Amazon Allies with SPLC

Amazon uses a “hate list” compiled by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) to determine which charities are eligible for its “Smile” charity program. As a private company, it can do as it wishes, however cynical or stupid. As a customer, of course, I have the same privilege, which resulted in the following letter:

Dear non-hierarchical gender-free Amazon person:

I am a long-time customer and Prime member, who has spent many thousands of dollars with you over the years. In such mercantile matters, I prefer to leave politics aside. Unfortunately, Amazon has made this impossible as it has taken blatantly political steps which are actually starkly un-American, by using the Southern Poverty Law Center’s (SPLC) scurrilous and despicable list of “hate groups” in some of its business decisions. As a result of your adopting the SPLC’s categorization of virtually anyone who does not subscribe to its radical leftist, Marxist agenda as a “hater,” this “non-profit” (with scores of millions of dollars held in offshore accounts) serves to stifle the very candor and dialogue upon which a democratic republic depends for its lifeblood. The SPLC’s idea of political discourse and freedom of speech is “shut up;” “you are a racist, sexist, xenophobic, misogynistic, etc.,etc., generally bad person.”

The vast majority of the hate practiced in America today originates not from groups listed by the SPLC, but from the left, from radical, “politically correct” and zealously ideological groups just like the SPLC. To them, only speech with which they agree is permissible. They are the ones who are authoritarian and intolerant in the extreme. Their righteous indignation knows no bounds. If they disagree with the beliefs or policies of any individual or group,  do they engage in civil, rational discourse? No. They simply lump everyone in with neo-Nazis and white supremacists and call them “racists” too. Were they trying to change minds, they might try to inform their opponents where they believe they are wrong. That approach, however, is never taken by the SPLC. Its only answer to disagreement is name-calling.

Not everyone who disagrees with leftist received wisdom is a “racist” or a “hater.” Surely, an organization such as Amazon knows this, yet it still chooses to defer to the SPLC. Ask Dr. Ben Carson. This decent, intelligent and accomplished individual was listed as a “hater” by this august group for months until they were shamed into begrudgingly removing him from the list. They are currently being sued for libel by Christian organizations, a religion much over-represented on the SPLC’s list of haters. The latter, fatuously labeled as “haters” by the SPLC, I note, haven’t  killed or beheaded anyone lately. By way of contrast to the many Christian groups labeled as “haters,” let’s look at the treatment of Muslim groups, which make no secret of their views of gays, Jews, women and “infidels” generally.

In fact, the SPLC named scarcely any Islamic groups as “haters.” Particularly missing from the list are those which do make a practice of murder and beheading and explicitly state their hatred of those the SPLC purports to care most about. Those who dare quote, exactly, a certain Holy Book’s commands to kill infidels, on the other hand – those are deemed to be the “haters” by the SPLC.  Would not a reasonable person be afraid if another’s religious commands that they – as non-believers – must be killed by adherents to that religion as a matter of religious duty? Is is not the command to kill and not the fear of being killed which constitutes the hatred?

What says the SPLC about this? Nothing. But it affirmatively labels those with reasonable fears of one religion’s explicit beliefs as hate-filled “-phobics!” Odd, isn’t it, that phobias are, by definition, irrational, imagined fears with no basis in fact. Reasonable fears based upon objective fact are not phobias and they are definitely not hatred – except in the eyes of an organization which sees hatred everywhere except within its own rubrics. In short, the SPLC’s list of “haters” is based upon its own radical, tortured political ideology, and not facts or reality.

Sure of the non-violence of Christian bakers, some might say the SPLC knows it need have no fear of retribution when calling them names; with other religions, not so much and such obvious cowardice, surely, does not comport with the moral high ground claimed by the SPLC.  Even the FBI has dropped SPLC’s “hate” list; Charity Watch gives the SPLC an ‘F’ rating. After all, fat salaries for executives and hundreds of millions of dollars in assets while spending a few thousand annually on legal matters doesn’t seem very charitable. The fact is that a formerly-admirable civil rights organization has descended into one which now practices uncivil wrongs for political and financial gain. And surely Amazon knows this, too. By the way, when was the last time that name-calling changed anyone’s mind about anything?

The fact that Amazon has aligned itself with this extremist and, make no mistake about it –  profoundly un-American group – means that that I will no longer support Amazon with my Prime membership or purchases; you have made our relationship explicitly political and obnoxious and I will respond in kind. You need to be reminded that politics flows in both directions. If Amazon cannot understand this, that is another powerful reason to not do business with you. And best to recall – once you start playing the game of political correctness with them, history suggests that radical revolutionaries eventually get around to eating their own supporters, benefactors and enablers.

Shame on you for derogating a large proportion of your customers who are caring, decent people who hate nobody and are actually far more tolerant than your illiberal associates at SPLC. As your political alliance with this abominable organization becomes more widely known, don’t be surprised if, like me, many choose to become former Amazon customers. You may find that inane and disingenuous virtue signaling costs more than it is worth.

With dismay,

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One-handed applause for Clapper

Wow! Three possibilities come to mind after James Clapper told us the Trump campaign should be glad they were being spied on er, “helped” by the intelligence community. 1. He thinks we are very, very stupid and/or gullible. 2. He, as a representative of the deep state, is seriously out of touch with the general public. 3. He is certain beyond any doubt that the MSM will support his unsupportable assertion. Actually, I think all three apply.

Would not an ordinary person, presented with the assertion that intelligence agencies were not spying on the Trump campaign but trying to “protect” it from Russian interference, immediately conclude this cannot be true for one simple reason? Say, for instance, a law enforcement entity thought I was under a threat of some kind, wouldn’t they tell me about it right off the bat and ask me to alert them of anything suspicious? Wouldn’t they have ardently sought the assistance of highly-placed individuals in the campaign?

Could they have possibly believed that placing a single “informant” in an organization of hundreds or thousands of people could possibly reveal any useful information? I think not and this fact, in itself, lends a good bit of credence to the notion the “informant” was planting and not gathering “information.” The whole thing doesn’t pass the smell test.

Given the Clinton Foundation history of accepting $150 million from Russian entities, and her campaign’s connection with Steele, whose source was Russian in compiling fabricating the dossier (doesn’t that wonderful word lend automatic credibility to any pile of papers?), why didn’t the Clinton campaign deserve similar “protection?”


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Government-inspired Dehumanization

I am incensed and may be hard put to find the right words to describe the precipitating event. A friend and colleague phoned me yesterday to tell me he was suicidally depressed and had admitted himself to a psych hospital. He asked me to come and visit him. I told him I would come in the early evening. For me, such a promise become an irrevocable duty, especially when my friend is likely already feeling lonely and abandoned as he is recently divorced (acrimoniously).

I arrived at the lobby of the hospital to find 3 armed guards milling about, inside a security area which looked just like the ones at an airport. A young woman in front of me eventually had a conversation with one of them, which I could not hear. She handed over all her personal belongings, including her phone, at a window and went in. I then told the guard the name of the person I was there to visit. He asked for the unit number. I did not know it. He said, then, I can’t come in and suggested I call a family member of my friend. I told him that to my knowledge, none lived nearby and I have no contact with them. He said I should call my friend. Of course, his cell phone had been confiscated and the one patient phone on the unit in which he is imprisoned is constantly busy!

I then asked that he contact the administrator on call. He refused. I told him my friend was admitted suicidal and asked me to please come visit him. He said “I don’t blame you for being upset.” I could barely contain myself and only said, I used to work at this institution as a physician and he could be sure I would be raising hell over this event. When such a condition arises in a hospital, the usual thing is to call the administrator on call. In reality, they exist to prevent lawsuits. I went outside.

The reason for armed guards and turning a hospital into a prison is the fact that, about 5 years ago, an insane and/or evil individual shot and killed several people in the lobby. This completely inhumane situation represents the typical US institutional response to unrealistic demands for perfect safety, coupled with the absurd demands of HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act).

This law, typical of federal law nowadays, burdens or prevents most all normal, caring human behavior as to sick people and makes it difficult to transfer medical information when patients actually wish to do so. All the while, while purporting to protect privacy, the federal government simply exempts itself from the law’s strictures whenever it likes. In effect, no one’s confidential medical information is protected from government snooping. Of all the institutions which might use my confidential medical information to harm me, none has the overarching power of the state – from which I have little or no protection!

I found myself outside the hospital, furious and worried that my friend would be desperate when I didn’t show up as promised. I used my phone to look up a health system help line. After the requisite hold, someone answered and said – naturally – her office could not help with that. I brought the governor to bear on my anger and told her I am a physician, retired from the medical center which runs the psych hospital, that my suicidal friend was also a physician retired from there, and that he asked me to please visit him. She eventually connected me to a clerk (not a guard) sitting at the desk in the same lobby I had just left. She said she would call the unit and ask the patient to call me with the unit number. I extracted a promise she would do so immediately.

After waiting 15 minutes, I called my friend’s therapist, who also treats me (and who had recommended that my friend call me). He is the one who gave me the phone number on the patient unit, enabling me to reach my friend earlier and promise to visit. I needed that phone number because when my friend called my cell phone earlier that day to tell me of his admission, the call went to voicemail; since I get so many robo-calls, I only answer those I know. My friend had not left me a call back number.

The therapist answered, said he was at a meeting, but took the call when I immediately vomited the problem on him. In the middle of that call, call waiting went off. My friend was calling and gave me the unit number (Today I sent an email apology to the therapist for having interrupted him and for having rung off abruptly). I then left my phone and other belongings in my car (so I didn’t have to hand them over)(they took my keys as well), and went in through numerous locked doors to a hospital unit whose decor was inspired by the tower of London.

The visit to my friend went well and did us both some good. It turned out that the young woman who had been allowed in at the beginning of the ordeal was my friend’s daughter, whom I didn’t recognize as I had not seen her in 15 years. Long story shortened, with my wife’s assent, I invited him to come stay with us for some time after he is discharged. He has had a hellish past few years with two major residence moves, two job losses, a nasty divorce (including a huge financial hit), and the serious mental illness of one of his other daughters.

I love this man as a brother. I have always had an affinity for him. In recounting this in our conversation last evening, I said my affinity likely comes from the fact that I see much of myself in the mirror of my friend. As one who also lives with dysthymia, depression and anhedonia, there, but for the grace of God… I don’t really know why it is, but, so far at least, even at my darkest, I don’t think about self-harm. For whatever reason, I have a very strong survival instinct and want to stay alive – even if I am suffering, I somehow continue to put one foot in from of the other – to witness as much of the future unfold as I can.

Although I cannot affect the future, I feel an intense stake in how it turns out for humanity. Notwithstanding my delusional earlier beliefs that “progress” had exempted us from possible extinction, even at the existential level, much is in doubt. If our existence as a species continues, what it means to be human – given advances in genetics and computer engineering – may well change dramatically and possibly not for the better.

To fend off the darkness, I also try to be useful to others as I am able. I do it regularly in my work as an anesthesiologist. That is what keeps me going and why I can’t retire. I explained to my friend that if he stays with us, it would not be a burden; it would be a privilege. His allowing us to be of service by staying with us, my wife and I will experience as a gift received. It will allow us to feel good about ourselves by doing an act which is neither complicated, stressful or difficult – quite unlike the effort it took to merely visit him while he is so well “protected” by the state and the institution of “caring” in which he finds himself.

This execrable episode is emblematic of what is wrong with bureaucratic, technocratic and metastatic government and highlights the fascistic relationships which devolve with large non-governmental institutions. The combination disempowers individuals from moral action and even simple kindness. It infantilizes them, makes them wholly dependent; coerces them to submit to minute, unknowable, often-absurd rules. In short, it dehumanizes us all, thereby setting the stage for any of the horrors which have recurred throughout recorded history, as to which most assuredly believe, “it can’t happen here.”

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Simon Winchester’s “The Perfectionists” – Book Review

“The Perfectionists – How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World” is the full title. It might have been titled “A Brief History of Metrology,” but marketing-wise…  I refrain here from linking to the book, as I no longer wish to enhance, even de minimis, the prospects of any of the mega-corporations for which my initial affinity has turned to loathing. Their enormous success (I will say I read an e-book version) is not what I despise; it is their explicit and sub rosa promotion of progressive political values. ‘Nuff said off-topic. Sorry. Please blot any venom spatters with a dry cloth than wash liberally (libertarianly) with soap and water.

This is an extra-ordinary and very worthwhile book, portraying an almost parallax perspective on modern technological life and telling how we got here from the perspective of engineering. The author begins by distinguishing accuracy (hitting the bullseye) from precision (making a tight grouping – i.e. where all the shots, though missing the bullseye, even by a lot, are very close together).  A tight group of shots all in the bullseye is both accurate and precise and given the sheer number of diverse devices we have at our disposal (and disposable devices – intended or not!) it is certain that we have accomplished a great deal of that!

By way of counter-example, the author tells, in great depth, the story of the Hubble telescope, whose mirror was ground to incredible precision. Unfortunately, though precise, it was not accurate – i.e. it was ground slightly too flat because a test device – used to measure the curvature as grinding proceeded – had been incorrectly assembled and it gave false readings. So, the most precisely-ground mirror ever made was made with a an inaccurate curvature, resulting in severe spherical aberration. Though the author didn’t mention it, this is reminiscent of the Mars Climate Orbiter. Notwithstanding the (likely) millions of precise mechanisms and steps in the creation and launch of the payload and vehicle, it crashed into Mars because one part of the thruster software used pounds of thrust while another required newtons. The thruster precisely performed for the wrong numbers it was given. This turned the orbiter into a bullet which hit the target it was supposed to orbit.

The kind of engineering precision requisite for our modern world resulted, like many innovations, initially from weapons making – in this case, cannons. John “Iron-mad” Wilkinson invented a technique for precisely drilling solid iron blocks to fabricate cannon barrels. Up until that time, all too frequently, the barrels would explode – killing the gun crew and anyone in the vicinity. This happened because, randomly, cannonballs would hang up in the barrel due to irregularities which the ball could not pass under firing conditions. These narrow areas resulted from an inability to mould barrels precisely; there was too much variation in their internal diameters. Wilkinson’s precision drilling solved the problem. Then, in 1775, he teamed up with James Watt.

Watt’s early steam engines were woefully inefficient and, actually, difficult to lay eyes upon due to the vast quantities of errant steam emerging from the cylinders. Like the cannonballs, pistons fit poorly within the three-foot diameter cylinders of the early engines. The fit was near perfect – less than the “thickness of an old sixpence at the worst” (less than one-tenth of an inch), once Wilkinson began drilling out cylinders, which had previously been made by joining and hammering iron plates. Thus began the notion of “tolerances” with which parts making up any device might fit together. Here was the start of mass manufacturing of interchangeable parts, the hallmark of the industrial revolution.

Early on in the book, as well, the author explains the importance of reliable timekeeping, which was at that point, the only way of calculating a ship’s longitude while at sea. Here, a recurrent theme of the book emerges: the difference between accurate (and artful) craftsmanship (the point made in this case with handmade nautical clocks) of individual things and that of precision engineering of large numbers of interchangeable parts. Many examples of the latter are given, in some detail, and organized by chapters arranged by increasing precision. Watt’s steam engine had tolerance of 0.1 inch. The penultimate chapter deals with precision of 10∧ -35 (10 to the minus 35 meters!).

The author’s interest in precision came rather naturally. His father was a precision engineer, who made tiny electric motors for torpedo guidance systems. He tells how his dad brought home a set of what are called “gauge blocks,” among the most perfectly flat metal objects (wood does not lend itself to precision engineering for reasons told) ever made. Placed together, they cannot be pulled apart, they can only be slid apart! To the author this was inexplicable, but I think this is due to the fascinating Casimir effect of the zero-point field.

Also adumbrated is the importance of flatness to precision engineering of all sorts. Screw-making and its importance are explained. The making of various marvels of our times including: automobiles (beginning with the Rolls-Royce, about which are several interesting tales) – Ford is compared to Rolls-Royce; cameras; jet engines, especially one exceedingly tiny error in precision leading to a spectacular near-catastrophe; Seiko quartz watches; photolithography for making silicon chips with astounding numbers of transistors; LIGO (laser interferometer gravitational wave observatory.

This interesting book provides not only description of our material advances, but offers context to precision engineering’s role in humanity’s material progress. Using Japan and its culture as an example – it prizes craftsmanship as well as precision and holds it practitioners in the highest regard. The author cautions against devaluation of craftsmanship and creation of one-of-a-kind works. In a time where material advancement gives the appearance of being limitless, the author raises the possibility we may indeed be approaching limits as to some engineering, due to the nature of matter itself. I find this refreshing, as I perceive developing a cult-like deification of human power, hubris. While the author does not explicitly address this, I think this subtext, if I read it properly, is a worthy admonition and it is found in an entirely worthy book.

My criticisms are minor. The writing is, at times, dense. Attempts to describe some devices and their workings is verbose and not altogether clear. Drawings would have worked better for several, in my opinion. As well, the author, describes an important meeting which took in Paris in the 1870’s, in an attempt to establish international standards for measurements. In passing, for some reason which eludes me, he felt he had to say the attendees were all “white males probably with beards.”

It seems there is no escaping virtue-signaling. In the context of an otherwise politics-free book (that, in itself is refreshing), the statement was about as appropriate as an unapologetic staccato flatus echoing about a gothic cathedral during a dramatic pause in an inspiring sermon. Neither the gender, pigment nor facial escutcheon is mentioned as to the participants of subsequent meetings at which international measurement standards were attained and later revised. These standards are also pertinent and represent important sections of the book, particularly the manner in which they were arrived at. Interestingly, all physical measurements as to length, mass, etc. are derived from terms which include time!

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“Children of Time” book review

This is a plausible and very entertaining book by Adrian Tchaikovsky, which I read as the Kindle edition. I will go so far as to say it is in the tradition of some of the finest classic science fiction, like that of Arthur C. Clarke. The science is all plausible by today’s anticipations of what will likely exist in the medium to long-term future.

Earth has had its day; the Old Empire – near God-like in its capabilities – has fallen and the survivors on Earth succeed in only partially reclaiming  their predecessors’ capabilities. Among such capacities were interstellar travel and terraforming distant planets within the galaxy. The story begins with Dr. Avrana Kern, eventually the last survivor aboard the Brin 2 satellite, an experimental station whose mission is to accelerate long-term evolution of life on “her”planet, which had been previously terraformed by the Old Empire; her goal was”to seed the universe with all the wonders of Earth” and become a god in so doing. She became progressively megalomaniacal over two millennia; her evolving status – both as perceived by herself and by others – is a twisting and interesting commentary in its own right, though not an essential to the plot.

Her mission was to send a population of monkeys (which were suspended in cold stasis, as were all interstellar travelers) down to the surface, then accelerate and guide their evolution through use of an engineered nano-virus which was to be separately sent down, designed to infect the monkey population only.  However, an unknown member of NUN in her crew (non ultra natura – a group which vehemently opposed seeding the universe with humans, engineered or not), sabotages the re-entry. The monkeys are all destroyed, but the flask containing the virus reaches the planet intact, and has long-term tremendous, unanticipated results. The creators of the virus never imagined it might infect other species. The effect of the virus on spiders – whose existence on the planet was unknown to Dr. Kern (she was unsure whether some of the monkeys might have survived the sabotage) was dramatic, indeed, and this forms the warp on which the entire compelling story is beautifully woven. Dr. Kern waited a thousand years or so in and occasionally out of stasis, to be awakened finally by the Brin 2’s AI when her monkeys finally “phone home,” i.e. contact her when they became sufficiently cognitively advanced.

Told along with our introduction to Dr. Kern and the beginnings of her God complex, is the story of Earth’s destruction in a final war between the NUN’s and those who were about the business of seeding the universe with life. The fact that weapons had advanced but human restraint had not led to the end times. These events form merely the background for the story of what happens over a few millennia after Earth’s demise on and near “Kern’s planet.”

Much of the tale is told from the point of view of Dr. Holsten Mason, the classicist of the Key Crew of the starship Gilgamesh. His role was to understand history of the Old Empire and translate its dead language as the need arose (with Dr. Kern, for instance). The ‘cargo’ consists of 500,000 humans in deep cold stasis. Key Crew, on the other hand, are intermittently awakened by the ship’s AI, when specified or unexpected events occur. Gilgamesh attains speeds a large fraction of light speed over two thousand years by virtue of compact and near-limitless fusion reactors which power the ship.

Throughout, this book thoughtfully explores many aspects of human nature, both in the words of the well-fleshed-out characters and in their (and their society’s) deeds. Juxtaposition of human against the non-human nature of highly-evolved characters of different species, gives free reign to the author’s profound and literate insights into life’s possibilities and meaning generally and into various possible futures for humanity as well.

As a ‘meanings junkie’ and one who cannot help but ponder the long-term future of humanity, I found this to be thoroughly entertaining and thought-provoking. It is truly awe-inspiring. A Must Read!


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To Tiger Lily

You surely burst into your precious form;

Mere growth could not achieve it.

And sprung from earth to such a height…

A magic wand! Believe it!

You’re nature’s summer firework,

Surpassing our endeavor.

You garnish ev’ry country road

And will prob’ly last forever.

Like fledgelings, bobbing and weaving, all mouth,

You wait impatiently to receive your solar due;

A supplicant priest’s hands uplifted,

You await with mystical certainty

July’s baptismal torrent.


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Postmodern Inferno?

I mourn my lost innocence. On holiday in Zurich, the other day I saw an annual children’s parade where faces of thousands of children showed lively presence in the moment, curiosity, smiles, laughter; generally what appeared to be un-self-conscious happiness. Though it seems absolutely impossible, I only wish I might recapture a few moments of that. In the way of that happening is much knowledge which has combined in my mind to liken current human existence to Dante’s “Inferno.” The deeper the knowledge of how things work, the more hopeless seems our human plight.

Born near the end of WWII in the US, I grew up in an historically privileged time and place. Society by-and-large subscribed to a set of beliefs and rules which were steadying and reassuring. The rule of law was mostly respected (yes, there were exceptions, but its universal application was aspirational, at the very least). God was still in His heaven. What was sinful was named and known, as was what was righteous. In short, there were some well-anchored hand-holds along the way as the escalator of life whisked innocent children into tree-of-knowledge-knowing adulthood; as childhood receded into mythical memories, adulthood’s uncertainties still had boundaries and eternals to which one could cling (before we were “bitter clingers.”)

Post-modern understanding of the universe (or multiverse, since even that is no longer certain), it seems, has succeeded in shearing off most all the erstwhile hand-holds and boundaries which used to help steady us as innocence was lost to adulthood. Numerous generations now have been thoroughly schooled in moral relativism, in which the only sin is being “judgmental” (but only if one judges using standards which were universally accepted two generations ago). New and improved judgmentalism merely requires adherence to new rubrics: “All cultures are morally equal” (except ours, which is suspect). Formerly anti-social behavior is now accepted by “defining deviancy down,” (Daniel Moynihan) while at the same time prior normal bourgeois behavior has been stigmatized by “defining deviancy up.” (Charles Krauthammer) Once shocking, these rolling re-definitions of politically-correct social behavior have become banal, the stock in trade of social (h)activists: “check your privilege,” “know your guilt,” “beware micro-aggressions and cultural appropriations,” etc., etc., etc.

Even thoughtful adulthood has been robbed of steadying beliefs. Of course, those who believe in God of the Old and New Testaments are spared these uncertainties. I wish I could be among them, but – despite a long and difficult effort – cannot seem to get there. For want of a better term, I would call myself a practicing humanist with strong Judeo-Christian tendencies and moral beliefs. Even that is threatened by the rapidly-rising wave of technology, particularly by the emergence of machine intelligence.

Artificial General Intelligence is the topic of numerous books written by wise and knowledgable individuals. It is a complex subject and may initially arise sooner than expected. Its impact on humanity is hard to overstate, whether humans are augmented by implants – thereby ‘merging’ with artificial machine intelligence – or simply replaced by them as the repository of consciousness on our world, or in the universe as a whole. What this highly-likely future means for humanists like me, however, is deeply unsettling; devastating, actually.

The emergence of a self-conscious artificial general intelligence able to redesign itself a billion or so times faster than biological evolution is unlikely to reside in “meatspace” in the future. The most basic thermodynamic principles imply – on the basis of efficiency and resource requirements – the superiority of conscious machines based in sem-conductors compared to biological brains. Compare as starship passengers: human beings vs. computers with peripheral robots and/or nano-machines. Who needs a larger, infinitely more complex ship with a biosphere capable of prolonged life?

I go this far afield only to preemptively mourn, once again. Earlier, it was innocence lost. Now it is the future of humanity. If we look for biological precedents, the only partial analogy I can come up with is the life-cycle of certain insects, amphibians or cnidarians – in which larval forms precede the definitive life form, i.e. caterpillars become butterflies. Of course, the biological model applies to the life cycle of individuals, The analogy, therefore, breaks down since the entire human species becomes relegated in this model to the status of a molted shell. Our entire history, from unknown beginnings less than one million years ago to behavioral modernity about 50,000 years ago, to the exponential growth of our numbers and knowledge in the last 1000 years, is thus reduced to the equivalent of an exoskeleton, shed somewhere among the rest of the galactic roadkill. The larval shell of humanity thus discarded, the butterfly of conscious machine intelligence ascends toward its destiny.

So, you see, until recently, someone in the winter of his life might consider his/her legacy. Even if not direct descendants, at least he/she might imagine the continued progress and existence of the human race. No longer. Although I don’t wear sandwich boards to advertise, it is quite likely that “the end is near.” Another for instance: among our considerable knowledge is the fact that a 100 meter diameter asteroid whisked by Earth unpredicted, only half the distance to the moon last week. That terminal outcome, one among many possibilities of which we are aware, is a matter of ‘when,’ not ‘if.’

Even should we avoid such a kinetic or energetic (EMP) planetary catastrophe, left to our own devices, it appears certain that we will both intentionally alter our own DNA and create conscious beings far more intelligent and powerful than ourselves. Since neither of these momentous undertakings has a known endpoint and might result in our extinction, caution is indicated. Yet, we will surely do whatever it is that we are capable of doing, without restraint. I suppose these drives to proceed, caution to the wind, arise from deep within the wellspring of our humanity – this irresistible impulse to improve ourselves taking any risk. Could it be that this same drive leads us toward our own extinction? Is this the new Original Sin? Even setting aside cosmological events, that outcome can result from any one of numerous paths down which we, as a species, have embarked. Are we descending Dante’s neo – Inferno? We are rushing down many frightful paths at full speed.

Though I wish I could approach my end with hope, I see no basis for optimism as to the ultimate result of our newfound knowledge and power. Consider the interval from the beginning of the Industrial Revolution up until now in sidereal time. On that scale, in almost no time at all, we have gone from hunter-gatherers to (thinking of ourselves, at least) near gods. Is it surprising then, that our wisdom and understanding of meaning has not kept pace with our abilities to manipulate our selves and the matter which makes up our surroundings? Slam the neutrinos. Full speed ahead! It is no time for old men.


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Closer to a Fracture

In discussing the firing of Kevin Williamson a few days ago, @1967Mustangman closed the post with the observation, “…America inches closer to a fracture.” A District Court in Massachusetts  may have just moved us several feet closer thereto, in ruling that the Second Amendment permits a ban on possession of many categories of the most popular guns in the country. That the Judge, William G. Young, had a political axe to grind is suggested by his gratuitous observation in the opinion that Justice Scalia would have been “proud” of it. Such commentary in district court opinions are, let us say, unusual.

The law bans virtually all semi-automatic weapons, calling them “assault rifles.” As such, the court says (straight out of gun-banners’ talking points) they are useful to the military, therefore not protected  by the Second Amendment. This, itself, is a non sequitur.

As well, the opinions is – like most anti-gun propaganda – all but fact free. If a military force were armed with the civilian version of AR-15’s in question, it would be a laughably (it would be, at minimum, unkind to laugh as soldiers were cut down en masse as they would be, thus armed) ineffective force. Actual assault rifles, you see, have a selector switch which permits fully-automatic firing (the way they are invariably used, except by snipers), so the very name of the category of banned weapons is a fabrication. First, kill language, then kill rights. Civilian versions of AR-15’s and all other rifles mythically called “assault-rifles,” lack the full-auto function.

This law criminalizes at a stroke scores or hundreds of thousands of citizens subjects of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. It will set local citizens at each others’ throats and this ruling will embolden anti-gun fanatics throughout the country. Every municipality and some states with anti-gun activists will be passing similar bans. Fractures (and punctures) to follow. Only a prompt Supreme Court ruling (an unlikely event) announcing that such weapons may not be banned under the Second Amendment can prevent what could easily become a violent upheaval. But, I think that may be precisely what the illiberal left is aiming for.

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Emotional and Intellectual Consequences of Knowledge

In reading the post “If We Should Survive,” something occurred to me. Such thoughts – not uncommon to me – arise in the context of my tendency to compare my understanding of the world (and the universe, or is it the multiverse?) to that I imagine our ancestors had at various times in history. Our scientific knowledge has obviously improved material life in ways they could hardly have imagined. How about their spiritual lives – their understanding of beginnings, ends, meaning – compared to ours?

We merely add a Chinese satellite to the ever-growing list of things which we know could kill us (or all life on the planet). Our predecessors had a shorter list – pretty much restricted to what we would call “acts of God.” The necessities of life, for most of human history, were scarce and their availability wildly unpredictable. Maybe it was a blessing to have to work all ones waking hours to merely subsist; no time for neurosis. I suspect that sitting with fellow tribe members around a fire on a cool night was one of life’s few pleasures. Maybe the vestige of that is the pleasure I take from maintaining a fire in my wood stove.

Stephen Hawking died two weeks ago and his last known public pronouncement was what many who ponder physics to even a small degree already suspect: that the entire universe will eventually burn itself out and wither to dark nothingness at absolute zero. Entropy always wins. With this knowledge in the background, then,is it surprising we exist in an ethos suffused with nihilism? “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow, we eat, drink and be merry.” Myself, I prefer Yeats’ “The Second Coming” for my own dose of it (I know, some might interpret that poem as not necessarily nihilistic. Its power, however, heads its readers in the right direction to get what I am driving at).

Compare how, say, a peasant in the late 13th century might have felt stepping out of his ordinary life into a Gothic cathedral’s towering sights, sacred sounds and aromas. Jaded as I have become – in large part, I think because of the knowledge of the material world we have all acquired – I find myself unable any longer to conjure such feelings. On a few past occasions, I recall feeling something like mystical awe: seeing the Milky Way for the first time, on the shore of a Great Lake as a storm loomed, on top of a mountain in Switzerland, hearing certain pieces of music.

Through scientific knowledge, we have gained immeasurably. I wonder if we haven’t also lost some worthy intangibles.

 


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Citizens and the Census

Just when I began to think “hysteria fatigue” was finally setting in, progressives went off again – this time on the census’ proposed citizenship status question. Now these same progressives are prone to offer homilies on the sanctity of the vote. Such expressions are limited, however, to removing obstacles to voting, but only certain obstacles – like prior interment/cremation, felony conviction or present non-residency or non-citizenship. If citizenship has ever conferred any benefit, it was the right to vote as an act of self-government. It derives from parental citizenship and/or location of one’s birth. Otherwise gaining it is a privilege, contingent on factors democratically determined by existing citizens; it must be earned. It is not a right of anyone, anywhere.

The vehement progressive orthodoxy on this issue reveals coherence only for those who can see through the MSM’s disingenuous narratives.  On the one hand, liberals avow the near-holy status of voting; a sacrament of democracy. On the other hand they would have the right promiscuously available to anyone from anywhere who is able to present him/her/it-self to the voting booth (either under their own steam or by virtue of omnibus caravan), no questions asked. Photo ID – required and used by masses for all sorts of gifts from social welfare programs – is denounced as exclusionary, as is a requirement to demonstrate that one is a citizen of this nation in which one desires to vote (Democratic, of course). If the right to vote does not exclude non-citizens, then citizenship has no value.

This otherwise incoherent set of beliefs is collimated by only one single fact – a necessary and sufficient logical conclusion deriving from this belief system: US citizenship confers no right to govern ourselves. It confers only a duty to accept as equals anyone from anywhere capable of presenting themselves at our (evanescent) borders, at our voting booths or at our welfare offices and then it confers a duty to pay, gladly, for the privilege. It makes us  not a representative self-governing nation, but a Ponzi-scheme of population. It is an unstable, inherently self-terminating system. Some might conclude that is the precise aim of today’s American leftist. It sure looks that way.

If we who believe in self- and limited government(and who believe in nationhood as opposed to “global citizenship”) had leaders  worthy of the appellation, they would be pointing this out again and again and again. It has not a thing to do with jingoism, racism, xenophobia or any of the other names  we are called, ad nauseam. There is nothing wrong with taking pride in a worthy national heritage in whose DNA is self-examination and continual improvement.

Either we have the right to govern ourselves as a nation as we were founded, or we do not. It is time to decide, to state the result and insist on the consequences of that result – such as: in this nation, citizens control its destiny. If you wish to become a citizen, follow the rules we have established and we will consider you as an individual, regardless of any superficial appearances such as skin color or national origin. We judge you on your beliefs in essential American values such as tolerance, the desire to assimilate to a reasonable degree and the desire/ability to support yourself and your family. We conduct credible elections in which only citizens may vote and we require proof of citizenship for voting. This requirement applies to everyone who would vote. Once you have become a citizen, you are then fully equal as a voter. For that reason, we require proof of citizenship for voting. Citizenship is exclusionary as regards the right to vote. Period. Uncomplicated. Get over it.


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