Well said

U.S. Falling Into the Islamic State’s Trap

This post almost exactly echos my thoughts about these ISIS (or whatever they call themselves) dewds in Iraq: they are going to fade away if they can’t get the US to attack them. The average Joe and Jill in the US has not the faintest idea of the chaos in the middle east, the competing loyalties, the family ties that go back thousands of years, the fact that there hydraulic despotism (literal as well as figurative) all around the region due to its arid nature, etc. Also, the average Joe/Jill won’t take a few minutes to do any research to see if that spouts from the mouths of our ‘great leaders’ is anything but nonsense, the most glaring that Saddam was in bed with al-Qaeda (exactly the opposite: he hunted down and exterminated any trace of it he could find; the fact that despite his efforts there were some members in Iraq shouldn’t come to any surprise to anyone who isn’t surprised that Ted Kaczynski spent 17 years bombing people right here in the good old USofA). As such Americans have this rather quaint idea that unlike, say, the gangs in LA, the mob in Chicago, etc., the Middle East is a monolithic entity and only simple things happen. Heck, just drive up into the mountains of West Virginia and check out the feuds that ‘only’ go back a hundred years or so. Why should we expect a region that is literally the seat of civilization be immune from such things? So, the region is entirely fragmented by competing groups with various levels of influence and reach and after spending trillions of dollars and inflaming millions of people (and creating 10′s of thousand more terrorists!) by elevating Osama and al-Qaeda to the top of the pile, now we are going to do the courtesy of shifting our efforts to magnifying ISIS instead. How many trillions will we spend making ISIS the rally point for all the new terrorists we will be creating as we go about dropping bombs in this highly volatile region?

Sometimes I have to wonder if this really is an emotional knee-jerk (emphasis on ‘jerk’) reaction by our ‘great leaders’ or if it is really part of a 0.1% agenda to keep the (borrowed; anyone notice that once again we are going to ‘war’ without paying for it?) money flowing into the military-intelligence industrial complex? Sometimes I almost think Osama was being paid by the 0.1% to stir everything up. Perhaps those wearing tin foil hats have it right and we are all just bizarre puppets in some even more bizarre version of the Matrix, except we aren’t in a computer generated world where the computers harvesting our bio-electricity, we are in a world generated by the elite and they are harvesting our money.

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Legalized theft

The real Olive Garden scandal: Why greedy hedge funders suddenly care so much about breadsticks
Remember that “hilarious” report last week ripping the chain eatery to pieces? The back story will infuriate you

This is really the core problem with our ‘capitalistic’ society, the thieves have been put in charge. I recall reading a case study when I was back in MBA school, more than 20 ago, which was already many years old already: a predatory investor had figured out that some lumber company (long since gone now, I imagine, but I recall it being a well-known name at the time) that owned thousands of acres of mature forest carried the land on the books for the original purchase value. Realizing that the stock was grossly undervalued as a consequence, he got a bunch of cronies to pool their money to purchase a controlling interest in the stock (which is almost always way, way less than 51%, sometimes can be as little as 1 or 2%), then immediately had the land appraised which caused the stock price to skyrocket. Not content with that, he then proceeded to have all the mature forest (and some of the immature forest) logged all at once, which not only destroyed the assets of the company but caused the price of lumber to crash. Then he sold the stock before anyone was smart enough to do the calculations and realize the company was now valueless and made a humongous pile of money. That the company was completely destroyed and the livelihood of thousands of people permanently thrown in the crapper was totally fine, it was all about the bucks. This guy (don’t remember his name now, but it wasn’t like it was a secret) was sort of the trigger that lead to the massive amount of ‘corporate raiding’ that been going on since and is manifest today as the hedge funds that pick off poorly controlled companies (generally meaning that there is no committed executive with lots of stock and those stock holders that do own large blocks don’t care about the longevity of the company) that are undervalued for some reason and destroy them in the name of ‘capitalism’.

Ain’t America Grand?

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Not so bad after all…

Crystals Reveal Early Earth Wasn’t as ‘Hellish’ as Previously Thought

It is increasingly being held that there was water on the surface of the early Earth, possibly even before the impact that created the moon. During the late heavy bombardment models indicate that despite the wide prevalence of a molten surface on the Earth, there were locations that would have been wet and thus hospitable to early life. It is highly unlikely that we could have survived, but there are plenty of members of the Archaea that would have found the conditions perfect for life (I once worked with an organism that was most happy in dilute battery (sulfuric) acid at 70 C (158 F), for instance). As such, there was probably life from shortly after the Earth cooled from the moon forming impact. Complex life probably took so long to evolve afterwards because the only organisms to survive the late heavy bombardment were probably the ones with the most stable genetic material. For instance I worked with an organism, Nostoc commune I believe, that I was told had DNA so stable that some estimates for the rate of mutation were close to zero, so the organism today is nearly identical with that from a billion years ago. I feel that had the Earth avoided the late heavy bombardment life might not have taken several billion years to evolve into multicellular organisms. Who knows, intelligence might have evolved hundreds of millions of years ago…

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Artificial spleen

Next Generation: Blood-Cleansing Device
An external device that mimics the structure of a spleen can cleanse the blood of rats with acute sepsis, ridding the fluid of pathogens and toxins.

A cool idea, but an interesting caveat:

Fink cautioned that bacterial resistance is a theoretical possibility. “Using this device will remove bacteria that sticks best to MBL, which might select for bacteria that don’t stick well to MBL,” he said. “To underestimate the bacteria would be a mistake.”

I was also amused to note the inclusion of ‘HIV’ and the even more topical ‘Ebola’; got to spew as many buzzwords as possible to maximize your chance of getting into the mainstream press and all the attention that would lead to! Of course, I would do exactly the same, so I can’t blame them…

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Is Skynet really something to worry about?

When machines outsmart humans

I suppose someone should worry about this sort of thing, but much like the The Cambridge Project for Existential Risk I think it is largely a total waste of time (for society, of course; for the individuals involved it can be a very amusing way to pass the time). Once we as a society have reached the point where we are capable of producing AI that is capable of out smarting us, it isn’t likely to happen just once. Indeed, given that technology builds on itself, it is highly likely that many (dozens, perhaps more) groups will achieve the same breakthrough at just about the same time, so what is the chance that _all_ of these groups are working with the same rule book? Even in the unlikely event that that is the case, what is the chance they are doing it correctly (meaning in such a way to avoid the extinction of the human species)? I babble about ‘Skynet‘ from time to time, it is really just a tack-on to the general apocalypse I run off about from time to time.

Anyway, I firmly believe that machine intelligence (e.g., that smarter than we) is inevitable in the not-to-distant future. Unless we kill ourselves with a “12 Monkey’s” event, of course. Were we to somehow design an AI that doesn’t feel the need to destroy the human species (I imagine doing so quite regularly, I can’t imagine an AI not despairing at our idiocy and wanting the peace of mind knowing we won’t spread like a plague across the universe), what then? We are just pets now to coddle and take care of…

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Terahertz detector

Light Detector has Unprecedented Performance

Really interesting concept, being able to cheaply detect terahertz rays (below heat but above microwaves). These rays tend to pass through the surface of most materials and are reflected from deeper within, so once this is worked out in detail we can probably use it to take pictures of people’s insides without exposing them to X-rays. Of course, it may also allow people to see right through cloths, so the good-old ‘XRay’ glasses might finally become a reality.

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Our fear of fat is melting

It has been a long time coming, but it seems that the establishment has finally started to accept that high carbohydrate diets (otherwise known as low-fat diets) are bad for you. I speak about the evils of sugar from time to time, but along with Atkins and everyone else who has even hinted that refined carbohydrates are bad for you, no one cares to listen. Of course like everything else in our society, there are huge economic interests in keeping us fed with sugar, so it will be decades at least before anything fundamental changes, but such is life in the great USofA.

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What have you invented for me _lately_?

I have been thinking the last week or so that for all the appearance of our rapidly escalating technology, we really haven’t invented anything since the middle of the last century. I view the last real invention as the Laser (actually LASER), back in the very late 1950′s and prior to that the transistor in ’47. Lots of interesting things happened in the early part of the 1900′s such as the first plane (Wright Brothers) in 1903, penicillin in ’28 and nuclear fission in ’38. While there have been lots of things patented, the real breakthroughs have been few and all in the deep past, at least according to my calculation. The World Wide Web? I don’t view that as much of an invention, it was going to be ‘invented’ very soon by someone, it was the logical extension of what had gone before. Integrated circuits? Obvious once the transistor was invented. Man on the moon? ‘Only’ an engineering problem once the basics of rocketry (not really invented by Goddard, though he is credited with inventing the liquid fueled version that was probably necessary for meaningful advances) had been worked out. Cell phones? Coupled with the invention (discovery) of radio (much of the work was done by Hertz in the 1880′s) and the transistor cell phones are pretty much inevitable. Computers? Babbage invented them back in the 1820′s, though it pretty much had to wait for sophisticated electronics and later the transistor to make much of an impact. What can you think of that isn’t easy to see as inevitable that has been invented or discovered since the 1950′s?

While the pace of invention has slowed to a crawl (or, more honestly, come to a dead stop), the refinement of earlier inventions and the combination of various concepts into interesting agglomerations has been moving at an accelerating rate. Will that, though, be enough to take us to the singularity? Perhaps our technological advances will simply peter out as we fill in all the holes between advancements. I certainly think we can carry our ‘filling in the holes’ for decades yet to come, and given the advances I have read about regarding understanding how the brain works, it is feasible that even absent any significant breakthroughs we might be able to ‘jack’ ourselves into the ‘net and that could be the singularity. The vast majority of my ideas really aren’t much more than extending concepts that are already in the works or combining various concepts in apparently new ways, I can’t think of any idea I have had that can’t easily be imagined by someone else thinking of it (indeed, just this weekend I ‘discovered’ that someone has already commercialized an idea I had for parallel writing of electron beam lithography). While I was getting a D in physical chemistry a couple of decades ago I found myself thinking about a wave theory of matter, only to learn years later that there really wasn’t anything special about that idea.

Surely we haven’t invented everything!

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Police militarization

The Militarization of U.S. Police: Finally Dragged Into the Light by the Horrors of Ferguson

I don’t really have any sort of opinion regarding who did what in Ferguson (unlike, say, my opinions on Trayvon Martin), largely because a) I am firmly convinced that both sides are in the wrong and b) I am not really following it very closely. However, the response to the community upset (note that I firmly believe that thugs have been attracted to the attention and that much of the violence isn’t initiated by the local citizens) by the ‘militarized’ police is more of an issue to me. When I read the above article it aligned very nicely with what was percolating in my noggin so thought I would share it with my reader(s) in lieu of my own babbling.

I recall when in the National Guard that we trained for riot control. I always felt silly doing the training (we had to stand shoulder to shoulder and bang our night sticks against our shields and shout something scary in unison as we advanced in lock-step) but my understanding was we were never likely to need to use that training unless there was a serious disaster and social breakdown had happened. However there is an interesting timing issue: much like the shootings at Kent State, did the riot start because riot police showed up or was there going to be a riot either way? I lean toward the former and except for the idiots that joined the Ferguson protests just because they wanted to riot and loot, I expect the locals didn’t have anything but peaceful protest in mind when they started out. I have read several reports (not on this latest thing in Ferguson specifically) where concerned citizens tried to approach the police to point out problems only to get beaten and thrown in jail for their trouble. When, as appears to be largely the case in the US now, the police start to think that _every_ citizen is a criminal out to get them these over reactions are inevitable.

I am reminded of a few articles I have read over the last decade or so regarding the transition from beat cops to cops in cars. Back when the local police patrolled on foot, they had intimate knowledge of the neighborhood and further, were friendly with many of the citizens. As a consequence (or so I have read), when there were issues the police were often informally informed of the nascent problems by these concerned citizens and are able to head things off before they get out of control. Further, when things have got to a bad point, the police have personal relationships with local citizens so won’t bang them on the head and arrest them when they try to tell them about specific problems.

More signs of the apocalypse…

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Stress is inherited

Pregnancy Stress Spans Generations
The stressors a female rat experiences during pregnancy can have repercussions for her granddaughters, a study shows.

Kind of scary: that something even your parents have no control over can have a dramatic impact on your own life. I wonder if this can also help explain things like autism since there never seems to be any genetic link. Of course, if it is an epigenetic link (as is the case in the above report) it won’t show up as changed genes, but to my knowledge no one really has an effective way to measure the epigenome at present, let alone compare it as it changes over life and/or generations.

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