24 July 2015

More on the eventual emergence of an Economy of Abundance

​I wrote the following in answer to a friend who expressed understandable skepticism about my ideas on the eventual emergence of an Economy of Abundance. His objection is, to paraphrase, that people are just too cussedly mean to ever learn to really cooperate. We are talking futuristics here, so if that's not your thing, better tune out.

Human meanness is an aberration, not an innate feature. You'd better hope I'm right about that, because the distinction will literally be the difference between extinction and survival / flourishing as an advanced civilization. My guess (pure speculation) is that most of the time civilizations that reach approximately our level eventually fail. (This would be one factor accounting for the fact that the universe isn't exactly teeming with them). You might conclude the odds are against us. But, as a species (including our potential descendant offspring-species, if any), this is our one and only shot, so what choice is there but to strive for the kind of cooperative adaptation that is so obviously necessary in order to develop into an advanced spacefaring/spacedwelling civilization?

If you think long term, like Asimov and the turgid and unreadable Stapledon (and maybe Tsiolkovsky and Kardashev in the Russian take-it-seriously school of futuristics) were among the first to do (I discount Doc Smith), it's obvious that there really are no other choices. Interim solutions, such as "empires" and other such nonsense, are doomed to failure. (Not that I endorse any of these people's vision; I think all of them, in their own ways, were unaware of certain important factors or failed to really think through some of the implications).

Now, as to your ethics point [that "Love Your Neighbor" is an impossible instruction or basis for society]. You are right, if by love you mean warm, admiring feeling towards others. Nice, but not essential. And here I rely on some Eastern insight as well as Western. Love isn't really an emotion, and on its most basic level, it is nothing more than the answer to your rhetorical question. ["How would you like it if this were to happen to you?"]. That's a formulation of the Golden Rule. If you answer the Golden Rule with, "So I'd better cooperate with my neighbors so we'll all have something," that is love, and whether it comes from warmth or just cold, correct analysis and the desire to survive makes no real difference. Love in this simplest sense can be intentionally created, and it just means "have the intention to benefit another." We don't need to cherish everyone, but, as a society, we must, quite literally, socialize well-being. We must want to, enough to work to, achieve benefits for all, not just ourselves. That is love, in its most basic sense, and it is an essential component of adaptation for survival long term. Of that I am completely convinced.

This is indeed a more or less Marxist view of history. But I'm convinced it's true. Global capitalism is the grand experiment in using a system that relies, in theory, though not practice, on "enlightened self-interest." It is failing, and will drag the entire species down with it if people don't wake up and change the course of history in time. Stay tuned. No one yet knows how it will turn out. I believe, but cannot prove, that "self-interest" in this acquisitiveness-oriented sense, as an ethical basis for organization of societies of sentient beings anywhere in the universe, does not and cannot work. You call it guilt, I call it cooperation. And it's the only way. Ants probably have a better social organization than we do, but I think intelligent beings are always messy. They have to be free to think and experience. So there has to be a lot of flexibility. But at the core there has to be mutual benefit cooperation. Or else, collapse. No other road.

Years ago, when I first started to think about my million year old technological civilization of Ionus, I conceived its motto (kind of like "In God We Trust," the kinda thing they'd plaster on a public monument): 

"MORE, BETTER, FASTER."

Ultimately it all comes down to self-improvement. Humans are shitty at this, but we are better than any other animal of Earth, so we might, just might, be able to do it. You notice that the difference between the Ionian motto and the one you propose (the "Turkey" motto, if you will ["Gobble, Gobble, Gobble!"]), is that theirs emphasizes production, not consumption. Consumption takes care of itself. What humanity has to, and just might, come to realize, is that there is a tipping point in the grand historical production curve where there is so much abundance that consumption, and in particular competition for the opportunity to consume, more or less drops out of the equation, and the overall success and well being of the civilization is measured only by its success at production. Terraforming worlds. Building space habitats. Harnessing the ultimate energy sources of nature. Inventing and developing more and better space transportation. Delving into the secrets of nature and the Multiverse. Creating monumental art and beauty. You name it.

​ I am cautiously optimistic, and I'll tell you why. I think that the advantages of socialization of well-being will become so obvious, assuming we survive the Fossil Fuel Interval and reindustrialize using purely renewable resources (an obvious necessity), that the theory will become so widely accepted it'll be treated as fact. Then, over time, civilization can build institutions with checks and balances that guarantee a degree of stability. Something like this has happened many times before, but here we're talking about the first real global cooperation. What makes me optimistic is that once that is working, its advantages, I believe, will be so obvious to everyone that there will be no going back. Of course there will always be rogues and rebels, but there will also be a slow and steady progress towards a permanent economy of Abundance. And that will change everything.

23 July 2015

Kepler 452b, the most Earthlike world yet discovered

Here's what's currently available on Kepler 452b, at 1400 l.y. distance in the Kepler field of view, announced today. It's a super-Earth, but it's squarely in its 6 billion year old sunlike star's habitable zone, so some kind of life on its surface is certainly a possibility.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kepler-452b

This information comes from data processing of the data that accumulated by the Kepler mission, which ended over a year ago due to a communications failure, and which only covered a tiny fraction of the sky. ​Given its phenomenal success, I certainly hope NASA develops plans to launch more and better planet finder missions in the near future. I would go so far as to say that it's just one of the basic things a technological civilization does. It surveys its surroundings to see what else there is in its environs. We can already sample wide areas of space for eclipsing planetary systems, which gives a statistical sample of what's out there (only a small fraction of planets transit the surfaces of their stars as seen from Earth, which is necessary for really long range detection).

Post Capitalism

This article, which I found on AlterNet, on "post-capitalism," has implications for the "Economy of Abundance" argument I've been making. If information is now the key to production, and "information wants to be free," (which I think it does), then social abundance is the only reasonable long term outcome.

http://www.alternet.org/economy/end-capitalism-has-begun

Very Serious People

I like this piece by this piece by Henry Farrell, the "Ten Miles Square" column in WaMo today, entitled "A Brief Theory of Very Serious People."
I have long thought that people like Tom Friedman, who were so very insistent, and so very, very wrong, about the Iraq war, and many other things, should long ago have lost all credibility. Perhaps now is the time.
Worth a read.

Alperowitz: "Socialsm, American Style"

​Gar Alperowitz has an interesting op-ed in the NYT today.
 Here

I have long wondered why there couldn't be public legacy of wealth. The Alaska Permanent Fund is indeed a classic example. Imagine if in 1775 someone had the foresight to set up a public trust to own and lease land, rather than just allowing it to be taken. We could have a public enterprise today that made taxes unnecessary and provided a basic living income... a floor... to every citizen.

Something like this may be the basis for the future "economy of abundance" that I'm always touting. ​

22 July 2015

trumped

Report in TPM:  Conservatives Furious Trump Distracting from Planned Parenthood Video.

Since that particular video is grossly deceptive and is being trumped up [sorry!] to make the wholly inevitable and in fact desirable making available of fetal tissue, which would otherwise be destroyed, for vital medical research, I say, thank you, Malignant Idiot le Donald, for doing something good for once, however inadvertently. To the extent this is even true.

New Whole Earth Image

This is from a new Climate monitoring satellite at the L 1 Lagrangian point, approximately 1 million miles from Earth. Apparently, this is the first non-mosaiced Whole Earth image since the Apollo Program in the 1970s. But now there will be many more.



♦ David Studhalter
 

21 July 2015

El Niño 2015-2016?

According to reports in the L A Times, it continues to appear more and more likely that the winter of 15-16 will be an El Niño, possibly even stronger than the 1997-98 season, which was the last "very strong" El Niñ0 (although the winter spring of 04-05 brought even more rain).

One fear is that overall temperatures will be so warm that most of the precipitation, even in the mountains, will be rain, which would be bad news for California's water resource picture. The efficient functioning of water management requires that much of the water be stored as snow-pack, especially in the Sierras. Thus, even if El Niño ends, or interrupts, our years-long drought, it may not sweep away our water resource problems; indeed the flooding and other damage may make life in California more expensive and troublesome.

There is little doubt that Climate Change is having an effect, although exactly what that effect is virtually impossible to calculate.

20 July 2015

"Sale of Fetal Body Parts" is a phony issue

Many in the "Christian Right"  are galvanized and up in arms about Planned Parenthood's "immoral" selling of "body parts and tissue" from aborted fetuses. (Based on the viral Planned Parenthood video currently a cause du jour)
 
Look, I don't support the idea of performing abortions for the purpose of obtaining fetal tissue for research. And I don't get that Planned Parenthood does either. I don't think anyone does, outside of lunatics. But the fact remains that even though no one wants there to be abortion, there is abortion, because our society has properly determined that in general, a woman's right not to have to bear a child supersedes any societal or imagined innate interest in/of the pregnancy itself, or of the fetus to "life." (I don't care to debate that, although I suppose my position on the issue is obvious enough). 
 
And given that legal abortion happens, and that fetal tissue is of very great value for medical research, why would it not be used? Federal law already prohibits "sale" of fetal tissue, but not reimbursement of costs. —42 U.S. Code § 289g—2—prohibits the acquisition and transferring of human fetal tissue "for valuable consideration if the transfer affects interstate commerce." A definition within the code notes that "'valuable consideration' does not include reasonable reimbursement of costs associated with the transportation, implantation, processing, preservation, quality control, or storage of human fetal tissue." People differ on whether abortion should be legal or not, but the "sale of body parts" is already illegal, and is not, in fact occurring... the now infamous viral video does not establish that it is. Even those who believe abortion should be illegal should not oppose the vital use of fetal tissue for medical research (for example, from miscarriage). It isn't pleasant to think about, but the fact is that there is no substitute for fetal tissue for some crucial life-saving research.
 

Go Bernie!

I agree with Joshua Holland that, strictly based on precedent, it's an unlikely, and therefore exceedingly difficult political proposition, for Sanders to get the Democratic nomination. And I also concede that crowds of like-minded, enthusiastic people do not equate to votes. But come on. Huge crowds and surging enthusiasm are an indicator of a groundswell of support, and the existence of a large segment of the Democratic party that wants something quite different from what the party has been delivering since, oh, I dunno... 1976? I reiterate what I've been saying over and over: 1) you don't get anywhere in politics by conceding defeat in advance or negotiating with yourself. In the primary process, you fight for what you want, and you support the candidate that offers what you want. 2) The effect of a candidate like Sanders can only be to influence the nominee to take his voters into account and accommodate what he's saying into the eventual agenda of the nominee. If that's Clinton, so be it. She will be a better candidate because of Sanders and the efforts of Sanders supporters now and up to such time as it becomes clear she has won. That may happen, but it's not a done deal, and either way strong support for Sanders is important right now and going forward for those who broadly agree with his policy agenda.

GO BERNIE!


Eternal Optimist

I occasionally play at developing some ideas for a science fiction novel, in which Earth's civilization encounters a million year old technological civilization. No details here, but I was struck by something Krugman says in his column today. Bear with me, I will connect these disparate dots. Krugman notes that, to "everyone's" surprise, data show that raising minimum wages increases employment and overall wages, it doesn't decrease them.

Sages from my fictitious old, old civilization would say, "well, obviously." See, and this is my optimistic long range view of reality as well, the truth is that the universe is full of energy and full of materials. Sure, it takes some effort and smarts. But we have that. We are, whether we realize it or not, in the process of creating a future culture of unbridled abundance, not scarcity, where the most valuable commodity will be time. Energy, food, housing, transportation... these things will eventually be so abundant that they will be readily available in more than sufficient quantities to everyone.

Doubt away, but I am sure this is true. My old ones have told me so. (Actually, it comes from just thinking about what will really happen): either we will fail, and become extinct, or we will learn to harness the energy of the stars, in which case there are no practical limits. And no reason to continue acting as if everything is scarce and it's dog eat dog to get your share.
                          
And the fact that promoting wealth among the many increases overall well-being for everyone is an early indicator of the trends that are gradually manifesting themselves. We must care for one another, promote well-being everywhere, modify our economies and politics to encompass cooperation not competition. And then the arc of history will bend not merely towards justice, but towards peace, abundance, comfort, and opportunity to do entirely new things not yet dreamed of.

Eternal (literally) optimist, I.
Link

16 July 2015

Michael Lerner Publicly Supports of the Nuclear Deal With Iran

V​ery glad to see Rabbi Michael Lerner of Synagogue Beyt Tikkun, and editor of the important "Spiritual Progressive" journal, Tikkun, endorsing the Iran Nuclear Deal. (Also glad to see that Nancy Pelosi came out strongly behind Pres. Obama on this). ​

Tikkun  to heal, repair and transform the world
A note from Rabbi Michael Lerner Join or Donate Now!
This article appears on the front page of Salon.com this morning. 
American Jews and Our non-Jewish Allies Should Rally in Support of the Nuclear Deal With Iran
(Don't let past traumas contribute to our inability to see the looming possibility of a more peaceful world)

by Rabbi Michael Lerner


We in the liberal and progressive wing of the Jewish world must loudly and publicly congratulate the negotiators who achieved a deal that will prevent Iran from developing the capacity to build nuclear weapons in the coming years, an agreement that also promises an end to economic sanctions. We are glad that adequate inspections and safeguards are part of this deal—no one would have trusted it otherwise. 
 
While Republicans rushed to denounce the deal, their response has been predictable and hollow, given their consistent policy of opposing anything that might give President Obama the appearance of having done something valuable. Their primary claim to credibility comes from identifying with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who immediately decried the agreement as "a historical mistake." The right wing of the Jewish world is already organizing to oppose the nuclear deal, with the aid of a handful of billionaires who will fund a steady and public barrage of opposition. That is why it is important for Jewish liberals and progressives to speak as Jews to counter the right-wing assault.
 
We at Tikkun hope to see the day when Iran's oppressive and human-rights–violating government and mullah regime are non-violently overthrown by democratic means and replaced with a government that no longer limits free speech, ends its oppression of women and Baha'i or other minority religions, and offers a path to peace and reconciliation with Israel. We also hope to see democracy, human rights, and economic justice triumph throughout the world, not least in the U.S. and Israel. A de-escalation of tensions with Iran could be a first step in demonstrating the viability of a non-violent approach to political differences. But for this to come to fruition, it in incumbent upon Israel to help create an economically and politically viable Palestinian state, and on the US to stop responding to terrorists with terrorism of its own and instead replace its foreign policy of domination—through economics, cultural penetration, hard diplomacy, militarism, drones, and torture—with a strategy of generosity. To aid this transition, the Network of Spiritual Progressives has proposed a Domestic and Global Marshall Plan (To read the plan, visit: tikkun.org/gmp). 
 
But Israel is in no rush to give up its fantasy of dragging the U.S. into a war with Iran, particularly if Republicans gain the White House in 2016 and retain control of both Houses of the U.S. Congress.
  
We understand why Israeli Jews, still living with the trauma of the Holocaust and with an ultra-right-wing government that has consistently manipulated those fears to maintain its power and control over the Palestinian people of the West Bank and Gaza, are opposing this plan. It is hard for many Jews, still recovering from trauma, to believe that peace could actually be achieved by creating a demilitarized Palestinian state along the lines suggested in my book Embracing Israel/Palestine. But creating a homeland for the Palestinian refugees living in misery in refugee camps around the Arab world would in fact enhance the security of Israeli Jews. 
 
If Israel approached this task with a spirit of generosity and repentance for its partial role in creating the Palestinian catastrophe (nakba), and if the U.S. were to launch a Domestic and Global Marshall Plan in order to replace its current strategy of achieving "homeland security" through domination with a strategy of generosity toward the people of the world, starting with the Middle East, a path to peaceful reconciliation with Iran would open. 
 
Iran's anti-Semitic prime minister is long gone, and the majority of the Iranian people have historically been among the most welcoming toward Jews. The mullahs' calls to end the Zionist state, unsupported by the majority of Iranians, are less a statement of foreign policy than an expression of anger and despair over the international community's inability to push Israel to do right by the Palestinian people. These calls might disappear if Israel ceased its covert assaults on Iranian scientists and Iranian technological developments. And if the U.S. appeared less as a threat and more as a generous benefactor, peaceful forces in Iran would be dramatically empowered to overthrow the mullahs' oppressive regime.   
 
American Jews are faced with this sad fact: there are some in Israel and some in the right wing of the American political arena who would prefer to see war with Iran, a war which would be as disastrous for the Middle East and for the U.S. as the Iraq war that those same hawks led us into in the past. Many Americans would perceive this as "a Jewish war" or "a war fought for Israel." This could lead to a global resurgence of anti-Semitism far greater than that produced by Israel's oppressive treatment of the Palestinian people. But there are those in Israel who actually welcome that anti-Semitism, believing that this would re-legitimate what right-wing Zionists believe to be the urgent necessity for all Jews to move to Israel, to be free of this long historical legacy of Jew-hatred. 
 
Anti-Semitism is never legitimate, no matter how provocative Israel's actions. Although Israel claims to speak for all Jews around the world, and although a significant section of the American Jewish community maintains blind loyalty to the Israeli government, the Israeli right wing does not and cannot represent all Jews. That's why we at Tikkun, a voice of liberal and progressive Jews in the U.S., encourage our fellow American Jews to speak clearly and forcefully to the people of Israel, to urge them to stop their government from manipulating the American Congress and the American people or otherwise attempting to thwart this agreement with Iran. 
 
We have great compassion for our fellow Jews who still live with the traumatizing impact of the Jewish past, but it is time to stop letting those fears push us into behaviors contrary to our long Jewish tradition of seeking peace and reconciliation rather than resolving conflicts through force, violence, and war. The way to be real allies to Israel and the Jewish people is to help our most hopeful and generous selves predominate over the fearful nightmares of the past, so that we don't unconsciously collude in recreating the very things we most fear. An Israel already armed to the teeth with the strongest army in the Middle East and over 200 nuclear weapons doesn't need cheerleading for militarism, but strong support to become known as one of  the most generous and caring-for-the-other societies in the world. 
 
It would be a great tragedy if U.S. Jews aligned themselves with Republican hawks to prevent ratification of this international agreement with Iran, thus setting up the conditions for an Israeli attack on Iran or other provocations that might lead Iran to respond militarily. The perception of the Jewish people as leading allies with the militarists in the U.S. would be a gift to the real anti-Semites and a reason why many more young Jews would flee an identification with Judaism and the Jewish community. For those of us who are proud of the loving and peace-oriented elements in the Jewish tradition, and for our non-Jewish allies who do not want to see the Jews once again demeaned and isolated, it is time to stand up and be heard. We must loudly and clearly defend this nuclear agreement and the values that lie behind it. Doing so is good for the Jews, good for the U.S., good for Israel,  and good for strengthening the part in almost everyone on the planet that wants a world of peace, kindness, and nonviolence.  Please donate to Tikkun to support our campaign to get this message out in the American media and Jewish media at www.tikkun.org/donate or by sending a check to Tikkun, 2342 Shattuck Ave, Box 1200, Berkeley, Ca. 94704. And please post this message on your Facebook page or other social media, tweet it, and raise it to your friends, colleagues, people with whom you work or study, family, and neighbors.

Rabbi Michael Lerner is editor of Tikkun (winner of the Best Magazine of the Year 2014 Award  from the Religion Newswriters Association) and co-chair with Vandana Shiva of the interfaith and secular-humanist-welcoming Network of Spiritual Progressives. He invites peace-oriented Jews and non-Jews to affirm the values expressed in this article by joining Tikkun's Network of Spiritual Progressives at spiritualprogressives.org/join. If you can get to the SF Bay Area in September, he invites you to participate in the Beyt Tikkun Synagogue's  Jewish High Holy Day Services he will be leading at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley (click here for details).www.beyttikkun.org

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14 July 2015

Iran Nuclear Agreement is a BIG DEAL

• Not so very long ago there was serious talk about yet another war in the Middle East... this time with Iran, which would cause hellacious turmoil and loss of life, in furtherance of no cognizable US national interest that ever made any sense to me. This agreement addresses the supposed rationale for those warmongers, by deferring for a long time any issue of Iran's gaining a nuclear weapon. Instead of positing the worst possible outcome, which would be a certainty without a deal (as, for example the odious Sen. Menendez did on José Díaz Balart's show today on MSNBC), why not spend the next ten years trying to find common ground with Iran and encouraging their regime to reenter the Community of Nations as a cooperative, rather than belligerent, member? I look at ISIS and the rise of militancy among Muslims in the 21st Century, and I see the stamp far more of Saudi Wahabism than of Iran and its mullahocracy. Iran has a developed middle class and a functioning government with at least the framework of responsiveness to popular opinion. We should be encouraging and fostering that, not playing up to an autocratic absolutist dictatorship that OFFICIALLY promotes a form of Islam that is antithetical to pluralism and cooperation with the rest of the World, which is what you find in Saudi Arabia.

13 July 2015

Big Earthquake in Pacific Northwest now OVERDUE

Interesting piece on New Yorker website about the fact that the threat of a REALLY big Earthquake, comparable to Fukushima (roughly 9 on Richter) is actually greater in "Cascadia," i.e. Far Northern Calif., Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, than in the part of California South of Cape Mendocino (the Pacific Plate part, dominated by the strike/slip San Andreas Fault. Why? BECAUSE it's strike/slip, even the "Big One" down here is likely to be no greater than 8.2 or 8.3. But core samples and other measures of the subduction zone fault in the Cascadia region shows that roughly every 243 years, with the last one occurring in January, 1700... 315 years ago.... the region is hit by a HUGE Earthquake, that causes land to shift by tens of feet Westward and many feet vertically, resulting in an enormous and devastating Pacific tsunami. (The one in 1700 was an "orphan" tsunami; even then the Japanese knew that tsunamis were associated with Earthquakes, but the 1700 tsunami affected the entire archipelago of Japan, but was not associated with any earthquake... because the Earthquake was in Oregon and Washington!)
n 

Stronomy Buffs

. . . will want to check out the news in the morning (late morning on East Coast) on Tuesday, July 14, to see the first ever flyby images of Pluto from the New Horizons spacecraft. Now that unmanned robots have made close flybys of all the canonical nine planets (even though Pluto is now officially downgraded to "minor planet"), we won't likely see anything quite like this in our lifetimes. (Although, of course, there are other minor planets out in the Kuiper region; including at least two larger than Pluto).

♦ David Studhalter
 

How Bernie Sanders has a plan to win AND change politics in America

 A long shot? Of course. We Sandersistas are not delusional. But nothing in political life is ever accomplished by presuming defeat in advance, negotiating against yourself, or assuming that the status quo is insurmountably fixed.

06 July 2015

Krugman on Greek Debt Crisis

​If you find the Greek debt crisis confusing, I recommend Krugman's column today, which explains what's really going on quite cogently. 

I believe the world markets will undergo the expected nervous tic, and dip sharply, but, as Krugman says, the Greek economy has for all intents and purposes already collapsed, so the effect on the world economy will not be profound. But this is a test of whether, from the point of view of the less powerful members that don't have superbanks of their own, there is any real value in the European common currency zone. 

30 June 2015

Chinese Amazon anyone?

The Chinese are incredibly astute at commerce, by and large. Already, they're starting to go around the Walmarts of the World. I confess I've actually tried this myself. AliExpress, the Chinese Amazon (except it's much, much bigger than Amazon; there are five Chinese consumers for every American one), will sell you Chinese products directly, (mostly) free shipping to North America, priced in USD and charged to a credit card. They don't deliver in 2 days like Amazon does (if you're Prime, which is $100 a year; the Chinese just do it free but it takes a bit longer). If you can wait 1-2 weeks, China Post Air Express or E-packet are about the lowest cost overseas package shippers in the world. Packages arrive to addresses in major cities in the US in about a week. Generally, small packages are delivered by the post office.

The website is mildly comical in its use of English (occasionally), with things like "Please not to dip too long in water as for damaging the wood", and "due to computer monitor color may be not what you see, thanks for understanding." (Actually, that's perfectly clear and good English, but somehow not quite the way we would say it.) But their customer service/feedback/return system and checkout system are modeled on Amazon and apparently work pretty flawlessly. They have this figured out.

Oh, and of course, I REALIZE this promotes exploitation and the illiberal Chinese state economy, etc. etc. But face it, we ALL buy Chinese products, one way or another. China has probably already become the preeminent industrial power in the world, and their consumer economy will surpass that of the US very soon. No question about it. I submit that it is futile to think that by not buying stuff from them we will be able to resist this trend. The only way for us to remain a strong economy is by publicly investing in our own technology and infrastructure and crafting trade policy to favor living wages. But consumers will not voluntarily buy more expensive products because of bad policies. Just doesn't happen. (Remember the ILGWU "Look for the Union Label" tv commercials in the 70s? Best of intentions, but it just doesn't work. Has to be done by a system of laws).

Nutcase Dodges on Same Sex Marriage

Of the various totally insane ways the Cornered Conservatives in the South are trying to circumvent the Court decision in Obergefell, one is so obviously illegal it makes my head spin. That being the idea that county clerks could just opt out of compliance on the basis of religious objections. Did we not have a Civil Rights Act of 1965, FIFTY years ago? Did we not settle that public officials cannot discriminate on the basis of personal belief? If they can't bring themselves to do their jobs, they will just have to go into some other line of work.

The alternative idea, that the State will just stop issuing marriage licenses, is nutty, but probably legal. Residents of the various Nuttitanias of the region will have to travel to nearby slightly more civilized jurisdictions to get married, regardless of their orientation. Great plan.

28 June 2015

Affordable Care Act FACTS

If you are one of the people who, perhaps from the insidious effects of false propaganda emanating from Right Wing sources, continues to believe any of the following:

•  Obamacare has failed by a wide margin to increase the percentage of insured Americans
•  Obamacare has increased health care cost inflation
•  Obamacare is a job killer
•  Obamacare provides no benefit to people who continue to have employer based health insurance
•  Obamacare is ballooning the deficit

Please Note. All of these are entirely false and you really owe it to yourself to check out the facts.

First, every American with health insurance now is entitled to NO COST preventive care, including an annual physical, some blood tests, contraception, skin cancer screening and many more. No insured American faces lifetime caps. No insured American faces excluded pre-existing conditions. No policies are allowed to exist which fail to provide minimally acceptable standards of health coverage. Millions of EMPLOYED people are nonetheless eligible for subsidies if their income is below 400% of the poverty level.

As for the other factors, please read Krugman's detailed piece in the New York Times Friday, here:
http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/26/opinion/paul-krugman-hooray-for-the-aca.html?_r=0
♦ David Studhalter

Ted Cruz and the popularity of the recent SC decisions

​A little noted fact, which proves the idiocy of Ted Cruz's proposal that due to the "worst two days in American history" (hyperbole, much?), we should amend the Constitution to make Supreme Court judges elected.

http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/political-animal-a/2015_06/dear_ted_cruz_electing_scotus056298.php
 
That fact is that, not only has same-sex marriage reached 60% approval in national polling, but, as well, as of this past month and for the first time since 2010, the NYT CBS News poll shows a plurality favoring the Health Care law.

CBS News/NY Times  6/10 - 6/14  Approve:  47%       

Disapprove:  44%      
For/Favor +3

 
​I have long argued that effective Right Wing propaganda is the main reason for poor poll numbers. People when polled on individual aspects of the law that actually affect most people who continue to get insurance through their employers, such as free preventative care, no lifetime caps, no pre-existing conditions, coverage of adult children to age 26, etc. ... people very much like the ACA.
 
I believe the plurality in favor of universal health care and the strong majority in favor of equal marriage rights will only increase.
 
The Supreme Court ruled on its interpretation of the law, not their read of popularity. But, contrary to Mr. Cruz's hallucinatory view of the American body politic, the two things appear to be pretty well aligned at the moment.

On the "GREXIT"

David Atkins in Washington Monthly Political Animal blog:
 

It seems like a presumptuous and arrogant thing to say, but the most respected centrist economic voices both here and abroad simply don't understand how modern economies actually work, and what is wrong with them. Taxation on the wealthy doesn't harm growth. Recession-induced deficits aren't best cured with doses of austerity. The problem, generally, is a lack of adequate consumer demand—not an excess of spending or taxation. It's shocking that these facts aren't more obvious and well-understood. Or maybe they are, and it's simply not in the interest of the financial elite to understand them.

Either way, if the creditors hold firm to their austerity demands and Greek leaders (rightly) remain firm in taking the deal to their own people, we could see Greece exit the Eurozone. And from there, who know what other countries might follow suit in the contagion.

26 June 2015

Equality Day

To add to my trope of making June 26 EQUALITY DAY ...
·      Lawrence v. Texas  June 26, 2003  ...guarantees right to intimate relationships among gay and lesbians
·      Windsor v. U.S. June 26, 2013 ...  overturns as unconstitutional key provisions of Federal anti-marriage act (DOMA)
·      Hollingsworth v. Perry  June 26, 2013  ... lets stand the famous Perry v. Schwarzenegger trial outcome, under which California's anti-gay Prop. 8 was found to be unconstitutional
·      Obergefell v. Hodges ... Marriage is a constitutional right that cannot be denied on the basis of sexual orientation

Let's carry on the momentum; let's have a new era with a NEW ERA (Equal Rights Amendment), by adding a few words to the original, and let's get it passed this time.

"Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex, gender or sexual orientation."

Amazing Day

From the resounding affirmation of equal rights by the Supreme Court to the Amazing Grace speech, surely one of the most stirring and uniting speeches of President Obama's career, today, June 26, 2015, really was an amazing, amazing day. 
 
EQUALITY DAY! 

Let's have a new era of equal rights! 
 
(And what better way than with a NEW ERA, a renewed equal rights amendment to ensure equal protection of laws to everyone!)  
​​

Important Links on Obergefell case.

Time to revive and expand the Equal Rights Amendment

I already proposed a new holiday: EQUALITY DAY (June 26, in commemoration of Supreme Court rulings in Windsor, Hollingsworth, and Obergefell). So, on this first Equality Day, I propose that we revive the Equal Rights Amendment, with a few extra words:

Proposed Amendment to the Constitution.

Section I.
Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex, gender, or sexual orientation.  


 
(The words in fabulous fuchsia are added to the original version).

25 June 2015

Effects of the King v. Burwell decision

Two predictions. In the wake of the King v. Burwell victory, the bel0w-50% public approval of the Affordable Care Act (which largely results from effective Right Wing Propaganda) will gradually reverse, and the concept of universal health care will become normalized as the policy of our country, over time. Second, more and more, it will be known as the ACA or Affordable Care Act, not Obamacare (since it will come to have positive associations and these people hate Obama like the devil himself).
  
Now, from a Progressive point of view, this decision is truly historic, for the reason I intimate above: the concept of universal health care is now enshrined in law virtually unassailably. The Progressive agenda now should be to incrementally improve it. Regularize the exchange system. Eliminate all profit from insurance and healthcare delivery systems (the French and German systems). Ensure adequate services in all policies. Introduce a pay-go Medicare ("public option") choice, which will eventually be so much more competitive than private insurance that we will end up with a de facto single payer system, probably with "private patients" among the rich, as in Britain.

24 June 2015

TPP: foregone conclusion, but not necessarily a done deal

Looks like the Trans Pacific Partnership is going to happen. Now we need to look for ways to mitigate its negative effects on ordinary working folks.

And if anyone doubts that showing the powers that be that we're watching and oppose corporate de-regulation (which is what these agreements are REALLY all about; we ALREADY HAVE free trade) was worthwhile... remember that the final form of the treaty (because that's what it is, whatever they call it), has not been arrived at yet. And the trade negotiators are keenly aware that the American public IS WATCHING.

29 May 2015

Tidal Locking, Flares and Photosynthesis on planets of Red Dwarfs (Geek Alert)

A short article about how the physics of atmospheres may act to prevent planets close to Red Dwarf stars from becoming tidally locked with respect to the star (like the Moon to the Earth or most of the giant planets' satellites with respect to them) (From Physicsworld):
(Link below)

This is all well and good, and I understand, of course, the interest in discovering any circumstances which may make the existence of habitable planets in M-V class (Red Dwarf) systems (which, after all, are something like 80% of all star systems) more likely.
 
However, an even bigger problem for the existence of habitable planets in such systems is the prevalence of powerful, and really quite lethal, stellar flares. You see, the following facts are well established:
 
  • 1. Solar (stellar) flares occur in approximately the same dimensions and power on medium to large size main sequence stars or on small, dwarf type stars. Proportionally, a flare may only be 1% increase in brightness on a G type main sequence star, but a similar flare, on a red dwarf, might briefly increase the star's brightness (and lethal hard radiation output) by 50% or even more.
  • 2. The habitable zone of such small stars is very close; within a few million miles, where proximity to such flares would be almost certainly lethal to any complex life residing on the surface of any planets located in those zones.
  • 3. Class M stars tend to have such flares quite frequently; in fact one group of such stars is referred to as "flare stars" because they occur as frequently as every few days.
The inescapable conclusion is that 80% of the stars, those in the M class, are probably ruled out for habitable worlds because of flares alone, regardless of whether they are rotationally stopped.
 
HOWEVER, one thing is sure. Humanity's investigations into these issues is in its infancy, and we really do not know the answers to these questions yet.

I will leave aside the issue that the wavelength of light from such stars is believed to be insufficient, on pure physics principles, for effective photosynthesis by organisms, although of course that is hardly encouraging either. The authors of the book «Revolutions that Made the Earth» (Lenton & Watson, Oxford 2010) were quite adamant that the photosynthesis reactions simply do not occur in with photons where the peak radiation is in the far red, which is what you have there, and that even tweaking the chemistry would probably not work because the problem is the energy of the each photon it takes to break a water molecule bond, which is higher than the energy of the red photons at issue. (If the energy of the photons isn't high enough, no matter what the flux of photons is, the reactions just don't take place). No substitution of alternative chemistry can change that fundamental physical parameter. I also leave to the side the tacit assumption that oxygenating (water-molecule breaking) photosynthesis, which evolved on Earth only the one time (the evolution of cyanobacteria, the common ancestor of ALL terrestrial oxygenic photosynthesizers), is absolutely necessary for the evolution of complex life, although I do believe that case is very, very strong.

28 May 2015

Bird Breath

Here's something every schoolkid should know, but very few people have ever even heard about. Despite centuries of study of bird anatomy, it was only really figured out in 2005! Read about it in Ward and Kirshvink, A New History of Life, which I recommend.

Birds (which are, for all practical purposes, saurischian dinosaurs whose last common ancestor with us was about 200 million plus years back) have a vastly superior respiratory system to that of mammals or other (extinct) dinosaurs. Their tracheas go all the way to where our diaphragm would be, and they have air sacs, which fill with air when they breathe. They then push the air through their lungs and out. So it's all one way flow, far more efficient than our in and out breathing. It was originally an adaptation to the low oxygen world of the early Triassic. It enables them to breathe independently of locomotion (mammals have to coordinate their breathing), use less energy to breathe, and survive on lower oxygen levels.

The homologous bones in saurischian dinosaur fossils prove that they too had this system.

Now, I bet you didn't know THAT.

23 May 2015

Interesting developments in thinking about the History of Life on Earth



I should like to briefly share with you some very interesting points made by Ward and Kirshvink in New History of Life.

First, they take very seriously the idea that life might have originated on Mars and been transported to Earth sometime after the Late Bombardment, roughly -3.8 GA. They explain that one of the most “difficult” processes in the origin of life was the synthesis of ribose (essential to the theory of the origin of life), and consequently of RNA and later DNA. These substances cannot have spontaneously arisen in water. But the Earth of that era was almost certainly entirely covered by oceans, with no land surface at all (there was about four times as much water as at present, and the continental crusts had not yet differentiated). So where did the ribose come from?

Experiments have shown that ribose can self-synthesize in the presence of boron salts, which can arise as a result of chained evaporitic lakes in severe deserts. The best contemporary example is the deserts of the Amargosa watershed (Death Valley). But it is quite plausible that something like this could have occurred in impact crater lakes on Mars of this era. Mars is believed to have had a thicker atmosphere and seas and lakes at that time, but to have been mostly rather severe desert.

Couple this with the fact that over 1 billion tonnes of material has found its way as the result of meteorite strikes to Mars, from Mars to Earth, since that era. It thus becomes quite plausible to suppose that ribose and “RNA world” life could have evolved on Mars, where, as a result of desiccation and UV sterilization it subsequently became extinct. But not before “contaminating” the previously sterile Earth with … life!

Another issue they discuss in some depth is the near-complete abandonment of the former paradigm of uniformitarianism. It is now pretty well established that there were at least two, and possibly as many as four, planetwide “Snowball Earth” glaciations, each of which lasted tens of millions of years, before the eventual emergence of “complex life” in the latest Proterozoic, setting the stage for the “Cambrian explosion.”

As they explain (the reasoning based on chemistry is complex), it is highly likely that the first, and in fact only  time oxygen producing photosynthesis ever evolved (the emergence of cyanobacteria) occurred just prior to, and in fact triggered, the first of these Snowball Earth episodes (water-breaking photosynthesis drew down previously high levels of greenhouse gases methane and CO-2). The emergence of an oxygen rich atmosphere depended on these “catastrophes,” as did the emergence of complex life and probably even of nucleated cells (Eukarya). This is completely contrary to former views that evolution of photosynthesizing life, then nucleated cells, then complex, multicellular life, was all a smooth process of increasing complexification.

Previously, it was always assumed that “Snowballs” could not have happened, because if the Earth ever had surface ice all the way to the equator, because of ice albedo effect, that condition would be permanent ---at least until the ever-brightening sun finally melted the ice, in around 1 GA from now, although by then it would be too late for complex life to evolve, since the melting of the ice would be followed almost immediately by the complete loss of the oceans to space; which is what will happen around that time in any case. If a “Snowball” were to occur in the future, in fact, that is what would happen, because volcanism has declined over time and there would be no effective mechanism for melting the ice. (Indeed, until the 1970s even the fact that, as a typical main sequence star, the Sun has been brightening continuously throughout its life and will continue to do so was scarcely appreciated, and the effects it had on the evolution of habitability on our planet was not thoroughly analyszed or understood. This fact, and its implications, are not well known to most educated people even today).

It is now understood that the ancient Snowballs eventually came to an end because there was nothing to remove CO-2 from the atmosphere, so it built up, from volcanic release, primarily. Indeed, CO-2 levels may well have reached 15% or even higher, before finally reaching a high enough level to increase air temperatures sufficiently to cause the ice to melt. But with such high levels of CO-2, the Earth’s climate shifted suddenly to ultra-Greenhouse, and temperatures reached extreme levels. Only when the deposition of carbonate rock (which reached maxima in these post-Snowball eras) finally brought CO-2 levels down, did the climate stabilize. The whole process was a close call, however. Had the Earth been only a little further from the Sun, it’s believed that the temperature at the poles during Snowball episodes would have been below the freezing point for dry ice. Had that occurred, the CO-2 from the volcanism would have precipitated at the poles, and the Earth would indeed have remained ice-covered until the brightening sun finally melted the ice, some 1 GA from now.

All of this shows that previous uniformitarian models are clearly wrong, and a form of pre-Lyellian catastrophism is actually closer to the truth. It also supports a growing consensus that the complex life of our planet is the result of quite a series of relatively unlikely evolutionary and geo-system events, some of which life barely managed to squeak past, including the origin of RNA (which may have depended on importation of life itself from Mars!), the evolution of oxygen-producing photosynthesis, which happened only one time and in the context of global environmental catastrophe, and the origin of endosymbiotic nucleated cells, which also apparently only happened one time.

Heady stuff.