Posts Tagged ‘history’

On Alliances

March 19, 2017

I was just thinking about Trumpsky’s comments. About how other countries should pay the US for defending them. About how much we pay for defense, and his rationale for spending more.
He’s a fool. You probably knew that, but maybe someone will explain.
The US, to the best of my knowledge, never spent a dime to benefit other nations.
Ponder that carefully.
The money was for our benefit primarily. If it also helped them, great.
Consider Germany; we spent quite a bit keeping folks like me there in the mid to late 20th Century, in my case on various hilltops waiting for the Soviets to roll across the border. So why did we do it?
Think how many men and women we had in the armed forces, how many machines we bought, and how much this nation spent fighting WWII. Just off the top of my head, I think we had around 7m people in the armed forces.
But not now. We don’t maintain a huge standing army, and that results in an enormous savings. I’ve seen it called the ‘peace dividend’.
Why?
Because we have allies. They have men and women in uniform, machines, ammunition, you name it. They maintain armies which allows us to keep ours relatively small.
Sure, we might want them to spend more, but even that has limits. If they expand their armed forces too much, the temptation is there to use them. Sort of what a number of American presidents have done, send troops to fight in wars against nations that had not attacked or even threatened the US.
What we’ve bought with our alliances (including NATO, whose nations are closest to our immediate threat, Russia) is peace and savings. Also security.
Someone should explain that to the guy who works more on his golf game than on governing.

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Economics: Crashes, Recoveries, and Recent History

May 8, 2015

I keep seeing the denials. Whenever good economic news comes out of Washington, some claim it’s propaganda, that it’s all lies by Obama.
As if a president has time to collect the data, to analyze economic trends.
Yesterday I got involved in a discussion with a man who doesn’t believe statistics such as what was reported today, that America enjoyed fairly-healthy job growth last quarter.
But I also see signs on doors, Help Wanted. Look around, you’ll see those too. Go on, look for yourself. Are those signs lies?
Stores close, Others open. It’s part of the cycle. Long term trends are different.
Unless you PERSONALLY have access to all the data, you’re believing someone else’s report. And all those reports, including mine, are based on second-hand information. They’re no more than opinion, in other words. My opinion? I base it on evidence, not solely on government reports.
Those reports some are┬áso quick to doubt are read by a bunch of nervous traders. The stock market…looked at that lately? It reflects the nation’s economic health very closely, and there’s a lot of our economic history to be read there. Companies that are publicly traded must file quarterly reports. They must report changes in their work force, up or down, whether their earnings will meet expectations, things like that.
Don’t like the government reports? Just watch the stock market. Traders know. They have to, or they lose their ass.
Now go back and look at long term market trends. Look at what happened during the last years of the Bush II presidency and what has happened since.
The market almost crashed. Banks almost went bankrupt, the entire financial house of cards almost fell. Bush and his supporters bailed out those same big banks and insurance companies with gigantic gifts of public money.
This is history. It’s not opinion. It happened. The economy sank into the Great Bush Recession. OK, that’s my name for it; I want to remind people of what happened and who was in charge at the time.
You can find the reports, and some of you will even remember when these events took place, now that I’ve reminded you.
No bailouts under Obama. Instead, rising employment. More consumer confidence. The stock market rise has reflected that. The nervous traders settled down and paid more for stocks, because they expected the values of traded companies to go up. That has continued since Obama became president.
Evidence, not opinion.
I call it the Great Obama Recovery, because I want people to remember who was in charge of this part of our economy history too.
Loved Bush II, hate Obama? OK. Personally, I’ve got issues with both of them. But I try not to let that blind me to facts. I look at the evidence.
Government reports, and also what the stock market is doing. That market reflects our economic history, for those who are willing to look at long-term results.

About Philosophy, Religion, and Faith

January 20, 2015

From a conversation on a Facebook group dealing with why religious belief persists:
I understand your comment, my friend, but I can’t agree. I understand that there are many things unseen, but attributing them to a deity doesn’t work for me. Too often, that explanation has been simply wrong.
The more we learn, the more concepts that have persisted because of ‘faith’ are debunked. Why, then, should we have faith that things in future will be different, not understandable?
Consider for a moment the concept of believing that some entity organized the universe.
When people knew nothing other than the ‘Earth’ and ‘the Heavens’, one could accept that perhaps magic was involved. Magic, defined in this context as not being bound by what we call natural laws, e.g. the laws of nature as we understand them. But we now know there’s much more to the picture than that. The sources of current religious belief, faith, come from a society that knew little to nothing of our true place in the universe. Whether Judaism, Christianity, or Islam, all of them are rooted in the writings, the codified beliefs, of thinkers whose background was herding, farming, fishing, and handicrafts. Of a people who simply ignored what didn’t fit, who claimed that such things were the will of the deity, hence not to be understood by humans even though, basic to that belief, is the concept that humans are the image of the deity.
If that’s your philosophy, that all this order has to be by design, I can’t argue with that. But…
If we disagree, why should we stoop to some level that’s not based on philosophy? Why should we enslave, murder, torture because someone believed differently?
Nothing in that basic belief requires that. Nothing in that system excuses murder, torture, rape, slavery.
But those things have been with us since first we climbed down out of the trees. Why?
THAT I attribute not to belief, but to systems of organized religion. Systems with a few ordering the many how to believe, how to think. And inevitably profiting thereby. For every starving philosopher of religious thought, there are a dozen priests of some ilk profiting. Living well, even as the ones who provide that good living are impoverished.
Little by little the evidence builds.
You’ve had dinner with us before, my friend. Enjoyed the turkey, did you?
That turkey, presumably, is different. We benefited from someone who slaughtered the beast so we could have Thanksgiving dinner. Cows, pigs, fish…
We’re supposed to be superior. We think, we feel.
Yet we now know how similar we are to those other organisms. We know that animals can even catch ‘human’ diseases, that humans can catch ‘animal’ diseases. We share genes.
We’re all part of a huge biosphere, a mix of genes that sometimes we share, sometimes we don’t share. Just a few genes more or less changes us from chimp to human or gorilla. Or pig.
If a pig is slaughtered, is he transported to heaven? If a dog dies, does it go to heaven? Dogs think, dogs feel, dogs communicate.
But we’re told that only humans have a soul. That the soul embodies those things, the ability to reason, to feel, to make choices.
That we can treat other animals as we do because they lack this soul.
Really?
Do we not see evidence, clear and indisputable evidence, that those lesser animals grieve when a close associate/family member dies? Do whales not grieve, do they not understand the concept of death and regret when it comes? Do they not sacrifice themselves to save their offspring?
They do.
Only faith insists those things aren’t so.
Its why faith is not enough for me.
I DO have faith of a sort, except it doesn’t depend on organized religion.
I’m a part of a greater whole, humankind. I share genes from the human gene pool. My genes are not unique, but the combination I currently possess is unique.
When I pass, those genes will still be there in the human genome. My particular combination will go on, at least in part. Children, grandchildren, descendants, they’ll possess a tiny bit of what made me what I am.
I hope that greater whole persists for a long time, but I understand that ALL species before humans have gone extinct or at least branches of those species/particular genomes have vanished. Yet their genes persist, even today. That turkey had genes that once, reshuffled, were part of dinosauria.
Of humans, H. sapiens sapiens.
Me.

Popularity

June 1, 2013

We seem obsessed by popularity. Celebrities, their actions and comments and dress and lifestyle fascinate many. Not all, and not me, but so many that it’s impossible to ignore them.

Click on your browser, whether it be MSN or Yahoo or whatever, and you’ll see lots of stories about celebrities and sensationalism. There’s a small amount of actual news, but it takes some winnowing to find it.

Film; books; music; television; sports. A few practitioners are popular, many can be classed as ‘celebrities’, and even scientists sometimes make the list of such. And yet, how few of these hugely important people or ideas are still important just a few years on? That brief tenure for ideas is the inspiration for this essay.

Celebrity ideas in physics, for example, deal with dark matter and God particles and such. If you’re more into physics-in-depth, it might be quantum mechanics or relativity. The one explains the behavior of the very small, the other explains the behavior of the very large. But neither explains both, and yet each is too important to be abandoned. Nothing else works nearly so well where each applies.

What this means, to me, is that we don’t have full understanding of either of them. Others see no problem with simply using the two where each works best and ignoring the differences.

Some other popular ideas in physics: light is both a particle and a wave. Undeniably, experiments appear to prove this, even though it seems absurd to me. A particle is matter, a wave is energy; and if Einstein (a celebrity by any definition) is to be believed, the conversion factor between the two is huge, something like 900, 000 to one if memory serves. And the two are interchangeable, at least mathematically.

The same holds true for electrons, matter and also at the same time energy. Electrons have mass. But they can also be used, just as light waves are, as a medium for imaging. Electron microscopes use electron ‘waves’ for this purpose, and we’re beginning to see images of things like atoms and even part of atoms and atomic structure.

Once again, I suspect we lack some crucial bit of knowledge to explain the apparent contradictions.

String theory was once celebrated, but is less so nowadays. And dark energy, as well as dark matter, has its investigators and proponents. It’s popular. Even though neither is actually understood beyond the bare theory stage, and even though the likes of me doubts their existence, and if they actually do exist then I suspect they’ll be much less common than current models claim.

Popularity is a funny thing. Galileo was popular among the general public, which brought him to the attention of religious authorities, and that eventually got him tried for heresy. But that very popularity made it politically impossible for those religious authorities to simply burn him in the public square, as they did others. But centuries later Galileo is still popular and those who accused him and tried him and convicted him are forgotten.

I wonder whether Taylor Swift or Justin Bieber will be popular 20 years from now? But Bach and Beethoven and Brahms and so many others, will still be popular as they are now, centuries after their deaths. Mozart, too; no celebrity when he died in poverty, but celebrated now.

Will even entire music venues remain popular? Will rap and hip-hop be around, or will they go the way of doo-wop? Few practitioners of that unlamented style are still around, and calling them ‘celebrities’ would certainly be a stretch. This is true of most popular music, too. Twenty or thirty years on, they are forgotten…and justly so.

And so I wonder how many of the ‘popular’ ideas in science will endure and still be considered relevant a century or ten centuries from now. The mathematics of the ancient Greeks and Arabs is still relevant as much as three thousand years later. The religions of those times, not so much. And the priests, ‘celebrities’ in their lifetimes? Forgotten, even their names lost to obscurity. Kings; popes, princes, once highly important, now forgotten.

Sic transit popularity.

Jobs, too, change. Pity the mathematician who studied to be a calculator before that job was replaced by a machine, or a computer before such machines became readily and cheaply available. How many now even remember what a card-punch operator actually did? And Heinlein’s novel Starman Jones turns on the mathematical ability of two people, one who also had eidetic memory. The common Apple or IBM computer of the late 20th Century rendered Heinlein’s story idea quaint. In Red Planet and a couple of others, the slide rule was the ultimate in calculating devices. Few even know what those are now, and even fewer could make use of them if someone were to hand you one.

Popularity is essentially fleeting. But a few popular things become classics and endure. And some ideas endure even when their originator never became popular. Indeed, some died without understanding that their ideas would live on.

Genetics; everyone’s heard of that. It’s a celebrity idea. But Mendel died in obscurity, even if he’s considered today to be the father of that discipline. And plate tectonics grew from the work of Wegener, who was ridiculed during his lifetime.

And as for celebrities in science, and popular people or ideas, only time will tell whether they are classics or whether they will be abandoned to obscurity.