Breadbaskets and War…

Image Source: Hub Pages

Topics: Biology, Civics, Civil Rights, Climate Change, Democracy, Existentialism, Politics

The cornucopia’s history lies in Greek mythology. There are a lot of different stories it might have originated from, but the most common one tells the story of the lightning god, Zeus. As an infant, Zeus was in great danger from his father, Cronus. Zeus was taken to the island of Crete and cared for and nursed by a goat named Amalthea. One day, he accidentally broke off one of her horns, and in order to repay her, he used his powers to ensure that the horn would be a symbol of eternal nourishment, which is where we get the idea that the cornucopia represents abundance.

The History Behind the “Horn of Plenty”, Winnie Lam, Daily Nexus

*****

Russia’s war highlights the fragility of the global food supply — sustained investment is needed to feed the world in a changing climate.

Six boxes of wheat seed sit in our cold store. This is the first time in a decade that my team has not been able to send to Ukraine the improved germplasm we’ve developed as part of the Global Wheat Program at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in Texcoco, Mexico. International postal and courier services are suspended. The seed had boosted productivity year on year in the country, which is now being devastated by war.

Our work builds on the legacy of Norman Borlaug, who catalyzed the Green Revolution and staved off famine in South Asia in the 1970s. Thanks to him, I see how a grain of wheat can affect the world.

Among the horrifying humanitarian consequences of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine are deeply troubling short-, medium- and long-term disruptions to the global food supply. Ukraine and Russia contribute nearly one-third of all wheat exports (as well as almost one-third of the world’s barley and one-fifth of its corn, providing an estimated 11% of the world’s calories). Lebanon, for instance, gets 80% of its wheat from Ukraine alone.

Broken bread — avert global wheat crisis caused by invasion of Ukraine, Alison Bentley, Nature

M.A.D…

Image Source: Penn State College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, John A. Dutton, e-Education Institute

Topics: Alternate Energy, Battery, Biofuels, Climate Change, Environment, Politics

Want another reason to loathe Russia’s invasion of Ukraine? Just look at how it may completely doom the Paris climate accords — and our planet.

According to United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, the problem of climate change — which he admitted was “not solved” during the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow at the end of 2021 — “is getting worse” as Russia invades Ukraine.

As if things weren’t bad enough, Guterres insisted that the conflict is making climate change much worse, given how it’s disrupted fossil fuel supply chains in Europe.

“Countries could become so consumed by the immediate fossil fuel supply gap that they neglect or knee-cap policies to cut fossil fuel use,” Guterres said in a speech to The Economist‘s Sustainability Summit, his first climate change-focused addressed since COP26, continuing: “This is madness. Addiction to fossil fuels is mutually assured destruction.”

UN: Ukrainian War Fossil Fuel ‘Madness’ Might Destroy The Planet, Noor Al-Sibai, Futurism

“How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?” John Kerry, C-SPAN, as spokesman for Veterans Against the Vietnam War, now the U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate.

Paraphrased, “how rich are you as the last richest man on a dead planet?”

Kalashnikovs and Switchblades…

A screenshot of the loitering munition known as the KUB-BLA in English. Credit: Kalashnikov Group.

Topics: Civics, Civil Rights, Existentialism, Fascism, Human Rights

Note: Coming up for air (briefly). Still writing the dissertation. My plan is to post Tuesday – Friday of next week. Blogging will be my sanity in an insane world.

Using pictures out of Ukraine showing a crumpled metallic airframe, open-source analysts of the conflict there say they have identified images of a new sort of Russian-made drone, one that the manufacturer says can select and strike targets through inputted coordinates or autonomously. When soldiers give the Kalashnikov ZALA Aero KUB-BLA loitering munition an uploaded image, the system is capable of “real-time recognition and classification of detected objects” using artificial intelligence (AI), according to the Netherlands-based organization Pax for Peace (citing Jane’s International Defence Review). In other words, analysts appear to have spotted a killer robot on the battlefield.

Russia may have used a killer robot in Ukraine. Now what? Zachary Kallenborn, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

And we have Switchblades.

President Biden signed a bill allocating 800 million dollars of military aid short of an official no-fly zone by either US forces or NATO. It does include anti-aircraft missiles and drones, specifically the Switchblade. Both organizations have argued establishment of a no-fly zone isn’t casual: it means enemy planes will be challenged in the air, and enemy planes, Russian planes, if not retreating, will be shot down. We then go from World War Two and one half to WWIII.

Wars are like avalanches. They may start with a snow flurry someone rounds into a snowball. Someone, a child perhaps, throws it innocently. As it descends the incline of a mountain, it gathers speed and adds mass. By the time it reaches civilization, the accumulated mass and momentum make it all but impossible to divert or stop. It starts with a snow flurry, then it escalates. Tit for tat. Switchblades for Kalashnikovs.

There are some things that give me simultaneously hope and concern:

Casualties: The Russians have lost more troops in three weeks than the US lost in 20 years in Afghanistan.

Cyberwarfare: It hasn’t happened. The Russian GRU used ransomware to shut down Colonial Pipeline. The threat of shutting down power in Ukraine (or here): hasn’t happened.

Putin was a mid-level bureaucrat in the KGB, and not looked at as an asset. He had one main talent of getting kompromat – compromising information – and using it to leverage someone to betray their country for Russia. His problem is like his Manchurian Candidate in America that he pushed into the presidency, he’s a malignant narcissist, and quite the opposite of a “strongman.” He, like the former faux billionaire host of “The Apprentice,” is acting. Two euphemisms come to mind: “fake it until you make it” and “faking the funk.”

To answer that question, you have to understand the power and information ecosystems around dictators. I’ve studied and interviewed despots across the globe for more than a decade. In my research, I’ve persistently encountered a stubborn myth—of the savvy strongman, the rational, calculating despot who can play the long game because he (and it’s typically a he) doesn’t have to worry about pesky polls or angry voters. Our elected leaders, this view suggests, are no match for the tyrant who gazes into the next decade rather than fretting about next year’s election.

Reality doesn’t conform to that rosy theory.

Autocrats such as Putin eventually succumb to what may be called the “dictator trap.” The strategies they use to stay in power tend to trigger their eventual downfall. Rather than being long-term planners, many make catastrophic short-term errors—the kinds of errors that would likely have been avoided in democratic systems. They hear only from sycophants and get bad advice. They misunderstand their population. They don’t see threats coming until it’s too late. And unlike elected leaders who leave the office to riches, book tours, and the glitzy lifestyle of a statesman, many dictators who miscalculate leave office in a casket, a possibility that makes them even more likely to double down.

Vladimir Putin Has Fallen Into the Dictator Trap, Brian Klaas, The Atlantic

At Nuremberg, Hermann Goering was asked by Gustave Gilbert as to “why he and the others had been such abject “yes men,” Goering replied: “Please show me a ‘no man’ in Germany who is not six feet under the ground today.”

Yes Men and No Men: Hermann Goering and Johannes Steinhoff in the Age of Trump, The Inglorious Padre Steve’s World

The “Dictator’s Trap” is set by his narcissism (it almost always is a male pronoun leader). Unable to “handle the truth,” he surrounds himself with yes men, whose careers and livelihoods are directly proportional to their degree of sycophancy. In sadistic cases, their lives depend on kowtowing to limbo levels. People do tend to get shot, poisoned, die of radiation poisoning, and fall spontaneously out of windows in the eleven-time zone prison known as Russia. He’s also such a pathological liar, and so keenly good at gaslighting, he has a tendency to believe his [own] press, thus gaslighting himself.

I don’t speak Russian. However, the body language in this rant (Twitter link below) is shouting to the rooftops. This man is panicking.

He didn’t house arrest his intelligence chiefs because he’s displeased: they’re KGB like him. He’s isolating the competition for power before he outright eliminates them.

I don’t speak Russian, but I can tell when someone is terrified:

This is not only a nutball fascist rant, but man, it is *full* of projection. Putin’s own inner circle could be the people he’s talking about – and especially their children, who are watching all of this from London and Paris, and New York. Tom Nichols, @RadioFreeTom

When you surround an army, leave an outlet free. Do not press a desperate foe too hard. Sun Tzu, “The Art of War.”

The Shattering (re-repost)…

Image Source: wise GEEK

Topics: Civics, Existentialism, History, Politics

I’m re-reposting this because it contains a lot of information that, unfortunately, is still applicable in our current crisis. Yes, I’m still typing my dissertation, despite the apocalypse.

*****

This was originally posted on March 31, 2017. I’ve updated it with the YouTube video by Channel 4 London on Cambridge Analytica (CNNMoney.com and The Guardian details). The original blog post has aged well, Ukraine is another added crack in the mirror.

From FBI.gov:

COINTELPRO The FBI began COINTELPRO—short for Counterintelligence Program—in 1956 to disrupt the activities of the Communist Party of the United States. In the 1960s, it was expanded to include a number of other domestic groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan, the Socialist Workers Party, and the Black Panther Party. All COINTELPRO operations were ended in 1971. Although limited in scope (about two-tenths of one percent of the FBI’s workload over a 15-year period), COINTELPRO was later rightfully criticized by Congress and the American people for abridging first amendment rights and for other reasons.

The John Birch Society (TIME):

Had his story ended when he retired as a candy-maker, Robert Welch Jr. might have made his mark on history as the father of the Sugar Daddy, Sugar Babies, and Junior Mints. But Welch, whose shrewd leadership helped grow his brother’s Massachusetts candy business a hundred-fold from 1935 to 1956, shifted his aim from caramels to communists.

On this day, Dec. 9, in 1958, Welch — then retired from the candy business — founded the ultraconservative John Birch Society along with 11 like-minded “Americanists,” as they referred to themselves. Their goal was to expose and eradicate the growing leftist threat in America, which they believed to be 40 to 60 percent communist-controlled, according to a 1961 TIME report. Members of the John Birch Society saw communists wherever they looked, from the Oval Office of Dwight Eisenhower (“A conscious agent of the communist conspiracy,” per Welch) to the Bay of Pigs (“a theatrical performance jointly sponsored by Castro and ‘his friends in the U.S. Government’ in order to strengthen the communist hold on Cuba,” as paraphrased in TIME).

The “growing leftist threat”…

COINTELPRO was the government version of John Birch. Though the write-up eludes to other groups the FBI had under surveillance, it was felt by African American communities the most, specifically the Black Panther Party; the Nation of Islam; the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, etc. The approval of the Communist Manifesto by the likes of Huey Newton and the unrest in the streets likely gave J. Edgar Hoover much alarm. It couldn’t have been the treatment of American citizens by their fellow citizens and de facto/de jure Jim Crow laws against them. It was easy to wrap surveillance in the flag and patriotism to hide the racist overtones of the act.

The “growing leftist threat”…

If the Birch philosophy sounds familiar, it’s because one of its ardent members was the famous Koch Brother’s father, Frank Koch, an MIT oil engineer. He infamously built oil refineries for Nazi Germany and did a considerable amount of business with the Russians.

The Nazis… the Russians…

It was “American” to oppose godless communism. It was easy for the right to demonize the left as unpatriotic, out-of-touch, and not fluent in the deified “free market.”

Added: Opposition to Russia used to be a staple of Republicanism, that is until they realized their policies are moribund to most people, and their chances of legitimately winning elections are teetering towards nil. If you can’t beat ’em, make sure they can’t vote you out. Authoritarianism is the temptation for fossilized political imaginations.

The reclusive billionaire hedge fund manager Robert Mercer has been known to fund right-wing groups in this country (Steve Bannon) and overseas (Nigel Farage). Like many of the self-made billionaires, he’s likely a fan of Ayn Rand and her apotheosis of selfishness in “Fountainhead” and “Atlas Shrugged,” lauded by Congressman Ron Paul, Senator Rand Paul, Speaker Paul Ryan, and President Ronald Reagan. It’s funny how an avowed enemy of religion as sickness can be so praised by those who put the Ten Commandments, godly masculinity, and “family values” on high pedestals.

During the 1960s, COINTELPRO was concerned that foreign powers were infiltrating us and destabilizing our republic in the various Civil Rights organizations. They, along with the John Birch Society, were decidedly anti-communist, such that the Republican Party made this stance a litmus test for two generations. At that time, foreign Russian interference would have been called the KGB (Komitet gosudarstvennoy bezopasnosti, or the Committee for State Security). If they were infiltrating Civil Rights organizations, it was a time and an environment ripe for manipulation.

Fast-forward 40 years: 1968 – 2008. Forty years after the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy, the country has gone through a massive experiment in forced busing that would eventually be objected to and eliminated. Cities would through economic opportunities and structured stratification re-segregate more so than in 1968. The former Soviet Union would fall in that window in 1989. Then-President George Bush (41) and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher would opine on the “Peace Dividend.” The previous Russian Politburo was their 1%. As I recall from Air Force ROTC class in college, they were the ones with the actual money while their populations starved. They had access to things like fashion, food, sex all the while pretending that the Politburo was “temporary” and eventually there would be pure Communism with no hierarchy, no stratification: no “income inequality” as we now call it. It never came. An attempt at reformation from the previous authoritarian communist regime – Democratization – would be attempted and fail. Some would say it was a weakness of Russian civil society, as democratization usually entails a beneficial tug-of-war from above and below. If citizens aren’t putting pressure on their leadership, that leadership will eventually go back to what they know well: ironclad, authoritarian control.

2008 saw the election of the country’s first African American president, Barack Hussein Obama, for the first time in 232 years of the republic during a financial free fall compared quite literally to the Great Depression, a concern that furrowed his brow and eventually grayed his mane. A graduate of two elite schools, a Constitutional Scholar, and a community organizer, he “dotted every ‘i’ and crossed every ‘t’.” His crowds were compared to rock concerts. We quickly spat out the bubblegum philosophy of a “post-racial” society. We had “grown-up” Dr. Maya Angelou commented; poems were composed, t-shirts were made, tearful hymns were sung: we had finally “overcome.”

President Obama’s name was a source of angst to his legitimacy. Then the Tea Party arose, AstroTurf-fed by dark money – Koch, Mercer, et al – as a faux grass movement, their bigotry was hidden – at least initially from their Tea Party selves – behind clever slogans and jingoism: “I want my country back!” The demographics were decidedly, predominately the only original creation of the American continent: “whiteness,” and a few people of color comfortable in tokenism and able to maneuver within a religion of white supremacy, that itself masquerades as a faux evangelical Christianity.

The KGB became the FSB (Federalnaya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti, or Federal Security Service). Some rumors that they would weaponize misinformation on a scale heretofore unseen. As the former KGB observed an opening in the Civil Rights unrest, the FSB noticed Birtherism, the bigotry, the calling out “YOU LIE” during a president’s State of the Union; the praying of  Psalms 109:8 and callously calling themselves “Christians.” They saw faux voter integrity ID laws designed to act as a 21st Century poll tax; they saw the slaughter of Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Renisha McBride, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, John Crawford III, and countless others. Add to it the lack of any jurisprudence/convictions of their slayers (the noted exceptions in Davis and McBride): note also the rush to call them “thugs” and disappointed Kentucky fans “students.” The clever bigotry giving way to blatant racism, our national pathology laid naked to any intelligence officers to manipulate. From the ascendancy of a rock star African American president, the situation demanded his precise antithesis as a counterbalance.

It was simply a change in strategy: if COINTELPRO was correct (though biased), the infiltration was through some Civil Rights organizations. If our current intelligence is correct, the infiltration was through our obvious bigotry: it was designed to shatter our institutional norms, and internationally like democratic republics from within.

With fake news by bots and hackers, servers between Moscow and New York; backroom deals that may have been caught with (possible) FISA-warranted incidental communications monitoring, the Russians merely enacted in real-time cyber attacks the poignant observation President Lyndon Baines Johnson made on a trip to the south with journalist Bill Moyers:

“If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best-colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.”

With Brexit proceeding in the UK, spurred broadly by bigotry, their next targets to destabilize western democracies are France and Germany, with the ultimate goals of dismantling NATO and the European Union. There would be in essence a “New World Order” – not of the conspiratorial kind – but under the same conditions when “IRA” stood for Irish Republican Army (not Individual Retirement Account): there were a lot of bombings, death, and instability. Before the EU, European countries often warred among themselves. That can’t be good for tourism, …or world peace.

We have “given them the store” of white supremacist bigotry, and our republic. I’m concerned apathy, racism, stupidity, and tribalism may well not allow us… to get it back.

A BFD…

This one map shows the mounting tensions between NATO and Russia, Jeremy Bender, Business Insider, July 7, 2016

Topics: Existentialism, Fascism, Politics

I have been working on my dissertation, so I have understandably been missing from blogging. Now, I don’t know if I will be able to give my final defense. One needs a functional planet for that.

Information bubbles are a big problem here in America. People sink themselves into warm, soothing cocoons of agreeable media and opinions until they lose touch with reality. It’s how we end up with stuff like Republicans admiring Vladimir Putin more than President Joe Biden.

Now imagine you took somebody who lived in such a bubble and gave them control of the world’s largest country by landmass and all of the vast natural resources that came with it, along with an enormous army. Oh, and also nuclear weapons. So many nuclear weapons. Do this, and you get the aforementioned Putin, whom Andreas Kluth describes as someone who not only lives in a bubble, but also has the power to reinforce it with quivering toadies attesting to the reality in Putin’s brain, that he is a stable genius with history, public opinion and international law on his side, and also a snappy dresser and the best at judo.

Putin’s Secret Weapon Is a Bubble Made of Toadies, Oil, and Nukes, Mark Gongloff, Bloomberg Opinion

Abstract

This paper presents the results of an indirect assessment of the personality of Vladimir Putin, president of the Russian Federation, from the conceptual perspective of personologist Theodore Millon.

Psychodiagnostically relevant data regarding Putin were extracted from open-source intelligence and synthesized into a personality profile using the Millon Inventory of Diagnostic Criteria (MIDC), which yields 34 normal and maladaptive personality classifications congruent with Axis II of DSM-IV.

The personality profile yielded by the MIDC was analyzed on the basis of interpretive guidelines provided in the MIDC and Millon Index of Personality Styles manuals. Putin’s primary personality patterns were found to be Dominant/controlling (a measure of aggression or hostility), Ambitious/self-serving (a measure of narcissism), and Conscientious/dutiful, with secondary Retiring/reserved (introverted) and Dauntless/adventurous (risk-taking) tendencies and lesser Distrusting/suspicious features. The blend of primary patterns in Putin’s profile constitutes a composite personality type aptly described as an “expansionist hostile enforcer.”

Dominant individuals enjoy the power to direct others and to evoke obedience and respect; they are tough and unsentimental and often make effective leaders. This personality pattern defines the “hostile” component of Putin’s personality composite.

Ambitious individuals are bold, competitive, and self-assured; they easily assume leadership roles, expect others to recognize their special qualities, and often act as though entitled. This personality pattern delineates the “expansionist” component of Putin’s personality composite.

Conscientious individuals are dutiful and diligent, with a strong work ethic and careful attention to detail; they are adept at crafting public policy but often lack the retail political skills required to consummate their policy objectives and are more technocratic than visionary. This personality pattern fashions the “enforcer” component of Putin’s personality composite.

Retiring (introverted) individuals tend not to develop strong ties to others, are somewhat deficient in the ability to recognize the needs or feelings of others, and may lack spontaneity and interpersonal vitality.

Dauntless individuals are adventurous, individualistic, daring personalities resistant to deterrence and inclined to take calculated risks.

Putin’s major personality-based strengths in a political role are his commanding demeanor and confident assertiveness. His major personality-based shortcomings are his uncompromising intransigence, lack of empathy and congeniality, and cognitive inflexibility.

The Political Personality of Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin, Aubrey Immelman, and Joseph V. Trenzeluk, Department of Psychology, Saint John’s University

At a joint German-Russian cabinet meeting in Siberia in 2006, German Chancellor Angela Merkel unsuccessfully tried to persuade President Vladimir Putin that cabinet ministers should be treated with respect rather than contempt. Resentment is the emotion for superiors while anger is reserved for equals. But contempt is the emotion reserved for those we regard as inferiors.

Now, Putin’s contempt for others is spreading far beyond his cabinet to include the entire western leadership, from Cameron to Obama. Putin’s personality and thinking have become grossly distorted by the effects of enormous, largely unfettered power on his brain. Since then, Putin has invaded Crimea and engineered the swift dissolution of a country.

Interpreting political behavior in psychological terms is always a risk: Ukraine’s ethnic balance is a fragile one and there is the scent of possible Crimean oil reserves as a juicy incentive for Putin’s political adventurism. But perhaps most politically useful of all is the whipped-up nationalist fervor to bolster Putin’s hold over a decaying Russian economy with its aging workforce and corrupt institutions.

But, after 15 years in power, psychological factors have to be taken into consideration in analyzing Putin’s actions and, more importantly, in deciding how to respond to them. And contempt must be considered as one of the most important elements of his psychology. It is not only contempt for what he almost regards as weak—and, possibly in his macho world view, effeminate—Western leaders. More important is his contempt for their institutions such as international treaties and laws.

The Danger That Lurks Inside Vladimir Putin’s Brain: Contempt is key to Putin’s troubling psychological profile. Ian H. Robertson Ph.D., Psychology Today

In this country, we have an entire party, and Reich Wing echo chamber “rooting for Putin.” If anything, this lack of patriotism doesn’t “flatter” him: he would regard them with contempt.

If you’re NOT willing to fight for your country, and its ideals, let’s replay “Red Dawn,” with Patrick Swayze not fighting for the Wolverines, but with the Russians.

Or, more close to home: maybe these Confederate and Nazi flag-carrying “patriots” instead of fighting for the homefront, join the Warsaw Pact as they roll over the Ottawa border into the United States? Hey, a white Russian country is coming to save white supremacy? Who gives a damn about a Constitution, the “rule of law,” or democracy? Why would Putin bother keeping such traitors ALIVE?

Here’s a formula for starting World War III:

  1. Install a useful idiot in a contested election (America, 2016 – 2020, they tried in France, and the UK, maybe).
  2. Get everyone in the country tired of the complexities of citizenship, and democracy (just leave me alone, and let me stream Netflix).
  3. Put undesireables like ethnic minorities, LGBT, activists and artists on “kill lists” (so NOT like Adolf Hitler, and the Nazis, o_9). White evangelicals should hereby be called “evilgelicals” for supporting a psychopath (they’ve had practice in America with Orange Satan).
  4. Threaten the world with nuclear weapons, and Armageddon.
  5. Run the world, or, what’s LEFT of it, like Dr. Evil.

Biden said the incident occurred while he was touring Putin’s office in the Kremlin.

“I had an interpreter, and when he was showing me his office I said, ‘It’s amazing what capitalism will do, won’t it? A magnificent office!’ And he laughed. As I turned, I was this close to him,” Biden said, signaling that the two leaders were standing just inches apart. “I said, ‘Mr. Prime Minister, I’m looking into your eyes, and I don’t think you have a soul.’”

“And he looked back at me, and he smiled, and he said, ‘We understand one another.’” Biden said. “This is who this guy is!”

Biden to Putin: I don’t think ‘you have a soul’, Justin Sink, The Hill

By extension and relation, I’m not sure the American Reich has a soul.

Ukraine had a Russian puppet put in place by Paul Manafort, who mysteriously worked pro bono as campaign manager for Dumbo Gambino, voted out by the people of Ukraine in 2014. Putin has a new puppet ready to go once he kills all on his list.

Ukraine came into focus over the “perfect phone call” that led to the first of two impeachments, the second for an insurrection by our former head of state.

Ukraine has vast mineral wealth: “manganese, bituminous and anthracite coal used for coke”; “titanium ore, bauxite, nepheline (a source of soda), alunite (a source of potash), and mercury (cinnabar, or mercuric sulfide) ores.” Source: Britinnica.com. China controls over sixty percent of lithium and nickel refining (you need that for those “Green New Deal” car batteries). Wars over resources are as old as human civilization. Expect the cyber warfare in Ukraine to extend to Europe, and other countries, like America.

“This is the way the world ends.

“This is the way the world ends.

“This is the way the world ends.”

The stanza is from TS Eliot’s poem “The Hollow Men.” The traditional ending is “not with a bang, but a whimper.”

The bangs (plural) may precede the whimpers, screams, gnashing of teeth, and the eternal silence of extinction.

Things We’ve Lost…

At CERN in 1973, John Bell (left), who was working there at the time, interacts with Martinus Veltman (right), who was then a professor at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. Since early 2020, COVID-19 has hindered physicists’ ability to travel and discuss physics in person. (Courtesy of CERN.)

Topics: COVID-19, Existentialism, Physics, Research

An excerpt. The longer article piece is at the link following.

The COVID-19 pandemic has not only killed a large number of people—approximately 5.5 million worldwide at the time Physics Today went to press in mid-January—it has also disrupted life in a fundamental, nonperturbative manner, forcing large-scale changes in human behavior from without.

It was difficult at the beginning of 2020 to anticipate the great COVID-19 calamity awaiting the world. In February of that year, I was apparently among the first people to have urged the leadership of the American Physical Society to cancel its upcoming March Meeting in Denver, which APS finally did at the last moment after considerable hesitancy.

The logistics of canceling a meeting of 10 000 people right before the event are not trivial. But given the crowd density in APS March Meetings, it is reasonable to assume that the 2020 event would have led to a few thousand COVID-19 cases just among the physicist attendees. Overall, it may have led to many tens of thousands, perhaps even hundreds of thousands, of cases, if not more. That estimate is based on research related to the now-infamous Boston Biogen superspreader conference in late February 2020. Within a month, roughly 100 people in Massachusetts who either went to the conference or were a household contact of someone who went tested positive. The genetic-code-based investigation estimated that the event led to 300 000 COVID-19 cases worldwide by the beginning of the following November. APS made the right call in canceling the meeting.

Commentary: A physicist’s perspective on COVID-19, Sankar Das Sarma, Physics Today

Fantastic Plastic…

Plastic fantastic: this perovskite-based device can be reconfigured and could play an important role in artificial intelligence systems. (Courtesy: Purdue University/Rebecca McElhoe)

Topics: Artificial Intelligence, Biology, Computer Science, Materials Science

Researchers in the US have developed a perovskite-based device that could be used to create a high-plasticity architecture for artificial intelligence. The team, led by Shriram Ramanathan at Purdue University, has shown that the material’s electronic properties can be easily reconfigured, allowing the devices to function like artificial neurons and other components. Their results could lead to more flexible artificial-intelligence hardware that could learn much like the brain.

Artificial intelligence systems can be trained to perform a task such as voice recognition using real-world data. Today this is usually done in software, which can adapt when additional training data are provided. However, machine learning systems that are based on hardware are much more efficient and researchers have already created electronic circuits that behave like artificial neurons and synapses.

However, unlike the circuits in our brains, these electronics are not able to reconfigure themselves when presented with new training information. What is needed is a system with high plasticity, which can alter its architecture to respond efficiently to new information.

Device can transform into four components for artificial intelligence systems, Sam Jarman, Physics World

Proxima Oceans…

An artist’s impression of the newly discovered planet orbiting Proxima Centauri.Credit: ESO/L. Calçada

Topics: Astronomy, Astrophysics, Exoplanets, Space Exploration, Spaceflight

Astronomers have discovered a third planet orbiting Proxima Centauri, the star closest to the Sun. Called Proxima Centauri d, the newly spotted world is probably smaller than Earth and could have oceans of liquid water.

“It’s showing that the nearest star probably has a very rich planetary system,” says Guillem Anglada-Escudé, an astronomer at the Institute of Space Sciences in Barcelona, Spain, who led the team that, in 2016, discovered the first planet to be seen orbiting Proxima Centauri.

Astronomer João Faria and his collaborators detected Proxima Centauri d by measuring tiny shifts in the spectrum of light from the star as the planet’s gravity pulled at it during orbit. The team used a state-of-the-art instrument called the Echelle Spectrograph for Rocky Exoplanets and Stable Spectroscopic Observations (ESPRESSO) at the Very Large Telescope, a system of four 8.2-meter telescopes at the European Southern Observatory in Cerro Paranal, Chile. The results were published on 10 February in Astronomy & Astrophysics.

Earth-like planet spotted orbiting Sun’s closest star, Davide Castelvecchi, Nature

Fifth-Column Fascists…

Topics: Civics, Civil Rights, Existentialism, Fascism, Human Rights, Propaganda

Note: I will be attending the funeral of my brother-in-law. I will take a blog break to mourn.

[A] fifth column, clandestine group or faction of subversive agents who attempt to undermine a nation’s solidarity by any means at their disposal. The term is conventionally credited to Emilio Mola Vidal, a Nationalist general during the Spanish Civil War (1936–39). As four of his army columns moved on Madrid, the general referred to his militant supporters within the capital as his “fifth column,” intent on undermining the loyalist government from within.

A cardinal technique of the fifth column is the infiltration of sympathizers into the entire fabric of the nation under attack and, particularly, into positions of policy decision and national defense. From such key posts, fifth-column activists exploit the fears of a people by spreading rumors and misinformation, as well as by employing the more standard techniques of espionage and sabotage. Source: Britannica.com

When I saw this, it was usually on a UHF channel after school. The subtle racist trope against Japan happens at the 2:42 mark, tarnishing its brilliance. (In light of our current appeal to diversity, equity, and inclusion, I’m preparing you for the shock.) The cartoon was produced in 1943, and the stated Axis powers were Germany, Italy, and Japan. Inclusivity wasn’t the point: rage to continue the fight, then, and now, delivers a potent message. The cartoon served as a simple illustration of what a fifth column infiltrator, or in this case, internal grey-colored collaborator mouse, A.K.A. Tucker Carlson, looks like.

Tucker Carlson again questions why the US would side with Ukraine over Russia, Sinéad Baker, Insider.com

“My office is now getting calls from folks who say they watch Tucker Carlson and are upset that we’re not siding with Russia in its threats to invade Ukraine, and who want me to support Russia’s ‘reasonable’ positions,” Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.) said in a tweet on Monday afternoon.

Democrat says Tucker Carlson viewers telling his office the US should side with Russia, Dominick Mastrangelo, TheHill.com

Do you know whose parents immigrated from Ukraine? Leonard Nimoy, who gave us the “live long and prosper” Mr. Spock salute from his Jewish synagogue traditions.

Public-opinion polling shows that Trump’s low opinion of American elections has practically become Republican Party orthodoxy. According to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Friday, Republicans have an “unprecedented” level of “concern and mistrust in the system.” Roughly 70 percent of Republican voters believe that if Hillary Clinton wins the election, it’ll be due to fraud. In both this poll and an NBC News/SurveyMonkey poll, only half of Republicans say they’d accept a Clinton victory. (In the latter poll, by contrast, 82 percent of Democrats said they would accept a Trump victory.)

This suspicious Republican electorate is joined by growing ranks of conservative politicians, pundits, and intellectuals. They’re all increasingly willing to say that the existing American political system is hopelessly flawed and needs to be rolled back to the days before blacks and women could vote. On the most obvious level, this can be seen in moves by Republican governors all over America to make voting more difficult, through stringent voting ID laws, new hurdles to registration, and the curtailment of early-voting options. Equally significant has been the gutting of key provisions of the Voting Rights Act by conservative Supreme Court justices in the 2013 Shelby Country v. Holder ruling.

The Right Is Giving Up on Democracy, Jeet Heer, The New Republic, October 24, 2016

Speaking of mice: Tennessee is blocking the graphic novel, Maus (I ordered it). 1/27/2022 yesterday was the 77th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. The 1619 Project by Nicole Hannah-Jones is being referred to BY name and blocked. Reich Wing governments in red states are blocking Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye” and “Beloved.” “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee can hurt fragile feelings, this sentiment from people who mocked the left, and wore t-shirts to tell us: “F Your Feelings.” Yeah.

On Wednesday, the Harvard University scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. appeared on Oprah Winfrey’s celebratory post-election special. After learning the news, Gates says, “we jumped up, we wept, we hooped and hollered.” It is hard to overestimate the historical significance of the election of the first black U.S. President. For many blacks, and certainly, for much of the country and world, Obama’s victory is an extraordinary step toward the redemption of America’s original 400-year-old sin. It is astonishing not least for its quickness, coming just 145 years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation effectively ending slavery and four decades after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. And it is even more astonishing for its decisiveness — Obama carried Virginia, once the home of the Confederacy, a place whose laws just five decades ago would have made the interracial union of his parents illegal. (See pictures of Barack Obama’s family tree.)

What Obama’s Election Really Means to Black America, Steven Gray, TIME, November 6, 2008

What Obama’s election meant to White America was the eruption of racist tropes in the form of Obama-as-Hitler, Obama-as-Medicine-Man-Voodoo-Mystic, Obama-hung-in-effigy. The right-Reich-wing echo chamber kicked into high gear on television, podcasts, the Internet, and AM talk radio. White America was telling Black America precisely what they thought of having a black president. We weren’t in “post-racial America,” and the years of detente between the cultures was a smokescreen, a strong delusion.

Despite the fact that the 46th president has appointed more judges than any other president, despite the fact that the economy has grown faster than my senior year in college as an undergrad (1984), the Orwellian programming has his numbers in the statistical toilet. My theory is because 1. he’s competent, 2. he’s boring, which is largely what he promised after four years of 140-character COVFEFE-misspelled rage tweeting and genuflecting to Vladimir Putin from his megalomaniacal predecessor. What matters in our entertainment-first-news-later fourth estate of “journalism” is rage viewing, ratings, and clicks. We have forgotten what “normal” looks like if we ever knew.

We are ignoring the fifth column among us. They are armed. They want to “take their country back,” as Glenn Beck (unvaccinated, caught covid TWO times) led chants at the Lincoln Memorial on August 27, 2010. “In 2012, a Fairleigh Dickinson University survey reported that Fox News viewers were less informed about current events than people who didn’t follow the news at all.” (This is FORBES! Read that again at the link.) The fifth column is pissed that they have to now share with “others”: African Americans, Asian Americans, First Nation Peoples, Hispanics, Immigrants, LGBT, women, and haven’t shared well since kindergarten. Sharing power is what happens when a democracy diversifies, and they have shown – from their electorate, their elected officials, their contrived laws to block votes, their propaganda outlets, and their brown shirts, to have little interest in doing that.

Watch what you’re watching
Fox keeps feeding us toxins
Stop sleeping
Start thinking outside of the box
And unplug from the Matrix doctrine
But watch what you say,

Big Brother is watching

Watch what you’re watching
Fox keeps feeding us toxins
Stop sleeping
Start thinking outside of the box
And unplug from the Matrix doctrine
But watch what you say,

Fox Five is watching

“Sly Fox,” by Nas, Genius Lyrics, and YouTube

We are whistling in the dark on the road to fascism.

2 Thessalonians 2:11 “And for this, cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: 12 That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had to pleasure in unrighteousness.”

“Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.” Voltaire

RNA and Covid-19…

NIST researcher Megan Cleveland uses a PCR machine to amplify DNA sequences by copying them numerous times through a series of chemical reactions.
Credit: M. Cleveland/NIST

Topics: Biology, Biotechnology, COVID-19, Diversity in Science, NIST, Research, Women in Science

Scientists track and monitor the circulation of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, using methods based on a laboratory technique called polymerase chain reaction (PCR). Also used as the “gold standard” test to diagnose COVID-19 in individuals, PCR amplifies pieces of DNA by copying them numerous times through a series of chemical reactions. The number of cycles it takes to amplify DNA sequences of interest so that they are detectable by the PCR machine, known as the cycle threshold (Ct), is what researchers and medical professionals look at to detect the virus. 

However, not all labs get the same Ct values (sometimes also called “Cq” values). In efforts to make the results more comparable between labs, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) contributed to a multiorganizational study that looked at anchoring these Ct values to a reference sample with known amounts of the virus.

Researchers published their findings in the journal PLOS One.

SARS-CoV-2 is an RNA virus: Its genetic material is single-stranded instead of double-stranded like DNA and contains some different molecular building blocks, namely uracil in place of thymine. But the PCR test only works with DNA, and labs first must convert the RNA to DNA to screen for COVID-19. For the test, RNA is isolated from a patient’s sample and combined with other ingredients, including short DNA sequences are known as primers, to transform the RNA into DNA.

RNA Reference Materials Are Useful for Standardizing COVID-19 Tests, Study Shows, NIST