Links of the Quarter: September 2018

Cartoon by Hugh Macleod from Gaping Void

Physicist Sean Carroll, a leading-edge thinker and researcher on quantum mechanics and astrophysics. just did a podcast in which he says:

You want to know why the universe is, you’re not going to get a satisfactory answer. You’re not going to be happy. The universe just is. You have to accept it. You have to learn to deal with it. There’s nothing further there. I like this. I mean I don’t like it sort of you know in terms of again scratching explanatory itches. But I think it’s the one that is most courageous, most brave. It faces up to the reality of it. All of these other attempts hit this little kid problem of saying, ‘Well, if that’s true, why is that true? Why is that true? Why is that true?’ And here you’re saying, nope. There is one level at which you just say, that’s how it is. There is nothing other than that. This is what Bertrand Russell was trying to say. I think this is probably the right answer. And I know that people don’t like it, but whether we like it or not, is not part of how we should judge a theory of why the universe is the way it is.

The basic message of radical non-duality is that “all there is, is this”, inexplicable, timeless, eternal, and impossible for the human mind to fathom. That there is no time, space, purpose or meaning, no thing apart. That what we perceive as the universe is just an appearance, everything and nothing, at once real and unreal. Seems like a convergence to me, though I imagine the idea would still have most scientists wrinkling their noses.

Meanwhile, the debate on whether use of psilocybin, LSD, ayahuasca and other psycho-pharmaceuticals can enable seeing the world as it really is — without the self (or at least disrupt the “default setting” which has us seeing it as it is not), continues, as Michael Pollan’s new book gains traction. Scientists and doctors are also looking at microdosing these substances to improve social connection, increase creativity, and reduce the psychological and physical symptoms of Civilization Disease. There’s increasing acceptance that it is a disease — that our globalized industrial society is inherently debilitating and requires us to spend our whole lives attempting to heal from its negative effects (video elaborating on this here — thanks to Susan Nelson for the link).

What an awful, and awesome, time to be alive.


Land use in the US, shown proportionally to area. Lower map shows breakdown of the acreage used for human food. From Bloomberg. Thanks to Ben Collver for the links.

Adapting to a Collapsing Society: University of Cumbria Professor Jem Bendell has written a paper “to provide readers with an opportunity to reassess their work and life in the face of an inevitable near term social collapse due to climate change”. The paper looks at the various types of denial and some strategies to learn to adapt to the massive changes we will soon face. Thanks to Paul Heft for the link.

Hothouse Earth: Yawn. Another research study concludes it’s too late to prevent runaway climate change, and explores the consequences.

For the Rich, the Future of Technology is About Escape: So says Douglas Rushkoff, who was recently wined and dined by a billionaires group. “They were preparing for a digital future that had a whole lot less to do with making the world a better place than it did with transcending the human condition altogether and insulating themselves from a very real and present danger of climate change, rising sea levels, mass migrations, global pandemics, nativist panic, and resource depletion.” Wonder if they’re ready for the unicorn bubble?  Thanks to Ben Collver for the links.

Climate Change Performance Index: An international organization maps policies and progress on addressing climate change, by country. Not good news.

Why Electric Cars Won’t Solve Climate Change: Richard Heinberg explains why electric cars could actually worsen climate change — they’re too little too late, and now even if we were to do the minimum of getting rid of cars entirely and reinventing communities locally, to drastically reduce energy use, runaway climate change is inevitable, and the wobbling economy is a wildcard that could well make things unimaginably worse.

The Next Plague: We are hopelessly unready for it. It is certainly coming, and probably sooner rather than later. This is not a good situation.

The Emotional & Physical Toll of Wildfire Smoke: Anxiety, fear, grief, and the impact on respiration, the heart, sinuses and eyes. How many more “lost summers” must we look forward to? Thanks to Tree Bressen for the link.

Oh, and the Pentagon has Misplaced $21T: That’s trillions. Unaccounted for. I wonder what they spent it on? Thanks to Lorraine Suzuki for the link.


When You’re On the Road and You Have Kids: On Facebook Don Amero writes: “‪It’s been getting tougher leaving my little ones when I head off for tours so I asked them for a stuffy that I could take with me and I’ll share pictures of our adventures. [Image above] is Snowball and Ellie. We’re going on adventures together. But first Coffee…” Great idea huh?

The McGill Office for Science and Society has produced a series of videos deconstructing some very popular videos spouting some dangerous untruths about health, genetics and food (including “miracle cures”) publicized through subtle spoofs of “junk science” that have gone viral.

How Long Does Food Last: Ignore the self-serving “best by” date, and look at this resource to determine how long your food will stay nutritious and healthy.

Is Electromagnetic Sensitivity Real?: Short answer: No. Why do people feel they are sensitive? Read the article or watch the video and find out.

Vegan Cooking, Caribbean Style: Rachel Ama should get a gig writing recipes for, since her videos and recipes reflect the wisdom of Michael Greger’s scientific nutrition research. For example, she offers simple-to-prepare vegan recipes that hit all of Michael’s “daily dozen”. And if you’re in the mood for Southern vegan cooking with a little spice, another smart vegan chef on YouTube, Jenné Claiborne, offers tips for going (truly) vegan painlessly.

Spiceography: A list of the ingredients and qualities of all major spices.

Paleopoo: Recent studies of fossilized faeces of prehistoric humans reveal that for our first million years we were vegetarians, and specifically fruit-eaters. Our #1 source of food, world over, before agriculture, was wild figs, and their disappearance from our diet explains why our bodies often don’t get the fibre they need.

More Female Actors Please: As Lauren Gunderson, now the US’s most popular playwright, notes, 2/3 of theatre attendees are women, but most of the actors on stage are male. (I just saw her Book of Will — outstanding; catch it if you can.)

Two Remarkable Photographers: Rita Newman (Austria) and Ragnar Axelsson (Iceland). Thanks to Pohangina Pete for the latter link.


Not Ready for 2020: Cory Booker castigates Democrats for simply opposing Trump and not offering a viable alternative or real policies addressing the critical issues of the day. So does Michael Avenatti. Will they run? Thanks to Tree Bressen for the first link.

Tax Cuts Are Mostly Used for Stock Buy-Backs, Not Wages and Salaries: CBC interviews discover that it’s more profitable to buy back shares than to expand or pay more wages, so that’s where the majority of the corporate tax cut windfall is being spent.

Elections Don’t Make Democracy: Our world is holding more elections but is simultaneously becoming less democratic.

Jonathan Pie on Brexit: Mr Pie, in a calmer mood, sends up both the pro- and anti-Brexit sides.

Will Trudeau Kill to Have the Kinder Morgan Trans-Mountain Built?: The National Observer cites an advisor to Alberta Premier Notley who suggests that protester deaths should be anticipated and might be inevitable. Now that Trudeau owns the pipeline (at exorbitant taxpayer cost), it will ultimately be his call. We’ve learned nothing from Ipperwash and Oka. Meanwhile, my friend Khelsilem insists the project will not go ahead.

Vancouver Island: The Old Growth Forests Are Gone: A disturbing time-lapse map shows that substantially all of the massive island’s old growth forests have been levelled, most of them in the past two decades, and most of the wood cut was exported raw. The destruction continues under the new NDP government. A disgrace. Thanks to Anton van Walraven for the links.

The Scourge of Sand & Gravel Extraction: China now extracts more sand and gravel (mostly for concrete, construction and roads) every 3 years than the US did in the entire 20th century. The ecological consequences, especially for the world’s rivers, are devastating. Thanks to Ben Collver for the link.

When It’s Too Late to Stop Fascism: A retelling of the rise of Nazism in Germany is chillingly similar to current events in the US.


FUN AND INSPIRATION (note: this section’s links are all videos this quarter)

Scene from one of the YouTube series Nature Relaxation Films by David Huting, shot on the Na Pali coast of Kaua’i. See also link to Flying Over Norway below, from the same series.

The Astonishing Music of Large Steel Bands: Almost since the steel band was invented, a hugely popular annual competition has drawn steel bands large and small to celebrate Carnival (which literally means “the end of meat”, in reference to the bounty of freshly harvested fruits and vegetables that come available at that time), by writing and performing a 10-minute extended version of a popular calypso hit written in the past year. The competition is fierce, contests are held in several countries where steel bands flourish (notably in Trinidad and London), and the music, while hard to really capture in a live outdoor Carnival recording (any specialists in acoustics out there willing to try to improve this?), is riveting, with bands of up to 110 drummers playing up to 12 different parts at a blistering pace (114 bpm but with 16th and even 32nd notes) show their stuff. Some bands have “junior” ensembles (under 21) learning from the older pros before they get invited to join the senior band, so you end up with dynasties of incredibly accomplished musicians. The compositions are as complex and varied as symphonies riffing off the original tune, and the sheer joy of the players is a wonder to behold. Especially recommended:

Ham Sarris is Now a Christian: Terrifying video, until you look closer… The era of fake video has begun; where will it end?

Orcas On Howe Sound: My friend Bob Turner celebrates the return of killer whales to Howe Sound, right beside my island home.

Flying Over Norway: Amazing drone footage of the Norwegian coast in 4k UHD.

Vlog Brothers Corner: Recent videos from the very knowledgeable and entertaining duo include On Prepositions, Why US Healthcare Costs are So High, Was the 2016 Election Rigged, and (an update on the aforementioned) What We Know About Russia and Election Meddling.  Oh, and the non-existence of free will! Well worth the time.

Asimbonanga: Johnny Clegg reprises (1999) the song he wrote about his countryman, Nelson Mandela.

Trevor Noah on Colonialism: How the British colonized South Africa, India, and other unsuspecting nations.

Black Cat Appreciation Day: A thoughtful post from Simon’s Cat. And if you need more thought-provoking-and-also-cute in your life, check out the New Jersey pool bears, or just for fun this mama cat looking after her kittens (note that dad cat stays on the sidelines).


Cartoon by Hugh Macleod from Gaping Void

From James Baldwin, in The Fire Next Time:

I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain…

Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them…

Love takes off the masks we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.

From Seth Godin, on the importance of art:

Everybody holds back every time ‘cause that’s what you were taught to do. By your third grade teacher and by your coach and by that boss and by that other boss. Because if you put everything into it they’re just going to ask for more anyway. You know who doesn’t hold back? Artists. If David Mamet has a great line, he doesn’t say ‘I’ll save it for a future play; I’m not getting paid enough to use it in this play’.

School taught us to fit in. The reason they want you to fit in, is because once they do, then they can ignore you. They want you to be compliant. School taught you what management is, which is not leadership; it’s telling people what to do. Getting them to do it faster and cheaper than yesterday. Leadership is saying ‘we’ve all enrolled in this journey — let’s go over there, though I’m not sure exactly how we’re going to get there.’

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3 Responses to Links of the Quarter: September 2018

  1. Ed O says:

    If the Internet has proven one thing, it’s that even smart, articulate, well-informed people can be shockingly gullible. That $21 trillion “unaccounted for” at the pentagon is kind of like that epidemic of autism caused by vaccines: it doesn’t exist, at least not in the way some people think it does.

    It doesn’t represent money spent. It just represents accounts not balanced. E.g., one group within the pentagon might give $1B to another group within the pentagon without reporting that transfer to the groups’ official bean counters. The first group’s bean counter then has to make a $1B adjustment to explain the unaccounted expenditure. The second group’s bean counter has to make a $1B adjustment to explain the unaccounted receipt. Presto: $2B of “unaccounted” funds that represents exactly $0 more in total funds spent than if that $1B hadn’t been sent from the first group to the second. Repeat this across the pentagon a few hundred times a year over 17 years, and that’s your $21 trillion. Scandalously sloppy accounting? Absolutely. Evidence that the pentagon is somehow spending enormous sums that congress didn’t authorize? Of course not. Maybe take an introductory econ class before you write an article exclaiming at length about how big a Trillion dollars is and how horrified we should all be that 21 of them have evaporated or something?

    The US govt tracks exactly how much it spends each year (as it must, since it has to borrow, or get the Fed to print, whatever it spends that it doesn’t collect in taxes). If the pentagon were somehow magically sucking up trillions of dollars without authorization, congress would notice real soon.

    But don’t try to tell the author of the article any of this. His self-image (and that of who knows how many of his readers) is now based upon belief in this nonsensical idea.

  2. Dave Pollard says:

    Ed: As a retired auditor, I agree with you there is no claim (or even possibility) of a $21T defalcation (fraud) in the Dept of Defense. But the Dept’s Office of Inspector General wrote this, verbatim:

    “Finding: The Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Financial Management & Comptroller) (OASA[FM&C]) and the Defense Finance and Accounting Service Indianapolis (DFAS Indianapolis) did not adequately support $2.8 trillion in third quarter journal voucher (JV) adjustments and $6.5 trillion in yearend JV adjustments made to AGF (Army General Fund) data during FY 2015 financial statement compilation. The unsupported JV adjustments occurred because OASA(FM&C) and DFAS Indianapolis did not prioritize correcting the system deficiencies that caused errors resulting in JV adjustments, and did not provide sufficient guidance for supporting system‑generated adjustments.”

    This is a mind-blowing indictment of the Defense Dept’s controls. It means that the accounts of the Dept have no audit trail, which means it is impossible to say (and they conclude as much) whether there are hugely material errors or frauds occurring in the records — the accounts are basically unauditable. With such a complete lack of internal controls, very large scale fraud, theft, and other criminal misspending and diversion of government (taxpayer) funds that could otherwise have been used for useful public services, is almost inevitable. It also means taxpayers will never know how much of their money has been stolen, misappropriated, or criminally diverted, let alone how much of it has been unnecessarily misspent due to incompetence, overpayment, and other “inadvertent” errors.

    So is the $21T number hyperbolic rubbish? Yes. Is there evidence of staggering mismanagement (and almost certainly misappropriation on a scale that quite possibly dwarfs any theft in American history) of enough taxpayer money that, had it occurred elsewhere (or in an organization with adequate controls) would have resulted in a complete freeze on spending, a large-scale criminal investigation, firings all the way up the line of command, and a complete reorganization? Highly likely. Will the run-amok military and “security” spending of the US be reined in and monitored in our lifetimes? Don’t bet on it.

    The question isn’t whether the military is spending money not appropriated to it. The question is whether a very large percentage of the vast sums of money appropriated to it is being misspent, through incompetence or criminal defalcation. Since controls are inadequate to answer that question, and since no one is charged with improving the controls, Americans will simply never know.

  3. Ed O says:

    I completely agree. That article you linked was just so breathless about that meaningless $21T number. Your comment would have made a much better article.

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