29 April 2024

Unions coming back

I regard the UAW unionization victory at VW in Tennessee (probably soon to be followed by a similar victory at Mercedes in Alabama)... as a watershed. Tesla, Amazon, Starbucks, tech companies like Google, Microsoft, Meta, Apple ... you're next. 

As a longtime white collar (thus nonunion) employee, I have always known that the only reason we even had benefits, fair work rules, reasonable hours (such as weekends off), overtime, etc. is because of the blood, sweat and tears of union organizers and workers in the past. 


27 April 2024

Data from exoplanet research points to a "rare earth" conclusion

I know I harp on this a lot, but it amuses me and I honestly believe this kind of "cosmic view" of our planetary predicament is not only a good thing, it is vital to our ability to understand our problems and devise strategies to actually solve them sustainably. If it doesn't interest you, the delete button is on the upper right and no need to belabor the point.  

I asked ChatGPT this: 

Would it be accurate to say that exoplanet data has led to the conclusion that planets, and planetary systems, are more variable, and thus less like the Solar System, in general and on average, than had previously been thought? And, therefore, that planets closely resembling Earth, with large liquid water oceans, plate tectonics, and at least the potential for the continued existence of carbon based life over very long periods of time, need to be considered quite rare in the population of disk stars, many of which in other respects may closely resemble the Sun?
And ChatGPT answered thus:

Yes, it would be accurate to make such a statement. Observations of exoplanets have indeed shown that planetary systems exhibit a remarkable diversity, much greater than what was anticipated based on our Solar System alone. Many exoplanets discovered do not fit into the neat categories previously envisaged from our Solar System's structure. For instance, the discovery of "hot Jupiters" (gas giants that orbit very close to their stars) and "super Earths" (rocky planets larger than Earth but smaller than Neptune) challenged our conventional understanding of planetary system formation.

These findings imply that systems similar to our Solar System might be less common than once thought. When it comes to Earth-like planets, while many have been found in the habitable zone (where conditions could potentially allow liquid water to exist), the additional conditions necessary for Earth-like life—such as significant liquid water oceans, plate tectonics, and a stable climate system—are not easily inferred from distance observations alone. These factors contribute to the complex environments needed for life as we know it, suggesting that truly Earth-like planets could indeed be rare among the vast array of planetary systems.

Thus, the growing catalog of exoplanet characteristics has indeed led to a broader understanding that while star-like our Sun may be common, planets with conditions similar to Earth might be much rarer in the universe. This adds an important perspective to our search for extraterrestrial life and the study of planetary habitability.

Caveat: ChatGPT is, I've observed, somewhat susceptible to "leading questions," of which this might be considered an ultimate example.  ChatGPT lacks consciousness, which, unfortunately, means that to a considerable extent it lacks what you might call judgment, or discretion. Still, I think the answer is pretty consistent with the published information. It really is true that up until around 2000 it was generally thought that the Solar System, with its four inner "rocky" and four outer "gas" planets, was typical, but, well, it just isn't, as we now know, from well over 1500 fairly well defined example systems. And planets even within these categories (plus the entirely missing here category of "Super Earth") -- vary enormously, and, usually, not in a way conducive to the abiogenetic origin and persistence of carbon based life for long time periods. A lot of things have to go right, in a universe where "going wrong" is the norm (2d Law of Thermodynamics). 

I regard as a wake-up call the likelihood that life, and especially complex life, and even more especially intelligent life (whatever that loaded term may mean in the real world)... all are somewhere in the range of rare to exceedingly rare. The Copernican worldview, also known as the Principle of Mediocrity, while useful to science in many regards, cannot be taken too literally. In truth, the Sun is an unusually large and bright star (~90+ percentile). And the Earth is an extraordinarily rare and precious instance of a "bio-available" planet. My best guess is that fewer than 1 in 100,000 star systems have a planet that could be said to "closely" resemble Earth, even limiting consideration to merely physical and chemical similarities, without including the actual existence of complex life. Which may and probably will turn out to be another stringent limiting factor. I think it likely that fewer than 1 in a million or even 10 million star systems harbors a planet that could be considered closely comparable to Earth, and far fewer even than that that actually harbor intelligent living beings comparable to ourselves at the present epoch. Indeed, there are reasons to suppose it is unlikely that there is even one other such "currently inhabited by an intelligent species" world in this Galaxy. 

I feel we need to remind ourselves: We toy with the potential collapse of Earth's biosphere systems at our gravest peril. Literally everything we care about or have ever cared about is at stake, and science is telling us that we cannot take it for granted. Because for all intents and purposes there is only one Earth, and we will not find any solution to our problems of learning to live sustainably by expecting to find other worlds to just move to at some distant future date. That may eventually even happen, but not until and unless we figure out how to maintain our civilization with only the one world.  


24 April 2024

David Wallace Wells on Ozempic and its relatives ...miracle drug?

I don't really know how much credence to give this, but it's interesting regardless. Not everyone can read behind the NYT payw=all. 

Ketamine and Kava... not so benign?

I'm not one to get all preachy about recreational, stimulant, anxiolytic, or mood-therapeutic use of drugs, but it really does seem that "they all have a catch." The only seemingly genuinely benign mood/stimulant drug is coffee (or tea or maté)(containing caffeine, plus there are a few other xanthines, such as theobromine, found in chocolate, and theophylline, which is also found in tea, along with caffeine, but in tiny quantities). But even those have their detractors. Anyway, the latest fad drug that even in pretty main line circles has gained a lot of acceptance, ketamine, turns out to have some pretty serious side effects, affecting the lining of the bladder: 

It's only one article, but I would think long and hard before using this drug. 

Another one is kava, which is legal and sold in "kava bars." (Native to the "South Seas," and in use for centuries there, it contains at least 18 different related alkaloid kavalactones as the active ingredients, including kavain, methysticin, yangonin, and their molecular variants). I read (sorry don't have a citation) that it is associated with rather severe liver damage in some moderate to heavy users. You say "liver damage," and I tend to say, "no, thanks."


23 April 2024

Cheapest form of new power sources?

Here's a pure-and-simple fact that is changing the world but most people, thanks to misleading media coverage, do not know:

The two cheapest forms of new grid-available electric power as of 2024 are  solar and wind, in that order (both combined with advanced storage technology).  

We will begin to make rapid progress towards a carbon neutral sustainable energy economy now that renewable energy is cheaper


21 April 2024

Simon Rosenberg on pro-democracy messaging and the state of the election

If you care about preserving democracy, I strongly recommend you follow Simon Rosenberg's podcasts, YouTube channel, and/or substack. 


20 April 2024

Vote on Ukraine aid

May have to stop calling Mike Johnson "MAGA Mike." I have to admit I never thought he'd say something like this... and in the process of acting on it, to boot: 

"I am going to allow an opportunity for every single member of the House to vote their conscience and their will. I'm willing to take a personal risk for that, because we have to do the right thing. And history will judge us."

Don't worry, I'm not totally taken in. This is literally the bare minimum of foreign policy bipartisanship that one would expect from any Republican. Before Trump, that is. But one thing seems pretty clear to me: Johnson would not be doing this if it weren't for the fact that Trump's legal troubles and obvious and worsening mental incapacity are beginning to spell waning influence and control over all but the Cult members themselves. I am not complacent, but I think we may be seeing the beginnings of a collapse for Old Poopypants. And I must say, if it happens, it couldn't happen to a bigger, fatter, more disgusting POS. 

19 April 2024

ChatGPT lists some supplements to stay away from

I take a regimen of dietary supplements, including coQ10, D3, nicotinamide riboside, pterostilbene, PQQ, berberine, a blend of saw palmetto and other things supposedly promoting prostate health, and a few others. I try to make sure that at minimum they're not harming me. Anyway, I asked Chat GPT if there were supplements that doctors generally advise their patients NOT to take in most circumstances. You have to ask these questions right or CGPT will refuse to answer (it won't give medical advice (or legal advice) per se, for obvious reasons). This was its answer:

There are several dietary supplements that many doctors generally disapprove of and may recommend against in most circumstances due to concerns about their safety, effectiveness, or potential interactions with other medications. Some of these include:
  1. Kava: Often used for stress and anxiety relief, Kava has been linked to serious liver damage, including hepatitis, cirrhosis, and liver failure in some cases. Due to these risks, it is banned or restricted in several countries.
  2. Colloidal Silver: Touted for its supposed immune-boosting properties, colloidal silver can cause serious side effects, such as argyria (a permanent bluish-gray discoloration of the skin) and potential kidney damage. It provides no known benefits in the body when taken orally.
  3. Aristolochic Acids: Found in some traditional herbal remedies, aristolochic acids have been linked to kidney failure and urinary tract cancers. They are considered carcinogenic and have been banned in many countries, but they might still be found in some supplements.
  4. DMAA (1,3-dimethylamylamine): Often included in weight loss and bodybuilding supplements, DMAA has been linked to serious health issues such as cardiac arrest, headaches, and tremors. The FDA has warned against its use due to safety concerns.
  5. Yohimbe: Used as a treatment for erectile dysfunction and also in weight loss supplements, Yohimbe can cause erratic blood pressure, rapid heart rate, headaches, seizures, and kidney failure. It has significant potential for serious side effects, particularly in people with heart disease or hypertension.
  6. Comfrey: While traditionally used to heal wounds, bruises, and for joint inflammation, comfrey has substances called pyrrolizidine alkaloids that can cause liver damage and are also carcinogenic. It is unsafe for ingestion and advised against even in topical use over large areas or on broken skin.
  7. Bitter Orange (Synephrine): Commonly marketed as an alternative to the now-banned stimulant ephedra for weight loss, bitter orange can cause increased heart rate and blood pressure, leading to cardiovascular problems.
Doctors typically advise that supplements should not replace whole foods and a balanced diet. Before starting any supplement, especially for those with pre-existing conditions or who are taking other medications, it is crucial to consult a healthcare professional to assess potential risks and benefits.

Fortunately, I don't take any of these. I did try Kava (which I consider a drug, not a supplement) once, but didn't like it and wouldn't take something like that on a regular basis anyway. (Portland actually has at least one "kava bar," which seems to me to be a very questionable business venture, especially without prominent health warnings, of which, I gather, there are none). Yohimbe is pretty well known to be dodgy, and all the ephedrine-adjacents are pretty obvious stay aways.

The list is hardly exhaustive, especially if you include "traditional herbal remedies," which is sort of a euphemism for "raw plant material drugs." Quite a few of these, such as Ayahuasca (Banisteriopsis spp., often mixed with Psychotria viridis), are as dangerous as cocaine or opium, just not as well known. I'd say the jury is out on kratom (Mitragyna speciosa), which some doctors think of as just another addictive opioid-adjacent, but which remains legal and pretty widely used in many parts of the US. As a friend of mine wisely pointed out, just because plant alkaloids have been used in some traditional societies for a long time doesn't mean they're safe; different people, often with particular genetic profiles common in a regional population, may have very different tolerances and variations in liver function, such that what is a benign drug to some people may be toxic and quite dangerous to other people. This is even more true across species lines, interestingly: I read where the commonly used topical NSAID diclofenac is so toxic to cattle that a normal human dose can actually kill them. Just something to think about. Unfortunately, supplements and "herbals" aren't really regulated for safety. If you use them, it's caveat procuator.

18 April 2024

Time to jail Trump for contempt?

Trump is even more out of control than I thought. His most recent thinly disguised attempt at jury intimidation is so obviously a violation of the gag order that Justice Merchan is going to have no real choice but to impose a pretty strict sanction. He's already fined him, so it would seem that some kind of custodial sanction (house arrest? No access to the internet during course of trial? Not sure what's possible). If he does nothing, he is basically admitting his orders are feckless.

Interesting. I'm not following this trial minute by minute, but this is crazy. 

16 April 2024

Interesting analysis by ChatGPT of the phenomenon of increased "analytic" language prevalence over time

I got to thinking about the prevalence of Chinese and English, both fairly described as "analytic" rather than "synthetic" languages (like Sanskrit or Latin, or even moreso, like certain "polysynthetic" languages like certain Native American languages). There was at one time a theory than languages might go through a cycle, where they gradually simplify and become more word-order dependent (more analytic), and then some of the periphrastic conventions and "helper words" become more like grammatical endings, and a more synthetic language develops. But it seems, maybe widespread multilingualism, and advanced technology may be favoring more analytic grammar in languages. The tendency of writing, then printing, and now digital encoding, to "fix" languages so they do not evolve as rapidly as when they were only spoken, is also an interesting factor. So I asked Chat GPT about it: 

My question: Is there a discernible trend in modern languages actually spoken by tens of millions or more, for the languages to be more analytic and less likely to by synthetic, or even polysynthetic, and/or agglutinating?

ChatGPT's answer:
Yes, there is a discernible trend towards analytic languages among those spoken by tens of millions or more. Analytic languages typically rely more on word order, particles, and auxiliary words to convey grammatical relationships, rather than inflections or affixes attached to words. This trend can be observed due to various factors:

1. **Language Contact and Globalization**: With increased globalization and language contact, languages tend to simplify grammatical structures to facilitate communication between speakers of different linguistic backgrounds. Analytic languages often emerge as a result of this simplification process.

2. **Technological Advancements**: In today's digital age, where communication happens rapidly across various platforms, concise and straightforward languages are often favored. Analytic languages, which tend to have simpler grammar and morphology, are more conducive to digital communication.

3. **Education and Literacy**: As education becomes more widespread, there's a greater emphasis on literacy and education in many parts of the world. Analytic languages can be easier to learn and teach, especially for those who are not native speakers, compared to synthetic or polysynthetic languages with complex morphological systems.

4. **Urbanization**: Urbanization often leads to language simplification as diverse populations come together in cities, necessitating a lingua franca that is easy to learn and use. Analytic languages may be more suited to serve as this lingua franca due to their simplicity.

5. **Language Standardization**: Standardized forms of languages often tend to simplify grammatical structures for easier comprehension and learning. This trend can lead to the adoption of more analytic features in widely spoken languages.

However, it's essential to note that while analytic languages are becoming more prevalent due to these factors, there are still many synthetic and polysynthetic languages spoken by millions of people worldwide, particularly in indigenous communities and regions with strong cultural identities. Language evolution is a complex process influenced by a multitude of factors, and while there is a trend towards analytic languages, linguistic diversity remains rich and varied.


Another reason I remain optimistic

One reason I remain pretty optimistic about the election is exemplified by Orange Douchebag bitching about how unfair it is he can't attend Barron's graduation. Because he's a defendant in a felony criminal trial for crying out loud. The fact that he seems to be expected to be treated specially, when every other defendant if they behaved like him would be locked up in pretrial detention, is not lost on most of the public. 

David Frum, whom I disagree with about many things but share a determination to make sure Trump is not elected, noted that if you're running against an incumbent (Carter v. Ford, Reagan v. Carter, Clinton v. Bush I)... you make the election about dissatisfaction with them. You don't whine about how unfair they're being to you, and make the whole election a grievance fest about yourself. That's a recipe to lose and lose badly. Things could change, but right now, Trump's utterly selfish behavior is causing him to hemorrhage voters. Nobody likes a whining sore loser, and that's what Trump presents. 

08 April 2024

Anthony Davis interviews Simon Rosenberg; worth a listen

Longish (and very good) interview; Anthony Davis ("The Weekend Show") with Democratic operative Simon Rosenberg. 

05 April 2024

Why I remain relatively optimistic about this election

I remain fairly optimistic that Joe Biden will defeat Donald Trump, the Democrats will retake the House, and possibly even keep the Senate despite the worst Senate map for Democrats in literally decades. If you're receiving this e mail and don't like political pitches, sorry, but for me this is so important that I don't shy away from offending a few people. I honestly believe our democracy is at stake. If you disagree, feel free to tell me off or tell me why, but I don't apologize for making my views known, as I regard it as an integral part of the democratic process. (There's a delete button in the upper right, too). 

Here's why I remain optimistic about a "blue wave," in no particular order: 

1.  Trump is increasingly incoherent but also messianic, playing up the "chosen by God" meme and heavily playing on saving America from Satanic Democrats. The bad news... for MAGA... is that this just doesn't play well with the great majority of Americans. Literal biblical Christians are a distinct minority in this country, and the fact is that even at least some of them can't quite swallow the obvious grift and amorality of this, pardon the vulgarity, fucking liar. 

2. Dobbs. The fact is that many non-college educated women, who previously in many cases didn't even vote, or just voted the way their husbands told them to, feel an almost visceral sense of betrayal. They ... and their daughters... have enjoyed the rights over their bodies that their grandmothers had to fight for... their whole lives. And now, suddenly, they fear getting pregnant with the right to abortion, which really means the right to health care that focuses on them and not just the fetus they're carrying, is ... gone. Many of these women will vote for the first time. And they won't be voting for the Orange menace. 

3. Trump has never, ever, done a single thing to widen his base. Right now, many people when polled have a negative view of Biden due to a lot of distorted "both sides" media coverage and some real issues (Gaza, for example, where Biden has painted himself into a corner and is associated in many peoples' minds with Netanyahu's policies). Then there are the misperceptions (inflation, the economy, both much better than under Trump). And he is old. There's no way around it, he doesn't radiate vitality. But Trump is actually mentally worse, by several professional assessments, so the perception of disqualification based on lack of mental acuity should... and just may... work against Trump more than Biden. But it's true that when so far disengaged voters hear "Trump" or "Robert F Kennedy Jr" they align with those names, having developed a negative reflex about Biden. But as the actual facts of how grifty and narcissistic, as well as incoherent, Trump has become, many will drift home to Democrats, because, quite simply, there are no sane and honest Republicans left; the entire party has become MAGA. I think as the election heats up and people actually see the choice, more will end up in the Biden column than the Trump column. 

4. Trump picks many of the down-ballot candidates of the MAGA party, and he's terrible at it. Most of his "picks" lose, because their principal qualification is ass-kissing the Narcissist in Chief. This is now a well-established pattern. 

I do worry about Robert F Kennedy Jr., who is a conspiracy theory nutcase first and foremost. (Not only anti-vax. He's a 9-11 truther, and believes a whole host of ridiculous, non-evidence based conspiracy theories). But as the election season progresses, I believe his singular lack of Kennedy family charisma, and the really nutty elements of what he says, will begin to penetrate. As things stand, he draws some votes from Trump, but probably hurts Biden more so it's vital to not ignore him... Democrats must expose how virulently anti-democratic and just plain whacko he actually is. 

There are other factors, of course, and America is very polarized. Trump may well be a convicted felon by election day, which can't help, although I don't actually think that's a top tier factor. But the reality is that Biden and Democrats come across as sane, stable, reasonable, focused on the needs of ordinary people, etc., while MAGA is all about the fake victimhood and grift. (Keep up those lavish parties at Mr. & Mrs. MAGA's expense, Alina Habba... see how that works out for you and your mob boss). People can be swayed, to a point, and Trump, for all his repulsiveness and shocking ignorance, does have some sort of charisma with a lot of people. But in the end, you can't fool enough people to overcome the deficit. At this point, I believe exposure to more of Trump is costing him votes, not gaining them. I would go so far as to say, I think truthfully, unlike Trump who was grifting (and projecting) when he said it (and still is): the only way they can win is if they cheat. And they will try. We have to be vigilant and ready. 

In recent elections, it seems, every one is "the most important of our lifetime." But this one really is different. It's not about issues, not about policy, not about a vision of America's future. It's about whether we continue to be an at least more or less democratic country, or not. And you know which side is which; everyone does. We don't like to admit it to ourselves, but there is a significant cohort in America that doesn't care about or even believe in democracy. But we are the majority. We're right. They're wrong. And we have to remember that every minute between now and November 5, and act like it. 

Winning this election is only a first step to reclaiming democracy, which is assailed in the judiciary, in campaign finance, in other ways money controls politics... you name it. But winning this election is the sine qua non. We will have no opportunities to move forward with democratic reforms if we lose this one. So everyone needs to give till it hurts, do what they can on the ground till it hurts, have uncomfortable conversations, appeal to friends and family members' sense of loyalty to the bedrock principles of American republican democracy. It has never been so critical. 

Thank you. And, on to victory in November!