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Member since: Wed Oct 13, 2004, 05:42 PM
Number of posts: 4,892

Journal Archives

The only "progress" we are allowed

Most Americans want real clean energy (solar, wind, renewables); some Americans are dreaming of the stars. This is what we get!

From the Conservatives Are Destroying Our Future webpage.

Yeats "The Second Coming" --- More relevant today than ever!

W.B. Yeats The Second Coming was first published in 1920. Yeats intended it as a commentary on post-WWI Europe; but, it seems frighteningly apropos for today's political climate.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

I was reminded of Yeats' poem while reading Phil Plait's recent post: What We Know: AAAS: "What We Know About Global Warming. 97% of climate scientists are convinced that global warming is real and due to human activities; Phil complains that:

Facts don’t speak for themselves; they need advocates. And these advocates need to be passionate. You can put the facts up on a blackboard and lecture at folks, but that will be almost totally ineffective. That’s what many scientists have been doing for years and, well, here we are. The conversation is dominated by louder voices that are grossly and totally wrong, but they’re passionate. That’s what connects with people, and that’s a big part of why a tiny minority of “climate skeptics” have way more leverage than they should (well, that, plus huge coffers thanks to the fossil fuel industry).

Meanwhile, the right whips up 'passionate intensity' among its members, convincing them that "global warming is a hoax designed to impose socialism on the world."

It's the same with evolution. It's been accepted as scientific fact for over a century and half; but, we still get stuff like this.

And, why are we unable to rouse our base for off-year elections, while the rightwingers turn out in droves?

Kim Stanley Robinson interviewed on Utopia, the Singularity and More

Kim Stanley Robinson is one of the more thought-provoking of current authors and one of the most original thinkers around today. His fiction blends social, political, scientific and ecological themes with a strong emphasis on social justice.

Here he discusses the concept of utopia; not a popular concept in our cynical and pessimistic age:

Robinson has often expressed skepticism about the idea of a technological singularity (and I heartily agree!). Please note his concerns with class divide and transhumanism:

On social systems, optimism and remediating capitalism:

Robinson has incorporated environmental themes in many of his novels. Here he discusses climate change and combating it, including the concept of geoengineering:

On strategic foresight and transformation:

If you want to learn more about Kim Stanley Robinson, his thought and fiction, go to his website or look him up on Amazon or Barnes & Noble. Better yet, look up his books and ask a local bookstore to order them for you.

I found a critical review of Ben Way's conclusion

Googling on 'Jobocalypse' led me to the blog: Robot Futures Book by an author with his own ideas on what a 'robot future' may look like. The author did a very critical review of Ben Way's book and the conclusions Way reached. Some excerpts below:

Ben Way’s book, Jobocalypse, is subtitled “The End of Human Jobs and How Robots Will Replace Them.” The title summarizes the book’s attitude well, and while I agree that this issue is worthy of serious discussion, Way’s book demonstrates common fallacies that are worth identifying. Way starts with a chart showing employment slack, and here he is inspired by McAfee and Brynjolfsson at MIT. The interesting pattern is that unemployment following recession recovers both less quickly and less fully with every more recent case of recession, and this portends business recovery practices that are becoming ever less friendly toward the individual worker. Way explains just how cautious behavior on the part of a recovering company leads toward lower-cost routes to high productivity and profits rather than making long-term commitments to fully employed new workers, even in the face of increasing consumer demand. Rightly, Way identifies increasingly inexpensive and flexible automation as an important enabler of this pattern, and I agree fully with this analysis.

However in looking at automation itself and how it improves over time, Way’s argument repeats a mistaken trope so common that I believe we need to name it: Moore’s Leak (with due apologies to Gordon Moore). Way shows an oft-reproduced chart of computing power from 1900 through 2020. The chart shows MIPS per $1000 and shows a healthy doubling at least every 18 months, as suggested by Moore’s Law. Computers from various years are labeled on the graph, and the future looks bright for ever-faster computers. But the problem is the labeling: “Brain power equivalent” along the right lists bacteria, spiders, lizards, mice, monkeys and of course humans. And humans are shown easily achievable by 2020. That’s less than seven years from now, folks. Moore’s Law is a fine predictor (actually a milestone-setting device for Intel) for computing speed, but jumping over to animal equivalence forces mistaken conclusions from everyone but the computational biologists amongst us. Way’s point, based on the chart, is that robots will do everything humans can by 2020, and cheaply. For this conclusion the chart lends no support. Yes, singularists will argue that just as soon as computers are fast enough, they will also be smart enough to design their own future evolutionary conclusions, and this runaway chain reaction will yield so much intelligence that super-intelligent computers can then do what we humans have not been able to do: fully emulate a human being. But that is an indirect argument that is mostly an article of faith today.

In literal terms, computer speed just does not approach humanity. Moore’s Leak happens when we use Moore’s Law to optimistically imagine a future breakthrough that doesn’t really have anything to do with computing speed. Way predicts that robots will be cheap and capable thanks to Moore: “Within the next generation, the humanoid robots that we see in films such as I, Robot will find their way into our homes and will be able to perform almost any task more efficiently and better than any human ever could.” I disagree strongly; Way is tapping levels of actuation, hardware innovation, perception and reasoning that are more than a generation away with a statement this strong.

Read the rest here: http://robotfuturesbook.wordpress.com/2013/07/28/mini-review-jobocalypse-by-ben-way/

Note that the argument touches on the often touted: Technological Singularity, which is predicted to occur sometime within the next few decades; although, there are many people skeptical of the whole concept, myself included.

Edited to add: You might try Googling on the name: Illah Nourbakhsh, author of Robot Futures.

Legalize Democracy -- the Move to Amend video

This is a great introduction to the issues that Move to Amend was organized to fight:
  • The power of corporations, which has grown over the centuries of American History, and
  • The doctrine that money is equivalent to constitutionally protected speech.

Move to Amend is proposing an amendment to the US Constitution that addresses both of these issues. There are similar amendments before the Congress, but we feel that the proposed "We the People Amendment" is the only one that really addresses all of the issues of corporate power and corruption.

Move to Amend has a website and a Facebook page for more information. Please check out both for information on how to get involved in your area.

I hope you noticed Thom Hartmann's comments in the video. Thom is an ardent supporter of Move to Amend and has often endorsed us on his program.

Jim Hightower explains the Trans-Pacific Partnership -- in plain language

Radio commentator, author and progressive activist Jim Hightower has an excellent discussion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership on his Hightower Lowdown page: The Trans-Pacific Partnership is not about free trade. It's a corporate coup d'etat--against us!.

This time we really must pay attention, because TPP is not just another trade deal. First, it is massive and open-ended. It would hitch us immediately to 11 Pacific Rim nations (Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam), and its door would remain wide open to lure China, Indonesia, Russia, and other nations to come in. Second, note that many of those countries already have trade agreements with the US. Hence, THIS AMAZING FACT: TPP is a "trade deal" that mostly does not deal with trade. In fact, of the 29 chapters in this document, only five cover traditional trade matters!

Jim discusses all the negative ways that TPP will affect us:
  • Food Safety,
  • Fracking,
  • Jobs,
  • Drug Prices,
  • Banksters,
  • Internet Freedom,
  • Public Services

Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen's superb research and activist group, Global Trade Watch, correctly calls the Trans-Pacific Partnership "a corporate coup d'etat." Indeed, nations that join must conform their laws and rules to TPP's strictures, effectively supplanting US sovereignty and cancelling our people's right to be self-governing. Worse, it creates virtually permanent corporate rule over us--there's no expiration date on the agreement, and no provision in it can be altered unless all countries agree. Thus, even if Americans voted in an election to make changes, any other TPP country could overrule us by not agreeing.

Awful as the TPP is, Jim Hightower doesn't think its passage is inevitable; he lists a number of fights against unjust "free trade" agreements in the past, and concludes:

My message: We can do this. We The People can protect our democratic rights from this latest threat of corporate usurpation. The only way the Powers That Be can win is to keep the public in the dark about what TPP is. So now is the time for Lowdowners to sound the alarm, spread the news about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (start by sharing this article with your social networks!), and shine the light of day on their power play before it gets to Congress.

China's Jade Rabbit Moon rover sends back first photos

Source: BBC News

The first robot to land on the Moon in nearly 40 years, China's Jade Rabbit rover, has begun sending back photos, with shots of its lunar lander.

Jade Rabbit rolled down a ramp lowered by the lander and on to the volcanic plain known as Sinus Iridum at 04:35 Beijing time on Saturday (20:35 GMT).

It moved to a spot a few metres away, its historic short journey recorded by the lander.

On Sunday evening the two machines began photographing each other.

Read more: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-25393826

50 Years later, we're still ignoring Ike's warning!

Ike's grandaughter, Susan Eisenhower, paid tribute to the legacy of his Cross of Iron speech with a 2011 article:

I've always found it rather haunting to watch old footage of my grandfather, Dwight Eisenhower, giving his televised farewell address to the nation on Jan. 17, 1961. The 50-year-old film all but crackles with age as the president makes his earnest, uncoached speech. I was 9 years old at the time, and it wasn't until years later that I understood the importance of his words or the lasting impact of his message.

Of course, the speech will forever be remembered for Eisenhower's concerns about a rising "military-industrial complex," which he described as "a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions" with the potential to acquire - whether sought or unsought - "unwarranted influence" in the halls of government.

The notion captured the imagination of scholars, politicians and veterans; the military-industrial complex has been studied, investigated and revisited countless times, including now, at its 50th anniversary. Looking back, it is easy to see the parallels to our era, especially how the complex has expanded since Sept. 11, 2001. In less than 10 years, our military and security expenditures have increased by 119 percent. Even after subtracting the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the budget has grown by 68 percent since 2001. In 2010, the United States is projected to spend at least $700 billion on its defense and security, the most, in real terms, that we've spent in any year since World War II.

McCutcheon (and McConnel) vs FEC and what little remains of American Democracy

While most of us are focused on the shutdown, a landmark case that may destroy what's left of the fragile American Democracy is being decided by the Supreme Court.

From Huffington Post: McCutcheon vs FEC: Supreme Court Skeptical of Campaign Contribution Limits:

WASHINGTON -- A slim majority of Supreme Court justices seemed skeptical Tuesday that the federal government may cap the total amount of money that individual donors can give to political candidates running for federal office, in a case that could have a massive impact on the campaign finance system.

In McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, the high court is set to decide whether the limits on aggregate federal campaign contributions -- the overall cap currently stands at $123,200 per donor for the 2014 election cycle -- are unconstitutional because they place a burden on the free speech rights of donors.

Shaun McCutcheon, the man bringing the case, only seeks to give the maximum individual donation to more candidates. But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is trying to use the case as a vehicle to persuade the Supreme Court to dismantle contribution limits altogether.

Court observers were keeping a close eye on Chief Justice John Roberts, who most campaign finance reform advocates see as the only hope of upholding the aggregate contribution limits. Roberts joined the majority in a 2006 decision holding that contribution limits were constitutional.

Omigawd!!! Our hopes for saving what's left of a democracy are actually dependent on the most corrupt Chief Justice in modern US history?

From the Washington Post: Everything you need to know about McCutcheon vs. FEC provides a 'Cliff's Notes' guide to McCutcheon.

Playboy in orbit: A step toward the world of Elysium?

The movie Elysium (2013) provides a dystopian vision of the world of 2154; where the ultra-rich live in a luxurious space station / habitat and everyone else inherits a polluted ruin of a planet.

It's impossible to look at the private space station designs from Playboy Enterprises and Virgin Galactic founder Sir Richard Branson without thinking of Elysium.

There's a meme going around to the effect that: "The NASA program is winding down, so it's up to the private sector to take over." I've even seen that here, including some posts favorable to Virgin Galactic and the other space tourism companies.

Now I've been a supporter of some private efforts, like Elon Musk's Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), largely because Elon Musk is challenging the aerospace giants who've run the space program as their fiefdom. SpaceX is successful because it has NASA, DOD and now the Canadian Space Agency as customers.

I've also got a long history of supporting space, going back to the old L-5 Society; I even organized a chapter in Tulsa back in the 70s. I hoped to see us making major steps toward building Gerard K. O'Neill's space settlements by now.

I'm sounding warnings because, like everyone here, I've observed:
  • The growing inequality in American culture, and
  • The evolution of our economy into a plutonomy, an economy run only for the benefit of the rich, and
  • The growing political power of the mega-rich and the big corporations, and
  • The diminishing ability of the mega-rich to empathize with ordinary people.

Let me repeat: I'm a supporter of space and a role for the private sector in space; but, I'm fearful that private space, without government participation, and without checks on the power of big corporations will lead to the world of Elysium: Luxurious playgrounds in orbit while science is forgotten and exploration is only to provide thrills for billionaire boys club members, and life on Earth becomes more squalid for the great majority.

A speaker at a recent conference: The Starship Congress for the Icarus Interstellar foundation talked about two possible negative outcomes for future history that would block our progress to the stars:
  • Permanent stagnation vs.
  • "Flawed Realization.

Permanent stagnation is obvious; that means we stop progressing. Flawed realization means that we continue to 'progress,' but in negative ways.

Elysium was used as an example of both: Permanent stagnation on an overpopulated, polluted, impoverished Earth and flawed realization on the Elysium space station.
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