Weather Oops

Two weeks back, went way out on a limb, thrill seeker that I am, and predicted the end of the 2017-2018 rainy season here in Bay Area. It rarely rains much after March, was the impeccable logic used.


current rain map
Current radar rain map as of 9:00 a.m. Thursday. 

The system moving our way:

forecast rain
A ‘Pineapple Express’ situation: tropical moisture from around Hawaii heading straight at us, getting sucked up into a swirly Gulf of Alaska storm hitting British Columbia, Washington and Oregon. 

Current prediction is for an inch or more of rain in the lowlands, 2 to 4 inches in the mountains and hills by Saturday morning. Rain at the Casa de Moore supposed to start tonight. The odd part: as of now (these things change) the storm is moving north east in such a way as to miss Southern California entirely.

Should rake across the Sierra pretty solidly from north to south. Since (as of now) that norther colder storm isn’t supposed to push very far south, the snow level will be very high, like 7,000 or even 8,000 feet in most of the Sierra. The ski resorts will be happy for the most part, but this won’t help the snowpack any lower down. Unless the cold air pushes down south, which it sometimes does. More rain is predicted for next week as well, but with the high level of uncertainty that accompanies forecasts more than 3 days out.

So, um, yea, looks like April will be a bit rainier than average this year.

My original estimate was that we’d come in with something like 75% of average rainfall for the year here in Contra Costa County. We’re sitting at 73.5% right now, based on a weighted average across the 30 rain gauges of the local flood control district. An inch or two more rain will bring that up past 80%, which is only panic zone if your panic threshold is very low. Snowpack affect too early to call.

For those new to my local weather obsession, I got into this because 1) California’s state hobby seems to be panicking over droughts, which seem to be defined, roughly, as any water situation that’s not as good as the better situations we’ve seen over the last 30 or 40 years; 2) there’s a bunch of good current data available (I really do need to send that fan letter to the Contra Costa Flood Control District, which throw tons of great stuff up on the Web for free – brings a tear to me eye!); 3) it is apparently required by law for bureaucrats and media-critters to mention climate change no matter what happens, good, bad or average.

It is in my self-appointed role as Science! monitor that I aggregate these things and point out the odd fact, such as that the really good data really only goes back 30-40 years. Before that, we had somebody manually spot-checking snow depth or rain gauges or thermometers in a very few locations across a huge, very geologically diverse state – and even that only goes back maybe 150, 175 years. Everything else we think we know are reconstructions based on assumptions – nothing wrong with that, per se, as long as we remember such reconstructions are really not a lot better than educated but still rough guesses. We must factor in a high level of uncertainty.

Think of this weather thing as a case study in how an amatuer can think his way through the scientific evidence.


Actual versus Potential: Aristotle and Quantum Probability

I only understand maybe 50% (and that may be optimistic) of the esteemed William Briggs’ latest post, but must share: Quantum Potency & Probability.

Here’s my take on the issue: I’ve heard most of my life about how, at a quantum level, reality is probabilistic. What this seems to mean to people propounding it is that reality, viewed on a fine enough level, is not governed by the laws of cause and effect, nor even by the law of noncontradiction. Things can come into being and pass out of being for no reason; and some things can truly be said to both be and not be at the same time in the same way.

To be fair, it’s not often put exactly like that, but it sometimes seems to be. ( As is almost always the case, the better the scientist, the more careful they are about how they express themselves. Heisenberg was a great scientist, and so he was generally careful. His acolytes, and especially those who use him as a club with which to beat their enemies, not so much.) And to honest, as mentioned above, it’s not like I understand the math or even the finer points of the experimentation that is claimed to lead to these assertions. What I do understand is that math is not reality, however useful and even indispensable math may be to our understanding and using of the world.

In his book on the philosophy of statistical analysis Uncertainty: the Soul of Modeling, Probability and Statistics (which I still need to reread and review here! Time eats life, as some French dude once said) Dr. Briggs takes great care to distinguish between epistemology – how we understand things – and ontology – how things are. Applied mathematics belongs to the world of epistemology. I am reminded of a section of the Feynman lectures where he pauses after having filled a couple large blackboards with equations to note that it sure took a lot of math to describe what was, essentially, a simple motion, and that nature in doing what it does certainly isn’t doing all that math.

Related imageAnd, for me, that is the point. Just because quanta are nigh impossible to see and measure and appear to behave in incomprehensible ways doesn’t mean that their states are not caused, nor that they are anything other than what they are regardless of what we are able to deduce about what they are. It is a radical and unnecessary step, and contradicts the minimalist approach embodied in Occam’s Razor, to assume a new principle: that there are classes of uncaused phenomena, not just phenomena the causes of which we don’t yet understand.

The discussion on Dr. Briggs’ blog is far more nuanced and deep than my feeble understanding. One part I do understand, and which is commonly discussed on this blog: Insofar as science actually advances, they are following Aristotle and not any of the post 1630 philosophers. (1) Hylomorphism – the understanding that any object in the real world that we can consider is made up of form and matter – is, of course, how science routinely understands the world, even if the terminology has been beaten out of it. Modern science desperately wants there to be material and efficient causes only, and so does its best to pretend that there are no formal or final causes. This results in the absurdity of saying, for example, that a bird’s wings are not *for* flying, that it is not possible to describe them in terms of how they are to be used.

Of course, nobody talks this way except when pushed to the wall. But our analytic philosopher comrades, living on the cutting edge of the early Enlightenment, must insist that we don’t know and can’t meaningfully talk about formal and final causes lest we fall into the trap of *gasp* metaphysics. Can’t have that. Can’t live without it, either, but that just makes them mad.

Anyway, the most fascinating idea:

Additionally, hylomorphism entails a gradual spectrum of material beings with greater degrees of potentiality to greater degrees of actuality. Something has greater actuality if it has more determinate form (or qualities) and something has higher potency if it is more indeterminate with respect to being more receptacle to various forms. For example, a piece of clay has higher potency insofar as it is more malleable than a rock and thus more receptacle to various forms. A rock can likewise be modified to receive various forms, but it requires a physical entity with greater actuality or power to do so because it has more more determinate form as a solid object… [H]ylormophism predicts that you will find higher levels of potency because you are getting closer to prime matter. This is precisely what we find in QM. The macroscopic world has more actuality, which is why we experience it as more definite or determinate, whereas the microscopic world has far less actuality, thereby creating far less determinate behavioral patterns.

Briggs quoting Gil Sanders “An Aristotelian Approach to Quantum Mechanics” (which I haven’t read yet, but will). My paraphrase: the higher up a thing is on the scale of being – the more ensouled, the more natural in the sense of having a fuller nature – the more primary is form. The lower one goes, the less primary is form. Thus I am a human animal, among the most natural objects in the universe, one where over my 60 years has had pretty much all the matter in my body swapped out one or more times. Yet no one sane doubts that my form – human animal – has persisted through all those changes. Once we get down to barely perceptible objects, we barely are able to perceive their form at all – all we can see are the mysterious undulations of prime matter as various forms subsume it. And this is what an Aristotelian would expect: less or lower forms, less nature, less definition.

Mind blown. I’m going to need to think this over a lot.

  1. 1630, more or less, is the year Descartes retreated to his room, drew the curtains, contemplated his navel and started producing the anti-Thomist philosophy that spawned all the crap since. I wouldn’t object to using 1517 as the real start date, but it’s Easter Week! We’re playing nice!

Space: In Search of…?

Taking a break this week from crying woe and attacking my friends and ancestors to get all skiffy, asking the Question That Shall Not Be Asked Too Loudly: why do we want to explore space, again?

Sure, I get the adventure and romance part, and space pirates buckle my swash right up, but, really: why?

Consider: here is the first of a few videos, well worth the hour they take to watch, of a bunch of nuts building a traditional 18th century trading ship.

By the time you get to the launch, you’ll have seen many men spend many hours cutting trees, shaping timbers, bending planks, applying tar and hemp caulking, forging fixtures and nails and otherwise engaging in feats of manly craftsmanship. Getting from a design to a plan to an ocean-going vessel made of wood is dazzling. And, even in modern times with modern tools, pretty expensive.

Or this, to take it back a few centuries, the classic viking long ship, the big version known as a dragon ship:

Amazing and beautiful ship. Aside: the Vikings generally used bog iron to forge the iron nails on their ships. When iron-rich water drains into bogs, the iron tends to settle out into accumulations of iron-rich ores. All it takes to get this stuff is slopping around in bogs with a shovel and something to carry the ore in. Evidently, finding the deposits was a combination of skill and luck.

After you’ve collected enough ore, you’ll need to heat it and crush it. Many times as much wood as ore is needed to melt it down, so somebody is cutting  A LOT of firewood. (Aside on the aside: it is claimed that the Zulus, who were master iron workers, created a lot of grasslands and deserts by cutting down forests of trees to fire their smelters.)  Then build a clay furnace, heat the crushed ore in the furnace for many hours, including pumping some sort of manual bellows, until the dross (liquid rock!) flows off and you’re left with a bog iron bloom – a lump of very impure iron. A team of smiths alternately heat (meaning: somebody cut down and gathered yet more wood) the bloom and hammer out the impurities. You heat and pound for hours until you’re left with a few pounds of usable iron – from which you can forge a few nails.

A dragon ship needed hundreds of iron nails. Building wooden ships: a labor and resource intensive exercise.

Or, going back as far as we can in the West, bronze-age stitch ships:

People cut down huge oaks with bronze hand tools, and then carved those oaks into the pieces needed, fitted them and tied them together to make boats that could ply the English Channel. Again, fabulous amounts of labor and ingenuity.

Those 18th century Indiamen came back laden with spices and other valuables. The Dragon Ships came back with booty as well as trade goods. Even the stitch ships seem to have been used to ship out English tin and other trade goods and bring back copper or bronze. But a lot of those ships, and the people on them, didn’t come back. Every trip was a life and death adventure. People had to really want to go for these trips to take place at all, even apart from the enormous investment it took to build the ships.

People will put tremendous effort and take huge risks if there is a payoff at the end. Only rarely will people spend a lot of time and money just to see what’s out there. Even then, what they want to know is if there are goods out there worth the trouble of getting. The Age of Exploration was the age of finding and getting stuff worth getting. It would have ended pretty quickly or followed a much different trajectory if it weren’t for the spices and gold and other goodies that came flooding back to Europe.

Back to space travel. I read once that the moon rocks brought back by the landing missions have mostly sat in boxes collecting dust. Once a few were thoroughly analyzed and found to be very ordinary, science mostly lost interest in them. Be that as it may, so far, we have not discovered anything in space worth the cost and risk of getting it. Reality check. People love to speculate on the value of certain asteroids, and start in predicting that we might go fetch those big rocks full of valuable metals. And maybe we can. It won’t be easy or cheap.

So, once the blush of conquest fades, why do we want to explore space? People, seems to me, are grasping at straws: we’re going to use up the earth! Too many people! We need to spread out or we’ll all die!

Where to even start. Carrington Event, anyone? That’s when the sun emits enough radiation to fry anything in space out to the orbit of Mars. They happen quite regularly, just rarely hit the earth – a planet with a thick atmosphere and a strong magnetic field. Which is why there are still people here. Out in space, or on the moon, or on Mars – not so good. The people in the International Space Station know that, should a Carrington Event happen while they’re up there, they’re not coming home alive.

Same goes for people in transit, people in space habitats, or maybe people on Mars if they’re facing sunward at the time it hits. Maybe we can figure it out, maybe not. The Carrington Event hit in 1859, so we’re 160 years without anything quite so big. Due? Overdue? Don’t think anybody really knows.

I mention this merely to point out that space is, if anything, even more inhospitable than people seem to think. It’s not just the freezing vacuum and occasional bits of high-speed rubble that can kill you. Remember the galactic capital of Trantor from Asimov’s Foundation series? He imagined it as located somewhere near the galaxy’s heart. These days, astronomers strongly suspect that the galaxy’s core is a black hole, and in any event that the denser inner part where most of the stars are is bathed in enough radiation to render it uninhabitable by us. It may just be the case that only out here on the fringes of the spiral arms, the sticks, as it were, are things calm enough long enough for life to survive.  That’s not counting the more local difficulties, like novas, neutron stars and black holes, which will make their local neighborhoods very inhospitable.

But forget about all that. Just focus on how valuable something would have to be in order for people to build some way of going into outer space to get it. In Dune, Herbert imagines a drug that confers long life and way cool mind powers on people – that’s the spirit! I can see people risking their lives and spending a trillion or two to get something like that.

But it had better be relatively close by. If it’s not in or very near our own solar system, we’d have a situation where the generation that footed the bill and took the risks is dead long before the payoff. Taking a look at people in general, most of us have trouble planning ahead two weeks, or caring about what happens in 10 years. All of the sudden, we’re going to start investing planetary-level resources into ventures with a payoff (if any) generations in the future?

So: what reasons do we propose for people to venture out into space? Here’s my list of ideas that are at least usable for SFF:

  • Romance/adventure: people just want to go because they can. This is Elon Musk and the thousands who signed up for that one-way trip to Mars he proposed.

People – I suspect some very small subset of people, when the rubber hits the road – really, really want to explore strange new worlds, etc. They imagine they are Columbus, heading off into the great unknown, and that something like a New World awaits them.

This works, to some extent, if they are or know billionaires. An industry, such as the shipbuilding industries described above, will not spring up to fund these romantic adventures unless there’s money in it. Columbus had to bring back the goods to keep the exploration flowing. Governments just might do it, but romance and adventure don’t commonly figure into the motivations of governments.

Problems: such people are not rational. Musk and others try to dress it up with reasons such as the ‘need’ to spread out to preserve the species (it’s that payoff in generations thing again) or maybe finding something valuable enough to warrant the expense. Bottom line, such people are hopeless romantics. That one-way ticket to the imagined Mars colony is a death sentence, probably much sooner than later. Even if it works, you’d be living inside a camp or in holes in the ground, trying not to suffocate, freeze or starve. Assuming you survive the trip. People are going to stay sane under these conditions?

Other romance/adventure scenarios are at least this bad. You want to live on/in an orbital structure or asteroid? For something like a few trillion dollars, we could build a nice habitat in space, and a few thousands of people could live there until something hits it, a Carrington Event, a system failure – assuming we can solve the Biosphere 2 problems.  Which we have not yet done, nor are there efforts to fix them or even understand them actively underway. Weird, huh?

  • Spice/Stroon/That Very Valuable McGuffin.

Sure, that’ll work. Now find it before you’ve driven earth into penury.

Note that asteroid mining, which is still more than a little dubious as an economic activity, isn’t really exploring space in the sense that science fiction imagines it. At best, it’s an excuse to set up bases and space stations. Economically, what you’d want to do would be to send robot drones to capture and redirect asteroids into more convenient orbits, maybe with robot refineries on them to extract the valuable materials.

What is utterly uneconomical is to send people up there to do this. Why? It’s dangerous, boring work that is ideal for a robot which needs neither food nor air and can easily survive high G’s.

So, we’d need to be talking about something much more valuable than minerals, and something that somehow requires physical human intervention.

  • Alien life, intelligent or not.

I imagine the lure of alien life would be too great to resist for long. If we knew for sure, somehow, that non-terran life existed anywhere we could get to, I think we’d go.

  • Pulling a geographic. Grass is always greener.

Upon consideration, this seems to me to be about the best, most realistic reason for exploring and colonizing space. It works well with and even largely overlaps the Romance/Adventure motive.

We all know or are this person. Many, many people at some point in their lives just want to leave. They will talk themselves into some reason for wanting to leave, but the basic motivation is that feeling that if they could just leave, they would leave their troubles behind.

Let us imagine a surplus economy. We are effectively there, barring major wars or the advent of universal socialism. Everybody is fed, clothed and housed. Nobody works themselves to death unless they want to.

Let us further imagine a civil war between, oh, let’s call them the Party of Death and the Party of Life. (It should not need to be pointed out that these groups do not at all correspond to any current political parties.) The outcome is better than we have any reason to hope: the Party of Life wins its freedom, but allows the Party of Death to exist so long as it does NOTHING to interfere with the free functioning of families and the government instituted by them. You know, to ensure domestic tranquility and secure rights for us and our posterity? No messing with that. Otherwise, you can live your self-destructive, hedonistic lives as long as you keep it to yourselves.

Since the future belongs to those who show up for it, this may not be too far-fetched to at least work as SF&F: those hellbent on their own destruction lash out and destroy – but they don’t have many children. Those dedicated to their families and kids don’t destroy things and do have children. Choosing one course means you are not represented in the future; choosing the other means you are.

The civil war is won when the Party of Death loses control of the government, the schools, and, as a result, of the media and entertainment industries. In my fantasy here, a relatively small number of people die – some when the Party of Life is finally pushed to fight back, some few especially deserving individuals are lined up and shot at dawn due to a (slight) excess of fervor on the part of the victors. But not much real war, as the people with the guns – cops, soldiers – will mostly very much want to stay out of it, and are more sympathetic to the Party of Life anyway.

Hey, it’s my fantasy.

Imagine a world where there are many hardworking people devoted to their families, who now hold power to the extent of vetoing policies and programs that harm them, yet there are also millions of people who want no part of this family nonsense, and are left to destroy themselves in a million ways, if they insist.

More to have something to do and dream about than anything else, such a culture might build generation ships to explore and colonize the stars. So we burn a trillion dollars building such ships and perhaps giant space lasers to help propel them…

It’s not like we don’t burn a trillion here or there even now.

And people will go. Romance, adventure, and the desperate hope that you can leave your troubles behind will drive them.

You can never really leave your troubles behind. Unless you die, which may or may not lead to other troubles.


Critical Theory: How it “Works”

Not so much what it is – in brief: Marxism taylored for the academic world – but just how it works in practice.

Brief recap: starting with the Greeks, philosophers began to view Nature and reality as a whole as something that could be understood. Not completely or perfectly, but certainly to some extent. This is the beginning of what we call Western Philosophy, and is a big piece of what make the West the West – fundamentally different from everywhere else in the world.

Fitfully at first, but settling in to the extreme rigor of Aristotle by the 4th century B.C., the approach was logical: try to find the most fundamental premises you could, the most general statements of reality, and reason according to strict logic from there. This approach requires (or results in – there’s a bit of a chicken/egg question, at least in my mind) a three-fold epistemology: there must be Required Truths, that without which nothing can be known or even discussed; Conditional Truths that depend on the truth of premises and the rigor of logic, where the conclusions may be ontologically ‘wrong’ even if logically correct because the premises may not be true; and opinion, which may be more or less informed, but is neither required nor explicitly conditioned on premises and logic.

Initially, these efforts to understand the world were a purely theoretical exercise. Nobody did philosophy to make a buck or for any practical gain. Indeed, as a hobby of the at least semi-leisured, philosophy as a means to anything other than self-improvement was considered gauche. Archimedes, famous for his inventions, legendarily did not think it worthy to write anything down about them. So we get fantastical reports – and physical evidence such as the Antikythera Mechanism – but no follow up or disciples. Philosophy was to produce the examined life worth living.

Christian shared with the Greeks (and Jews) the radical idea that the world was comprehensible by the human mind – and that it was worthy for a Christian to make the effort to understand it. ‘The Heavens proclaim the Glory of God’ after all, and we live to give Him glory. By the 11th century, Christians began to apply the rigors of Aristotle’s logic and method to pretty much everything. Albert the Great, a 13th century Dominican philosopher, was into everything and used to draw very careful and detailed pictures of plants – because, why not? God is in the details of a leaf as much as in the stars and seas.

Image result for hubble pictures
The Heavens proclaiming the Glory of God.

The effort of traditional Western philosophy – the Perennial Philosophy – stands on 4 legs. Along with the faith that the world can and should be understood, the three-tiered epistemology of required truths, conditional truths, and opinion, and logical rigor, one other thing is required to make any headway in understanding the world: the idea of Primacy of Being. This is so basic that it is rarely laid out separately in my experience. Instead, it is assumed, most commonly as part of the Law of Non-contradiction: a thing cannot both be and not be in the same respect at the same time.

Like so much of Aristotle, he’s saying something so simple and obvious that it’s easy to miss how profound it is. At least, it was easy to miss it until Hegel and Marx came along.

The Perennial Philosophy and its daughter Modern Science work by investigating and describing what something IS. When defining something – saying what something is – one must say what it is not. If you cannot say what something is not, communication is impossible. If my yes could be no, or over here could be over there, or my cat could be my dog, meaningful discussion grinds instantly to a halt. Science could get nowhere. Math would be meaningless. Communication through language would be impossible.

Everybody got this. The Law of Non-contradiction is not some arcane point of logic. It is the very heart of experience, understanding, and communication. So of course Hegel attacks it, and Marx buries it.

Instead, we are told that we live in a world of becoming. Talk of being reveals one to be among the little people, incapable of real philosophy. Real philosophers understand that you can only speak truthfully about being when all reality is abstracted from it – because reality is always becoming. The Law of Non-contradiction cannot apply to the real world of becoming, because in the real world nothing ever holds still long enough to be anything, and, even if it did so, real understanding of it would require understanding where it has been and where it is going.

This is a paraphrase of the Hegelian dialectic: the idea that a thesis – a statement (of being?) – is contradicted by a antithesis – another statement (of being?) – which contradiction is never resolved, but is instead held in suspense in the synthesis. That synthesis becomes the new thesis, subject to unfolding into a new dialectic.

Hegel humbly acknowledged that, given that we don’t know the future, we cannot predict the next synthesis. We must wait for the Spirit to unfold Itself in History. We cannot use logic or reason our way to the next unfolding, both because logic and reason are invalid and because it is the nature of the Unfolding of the Spirit in History to, let’s say, raise consciousness – to reveal new, unanticipated truths.

Marx, a more practical (and intellectually limited) man, will not accept this: he KNOWS how it comes out, he’s worked it out! A bit – well, a lot – fuzzy on the details, but he, as the chosen prophet of the not-at-all-Godlike History, will lay it down for us: History is unfolding into a Worker’s Paradise, where all nations and governments shall wither away, and all men will live in peace and plenty.

He makes the mistake common to most End Time prophets, in that while he’s really, really vague on most things, he nonetheless lays out too many detailed that can be proven wrong. Among the details he didn’t get right: Workers of the world are to unite to lose their chains, not Russian and Chinese serfs; Communism is to arrise from among the rebels, not be imposed by sociopathic criminals like Lenin, Mao and Che. Capitalism (his swear word for free markets) is to run itself into the ground enslaving everybody, not bring many millions of people into a far better life than even the richest Capitalist enjoyed in Marx’s day; The revolution was to be organic and inevitable, not something brought about by the lies and machinations of Fabian Socialists and Gramsciite Critical Theorists.

The Critical Theorists took on the job of polluting Academia and culture with Marx’s lies and distortions. Here’s how applying Marx to academic fields works:

  • We already know how it comes out, we don’t need to prove anything;
  • We’re much smarter and more enlightened than any other people anywhere ever.
  • Everything – everything – is explicable by a oppressor/oppressed dynamic;
  • Offering any other explanations, any other predicted outcomes simply prove you are an oppressor or a tool of oppression, and are in either case on the wrong side of History;
  • We don’t have to make sense. Demanding we do is oppression;

The results are as predictable as they are sad. First off, every traditional explanation for ANYTHING that cannot be made into an effect of an oppressor/oppressed dynamic is WRONG. History, for example, whenever it shows cultures developing peacefully, or religious beliefs having a positive affect, or wars being fought for anything other than the right to oppress people – IS WRONG.

In another context, was disputing a critical theorist’s assertion that, not only is the West not a product of Greek culture, but there really isn’t a ‘West’ to begin with. As another person quipped: sure, Eritrea and America – exactly the same. For now, it is enough to note that for over a thousand years people in the West have recognized a difference between themselves and all other cultures, and that the trajectory of the West has been far different than that of any other culture. Therefore, a critical theorist must deny this, evidence in front of their eyes notwithstanding.

History has sides. Those who accept and promote the inevitability of a Worker’s Paradise populated by New Soviet Men magically freed from all human faults are on the Right Side of History. Those who insist that people have natures – human nature – and so are not infinitely reformable, or in any other way deny the inevitability or desirability of the Worker’s Paradise, are on the Wrong Side of History. Note: those on the wrong side of History are scheduled for culling.

Scholarship is reduced to identifying the oppressor/oppressed dynamic that is making people unhappy. If people aren’t unhappy, it’s your job to fix it. Thus, the endless stream of before/after pictures of kids going to college, where cheery, normal-looking 18 year olds become bitter, frowning 20 year olds with shaved heads and Che t-shirts. They thought, you see, that they were suburban kids going off on a great college adventure, only to discover that they are miserable oppressors, victims of oppression, or both, and need to promote the Revolution.

If that doesn’t make sense to you, that’s OK. Any dogma divorced from reality will soon tangle itself into knots of nonsense. Critical theory teaches us to *embrace* that nonsense!  Intersectionality, for example, or simultaneous claims that Science Has Shown and that science is a social construct, or using tools created almost entirely by men – computers, the internet, electrical systems, heck, indoor plumbing – to popularize the idea that men are always oppressors. Except that ‘men’ are likewise a social construct.

The nonsense never ends.

Gramsci laid out the targets to be destroyed: Family, village, church. These are where normal people find happiness. Happiness leads to not wanting to kill your oppressors and put the likes of Pol Pot in charge, and therefore is the enemy.

Yes, happiness is no less the enemy of critical theory than reality itself. It works by trying to destroy happiness.

I imagine most critical theorists are useful idiots. This is more generous than to imagine they all understand it and keep doing it anyway. Some do, for sure, but not most – I’d like to think. Doesn’t really matter, except that the useful idiots are likely to follow to wherever the cool kids are sitting, so that if the true believers are shown to be uncool, the battle is largely won.

Meanwhile, the fruits of the Philosophy of Being are being harvested every day: science and technology cannot discover or build anything using a philosophy that denies logic and dismisses definition and communication, so scientists and technologists stick to Aristotle and the Scholastics, even if they’ve been taught that it isn’t so. To their credit, scientists tend strongly to hold philosophers in contempt – because the philosophers with which they are familiar hold contemptible ideas. Among them: critical theory.

All good men have a duty to be reasonable, happy and lovers of family, village and Church. It’s a duty – and it makes critical theorist heads explode. Win-win.



Friday Flotsam

1. Zuckerberg. Ah, Zuckerberg. Not a big fan of armchair psychology unless it’s me that’s doing it. So, grain of salt and all that.

Over the years, have run into a number of people in my position: working with techies without being a techie. People in sales, PR, management, even a retired corporate psychologist. It’s remarkable how the discussion will eventually, usually pretty quickly, get around to the same issue; the blindness of successful techies to how normal people think and react. Stereotypes get that way because they’re so often accurate.

If I have a big Theory of Life, it might be described as Filter Theory: with greater or lesser intent, people are sorted and assigned roles according to filters. Nobody becomes a cop, for example, unless he can tolerate lots of rules and bureaucracy and don’t shy away from the threat of violence. The vast majority of people, it seems to me, would not make very good cops, at least according to the current job description. We find common denominators across all sorts of otherwise different people if they share a profession. (1) Nothing too profound here, just an observation to keep in mind.

Image result for zuckerberg
Our once and future robot overlord. 

Nobody can become successful in computer technology unless he can tolerate sitting in front of a screen for hours every day and stay focused on increasingly arcane minutia. People with a high need for human interaction need not apply. In fact, finding human interaction baffling or unpleasant would tend to drive people toward careers where they can be successful without having to deal too much with other human beings.

Further, there are kinds of insanity that result in sleeping in a cardboard box or padded cell; there are also kinds that result in becoming CEO or sales leader. In the case of tech, there are many, many really good guys who are aware on some level that they’re not very good at picking up what other people are feeling or thinking. These folks tend to be that sort of shy geek that is easy to love – and who rarely rises much in the hierarchy.

Then there are those who, if not out and out sociopaths, are at least blissfully unaware of how other people think and react. They just assume other people are stupid or ignorant. They are confident that things would go so much better if only they were in charge. In a tech environment, these people tend to become management. Sometimes – woe to us! – they even come up with a good enough idea that they found a company or 3.

Thus, we get the spectacle of Zuckerman. I believe he really, truly does not get how hopelessly arrogant and frankly stupid he looks to normal people. The most terrifying aspect: he’s rich enough to have gotten away with it so far. His ego is probably utterly impenetrable. He is absolutely sure the only problem here is that everybody else is stupid.

I passionately hope somebody finds a way to put him in jail for a year or two. That’s about the only hope we have of getting through to these fools. It’s a slim hope, but it’s about all we’ve got.

2. A discussion of this article took place on this blog. Here we have Science! in all its glory: some sample of people in nations around the world are asked, using a variety of ‘instruments’ no doubt, about how ‘religious’ they are and how ‘happy’ they are. Then, tossing all this ‘data’ in a blender, we are called to conclude that the more religious the people in an area are, the more unhappy the people in that area will be.

Where to even start? Note first of all that it’s not claimed that the it’s same people – in other words, one set of people might be very religious and happy, while another set, let’s say a bigger set, is mildly irreligious and very miserable. The average – whatever that might mean! Average of what, exactly? – might show relatively high religiosity on average and relatively high misery on average, but miss entirely *who* was happy and who was miserable.

Really, too much stupidity to be sorted through. Let’s landry-list this thing, at least the high points:

  • Reification. To plot the graphs shown, you would need *numbers*. Happiness, sadness, religiosity are NOT in ANY WAY numerical. Nobody is 0.7 happy, nor 28.334 sad, nor 87% religious. Do not pass go until you understand this. It is simply nonsense to assign numbers to responses on a poll and act like you can then add them up and perform math on them. Simple and complete nonsense. Cooking up an ‘instrument’ that forces people to give numerical answers doesn’t magically make the thing numerical.
  • Polls. Undefined terms. So some undergrad needing extra credit shoves a poll into somebody somewhere who has time to answer polling questions, and asks something like: on a scale of 1 to 10, how happy are you? Somebody says 8. Somebody else says 6. Yet another person says 3. Well? Who is happier? WE DON’T KNOW!!!! Happiness is not numerical, and, even if it were, 3 people will each have his own unique and possibly mutually exclusive ideas of what happiness means.
  • Self reporting. In America, one routinely asks ‘how you doing?’ and routinely gets a reply such as ‘fine’. In Italy, nobody asks how you are doing, because the answer will be a litany of ills. Yet we assume without any objective check that the American who says 8 is really twice as happy that the Italian who says 4?
  • Cultural differences. See above. Even apart from individual differences, some cultures consider themselves happy, others consider it bad form to tout one’s happiness. Yet all answers are treated as the same.
  • Religion. The poll assumes that Calvinism is a religion in the same way Islam is, or Hinduism, Buddhism or every flavor of Animism is. Just no. The concept of a devout Animist is absurd. Calling Buddhism a religion in the same way Lutheranism is a religion is absurd. Within each subset, similar problems are revealed by a moment’s reflection: Catholics – a group I know fairly well – consist both of those who were last in a church when baptised and will next be in a church for their funeral, who couldn’t give an account of what the Church believes, who nonetheless see themselves as devout, and those who attend daily Mass and study the catechism, who nonetheless feel themselves but meager Catholics. We count them all the same?
Image result for happy baby
This baby is EXACTLY 9.7365 happy. EXACTLY! It’s SCIENCE!

And so on, across problems with language – do the terms mean the same things across all languages? – sampling questions, consistency, methodology – non of which matters in the least because HAPPINESS AND RELIGIOSITY ARE NOT NUMBERS.

If you call yourself a scientist or even a supporter of science, and fell for this, you are an ignorant fool. Not to put too fine a point on it.

3. Looks like we’re done with the rainy season here in Contra Costa County and perhaps the state as a whole. Last storms are petering out in the eastern mountains, and nothing else is forecast. We typically get very little rain after March.

I got a weighted average of 72.26% (speaking of ridiculous claims of accuracy – but hey, it’s math!) of average rainfall over the 30 rainfall gauges of the Contra Costa Flood Control District. Last year, we had 178% even over 29 gauges. Over the last 2 years, according to my highly suspect but probably about right methodology, we got 125% of average rainfall.

So? I don’t know, but it seems to me we should probably not have to worry about water supply now, except the long-term worry about how we capture, distribute and use it. How about a 50 year project to improve water capture, reduce transportation system loses, examine if we’re using water wisely and returning a large chunk of the Delta to wetlands? Instead of shrill panic? A man’s gotta dream.

  1. A favorite example from childhood: read an article, probably in Sports Illustrated, where a guy claimed to be able to tell whether a professional American football player played offence or defense just by looking at his locker: offensive players would have all their stuff neatly hung up and organized; defensive players would just stuff their gear or pile it on the floor. Why? because offensive players who reach professional level have to be able to execute a very specific and detailed plan for each play, while defensive players are filtered by their ability to disrupt those detailed plans. In the article, an exception was pointed out: there was an offensive lineman in this particular locker room whose gear was piled on the floor. A moment of interrogation revealed he’d been a defensive lineman until switched to offense in the pros.

Weather ’tis Nobler…

Have laid off the constant weather reports because this rain year, unlike last year, has been, frankly, boring. After a dry February here in Contra Costa County and the Sierra, the 2017-2018 precipitation year was shaping up to come in at under 1/2 average. Despite the shrill claims that this would have been some sort of disaster, it’s completely normal, if by normal you mean something that happens fairly often in the natural course of things, like how a 5’3″ tall man is completely normal, even if he’s below average height.  50% of average one year, 150% of average the next, and everything in between – that’s normal.

But that ain’t selling any beer or shampoo. So we get California May Be Returning to Drought Again and Sierra Snow Droughts May Become More Common, from early February, which, oddly, comes up far above Nearly 16 Feet of Snow Has Fallen in California’s Sierra Nevada in 18 Days, an article from the same site 2 days ago, when one googles ‘Sierra snow’. It’s like they don’t want you to stop worrying.

March rolled in like a lion. In addition to the 200 – and counting – inches of snow so far this month, we’ve had between just under 3″ to well over 8″ of rain at various spots here in Contra Costa County – the eastern part of The Bay Area, or, as Herb Caen used to say, San Francisco and its suburbs.

Right now, we’re just getting into one of those great combo storm, where the typical Gulf of Alaska cold front moves in and combines with a ‘pineapple express’ storm coming up from Hawaii. The latter is warm and full of water, the former is cold and lowers the snow level. Together, they tend to dump tons of snow in the mountains – forecast is 60″ over the next few days.

Image result for rainThere’s also rain. This particular storm is centered south of here, with the brunt hitting land around San Luis Obispo and then sliding south into Santa Barbara on into LA. They’re looking at 4 – 8 inches in the mountains, with over an inch in the flats. Since brush fires exposed a lot of bare ground down south this fall, mudslides are likely. They’re predicting snow on the Grapevine (Interstate 5 where it winds through the mountains north of LA) which will create traffic chaos. Good week not to drive.

We’re just getting the edge of the storm, but still should get a not insignificant amount of rain. The southern Sierra, where all the really tall mountains are, is going to be really buried – that 60″ guess is for our end of the range, which is lower and not the center of this storm’s bullseye.

So, what does this all mean? My very amatuer guess is that we’ll end up with about 75% of average precipitation this year, which, on the back of last year’s 200% and current above normal reservoir levels, should be a JUST FINE.  And because the snow came so late, the ski resorts should be able to stay open through all or most of the spring. Right now, however, skiing is being snowed out. Can’t ski in a blizzard, especially when the roads are closed. But over the next couple months, should be excellent.

Why do I care, and more to the point, why should you care? I think the odd slants and filters on the news are perhaps most easily seen where the topic is not too emotional. Here, we have the safest topic of all – the weather. Yet, even such a mundane and non controversial topic can’t escape. Weather any different than it was last year or as it is selectively remembered to have been a decade or two ago? Must be global warming! Our reservoirs and aqueducts built for the completely different state we had 50 – 100 years ago? Drought! And global warming! We use pristine mountain water to wash circuit boards dozens of times so that the effluvia is clean enough to dump in the bay? Water shortage! Due to global warming!!

Folks, it’s just weather. We have 35 million+ Californians using water delivered largely by an old, creaky and leaky system designed for half that many, often using it in stupid ways. That means we have to be a little more circumspect and spend some money on infrastructure and maintenance. It’s not the end of the world. It does not require institution of a global tyranny to micromanage everybody’s lives.

But you wouldn’t know that by reading the news.

Evolution & Society

Speaking of getting more circumspect the more I learn, treading more carefully on evolutionary topics these days than I used to. Thanks to those who have brought more depth to my understanding here and at other blogs and such, especially Mike Flynn. Of course, my continuing lack of understanding is nobody’s fault by mine. Onward:

There are here both a basic idea and a basic problem that war, or at least are made to war, with each other. First is the grand idea, not quite so grand as many imagine but grand nonetheless, of species arising under the pressure of natural selection. Darwin spends the first part of the Origin of Species (note: origin of species) discussing how farmers have always, more or less consciously, artificially selected the most desirable plants and animals for breeding and thus perpetuation. That’s the model to be kept in mind always when considering Darwin: natural selection is to be understood as analogous to what a farmer does.  Continue reading “Evolution & Society”