Sunday, June 29, 2014

Bringing the Cosmos Down to Earth

The final episode of Cosmos, aired and on the whole, I found it lacking.  I learned a few things but most of it was high school or a 101 science course.  I would have loved it many, many years ago as I did the original.  Most of today’s science or history documentaries are targeted to a younger audience.  When are they going to come up with a science channel for scientists?

I noticed a spin or slant to Neil deGrasse Tyson’s pitch of the Cosmos.  The shows continually seem to want to explain or counter the ideas and prejudges of those that believe in the voodoo science of creationism or that science is mostly wrong in some way.

By the way, science is mostly wrong.  Since most of the universe is dark matter, and the whole concept of dark matter is theoretical, it is probably more wrong thanright.  However, the spin coming from the Cosmos show was in defense of what we do know and is no longer a theory – scientific facts.

Evolution is not a theory: it is a fact.  How particular species evolved is theoretical, but the probabilistic trail and error of successful mutation of the DNA molecule is mathematical and a fact.  How life started is still an unknown – still one of the great mysteries of science and Cosmos brushed on it.  Theories abound with no provable (repeatable) facts.  The old 1950’s lighting in a jar of swampy like water experiment produced the building blocks of life, however, no matter how many time it was done, no life was ever built.

A lot of affirmative active and pro-active spin for minorities and women.  The recognition of those discovers and developers who are hidden in history – and were unknown because of their cultural situation – is needed, so thank you Cosmos.

The special effects were great, but a lot of cartoon-like animation of noteworthy scientists was a bit much. What else has the documentarians got.  Old, bad photographs, drawings, and scenes of where they lived and worked are not much better nor are re-enactors, so cartoons of early astronomers, physicists, and scientists in general was an interesting approach.

As for the voodoo science of creationism, our ability to understand the world around us is one of God’s greatest gifts and to misuse it in voodoo creationism is an insult to God. Belief in science is a matter of fact. It can be proven and disproven.  Belief in God is a matter of faith, and it can neither be proven nor disproven with facts.  When facts are mixed with faith, the result is no longer faith. It is something else that can lead to things like ethnic cleansing, lynchings, and one notable crucifixion.

We cannot know the Giver using the gift.

As for knowing the Cosmos, we are no different than when we stopped being hunter-gathers and settled down into what would become civilizations.  Even then, those that we would call geeky or nerdy today noticed over time the sun, moon, and stars sat and rose at predictable places on the horizon.  They saw the cycle.  They were sharp enough to figure that the stars sat and rose at exactly the same point on the horizon every four years plus one day. They noticed that five stars wandered the sky in relation to the other stars, but over time, their wandering became predictable, also.

Although their math was spot on, they could not explain why.  They concocted all manner of theories to explain it.  However, their theories were hampered by the observation that from their point of view, the earth appeared to be the center of the universe, and everything revolved around the earth, and so this concept was at the center of their theories to explain the movement of observable universe.  Of course they were wrong, but they got the moon right; it does revolve around the earth.

Let us hope in our theories of the cosmos such as the big band, dark matter and energy, and particle physics, we got a higher percentage right.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

The News Hole in the NSA Spying Story

The latest stories on the great NSA’s scandal nationalistic corruptible (I’m looking for the right word here.) scheme of spying on all Americans leaves a big hole in my understanding of what is going on.  I don’t follow news events like this especially close, reading every story that comes out.  I prefer to wait for those liberally biased news organizations to sum it up for me.  Frontline had a very informative summation and at this time, NBC’s exclusive on Edward Snowden is all over the news.  What I know so far
  1. NSA pulled the data on all Americans, not just those living outside America, or communicating into or out of the U.S., but everything everywhere on everybody.
  2. NSA did not gather the data.  My email provider, my cell phone provider, AT&T, Google, Facebook, and any other major Internet service providers collected the data.  NSA just harvested the data, or as it was put in the Frontline story, “rode piggyback on what Google was doing”.
  3. Google kept quiet about what NSA was doing because it did not want users to know what Google was doing.  I suspected this spying from what my Google searches returned, but this news confirmed it, and Google wasn’t looking for terrorist.
  4. I learned a lot more about Edward Snowden than I care to know.

The fact that the NSA is spying on foreigners is not news.  That’s what they are supposed and expected to do.  That’s their job.  The particular foreigners they spied on made news but the fact they were doing it is not news.

As far as Snowden complaining within the system, others did.  The Frontline story on Snowden and the NSA, showed that even a hint of dissatisfaction with what your organization is doing is a career ender.  Several NSA staffers had their lives and families ruined or at least greatly stressed because the agencies thought they might be the ones leaking information to the New York Times and Washington Post.  And after their lives were ruined, the case against them was drop or forgotten.  Yea, why didn’t Snowden take that route?  Give me a break.

Reminds me of the story on Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers in 1971, and his treason declared a mistrial after Nixon’s White House Plumbers involvement came out during the Watergate Scandal.  Those were some juicy news days.  That news round is also an example of how the current NSA spying could get ugly.  That power in the hands of the wrong politicians could lead to one of those scary Orwellian worlds.  Snowden could always come back to the U.S. and depend on the government to screw up the case against him just as they did Ellsberg.

Besides, what’s he got to look forward to other than prison or life in Russia?  There’s a difference?  Just wait until the notoriety or usefulness wears off.

Although not the biggest new hole in this story, NSA is not the top dog spy in the hut for intelligence.  From what I’ve read and seen on TV, that would go to Russia, Britain, or Israel.  I love the story of the Russian bug in the U.S. Great Seal that British intelligence had to explain how it worked to the American intelligence after they finally found it.  And you’re worried about NSA’s technique?

The great big hole in this story, the “news” that could make Snowden a traitor and NSA heroes instead of what appears to be in the current spin would be how effective was NSA’s spying on all of us Americans.  How many terrorists were stopped before they could kill Americans?  NSA did not stop the Boston Bombers, the Shoe Bomber, or the Underwear Bomber.  Did their work lead to the catching of anybody?  All I ever heard in that Frontline piece was they stopped a terrorist who was going to bring down the Brooklyn Bridge with a blowtorch.

That’s it!  For all that spying, all that riding piggyback on Google, all the listening in on phone calls, text messages, and email, all we got is one crazy that the NYPD would have gotten anyway.  I’ve seen several stories of attempts to blow up Time Square.  Did NSA contribute anything in catching the perpetrators?  I thought it was old fashion police or FBI sting work, but if NSA helped in anyway, now is the time to speak up. 

Some reporter should ask that question, or the more significant question news-wise: how effective was all that spying?  Specifics please.  Who or even how many terrorists did you catch? 

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Say’s Law Holds True - Eventually

Paul Krugman’s Jan 16th column lamented a recent re-validation of Say’s Law in regards to Europe’s recovery from America’s 2008 stock market crash.
His juicy quote was from François Hollande, the president of France: “It is upon supply that we need to act,” and he further declared that “supply actually creates demand.”
Krugman reference another site (blog) that drew the same conclusion on Say’s Law.  Here I learned Say was French, and that Say’s Law is taught as gospel at the college where Hollande went.  I couldn’t believe it:  Says Law is still taught – and not just mentioned like the old theory that the world is flat and the center of the universe – and Hollande had a college education.  Say's staying power is still being discussed, follow along with Google.

What Krugman and Francesco Saraceno, the other economist whose site is hyperlinked above, don’t get is that Say’s Law will hold true.  Supply will create a demand in the long, long run.

Supply does create demand – eventually – but it will be a sluggish, struggling economy, which by the way, we may very well be seeing lo these five and a half years from the last crash.  Current economic reports are showing Say’s Law doing its best.  A subsistence economy is all the supply siders are going to get us. 

Basically, those that have been able to hold on to a job and feel they have weather the economic recession will venture into the economy and make necessary purchases to sustain their subsistence position.  It’s not much of an economy but it is Say’s at his best.

If supply side economics was effectively valid, merchants should act like it is December all year round.  Increased inventory, employees, and hours, plus bargain   prices and sales specials would create the annual Christmas demand all year round – that is if supply created the boom in sales at the end of the year and not the demand.  The annual Christmas business boom is Keynesian demand and not Say’s Law of supply side economics. 

In the U.S., social security, welfare payments, unemployment relief, food stamps, and all the other government assistance even including Obama’s underfunded stimulus package kept the recession from becoming Great Depression II.  Times have changed since the Great Depression and the constant and automatic government payments affect the economy in ways the latest pundits fail to notice.

It’s the demand not the supply that counts.  If you have the means to produce supply, which in the current political fashion is referred to as “job creators”, you would be stupid to invest in today’s economy.  Hold your money, put it in derivatives, invest off shore as one notable presidential candidate did, but do not invest it in developing supply until the supply side economy slowly, sluggishly turns around.

As long as the U.S. and Europe stay with Say, we can expect only a subsistence economy.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Gates to Sunni-Shia War

Commenting on a book I have not read and will most probably not read, am I committing some sort of journalist faux pas? 
Dam the ethical torpedoes! Full Speed ahead!
I’ve been banging away all over the Internet about Gates new book on his job at Defense.  Most of the discussion – the hard news reports – has been on Gates evaluation of Bush and then Obama, their staffs, and individuals like Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden.  In book reviews all over the Internet, Gates tells us a lot of things but he does not illuminate on one big stupid decision – the one the first G Bush decided not to do – which was to invade Iraq and overthrow Saddam.  As thought democracy would be introduced into Iraq if we got rid of Saddam, the second G Bush – and his handler, D Chaney – may have done way more than they could even in their tiny brains ever imagined.  
We, the U.S., the Bushes, the Neocons (Remember them?  They predated the Tea Party, and they were big, really big, that is, back then.), the Cheney-Rumsfeld debacle of a strategy may have started the great, mythological, and legendary Sunni-Shia War with the overthrow of Saddam.  We started a war that will go on for years, and will affect everyone in the World, no matter your religions beliefs. 
The Syrian war is not a war of independence, or the rights of individuals groups, democracy, or freedom.  It is a war between the Sunni and the Shia and who will control Syria.  And with Iran ensconced in Iraq (thanks to us) and the backing from the Sunni Middle Eastern countries for groups like Al-Qaeda and those groups that represent Sunni interests, we got ourselves a war with no end.  The only question is where will it happen next.
Every event needs to be held up to the Sunni-Shia benchmark to understand what is going on from the eastern shores of the Med to Iran.  The U.S., Europe, and Israelis are not the ones who should be worrying about Iran’s development of nuclear capability.  How ironic:  A promise of 40 virgins causes one very young Arabian boy to strap fissional material to his body and detonate it in a Middle Eastern City.
Libya’s problem is tribal, Egypt’s problems are internal, but the Middle to Eastern Middle East is going to erupt in the infamous – 1,000 years in the waiting - Sunni-Shia War.  All thanks to us, and somehow, Gates didn’t mention this.  Go Figure.  

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Why the Y?

Maureen Dowd opinionated sarcastically in her column recently about the incredibly shrinking Y chromosome, the male DNA molecule.  She sat in a classroom at MIT on the subject “Are Males Really Necessary?”
She repeated two questions from the class:
“Since only females can give birth, why is it of any advantage to the species to have a second sex?”
“Why should nature bother with males?”
MoDo referred to the differences in reproduction between sex as meiosis and cloning as parthenogenesis.  Like her, I’ll just go with the common terms.
Answer to the first question: none to little advantage for “a” species.  Once a species has evolved, cloning would keep life going generation after generation almost as well as sexual mixing of genes. 
The advantage comes during a plague or pandemic.  We can see this in history for groups isolated or remote when exposed to an infectious agent.  Because of restricted selection and the resulting interbreeding within secluded group, their offspring are very similar to clones, and a contagious disease could wipeout the entire group.  Whether the infection was newly introduced or some local virus that mutated or evolved, the results are the same.  Those pesky viruses swap genes, and any species that mingles its gene has the advantage over those that don’t.
As to the answer to the second question, nature does not “bother with males”, their presents takes advantage of evolution’s driving mechanism.  They are there because nature chose sex overwhelmingly compared to cloning.  Sex was one of nature’s greatest invention – or mutation, since only humans invent or create what was not there before.  Nature does not create; it just rolls the dice.  Winning numbers keep rolling; losing number go extinct.  Sex not only survived, it exploited evolution like no life had before.   Speciation occurred because of the greater chance of a successful mutation with sex.
Now it is true that in most species, males are only sperm providers.  Females do everything else.  Not all females reproduce but mothers, daughters, aunts, and female cousins run the pack, pride, and hive in most species.  Male dominates in our species is the rare but not an entirely singular exception.
The important issue not mentioned in MoDo’s column or in the MIT class she attended is the fact that while males are not longer needed, neither are females.   True, only females can carry life from conceptions to birth, but those days are numbered.  We are on the verge of doing gestations within a machine.  Not only males are obsolete; but so will be females, probably before the end of this century. 
While males and sex was chosen by natural selection, evolution has ended.  Our species has taken over evolution.  It was the survival of the fittest; it is now survival as we see fit.  We have driven some species to extinction, and through agricultural and cultivation, altered selected species to fit our needs, mostly for food, but also for fun and our own amusement. 
Now, we are of doing this not by selectively breeding the traits we want but by altering the DNA molecule directly.  We do not know exactly how DNA works in detail, which gene or combination of genes produces specific traits, behaviors, or working body parts, but we will eventually.  Like producing babies outside a woman’s body, this too will occur in this century.  We could choose to clone females or we could clone males – or both or something in-between.  Not why the Y, but why the XX, also.