Godwin’s law, the GMO Version

Of all the contentious arguments I’ve engaged in over the last few years, the most contentious has been the irrational fear revolving around GMO crops.  On this weeks Skeptic’s Guide the Universe they get into the latest example of the kind of rancor that occurs on the subject of GMO; namely, the targeting of people deemed sympathizers with the Nazi labeled antichrist of corporations, Monsanto.

I myself have been accused of being on the payroll of Monsanto.  I wish that were the case.  If any Monsanto executives are reading this and want to pay me, please let me know.  I am not a journalist, I do not care if anyone considers my opinion unbiased or not; I will gladly take your payola.

However, targeting people who rightly suggest that the phobic froth around the mouth of the anti-GMO crowd is just this side of crazy is completely uncalled for and really should be investigated;

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, besieged by complaints from targets and the science and journalism communities, immediately launched an investigation of Adams and the site, with Adams facing possible felony charges of inciting violence (if he lived in a Europe or a Commonwealth country like the U.K., he would probably already have been served).  

GLP Article

I’ve never had any use for Mike Adams or NaturalNews.com, although I have been vilified by many, many people who mistakenly go to his website thinking that his information is reliable, it isn’t; and with his death threats and targeting of science journalists he has finally crossed a line that I hope he will be punished for.

GMO is not Monsanto. GMO is not a thing. GMO (Genetically Manipulated Organisms) is many things, some of them quite beneficial; but that doesn’t stop people with a phobic response from loosing their shit over the subject. Nor does its beneficial results get recognized by the self-same phobic types who decry it’s very existence.  Case in point, this article offered by an anti-GMO friend on Facebook that I have since blocked due to his (Mike Adams like) insistence that I was a Nazi sympathizer for Monsanto.

Scientists at the Mayo Clinic on May 14 announced a clinical trial that had been carried out in 2013, in which a Minnesota woman was injected with enough measles vaccine to treat 10 million people. Over the course of several weeks, the multiple tumors growing throughout her body shrank and vanished.

After undergoing chemotherapy and stem cell transplants, Stacy Erholtz’s myeloma — a blood cancer affecting the bone marrow — had spread into her skull and other parts of her body. The virus she was injected with had been engineered by researchers for cancer therapy.

circa (archive.org)

You read that right. GMO cured that woman’s cancer. That is just the tip of the iceberg.  Mexico has halted planting of a GM corn that was engineered specifically to address dietary deficiencies in their poor diet (which is largely corn) based on anti-GMO fears, and the threatened profit margins of competitors.

Mexico already imports tens of thousands of tonnes of GMO yellow corn each year, largely for animal feed, and permits planting of other GMO crops, mainly cotton and soybeans.

Supporters of GMO corn like Mexico’s corn farmers’ federation argue it can boost yields by up to 15 percent.

Their peers in the United States, Brazil and Argentina – the world’s top three corn exporters – are already producing large quantities of GMO corn.

Reuters

They could cross-breed corn in the traditional method of genetic manipulation for a thousand years and potentially never get the results that they achieved by simply taking the code out of one corn plant and splicing it into corn that grows in the Americas. It will end vitamin deficiencies in many poorer areas that rely on corn for sustenance in the same way that Golden Rice will potentially end vitamin A deficiency blindness in areas of Asia that rely on rice.

Because many children in countries where there is a dietary deficiency in vitamin A rely on rice as a staple food, the genetic modification to make rice produce the vitamin A precursor beta-carotene is seen as a simple and less expensive alternative to vitamin supplements or an increase in the consumption of green vegetables or animal products.

Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Our first world fears should not be given more credence than their very real needs. I think we should let them decide if they want to eat or not, want to see or not. It is a lot like the fear surrounding vaccination. When your kids start dying, you’ll discover you like medicine after all. GM foods are not health risks in and of themselves, no matter how many times you say otherwise; but, ya know, Round Up ready corn! It causes cancer!  Except it doesn’t.

The biggest criticism of the study is the combination of two features – the small sample size and lack of statistical analysis. The entire study is premised on comparing various dose groups with control groups that were not exposed to GMO or glyphosate. And yet, the authors provide no statistical analysis of this comparison. Given the small number of rats in each group, it is likely that this lack of statistical analysis is due to the fact that statistical significance could not be reached.

In other words – the results of the study are uninterpretable.

ScienceBasedMedicine

Uninterpretable; read as “the essence of bad science”.

Let me see if I can explain what is going on here. There is a tendency to grant that something that is natural is good. This is fallacious reasoning.  Everything that is toxic is also natural; or nearly everything. That is aside from the fact that none of the other varietals that are being farmed are natural in a fashion that varies from the GMO varieties. The methods used previously to manipulate crops are hardly natural. Chemical and radioactive treatment to force mutation, as well as cross-breeding. If you compare food crops to their natural variants, you would be hard pressed to identify what they have in common.

So the fear of the unnatural really is a phobia, unsupported by science. Understanding that, you might get a feel for why companies that market products might not want to be subjected to labeling mandates that cover GMO content in their products.

GMOs are just one efficient tool that people using bad farming practices can also utilize. This is akin to arguing that because crop dusting huge volumes of chemical pesticides is bad, we should boycott airplanes. Herbicide and pesticide resistance were cropping up long before genetic engineering came onto the stage, necessitating much greater use of those chemicals or turning to more toxic alternatives. The introduction of Roundup ready crops actually began as a wonderful thing in this regard, since Roundup was less toxic than many of the alternatives being used previously, and could be used in much lower amounts. That happy state of affairs was mis-managed and now much larger doses are needed because of resistant weeds, but again, this isn’t the fault of the GMOs.

Scientific American

The fearful just want to boycott, and the manufacturers don’t want to be boycotted. Consequently labeling mandates will continue to hit brick walls (even though full disclosure should include such labeling) until there is less unreasoning fear in the public at large.  In Other Words, educate yourselves and you might get what you want in return.

There is broad scientific consensus that food on the market derived from GM crops poses no greater risk than conventional food. No reports of ill effects have been documented in the human population from ingesting GM food. Although labeling of GMO products in the marketplace is required in many countries, it is not required in the United States and no distinction between marketed GMO and non-GMO foods is recognized by the US FDA.

Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

I hear you saying “But patenting of organisms! Evil Monsanto!”  If you want to change patenting, then change patenting. You won’t get much argument from me.  Patenting itself is a government subsidized monopoly on production, I much prefer competition.

Monsanto, separate from the subject of GMO in general, is its own worst enemy.  Every attempt that it makes to limit its liability through law, or to manipulate the media to cast itself in a better light ends up being picked up and used by its enemies to make it look all the more evil and manipulative.  It’s hard to imagine that you can make a company responsible for creation of Agent Orange look more evil, but that is a failure of imagination, as the article I lead off with should illustrate.

[Read this article about Monsanto and see if you can understand just how wrong the common knowledge about the corporation actually is. They didn’t create Agent Orange. That’s the start.]

Inquiring Minds, 98 Fred Perlak – Inside the Mind of a Monsanto Scientist

Digging into the issue of farmer suicides and various accusations leveled at Monsanto, it becomes hard to connect the dots reliably;

Studies dated 2004 through 2006 identified several causes for farmers suicide, such as insufficient or risky credit systems, the difficulty of farming semi-arid regions, poor agricultural income, absence of alternative income opportunities, a downturn in the urban economy which forced non-farmers into farming, and the absence of suitable counseling services. In 2004, in response to a request from the All India Biodynamic and Organic Farming Association, the Mumbai High Court required the Tata Institute to produce a report on farmer suicides in Maharashtra, and the institute submitted its report in March 2005. The survey cited “government apathy, the absence of a safety net for farmers, and lack of access to information related to agriculture as the chief causes for the desperate condition of farmers in the state.”

Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Over and over again I attempt to enlighten friends who fall for the natural fallacy offered by people like Mike Adams. Over and over again I’m told that I don’t understand the first thing about the subject.  Because they know. Monsanto is evil. GMO is bad. Never mind that neither of those accusations are true, as I (and others) illustrate over and over again. Humor doesn’t work.  Information doesn’t work.  Maybe the problem is psychological?

Orthorexia nervosa is not listed in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5), which psychologists and psychiatrists use to diagnose mental disorders. The DSM-5 currently lists anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge-eating disorder, “other specified feeding or eating disorder” and “unspecified feeding or eating disorder”.

Some clinicians argue orthorexia nervosa should be recognised as a separate eating disorder and have proposed clinical DSM diagnostic criteria. They note distinct pathological behaviours with orthorexia nervosa, including a motivation for feelings of perfection or purity rather than weight loss, as they see with anorexia and bulimia.

The Conversation

I don’t want to introduce fallacious reasoning into the mix, use the “Oh, you’re just crazy” dodge to dismiss the people who disagree with me. I genuinely do want to understand why people fear GMO’s as much as they do, and why.  Time and again, though, the answers are not quantifiable in any way that I can make sense of. I’m left with little else to explain the issue.


The Genetic Literacy Project is an excellent go-to site for information on GMO.  Here they offer up a TED talk that goes into exactly what GMO is and why we must embrace it if we are to feed future generations of people.

TEDx TalksPushing Boundaries in Agriculture | Rob Saik – Jan 22, 2015

(h/t to SGU for the original link)

His central question in the video “Could the future of food production be genetically modified organic food production?” challenges us to understand exactly how misguided the current atmosphere is when it comes to the subject of GMO.  The video is a must-see.

Queerest Thing Happened

Well that’s gay!

Friends of my children have been putting those particular words together for years now.  It has always driven me to distraction. My typical response runs along the lines of “how was that a joyous event?”  or “They do appear to be enjoying themselves” I’ve almost never been able to let that one pass.  What they mean to say is “that went queerly” or “that makes me feel weird”, but their undereducated little brains cannot retrieve the proper words to express themselves clearly.

Gay≠Queer, Gay≠Bad, Gay≠Stupid

Gay is not queer, queer is not gay. Queer; as any decent dictionary (not Wikipedia btw. Wiki is consumed with slang usage, the nature of a popularly edited tome) will tell you, means strange or odd, or when used as a verb means something akin to spoiling. It was thrown as an insult at homosexuals and transgendered people by backwards thinking troglodytes who were made to feel strange or odd by a man wearing a dress or acting feminine. If those groups wish to label themselves as queer now (much the way christians adopted the insulting term for followers of christ as their name) that would be their business.

In much the same fashion, gay does not mean homosexual, even though most dictionaries now list that as its primary meaning. Gay means happily excited or lighthearted and carefree.  Case in point; when the Flintstones theme song encourages you to have a gay-old time they are not suggesting you become homosexual;

The Flintstones Opening and Closing Theme

They want you to enjoy yourself lightheartedly; a perfectly cromulent way to define an episode of The Flintstones. So when friends of my children (or gaming troglodytes on the internet) exclaim “well that’s gay” in response to something that frustrates their primitive brains, I can get a bit snippy. Your latent homosexuality (homophobia) causing you to to be set queer towards homosexuals does not mean you get to call your reaction “gay”. Gay is something you enjoy, not something that pisses you off or scares you.

In that sense (a sense of joyous engagement) homosexuals who want to label themselves with the word gay are welcome to it. But can I have queer back, please?  I mean, I like the word.  It easily defines the feeling you get when walking through a graveyard at night. When someone is watching you and you can’t figure out who it is.  It’s a good word, just not an insult to be hurled at people who are clearly enjoying themselves.


As my daughter observed on Facebook; yes, I have been reported on World of Warcraft for suggesting that someone insulting the english language by transposing the words gay and queer should pull their heads out of their asses and understand word meanings.  Ironically their complaint was that I was insulting homosexuals by using the word queer

What people choose to label themselves with is not a concern of mine; has never been something I take seriously or give meaning to.  People call themselves all kinds of things in the course of their lives, almost never do they actually adopt the entirety of what the word really means (Objectivist and Libertarian spring immediately to mind) or actually even have a clue what other people adopting the label really believe. 

The rant my daughter was on about on Facebook (the one that inspired this piece) concerned the word retarded.  As someone who was labeled slow for most of his childhood, it’s another subject I can get snippy about. Having a learning disability, being retarded in development (retard means to slow; it is an engineering term) is one thing; being called a retard is no different than being called stupid, uneducated, or dumb (although dumb has many other insulting meanings as well) it is insulting to be so labeled, and people should be challenged when they offer base insults to people they disagree with.  It is ad hominem, and beside the point of argument to be insulting to your opponents.

However, when you call a console retarded, I really don’t see the point of being offended personally.

How Ya’ll Are? Annoyed at the Spelling, Probably

Occasionally I riff on word spellings and definitions (I’m especially fond of obvious, having tripped over it enough times) it’s been a long time, but today this image appeared in my newsfeed.

This one resonated with me. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve typed something into a computer interface and had it not recognize the word or phrasing I knew was correct, or hoped it was.

Back when I was writing specifications, tech manuals and notes for architectural drawings, it used to drive me nuts having to check and then tell the computer to ignore (Passive voice! Arrrg! Everything in a specification is written in passive voice!) or to add the more common ones to my personal dictionary. A lot of good that did on company computers that I would be forced to abandon every other year.

Don’t get me started on latin legal phrases or attempting to point out fallacious argument with well-known short hand.  Or slang. Really, don’t get me started on slang, or as I said on Facebook;

I find it amusing when someone outside of the South tries to tell me how to spell ya’ll. As if there is proper spelling for slang.

Another friend of mine linked to a blog article on just that subject;

Some writers put the apostrophe AFTER the ‘a’, as in: ya’ll. *shudders* Now tell me, does that make ANY sense given the law of contractions? No. It does not. The proper way to contract ‘you all’ is by using the apostrophe to replace the ‘ou’ in you and the space between the words, as in: y’all

It’s beautiful in its simplicity, don’t you think? Boy, do I feel better, maybe even up to tackling a semi-colon or two. Thanks for letting me get that out of my system

Now if I was trying to impart colloquialism, trying to drag you kicking and screaming into the South of the United States, where ya’ll is a word ya’ll hear regularly, I might quip something like them’s fightin’ words or something to that effect.  But since ya’ll wouldn’t know the perfect frame in which to place my attempts to communicate southernisms, most likely my attempts to draw you into the picture will fail.

Put simply; the error is in believing it’s a contraction to start with. As if ya’ll was ever two words compressed into one. That slang is capable of being defined or set down into anything permanent like written language.

I have had people accost me before (carpetbaggers, mostly) insisting that ya’ll is properly spelled y’all; that it is a contraction of you and all and so duh…

…but as I say to them, it’s a connector between ya and ll, that little hanging bit (‘) in the middle. The apostrophe? It represents any number of letters, syllables and whole words I don’t feel I need to take the time to pronounce.  If you actually attempted to write the word phonetically, it would have at least two a’s in it, something more akin to ya’all or ya-all.

I don’t go around pretending to know how to spell any number of words that they might say in New Jersey (youse? use? Who knows?) it’s slang.  I’d really prefer that people didn’t try to tell me how to spell my slang.  But I do thank you for spending the time it took to read this.  If ya’ll are ever in the neighborhood, come by and sit a spell.


After a bit of pushback (more than a bit) I decided I’d trot out an example to illustrate the point. Consider the following sentence, which I’m sure most Southerners have heard more than once.

“ya’ll be round later”

Is it a question? Is it a statement? A demand? What words and/or punctuation will complete that sentence coherently? Is “you” or “all” in it?  Well, it depends on the speaker.

A question “ya’ll be round later?”  would probably be completed like this; “Will all of you be present when I need you later?” As a statement “ya’ll be round later.”  would render out something like “Come by the house later, I’ll be here.” or maybe “Go (wherever I’m going) and we’ll meet up later.” The demand “ya’ll be round later.”  would come out something like “You will be here later.” and if dad (or pop maybe) says that, you’d better be where he wanted you to be when he was expecting it, or there would be hell to pay later.

So tell me again how ya’ll is you all.  Go ahead, explain it again. I’m from here, got plenty of time.

Propaganda, Spin & Shooting Down Civilian Aircraft

I posted a link to a segment from the Rachel Maddow show on Facebook a few days back.

RACHEL MADDOW – Plane crash followed NATO alert on rebel capability – July 18, 2014

Rachel Maddow whittles away the unsubstantiated reports in the Malaysia Airlines plane crash investigation and points out that NATO warned the world on June 30th that Russia was training Ukrainian separatists on vehicle-borne anti-aircraft capability.

I’ve spent a good portion of today writing responses to accusations that the segment is biased and not based on facts.

I get it, it’s popular these days to insist that television news is biased.  If it isn’t FOX news’ conservatives incessantly whining about liberal bias (liberal meaning “anything not Conservative” i.e. mindlessly jingoist with a heavy helping of Jesus on top) it’s the blatant bias of FOX news itself making up stories that they think their viewers will ascribe to (#Benghazi, anyone?) as detailed on any number of channels including MSNBC which the clip above comes from.

The “why” of the location of the plane, it’s status right before it fell out of the sky, will only be answered by the fight recorders if they are ever found. Flight recorders that the separatists claim to have already found.

 Conspiracies are already spinning on the subject.  Ukraine shot the plane down. Ukraine thought they were targeting Vladimir Putin’s plane (the story from Russian news sources that Rachel Maddow relates) the plane was loaded with corpses and crashed on purpose to frame the Russians.  I’m sure there will be more.

Ukraine hasn’t been shooting down planes in the area; Ukraine would have known (since they control their own airspace) that the plane was a commercial airliner. The separatists have been, and shot down a plane at the same altitude and similar heading earlier in the week (not to be confused with a shootdown from more than a decade ago)  So they clearly had the capability to do it again, and the motivation to continue hampering Ukrainian efforts to put down the separatists.

The separatists exist largely because Russia funds them. There is a conspiracy theory (which theorists like Dan Carlin deny is one) that suggests that the unrest in the Ukraine is due to US intervention in the region, that we’re trying to pull the former soviet state into the NATO alliance. That that is why Russia acted to claim the Crimea through the use of the separatists.

The truth is that Kiev wants to get closer to the EU, to be considered part of the EU rather than a satellite of Russia. If I understand the political structure of the country, the governors of the various regions are appointed not elected. That has lead to unrest in the outlier areas away from Kiev and its direct control, parts of the country that want to elect their own leaders directly. There is also a history of distrust between the Eastern and Western sections of what we call ‘Ukraine’ today (bad blood from WWII during the occupation by Germany) That is why the separatists accuse the government of Kiev of being under the influence of fascists.

Russia would of course like its territory back. Kiev has been historically in and out of Russian control for centuries, and was actually the first city to be called Russia (Kievan Rus) and would probably be the capital of the country of Russia if the Mongols hadn’t taken it and occupied it. But none of this means that Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin should be handed the keys to Kiev just because he wants it under his control.

Putin and Russia are as accountable for MH17 deaths as the US is for funding and equipping terrorists in other regions; as in, completely accountable if you are living anywhere outside of Russia or the US. As the saying goes “live by the sword, die by the sword.” The trick is to not be the one living by the sword. Vladimir Putin is the last of the KGB. When he dies, that era dies with him. If we can just stop funding the MIC in the US, the other half of the equation will also close.

It really isn’t propaganda or fallacy to say Russia is to blame for downing the plane. The separatists exist as a military force because Russia has encouraged them. Whether the equipment came from Russia recently, or was soviet equipment left in Ukraine at the end of the USSR, it exists because of Russian expansionism and empire that goes back centuries in time.

Putting the shoe on the other foot (to turn another phrase) I saw the same kinds of denial surrounding the downing of Iran Air Flight 655, the Iranian commercial airliner destroyed during the Iran/Iraq war, a conflict we heavily funded and supported. Everything from the excuse that Reagan gave and the US government still sticks to (an accident) all the way to full blown conspiratory “plane full of corpses flown at the Vincennes on purpose” insanity.

But we shot that plane down in cold blood and killed all those people because we were there and ready to kill. The same is true for the groups fighting in Ukraine right now, and the group in question gets its backing from Russia and is equipped with weapons made in Russia. They are the ones ready to kill. They get the blame. As much of the blame as the US got for that downing of an Iranian airliner.

Does that mean war?  No. Not even vaguely (I’m sure John McCain is already strapping on his sword, if he ever takes it off anymore) that does mean that Russia and their proxy separatists should answer in international court and pay restitution at the very least. If someone can be found that actually gave the order to shoot that plane down, that person should be put on trial.  But I think we’ve had enough killing in the world of late.  How about we not call for more, just right now?

Godwin’s law, the Rand Version

Do you know that my personal crusade in life (in the philosophical sense) is not merely to fight collectivism, nor to fight altruism? These are only consequences, effects, not causes. I am out after the real cause, the real root of evil on earth — the irrational.

Ayn Rand
Wikiquote

So this image showed up on my Facebook feed today. What followed the image in the comments was the predictable feeding frenzy that you witness when your throw bloody meat to sharks. Today’s cleaner, nicer internet breed of human doesn’t seem to understand the dirty nature of real life as it was before the internet made it possible to live and never leave your house.

For the record, she said these words, at least according to Wikiquote (couldn’t find it in the Lexicon, but I remember reading them) although I prefer the quote that follows it, the one I started this post with.  There you have it, Rand gives us all permission to steal from native peoples. That is, if you just blindly do what someone who lived before you and wrote influential works tells you to do.

Blaming Ayn Rand for the plight of native peoples around the world is no different than ending every observation of fascistic tendencies with the phrase “like Hitler”.  In reading her works it’s easy to see how her ideas can be turned to evil, how they could be seen as evil when they are brought up out of context in an image like this. It’s no mystery why people like Paul Ryan and others cite her writings when they want to punish the poor and reward the rich. I myself, as someone who still (provisionally) self-identifies as objectivist, cringe at the words above, and wondered at Rand’s blindness to the fascistic applications her ideas could give credence to.

But then we’ve moved a very long way along the knowledge curve since Alisa Zinov’yevna Rosenbaum immigrated to the US in 1926.  Rand herself didn’t even understand what it meant to be “objective”, or rather, the barriers to objectivity that stand in the way of even the most clear-headed observer, something we’ve discovered and proven in the last score of years or so. Motivated numeracy alone can lead one to deny proven science if it conflicts with your political views, so consequently most of the people who adhere to Ayn Rand’s labels and words have even less of a clue about the pitfalls of thinking oneself perfectly objective on a subject.

What she was trying to express about primitives and their rights to continue the nomadic lives they had lead, can’t be illustrated simplistically with concepts like property and profit; it makes her look mean and cheap, which may or may not be an accurate description of Rand the person. You certainly can’t explain the process of national expansion to people who accept the natural fallacy without question, even if you really, really try.

It pays to reflect that the followers of the dominant philosophical ideal of the time, state socialists, had no problem taking life and land from anybody for any reason that they deemed suited the cause of the people (which in state socialist terms meant the body politic) the defense that Rand is offering is at least logical, if bereft of emotion.

Better to ask the people encroaching on tribal lands without negotiating in good faith with the natives what their goals were beyond profiting themselves. Too bad none of them are around to ask anymore.

You might well ask well how should I interpret those words, then? As I’ve done previously when people ask about Ayn Rand (unlike other Objectivists) I point them towards The Passion of Ayn Rand; Book or The Passion of Ayn Rand; Movie (Helen Mirren is great in the latter) because that is what someone who knew her but was kicked out of the inner circle really thought about her and her life.  If you want to see what the most negative parts of her life look like from outside, there is no starker image than these.

On The Other Hand, if you really want to understand what she was trying for with her work, I recommend the documentary Sense of Life rather than her fictional works themselves. You can’t get an overview from them. You certainly can’t get a feel for her at all, from either the detractors who have always hated her, or the mindless randroids who take her name in vain these days.

It is worth observing (hindsight being 20/20) that without people like Rand, people willing to state that it was OK to not sacrifice yourself for the good of the many, that you could lead a worthy life without being poverty stricken and suffering, that we wouldn’t be living in a world that is rapidly seeing the decline of dictatorships as vehicles of social change; that dictatorship is now almost a quaint historical artifact, like feudalism. Social change is once again in the hands of the people.  Right or wrong, where it belongs; with individuals willing to work for change.

Portions of this were cribbed from an earlier work of mine

Labor Pools Are Not Cost Centers

Why do I think the stock market will plunge this year? Because most companies are boosting their stock prices not by developing new products or selling more goods and services but by slashing their payrolls and buying back their shares of stock. These steroidal tactics are generating temporary boosts in share prices, but they can’t be sustained. There are only so many workers to be sacked and so many stocks to be repurchased. These companies remain as incapable of generating things people want as before. Consider Hewlett-Packard, which yesterday announced plans to cut an additional 11,000 to 16,000 jobs. Wall Street is enthusiastic, pushing the stock up more than 6 percent today. But the tactic won’t work over the longer term because Hewlett-Packard’s PC sales are dropping and business customers are shifting toward cloud computing, where it’s not a major player.

More to the point, as big companies across America continue to shed middle-class jobs in pursuit of lower costs, median household income continues to drop. Which means fewer Americans can afford to buy what these companies have to sell. Which means these companies’ profits are bound to shrink and their stock prices to drop. Get it? Workers are consumers. As these companies’ workers do worse, so do their customers, and so, ultimately, do they.

Robert Reich

I have observed many times when discussing the vagaries of market economics and corporate greed that the bean counters insistence that labor pools were cost centers was wholly unsupportable. Yes, there are savings to be made by reducing workforces, but the number of people in the purchasing group of potential customers goes down by some number larger than the number laid off.

…not to mention the TED talk about leadership that I was watching the other day. The one where leaders didn’t ask anything of their followers that they wouldn’t be willing to take on themselves. You want us to cut back, demonstrate this ability yourself.

Simon Sinek TED2014 Why Good Leaders Make You Feel Safe

Facebook status backdated to the blog.

My Shambala

A friend of mine on Facebook posted a link to a version of Shambala a bit ago.  I can (and do) appreciate his posts, but for me there is only one version of Shambala. I say sorry Jim in my comment on Facebook, because Three Dog Night’s Shambala was part of an 8-track of hits that they played at the Wichita County swimming pool (Leoti, KS) in 1976 (had to be 76. Summer of the bicentennial. Cross-country bicyclers hanging in the city park. Crazy year) and I had just learned to swim a few summers previously.  Swimming was my first love, and I say that as someone who just celebrated his 25th year of marriage, to someone I’m still deeply in love with; but even so, swimming remains my first love, a communion with nature itself for me.

Spending a carefree afternoon at the pool, eating icees and listening to music that wasn’t played anywhere else, as far as I could tell, was as close to pure joy that child me ever experienced. We waited for the pool to open, and for the weather to get warm enough that you didn’t freeze, and then every single day that I could get away, I’d ride my Spyder down to the pool (got a ten speed later. Bicycling was my second love) and stay all day if I could get away with it.

In rural Kansas the only radio stations you could pick up reliably were country stations.  I can listen to just about any kind of music, so Conway Twitty, Loretta Lynn, Merl Haggard and of course Johnny Cash (who was a ‘bad boy’ in my mother’s eyes if I remember correctly) figured highly in rotations for the stations that my parents tuned when I was a child, and I didn’t mind.

But the pool was supervised by high school students (with maybe a school coach checking in now and again) so the sound system they rigged up only played their music. The intro riff to Shambala plays, and I can smell the steam coming off the concrete decking, taste the ice cream, remember what it was like to be carefree.

It’s a weird coincidence that I remember the song at all.  The other song that I remember them playing I rediscovered long ago; it had a catchy refrain about a shaker of salt, and while I couldn’t ever figure out what he wanted salt for (I was pretty sure at the time I was hearing it wrong, water in the ears or something) I did eventually discover the song was Margaritaville, and I have been a parrothead ever since.

The weird coincidence? I was watching LOST with the Wife. She had gotten me interested in the show, and it became a bit of a weekly ritual to catch each episode as it aired. It was a pretty good episode we were watching that night. Season 3, episode 11. You know the one, if you were a fan. The episode was largely focused on two of my favorite characters in the show, Charlie and Hurley.  Hurley was certain he was cursed, that the numbers he used to win the lottery, the numbers that were on the hatch, those numbers had been a curse that had followed him and doomed him to this quasi-life he was experiencing on the island. Here is the crucial scene of the episode;

Lost S03E11 – Van Jumpstart with Road to Shambala

The song comes up, and the memory hits me like a blow to the head.  THAT SONG! I remember that song! It was like a trip to the past, so powerful it brought tears to my eyes (it still can) mom and dad were still happy together, Gramma & Grampa still breathing and living just a few blocks away to save me if I needed saving. The world was bright and full of promise…

…That was my Shambala. That time when everything was perfect (even though it never could have been as perfect as you remember it) all of the people you knew caught like insects in amber and preserved to be revisited. Like a mid-season, mid-run episode for a series that ended up going nowhere, but damn it was good in those few seasons where there was still mystery to be explored.

Except you really can’t go back there, because it never really existed in the first place. The rot was already present, present from the time before I was even born. Rot just festering there, waiting to let everything tear apart. Now that I’ve started losing my hearing, even the song itself is a memory that I replay.  I can’t really hear it like I did then, echoing off the hot concrete I would rest my head on to make my barely functioning sinuses open up and drain.

But the memory of the song is like a siren…

“Everyone is lucky, everyone is so kind, on the road to Shambala”

Three Dog Night, Shambala

This version was danceable, so I will give it a plug. H/t to Stonekettle for posting it.

DrVictorMusicDr. Victor & The Rasta Rebels – Shambala – Aug 13, 2010

Now You See Me

Now You See Me (2013)

YouTube MoviesNow You See Me – Trailer – Jul 30, 2013

Don’t believe the naysayers. This is a great film. I’m not sure why they deride this film so hard. It is exactly what the trailer makes it out to be. It’s not secretly some other kind of film that the marketers are trying to sell you into seeing. It is a movie about magicians who pull off a heist. Or do they?

TVTAG/Facebook

Religion/Spiritualism? How about Pragmatism.

I updated my ghost story yesterday because I was engaged in a long running conversation on this thread on Facebook.  Started with a meme image composed mostly of the text “Religion is for people afraid of going to hell, Spirituality is for people who have already been there” can we say “false dichotomy”? I knew that you could.

I’m sticking to my guns on the subject.  Skepticism (and through it pragmatism) is how you live in the real world, not getting sidetracked by all the woo we encounter in our daily lives. If you disagree, prove any of the stuff that skeptics question. Should be easy enough if it’s true. If you know of a medium that you think of as reliable (a mediumship conference being where the image that started the thread was found) I would recommend you send them to The Million Dollar Challenge, or one of the other testing challenges (this is one of the points I’ve changed my opinion on since jotting down my ghost story the first time.  There is a value in exposing the vast number of charlatans out there who prey on the believing. The number is growing, even) They are looking to find someone with a genuine talent, and not someone engaged in cheap theatrics.   Haven’t found anyone yet.

On a related note (in case you are confused on the subject) Climate deniers are not skeptics; they are peddlers of woo as certainly as any charlatan medium who claims to speak to the dead. Deniers in general are not skeptics any more than religious people can be Objectivists; there is a standard for evidence which must be met for a belief to be established as fact in both those systems. Denying science disqualifies you from claiming the label skeptic or the label objectivist.  I only wish I could stop people from claiming labels that they don’t deserve.  The most I can do is pushback against their unwarranted claims, exposing the manipulation behind the curtain.

I don’t embark on this course because I see no value in a good yarn, or the thought-provoking nature of a good parable.  I put the brakes on this journey down woo avenue because, in the end, science is the only method we’ve ever discovered for determining what the truth is. An anecdote (like my ghost experience) remains exactly what it was. You cannot pile up anecdotes and create evidence. You simply have a pile of anecdotes.

Scientists are not altering what is acceptable evidence, or the scientific process. Those that do fall prey to false patterns and charlatans, Randi proved this by recruiting shills into some of the early paranormal studies, demonstrating that a good magician can create the illusion of paranormal activity quite easily.

The problem with any psi phenomenon is that there is no known mechanism which can explain how these things happen. Without a mechanism, there is no basis on which to gather evidence. That is where psi research has been stuck since the 60’s.

The best defense, for the flawed pattern recognition machines that we are, is to remain skeptical. Had I accepted what believers told me back when I had my experience, I’d be deep in the woo now, trying to defend photo and sound anomalies as legitimate signs of paranormal activity (probably desperately trying to prove that rods exist) rather than looking into the machines used to capture this ‘evidence’ and discovering that the machines themselves are the cause of them.

The experiences remain exactly what they always have been. Inexplicable experiences, until we find a mechanism that might cause them. Then they aren’t paranormal experiences anymore. You might say, of your own experiences “I wasn’t hallucinating” and yet it remains entirely possible. The human brain is quite an amazingly adaptive organ. The process of remembering the experience alters the experience in memory. The more times you remember it and recount it, the stronger the memory can become, lending more reality to the images you think you saw. At some point the memory ceases to be a true recollection and becomes a story you tell yourself about the event(s).

Without scientific rigor, there isn’t anything we can say we know.