubles the yields of these grains, what then?

Well, history and biology indicate that we will double our population again, this time to 14 billion people. Imagine the impact on food distribution and electricity distribution networks, on transportation systems (cars and roads, subways, air travel, on the lives of us all.

What is really scary is that the reliance on the plants created under the Green Revolution has shrunk the number of species under cultivation to a very small number. When there is a much wider diversity of crops, crop failures are not widely catastrophic, but when they are but a few kinds of crops being depended upon, well, think of the Irish Potato Famine.

Nobody predicted the Bubonic Plague, otherwise know as the Black Death. This disease killed over a quarter of the population of Europe. So, what happens if some new agricultural blight, on the order of a plague, wipes out rice or wheat. Since there are only a few types of rice or wheat under cultivation it means that such a blight may wipe out all of the rice or all the wheat or very large fractions of those crops. The repercussions would not be pretty: massive famines, food riots, insurrections, whole countries destabilized, etc. (Take a look at what is happening in Venezuela currently, being a manifestation of just bad management.)

I guess my question is not “what is next?” so much as “to what end?” We haven’t developed enough political maturity to determine a fair and equitable distribution of resources. We still operate on a “get what you can” basis. (Exhibit No. 1 President Donald Trump) Is there any upside to doubling our food supply again, other than corporate profits for Big Ag Science corporations? Do we need another seven billion people on this planet? Are we prepared to handle the changes associated with such an event?

All of the answers to these questions are, of course, no. Herds of lemmings running off of cliffs is a societal meme we created. Lemmings are not so stupid as to do that. So, basically we, as a people, are projecting that behavior onto those animals. And, we seem quite capable from doing just that.

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Note The word stupid is used as a pejorative meaning lacking in intelligence. Rather, it means “slow” as in “slow on the uptake” or slow to learn (it has roots similar to those of stupor). Really bright people can distract themselves in sophisticated ways so that what is glaringly obvious gets missed for a long, long time. That stupid, that’s the one I mean.

October 22, 2017

I Thought Things Were Coming Together … And Then the Other Shoe Dropped (OMG!)

I have been posting quite a bit about the revelations I have been getting reading the book Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States by James C. Scott. It has been slow going because so much in the book has real consequences regarding how I view the world.

If you don’t recall, the book addresses a simple fact. Cities became somewhat sustainable 3500-3000 BCE, so we became “civilized” about 5000-5500 years ago. Yet it is now clear that agriculture started to be exhibited 8000-10,000 years ago (at least). The standard narrative is that the development of agriculture, specifically with regard to grains, caused the idea of a city to flourish. Grain could be harvested, dried, and stored for a long time and so could be taxed easily. The simple fact came in the form of a question: why the three millennium time lag? Why did “civilization” take so long to happen after we had the technology to produce sizable surpluses of grain? The author argues that civilization could only happen when enough labor could be coerced to do the “farming.” It seems an established fact that hunter-gatherers and pastoralists, etc. who were free people, never created food surpluses and food surpluses were what were needed for cities to develop. Food surpluses required excess labor to create and yet were just a big set of problems: how to preserve the food without most it spoiling; if you were still non-sedentary or only occasionally sedentary, you would have to carry those surpluses around with you; you would have to protect the stored food from pests, predators, etc.

Food surpluses only happen when people are coerced to create them.

I have stated this premise before. The minor nuclear warhead explosion came when the author commented that the most productive form of coerced labor is slavery and … as late as 1800 CE, as much as three fourths of the world’s population could be described as being in some sort of state of slavery.

“Now, that just couldn’t be true” was my first reaction to this claim. My second reaction was that students of history are taught that they should not impose “modern values” onto earlier times as it will lead to misunderstanding. I realized that I was coming from a frame of reference in which all people were “free,” as we claim we are, but I immediately realized that might not be true, then. My third reaction was: serfs.

Remember what you learned about serfs in school? Serfs were medieval peasants who worked the land for the local lord in Europe. The picture painted for school children was kind of bucolic and idealized, but think about it. The serf worked as a farmer (mostly) of land they didn’t own. The owner of the land (“from the Manor born”) confiscated the serf’s “surplus” food production. The local lord decided exactly and arbitrarily what the surplus was to be and it always seemed to be “enough to keep the serf in a perpetual state of poverty.” The “lords” used force of arms and religious support to legally tie the serf to the land. Even if the serf got the idea to get the hell out of this awful situation, where would he go? What about his family? There were no “jobs” per se he could get were he to relocate. He was trapped. He worked doing work not of his choice to benefit not himself but others and he had no choice in the matter. (How do you spell slave, boys and girls? S-E-R-F!)

It didn’t take over three thousand years to figure out how to use agriculture. It took three thousand years to figure out how to efficiently coerce large amounts of labor.

Back in 3000 BCE, all slaves had a viable option. Wait until nightfall and walk that way. Didn’t much matter which direction one walked. After a few days, one would be so far away from coerced labor as to be upon another planet. And there was enough food to be foraged that one could go back to being a “hunter-gatherer” quite easily as one still possessed the skills required. In early civilizations, one had options and one was to walk away from a bad situation. This apparently happened quite often. Slavery was a construct that prevented that (or attempted to). Available records showed that slaves were a common factor in all of those early civilizations. They were not treated well; they apparently were commonly beaten into submission. (If you saw a representation of an elite wielding a flail, it wasn’t for threshing grain.) The accounting records (the earliest form of writing were stimulated by such) from the earliest cities showed slaves counted in the same way as domesticated animals, using the same cuneiform in Mesopotamia, for example. The Code of Hammurabi, the first written legal code, is chock-a-block full of codes regarding the treatment of slaves, the recovery of escaped slaves, the punishments for helping another slave to escape, etc. Ditto for all of the other legal codes around the world. “Wars” were wars of capture not killing as slaves were not easily held and replacements were needed for those who escaped or died from maltreatment.

If this were true, if as late as the year 1800, three quarters of all human beings were in some sort of slavery … but it couldn’t be true … could it? Let’s think about it. Slavery was not abandoned in the U.S. until 1865, in England, Canada, and the rest of the British Empire until 1833. Heck, if news reports are correct, slavery still exists all over the world now: sex slaves, enforced labor camps, etc. Yeah, that three fourths slaves estimate could well be true

If we think back to the defenders of slavery in this country, the energy behind it was entirely economic. For those that think our Civil War was a war over “state’s rights to secede,” you have fallen for a bit of historical spin. All of the articles of secession of the Southern states were published and they all focused upon slavery and its abolition being anathema to their way of life. If you think slavery is uneconomic, think again. I will make the point that slavery is the most economic form of labor for the elites (obviously not for the slaves).

Slavery comes in many forms, the worst kind (from my viewpoint) is chattel slavery. Slaves could be beaten, killed, threatened, whatever. Their children were born as slaves. There was no way out. Other forms were more humane if I can even use that word.

My mind immediately jumped to a Bible story. (I’m sorry, my mind does jump about and I do not seem to control it.) I first read of it through Mark Twain’s writings. As the story goes: (Numbers 31:15-18) After Moses’ soldiers had killed all of the men among the Midianites, Moses ordered his army officers to kill all of the male children, kill all of the non-virgin females but to save alive all of the virgin girls for his troops. Prior to this, the Israelites had taken all of the animals and goods of the Midianites and then burned all of their towns. Of course, Moses said Yahweh ordered him to do this. When I first heard of this story, I was impressed mostly with what a dick Yahweh was, but that, I think missed the point. The Old Testament is an unrelenting series of actions of Yahweh against the Israelites (Hebrews, whatever). The Israelites were stubborn and just wouldn’t accept Yahweh as the only god. In the Bible, the Israelites are described as being “stiff necked” and unable to “accept the yoke.” Both of these terms refer to oxen that are difficult to harness up to pull plows and wagons and the like. Slaves were also yoked. Yahweh wanted slaves to worship Him … slavishly. And if the Israelites did what they were told to do, when they were told to do it, they would become rich and have slaves, too. (Pop Quiz: Translate “Islam” into English and what word do you get? Answer: submission. All religions are coercive.)

When Yahweh, through Moses, told them to kill off all of those defenseless people, he was enforcing his will by making the Israelites destroy their own wealth. All of those non-virgin women and boy children were destined to become slaves and slaves were wealth, big-time wealth. The exception made for fuckable girls was probably made to keep the rough and tough soldiers from rebelling completely. Now, if you think this story is horrific, think about this in two ways. If Moses were real, but just deluded, that is one thing. (I believe in God if it is defined as “the most powerful fictional character ever created by mankind” but not in the supernatural.) If the story is entirely fictional, made up as a literary caution against disobedience, it is even more horrific.

Atheists are fond of pointing out that the Bible is pro-slavery, not anti-slavery. Think about the consequences had Christianity reframed Judaism and banned slavery, went so far as to state that slavery was anathema and that their god would avenge all acts of slavery in the afterlife. Christianity was a minor cult rescued from oblivion by a Roman emperor (Constantine). The Roman Empire at the time consisted of quite a small number of citizens, a somewhat larger number of freemen, and a vast number of slaves. What do you think would have happened to Christianity had it been anti-slavery at the time? It sure as Hell would have had no chance of getting adopted as the state religion of Rome. Of course Christianity was pro-slavery, every religion was (and still is?).

My mind next jumped to an American History story. Remember the story of how some Euros “bought” Manhattan Island for $24 in beads and trinkets? (As an aside, I first heard this story about 60 years ago and $24 then would be worth $210.81 now … and they never seem to update the story.) This story was told, I believe now, to show that the Native Americans had no idea of the value of land and were rather clueless and we were doing them a favor in “civilizing them” (also known as genocide). I prefer to think that the Native Americans so paid went back to their fellows with this story about how the stupid Euros gave them “all of this,” because they think they can “own the land!” (Insert uproarious laughter here.) As far as they were concerned, the gods owned the land and they could claim rights to hunt and fish and harvest a spot as long as they could defend it from other Native Americans. Their hunting grounds were not something they considered they or anyone else could own.

What this story points out was that slavery enforced by physical force (or threats against family members) made a transition to control of the land. (“The only true wealth is land” is a saying.) Think about that serf. His “master” owned the land. Just what does that mean? It might have been “given” to him by his master (Turtles all the way down.): “Ye shall have all of the land from the river to the hills, bounded by the sea, for you to do as you wish.” Often, this was like a gift from Yahweh. There might already be people living there, but your “royal patent” allows you to now go and enslave all of those people and get them working for you or kill them all, your choice.

No one “owned” the land in the first place, so it could not be bought, so all land ownership is like the Native American’s hunting grounds. It was theirs to use as long as they could hold it. Same is largely true today. Once the land is controlled, there is no place for a coerced labor force to run to. Consider the Fugitive Slave Act in the U.S. Slaves who “ran away” to states in which slavery was illegal were forced to be returned by the legal system back then. So, the runaway slaves often kept going to Canada to escape that “legal” system. (And that is a long walk from Georgia.) There was nowhere for a serf to run to, so the lord of the manor didn’t need to keep soldiers in the field to make sure they kept working. If they didn’t work, they didn’t eat. (This saying is still amongst us.)

So, civilization (there’s that word again) wasn’t built upon agriculture, which was a necessary but not sufficient condition for its creation. Civilization was built on coerced labor. Consequently “we” didn’t created civilization, the elites did. It was created as a system to serve their needs, where the many fed the few, whether they wanted to or not.

“Consequently ‘we’ didn’t created civilization, the elites did.
It was created as a system to serve their needs, where the many fed the few, whether they wanted to or not.”

This seems to me to be like those movies made by Andy Rooney and Judy Garland. They made ten movies together and they all seemed to have the same story line: a bunch of spunky youths, faced with a financial difficulty (to save a theatre, or a school, or a farm, whatever) always ended up with Andy Rooney saying “I’ve got an idea, gang, let’s put on a show!” Then he would convince the others that they “could do it” and they would then set about creating an entire musical production, which raised enough money to save the day. With a minor suspension of disbelief, you can almost feel that the ideas were those of the characters in the movie (Andy and Judy were so earnest!). But really, the movies were created by the studios who controlled everything because they had the money to make the movie (and reaped the “surplus” money from the movie after the peons got paid).

“We” didn’t created civilization, the elites did, for the elites. Think about that. We just supplied the labor.

So, for 4800-5300 of the 5000-5500 years of our most history, civilization was supported, actually made possible) mostly by slave labor (three out of four … in 1800 CE). But, of course, all of that is in the past … isn’t it?

Let me take a moment and lay out what the life of a prosperous “free” American looks like. We are born and then do what our parents tell us to do until we are of school age. We are then sent to school. Can we, as children, choose not to go? No, it is compulsory. Can we choose what to study? No, the curriculum is created by the state. We learn to do as we are told and if we do well in school then we go “to college.” Can we not go? Yes, but don’t count on getting a good job. So, we go. Can we choose what to study? Yes, but from a prescribed list of “programs” so basically we are as free as the voters in the last presidential election (who could vote for anybody, but one of “these two” will win). So we go, study hard, and do well and graduate. We are roughly 25 years old. We get a “good job,” save our surplus money (if there is any … of course there is, this is a “good job”) and by the time we are 30 we have a down payment and buy a house and the land it sits upon. Well, actually a bank owned by the elites buys the house and we arrange to make payments for 30 years and then it becomes ours. So, now we are 60 and we own a house and a 50 by 100 foot lot. Is this enough land (aka wealth) to plant food to support one’s family? A nice vegetable garden, some fruit trees and nut trees, a wheat field, uh … no. So we own land but not enough land to opt out of the system. And to make sure we do not, you must pay property taxes on your owned property, so you need some income to prevent your property from being confiscated, so you are still tied to “a job.”

And we say we are “free” people. I now understand better when conservatives complain that their freedoms are being eroded by government. Since the government, which is supposed to be us acting collectively, has been captured by the elites. This is actually true. Unfortunately the ordinary conservatives have been led to a position that their complaints about government can only cause changes that make the elites even more prosperous and more powerful.

Our “pay-as-you-go” culture is a manifestation of the coerced labor foundation of civilization. If you are dubious, consider that according to federal surveys 80% of working Americans basically hate their jobs. A truly free person would be someone who went where they wanted and did what they wanted to do. I suggest that even the 20% who do not hate their jobs wouldn’t have picked that work as something to do had they been truly free to do whatever they wished.

So, what does it take to be actually free? In my mind, freedom now comes from “not needing a job” and living as we want. I am not thinking about the young person who still lives at home and is well into their twenties and doesn’t have a job. I am talking of being on one’s own. The commonest way to do this is to have, I believe the term is, “fuck you money.” You have enough money to live well without needing a job or a boss, who you can tell to “fuck off.” This amount of money makes you one of the elite and not a coerced laborer. If you are resisting this scenario, consider the sayings “You won’t get rich working for wages,” “I am just a ‘wage slave’,” “I have to go to work.” I could go on.

Imagine what you would do if you had “fuck you money.” The closest thing we have as a large segment of the population is senior citizens who retire well. These folks do what they want when they want: they travel, they participate in social events (plays, sporting events, etc.), and they volunteer scads of hours, that is they work for free, but doing things they feel have value. This is how free people behave. Coerced laborers are constantly limited by how much money they make and how much time they “must” work to earn it. They have “a job” which means they labor for someone else (who, as Marx says, “owns the means of production”) who benefits from the surplus created by their labor. If they do not produce a surplus, they get fired. From what they are left with (aka paid), they pay for shelter (rent, mortgage), food, transportation, etc. and if there is anything left, they save for the future. But what they can do and where they can go is constrained by the need for “a job.”

So, is “civilization” still built on a foundation of coerced labor? I think so: if you don’t work, you don’t eat. Hunter-gatherers did not experience this.

Let me end with another scenario. Large numbers of workers in the U.S. worked for companies which made handsome profits. This means they created surplus wealth that the business owners reaped. Their work was of high quality, there were no problems. The next thing they know, however, is the owner of the business has shipped the production capacity overseas to a state with lower wages. If the current workers want a “severance package,” they must train their replacements, then they can go suck eggs. The business owners, collectively having pressed for the commercial markets around the world to be “free” meaning that there are no charges when their goods are imported into a country (no tariffs), thus created this “option:” move my productive capacity overseas and then “import” my products into the U.S. This has happened to the tune of millions of jobs lost per year for the last twenty years. This situation allows businesses to seek out the lowest possible labor costs for their businesses, no matter where they are, because if they have to pay their workers less, then the surplus wealth they create, which they claim, is greater. The accumulated wealth from this process is used to make sure the political systems represent the interests of the elites and not the interests of the workers. (The most recent trade deal we just barely scotched was of this ilk. It was a massive plan to protect the business interests of the elite. Nothing for ordinary folks was in it.)

Now you know why slavery was so popular and why other systems cannot compete with it; it is far too economical to not have to pay your workers (just paying them less is often enough incentive to pack up a factory and ship it out of country).

A news story I heard just yesterday was of a U.S. DEA agent (Drug Enforcement Agency) who was busting drug distributors for selling massive quantities of oxycodone (e.g. Oxycontin, Hillbilly Heroin, etc.) illegally. This had gotten so bad that people were dying in large numbers from overdoses (still are). Just as the agent was about to bust a major illegal distributor for a second time, his investigation slowed to molasses in January speed. Why? Well the drug manufacturers, who were making fortunes off of the illegal sales, got to the Justice Department of the Obama administration and the case pipeline got squeezed to a trickle. Cases were sent back for corroboration, more review, etc. To top it off, Congress actually passed a “drug enforcement enhancement law” which basically cut the DEA enforcement division off at the knees so they couldn’t pursue such cases. (Note: the Obama administration, not the Trump administration. Also note: Congress could cooperate and pass legislation, if it were important enough.)

Are we free? Only in so much as the elites are making money.

You will take note that the elites have recently made substantial efforts to “reform” our public education system. And if you think the likes of Bill Gates, Betsy DeVos, and Eli Broad have our children’s best interests at heart, you have been drinking their Kool-Aid. They are focused on schools making students “college and job ready!” Yep, they want to make sure that all of our children fit acceptable positions in the coerced labor scheme that is known as modern civilization.

So, how can we be free in this current “civilized” context? The only way to get close to anything like freedom for all, we must use the coercive power of the state against the elites. Estate taxes have to be large so fortunes cannot be inherited. Income taxes on very high incomes have to be so high as to discourage very high incomes. That would be a start. We basically need to reign in all elites.

October 10, 2017

Russian Facebook “Culture Hacking” Problem Solved!

Filed under: Culture,Politics,Technology — Steve Ruis @ 12:18 pm
Tags: , ,

It is now clear that Russian intelligence agents worked overtime harvesting Internet meme stories off of “social media” and rebranded them in an attempt to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.

Fearing that this practice has opened our elections to outside manipulation I have invested just over  4.2 milliseconds of my precious time to come up with a solution. Here it is:

People need to stop consulting Facebook for news.

That’s it.

I went a bit farther. I deleted my Facebook account (at least on the surface, apparently they store away all of your information in hidden locations to read late at night under their blanket).

Really, people! Facebook? For news? I understand that the “normal channels” for acquiring news have become compromised by corporate and political interests, but Facebook? Have you really considered what the name of the service implies? (Hint: it is site catering to narcicists.)

 

July 10, 2017

The Roswell Cover-up

Filed under: Politics,Technology — Steve Ruis @ 11:51 am
Tags: ,

I watched a UFO documentary the other day and I was impressed by one bit of that issue (into which I do not want to go) and that was the so-called Roswell Incident involved a government cover-up. The actual perpetrators fessed up, often on their death bed, but the government spin of the incident certainly involved the planting of false information and evidence.

If you are unaware of this incident, there was a crash landing near Roswell, NM. People rushing to the scene say what appeared to be a spaceship, at least some kind of aircraft. The Army (this was in 1947 before the creation of the Air Force) rushed in and confiscated the evidence and planted pieces of a broken surveillance balloon which they then photographed and fed the story to the press that the “crash” was just a balloon. (See the pretty pieces!)

There are many other aspects of this story, including accounts of bodies of aliens that do bear scrutiny but the point that drew me was the fact that the UFO experts said they understood and agreed with the government’s position to keep the incident, whatever it was, secret. This I find unfathomable. Maybe the UFO experts were tossing a sop to the government officials, but sheesh.

If this were not anything to fuss over, full disclosure of what actually happened could cause no harm, no? If, if there was an actual alien spacecraft that crashed there, it was insane to keep it secret. Think about it. If there is an alien race so advanced that they had mastered space travel (in 1947!), one can reasonable assume that they are substantially more advanced that we are. Consequently, it would take a total effort on the part of humanity to handle this challenge. This is not something where a single country says “Step back, I can handle this.”

There was also some evidence proffered that the government was reverse engineering the alien technology to advance our ability to deal with the aliens. If this were true, this is again not something where a single country says “Step back, I can handle this.” It would take a collaborative effort of everyone on the planet.

It would not be easy to bring the other countries in on the discovery. This was right on the heels of WW2 and feelings were more than a little raw, but so what? The added benefit is the shared knowledge that “we are not alone” and “we all need to work together.” Any parochial advantage gained is of little value if presented with a vastly superior alien adversary.

So, I do not believe government secrecy was the correct response. The fear that the public would panic, gives little credit to U.S. citizens. And, really, how long can you run around with your hair on fire? Most people are out of shape and will run out of panic energy in short order … and the smell of burning hair, eeew.

The secrecy blanket was deployed over decades and over many, many UFO incidents, some of the spin so ludicrous that the press and public started to scoff. All of the actual evidence could still be released, but once the government gets in the secrecy habit, it is hard to break.

October 28, 2016

WTF? Why Does Anyone Assume Emails are a Secure Form of Communication?

Filed under: Technology — Steve Ruis @ 1:07 pm
Tags: ,

In recent months the following agencies and persons have had their emails made public: Sony Pictures, Hillary Clinton, the Democratic National Committee, Coca-Cola, Vladimir Putin, . . . need I go on?

Why would anyone say anything compromising in an email?

First of all, the things being exposed in many of these emails don’t need saying. They are simply spleen venting or trivial. Of the things which are illegal or severely compromising, why would anyone put that in print?

Effing stupid if you ask me. (And, yes, I know no one is asking. Americans have had a long history of volunteering and I am just trying to keep up.)

September 5, 2016

Just So You Know

Screens In Schools Are a $60 Billion Hoax

September 4, 2016

The Decline of Journalism, Part 2 (Of a Long and Sad Series I am Afraid)

I have commented before about the decline of journalism. One aspect of that decline is the ascendance of journalist narratives, which occur when a journalist, rather than report the opinions of others more expert, inserts their own narratives, the ones that will get them advanced in their position at their workplace.

In a recent article on the Samsung cell phone recall, which centers on their batteries having a disturbing tendency to burst into flames, the journalist answers his own question “If the batteries are problematic, why do companies continue to use them?” with “Battery technology has been slow to advance, largely because the products must pass rigorous safety testing.”

So, the problem is not with manufacturing defects in batteries that have been used quite safely for well over a decade, it is “guv’mint regulation.” And if it weren’t for those pesky safety standards battery technology would zoom ahead.

What BS!

I remember reading a Scientific American article about the advent of solar power. One conclusion stuck in my memory, namely that solar power was set to explode as soon as a “more viable alternative to the lead-acid storage battery is developed.” The lead-acid storage battery is the one you have in your car. The article was dated 1906. When I was reading that article, we did not have NiCad (nickel-cadmium) batteries or lithium ion batteries; they hadn’t been invented yet. Interestingly, both of those fabulous “new” batteries, without which we would have no portable electronic devices at all, are variations on the same design as the zinc-carbon battery, the first design of “flashlight battery” invented decades ago. (The zinc-carbon battery was the first “dry cell” battery in that it was the first that didn’t have liquid sloshing around inside (like your car battery still does) and which dates back to the 19th century.)

There are no whiz-bang, new fangled, high tech batteries because we can’t figure out how to make them. All batteries are based upon the same thing: a chemical reaction that when placed in an appropriate container, can created electricity and, if designed correctly, can be recharged by forcing electricity back into the battery, causing the chemical reaction to reverse itself and so to be able to produce electricity again.

This is the inherent weakness of all of these batteries, the dependence upon chemical reactions, the chemicals of which refuse to stay put where we want them to be. This is why all such batteries wear out, why your car battery needs to replaced every five years or so (and has been for over a century), why “rechargeable batteries” aren’t rechargeable indefinitely.

This is why every rechargeable device has batteries that can be replaced easily (unless you buy Apple products). My wireless earphones have ordinary rechargeable batteries behind the earpieces. When they stop recharging, I can prize out the old batteries and pop in a fresh set and we are off and running again. You cell phone has a removable battery, it is not hard-wired in, for the same reason. (You probably haven’t done this because “you just gotta have a new phone” before the battery wears out.)

“Many of our problems would be solved if government
would just get out of the way and unleash good, old American knowhow.”

There have been advances in battery technology but the basic design has stayed the same, just new materials and design tweaks have made them lighter, able to pack more electrical charge in them, and to be recharged faster and for more cycles before replacement is needed.

It is not because of government safety regulations, for Pete’s sake!

I wonder why the drum would be beaten so strongly against “guv’mint regulayshuns?” The government is us. The regulations that exist are in place to safeguard us. Where they have been circumvented and bastardized through the political process, it has been at the behest of the plutocratic powers that be, not the Ralph Naders of today. (Ordinary people can’t get anything through Congress, you know that, yes?)

So, to create support for these anti-democratic usurpations of political power, a narrative is needed. Ah, here’s just the one: “many of our problems would be solved if government would just get out of the way and unleash good, old American know how.”

As just one example of  how “good, old American knowhow” is in the world of commerce, and in tune with the topic of “batteries” involves a California remanufacturer of car batteries. These batteries contain a goodly amount of the element lead, both in solid form (the electrodes) and in water solution. You know that lead is poisonous, don’t you? It has been known to be quite poisonous for centuries. If you are old enough you have seen lead banned from gasoline and house paint, etc.

Now, to rebuild these batteries, the old solution, containing a great deal of dissolved lead as well as sulfuric acid, had to be removed from them. Do you know what their disposal process was? Yep, they poured in on the ground and it sank in and voila, it was “gone.” They did this for over fifty years! When the “guv’mint” got around to investigating they found significant lead pollution of ground water over 150 miles away. When the company was accosted with this result, they did what you expected them to … they closed their doors and left it to the guv’mint, aka “us,” to clean up the mess.

This is what happens when “government just gets out of the way” of good, old American know how. What the “know how” really is, is knowing how to make money, and messes, and letting others clean up afterward.

And incompetent journalists are selling us this “system” as a good idea.

August 7, 2016

You’ve Been Waiting for This All Year …

Filed under: Sports,Technology — Steve Ruis @ 3:27 pm
Tags: , , ,

You know you want it!

All right boys and girls, we are into the second half of the baseball season and it is time for my annual rant regarding baseball. (I can hear the … delete, delete, deletes … and now that we are rid of those not interested, I continue.)

All the rage on TV broadcasts of baseball games are the graphic strike zones which claim to show where the ball was thrown on each pitch. There are a few problems with these graphics and I have already written about one (see “On Baseball from 4/24/2015 … that’s 24/4/2015 for you Euros out there).

Pitch Trax
Here is a screenshot showing the PitchTrax grid and the little balls that represent the places previous pitches passed near home plate.
The ball is about 3˝ in diameter and any part of it that intersects with the strike zone should be deemed a strike.

Here’s a definition of the strike zone:
Rule 2.00: The Strike Zone. The STRIKE ZONE is that area over home plate the upper limit of which is a horizontal line at the midpoint between the top of the shoulders and the top of the uniform pants, and the lower level is a line at the hollow beneath the kneecap.

And we must keep up with rule changes, so in 1996 the “Strike Zone” was expanded on the lower end, moving from the top of the knees to the bottom of the knees.

So if a ball is thrown by the pitcher from any angle (as long as he begins to throw with one foot touching the pitching rubber he can end up anywhere he can reach) if any part of the ball passes through the strike zone, it is supposed to be called a “strike.”

Now with regard to the grid in the little graphic, we have a problem. Home plate is 17 inches wide and hence so is the strike zone … for everybody, but the height of the zone varies with how tall the batter is. So, I decided to use my own body for an example. According to the written definition, my strike zone would be 17˝ wide and 30˝ high. This zone has an aspect ratio of 1.76 that is the height is 1.76 times larger than the width. I then took a plastic ruler and measured the little grids on my TV screen and this is what I got”

PitchTrax     1.35 : 1
tbStrike Zone     1.35 : 1

I must have got something wrong so I remeasured my own zone and it came out the same … and then I remembered that umpires don’t call balls and strikes according to the actual rule. The rule they follow is:
De facto Rule 2.00: The Strike Zone. The STRIKE ZONE is that area over home plate the upper limit of which is at the top of the uniform pants, and the lower level is a line at the bottom of the knees.

This practice has made the major leagues a “low ball league.” So I measured myself according to this de facto rule and I came up with an aspect ratio of about 1.32 : 1 which is close enough to the little screen grid.

But this doesn’t  actually solve my problem. My problem is they use the same grid for a tall player that they do for a short one. Here are the aspect ratios for the strike zone (= height / width) for the tallest and shortest players:

Tallest (roughly 6´8˝)     1.41 : 1
Shortest (roughly 5´7˝)     1.18 : 1

Now those numbers don’t make a very visual difference, so here are the two grids to the same scale graphically:

Strike ZonesThe strike zone on the left would be the one to use for a 5´7˝ player and the one on the right for a 6´8˝ player.
Note they are of quite a difference in height (but same in width as that is determined by the width of home plate, not the batter)
as well as the one for the taller player starts off farther from the ground (estimated).

I do realize that it is perfectly possible to map any of those grids onto the “standard” one they use for every batter, but that doesn’t give an accurate sense of where the ball actually was to most viewers making it easier for them to be disgruntled.

Also, I still wonder about the technology. I was watch Chris Sale of the Chicago White Sox pitch the other day and he is a left-hander who often throws side arm. This means the ball is coming from about three feet to the left of a line drawn outward from the center of the plate. The camera is set up in centerfield shooting over the shoulder of the pitcher (so the batter and catcher can be seen) but fairly high up and to the right. (I am guessing it is to the right because most pitchers are right-handed.) So, Mr. Sale throws one of his wicked sliders which curves from left-to-right as well as travels over 90 mph and the “strike tracking software” throws up a ball symbol exactly where the catcher caught the ball, which was just off the grid. The pitch was called a strike, correctly so, for the pitch to land in the catcher’s glove … three feet beyond the plate on the outside edge of the grid it must have traveled through the grid up near home plate. The announcers reacted that the umpire had given the pitcher a gift by calling a pitch that was outside of the strike zone a strike … based upon a glance at the tbStrike Zone. Why the position of the ball symbol on the grid matched the position of the catchers mitt, which was physically impossible for the ball to do unless it started to curve back to the left when it reached the plate is puzzling.

I do not trust the accuracy of these gizmos and for all I know they could have an intern with a light pen watching a TV screen and then touching the grid on a tablet with a light pen, rather than the complicated radar systems they say they have.

I would prefer that they explain their technology better especially why the grid is the same for all players when the rules say each player has his own strike zone.

 

 

 

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