Radioactivity Art

Greenpeace photographer Greg McNevin has created a beautiful series of photographs based on walking around areas formerly contaminated by the ongoing Chernobyl and Fukushima nuclear disasters with an LED stick connected to a geiger counter. It’s unfortunate that most people won’t be able to see the art past the politics, but I think it has value in both spheres.

Evolutionary Psychology, Memes and the Origin of War

Somebody (possibly Henson himself) posted Evolutionary Psychology, Memes and the Origin of War over at Kuro5hin in 2006. I had no idea Kuro5hin still existed, and Henson’s paper could use some consideration of group selection, but anyway it’s a worthwhile and controversial read.

It seems to me that if Henson’s basic thesis is right, our current global political situation is not just eerily similar to that of the mid-1930s, it’s actually the same phenomenon – so we better get it under control.

Officer Involved

Radio station KPCC has put together an impressive expose of the Los Angeles Police Department. Apparently, if you want to kill unarmed, non-violent people without fear of prosecution, the LAPD has a career option for you!

Maybe that’s why police officers are far more likely to abuse their children and partners than the rest of us – because we’re attracting and selecting the worst possible people to serve as peacekeepers? Or is it even worse than that; does police culture actually create monsters from people who honestly wanted to do good?

“The infliction of physical punishment is not every man’s job, and naturally we were only too glad to recruit men who were prepared to show no squeamishness at their task. Unfortunately, we knew nothing about the Freudian side of the business, and it was only after a number of instances of unnecessary flogging and meaningless cruelty that I tumbled to the fact that my organization had been attracting all the sadists in Germany and Austria without my knowledge for some time past. It had also been attracting unconscious sadists, i.e. men who did not know themselves that they had sadist leanings until they took part in a flogging. And finally it had actually been creating sadists. For it seems that corporal chastisement ultimately arouses sadistic leanings in apparently normal men and women. Freud might explain it.” — Rudolf Diels, as quoted in Larson’s “In the Garden of Beasts”.

India re-legalizes santhara

Jainism is arguably the oldest religion continuously practiced by mankind. Arguably, because Hindus say their tradition is older, and will often claim that Jainism is merely a splinter sect of Hinduism. Jains typically disagree, but Jains are non-violent and nominally atheists – so they don’t get a lot of respect from the violent theists that control most of the world. In any case both religions are so ancient that their origin stories are unlikely to have escaped embellishment by later generations.

Anyway, the BBC is reporting that India’s Supreme Court has revoked their earlier decision that made it illegal to voluntarily stop eating and drinking as a spiritual practice. Since this is often the only avenue a bedridden, terminally ill person has to gain release from incessant suffering, I have to applaud.

How many unemployed?

In this post-Reagan era, you can use the Government’s “official” count of unemployment – which is broken up into categories from U1 to U6, but everybody uses the U3, currently 5.3% – or you can check out John Williams’ Shadow Government Statistics, with puts the current count at 23%. Williams attempts to use the pre-1990 method of calculation (which is difficult because the government is trying really hard not to obtain anything resembling real unemployment figures) so that you can compare modern unemployment figures with historical data.

Slate shilling for GMOs

William Saletan, author of Bearing Right, has a lengthy column up on Slate explaining how purposely withholding information from common folks like me in order to fatten the coffers of giant agribusinesses is really, really totally morally OK, because Golden Rice. It makes some good points and provides lots of information, but ultimately reads like a catalog of formal logic errors papered over with pseudo-moralistic posturing.

The people who push GMO labels and GMO-free shopping aren’t informing you or protecting you. They’re using you. They tell food manufacturers, grocery stores, and restaurants to segregate GMOs, and ultimately not to sell them, because people like you won’t buy them. They tell politicians and regulators to label and restrict GMOs because people like you don’t trust the technology. They use your anxiety to justify GMO labels, and then they use GMO labels to justify your anxiety. Keeping you scared is the key to their political and business strategy.

Oh, my support for product labeling, including GMO labeling, is me using people. Because I’m the one with a profit motive? Seriously? People are supposed to believe that generic salarymen somehow magically make money by wanting labeling, and that food mega-producers are living in such abject poverty that they simply can’t afford to print meaningful labels? Really?

Wait, didn’t big corporate food producers also oppose the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act, and the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act? Despite the history of food and drug regulation in the USA, we are to believe that they oppose labeling because of their inherent saintliness, and it has nothing to do with their profits? We’re supposed to take seriously claims that 21st century science is too backward and primitive to define a labeling regime that would be of any use?

GMO shills commonly ignore all the regular everyday people who just want informative labeling, and characterize their opposition as being solely composed of loony Californian anti-vaccine anti-GMO crystal worshippers. Saletan goes on from there to paint the completely amoral American food industry (despite many examples of what typical behavior is when regulation is lax) as merely timid, brownbeaten victims whose great flaw is unwillingness to force GMOs into every market.

On one side is an army of quacks and pseudo-environmentalists waging a leftist war on science. On the other side are corporate cowards who would rather stick to profitable weed-killing than invest in products that might offend a suspicious public.

After reading the entire article, I was left with the impression that Saletan is saying labels are bad, it’s just too hard to give poor people carrots, never mind that white rice is a cultural shibboleth, Chewbacca is a wookiee, and therefore you don’t need to know anything, and if we label food products so that people can make an informed choice the terrorists win. It’s exactly like global politics… or CRELM toothpaste!

Group dynamics and prototype theories of cognitive neuroscience

Humans are pack animals. They need to gather according to shared traits and then see an enemy of everyone who does not fit.

— Some geeky guy on Slashdot.

Computer scientists are taught classical categorization, which has little correspondence to how our brains actually categorize. The Aristotelian “necessary and sufficient” check-lists of traits, on which we’ve built giant monoliths of computer code (hello, Active Directory) and theory (hello, cladistic phylogeny) are something like the phlogiston theory; a bluntly workable model, that lets you get things done, but also fundamentally wrong, and thus a limitation on what can be understood and predicted.

Research that’s been ongoing since the 1960s or earlier, by people like Eleanor Rosch and Paul Kay, and later George Lakoff and Ronald Langacker, has provided significant amounts of data showing our brains do not assign people to us/them categories because they have a set of traits that we’ve understood and identified. In neurological reality, we assign people to categories based on how closely we think they resemble one or more prototypes, which might be real people (a group leader, typically) or an idealized belief or perception of how men and women should be. The prototype can be fixed (like, say, Jesus) or constantly changing (like, say, a political candidate).

There will always be someone in the group who least resembles the prototype, so there is always a scapegoat available if there’s not enough food or someone needs to take the blame for some unavoidable accident. There may also be anti-prototypes and whoever most resembles that person is less “in the group” than someone who is otherwise the same but lacks these correspondences with the anti-prototypes.

In a strange way this confirms one of Cipolla’s famous “basic laws of human stupidity“; since we’ve evolved a categorization method that mainly serves to quickly identify who gets thrown off the sled when the wolves are catching up, of course there will always be more than enough people to fill that role. If you need a scapegoat, you’ll always be able to identify someone as the stupid person responsible; our brains are biased to work that way.

The problem with privilege metaphors

It seems to me that we are all the recipients of unearned privilege. You were formed in the womb of your birth mother, to her great discomfort and inconvenience; and obviously nothing you did yourself made you worthy of this privilege – it was a gift, literally the gift of life itself, that you received for free. You had already been a freeloading moocher for nine months before you were even born!

But not every birth is equal. Recent research claims that poverty diminishes mental capacities from birth. It’s fairly clear that the richer your parents and community are, the more unearned privileges you will eventually enjoy – for example, the children of Barack Obama enjoy vastly more privilege than the children of impoverished Arkansas sharecroppers, or the children of impoverished Native Americans on the Res.

Right Wing radio pundits like to split common people along color lines by screaming of “black criminality” and “black on black violence”, but criminality and violence correlate far more with poverty and lack of opportunity than with any skin color. Left Wing bloggers like to split common people on color lines by screeching “white privilege” – as though privilege did not correlate with wealth, and as if there were no privileged people of color.

These talking heads, Right and Left, are of their own free will servile to the ruling class. The .001% of humanity whose titanic wealth makes them immune to law would prefer that the rest of us split on color lines, gender lines, religion, anything that will keep us from uniting. If we could put aside our differences, it might interfere with the continuing concentration of the Earth’s vast resources into fewer and fewer hands – or even reverse that trend.

The US Government and You

“If you treat federal law the way the secretary of state does, you go to prison.
If you treat IRS rules the way the IRS treats IRS rules, you go to prison
If you treat immigration controls the way our immigration authorities do, you go to prison.
If you’re as careless in your handling of firearms as the ATF is, you go to prison.
If you cook your business’s books the way the federal government cooks its books, you go to prison.”

Courtesy of some guy at Slashdot.

know the dream

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. offered this country a different kind of vision.

The Deacons for Defense and Justice offered a righteous resistance to oppression, by any means necessary, including lethal violence. The Weather Underground declared bloody war on the US Government and capitalism. The Panthers fought for a vision of equality that endorsed a racially separated nation.

But Dr. King marched with whites, and Jews, and with people so mixed that there was no place for them in a world of stark color-lines. He gave us a vision of a country where people’s opportunities were governed by the content of their character, and not by the color of their skin.

Sadly, Dr. King’s heirs aren’t as admirable. Their insistence on standing as gatekeepers of his legacy means that I can’t make a copy of the “I have a dream” video and host it on my site here. But I can link to a transcript, and to a Youtube video that probably will get taken down.

Every American should listen to this speech today. I’ve heard it dozens of times, and that’s not enough.

Unexpected fairness from UK PM

British Prime Minister David Cameron on the BBC’s desire to exclude the British Green Party from televised debates: “[The BBC] can’t have some minor parties in and not other parties in”.

“The Greens have a member of parliament, they beat the Liberal Democrats in the last national election – the European Elections, so I don’t see how you can have UKIP and not the Greens. That is my very strong opinion.”

BBC political editor Nick Robinson claims the PM’s private view is “if we, the Conservatives, are to get hurt by the people to our right, UKIP, then Labour and the Liberal Democrats should get hurt by people to their left, the Green Party”.

Sounds to me like Robinson & the BBC are at least as guilty of manipulation as Cameron is. In any case, Cameron says he will not debate if the Greens are excluded. Good show, lad.

Dumb and Dumber

I am not so secretly amused by the emergence of the term “warmist“.

“Global warming” is a dumb name for a single, highly academic globally averaged measure of one of the many harmful effects of mankind’s pollution of our environment. Focusing on global warming is like focusing on smoke damage to your drapes during a house fire. Pollution is the problem to be solved.

The big polluters are very pleased that the rest of us are wasting time calling each other names instead of looking for a sensible common ground.

No “right to water” in Detroit

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes on Monday refused to block the city from shutting off water to delinquent customers for six months, saying there is no right to free water and Detroit can’t afford to lose the revenue.

Ever since a bunch of well-meaning idiots who don’t understand basic math or science (otherwise known as the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights) declared that clean drinking water is a fundamental human right, activists have been trying to force people and organizations that provide access to safe drinking water to destroy themselves, apparently in the honest belief that inexhaustible supplies of safe water can be magically delivered to every single human being that might ever exist, free of cost, so it can’t matter if we wreck every existing system that actually provides water to people.

All these people have their hearts in the right place, I’m sure, but they have apparently misplaced their brains. The complex interweaving of ecosystems that makes up the terrestrial environment required to support the human race cannot sustain wholesale reallocation of water based on arbitrary human population densities; if a “right to water” actually existed, we’d eventually have to destroy huge swaths of riparian ecosystems in order to keep human desert-dwellers alive. Not to mention the collapse of every existing water allocation system – since they are all based on the idea that human beings will have to fight, work, or inherit wealth in order to obtain water.

The worst thing that could happen to these people (and everybody else) would be for them to succeed, condemning rich and poor alike to a global environmental catastrophe in the name of watering the poor.

Duck and Cover

For some reason I always remember this as “Tommy the Turtle”. Good thing youtube has a copy to set me straight.

This is from 1951, but these kind of films were still being shown in the late 1960s and early 70s in Delaware elementary schools. In the first couple of grades, they had us crouch under the desks with our hands behind our heads for A-bomb drills, but later they started having us go into the hallways and huddle against the walls. Pretty much the same as California earthquake drills, only with deadly fallout expected afterwards.

John Carney is bragging.

So what, you ask, is US Congressman John Carney, D-DE, bragging about?

Here, let him speak for himself:

Last week in Congress, a bill I introduced to save 500 Delaware jobs passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 268-150. The bill fixed an oversight in the Affordable Care Act that would have put American companies at a disadvantage to their foreign competitors, and put 500 Delaware jobs on the line. Senators Carper and Coons are now working hard to get the bill passed in the Senate.

That’s an interesting way to talk about what happened. Here’s another way.

Under the bill, any insurance plan for an American who is out of the country for 90 days or 15 trips or a foreigner working in the United States who is gone from his or her country for 90 days or 15 trips would be exempt from the Affordable Care Act. Their families would be exempt, too. That means they are exempt from all of it — from requiring young adults under age 26 to stay on a parents plans to the new mandatory coverage benefits. And the health plans wouldn’t have to pay ACA-related taxes and fees.

Labor and immigration groups, such as the AFL-CIO and the SEIU, oppose the bill, too. They say it would encourage companies to hire foreign workers instead of Americans, because they wouldn’t have to provide the same comprehensive coverage. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce supported the bill.

“This bill contains too many loopholes that amount to an extraordinary bailout for insurance companies,” Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) said on the House floor.

So why did Democrat John Carney spend three years subverting his own party’s efforts, against the expressed will of Democrat President Barack Obama? And why would he brag about this to me, a registered Republican?

Well, I guess money talks, and Cigna walks.

Health insurance giant Cigna Corp. is using the threat of 500 Delaware layoffs to press a demand that federal policymakers exempt their Claymont-based international insurance business from new rules in last year’s federal health care law.

The demand from Cigna, a $21.3 billion Philadelphia-based company, comes just months after Gov. Jack Markell’s administration awarded the company $2.4 million in grants to keep those employees in Delaware — and add to the staff here.

Markell, economic development director Alan Levin, and members of Delaware’s congressional delegation are now working on a fix for Cigna and other insurance companies who offer similar “expatriate” health insurance plans.

So lessee; first, Cigna took 2.4 million dollars of Delaware tax dollars in a deal to keep 500 jobs in Delaware, right, got it… then they threatened to dump those 500 jobs if our senators and congressman didn’t hack out an exemption in Obamacare so that migrant workers would not have to be insured (they are “expatriates” after all)… right, OK, I think I’ve got it. The goal is to use the tax money of people living in Delaware to make it uneconomical for businesses to actually hire those same people? So that more Delawareans will be out of work, in order to save jobs, of course. Then Delaware won’t be making as much tax revenue and the state might have to raise taxes to pay for Cigna’s next round of corporate welfare, oh, excuse me, “grants”? No, I guess I’m not really getting this at all.

It’s said that one shouldn’t assume malice where incompetence is a sufficient explanation. And after all, Jack Markell seems a nice enough man. But at this point the government of the First State has displayed such an incredible level of fiscal incompetence that it might be comforting to suppose they are a bunch of crooks – rather than the chuckle-headed corporate dupes they appear to be. Did I mention Cigna’s making record profits and also refusing record numbers of insurance claims? It’s a good thing they’ve got John Carney, Chris Coons, Tom Carper and Jack Markell looking out for their interests, I guess.