Friday, December 23, 2011

Panspermia (continued)

Happy 2012. And good riddance to 2011. I don't know about you, but I'm happy to see that year slip down the lightcone. I can't remember which physicist said it, but the joke is "The future is all waves, the past becomes particles". Meaning quantum mechanically, I'd just as soon 2011 had been particle-ized from the getgo.  This is not to say I look forward to 2012, but the one thing that can be said for 2012 is that it isn't 2011.

Not that the year was all terrible for me. Me, personally, I'd say I just marked time through it all. That in and of itself is kind of terrible. For others, it really was a bad, tough year.

I honestly don't know if 2011 could have been better particle-ized. Perhaps, in some other universe, in some Everett many-worlds multiverse, it all particle-ized quite well.

(But keep in mind that the true interpretation of Everett's quantum choices is not you making choices and splitting the universe up. It's not like a version of Nick the Bartender in "It's a Wonderful Life" handing out angel's wings with a cash register bell. It's not like Sheldon Leonard is flipping a coin saying "Dig Me! I'm creatin' univoises!" It may sound pedantic, but the universe is all that is, all matter, all energy, all spaces and times. It is merely a contemporary cultural conceit that we refer to multiverses. If the Everett interpretation of quantum mechanics is correct, then all that happens when you make choice is that you get split into different versions of you. But no new universes are created. You just aren't that fucking important. Get over yourself).

Speaking of different regions of space and time beyond our apprehension, we really need to address the idea of just the one Big Bang. We, in our conceit, assume that we see is all there is. When, in fact, most cosmologists would say that the universe is much, much bigger than just the 13.7 billion light year radius of stuff around us that we see. Some say the universe is infinite in size, others put it at 150 billion light years.
What's wrong with this picture?

Don't how they come up with that number. I suspect the number is based upon cosmic microwave background data. Also on the principle of mediocrity, that conditions we enjoy are the same everywhere. Again, I consider that principle a kind conceit, making the assumption that there aren't strange and bizarre corners of the universe that play by different rules. And include in that conceit the idea that there was only the one Bang.

But it could be that our observable universe is only a recent thing, just a baby thing, just an effervescent pocket of new shit. There may be parts much, much older than we what we see. 

In a previous essay, I calculated that, just using natural processes and some astonishingly good luck, that bacteria from Earth could travel to a potential new planetary home circling our nearest star in a mere few tens of thousands of years.  31,461 years to be exact. And, assuming some astoundingly amazing luck, the whole galaxy could have been colonized with Earth life. The chances are exceedingly remote, nigh on impossible, but not quite. And that's assuming a mere 3.5 billion years of known life, with random events and trajectories through natural accident.

More purposeful travels, which is to say artificial means such von Neumann self-replicating space probes traveling at some fraction of the speed of light, containing a software blueprint of life and the means to synthesize biology upon arrival (all reasonable and doable assumptions given even our present state of primitive technologies) puts the time frame for full galactic colonization at a paltry two million years. 

In fact, all the data, and all our logic, suggest that we are not unique, we should not not be alone. Life should be every fucking where. And yet we have no evidence for it. The Fermi Paradox.

What about other places? What's the absolute best-case scenario? Well, we will use the Milky Way galaxy, as all the astronomical evidence suggests this galaxy formed early on at the beginning of the universe. So, some structures of the galaxy as old as the universe, 13.7 billion years. Other parts, like the halo of old, tired stars, the supermassive black hole at the center, and cold dark nebulae, are slightly younger, but not by much. If we grant some very fortunate circumstances, and assume (because we have no other example) that life is defined as our kind of life (carbon-based, aqueously mediated, planetary bounded), then it works out like this:
image courtesy Indiana U

Big Bang. Inflation. Expansion. Particle creation and nuclear fusion.

75% hydrogen, 24.99% helium. Trace of lithium.

First stars with this composition, hundreds of times the mass of the sun, get started some 100,000 years later, live hard, die fast, churn out metals (astronomical metals - anything heavier than hydrogen and helium).

Surrounding space is filled up with gas and dust with the ingredients for life, namely hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, nitrogen, sulfur for starters. If you want RNA or DNA, throw in phosphorous. If you want life that doesn't have to worry about hard radiation, throw in iron, for an iron core for an electromagnetic shield around the planet.

The first generation of stars are hazardous to life. The second generation of stars, made from the stuff spewed out by the first, might have planetary bodies around them, but do not have sufficient heavier elements for life. Third generation of stars includes our sun, start popping up around nine to 5 billion years ago. So, the earliest life goes back two to three billion years before Earth life got its start. So goes the conventional narrative.

But we are talking about best case scenario. It is possible for a star forming region to concentrate all the stuff you need for a sunlike system with earthlike planets with sufficient heavy metals as early as twelve billion years ago. So, some eight billion years before us, or twice the lifetime of life on Earth. 

And that's the best case for the observable universe. But as I said, this could be new pocket. There could be parts of our universe that vastly older, or even parts that are no longer around, or have undergone a Big Crunch, or even more horrifying a Big Runaway in which accelerating expansion rips apart everything into a cold thin soup of nothingness.

So, want a tragedy? Ninety trillion years ago, a far distant part of the universe erupted in a big bang. It developed fast, much faster than out in our neck of the woods. And in the short span of just a few million years, there was a stellar splendor. And life developed. It grew complex. Then intelligent. Then technological. And this smart capable life looked around its observable part of the universe, and recognized that it was expanding. And to this life's horror, the expansion was accelerating. So much so that soon everything would be cold thin soup. And life set about trying counter this. But life couldn't do it. There wasn't enough mass and energy available, even if they gathered all they could see together in one spot, there own Big Crunch. Not that they didn't try. But they realized that even black holes would evaporate against the coming runaway inflation.

                 How They Did It
So they tried escape. They built wormholes, while there was a still a chance. But to their despair, the mouths of these wormholes always bottomed out within more cold, more darkness, more emptiness. Finally, half insane in desperation, with the very last of their resources, they rotated their local space with their remaining wormholes, and thus constructed a time machine, so that at least they could escape to the past, back to their warm stellar age.

Instead, they leapt beyond the confines of their prison, into the larger universe, and there they found a new beginning. And though they were fruitful and multiplied, they were still mad and scarred from their harrowing past, and determined never, ever to let it happen again. And any life they found was raw materials to them, or, if lucky, cannon fodder.

They are out there. But it's best if they don't know about you.

So, shhh! Keep quiet!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Plan F

If procrastination was a virtue worthy of an aristocratic title, my family would be royalty.

Well, I'm crafting a Xmas present for my niece. She likes doors. She doesn't have any doors. So I'm making her a door.

I guess I should explain. She does have large doors. Regular life-sized doors. She doesn't have small quaint crafty doors, as in knick-knack doors, little curio doors, if there even is such a thing.

So, I told her I would make her a little door to get her collection started. You know how it goes, once someone starts a collection, people give them things, and that's how you walk into houses that have lots of metal owls, or ceramic frogs, or some kind of collection of things.

Well, the making of the door, which I figured would be a piece of cake, is taking ten times as long as I had planned. For starters, I decided to use some scrap walnut I had. It was very seasoned, meaning really dried out and done warping and bending and twisting and all the shit that wood does once you kill it. It was really nice walnut, until I cut into it with power tools. The power tools just chewed it all right up to an alarming degree. The table saw splintered the crap out of it, even when I did an initial cut across the grain with an Xacto blade to keep it from splintering. The router table chewed into it as if it were balsa wood, so much so that I was a little worried for my fingertips.

So, I was reduced to using hand tools. Which means the elaborate Plan A I had intended for it, with lots of fancy Roman ogee molding and separate panels and a kind of a Barbie Dream Palace look to it all, gave up the ghost. All that shit went right out the window. When was the last time you attempted crafting a molding with a hand planer instead of an electric router? Thought so. Me too.
King of the Wood People

So, Plan B was dropped as soon as I inventoried all the unmutilated remaining wood. I would have to scale the design down. Which meant the bronze fittings I had cast would no longer work as they were now oversized. So, off to the hardware store to purchase hinges and something that would as a door handle for the new Plan C door design.

Oops, wait! I was supposed to incorporate a small key into the mix that my sister-in-law gave me which had some childhood significance to my niece. So, on to Plan D. Quickly made a new fitting out of bronze, cast it, drilled a keyhole in it, and substituted the key and lock for the door handle.

Glued and Clamped
Then, cutting the frame for the door, it turns out the sculpture and design students had somehow fucked up the miter saw and not bothered to inform me. So, a mitered frame is out of the picture.
Now we are at Plan E, which is just a square frame, a plain door, hardware store hinges, no handle, but the key and lock act as the handle. And I have just now glued it up.

Taking a break here to write all this up while the first coat of tung oil soaks.

I will finish it with tung oil and butcher's wax tomorrow. This is the Plan F door. And it looks like a goddamn Fred Flintstone door.

-"it's a place right out of his-tor-y!"

She's getting it anyway!

Plan G would have involved a visit to Hobby Lobby, buy a doll house, trash it except for the little door, and say "Merry Fucking Christmas. Here's your goddamn present".

Thursday, December 15, 2011


I recently consumed little piece of hard holiday candy on The Fermi Paradox, Self-Replicating Probes, and the Interstellar Transportation Bandwidth.

It's a fun little paper about interstellar colonization, vonNeumann self-replicating machines, and why the heck aren't we knee deep in inquisitive and curious alien life forms? At one very brief point, the idea of panspermia is broached, in the sense of we-have-met-the-aliens-and-they-is-us solution to the Fermi Paradox, but the treatment last about as long as this sentence. And why should it? I mean, the paper itself is informed speculation, but for hard answers? Why, the standard excuse, into the foreseeable future is, Insufficient Data.

But what the heck, let's think about it a little bit. And for my object lesson, I choose the movie Starship Troopers. Now, most people would say "Oh my goodness why? That's a horrible movie. Why would you choose that for your speculative background?" And then, of course, there is the objection from the humorless little prig known as the Heinlein fan, who views the movie as an awful perversion of the book. Well, director Paul Verhoeven knew what he was doing. He presented a perfect fascist society of the future and showed that the only thing a perfect fascist society of the future was good for was killing alien Bugs. Not to mention, Verhoeven directed Showgirls, Robocop, and Total Recall, so the charge of taking things over the top is, at best, to identify yourself as a cluelessly humorless little prig. Besides, Heinlein book does serve a useful purpose. For those with a healthy and mature mental metabolism, it serves as a vaccine to Ayn Rand's wretched works.

Anyway, I'd argue that the alien Bugs in that movie provide a very good example of panspermia. I mean, we actually told in that movie that they have the ability to colonize other planets by "hurling their spore into space". To those geeks that object to this method as haphazard and inefficient, I'd suggest a scuba dive during the full moon when the coral reefs are spawning. The water is thick with eggs and sperm, which should freak most geeks out, and the chances of all that milky organic stuff turning into a new coral reef are frighteningly small.
(As an aside, a very nice visual aside at that, movie credits go out to Starship's Allen Cameron, Bruce Robert Hill, and Steve Wolff for the production design and art direction. In a wonderfully concise and clever group of visual hints, the viewer is invited to do a little creative world-building to figure out just how the Bugs can spread throughout the galaxy. First, there are the Bugs themselves who, through their exoskeletons and rigid hive society, seem queerly preadapted to life in the harsh environment of space. Second, those monstrously huge plasma bugs are shown shooting blue fire out of their butts right up into orbit to harass and destroy human starships above their home planet of Klendathu. Third, an explosion of one human starship releases warp plasma, the stuff that allows FTL travel, which is the exact same color as the bug plasma. In short, we are provided with a rationalization as to how the bugs spread through space. Bug colonies, on asteroids, propelled by big bug ass plasma at superluminal speeds. Interesting, at the very least, how this alien society does with adapted organic life, what we humans do with our technologies).

Alright, you know what? Clearly this essay is not going to be a serious attempt at discussing panspermia. I mean, your'e lucky it's only now that I snigger at the "sperm" part of it.

Sperm. Heh.

But I'll tell you what.  I'll take a brief crack at it. Starship Troopers was a movie. So, let's get "real" for a sec. Is panspermia possible without violating the laws of physics? Well, clearly if we play by the rules, the speed of light cannot be violated.  So, let's give the Bugs a moment of respite, and talk about bugs. As in bacteria.

If there is any life on Earth that might survive a voyage through space without technological assistance, it would be bacteria. Recall the brief period of excitement back in 1996, when it was believed microbial fossils were found in a piece of meteorite? It was dubbed ALH84001, a chunk of Mars that had landed in Antarctica 16 million years ago.

Let's send a bacterium from the Earth to the nearest star. Assume bacteria are well insulated within a rock from an event catastrophic enough to propel them into orbit. That's 7 mi/sec or 25,000 miles per hour minimum. That's a formidable event, itself undoubtedly an asteroid or comet impact upon the surface of the Earth.

Further assume that the bacteria are hardy enough to survive the journey by being flash frozen into cryogenic suspension, and that the rock protects them from the ravages of hard radiation (the number one space hazard for organic life). Given that some bacterial spores have been revived from a dessicated state in salt deposits after 250 million years, it's not an unreasonable assumption.

Further assume that a serendipitous series of celestial mechanical jugglery speeds up our spore enough to break free of our solar system. That's 26 mi/sec, or 93,600 mph. And now, we wait. Alpha Centauri, the nearest candidate star, is 4.3 light years away, or 25.8 trillion miles. Dividing our distance by speed gives us a travel time of ~275,600,000 hours, or 31,461 years. That's not that bad.

Figure on a latency of a few hundred thousand to million years between chances for further "voyages", and the majority of the galaxy could be colonized by bacterial life in as little as 3 to 4 billion years. Given that the life on Earth has been around some 3.9 billion years, there's a slim chance Earth life has colonized the galaxy and we will never know.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Amundsen at the South Pole

It's the centennial today, Dec. 14, 1911. And, aside from a kerosene heater or two, Amundsen did it all with Upper Paleolithic technology - with the help of a lot of prior preparation and an indispensable co-evolved species known as the dog.

Scott, perhaps better known through his tragedy, was beaten to the pole by a good five weeks. It's hard to understand how Scott considered the use of sled dogs bad sportsmanship. Somehow, the use of gasoline powered tractors and ponies was not. I suppose incompetence and poor planning made up for any unacknowledged "cheating", especially once the tractors broke down and the ponies died of exposure, and Scott was forced to use Lower Paleolithic technology, pulling the sledges by hand.

It's kind of weird to think of how things have changed and not changed over the course of one hundred years. If I look around my place and subtract all the things that were not around one hundred years ago, the place would be quite threadbare. Lamps, I guess, would be there. A telephone, seeing as I am quite possibly the last man on earth with a landline. But the TV, the VCR/DVD player, the computer, the clock radio, the electric stove, the refrigerator, not only all in the future, but many of the components still in the future. (If you wonder about the appalling sparseness of current shit, well no, I am not a Luddite. I'm a late adopter. I prefer you get the metaphorical cell-phone shaped tumor on the side of your head, and then when that kink is gotten out of that piece of technology, I'll get it).

Then again, would someone from 1911 feel at his ease in my home. Of course. Most of the stuff unfamiliar to him would still be conceptually familiar. Why, even the computer, would be understandable and predictable.  True, something of a marvel, but still something understandable.

What wouldn't be? Oh, well, I'd be a lot stinkier back then, with bad skin, bad breath and missing teeth, and probably smallpox scars. Probably a tapeworm, or if I lived south of the Mason-Dixon line, "seasoned" by malaria. I'd be threatened with diphtheria, scarlet fever, tetanus, tuberculosis, just to name a short few of the many diseases. 1911 is just at the end of the completion of many US sanitary projects, so I would just now be able to drink water that did not have someone else's shit in it.

Oh, and, I'd be ten years past the average life span and probably dying of stomach cancer (now practically non-existent).

So, that's all working out pretty well.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

"People of Earth! Attention! People of Earth! Attention!"

"What? WHAT?"

"Oh..., nothing".

When I was in, oh, I don't know, I guess 4th grade, I saw a movie called "Earth vs. The Flying Saucers". In retrospect, it's embarrassing to watch, much like admitting to watching the Space Hippie Episode on Star Trek. And the screenwriters for the movie must have been the same Aspergian group that went on to write movies like "Kronos" or  "20 Million Miles to Earth". Which is to say a collection of writers in possession of an affable and earnest super-dorkiness which guarantees reception of an Atomic Wedgie, or at least a Purple Herbie.

The Future..!
Regardless, for several months afterwards, I would draw pictures of tanks vs. flying saucers. And they pretty much looked like this over on the right. It's not a very good picture, but I chalk that up to drawing with computer mouse, which is rather like drawing with a pencil up your butt.

Now, you will notice I have only the one tank against the one flying saucer, but in the original series, there was a whole Shakespearian cosmology of dramatic encounters, with both tanks and flying saucers exploding in jagged edged fulminations, and both aliens and men set aflame! And further note that the flying saucers require radar dish emitters to broadcast their lightning beams. Not being an expert on high energy collimating weapons, I had to rely on Hollywood's expertise. Interestingly, had this picture been done by a Name Artist, like Warhol, or Picasso, it would easily be worth a cool million at Sotheby's.

How fucked up is that?

Flash forward to the year 1976, and I am asked to join in a project to help produce a text-based adventure game played on a computer. The first I know of was called Colossal Cave, and it kind of went like:
"You are standing in the middle of a forest path. To your left is a small grass hut with an elf standing in the doorway.
Club Elf.
The elf had a small key which you now possess.
Club Elf.
The elf is dead. You have a small key."
You get the idea. No, I didn't play the game.

Okay, I played it. But I gave up pretty quickly as it was fucking boring. But here was the deal, and it was kind of interesting. Attending an Intro to Astronomy class and one of the students wanted to develop a text-based adventure game that was also science educational. The professor was enthusiastically on board, and was willing to accept the student's proposal as a grade-worthy project - should he develop it. The idea was it would present game puzzles that would also be lessons in physics and astronomy. After hashing various scenarios out in class, it was decided the game would be called Moon Base, and it would be a narrative on lunar colonization. I received the assignment of justification for the moon base from the professor, after I objected to the whole plausibility of a lunar colony being established the far-off future date of 1999.

So, here's what I come up with. (And, although this justification ended my participation in the game development, I still ended up with an 'A' for the assignment. Hurray for me!). In the year 1983, astronomers discover that a two mile wide asteroid is going to impact the earth sometime in 1995. It is a carbonaceous chondrite asteroid, which is seredipitous. Carbonaceous chondrite meteorites have been found to contain both water and carbon. In fact, the average one contains up to 10% water, and unusual contain organic compounds. These are substances which are common on Earth, but rare in space, just the kind valuable materials you would like to mine up in space.

Well, also, it turns out these types of asteroids are usually loose collections of boulders, never having become hot enough to melt together to form a solid object. So, the usual dipshit military procedure of zapping one of these guys with an H-bomb is out of the question. What to do with this sucker?

...a little bit to the left... no, my left... that's it!
But hey, when life hands you lemons, make lemonade. Since the space jockeys have a whole decade to plan something before Death From Above, they come up with idea of diverting the asteroid and "soft" landing it on the Moon. The deal is, they build a series of nuclear powered space tugs, go up and intercept the asteroid, use the mass of the tugs to gravitationally change its trajectory so that it impacts the Moon at a "relatively" slow speed, and you end up with a hundred mile long oval footprint of carbonaceous goodness on the surface of the Moon.

Not only does the scenario provide a good reason for a massive space effort, but it also provides a bonanza on the Moon, providing just the right materials for a successful Moon Base.

I thought it was pretty clever.

I am such a dork. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

Libertopia For Dummies

First off, I have to warn you. There will be disturbing images in this essay. You were warned.

2001: A Space Odyssey
A phone conversation with eldest bro always puts me in hypercynical mode for a few days. That, coupled with the fact that I do tend to rail against the incessant and ongoing stupidity of humanity, suggests the following is going to be a misanthropic complaint. But hopefully not so. Hopefully there will be some constructive criticism in there.

Eldest brother, talking with his son's friends, opined as how at this time, the year 2011 the hope was, when he was their age, that humanity would at least have a moon base. Granted, the movie "2001" set the bar pretty freaking high. Not only bases on the moon, but space hotels in Earth orbit, regular flights to and from Earth's surface to orbit, and,  if that weren't enough, throw in an intelligent computer to boot.

With that kind of expectation, practically anything less is a disappointment. And so, what was the big deal of the 21st century? What was the major technological accomplishment for 2001, or 2011? Google? Facebook?

Pathetic. A glorified advertising and marketing industry set up to extract personal information and sell it off to the highest bidder. There's your glorious vision.

Alright, let's be fair. There was no way we were ever going to get to where 2001 wanted to take us. Not without a few nuclear rockets blowing up in the atmosphere. Not without a sustained grand vision, something bordering on religious fervor. Not without a major kick in the ass to get us going.

Can we blame the Baby Boomers for this? Granted, they we are quite the most useless, selfish, self-absorbed, risk-averse, pampered, privileged generation EVER produced. But, you know, there is that thing mathematicians call the Principle of Least Action. All things being equal, all complex systems would rather coast along than expend effort and energy. With no gun to our heads, like the (*cough*bullshit*cough*) Greatest Generation before us, we coasted along.  And what would it have taken to get us into space? Some kind of existential threat that's for sure. Or some enormous enticement, some glittering cosmic treasure. But it didn't happen.
Fat-ass Captain from Wall-E

I tell you what did happen. We pursued happiness as far as we could, with the last 40-or-so years in overdrive. And as a result, we've been living in Libertopia for the past 400-some years.

The real deal, soon to be the 85% of America
You want the real movie about the future? Try Wall-E. Except we never go into space. Don't think so? Really now, think about it. If you are a certain demographic, you've pretty much gotten to do whatever the hell you wanted to do. You've enjoyed the maximum freedom as is possible without seriously wrecking society at large. And now, the party is over. And you have people like Ron Paul who, rather than trying to make Libertopia manifest and real, are actually trying to keep the party going just a little bit longer.

The Paragon of Animals
The Very Flower of American Masculinity

Who is this demographic? Why it's obvious, isn't it? Rednecks. Stupid white people. Dumbass, country-fuck, dipshit, cocksucking, fat, toothless, ignorantly proud, proudly ignorant asshole white guys. Do whatever they want. Get as fat and stupid as they want. Pretty much enjoy any intoxicant they want. Treat everyone else like shit, and it's been a blast. But it's over now. And probably as just as well.

Hey Ron Paul? Take a long, hard look at what you want to preserve.

This IS your Libertopia.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Demarchy, revisited

Steven Pinker claims that, historically, humanity is getting less and less violent.

I don't think I buy into that. I have to at least question both his data collection and his metrics. He weighs total casualties during periods of violence divided by total population at that time. There may be other parameters involved, I would at least hope, like making sure the casualty rate excluded death by disease, famine, and other privations. How would this metric work on historical natural disasters? Would the Great Kanto earthquake of 1923, which devastated Tokyo and Yokohama and claimed around 105,000 lives, be considered more violent than the 2010 Haiti earthquake, with 300,000 lives lost only because more people were around in 2010? That's silly.

But using this metric, Pinker classifies China's An Lushan revolt and civil war with a higher violence coefficient that WWII. Is that really kosher? Well, this commenter's bullshit detector went off.

Regardless, I would have had Pinker set his group of little grad students collecting and collating data on a much more important assertion, one that I hopefully am cherry-picking by counting the obvious affirmatives and ignoring the negatives, which is that, as the Russians say: "Whether salt water or fresh, shit floats to the top". Or, more succinctly, in order to succeed, you need to be an asshole.

Is human society that fucked up? Or the laws of natural selection? That you need to be an asshole to get ahead? Well, I think Pinker and his staff need to work on this.

If true, I think I have an empirical test for a systemic utopian fix. And it goes back to the idea of demarchy. I wrote an essay on this about a year ago. And a quick re-read of this suggests, wow, I've really got to brush up on my profane deprecative skills.

Now, I am not quite ready to say the democracy doesn't work. I am willing to say that the quick fixes, the bandaids, the simplistic solutions proposed will not work.

Term limits, for example, are completely fucking stupid. What term limits will do is to select for the most virulent, vile, corrupted asshole cocksuckers for office. Easily. Since money and politics are intimately connected, inextricable, always and forever entwined and entangled, whether it is election funds or taxpayer revenues, you will always, always have people who wish to feed at the public trough at the public expense. Term limits merely sets up an environment which further encourages public servants to get theirs while they can. So, these fixes are just fucking juvenile, and should be ignored.

But! But, I think I have a systemic solution and it amounts to this observation from nature: natural selection. When you select in nature, the filter is death and the filter is permanent, but the filter is done after the facts, or rather, the performance. And that filter, at the societal level, should be voting.

Problem is, we do it all wrong. We do it ass-backwards. What we should do, under the Kurman Variation of Demarchy is to vote people OUT of office, not into it.

So, quick review, demarchy is government by lottery, just like jury duty. It's not election time, it's selection time, and you, my dear, have been chosen by lot to serve. But, the main complaint about demarchy is, what if you get some idiot chosen by lot to serve in office? No problem. That's where elections come in.

You can still have recall elections, but you also have delections. And a delection is this:

"So we got Governor Titlapper in office and he wasn't recalled for being an insufferable cabbagehead, but he still sucks in some ways. Does he suck enough for removal? Yes or no?"

If he is not delected from office, he continues to serve. Otherwise, vote the bum out, his (or her) number is tossed aside, and we re-draw from the pool.

You got to admit, government by lottery is a heck of a lot more democratic than the current system we have. And who is to say you can't find wise, competent, and qualified people who are currently collecting food stamps. Because all you have to is look at the idiot millionaires currently fucking the country up, and say, Jesus, there's got to be better people out there than these asshole cocksuckers.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Era of Peak Art

Art Basel is in the news. They've had their big show in Miami Beach, and word on the street is the art market is hot, hot, hot - as in big ol' zit of an asset bubble ready to pop hot.

Of course, I'm talking high-end art, which, honestly, you can't really consider art.

It's more commodity than art. One person who has currently helped the centuries-old long-term commoditization of the whole high end art market is Charles Saatchi. He who has done for the art market what complex derivatives did for the financial world. Saatchi, no small irony here, bemoans the current crop of collectors as "... Eurotrashy, Hedge-fundy, Hamptonites; ... trendy oligarchs and oiligarchs".

And so what? What's wrong with the idea of art as commodity? Why is it so bad that a Warhol, or a   Twombly, or a Hopper, or even a Rembrandt or a daVinci, be thrown into the same category as barrels of oil, ingots of copper, wheat, soybeans, coffee, and hog bellies? These are all things that are available to the human animal to enjoy and consume. To say that art is somehow not to be included in this cycle of acquistion, that it is to be held in higher regard is in some sense quite delusional.

And, just as, say, oil is a limited commodity, as in they ain't (yet) making any more of it, so it we should view art. There should be quotes on the proven and unproven reserves of art in this country and in the world.

Because eventually, all rank speculation aside, if you aren't producing quality artists, you'll be running out of quality art, and sooner rather than later. In fact, I suspect we will be facing, at some ppoint in the near future, the Era of Peak Art, and a consequent Art Crisis.

Now, I know for you and me, since we are just Regular Folks, that the coming shooting war pf the oligarchs might make for a small of amusement, but what of the artists? I can tell you, if history is any guide, that rather than being valued and protected, will instead be abused and appropriated, just like little baby girls in China. You'd think all that female infanticide would make potential female mates for all those mateless boys an extremely valued commodity, but no, instead it's the opposite. the illicit trade in girls is thriving. They are being abducted, enslaved, and mistreated at unprecedented rates.

And so it will be with future artists. Perhaps there will be protected reserves for them. They will tagged, radio-collared, and guarded. But they will also be poached. And, given the insanity of our species, like bush meat, futures artists will probably be hunted to near extinction just to increase the value of their art.

Interesting times ahead, for sure.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

1960s TV Really Fucked Me Up

Word on the street is the US Air Force Space Command is throwing SETI a bone - supplying monies so they can check out Kepler-22b. You know, Kepler-22b? The superearth orbiting in a G type star's "Goldilocks zone" some 600 light years from here? Uh? Superearth? A radius 2.4 times that of the Earth's? Goldilocks Zone? Orbiting the star where liquid water is possible on the surface of the planet? You are keeping up on the science news, right?

So, the idea is suddenly this is Earth's twin and there could be life there. Provided, of course, this planet has the right mass, which we can't tell.  I mean, it's fucking amazing that they can tell how big it is, from three thousand five hundred twenty-six trillion miles away. (No, really, don't let the budget "crisis" fool you, that's a big fucking number). But what they don't know is the planet's mass, because it could be, like some health-conscious German stool inspection category: watery, gassy, or solid, which is to say, rocky.

Now, if it is watery, it can't have too much water, otherwise it will undoubtedly have an ocean several hundred miles deep, and at the bottom of that ocean will be a peculiar form of pressurized ice. And that's not a good place for terrestrial life to form. Then again, if it is rocky, then with the radius being what it is, it is more likely a big super Venus, and that's no place to hang out. And if it is gassy, then it is a mini-Neptune, and again, no place you'd want to spend time at.

But, what the hell, SETI needs a new pair of shoes, and if they get to use their radio telescopes to check it out for Space Command for "space situational awareness", then why not? I can tell them right now, save them some time, that nope, nobody home. No life. Just like Mars. But hey, whatever, better to spend the money on that than tax breaks for job creators, which has done us Earthlings so much good.

And, you know, Space Command kind of reminds of Alpha Control from the old "Lost in Space" TV series. The series was just so hokey, not serious the way Star Trek was, but looking back, I suspect they had a better take on all things alien out there. Which is, if they are out there (and Where Are They?), they really don't give a shit about us. I mean, every time the Robinson's ran into a technologically superior alien race, which was always, the aliens were about as happy to see them as you are a homeless person wanting to wash your car windshield.

"No. No. No. No. Thank you. NO! Oh. Shit. Fine. Here. Here is some neutronium. Yes. You're welcome".

But honestly, that's the way it was, well, that and fuses had been invented so you didn't have sparks flying over the place whenever the power was turned on. But, hey, cut Irwin Allen some slack. I hear he was as bugfuck crazy as Mickey Rooney). And all the space alien babes have super powers and wear capes.

Anyway, Kepler-22b. Nothing there. Okay. Nothing. Except, oh, maybe the Bugs.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

"Thinking Fast and Slow" by Daniel Kahneman

I've just watched the mutual dick sucking festival between Newt Gingrich and Donald Trump and tried to keep from retching.

Newt Gingrich: nothing a little spontaneous human combustion wouldn't cure.

Although, not really wishing much harm on my fellow humans, I'd just as soon put the entire Republican clown car - including the sticky wet turd Donald Trump - onto a ice flow and shove them off into the Bering Sea. You know, an experiment,  just to see who gets eaten last, or which orca finally gets tired of playing with which bloated corpse. Nothing bizarre. Nothing grotesque. Just some good old-fashioned natural justice.

Speaking of Newt, I suspect he wouldn't get the fast-or-slow solution to the following problem, and it is mainly because Mr. Six Sigma is, despite conservative misconceptions, intellectually a fucking retard, and ethically an empty shit bag.

Ready? Think Fast! Think Slow! Problem: A bat and a ball together cost $1.10. The bat is $1.00 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost? Answer at the end.

This is one many examples of figuring out how people think, and that's the cool thing about, not just Daniel Kahneman's papers, but Kahneman and Amos Tversky's papers. They have fun puzzles in them.

In case you haven't figured it out, this is a mini-review of Kahneman's book "Thinking Fast and Slow". I call this a mini-review because I obtained the book through the public library's new purchases reservation system, and so have had only two weeks to read it. So, I skimmed. Just as well, as probably 80% of the material I was already familiar with. As is Kahneman, for this book is primarily, a summary of not only his lifelong research, but other psychologists findings as well. As such, I would classify this book as a worthwhile introductory textbook, and leave it at that. If you are unfamiliar with this area, then I recommend reading it. If, like me, you have some familiarity with the materials, then I suggest you skim and not worry overmuch on missing the juicy stuff. The salient points will catch your eye, and you will be rewarded. 

I first came across Kahneman in an article in "The Economist" magazine, which was devoted to demolishing the Chicago School's neo-classical version of economic models. I'm also ashamed to say that I also came Kahneman and Tversky through Malcolm Gladwell's book "Blink". (The nicest thing I can say about that book is that it provided a fun bibliography to work through). Back to the Chicago School, not being an economist or a psychologist, I still, through casual observation of human beings and occasional chance readings, came to the conclusion long ago that human beings are not rationally self-interested agents. Or rather, that a rational description served poorly to describe the human animal. In a more succinct manner, identical to my critique of the works of Ayn Rand, would be put thus: "What kind of a fucking retard would buy into this bullshit?"

Kahneman devotes a large amount of the book to developing two fictional characters, the two functional personae that make up your mind: System 1 and System 2.

System 1 is, for lack of a better term, your intuitive self, your associational engine. System 2, again for lack of a better term, is your rational self, your logical computer. System 1 has been honed by millions of years of evolution to be the very clever, very spontaneous, animal mind that each and every one of us relies upon to make it through the day. System 1 is the fast thinker.  System 2 is the slow thinker. System 2 allocates attention to effortful activities such as complex computations, problems of agency, choice, judgement, and concentration. It is also extremely lazy. If System 2 can get away with not having to do work, and rely upon the mental activities of System 1, it will. This lies at the heart of practically every cognitive illusion and fallacy we operate under. Not all. We have to keep in mind that logic is stupid. That rationality is NOT the same as intelligence. But still, it requires work to be logical, and if we can get away with the minimum amount of effort, we will.

From my own personal introspections, I offer an indefensible allegory. We've all heard of the false myth that we use only ten percent of our brains. I submit that only ten percent of my brain is used to produce the conscious me, the "ego". The other ninety percent is used to produce the subconscious me, the myriad associational, emotional, instinctive, embodied processes that make up the majority of me. (In some sense, this part is an alien other, a portion that, failing to be replicated in an artificial intelligence, pretty dooms the whole project from the get-go. Then again, a realistic replication of this alien other, in an attempt to simulate human intelligence, may also doom an AI to automatic insanity).

So, in summary, I recommend the book to any reader. There's both insight for the beginner, and clarified summaries for the old hand.

Answer: Fast think: the ball costs ten cents. Slow think: if x is the amount of the ball, then x + (x + $1.00) = $1.10, then 2x = $1.10 - $1.00, then x =  five cents.

Don't feel bad if you quickly said ten cents. Even Nobel Prize winning economists and people from Harvard business school and MIT get this one wrong. That's fast thinking for you.

Better to be quick and wrong than right and dead.

Friday, December 2, 2011

OWS List?

I found this list in the comment section of a Yahoo news piece about a truly horrid looking repulsive little pudge ball named Frank "Hey Frank! You're an Idiot!" Luntz. The list is by someone named Walter, but it sounds suspiciously like something I recall being put out by the Green Party of America. I tried to do some research, which, of course, consisted of perhaps a 30 second google search. In other words, I put in zero effort to trace the source.

Regardless, there are some sound ideas in here. Others sounds like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. My occasional thoughts below in italics. After reading through and commenting, I'm seeing that most of these items are actually kind of limited horizon short-term small visions fixes. Like most legislation, so what the fuck, try 'em anyway.

1) End Corporate Personhood (Keep Human Rights OUR Rights)
2) Reverse Citizens United (Corporate Money is Not Free Speech)

1) & 2) pretty much the same goal, no? How to do this? One suggestion is a constitutional amendment to limit corporate and special interest monies in politics. I don't see this happening for a number of legal and real world reasons. Rather than restricting corporate funding, how about making it completely transparent? That seems a lot easier to do, and it's probably constitutional.
3) Prohibit All Former and Future Congressmen or Staff from being a Paid Lobbyist.(Get Out of Washington)
4) Prohibit Any Lobbyist from offering ANY Monetary Compensation, Gift or Job or any future promise of the same to Any Congressman, or Congressmen’s Family, Staff or Federal Employee Directly involved with congress. (Congress Not For Sale)

End the revolving door between the Capitol and K Street? Ain't gonna happen.  No more than prohibiting the selection of candidates for memberships on corporate board of directors. However, the selection field, like for those of the CEO field, could be broadened beyond the usual short list of asshole cocksuckers.

5) Apply All Conflict of Interest and Insider Trading Laws to Congress. (End Market Manipulation)

I believe I've read OWS objections along this line. This is completely doable and should be done right now.

6) Hold all Business Interests, Stock Bonds, and Assets in a Blind Trust During the Term of Office or at the very least, 2 Weeks Before Congress is in Session and end 30 Days After the Session. (Keep Congress Honest, Remove Temptation)

This is completely doable. Not sure what impact it would have, as a congress person could always have an "informed"  third party handle their finances to get around this.

7) Prohibited Tax Breaks for Any Companies SENDING Jobs Overseas! End All Tax Breaks for Companies That Eliminate American Jobs. (Preserve American Jobs)

Not workable. Drop this.

8) Granted Tax Breaks to Companies for BRINGING Overseas Jobs BACK to the U.S.(Repatriate American Jobs)

Unworkable, and easily abused (a proviso for permanent job transfer in there? Nah. How to verify? Unworkable.) Drop this.

9) Promote Tax cuts for small businesses and the middle-class families who rely on their entrepreneurship. (Small Business Jobs and Credit)

Something like this already exists. Simply a matter of adding enough gov't staff to implement it.

10) Closed All Existing Tax Loopholes That Allow The Wealthy and Big Corporations to Abuse the Tax Credit System. (End Loophole Abuse)

Wow. Something even Republicans can get behind. Which is why it won't happen.

11) Reinstall the separation between commercial banking and the securities business, a return to Glass–Steagall Act of 1933 Strengthen ‘The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act “ (Work to Protect Consumers)

Doable. But open to abuse (there are whole law firms dedicated to Frank-Dodd interpretation). Do ti anyway.

12) Use Antitrust Laws to Break Up “Too Big to Fail” Banks, Financial institutions and Corporations.

Me, I'd just nationalize the fuckers, but, uh, oh wait, that's real socialism isn't it?

13) Restore Equal Justus By Applying the Law to Persons “Too Big To Jail”

I think Walter meant "justice". But, nah, no need. This is already in place. It's an enforcement issue.

14) End All Oil Subsidies to Multinational Oil Companies. (No Oil Welfare)

Yeah, even though it won't make much difference... unless Walter's talking about the defense subsidy as well. In which case, ain't gonna happen. Inertia.

15) Tax Every Stock Transaction at .001% On the Total Value of the Stock to End Multi Nanosecond Computer Trading That Artificially Drive up Stock Bubbles. (Restore Stock Market Sanity)

Now, this one has been kicked around forever, and, if I am not mistaken, places like Hong Kong and Singapore - free market darlings - have this and business has suffered not one wit. Do it.
16) Tax All Bonuses and Stock Options in Lieu of Corporate Bonuses as Standard income under $10,000, Tax Bonuses at 25% under $75,000 and at 50% above $75,000 (An American Bonus)

I'd... have to look at this one more closely.

17) Prohibit Any Bank that Contracts to Handle Any Public Benefits Program from Charging Any Fee to Any Recipient of Those Programs. Banks can only Receive a Flat Negotiated Fee the Government. (End Banking Enrichment)

Can't see the harm. Do it.

18) Provide For Publicly Owned Banks (State and National) to Handle the Peoples and Taxpayers Money, To Be Accountable to the Interest of the People.

I like it, but, oh, whoa. Socialism. See 12).

19) Increase Taxes on the wealthy by Increasing the Capital Gains Tax with a flat yearly exemption for all, Increase the Upper Income Tax to 50% deduction are allowed for U.S. Jobs, Manufacturing and Capital investment within the United States. (Tax Power and Control)

There's no question that huge chunks of the debt would disappear if the parasite class was made to contribute to the health of the nation. Considering how much wealth they've hoovered up these past 30 years...

20) Rebuild Americas Infrastructure Build Roads and Bridges, Schools and Factories. (America First!)

Fuck yeah! We really are looking like a seedy rundown nation. At least board up the shitty spots with murals, like the Soviets used to do.