Saturday, August 11, 2012

Shuttin' 'er down

Story is that a chap going on a honeymoon cruise stopped in to buy some condoms and seasick pills.  Druggist says, "If it makes you sick, why do you do it?"

That is kind of how it is with me right now. This is the 1129th post since April 10, 2008 so four years and four months is long enough. It started out fun and sometimes funny.  Blogging isn't fun anymore and some days nothing is funny.

Problem is I am switching meds right now and weaning myself off the old one slowly to reduce withdrawal symptoms.  I am at a very low dose and have two weeks to finish and two weeks to let it clear my system completely before I start the new one which I can buy locally in Ukraine.  

Now, understand, the meds don't do anything for me.  But I find when I take them that other people don't act like complete flaming assholes all the time just to piss me off.  If THEY would take Prozac, I wouldn't have to.  Told my late wife that one time.  Didn't help matters any.

At any rate, I have been so grouchy lately, I could put my teeth in backwards and bite myself in the throat. So the time has come to acknowledge that I need a rest. And I am cutting waaaay back on internet readings on politics and religion, too.

My thanks to faithful readers, especially those who comment from time to time.  I have learned a great deal from your comments and often wish we could continue the conversations.

There are blogs I have followed and enjoyed and intend to continue checking in from time to time.

Again, many thanks to my readers.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

America's Dark Shadows: Aurora, Sikhs and Guns by Michael Vlahos - The Globalist

This is one of THE most useful essays I have ever read about guns and America.  I learned a great deal from this man who is neither pro nor anti gun, one who simply describes why things are the way they are and why they cannot change.

America's Dark Shadows: Aurora, Sikhs and Guns by Michael Vlahos - The Globalist

I wish I could write so eloquently about Climate Change

Monday, August 6, 2012

Great Leap Backward: China’s Leadership in Crisis | World Affairs Journal

 For Sinophiles, an easy-to-follow unraveling of the complexities leading up to this fall's "smooth and peaceful" leadership transfer.  Plots and sub-plots, rumour and counter-rumour; worthy of LeCarre himself.  Civilian infighting for control is by default increasing the importance of the military in keeping things together.

Great Leap Backward: China’s Leadership in Crisis | World Affairs Journal

The British Seeds of American Decline

The author looks at similarities between the decline of Britain 100 years ago and America today.  Four areas in particular stand out: Deindustrialization, Financialization, Dysfunctional Education, and Short Termism vs Long Termism.

The British Seeds of American Decline by Michael Lind - The Globalist

Chalmers Johnson, The CIA and a Blowback World | TomDispatch

 This article is an excellent summary and commentary on Steve Coll's Ghost Wars, the secret history of the CIA, Afghanistan and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001.

Chalmers Johnson, The CIA and a Blowback World | TomDispatch

The term "blowback" first appeared in a classified CIA post-action report on the overthrow of the Iranian government in 1953, carried out in the interests of British Petroleum. In 2000, James Risen of the New York Times explained: "When the Central Intelligence Agency helped overthrow Muhammad Mossadegh as Iran's prime minister in 1953, ensuring another 25 years of rule for Shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi, the CIA was already figuring that its first effort to topple a foreign government would not be its last. The CIA, then just six years old and deeply committed to winning the Cold War, viewed its covert action in Iran as a blueprint for coup plots elsewhere around the world, and so commissioned a secret history to detail for future generations of CIA operatives how it had been done . . . Amid the sometimes curious argot of the spy world -- 'safebases' and 'assets' and the like -- the CIA warns of the possibilities of 'blowback.' The word . . . has since come into use as shorthand for the unintended consequences of covert operations."

"Blowback" does not refer simply to reactions to historical events but more specifically to reactions to operations carried out by the U.S. government that are kept secret from the American public and from most of their representatives in Congress. This means that when civilians become victims of a retaliatory strike, they are at first unable to put it in context or to understand the sequence of events that led up to it. Even though the American people may not know what has been done in their name, those on the receiving end certainly do: they include the people of Iran (1953), Guatemala (1954), Cuba (1959 to the present), Congo (1960), Brazil (1964), Indonesia (1965), Vietnam (1961-73), Laos (1961-73), Cambodia (1969-73), Greece (1967-73), Chile (1973), Afghanistan (1979 to the present), El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua (1980s), and Iraq (1991 to the present). Not surprisingly, sometimes these victims try to get even.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

How Science Works

This blog post is one of those which takes work so has been a long time in the  writing.  It grew from a scolding I got for referring to the Global Warming RELIGION of the Luddites of the Looney Left.  It was NOT a religion, it was science based and I ought to know how science works.  I do, in fact, know "how science works" which is why I am and will remain sceptical of the arguments of both the alarmists and the deniers.  I do not have to chose between Luther and Pope Leo X.  Maybe I am an Erasmist?

Anyway, I will save the climate religion for another time and deal with the workings of scientific research.  Qualifications, you ask?  I have done scientific research; I have sat on boards that have funded scientific research and I have been a life long intermediary between scientific researchers and end users.  So I know a little and can be corrected on much.

The modern scientific method is a result of combining the methodology of two men, Rene Descartes and Francis Bacon; a very nice summary of which can be found here. (Note: One ought not to study Philosophy before studying Latin as one runs the danger of getting Descartes before the Horace.  But I digress).

Scientists tend to work in one of three locations: private industry, universities and research institutes of all sizes, shapes and forms of governance.  Scientists in the  latter two may have more room for determining their research subjects than those in private industry and certainly have more leeway to publish their results.

Research takes money.  A great deal of money.  There are two kinds of money - hard money and soft money.  Hard money is money that is in the budget year after year and usually covers things like buildings, laboratories and related overhead, salaries of key scientists.  Soft money is related to research grants which must be applied for to some funding agency, usually on a competitive basis.  Key scientists write grant applications which if successful pay for actual research projects including other scientists, special equipment and the cash costs of doing the research project. 

Research funds are "highly constrained" for cash and successful scientists are those who can write successful applications; those that appeal to the priorities of the funding agency's decision makers.  If one is applying to the Drug Enforcement Agency for money to do marijuana research, one does not title it "Determination of the benefits of smoking marijuana post coitus on male recovery time". 

  Scientific research is controlled financially and politically far more than most people realize.  They are NOT free to pursue knowledge for knowledge sake.  And if their results do not fit the agenda of the funding agency you can be certain they will not get funding from that source again.  The scientist who got funding from the DEA to "Investigate the DANGERS of smoking marijuana etc." and publishes a paper concluding that in fact marijuana is the greatest thing since Viagra will never get again funding from either the DEA or Big Pharma, trust me.

So research is driven by money; money is driven by priorities; priorities are driven by ideology.

Research results must be repeatable.  Therefore a publishable research paper must describe in sufficient detail how the research was done so that someone else can repeat it if desired or at least have no doubt as to how the results were arrived at and conclusions drawn.  Thus the importance of peer-review prior to publishing. 

A good scientist is a born sceptic.  A good scientist will look at a research paper and blow it full of holes, pointing out all the things that weren't done, weren't accounted for , were overemphasized relative to the data, etc.  The paper will be sent back for rewriting, eventually accepted and published.  Or possibly rejected as poor science.

Research scientists are judged on the number of papers that are published AND on the number of times those papers are referenced by other scientists.  So choosing a journal to publish in is critical.  Does the research fit the theme of the journal?  If there are several journals to choose from, which one has the best reputation and is the most widely read?  Who is the editor?

The editor holds the scientist's future in his hands as it is the editor who sends the paper for peer review and decides who are the peers who will review.  So if the scientist who decides to publish the marijuana paper sends it to a journal whose editor is a graduate of Pat Roberston's University, they will find their paper sent for peer review to scientists who hold with the Pat Robertson worldview and that paper will be rejected as bad science.  And if ALL the good (reputable, well read) journals are edited by Pat Robertson think-alikes, that scientist ain't gettin' published nowhere nohow!

Most non-scientists have never read a journal.  Unless you have trouble sleeping, I wouldn't recommend it either.  They bring a whole new meaning to boring.  Most of us get our scientific information after it has been filtered.  Direct from the scientist is great (conferences, magazines, internet sites) or from the mainstream media (the dreaded MSM) or from the alternative media which tends to be either Looney Left or Religious Right.  The journalists are NOT specialists in the science in question so they can't ask the good questions and they ARE interested in sensationalizing what ever it is, so they take a minor point and blow it up for all it is worth..

So we have to trust third, fourth and fifth hand sources of scientific information without ever seeing the original work or most likely without ever seeing any critiques of the original work.  So we blindly accept as "science" whatever agrees with our already preconceived notions and reject anything that does not.  If you are one of the Anti-Food Luddites and you see an article announcing that coffee/pizza/Big Macs  are bad for you, you seize on it for all you are worth, while I ignore that article and wait for next week's announcement that says coffee/pizza/Big Macs are good for you.

The distance between science and politics is very very thin.  And anything that is the slightest controversial becomes instantly politicized, not necessarily by the scientists but by those of us reading about it third, fourth and fifth hand.

Here is a quote I pulled off the net a while back and for the life of me cannot find it again.  I am guessing it is from comments on an article or articles but Google didn't help me at all. 

Maybe, but by its nature, science and research are highly dependent on soft money and highly constrained R&D programs. In other words, the field of science is far more politically and financially controlled than non-scientists realize.

Also, though highly regrettable, the average person is utterly incapable of comprehending the scientist. The scientist makes a lifetime career of learning, investigating and testing a thing (idea) where most laymen have never concentrated more than a few minutes of real effort.
Lastly, the question of how and why things work is not a moral issue. Like with a gun, morality is defined by what people do with it, and not inherently by the thing itself.

Science is not an individual endeavour, it never was, but in the age of big science, it is overwhelmingly directed by society in general, NOT individual interest and search for truth.  Money goes to areas that increase power or make money, and scientists can find jobs in these areas.   They do what the system directs them to do.  The result of their research depends more on the amount of money invested than on individual scientist.  Overall, scientists absolutely can and should know who decides what they're working on and why, because it is trivial and visible to them all the time. 

Scientists are exactly the same kind of people as anyone else, apart from a tiny (and awesome) minority.  They have the same motivations, the same cognitive dissonances, the same thirst for money as "normal" people.  And while science in abstract theory is a "noble pursuit", and was a noble pursuit for Giordano Bruno and Galileo, working in Los Alamos is in no way noble.  Working as a Monsanto scientist is not noble.  Working as a psychologist for some big marketing firm, designing ways to manipulate children, is not noble.  Working as an anthropologist for the Army to "map" "human terrain" is very, very far from noble.  And this is the kind of stuff a lot of (probably most) scientists are working on: stuff that's very closely related to actual concrete power interests, not on abstract search for truth. They can know what their research will lead to but they pretend they don't. They're smart of course - but intelligence is very useful in building protective mental barriers and managing cognitive dissonance.

As you said, scientists are people just like the rest of us.

There really isn't any difference between knowledge and belief. Anyone holding tightly to a belief, will believe that it is knowledge.

People lack knowledge today and can be convinced of anything. The earth is 5000 years old, nuclear power is safe, fracking is not destroying fresh water tables, etc... Next will come bad omens, superstitions and witch burning. People in the Dark Ages wondered who built Roman ruins - aliens maybe. People were afraid of the dark. We still live "The Enlightenment" but it's getting dimmer as the masses get dumber.

Lots of interesting metaphor here, but it's probably not that people are blind or deluded but merely ignorant. Ever since facts went out of fashion, people have stopped knowing what to believe. They half-believe in the supernatural, half-believe in the fictitious values of TV and movies, half-believe in the news, half-believe in the virtue of human beings. They know nothing beyond whether they feel good, and they are confirmed in their self-absorption by every message they take in, whether in the form of advertising, television, pedagogy or prayer. Ignorance of such magnitude has destroyed stronger cultures than ours.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Tanya-isms - Part 2

Demeur commented on yesterday's post: And the odd thing about long relationships is that soon you'll start answering each other without even asking a question aloud.

Another +40C day.  Tanya and I got back from town and I grabbed a cold Obolon Svitli from the fridge and split it 200:300. Half liter bottles are nice that way as Tanya only wants a small glass and 300 ml is a regular Canadian bottle (I think) so I don't feel gypped.

Half an hour later I walked into the back pantry and stood looking as I had already forgotten what I went for. "Why am I here?"

She didn't even turn her head.  "You went to get more beer to put in the fridge".

Wives just KNOW.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012


Time to update on the putdowns.  Considering her English is conversation passable only, I would be afraid what she could do to me in Russian.

On the bright side, last week she threw a red bath towel into a light load of wash.  I think every husband lives for something like that as even if it is never mentioned again, the next time you do something stupid, it gives you a mental edge.

The other night, about mid-night, I fried up some left-over spaghetti, pork and onions, coating it liberally with Thai Spring Roll Sauce and washing it down with apple juice.  Half an hour later we were lying in bed when there was a tremendous rumble of tummy...
"Is that you or me?"
"Your spaghetti is looking for some place to spend the night."

We have AC in the upstairs bedroom and a firm mattress in the downstairs bedroom.  Upstairs is good on hot nights so I prefer it in summer and downstairs is best for Tanya's back so she prefers it whenever possible. Last week one night she decided to sleep downstairs in spite of the heat.  She came up stairs where I was already in bed reading and yelled at me because I left the hall light on and it attracts no-see'ums. Then she went into the bathroom and came back and yelled at me for leaving the light on there too.  Then she went downstairs and went to bed.

Next morning she apologized as she had actually come upstairs to kiss me good night but by the time she was done yelling at me she had forgotten why she went up stairs.  I love being married to her.

Yesterday we were parked by the roadside, waiting for Lina when a woman walked by in a low cut dress.  She was full busted as they say in polite company and them puppies were right up under her chin and bursting out of the top of her dress. Tanya drew my attention to them or I would have missed it completely.
I said, "She has nothing on you.  All you need is a little more support to get them up in place" and I imitated lifting something by jacking it up.  
She said "I need one of those too".   

Moral - never start with a woman.  You WILL lose.