Tag Archives: science

102. The Other Terrorism

28 Apr

Clearly, terrorism has dramatically affected most of Earth’s citizens. Airplane
travel and other modes of transportation are affected, people live in fear, disastrous mass migrations have occurred, and governments have toppled. The cost is at least billions and maybe trillions. We are all familiar with these problems.

There is a similar destructive force, which is not quite as dramatic, but is still very costly and fearful. It is information corruption — including identity theft, Internet hacking, stolen emails, Internet viruses, bogus news web-sites, blatant political lies, and similar. (Note, I include all computer related problems.)

We all love the convenience of trade using money (becoming obsolete), credit cards, and even Internet money like Bitcoin and the future “Blockchain.” But every financial system created by man has been corrupted. There is counterfeit money, bogus and stolen credit cards, and I am certain that even highly-touted future systems like Blockchain will be penetrated.

What brings this all to the forefront for me was a process of canceling an inexpensive fax service and a credit card. A simple email or web-site cancellation was not possible. The reason always given is “security,” and that is because of the scoundrels that corrupt our financial systems. Phone calls are always required and they can take hours to complete. The typical citizen goes through dozens of screens searching for a box that says: “check this to cancel the service.” Boxes like this used to be common, but now are scarce. You need to supply all sorts of security info, and if you cannot find something, you are doomed to eternal monthly service fees, inactivity fees, or maybe phone or email harassment.

Another experience had to do with an investment account of mine that was almost compromised, but saved by security procedures. A criminal attempted to withdraw money from my account, but was blocked. However, I was unable to use the account for a month or two while lawyers figured out what to do. I finally had to close the account.

Here is a list of ways that information corruption can affect us:

1. Identity theft can ruin your life by affecting your credit rating, loss of funds, and even bankruptcy. Legal help for a serious situation can cost thousands.
2. Stolen emails have affected our recent presidential election.
3. Credit card info stolen from a business can cause losses for thousands of people.
4. Bogus news web-sites have affected elections.
5. We have a leader now that re-writes history to suit his needs.
6. Information in personal and business computers is hacked for illegal purposes, or destroyed, by computer viruses, which generally operate in a way similar to biological viruses.
7. Reliable scientific information is challenged by callous politicians for various reasons, but most often to support the needs of rich industrial donors.
8. Perhaps most important, hackers from a foreign nation or terrorist group could disrupt our electrical grid. Widespread and prolonged power loss could have serious, even life-and-death, consequences for millions of people.

Is there a way to solve the information corruption problem? One thing is likely, that in the near future, security measures will increase and people will be even more disturbed by the inconveniences. Is there a long term solution? Maybe not. The ultimate answer,  I suspect, would require a utopian world of complete equality,  devoid of criminals and competition, and luxuries for all.  (Imagine that.)  As long as there is competition, some desperate folks, who feel left out, will be driven to some form of terrorism.

101. Worldwide Chaos?

26 Apr

Is there “worldwide chaos” or is it normal to have a certain amount of danger, struggle and warfare. I feel that recently, chaos has taken a step upward,
and there is more to be concerned with now — particularly in the USA — than in the last several years.

Here is a list of factors that currently are particularly disturbing:
1. Endless war in Syria and the resulting massive migrations.
2. Our current leader, Trump, is unprepared for high office, and lacks “ideals.”
3. Brexit: Britain leaving the European Union.
4. Russian attack of Ukraine.
5. Israel and Palestinian endless conflict.
6. Worldwide terrorism, including the dangers of ISIS, Taliban, others.
7. Failure of many leaders to recognize climate-change danger.
8. In some countries there is assassination of reporters and dissidents.
9. Greedy leaders scam the citizens, promoting personal wealth for a few.
10. Significant interference in USA elections by a foreign power (Russia).
11. Christianity and Islam sometimes are compatible, but often clash.

The search for chaos “causes” can take many forms, and for most important events, there are many factors that can be causal. There are many places to start the search. I believe a good point is the industrial revolution, usually dated from about 1760 to 1830.

As governments and technology developed, there was a parallel evolution of greed and corruption. The basic principle is that in any society or nation, a few aggressive and intelligent citizens will become leaders. As they improve their political skills, they learn how to communicate with citizens to achieve power, and to make use of rich donors. Congressmen are “bribed to help the wealthy with tax breaks and loopholes, and subsidies, creating a financial cycle: rich donors support desirable legislation and in turn, get even richer.

Once in office for a few years, they also can become adept at increasing their personal wealth. It is a matter of “learning” and of the eventual irresistible temptation to become richer. Those in office gradually separate from the people and form what could be called a “royalty” class. In many cases, a leader that starts out with good intentions will eventually fall into corruption.

The end result of this process of corruption is often violent or non-violent revolution. Excessive greed at the top will produce more poverty and more poor people. This has taken place for centuries, but recent improvement in communication, like the Internet, focused on this oppression, and helped with the organization of protest. One result was the “Arab Spring”, which began in Tunisia around 2010. Revolutions in Egypt and several other countries followed. Syria was the worst case, resulting in a disastrous deadlock between rebels and its President.

So a basic cause for much of the current world crisis is the rise of a greedy “Royalty Class” in many countries (even in the USA). The Syrian disaster became a basic cause to many other international problems. War in Syria resulted in a massive migration to other countries. This refugee problem I see as the major cause of BREXIT, the rise of Pres. Trump, and perhaps the rise of ISIS and other terrorist activity. In the US, the fear of refugees was recognized by Donald Trump, and promoted by him.

Here is a summary of some major (not all) causal links:

The rise of technology was accompanied by gradual governmental corruption.
Greedy and corrupt leaders exploit the citizens and increase poverty.
Citizens, helped mostly by the Internet, discover the corruption.
They are able to organize and revolt in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Libya, etc.
The revolution in Syria caused massive migration and associated fears.
Migration fears caused Brexit, the rise of Trump, terrorism, ISIS?, etc.

Final thought. I have condensed what could be a whole book, into a brief blog.
My purpose here, is to promote thought and analysis. As ordinary citizens better understand the world, it can become a better place.

90. A Governing Family Unit

3 Feb

        In ancient Rome, there were two periods with triumvirates (three leaders).

For billions of years, the evolution of life has often involved the coalescing (combining and attaching) of smaller units into larger, more adaptable combinations. Biochemicals coalesce to form living cells, cells coalesce to form primitive life forms like sponges, simple multi-cellular organisms combine to form more complicated creatures, etc. Eventually, coalescence leads to the most complex and intelligent animal, human beings. But evolution actually continues in a social manner. Combinations of individuals form social groups, like clubs, families, neighborhoods, and small businesses.

The arrival of Trump marks the creation of a powerful new entity resulting from social/business evolution. The new creation is what I shall call the “extended governing family unit.” The Trump version consists of himself, his offspring and their spouses. Each has a function and separately they would be very ordinary. To clarify, a powerful governing family unit is actually not new, but having a President of the USA so dependent on his extended family for full functioning, I believe is new.

Donald Trump is the cohesive force and spokesman. He is very talented in real-estate development and various kinds of promotion. Other members have social, legal, communication, business, and other specializations. We really elected a functioning group, and not an individual. This unit violates nepotism and maybe other rules, but if truly separated, it would not do so well. We probably should just get used to it (from a legal standpoint) and hope for the best. In the long run, huge shady-business dealings,  intolerable errors, or maybe even overwhelming citizen protests, may be the downfall of this presidential “group”.

Although unpublished, for many years I have fantasized about a presidential group as opposed to a single president. There would be some advantages to a triumvirate (three person group) like existed in ancient Rome. Major decisions would be by two or more out of the three. Or perhaps a group of five. One advantage of a group is that if one is injured, dies, or becomes emotionally unstable, the others could continue. Also, sometimes an individual will go off track for a while, and the other group members can add some stability to the decision process. The other branches of government operate by group voting, why not also the executive. But, this is just a thought, not a serious proposal.

89. Some Tweet-like World Observations

2 Feb

1. Privatizing means creating a system that has a private owner as opposed to a government-run institution. Examples are schools and prisons. The latter has been tried but is now diminishing. In privately run systems a concern for profit can cause neglect in providing required services. Often, civic-minded people working as a public governmental body can be more effective, and with less expenditure. There is a fixed budget so that workers can focus on quality work.  Some would argue that privatizing creates beneficial competition, but in fact there is little competition in areas where privatizing is being promoted.

2. Do we need insurance companies that develop extreme wealth for their executives, paid for by you and me, while benefits are diminished. Why should our world be configured so that a few can become very rich at the expense of the rest of us? Our more advanced civilization has been around for 150 years or so. In that time, the “royalty class” has become entrenched in our system — robbing many ordinary people of their means of survival. I am not against the concept that hard-work and intelligence should be financially rewarded, it is the extremes and abuses that concern me.extreme we Being rich is OK, wealth is not. I also want to make clear that I owned two businesses and believe in our form of regulated capitalism.

3. The arrival of Trump marks the creation of a new entity resulting from social/business evolution. The new creation is what I shall call the extended governing family unit. The Trump version consists of himself, his offspring and their spouses; each having a specialized function. But to clarify, effective and powerful family units are not really “new”, but a unit this large, with necessary distributed functionality, has never before been our “president.” My next blog (no. 90) will explain this further.

4. Diagnosis of all types should be separate from treatment. The fees for various treatments can be very different, and the Dx could be biased towards better income. For example, the exact diagnosis for a cancer could lead to expensive and profitable surgery or a much less expensive radiation or drug treatment.  Dentists have tough decisions in deciding what is actually a cavity that require a filling.  Any healthcare, other service, or repair company can be jaded by this factor. How to fix this is a real dilemma.

5. Our U.S. government may be doomed to failure, because of powerful relationships between very rich folks (donors) and governmental leaders. The best cure would be a great improvement in education so that we can break the donor influence. Remember that our current leaders arose to power under this system and, as you would expect, want to preserve it. Many of those at the top have little interest in teaching logic, reasoning, and correct history to our students and potential voters. We are caught in a powerful loop and will need to be coordinated and industrious to have a chance of breaking it. The current massive demonstrations in many cities is on the right track and encouraging.

6. Ironically, a thousand years from now, the invention of email may be identified by witty history professors, as the cause of the downfall of our Earth civilization. Take away email, and there would have been much less abuse of Hillary Clinton, and she could have been elected. If that had happened, a strong NATO, great international relations, better climate change efforts, fair treatment of the middle-class, control of nuclear weapons, careful communications, and other factors could have saved the world from numerous disasters.  Trump has already alienated some of our closest allies.

7. Governmental officials generally set their own salaries and rules of operation. They are only people, after all, so how can we expect them to be fair. It seems that most people in power long enough will eventually become corrupted (at least somewhat). We need a better system, but change is difficult. The press should help us, but are often limited by some very real vulnerabilities. A tough leader with violent supporters can be an awesome force that discourages needed criticism and modification.

8. I suspect that most of Trump’s early supporters voted for him for various reasons, including: his power, likability (for many), promises of jobs, identification of scapegoats, prejudices, anti-terrorism statements, etc.  What probably was overlooked, was a good estimation of what he would actually DO and SAY after taking office.  Many of us had hoped that he would change after a couple of weeks as POTUS, but he has not.

87. GMO Babies and Foods

26 Jan

I recently listened to a TED talk entitled “The ethical dilemma of designer babies”, by Paul Knoepfler. It was a good talk, but I was disappointed by the suggestion of a moratorium on the science involved in the direct genetic improvement of reproduction.
Knoepfler is a scientist working in the field of genetics and GMOs (genetically modified organisms). He discusses the possibility that in 15 years or so, we will be able to make “designer babies” that are free of genetic diseases and may also have improved looks and intelligence. The author is afraid that “natural” children will be upset by the successes of “designer” children.
I think the “designer” idea is great and is not so strange as some think. After all, we affect the success of our children in many ways, including medical methods such as plastic and corrective surgery, good nutrition, the best education, exercise, mental health, etc. — why not give them an even better start by improving their DNA through carefully studied and regulated procedures.

Aside from the talk, I am also concerned about irrational fears of GMO foods, which are really important for the survival of our growing populations. Here is what I wrote about these methods as a comment to the TED talk:

I am a scientist (retired, and not in the field of genetics) but still study many areas of science and am very interested in scientific progress.   My judgment is to forge ahead in any scientific area, but observe certain limitations.  If there is a clear possibility of danger then we need responsible transparency and monitoring, not moratoriums.  I live in and am a citizen of the USA.  It’s foolish for us to stop working on something potentially very beneficial  while all over the world others are progressing and benefiting. At a minimum, just preventing genetic diseases is very worthwhile.  A moratorium here just puts us behind scientists working in other countries, and does not prevent the dangers that the speaker hints at.  Rich people, of course, would be able to take advantage of this overseas, and ordinary people would not.   My idea is to reject timid and fearful limitations and go full force,  using good documentation and studies as guides.  If it becomes clear that advances such as “designer babies” or certain GMO foods are dangerous, then scientists and Congress can regulate or abolish the procedure. 

The speaker is worried that a “natural” child would have to compete with a “designer” child. But even without this method there will always be someone better than you. It is not a good argument. Nature, breeding methods, cosmic rays, and even choice of a spouse all cause genetic (DNA) changes. The advantage of direct DNA changes by scientists is that they CAN be monitored and procedures can be improved or limited.

The innovations and amazing discoveries of science are a great joy. In a world filled with kindness and intelligence, scientists would never have created atomic bombs. Traditions, rigid beliefs, ignorance, and greedy politicians HAVE caused world disasters — Science has not.
After writing the comment, I decided to read more about GMO use. It is hard to do human research on GMO’s, but there are good studies using animals, that, in fact, we eat. Jon Etine (Sept 19, 2014, Forbes) reports:

“Estimates of the numbers of meals consumed by feed animals since the introduction of GM crops 18 years ago would number well into the trillions. By common sense alone, if GMO feed were causing unusual problems among livestock, farmers would have noticed. Dead and sick animals would literally litter farms around the world.”

There also is formal research that shows no negative effects and no effects on humans eating these animals. Irrational fears about GMO’s are unproductive and harmful. Of course, specific findings on particular GMO’s should be acknowledged, but should not influence the whole field. We don’t avoid all doctors, because a few have been convicted of malpractice. We need to use the results of good responsible scientific research wherever it is helpful. It is ignorance and unethical politicians that have caused our widespread dilemmas.

81. All Complex Systems are Corruptible

18 Dec

I research medical matters, politics, science, economics, artificial intelligence, manufacturing, and many other topics — mostly because I just enjoy learning. As a result, I see our world as a fascinating collection of complex systems, some natural and some man-made. But in the last few years, I have been impressed by the fact that corruption is everywhere. An interesting and symbolic illustration is contained in a TV series, Life After People showing the deterioration of buildings and other man-made structures — if humans suddenly disappeared. We see how nature insidiously destroys our prized cities, buildings, roads, bridges, etc. Our world is a combination of new amazing structures like the International Space Station, and, all too often, tragic deterioration like the devastation of Aleppo.

Challenge: Name one large complex system without some corruption

Here is my brief list of important corrupted complex-systems:
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1. Life. Almost all living species have corruptive elements. Everyone is familiar with the effects on life of viruses, harmful bacteria, and human mismanagement.
Anti-corruption forces: doctors, other healthcare providers, and the people, themselves.
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2. Computers. At an early stage, computers and their attackers began to evolve together. They are attacked by a variety of viruses which function very similarly to animal viruses. In both cases, viruses modify existing control elements (DNA for life and circuit logic for computers) to reproduce themselves, and to destroy what they have infected.
Anti-corruption forces: numerous anti-virus commercial programs and government and private agencies.
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3. Internet. There are hackers that steal and alter private information, web-sites that promote false political information, various scams, utility disruption, etc. Like the computer topic above, corruption evolved as the Internet evolved.
Anti-corruption forces: specific government agencies, police units, and some commercial and private operatives.

.        Worldwide, governmental systems are replete with corruption

4. Governments. Worldwide governmental systems are replete with minor and major corruption. Aggressive and often ruthless people are able to become presidents, prime ministers, congressmen, agency directors, tribal chiefs, etc. It is a natural process for such people to gradually take more and more for themselves and provide less for the people. In most nations, a greedy royalty class” emerges that is devoted to increased power and wealth. In many of my previous blogs I have discussed various details of this type of corruption. Very rich people find ways to increase their riches by corrupting officials. Corrupted leaders often lie about things that concern them and re-write history according to their agendas. They often discourage public education, education in general, and attack the press.
Anti-corruption forces: The responsible press, bloggers, ethical politicians, and informed voters.
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5. Businesses. These have several types of corruption. Within a business, competition for advanced positions can be ruthless, and in order to increase profits, faulty or even poisonous products can be sold. Business leaders often corrupt congressmen to benefit themselves and their organizations. Many lobbyists are the vehicle for corruption. Anti-trust laws, first developed in 1890 and 1914 illustrate ongoing USA private enterprise exploitation. The Enron Corp. disaster of 2001 is a lesson in corruption.
Anti-corruption forces: special police units, ethical businesses and politicians, informed citizens, whistle-blower employees, etc.
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6. Sports. A wonderful example of a corrupted complex system is organized sports. Gamblers have bribed athletes to promote their betting. Athletes take potentially harmful drugs to promote their performance. Even governments have participated in this type of inappropriate drug activity. Olympic Game officials have been prosecuted for illegal practices.
Anti-corruption forces: the press, governmental units, police, informed citizens, etc.

.    Corruption is a part of every large system — because it is profitable

There are so many susceptible systems that I cannot cover them all. A few more are healthcare practices, hospitals, schools, and religious organizations. Just added today, foreign interference in elections.

Conclusion. The several examples listed above suggest the universality of complex system corruption. An interesting development is “blockchain” which is a new way of recording and operating almost all financial interactions — and could be effective. It is touted as the ultimate international financial system and as being incorruptible. But history tells us that clever hackers will probably find a way in. It is clear to me that any system created and operated by humans, where it is advantageous to do so, will be negatively exploited. Why is corruption so ubiquitous? — because it is profitable.

After my final editing of this blog, I sense the excessive negativity that I have created. So I want to encourage the reader by saying that the world is also full of safe and enjoyable experiences that we can explore and must expand.

78. Science Forges Ahead of Citizens

2 Dec

Scientific knowledge and achievement is moving so fast that it is leaving the average citizen behind and a little confused.  Most ordinary people have a poor understanding of scientific principles.  So when important functions like voting arise, the lack of understanding can lead to serious consequences.  Here are three relevant issues, and there are many more:
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1.  Clean Coal.  Some dangerous toxins can be removed while burning coal, but coal-burning is NOT free from producing dangerous levels of CO2  (carbon dioxide).  CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere reflect heat back to the surface of the earth and cause a general heating effect (climate change).  The key factor is that the history of burning fossil fuels is closely related to CO2 levels and to a small degree (so far) of general warming.  It is clearly man-made because the changes are much too fast to be a natural earth cycle.
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2. Understanding Climate Change.  Please see above, and also my blog-34 that gives more detail on this topic.
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3.  Nuclear Power.  This is a valuable source of clean energy that is under-used because people really do not understand it.  It does take a certain amount of scientific knowledge to assess safeguards and other progress in this field.  Industrial use of nuclear reactors has been around for at least 50 years and has developed into a very safe system.  It is only scary because humans cannot detect dangerous radiation.
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Understanding science also plays a major role in such areas as: abortion legislation, stem cell research questions, different types of pollution, and funding for research projects.  The world could function better if government leaders (such as congressmen) and citizens were better educated.  I would venture to guess that education will gradually improve and reach a good level at about the same time that Florida is submerged by warm and rising oceans.
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And even if people were not required to learn a lot of science, at least there could be more emphasis on learning to evaluate and use reliable sources of scientific facts and other information.  A good start in this endeavor is to consult scientists about science and not politicians.