13 May 2022

SCOTUS majority as a threat to democracy in America

Anyone who buys the Republican BS that the impending Dobbs v. Jackson Womens' Health is only about abortion is in Lala Land. See this, about Alito's totally inappropriate and prejudicial comments (he should now recuse himself from all decisions in this area). (If the link doesn't work it's talkinpointsmemo.com, I believe their paywall allows you to read several articles free, this is the one about Alito's comments on LGBTQ rights decisions). 

They are coming for gay and gender rights, contraception (starting with Plan B and IUDs, which their lunatic beliefs consider a form of abortion), personal consensual conduct, voting rights, any restrictions on gun ownership, environmental regulation of all stripes, and logically and eventually, interracial marriage and probably all civil rights via judicial interpretation. These horrible, horrible people MUST BE STOPPED. And sorry, but if you don't agree with that I'm not sure I want to be friends with you. Someone I know well mentioned "they're going for full Gilead," referring to the theocratic state in Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. Well, I don't want to live in Gilead, and it's time for everyone to choose sides in this. There's no middle ground. 

12 May 2022

My tweet to Twitter CEO

I've canceled my Facebook account, because I believe on balance Facebook does more harm than good. I don't use Twitter much, really hardly at all, but I did take a moment to message its CEO, as follows: Tell Elon Musk that if he lets that traitor, Donald Trump, who tried mightily to overturn democratic governance of MY COUNTRY, back onto Twitter, I will cancel my account and never visit any Twitter site ever again. I am not someone you would normally be concerned about except in one respect. I am a stand in for many, many millions of people who feel just as I do. 

09 May 2022

Mincing no words about the Supreme Court

 I suppose my previous comments on the Supreme Court's impending obliteration of the now generations old right of a woman to terminate a pregnancy have made clear my complete lack of respect for the authoritarian assholes who now form a majority of the Court. Regrettably, this is more or less a return to mean — through most of our history the Supreme Court has been reactionary and an impediment to progress and the will of the majority of the people in our supposed democratic republic. But let me be even more explicit: I detest Samuel Alito and his right wing colleagues, and believe they, and especially he, have done more than anyone in history to erode the legitimacy of the Supreme Court, and to endanger the stability and longevity of our fragile democracy as a whole. And for this, I say, go to hell, Samuel Alito... you are intellectually dishonest, you are no patriot, and you are not worthy to hold the office you hold. 

It's unfortunate that it has come to this, but these men (and one woman) are liars, disreputable hypocrites, and fanatics whose ideological and religious beliefs completely outweigh any commitment to democratic principles. Of which, from what I can see, they have none at all. (Just possibly not including Roberts; but it appears he may not be part of the majority here anyway). If our republic, as I fear, fails to survive this century, they will be to blame to a significant degree. 

The 9th amendment and un-enumerated rights

Apparently this crap draft opinion by Alito just plain blasts the decision in Roe v. Wade mostly on the basis that "the right to abortion," along with such things as fundamental privacy rights, the right to travel, the right to private sexual conduct between consenting adults, the right to marry whom you wish, etc., are not explicitly mentioned in the Constitution. I note that one thing that is mentioned in the Constitution is the 9th Amendment, which completely obliterates this asinine argument: "The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."

I have seen it argued many times by conservatives that there are no fundamental rights, that the state may compel or prohibit anything ab initio, and only those specific privileges (because if they aren't inherent that's all they are) which are explicitly carved out can be said to exist. Because this point of view is so inherently authoritarian and unattractive, they usually couch it in various euphemisms, but the brutality of it remains. But this argument is a nonstarter: the 9th amendment, by any reasonable reading, explicitly denies this legal view's legitimacy. The drafters of the first ten amendments had certain concerns and explicitly laid out certain limitations on the right of government to infringe on citizens' rights. But they also had the wisdom to say, in the language of the time: Just because a right isn't explicitly set forth in the Constitution doesn't mean it isn't a right. And no amount of bullshit from the likes of Alito can change that. 

Alternate Mothers' Day Musing

Farflung correspondents, 

Having read Heather Cox Richardson's little essay on the real history of Mothers' (not Mother's) Day, I am inclined to a somewhat politically incorrect musing. (If you don't know HCR, go here: H )

It has become a grief to me in my old age to realize that our species probably really is so deeply flawed that our once imagined bright future is but a pipe dream and the Great Death and Long Dark Night are much more probably what lies in our future. Maybe if we'd turned it all over to women, as Stowe believed we should in the aftermath of the bloody and pointless Franco Prussian War, things would've turned out better. The 20th century, especially the first half of it, pretty much confirmed her worst nightmares. And the 21st seems to have reverted to mean in this regard. Stereotypes and generalizations about whole categories of people beget all kinds of evil, but there really are certain prevalent differences between the two principal versions of our species. Whatever positive qualities of the masculine paradigm women may, as a rule, lack, there does seem to be a tendency to have a healthy aversion to totally insane and unnecessary mass death, an aversion too often lacking in men, no doubt for some biological reason emerging from our evolutionary history. Sometimes aversion, rathter than desire, even if it may appear to be a negative quality in the sense of being a behavioral tendency to avoid behavior that would lead to bad outcomes rather than a tendency to do something, is actually the key to survival. I think this has been true throughout the history of life, and is not in any way unique to human beings. I fear, in any case, that for this strain of the multiverse at least, it's too late to rethink that choice. I don't know it as a certainty, but is sure seems that the course of history has committed to a very dark cycle of delusion and heedless conflict just at the critical moment when collective wisdom, unity and cooperation on a world scale were our only feasible hope.  

I would like to be proven wrong, of course, so if anyone cares to, please convince me I am. 

07 May 2022

Postwar ?

 
Is it too soon to begin thinking about a postwar Marshall Plan for Ukraine, and, depending on the outcome, extending an offer to a post Putin regime to fast track the refolding of Russia back into the Community of Advanced Nations?  

We need to think positively, or negative outcomes are almost certain.

06 May 2022

A dark time

I admit I have not actually read the draft Dobbs v. Jackson Womens' Health opinion. But from what I have read about it, it seems that it is an insane and inane screed whose reasoning would fail to recognize even the "silent" rights of travel, private consensual sexual conduct, contraception, even interracial marriage, as none of these are "deeply rooted" in our written Constitution. The intellectual vacuity of that as a standard for what is and is not a right is simply stunning to me. It's been noted that he even cites with approval a 17th century jurist for the notion that abortion has always been seen as a crime, when the same could be said of blasphemy and witchcraft, for which that same jurist gladly endorsed the death penalty. (Perhaps Trump should be executed for claiming to have "done more for Christianity" than anyone ever... presumably including the founder of the religion himself?)

This is a dark time. Minoritarian government and the inherent strains of its illegitimacy are tearing our country apart. I can't find any basis for optimism at the moment... we have to just struggle and hope the climate can change enough at some point in the future that a gradual rebuilding and reform may be possible. But in the meantime, we could lose our liberal republic entirely, and history isn't particularly encouraging on the prospects of recreating it once lost. 

The state of journalism

It's a strange world in which there are really only three or four newspapers... The NYT, the LAT, the Washington Post, and the Guardian, say, and maybe a dozen worthwhile news and affairs sites that are more or less objective and another dozen or so with frank Progressive house viewpoints that are worth reading (to me). Another dozen generalist magazines, such as the Atlantic and the New Yorker. That's about is. Local papers just report on sports teams and local politics, and even that is frequently just not even there (Portland actually has two). Much of the rest of the "information" sources online are totally biased to the point of having no reliable factual foundation. Sometimes the bias is clear, but other times, it's pretty smoothly woven into the fabric of what pretends to be objective news and analysis. Even the more mainstream channels of video media are extremely selective in what they report, and we get a highly filtered narrative. Perhaps that was always the case, but it seems that it has gotten worse.

So journalism has become a global effete group of influencers who rely on what amounts to charity. The Guardian comes right out and asks for contributions, since they've resisted the comprehensive paywalls the other "papers" have put in place. 

I don't know how common this is. I subscribe to several outlets. But I know quite a few younger people who manage to stay pretty well informed who don't pay a cent for journalism online or anywhere. Which means in the future "journalism" will be entirely beholden to special interest money. Hard to escape this conclusion. 

Just musing here. I offer no solutions. 

05 May 2022

Cranky rant on Pharma and presbyopia eye drops

I took an interest in pilocarpine (Vuity TM) eyedrops because, like, well, everyone my age, I have a bit of presbyopia (age related failure to focus on near detail). But the hell with it. They got a patent on a formulation and use of a drug that's been around since the 19th century and thanks to our excessive patent laws can prevent anyone else from selling this drug for this purpose. So they have a license to charge $80 to $100 for a tiny quantity that I'd be willing to bet costs significantly less than $5, including packaging and distribution, to produce. And since it's not considered "medically necessary," (it's only seeing after all, not really essential to survival), it's not covered by most insurance in this country. 

And people wonder why Pharma is one of the most resented, even hated, commercial sectors of the economy. "Systemic gouging" like this is the reason. 

I've already decided to do without. My $10 reading glasses work just fine. 
 

04 May 2022

Cri de Couer

Farflung correspondents, 

I have up to now been as guilty as anyone of... not apathy but laziness, when it comes to working (and giving) to try to ensure the Right Wing doesn't sweep these upcoming elections. But the now certain overruling of Roe v. Wade, the first time in history the Supreme Court has directly and unambiguously voted to simply take away a Constitutional right that the people of this country have enjoyed for decades, has energized me. We simply must resist this. Of course many of us have this and that issue with this and that Democrat. I just voted against my Congressman in the primary in favor of a much better, smarter and as it happens female opponent, Jamie McLeod Skinner. But we have no better prospects of reversing the rightward, corrupt, and authoritarian trends in our country than to tip the scales in enough races to reelect and add to Democratic majorities. We have been hamstrung by just two uncooperative Democrats in the Senate. But for them, we could pass a statute that encodes the right that Roe v. Wade defined, and which the unprincipled rightists on the court would legislate from the bench away (ironically, as this is their fraudulent rallying cry against past actions of the court recognizing the evolution of constitutional rights!). And with a few more Senate seats and retention of the House, now very tall orders indeed, we still could, along with passing much of the Democratic progressive agenda that has languished forlorn in this political landscape. 

Please join me. Participate. Vote Save America. Act Blue. Indivisible. Swing Left. And contribute what you can, preferably by targeting Democrats who will vote a progressive agenda and who are in tight races. I thank you, and if we succeed, future generations will thank us. Onward, and let us never give up! 

-----------
minor errors corrected

28 April 2022

Thanks for support

Thanks to everyone who had nice things to say about my harpsichord flute duo concert streamed from The Old Church yesterday. We are our own worst critics and I felt there were several problems, especially with my solo piece, but it was great to get everyone's support and realize that some folks actually took time to listen. The concert will be up on the website indefinitely. www.theoldchurch.org/lunchtime-concerts/  April 27 2022

Now looking forward to a little downtime... after my icky medical procedure this morning, but the less said about that the better.  

21 April 2022

Looking way ahead on Ukraine

 I disagree with John Mearsheimer's interpretation of recent history in regard to Ukraine, which sees the US and NATO relationship with Ukraine over the past 20 years or so as exploitative and Russia-centered, and actually claims that Ukraine's policies pre-invasion constitute an "existential threat" to Russia. This is total nonsense, in my view, and completely fails to recognize that Ukraine itself, government and people, has sought and pushed hard for "Westernization," for its own reasons and as a sovereign state. Not everything that happens in former Soviet states is about Russia, for crying out loud. And there simply is no basis to claim that Ukraine, or even NATO for that matter, are threatening Russian existence or its sovereignty or self-determination. That's just claptrap. 

But having said that, his proposed solution for this war is probably about right. Somehow the Ukrainians will have to accept a sort of Finland-style neutrality, bound in a treaty. And probably have to cede part of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions and the Crimea. But beyond that, the Russians will have to accede to the sovereignty and security guarantees that such a treaty would also have to bind. This will not be easy to achieve, but it's the only way. 

Putin has done immeasurable damage to his own country and made himself into almost a second Stalin. There will be a long time for recovery, no matter what. But in the long run, NATO should be remade into a "Northern Alliance" including Russia, and Russia should join the EU. When this might happen I can't say, but it's the best possible outcome. One thing is for sure. Putin will be long gone before that day dawns. 

20 April 2022

Upcoming live stream concert Wed. April 27 2022 12 noon PDT David Studhalter and Jas. Adams

In case anyone is interested, my friend Jas. and I are playing a short amateur baroque/early classical concert next Wednesday, livestream only.  Wed., April 27, noon PDT. The recording will be up on the site for a time at least after the concert. Wish us luck. Thanks. 
https://www.theoldchurch.org/lunchtime-concerts/

 

19 April 2022

Dems need to wake up and start bragging!

 Could I just say? Y'know, "just sayin'".... 

We Democrats need to wake up and start fighting for our congressional majorities. Like yesterday. The Republicans have absolutely nothing to offer the American people. Except higher taxes on most people (the Scott agenda), banning books, attacking human rights, lying about everything all the time.... oh jeez we can go on and on. But the successes of the Democrats, while not what progressives would've hoped for, are not being messaged. We passed relief bills that saved us from a COVID depression. The management of the pandemic has been pretty good; the response to the Ukraine War has been remarkably good, and but for some noncooperatives in the Senate we would've passed the most historic progressive legislation ever. Despite global inflation that no president could control, and an oil shock actually worse than the one in the 70s that, again, no president could control, our economy is at full employment, and real income growth for lower wage jobs has been better than at any time in many years. We have a ton to brag about! So let's get bragging. And let's get to calling misguided "both sides-ism" in the media. Any Republican who had posted the successes of the Biden years so far would be receiving accolades and suggestions that we rename Washington after him, for crying out loud. 

Thank you and good night. 

14 April 2022

Military Outcome of Ukraine

 From a purely military perspective, I believe and hope that the Russians are testing the concept of using the thermonuclear threat as a shield to enable them to punch above their weight in a type of power politics aggressive warfare that typified the late 19th century to World War I, and which Hitler tried to carry to an ultimate extreme in World War II. I say I hope this because, whether it's Putin or others smarter than he is in the Russian military and government, their lesson should be that this cannot work. The shield works both ways. Their incursion into Ukraine has undermined their geopolitical position rather than strengthened it, and cost them at least two decades of progress. I hate autocracies and kleptocratic systems, but my point is entirely military: they are failing in their aggressive war against Ukraine, and have united and strengthened their opponents to an extent that they obviously did not anticipate at all. Even if they manage to fight to a stalemate and a long occupation of the East, they will have suffered a serious setback and reduced their overall position geopolitically, probably for more than a generation. And, somewhere, somehow, sometime, Putin will be deposed and castigated in his own country for this failure. 

10 April 2022

Democratic vs. Antidemocratic

I suppose it's a sign of the times that I find it nearly incomprehensible that any significant number of Americans would vote for Trump over essentially any Democrat. I feel the same way about Macron v. LePen. Trump is worse than LePen, surely, but the division is parallel and pretty unmistakable. It is almost like the 1930s Fascists vs. democratic/republican western leaders. Except the weird twist (maybe not so weird if you recall the Ribbentrop–Molotov Pact) is that Russia is clearly the leader of the Fascist pack at this point, and the apparent incipient alignment of India and China, half the world's population, with the anti-democrats, is quite alarming. 

Those of us who came of age in the Vietnam era tended to see the CIA and the American government as the Great Imperial Power. But the US is no longer nearly so powerful, and while some of its alignments (such as with Saudi) are horrible and very, very problematic, it seems like the alignment of the world into "democratic" and "anti-democratic" forces has our government, for the moment, at least, on the side of the angels. 

Or so I maintain at least. But if we re-elect Trump, all is lost. 

07 April 2022

Ex-guy's obvious guilt of crime

People often misunderstand what is required for proof of "intent" in various crimes of which this is an element, including the kind of seditious conspiracy that I truly believe the ex president is almost certainly guilty of. What is needed is not direct proof of state of mind, that is, a deliberate intention to commit the specified crime, but rather evidence from which a trier of fact can reasonably conclude ("beyond a reasonable doubt") that the individual knew and intended to do the things that are, in fact, the crime, regardless of whether he intended to commit a crime or knew that the actions or omissions were a crime. This is an important point, and the fact that the ex guy is now saying he regrets not having marched on the Capitol himself (instead of retreating to his private dining room to cheer the insurrectionists on) is yet more evidence to nail this inference. 

26 March 2022

Developments in the War

 I already expressed my skepticism that apparent... although unconfirmed... Russian redeployment inside Ukraine is any kind of signal that they are planning on ending the invasion, or still less that regime change is imminent. But, it isn't impossible either. Watch the next week or so. If Putin is not seen, or only seen but not heard from, that could be a sign that major, tumultuous events up to and including his being deposed, are underway. But I wouldn't hold my breath. It is certainly true that by any realistic assessment he badly miscalculated this entire war, and his forces failed to achieve their expected result. They seem to be trying to get the Ukrainians to agree...now... to a result they probably could've had in a few days if they'd just occupied the Donbas and left it at that. But this is now, that was then. There appears to be zero appetite in Ukraine to cede any territory to Russia. A war of attrition favors Russia at this stage so this could be a huge mistake for Ukraine in the long run, but the notion that this war is likely to end soon is far from certain; it may not even be likely. 

"Signs" of Russian rethinking of objectives being taken as a sign of imminent Regime Change ... not so fast

 I suspect some commentators who are taking the rumblings leaked from Russian military sources, about refocusing on more limited war objectives, as a sign of imminent regime change in Russia, are getting ahead of their skis quite a bit. Kremlinology has always been an obscure science, and those who have tried to predict what the Russian government will do by reading tea leaves in this manner have generally been wrong. Of course we all hope for some kind of resolution, some stand-down that will ease the East/West tensions, now at their highest point perhaps ever; even the 1962 missile crisis. But I seriously doubt claims that Putin is about to be ousted based on this highly ambiguous signaling. In the west, we grasp at any sign that this incredible fiasco could be somehow short-circuited, but I'm afraid this is nothing more than wishful thinking at this point. Of course, I would love to see Putin step down or be ousted and someone more prepared to work with the international community take his place. But objectively that remains highly unlikely at this point. Other events may intercede and make this outcome more likely, but so far, I just don't see it happening. 

And, for once, I would dearly love to be proved wrong. 

Thomas and why recusal is absolutely mandatory

I'm not a lawyer, but I used to play one in the office. (I described my profession as  "Legal Ghostwriter," although technically I was a "Legal Assistant," a job title often used for what used to be called legal secretaries, because that's what I actually did: written work for lawyers to sign as their own work). Anyway, this is all a complete diversion from my point, which is this: Clarence Thomas has already grossly violated any reasonable standard of legal ethics by not recusing himself from cases in which his wife and her extremist political activism are entangled. As Josh Marshall put it, he " should recuse himself from any Jan 6th or Trump election (past or future elections)–related cases."  But Marshall then goes on to explain, correctly but I think irrelevantly, that the Thomases must have discussed all this, he is involved in her political activities, etc. This, however is not the point. Recusal is required when the connection is plausibly inferred. Or, in other words, on the appearance of a conflict of interest, whether or not an actual conflict exists. Whether there actually was communication and compromising influence is immaterial. The mere appearance that it could have happened, the mere fact that she is his wife and is involved in some way in these cases, is enough to require it. A competent and ethical jurist would recuse as a matter of course, and only a anti-democratic authoritarian operative posing as a jurist in the Anglo Saxon judicial tradition would fail to do so. QED.

24 March 2022

Ukraine War Sanctions and Russian commercial aviation

This video on the rather dramatic impact of the aviation sanctions following on the Ukraine War is a must-see. It's a new world, and not a better one, in many ways. And it's pretty hard to see how this situation is going to be reversed anytime soon. All those seized leased aircraft mean that Russian commercial aviation will not be trusted or supported by Western technology or companies again for a long, long time. No way is this a positive development for anyone, but those who will suffer from it most are the Russian people themselves. 

Condemning Fascist aggression whatever its cultural or historical background

 Just heard Yale history prof. Timothy Snyder say "if you're against stupid criminal wars, you're against stupid criminal wars, no matter who starts them."  And, "He [Putin] has a very clear fascist ideology." 

I think both of these statements are absolutely right, and constitute the essence of the counterargument to Putin apologists. "Whataboutism" is not a defense, but a logical fallacy, and Fascism can come from former left wing Anti-American regimes as easily as from societies which have essentially always been authoritarian or from societies where democracy has been abandoned or undermined. The criminality and stupidity of America's war in Iraq is in no sense a reason to excuse the far worse atrocities of Putin. 

Madmen and the bomb

 It's often remarked, by those inclined to indulge in "what if?" alternate history speculation, that had the Germans' WW2 era nuclear program produced a viable nuclear weapon during that war, Hitler would surely have used it. I am not sure that in Vladimir Putin we do not have the 21st century equivalent of that situation. Except that this time, the madman does have them, and they have orders of magnitude more destructive power. There really is no valid and methodologically defensible way to assess the risk. The downside can be considered for practical purposes to be infinite... there is a very real danger, by all assessments, that an all out thermonuclear exchange would result in human extinction, or at least the disappearance of civilization for a very, very long time. Reasonably assessed at totally unacceptable. So what level of risk of that happening as a direct result of actions can be considered acceptable? 1% (not that probabilities are really even meaningful here, we're talking about something pretty close to "hunches")? A 1% chance in a year's time, over 100 years, means the chance of its happening in that time is pretty close to certainty, and we're talking about an urepeatable catastrophe that literally means game over. Can we really be sure our actions aren't increasing that risk to an unacceptable level? But then, even if we do nothing at all, there is a shockingly high risk, so maybe what's happening here is that we are being forced to grapple with the fact that we've been whistling in the dark for decades now, and the real truth is that having madmen in charge of nuclear weapons is the problem. I don't think anyone can genuinely say they are absolutely certain they have a prescription that is 100% guaranteed to give us the best chance at an acceptable outcome. This is the conundrum, or dilemma, of the ages: there really is no good solution other than to try very hard to avoid provoking a disaster while steering policy towards not only the elimination of dictatorship but elminating these weapons once and for all. And enforcing a ban on them forever.  Otherwise, I think it's likely our civilization, if not our species, really is doomed. It's just a matter of time, and in terms of geological time, a very short one at that. 

19 March 2022

Maker's Mark

Recently had my piano action regulated and reweighted... a fairly complex process that resulted in lighter feel and better inertial balance. Everything is a compromise, so there is a slight edginess of tone that enters in, but overall we consider the result a significant improvement in playability and ease of achieving dynamic range, which is very important, especially to amateurs like me, who lack the fine motor finesse to make these subtle gradations on a heavier-weighted action and the sheer strength and finesse it takes to play a piano with a heavy action comfortably. The technician told me the hammers are large and heavy, of the type used on larger pianos, so that may be why; he was able to adjust everything to make it more even and lighter overall in feel. We're very happy with the result. Anyway, the technician found this lovely old world "maker's mark" on key 87.  The "€"–like cipher is an "E" for Estonia, the brand name, and it's a signature with date, 2017. 

16 March 2022

Some good news?

Zelenskiy has said that the Russians are being "more realistic" in their negotiating position in talks. This is the first ray of good news on this front to date.  Let's hope it really means the beginning of a resolution of this horrible war, which has been going so badly for the Russians. 

13 March 2022

Barr

 I am sick and tired of hearing from or about William Barr. There was a time and place for him to tell what he knows about Trump. And it was during the second (if not the first) Impeachment hearing, or at any time since under oath before a Congressional committee, which he consistently declined to do. So he should just STFU and go to hell. Or, better, volunteer to speak before the Jan. 6 committee, live, in front of cameras, and under oath. 

Reich wrong about the 21st Century — The Guardian

This ope ed in the Guardian by Robert Reich is profoundly depressing, because most of us have been similarly disillusioned. 



Sometimes people don't want to hear the truth because they don't want their illusions destroyed. --Nietzsche

10 March 2022

Odd names for things.

One or two of these, such as 'tines,' are actually pretty common words. 



Sometimes people don't want to hear the truth because they don't want their illusions destroyed. --Nietzsche

09 March 2022

Ebay Russian seller

 Happened to look for something on ebay and the best price was a seller in Moscow. The banner said "this seller is away until December 31, 2030. Purchasers may put their name on a waiting list." The price was given in US dollars but under shipping it said "Does Not Ship to the United States." Not sure if this was intended to be gallows humor or what. Surprised ebay hasn't just kicked off all the Russian sellers. But if that really is their best guess as to when relations between Russia and the US will be normalized, it's kind of terrifying. 


08 March 2022

Shifting sanctions

 I have long felt that there was a clear hypocrisy, and even irrationality in terms of national interests, in sanctioning Iran and Venezuela but not Saudi or Pakistan, both of which have committed multiple atrocities and are a threat to world peace (especially Pakistan, a nuclear power). I'll leave alone as irrelevant to this particular discussion the double standard of favoritism (the opposite of sanctions) applied to Israel, which is in actual fact a belligerent state that maintains an apartheid regime with respect to its non-Jewish citizens. But what I'm getting at is that it actually makes perfect sense, in terms of geopolitics, for the US and Europe to lift sanctions on Iran and Venezuela to free up the flow of oil into world markets. The Europeans largely don't have any sanctions against Venezuela anyway, but it could supply the US with whatever shortfall the current crisis will cause; we currently import most of the oil we don't produce ourselves from Canada and Mexico. And to the cry of "hypocrisy!" I would answer that however much certain elements in the US National Security state may detest Maduro and the Iranian regime, they have not attacked their neighbors in a war of territorial aggrandizement, so equity of response calls for shifting the burden of sanctions onto the worst actors, while not so hobbling the world economy that everyone suffers inordinately. 

The economic aftermath of Putin's War

 Here's an observation that may be too obvious to even mention. Western (and not just American) oil companies and others that have made significant and sometimes risky investments in Russia's economy, mostly to the benefit of so-called "oligarchs" who have corruptly siphoned off wealth that could have been used to actually develop the country's resources and capacities.... will not be nearly as willing to take those risks again in whatever the aftermath of Putin's War may be. Unless it's nuclear Armageddon, in which case none of it will matter whatever else may happen. Russia has decidedly not shown itself to be really any good at all at developing its own economy, in sharp contrast to, say China, or even India. 

It may seem way to early, in the face of a huge refugee crisis and massive human suffering, to even talk about an aftermath, but it is already clear that Russia cannot sustain a long war and forever military occupation, so there will be change. Putin's regime will come to an end, and it's a safe bet it will be sooner than it would've been had he not launched this badly miscalculated Imperial land grab, which gives the total lie to any concept of pan Slavism. It couldn't be more obvious that he cares almost nothing for his own people, still less for the people of Ukraine. 

Russians and rockets

 One reads where Putin has decided to stop selling rocket engines to the US (and presumably stop sponsoring launches of US satellites from Krasnoyarsk). A decade ago, when NASA was in serious neglect due to the depredations of the Bush years, this would've really mattered to America's space enterprise. But today, apart from the International Space Station, our country has very little cooperation with Russia in this arena anyway. Elon Musk, whose company SpaceX supplies space vehicles capable of supplying and even, in an emergency, evacuating, the ISS, was contemptuous of the announcement (predictably). But I admit I was caused to wonder for the first time, what about the ISS? There are Russian and American astronauts up there. Must be a very tense situation. 

03 March 2022

Zelensky takes Merkel's call

 This clip from when Zelensky was a comedian is rich. It's incredibly ironic in view of recent events. 

02 March 2022

Silver lining ?

I'll leap out on a limb here. There's been a lot of terrible and scary news the last ten days or so. But what I see is a major paradigm shift, in the world but especially in our own country. The vacuous nonsense of Trump and Trumpism is being shunted aside and for the first time in quite a while most Americans are united in seeing value in global stability and danger in autocracy and aggression. This has parallels to the unification of public opinion in 1940-41 when the naked aggression of the Germans became inarguable and American Fascists, for the most part, had to crawl into their holes and shut the hell up. We're not there yet, but I think this crisis may indeed bring about a big shift, and at least a degree of unification of public opinion around a critical issue... and a president... for the first time in a good long while. 


No no-fly zone

This article by Josh Marshall explains simply and clearly why the "no fly zone" in Ukraine proposed by certain very ignorant members of Congress, and others, is totally unworkable and, frankly, an extremely dumb idea.  

28 February 2022

The danger of cornering a mad king

I wrote  this more or less as part of a private message, but I think it bears repeating to my farflung correspondents.

I think there's at least some credible evidence that Putin is not acting entirely rationally. Sure the nuclear sabre rattling could be just that, but the fact is that the kind of direct personal ("imperial?") control he apparently has over thermonuclear weapons that could be almost inadvertently unleashed is literally unprecedented. The Soviet leaders didn't trust that unmediated control to one person... they were less trusting of one man's restraint even than in the US.

The immediate dilemma as I see it is we don't dare corner Putin. We, and by we I mean the whole world including China, need to give him an out where he can claim to have accomplished something. I really want to believe there's a part of him that doesn't want to be hated in 10,000 years when the name Hitler draws blank stares, as the man who caused the Great Death and the Long Dark Age. That is, if the human race even survives.

Is this a realistic possibility? I would like to think not, but very serious and well informed people, habitually disinclined to panic or paranoia, as saying that it is. We cannot sleepwalk into Armageddon. We simply cannot.

We stand a better chance of surviving the depredations of the dictator Putin in the short run than if we allow a regional crisis to become the tragic pretext of the long feared but nowadays mostly ignored fact that we remain on a hair trigger of nuclear annihilation. 

Chinese historian Fu on Ukraine invasion

 I think this, from an open letter by Chinese historian of World War I Fu Guoqi (and signed by four other Chinese historians), is right on. (Quoted in the Guardian). But we should also realize that World War I could have been avoided only if rational people on both sides were willing to really try to find a feasible offramp for belligerence. 

"What will this war lead to? Will it lead to a large-scale world war?" the historians asked. "Great catastrophes in history often started with local conflicts. We strongly opposed Russia's war against Ukraine. Russia's invasion of a sovereign state by force … is a violation of the norms of international relations based on the United Nations charter and a breach of the existing international security system."
 
In public, China opposes any act that violates territorial integrity. China's foreign minister, Wang Yi, articulated this position again in a late-night post published on his ministry's website on Friday. But over the course of the past week, as civilians were killed and western sanctions intensified, Beijing continued to echo Putin's argument that Moscow's action is a response to Nato's eastward expansion.
"Do they genuinely believe in that? Is it worth [it] for China to undermine its own credibility to defend the indefensible? I'm afraid they were fooled by Putin," Xu said, emphasising that he and his colleagues wrote this letter because they love the country, and they do not wish a potential worldwide tragedy to stall China's future.
 
"This is simply a black and white matter," he continued. "This is an invasion. As the Chinese saying goes: you cannot call a deer a horse. As Chinese historians, we do not wish to see China being dragged into something that will fundamentally harm the current world order. For the love of mankind, world peace and development, we should make this clear."

27 February 2022

Offramp?

I certainly get the point that you don't want to reward bad international behavior. But, as a purely pragmatic matter, I hope that Western countries are communicating suggestions to Zelenskiy for some sort of feasible offramp to offer the Russians in the negotiations which have now been agreed to. Putin has clearly badly miscalculated. But if some sort of face-saving offer of a way to defuse this crisis is not come up with, the ways forward all look pretty bleak. Exactly what that might be, I admit, I can barely imagine. 

Only thing more dangerous than the war going well for Putin is for it to go badly....

Strictly from the point of view of the stability of the world's fragile peace, this article is pretty alarming. 

26 February 2022

Cutting off Russia from the rest of the world

I don't fully understand internet nodes and IP addresses and all that, but I was wondering, and maybe someone can explain. Why can't we just identify all the internet connections in Russia and cut them off from the rest of the world? Surely that would be an effective sanction. 

If YouTube and Facebook can block all nudity or pornography, surely it's possible to just plain BLOCK Russia. Or if not, why not? 


Putin aggression

 I have a good friend who is actually saying that Biden and Obama are as bad or worse than Putin, citing the air invasion of Libya. He told me some months ago he considers RT (Russia Today) a more reliable news source than, say MSNBC. I shake my head. I don't argue with him, because I don't think there's much point, but I really do feel that this has gone beyond the point that that is even a comprehensible position to take, given what has happened. Sure, the invasion of Iraq and the forever war in Afghanistan were unjustifiable. I am in agreement with him that US interventionism since 1945 has been mostly unjustified, and that war should not be in the discretion of the executive, but should only be engaged in when Congress authorizes it. I even agree that the expansion of NATO was probably a mistake (although it was a consensus mistake that could've been stopped as easily by Britain, France or Germany as by the US). And that Russia does have legitimate security concerns. But it is also the case that Russia gave supposedly ironclad security guarantees and recognized a sovereign and independent Ukraine in exchange for the removal of nuclear weapons. So there is no way around it: this is territorial aggrandizement. The US was at least nominally protecting a border, not seeking to add territory, in Vietnam. The war in Iraq (second time) was probably the closest analog to what Putin is doing in Ukraine, and I do blame Bush for establishing a precedent that an autocratic dictator like Putin can point to to justify incursions into Georgia, Crimea, even Chechnya, and now Ukraine.  

But the bottom line is that we are looking at a land war in Europe, and the destabilization of a world order that has kept basic peace on a global scale since 1945. Sure there have been evil deeds on both sides. But to my mind this is the worst; the greatest threat to global stability at least since the Mideast war in 1973. So I cut Putin no slack. This is a travesty and a war crime, and we are facing a global crisis of the first order because of his deranged aggression, which cannot possibly benefit his country or his people in either the short or the long run. Trying times. I'm imagining people living in places like the Baltic republics, Moldova, and the "near abroad" as the Russians call it in general are legitimately very, very worried right now. 

25 February 2022

The blunt truth

I don't think hyperbole in a time like this is helpful. But I think this is the blunt truth. Set aside that there are legitimate Russian security concerns. That there are historical factors complicating the Ukraine/Russia symbiosis. That the expansion of NATO involved some going back on assurances given the Russians. Not as significant as the assurances Russia gave to respect the territorial integrity of Ukraine in exchange for Ukraine giving up nuclear weapons, but, never mind; set all that aside.

The truth is that Putin will take whatever he can get away with and will not stop until he is stopped; until he is up against force he knows he cannot overcome. Putin is the most dangerous Russian tsar since Stalin. The postwar Soviets... Kruschev, Kosygin, Brezhnev, Andropov, Chernenko, and especially Gorbachev... all seemed to at least understand that nuclear Armageddon was unthinkable. Putin has all but overtly threatened the use of at least tactical nuclear weapons if anyone "interferes" with his aggression against a sovereign country, a country whose territorial integrity his nation had assured. That's all but indistinguishable from the kind of stance taken by Hitler. Power justifies aggression in his mind.

For the first time since at least the 1973 Middle East War I am in actual terror for the fragile global peace, and seriously worried that our world may be coming apart in ways we have not seen since World War II. And the game has changed incredibly dangerously since that time, as we all know.

18 February 2022

McFaul on Putin's thinking

I do not necessarily buy into every aspect of McFaul's analysis here, but I think it is worth thinking about, and that to a considerable extent he is right about the significant difference in the way Putin, and other autocrats including Xi Jinping, see the world. The way forward, with the primary goal being to avoid armed conflict the world simply cannot afford given the other crises facing us, will be fraught and difficult at best. 

 

16 February 2022

Woman only third person to be considered "cured" of HIV ---NYT

For a newspaper article, this one is a bit technical. But it's significant... we haven't generally heard the word "cure" used in connection with HIV except in a fairly negative cast lo these many years. I get it that many people have reservations and skepticism about the "miracles of modern medicine." But the fact remains that science-based Western medicine remains the best hope for millions upon millions of people who in traditional societies and lore would be condemned to painful early death.  

15 February 2022

Vaccination reduces risk of "Long Covid"

Now will they ditch royalty at last?

I am generally indifferent to what I regard as the ridiculous institution of royalty in the UK, but I gotta say. Wouldn't you think the sitting sovereign participating in funding a reported $14 million settlement for sexual abuse of a minor by her son, "Prince" Andrew, would be enough to convince most Britons to ditch royalty once and for all and instigate a republic? This is "tradition" and "historic majesty"? And as for Canada, Australia, New Zealand... isn't it about time to remove the queen from their currency and stamps and also end the fiction of monarchy? Ah, well, I guess this too will be swept under the rug. I have to admit that compared with some of the insanity that goes on in our country, this seems like a relatively minor issue. Still.... 
 

06 February 2022

Shipping label from China

I suppose it's politically incorrect, but I find this shipping label off of a package from China (unintentionally) hilarious. Not pressure, indeed.



04 February 2022

Assassination as an act of war

I say this with weariness, but I really believe it. While I have nothing good to say, obviously, about ISIS or its leadership, I object, as a citizen of the United States, to assassination missions being carried out in my name without a declaration of war or immediate provocation. Assassination of foreign leaders or agents is a war crime absent a specific casus belli and state of war; even then it should only be carried out in specific circumstances where dire danger justifies it, not as a routine tactic. We need to foster the evolution of a world where war is not a first resort, and never launched as an initial aggression or for illegitimate purposes such as overthrow of foreign governments for ideological reasons or aggrandizement. Acts of war should be carried out only after deliberation of our lawmakers not our executives, except in cases of immediate attack or justified fear of immediate attack. If we would like other countries to adhere to a similar standard, we must uphold it ourselves. This is a critique of both parties and nearly all politicians, since there are very few who would actually uphold such principles even if they could. 

I have been called naive making this argument but I insist: if we want others to play by rules and take every possible measure to avoid armed conflict, we must do so ourselves. Since World War II, our policies have been very much in conflict with these principles, and I think many of our troubles as a nation arise more or less directly from that fact. 


02 February 2022

Omicron down

Countrywide, new cases down 33% in the last week. Tell me that's not good news (and I'll smack ya, LOL). The pandemic is about to become endemic. For better or worse. 


Trump the witness tamperer

I'm glad to see that someone on the Jan. 6 committee is calling Trump's unprecedented and totally insane dangling of pardons for Jan. 6 criminals and others who may do similar things in the future... as an ex president who only in his own mind is likely ever to be president again... what it is: witness tampering. Chargeable and prosecutable? No. But it is intended to be and is functioning as witness intimidation and/or inducement, no question about it. The sad truth is that some degree of this kind of conduct is not practicably criminal. If Trump is good at anything, it's the art of being a really bad actor, without quite treading into the area where the law can easily hold you accountable. Fortunately, in certain other cases it looks like he may indeed have crossed that line. 



31 January 2022

Trump's Russian Fans

Fortunately, Trump's biggest fans, in Russia, don't get to vote in our elections, although to hear some of them talk about him, you'd think they can. 



Oregonian: Omicron receding in Oregon

Trump induces more insurrection by promising remorseless convicted criminals pardons

Almost certainly nothing can be done about it criminally, but it is a serious question whether Trump's promising pardons to convicted and unremorseful insurrectionists from Jan. 6 is seditious. It pretty clearly is intended to induce others to attempt to undermine the legitimacy of the US government. A stretch to say it's criminal, but it is most certainly unpatriotic and reprehensible. Which Democratic candidates and electioneers should be touting loudly and frequently. 


29 January 2022

Alegreya

I am sort of a font nut. I admire beautiful fonts, and tend to despise almost all sans-serif fonts except for their very limited uses, which does not include email, spreadsheets or any text beyond ten or twenty words that anyone should actually be expected to read. Recently I discovered a really nice, simple serif font with genuine italics and bold (not slant algorithm or widening derived). And it's free from Google Fonts. Alegreya is the name. 


Biden's pick.

May I state what I consider to be all but completely self-evident? There can be no discussion, no compromise, and no delay. Biden must pick one of the six or seven obviously best qualified women on his list tout de suite, and Schumer and the Dems must do exactly what McConnell did with Comey Barrett... rush the hearings and vote and get the new justice confirmed immediately, and in advance of Breyer actually stepping down. We cannot screw around with this, and we cannot allow there to be even a slightest whisper of possibility that the Republicans can do a goddamn thing about it. 


Maybe we should WANT Trump to run in 2024

My read, partly gut feeling and partly tea leaves, is that our big D Democratic chances of holding the White House in 2024 (setting aside the more urgent matter of keeping both houses in 2022, which will be harder), is that the malignant narcissist Orange One runs again. This is a little counterintuitive, but I'm hardly alone in this view. I sense, and read of signs, that while Trump has a solid, almost unshakeable base of maybe 30% of likely voters, distributed with respect to the electoral college pretty favorably to him, that's nowhere near enough to win. And, among a significant measure of Independents and even a pretty large number of Republicans, he has become almost a pariah. Someone they wish would just go away. Such people are not generally electable. Of course Democrats have to get their act together, and re-electing a somewhat lackluster president who will be by a good measure the oldest person ever sworn in (again) in 2025, will take some very powerful positive campaigning and not just a little luck in terms of political currents, the economy, and the state of the world come that time. 


26 January 2022

Sabine Hassenfelder on the Standard Cosmological Model

...and why we may be on the verge of a major paradigm shift.

This is very interesting. Sabine is very willing to entertain challenges to conventional wisdom in science, but she has very high standards of what is and what is not worth paying attention to. (If you're not intrigued by cosmological questions, it may not be as interesting to you as it is to me!) 



25 January 2022

Trump may well not run in 2024

I pretend no great psychological insight or training, but I agree with Josh Marshall's recent comment that, given his "mob boss" persona and personality, Trump will likely not run in 2024 at all if there is any significant opposition to him in his party. Which, given recent comments by the likes of Ann Coulter and some potential electoral challengers, it seems quite possible there will be. Marshall notes that in a crime organization, you're either boss or dead; there are not peaceful transitions of power. This is more like the kind of politics seen in the Soviet Union in the 1920s, but the dynamic is similar. Moreover, I think it's pretty generally accepted that Trump is a pretty classic case of narcissistic delusional personality. He pretty clearly simply cannot reconcile himself with the unassailable fact that he lost the 2020 election, so he maintains, actually believes... and has managed to convince many of his followers despite the complete absence of actual evidence... that he was cheated and actually did win. Faced with any real electoral opposition in a party many of whose members have long realized that it's a dangerous game having an honest to god lunatic at the helm, he may rationalize an exit from contention rather than risk losing. His niece Mary Trump, a clinical psychologist by training, has said as much several times. 

All of this is a mixed bag in terms of the nation's prospects, it seems to me. Because Trumpism, with all its antagonism to principles of constitutional small-r republicanism, remains wildly popular among about 40% of the electorate, which we have seen is enough, if distributed the way it generally is, to win elections. So having a smarter, more stable, more genuinely likeable potential autocrat in place of Trump at the head of the Trumpist party might actually be more dangerous. I think there remains a lot of antagonism to Trump personally that could help defeat him in 2024 if he does run, but if someone like DeSantis or Hawley, or even Youngkin, replaces him, we could actually be worse off. 


23 January 2022

Electric Vehicle Technology racing ahead

There's buzz in the auto enthusiast world to the effect that sometime in this decade the "range anxiety" for electric cars is going to flip to "range envy" for non-EVs. And that it is Hyundai/Kia, not any of the American or Japanese or European manufacturers, who are on the cutting edge. Although I'm not entirely sure that includes Tesla, which is pretty secretive. Anyway, the rumors are that by around 2026 they will release electric cars with good road qualities (which they already have) and a 500 mile range on a full charge. Chinese manufacturers, of which there are at least ten seriously working on EVs, are not too far behind. Battery technology, and other systems technologies, are racing forward. 

It's sad to see America's technological supremacy being superseded, but it's a process that's already well underway, and we better get used to it. I have cautious optimism in this sense: it's been clear for some time that the real obstacles to Climate Change solutions are not technical but political. These developments are a sign that the technological developments that can lead to a carbon neutral future will happen anyway, regardless of politics. 

We somewhat reluctantly decided recently to buy a PHEV (plug in hybrid) as a second car to our EV (replacing a pure gasoline car), because the infrastructure for longer trips in EVs still just isn't there in this country. But the PHEV does drive far enough on pure electric to do most local trips. The estimated "combined average" is over 100 mpg. I am thinking with any luck we'll buy another EV to replace this car in 5 years or so, and never buy a gasoline engined car again. 


21 January 2022

Boosters and omicron

This piece reports on studies that are fully consistent with prior indications that vaccination is quite effective at preventing serious illness from the omicron variant. It appears that the wave of omicron is peaking in most parts of the US and that its impact will be at least somewhat less than feared. The emergence of omicron specific vaccines in the near future is even more encouraging in this regard. 

As before, what is so incredibly frustrating is that willfully, even arrogantly, ignorant people are intentionally undermining the recovery we so desperately need by refusing to get vaccinated. 



12 January 2022

Herschel Walker

I am by constitution and development about as un-sports minded as it's possible to be. Of American men in my age cohort, I'd guess somewhere like the 0.1 percentile with regard to awareness of or concern about any kind of professional or collegiate sports activity, including even the Olympics, which barely penetrates my notice. But even I had heard of Herschel Walker before he became (notwithstanding the complete lack of apparent qualification) the Trump backed candidate for Senate from Georgia. 

Now we learn that he's almost literally peddling snake oil on national television. 

I would like to suggest that this gentleman should be cited if not indicted for illegal false advertising. 

And I would like to, but actually don't, believe that most Georgians will be repelled by such obvious Trumpian grift. 



Threats to Democracy

Seems pretty axiomatic. If, as I believe to be true, one of the chief hallmarks of democratic governance is the peaceful transition of power-- the losers leave and the winners take over-- we have had our warning knell. Our system is potentially already fatally wounded. We shall see, and we will find out in the relatively near future. As Bill Moyers says, those of us who care about the continuance of whatever degree of democracy we have had better be prepared to fight. Not violently, but fiercely. Because the risk that all will be lost is very, very real. We have to keep this forefront in mind. 


07 January 2022

The threat of Trump and Trumpism

I've seen quite a few comments in the media to the effect that there's a very good chance Trump will not only run but win in 2024. I just want to say these are perhaps useful as clarion calls, but as meaningful predictions they are completely worthless. Much can, and will, happen in the more than 2½ years to the next presidential election. Intuition and gut feeling are as likely to be accurate as any read of Biden's popularity vs. Trump's at this stage. And here is my gut feeling: Trump has dismayed enough people, above and beyond his inability to even come close in the popular vote in 2020, that if he runs he will lose, and by such a margin that it will be just plain impossible to pull off a cheat-to-win gambit. In the end, people want stability, and more people than ever see Trump as a disruptor; a threat to stability rather than as a savior. Maybe I'm just overly optimistic, but this is how I see it. In the meantime, however, the very real threat of utter gridlock from losing one or both houses this year, and the continuing crippling polarization of our people, remain a crisis of serious proportions. Indeed, the American constitutional crisis over the next 2-3 years probably properly rates as one of the greatest risks to global stability in a good long while. 


06 January 2022

Doraibu mai ka

A friend just told me that the Japanese film Doraibu mai ka ("Drive My Car") is "the best film [he's] even seen." Hyperbole, no doubt, but I pass it on. Coming to the Hollywood Theater here in Portland on the 21st. 



05 January 2022

Facebook account deactivated.

Some weeks ago I stopped using Facebook, and made that known to people I correspond with. Today I deactivated my account, so you will not see my page or be able to send me messages. To get in touch, please use e mail or refer to gyromantic.com. Thanks. 


Restoration of US manufacturing capacity


Forgive what may be naiveté, but the strategy described in this article has long seemed so obvious to me that it surprises me that it doesn't get talked about far more, as one relatively rare thing that both political parties should be able to agree on. Public policy certainly can influence the course of economic development, and even as a pure security issue I would think that having a robust manufacturing sector would be seen as an essential goal going forward for our country. It seems beyond doubt that the US is far gone from the "sole superpower" hubris of the 1990s, and shifting foreign policy away from hegemony to cooperative harm reduction and conflict avoidance is also an obvious goal, but encouraging this kind of development seems to me to be absolutely essential.


02 January 2022

JWST

If you share my admiration and appreciation of the efforts that have given us the James Webb Space Telescope, you will be happy to note that NASA is reporting some very good news. The launch parameters and course corrections of the Arianespace launch and subsequent maneuvers went so well that a substantial amount of onboard fuel was saved. The mission, designed to last approximately five to six years, with a hope for extension if everything went well to maybe ten, is now estimated to have enough fuel for even a few years beyond that. This is at least possibly long enough that a mission to the LaGrange 2 point (where it will orbit) at some point in the future could refuel and refurbish the telescope. Similar to repair missions to the now nearly 30 year old Hubble. (Right now there is no operational space technology anywhere in the world that could fly even a robotic repair mission to L2, but it's certainly not beyond the realm of possibility by the 2030s). 

Of course there are still some very tricky things that have to go right before the mission can be considered a success and the telescope begin operating, but there is a general feeling of optimism. A welcome thing in these very troubled times. Particularly in view of the model of international cooperation which the JWST follows. 


01 January 2022

A little New Years musing on Consciousness

The great Epicurean Democritus (c.460-370 BCE), of whose writings next to nothing has come down to us, supposedly said: "Sweet is sweet, bitter is bitter, hot is hot, cold is cold, and color is color. But in reality there are only atoms and the void."  

This may seem trivial, but in focusing on the qualia of mind, it points up the "hard problem"* of consciousness, one of the greatest of unsolved mysteries. [*David Chalmers]. Really very little progress on this particular area of inquiry was made from the time of Democritus until perhaps the 17th century, when light was split by a prism into its component colors, and some hint that odors and tastes were the byproduct of chemical reactions that could be replicated and categorized, came about. But the real essence of the problem remains. You can describe and measure the wavelength of light, describe the chemistry of sugar and even synthesize molecules that fool the tongue into believing something is sweet when it isn't even food. We have come to understand that heat is randomized kinetic energy of atoms and molecules, and discovered the laws of thermodynamics, which even hint at how it must have been possible (indeed must have actually happened), given a disequilibriated natural energy gradient, that living organisms spontaneously arose from nonliving chemistry and gave rise through the process of Darwinian evolution to an entire biosphere on this lonely planet. (And cold is nothing other than a lower state of that same randomized kinetic energy). But none of that explains the feeling of cold or hot, or the experience of color, or what sounds sound like (which Democritus might just as well have mentioned).  

These are essential features, or states, of the entirely internal reality of consciousness, about which we still know next to nothing. Daniel Dennett presumed to explain it all for us in his 1990 book Consciousness Explained, which I read. It didn't accomplish its goal, at least not to my satisfaction. Of course, you can make the statement that consciousness is the emergent system from a complex neurochemical matrix we call a nervous system, and that through its operation the illusion or apparent experience of awareness (circular a little?) emerges. But what does that really mean? How does that provide even the slightest insight into what it actually means to perceive red when light of about f=650 nm encounters your retina? It's certainly not the same thing as a computer registering that measurement on an algorithmic matrix. 

The issue, I think, comes down to the essential nature of scientific inquiry. Science objectifies. It simplifies assumptions, creates models, looks for patterns and mathematical relationships that can yield algorithms and technologies that allow external reality to be not only understood but manipulated. Its methodology has been spectacularly successful, particularly over the past 500 years. Even such seemingly intractable problems as the Climate Catastrophe are not really scientifically intractable: they have yielded, and continue to yield, to investigation and modeling quite nicely: the problems are more political than scientific. (Although political problems can kill us just as dead, so I don't mean to minimize them). 

Psychology, and traditional spiritual practices, have given us tools to "work with" our minds, and have yielded very useful tools and insights into what is important in consciousness, and how to examine it from the inside, to the benefit of our species, and, possibly, through beneficial insight, the benefit of all life. But are we really any closer to understanding what consciousness actually is, objectively? Where is it? What is it? What is it made of? What are the laws that govern its continuing existence and transformations? 

I ask, but I have no answers. I've read a fair amount of the popular literature on the subject, including the chapter on consciousness in Biran Greene's Until the End of Time just recently. And it still seems, from what I can gather, that this remains the "hard problem" that the finest minds of our species are not really even close to understanding. 

I laugh a little when I read about people like Ray Kurzweil and arrogant narcissists like Peter Thiel who think that we are on the verge of a singularity, whereby our wonderful computing machines will suddenly emerge not only faster and more computationally competent than our own brains, but also self aware, i.e., conscious. To my thinking this is absurd. Think about your interactions with computers. Oh, they are very clever at various functions that seem mindlike. But ask yourself, have you ever had even the slightest hint that there is a mind on the other side of that screen that is actually aware? The way a dog is obviously aware when it looks at you? I submit, no, because the architecture of "thinking machines" makes them anything but that. They do not think. They process data. And those are not at all the same thing. I am not being rigorous here, but I intuitively know that there is a crucial distinction here. 

We may have trouble if we build computers we can't control, but it will not be because they are self-aware. Whatever it is in the course of Darwinian evolution that caused consciousness to arise is not being replicated in the cybernetic sphere. I am not making a religious pronouncement here. I feel pretty sure that whatever consciousness is, it isn't magic. It exists in the physical world and complies with the laws of physics, like all matter and energy. But what I am pretty sure of is that for all our scientific and technological achievements, our species, as yet, knows very, very little about consciousness, and has essentially no ability to model or replicate it. Certainly our computers are not conscious, and don't really show any signs of even developing in that direction. Computation and control are useful tools, but they are not by any means the only, or even the primary, function, of minds. Which is probably why our brains are so very, very bad at computation. Even a $10 calculator is much better at it. 

If any of my farflung correspondents can point me in the direction of materials that would lead to a different conclusion, I would be grateful. Otherwise, my sole purpose in this little New Years' essay is to point out that we don't know a whole lot, we humans, and there are whole areas of crucial, really vital knowledge where we know next to nothing. And consciousness; what it is, how it arose, and what its ultimate destiny in the universe may be, is almost entirely in that area I like to think of as the Sea of Unknowing. I suspect that as time passes this will become more and more the focus of human intellectual effort, as other, more tractable, problems become better and better understood, leaving room to ponder the hardest problem. 

Happy New Year, everyone.