Tuesday, August 25, 2015

World War Food

During WWII, my father was billeted on a Large Slow Target built in Youngstown, OH. From there, they sailed down to the Ohio River, to the Mississippi, past New Orleans, through the Gulf of Mexico, the Panama Canal and from there to Pearl Harbor. The fact that they could do this at all is quite astonishing.

We Americans tend to think of ourselves as exceptional, which is hyperbole, but what is without a doubt exceptional about us is our geography. No other nation, no other continental region, has a riverine transport system even remotely equivalent to the Mississippi River Basin.

None. Couple this with some of the richest soils in the world, a relatively benign and stable climate, and you have an effective food power second to none. We bucket head Americans literally fell ass backwards into a really good deal.

The US Department of Agriculture was established in 1862 under Abraham Lincoln. Think of that.

Here the Union was fighting a war, and yet still had the time and resources to engage in, not one but two, Apollo Moon Launch programs of the time: the Transcontinental Railroad, and the great geophysical inventory of the soils and seeds of the US farming communities.

The US of A, already a formidable food power as early the 1820s, set about modernizing its agrarian practices to achieve maximum efficiency for the farmer. Lincoln appointed Isaac Newton (the other one) to the position of commissioner. Newton was renowned for innovative farm practices, and immediately set about on a program of analyzing soils, grains, fruits, plants, vegetables and animals best suited for each region.
(Newton also initiated the program of food prospectors, which to this day scour the globe for useful plants).

The agriculture data compiled was of such an astoundingly fine granularity (down near to what grew best where within a detail of mere yards) that the libraries and museums comprise some of the most extensive and thorough collection of information ever acquired. It was literally the Internet of its day, and had a more profound impact Western civilization than can be imagined.

Today, agriculture accounts for perhaps 4-5% of US GDP, but during the latter half of the 19th century, and much of the 20th, our status as a food power, was unchallenged.

WWI (not the first war where intentional food scarcity was used, but certainly the first big war) can be considered the first big food war. Germany, the most advanced nation on Earth at the time, relied upon foreign imports for nearly half of its food. Great Britain, the most powerful nation of Earth, relied upon imports for 2/3rds of its food.

Food shortages curtailed the war, especially for Germany. There is evidence to suggest American food won the war for the Allies - not the intervention of American armed forces.

This is still very true today. It's true that in our weird ear of industrial agriculture, oil and gas are used to grow food, but the real point of oil and gas is to expedite and assist in food production.

Food power is the only real power.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Marking Time

Shaking my damn head at some of the antics out there lately. Between Puppygate, and the Pokemon Championship threat, I've just got to wonder about how low these soft, pampered white males will stoop.

What is WRONG with you neck beards? Have you all no sense of decency, at long last? No shame? Not even the slightest bit of introspection that could be attributed to every pusillanimous creature that crawls on the Earth or slink through though slimy seas?

Judas Priest!

Meanwhile, I'm waiting for Friday to get the surgery over with. I'm having a hard time getting anything accomplished, and so perhaps the best thing to do is just... I don't know.

The last time I had surgery, I had a ton of things to do as I had the Kickstarter campaign done and I had to crank rewards. I managed to make the time vanish, I so busy. This time out, I'm a lot slower and more apprehensive. I'm not nervous about it, just naturally scared and distracted. Plus the pain is starting to get to the point I'm having a hard time ignoring it.

My brother pointed out to me we Kurmans, or perhaps Northern Barbarians* in general, have a very high pain tolerance. This was good for the longest time when we were all scavengers and hunter-gatherers, what with short lifespans and a brutish existence anyway.

Not so good in modern times when ignoring pain that can be medically resolved, and before pain tolerance results in organic damage.

*Haplogroup I1a, although I have some R1b through my red-headed maternal grandma, and redheads are said to be resistant to pain as well.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Drones, Swarms, Nets, and Holobionts

Briefly, and apologies for the brevity...

I read this paper on a new programming language called Buzz that allows an abstracted control over robot swarms. Specifically, patterns of self-organized swarm behavior can be set up for groups of robots, and more directly, different types of robots within a group.

I'm interested. I want to try it out. I don't want to do with it real robots. I'd rather just set them up as black boxes on a computer simulation. More to the point, I'd like to create a specific kind of heterogenous bot swarm in the form of neural nets with these simulated bots and see what kids of patterns they'd create.

I doubt this will happen given my time constraints (at my dicking-around pace, I would if only I had another 150 years...), but it fits in nicely with the direction of thought I've been in lately.

A while back, Google caused a bit of stir with deep dreaming recursive visual imagery. The 'deep' part comes from a deep layered neural net that was used. Google, and many others, are reverse engineering brains with deep layered neural net programs. The nets are much more difficult to train than shallower nets of 3-4 layers of simulated neurons. Oftentimes, the neurons are simply treated at a higher level of abstraction as black boxes with generic inputs and outputs.

Hmm. Black boxes. Bots. Similar to what Buzz does, or claims to do. And neural nets, if they are to be truly reverse engineered, really need to take into account more than just neurons. The net is itself heterogenous, with different cell types, and - most important - pretty much supported by the glia.

Glial cells, it appears, seem to do more than just support neurons. They often seem to wield neurons. And the whole thing seems to be with swarming behaviors. So, brain like a swarm, not surprising, and worth pursuing.

More important, the brain alone is embodied, and the body is itself a very distinct heterogeneous swarm called a holobiont.

Holobionts have entered my news feed. Darwinian selection seems to occur not just at the level of the gene, or organism, but at the group holobiont level. This is unsavory news to plodding orthodox bishops of biology like Richard Dawkins.

Well, too bad. It's definitely where I think things are headed in biotech and AI. I really don't care about expert testimony to the contrary.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Food As Weapon

We are told by wikipedia that food was first used as a weapon in modern times. I don't see that.

I remember reading an article detailing dig sites from the Mesolithic/ Neolithic. In earlier dig sites, all  human bones are robust, indicating some type of fair distribution of food. But then something happened, and you start seeing evidence of malnutrition in the bones.

I'm not saying intentional starvation started back then, based upon my anecdotal reading, but I'd say it's a fair guess that it was easier strategy to pursue against a sedentary or semi-sedentary population than against nomadic hunter/gatherers. I'm sure there were some paleolithic examples of prey or range denial.

Still, intentional starvation would seem to me to be a product of civilization. Certainly genocide and slavery were part of the Neolithic cultural package, so why not food as weapon - false scarcity - as well?

Image courtesy: Nature

Nowadays, with climate change, we should start to see the Big Squeeze, which is to say, food growing regions that historically are advantageous by being geographically spread out along longitude will now be challenged by latitude.

I don't think it's going to go down the way we think it will, with rain and food belts moving towards the poles. If, as I suspect, the arctic and antarctic regions receive the brunt of the heat, and the tropics don't heat up much at all, we can expect a squeeze of food growing zones from both directions.

This does not bode well for Eurasia, South America, or Australia/Oceania. Hard to say about North America. It really depends upon rain patterns, which may become sporadic and unstable.
Image courtesy: Nordpil.com

It may possibly work out for Africa. One great irony would be to see the Sahara bloom. In which case, hey, more power to them, and completely in keeping with my "It's Africa, Stupid" predilections that the 22nd century will be the African century.

I could be wrong.

One thing is for sure, now that food is a spreadsheet item (like every other physical base for fiat currency), market forces are really going to fuck things up for everyone.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

My Medicine Name is a Haiku

Q: Can a lazy atheist have a spirit animal?

A: Yes, but it may not be well cared for.

Did I tell you I have a spirit animal? It's a horse, just so we get that out of the way. I know it's unusual for someone such as me to have a such a powerful spirit animal, one usually more associated with shamans and messengers of the dead.

Last I checked, I have no messages.

I have used associations from many cultures in examining my spirit animal. Norse myths, of course, and since I was born on a Wednesday, and am full of woe, I am an Odin's child. Odin had the horse Sleipnir, the eight legged horse, often thought of as four men carrying a coffin. Odin's rune is Ansuz, Aminita Muscaria, prophecy and revelation. The converse of which is associated with Loki, the fire giant, so we got the pyromania tie-in. The converse Ansuz is also associated with lack of clarity or awareness, so, and check and check.

I've studied native american cultures, especially Plains Indian and Lakota meanings, and horse is pretty damn straight-forward. Power, freedom, but also difficult to control.

I didn't pick the horse. The horse picked me. A horse is a beautiful animal, but it is also a vain, stupid, and reckless animal. And that's all me.

I also have a medicine name. I don't think I want to tell what it is. It's actually still in progress, not quite fixed or gelled into a final or coherent form, and given the horse nature this should be no surprise.

I won't go into boring detail. I'll give you the short version. Last year I participated in a medicine ceremony down in Texas. It was a wonderful experience that I would recommend to everyone. The ceremony was established upon traditional Native American lines with those wonderful big skin drums and songs, and was officiated by a guy named Ta Tanka. There were others who would assist in naming, but I got Ta Tanka, probably because I was a problem child. It didn't matter that it was all white peoples there, with not a single Native American present.

I'll tell you I felt extremely dorky and self-conscious about the whole thing. We performed a dance around a fire, and the moon at that time of year was not only full, but in close orbit. Huge. I'll get to that in a second.

I realized pretty quickly, dancing around the medicine wheel and a large roaring fire, that if I was going to get past my discomfort, I would have to treat this ceremony as an ordeal. And so I did, I expended as much physical effort as I could, the equivalent of unending wind-sprints, leaping and jumping, to get myself out of my skull.

I suffered in order to get past my self-consciousness. I did for sure, I almost blew out an Achilles tendon, had to ice down afterwards, and my ankle was not the same for a month afterwards. So, I kept dancing and running until I was exhausted and could not take another step. I stood on a ridge, and the moon came out and it was the biggest fucking moon I've ever seen. I stood there, and closed my eyes, and said "Alright, spirit vision. If you are gonna come to me, now's the time! Let's go. Chop chop."

Nothing. Not a damn thing, and I despaired. And then, with my eyes still closed I see just this tiny little circle of green, about the size of a half-dollar a foot from my face. And I'm like, what the fuck is this? It's hard to see, but the closer I look the less unfocused it is, and it resolves to a white horse's skull nestled in very lush grass.

I report this to Ta Tanka. He asks me a bunch of questions about the horse, what is it doing, how did it die, where was it going, what did it feel like.  He writes in a notebook, and then has me go back out and dance for the answers. I try to dance like a horse would, and after while, I don't even have to try.

As we proceed with this collaboration in fleshing out this tiny vision, I remember at one point asking him "What if these revelations are all just me making all this shit up?" He replied "What's wrong with that?' I didn't have an objection to that and so kept dancing.

By the end, about two in the morning, I'm beat down physically, but quite happy mentally, as we have worked out my medicine name. Or rather, we worked out the starting point for my medicine name. It's changed since then. I think I need a few more ordeals to completely work it out. But it's a start.

You notice this whole thing was pretty much about me? Horse written all over this.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Case of the Lazy Atheist

Q: Can a atheistic materialist have sacred things?

A: Yes, and that's not even hard question. That doesn't even require holding two mutually contradictory beliefs in your head at the same time. (Am I a atheistic materialist? Most of the time. Does it matter? I don't think so).

So, let's say you are an atheist, maybe even an apneumatist. (Or is it apneumist?  Or aphasmist? Which is to say you don't believe in the survival of personality beyond death). The two issues are independent of each, in fact orthogonal.

So, you don't believe in God. Period. You are in the No God column, and may or not be in the No Soul row. So, the universe is miraculously created out of nothing, as far as the evidence suggests. And you, dear reader, miraculously appeared out of the something which was formerly nothing. And in the vast amount of time the universe is here, which is considerable, you appear with relatively less duration than the most ephemeral of virtual particles.

Which should suggest, at least it does to me, that every single teeny tiniest piece of time -
the Planck time - that you exist, is precious, because the immense yawning voids of your non-existence stretch before and after you.  Because that.

Did I say precious? How about sacred?

And what do you do? You waste time. You watch TV. You do all sorts of meaningless things that add no meaning to an existence that may or not be crying out for meaning. (I'm assuming a certain existentialism calls for trying to provide meaning to life. Or you could be a nihilist. In which case, wow, do whatever you want,  I guess).

So, you are a lazy atheist. By your own logic, you are committing a sacrilege by wasting time, So, know sin. It that bad? Hey, it's your precious time to waste, your sacred existence to let slip through your fingers. Why should you care? Should you care?

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

So then, there's this

I haven't been posting a lot lately as the real world has increasingly been distracting me. Plus I've been scrambling to get stuff done. Not that that's a entirely bad thing...
But the spine looks GREAT!

Part of the whole real world distraction is prepping and planning for still another surgical intervention!

...Son of a-

This time out under the knife is to get rid of my useless left kidney. As you can see in the photo, the kidney is no longer a kidney. It's a just a big old bag of stale piss using up half my abdomen. I'm getting it taken out August 28th.

For those interested, I got a blockage in my left ureter to the bladder back in maybe 2012, and the kidney had itself an aneurysm and ceased functioning sometime in spring of 2013. I had two operations in the summer of 2013. At that time, it was hoped (by me) that the kidney would just atrophy away. (They wanted to remove it).

No such luck. It's probably been trying to do it's job and slowly filling up with urine, with nowhere for the urine to go, so that now it is swelled up enough for me to notice it.

I noticed around the holidays that I was experiencing more and more discomfort. When I went in for my physical in April, it had become an off-and-on knife in my side. It's still not painful all the time, but it's getting to be a regular ache with knife-in-my-side pain when I'm lying down more and more frequently. Which means I'm not getting much sleep unless I self-medicate with booze and dope. So, it's time to get the thing out.

I should tell you this story. I was at the urologist for the final consultation, and the examination room walls are paper thin. In the exam room to one side was an elderly couple talking to their doctor about ED and viagra, and in another exam room was a mentally challenged man I'd sat next to in the waiting room, who probably was getting his very first prostate exam ever. The conservations got mashed up together into one and sounded like:

Doc: "Sometimes after orgasm, the erection will not immediately go away-"

Patient: "OW!"

Doc: "-you see that the erection-"

Patient: "OWW!"

Doc: "-the erection-"

Patient: "OWWW! CUT IT OUT!"

You get the idea. When my doctor came in, I'm wiping away tears from laughing, and he thinks I'm distraught, getting ready to reassure me. No, that's not it, doc, you should have been in here a couple minutes ago.

So, anyway, my urologist, who is Korean-American, is very inscrutable and stoic in demeanor. I think I've gotten him to laugh once. Maybe. Hard to tell.

But when he started talking about the procedure, he got excited and animated because he gets to use the DaVinci robot on me to extract the kidney.  He's gesturing and mimicking his hand movements waldo-ing the robot controls.

"Wow, it sounds like you get to drive the Maserati!" I observe.

He laughs, pauses and says "Yeah, and you're a good road."

He could not have thought of anything more comforting to say to me.

So, I got lots of shit to do the next two weeks. I'm not giving up my bronze casting class. I have the first day to inform them of the situation, cancel the next class, Labor Day weekend to recover, and back at it. They say it should be six weeks to get back to normal.

They don't know I'm a fucking werewolf that will recover in about an hour. But I will baby myself for the full six weeks. I may be a monster, but I'm not stupid.

More later as the surgery day gets closer.

Oh, right, I did manage to get some cast class pieces done. Here's the crude first-take pic until I take better ones: