The Lab Leak Hypothesis: Iraq WMD All Over Again?

At least twice already, the US intelligence cartel has used deliberate disinformation to goad the gullible American media and public into an unjustifiable war. The first Gulf War was based on a fictitious account of atrocities supposedly committed by Iraq against Kuwait. It was intentionally manufactured by Bush Sr, in collusion with Kuwait’s leaders, complete with a phoney heart-rending professional script written the by the notoriously unscrupulous PR “reputation management” firm Hill + Knowlton and rehearsed and “acted” by the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador.

The second Gulf War, manufactured by Bush Jr in collusion with the “defense industry”, was based on false, completely-invented “evidence” that Iraq had WMD.

In both cases the US intelligence cartel carefully constructed “intelligence reports” supporting the disinformation campaign, from alleged “trusted anonymous sources” which were published verbatim without review or scrutiny by the sensationalist, audience-hungry MSM.

When the stories were revealed as obvious falsehoods, there was no acknowledgement of error by either the Tweedledum or Tweedledee parties, or the MSM. Just swept under the carpet. The ends justified the means.

So now we have the ‘lab leak’ hypothesis that China deliberately or negligently leaked the CoVid-19 virus. As background for this:

  1. Every other pandemic has been found to have zoonotic origins (spread by immune animals like bats to humans, sometimes via an intermediary like CAFO poultry, pigs or cows).
  2. There is abundant evidence that that was the case with this pandemic as well.
  3. It is impossible to prove or disprove any theory with certainty. That’s the absolute essence of most conspiracy theories’ (and many propaganda wars’) success.
  4. Epidemiologists have remarked on the exponential increase in novel viruses and pandemics in the 21st century and have been warning another is overdue for over a decade.
  5. Biden is looking for a “smoking gun” to use to attack China. A recent quote from the befuddled president (indicating the severe state of his dementia, as if he were reliving the Cold War):

[I have] made it clear that no American president, at least one did, but no American president had ever backed down from speaking out of what’s happening in the Uyghurs… So I see stiff competition with China. China has an overall goal, and I don’t criticize them for the goal, but they have an overall goal to become the leading country in the world, the wealthiest country in the world and the most powerful country in the world. That’s not going to happen on my watch because the United States is going to continue to grow and expand.

Note that Biden has asked the loyal intelligence cartel to lead the lab-leak “investigation”, not health experts who are disinterested in war and have a passion for knowing the truth.

While we should of course acknowledge and investigate all plausible causes of a pandemic, we shouldn’t forget how the “intelligence community” seeded anxiety and doubt (and fabricated evidence) over WMD in Iraq — twice — as the pretext for unnecessary and ghastly, ongoing wars. They’ve done the same in Latin America and elsewhere. Please, please, let’s not get fooled again.

The intelligence cartel and their “defense industry” clients are unhappy that, while the MSM faithfully transcribed their fabricated nonsense about Russia paying the Taliban “bounties” for American heads in Afghanistan, some sources actually wanted evidence, and when none was found, the embarrassed MSM mostly stopped talking about it. Don’t want that happening again.

My second concern is that we know almost all (perhaps all) pandemics are zoonotic in origin, and as long as we keep on factory farming, harvesting exotic species, and deforesting the planet’s last wilderness, there is a huge risk of many more, much worse pandemics in our future, without any labs needed to manufacture them. The ‘lab leak’ hypothesis, if it continues to gain credence in the popular mind, will provide yet another cover for the industries perpetrating these outrageously dangerous ‘farming’ practices. “See, it wasn’t us, it was a lab leak”.

If the intelligence cartel faithfully reports that the lab leak theory has some plausible evidence supporting it (they cannot and need not disprove any of the far more compelling causes), as Biden clearly wants them to do, and the MSM then dutifully report this, then we’ll see the embedded warmongers’ op-ed shills cry out for retribution, and then Biden will use this as a pretext for military sabre-rattling, sanctions, duties, and other xenophobic acts (with the full support of Republicans). If so, the con will have been perfected, and can then be used again to justify any war against any trumped-up “enemy”, anytime. All the players are in place, waiting to dutifully do their part.

I’m afraid I’m about to be proved right. If so, you read it here. If I’m wrong, I will be deliriously happy to admit it.

Posted in How the World Really Works, Our Culture / Ourselves | 10 Comments

The Costs of “White Collar” Corruption and Crime

Another dark post/rant from Dave. Lighter fare is coming soon.

cartoon by Mort Gerberg (mortgerberg.com) in The New Yorker

One of the problems — or “diseconomies” — of scale, is its increasing vulnerability to corruption and crime. In small, close-knit communities, criminals mostly know their victims, and the community gets to know its criminals. So there’s an inherent disincentive to try to commit crimes.

Not so in our modern society’s boundary-less, disconnected “neighbourhoods”, and in massive centralized systems, where it’s easy to stay anonymous and the victim is just an address or a number. Modern corpocracies seek more and more centralization because it aggregates power, eliminates competition, and puts impenetrable bureaucratic and legal barriers between the corpocracy and its bewildered, helpless, abused, anonymous “customers”.

Customers have now been largely eliminated from modern extreme capitalism, replaced with “users”. “User” is, of course, a synonym for “person addicted to a product”. That is exactly what we have become, utterly dependent on amoral profit-crazed and uncontrolled corporations. Our names on invoices have now been replaced by “user IDs”. Just sign in and roll up your sleeve.

So we have an ethics-free corporate world, just ripe for criminals and the corrupt to exploit on a massive scale, mostly in either legal “grey areas” (to allow corporate crime where it increases profits) or completely, anonymously beyond detection.

Modern corporate systems are now completely rife with corruption and crime, and it is the “customers” — sorry, the “users” — who have to pay for it. Beside the simple greed of banksters, one reason that most of us (especially the poorer “users”) pay mega-usurious 28% interest on unpaid credit card balances, is that the now-endemic rate and cost of highly-sophisticated credit card crime — phishing, cloning, theft, money-laundering and a host of more complex schemes of fraud and extortion — is through the roof. So what is the banksters’ and credit card companies’ response to this crime spree exploiting their systems? Just call it “a cost of doing business”, and flow all the costs through to the “users”. They’ve learned this well from the mega-polluters — the euphemism for refusing to take responsibility for allowing and contributing to the rapid destruction of the planet is “externalizing” costs. The “user” is the addict; let them pay the costs of production. If they don’t like it, they don’t have to “use” our products.

But of course, we do have to use their products. Their oligopolies control the supply, the distribution, the hyper-marketing, and the regulators, law-makers and politicians that once constrained their misbehaviour.

None of this is new, though at one time we did at least have anti-monopoly laws and usury laws; no more. Many corporations pay massive bribes and kickbacks to access foreign markets or “guarantee” contracts, though of course they’re not called that. The money goes to despots; the costs are “externalized” to the “users”. These corporations pay armies of unscrupulous lawyers to intimidate any “user” who dares make a fuss. They pay money to organized crime for “protection” for their stores, factories and executives. They grant no-bid, wildly overpriced tenders to organized crime to ensure their construction sites are “incident free”.

Of course, government departments and agencies with budgets large enough to attract criminal interest — like the US Defense Department, that can’t even pass a basic audit of how it’s spending the “users'” trillions — are also ready targets. So are our chaotic, cobbled-together “health care” systems. No problem, though. Just a cost of doing business, passed along to the same “users” (except of course those rich enough to pay for complex tax-evasion schemes).

And now, thanks to modern un-securable online computer systems, they pay ransom not only for the safe return of kidnapped executives, but for the safety of their computer systems as well. The recent panic-causing pipeline ransom only cost five million dollars, but a recent report says ransom totalled a half billion last year, and is growing at 300% per year. Add in Bitcoin flimflammery and the total is likely much higher.

I’ve been told that the average “user” now has, thanks to hackers, over 60 online accounts or passwords compromised each year. Apparently, it would be too expensive for corporations to fix their systems to stay ahead of the thieves, so guess what? It’s left up to the “users” to deal with the losses, and the mess.

This is all entirely a problem of scale. Centralized, massive, un-regulatable, thoroughly corrupt and crime-ridden corporate oligopolies, governments, and systems are now simply unmanageable. Like all systems, they will keep growing until the “cost of doing business” becomes unaffordable. And then, if they’re large corporations (or the military), they’ll be bailed out, or else they’ll put their numbered and offshore companies into bankruptcy, stiffing their gullible suppliers, lenders and shareholders, while keeping all their amassed fortunes, in one country or another, intact. Either way, the “users” will pay.

Until they can’t. At some point, the Ponzi schemes of stock, resource, currency and real estate “markets” will run out of even debt-leveraged billionaire buyers. And then, like all massively-overpriced “markets”, they’ll collapse with a suddenness none of us is prepared for. Except perhaps the corporatists and criminals who know it can’t last, who will retreat to their debt-free remote hideaways, like the gangsters of the old west after a heist. At least until they run out of food, and discover their currency is now worthless to buy more.

Then they’ll join the rest of us, wondering how we got here, and what to do next.

Posted in How the World Really Works, Our Culture / Ourselves, Preparing for Civilization's End | 2 Comments

What is Exponential Decay?

A mathematical thought experiment. Warning — this is a rather gloomy post.

 Humans’ incapacity to understand the principle of exponential growth has caused us all kinds of grief of late (notably in our handling of the pandemic), and promises to cause us a great deal more soon (the end of cheap energy, climate and ecological collapse, interest rate shocks, and ‘peak everything’).

We tend to use the metaphor of a hockey stick, but it’s a poor one — that’s a model of sharp linear growth, not exponential growth at all. A better metaphor is the ‘rice on the chessboard’ reward story. The story goes that the inventor of chess, when asked by her ruler what she would like as a reward for coming up with the amusing game, asked for one grain of rice on the first square of the board, two on the second, four on the third, and doubling the amount on each square until all 64 squares were filled. The total amount of rice in this exponential reward turns out to be 1.5 trillion metric tonnes, more than all the grain ever produced on earth.

The human population chart above is one illustration of exponential growth. If you want an even more extreme one, a chart of global resource consumption would track the same curve until roughly 1800, and then would soar six times faster — imagine the chart stretched six times taller with the same line reaching to the upper right corner.

Population agencies at one point believed the human population would level off at eight billion. Then they changed it to nine billion. Now they’re saying eleven billion, at which point it will, supposedly by sheer collective human will, suddenly flatten out, about half a chart higher and one small dot to the right, and then stay there.

That is of course preposterous. Human population is no longer able to increase exponentially, but is still increasing linearly by 80 million per year — another billion every 12 years. The limit is not human will, but the capacity of the planet to — ever more wastefully — produce ever more human food and other resources. As long as we are producing more human food each year (at increasingly catastrophic costs) we will continue to produce more babies to consume it. Human population, and resource consumption (which is still increasing exponentially), will then suddenly stop increasing, as it did in the 14th century, but because of the current growth slope, it will happen much more abruptly. Since we’ve used more than half the world’s resources already and are using the rest up at an ever-accelerating rate, that point will certainly come before 2100, even if inevitable economic, climate and ecological collapse were not additional factors drawing this insanity to an imminent close.

And then what? Since there’s no safety valve this time, no frontier to escape to, what will immediately follow exponential growth of population and consumption will be something you hear much less about — exponential decay.

We’re starting to see how exponential decay works in the case and death counts for CoVid-19 in many countries. We saw a bit of it last summer, and politicians were delighted and prematurely declared the pandemic beaten. This time, despite the fact so many people have been propagandized to fear the vaccines, and despite the slowness and incompetence of the vaccine roll-out, we are seeing sharp drops in case rates in many countries that “mirror” the sharp increases we saw earlier, and this is happening long before herd immunity levels are reached.

Exponential decay is the precise “mirror” of exponential growth. When anything — a virus, locusts, mosquitos, the human species, the rate of consumption — reaches the limits to growth after a period of exponential growth, it will immediately experience an exponential decay that mirrors the exponential growth.

We will hit the wall of the limits to growth in resource production and consumption before we reach the limits to human population, and at that point, human population, with no additional food to sustain it, will likewise stop growing.

For the past 50 years, total global resource consumption (using the surrogate of global energy use) has been rising at an annual rate of about 6% per year. That doesn’t seem like that much until you consider that human population, depicted in the remarkable chart above, is only growing at just over 1% per year. A 6% annual (exponential) growth rate means a doubling every twelve years. In other words, we will use as much of earth’s resources in the next twelve years as we used in all of our previous history. And we’ve already used up half of all the known resources of the planet. Though we may dredge up some more, at ever-increasing incremental cost, it is not unreasonable to believe we will hit the wall about then — 2033. At that point human population will be about nine billion. Even without climate and ecological collapse, the shit will then hit the fan.

My guess is that we will stall off the peak for a few more years after that, at least for those in affluent nations. So let’s be generous and assume we can grind out the global human civilization experiment until 2040, with 9.5 billion humans.

It’s all downhill from there, and it will be steep. On the way up, we hit 4.7 billion humans in 1984, 56 years before the likely 2040 peak. So you might think we’ll be back to that population 56 years after peak, which is just before 2100.

But we’re still not realizing the impact of resource constraints, and just how steep the slope of exponential decay can be. Our population is constrained by resources available for consumption, which has been increasing six times faster than human numbers, and which will decrease six times faster after the peak. When we run out of affordable resources, we will face full-on global economic collapse, and our numbers will have to decrease to keep pace with the smaller amount of food, heat, and everything else we depend on in our vulnerable, prosthetic, human-made environments.

If you’ve been following the math, that means human population will have to track the pace of exponential decay of resources, which will be halved every twelve years just as it is doubling every twelve years now. By that logic, the decline from 9.4 billion humans to 4.7 billion will occur between 2040 and 2052. And then it will decline again by half to 2.4 billion humans by 2064 and to 1.2 billion humans (the population in 1850) by 2076. And to 600 million humans (the population in 1700) by 2088 and to 300 million humans (the population in 1300) by 2100.

Some of this decline will occur ‘naturally’, as, in a world of severe scarcity and precarity, people will simply stop having children. I’d like to say most of the decline will happen that way, but the numbers don’t lie: The first few decades after peak consumption are likely to be pretty terrible, even if we divert all economic activity to simple food production and stop procreating.

And there is no reason why that rate of decrease won’t continue into the 22nd century, but I think it would be foolish to speculate on what might be sustainable human numbers, without cheap energy or any energy-fuelled technology, and with a suddenly sparsely-populated (by humans) world with 97% of peak-civilization’s abandoned and scavengeable stuff (and nuclear and chemical wastes!) left behind. And we may have so desolated the planet — its biodiversity, its climate, its soils and waters — that even 300 million may be far beyond its carrying capacity for our kind.

My grandparents’ message to me, when they described the Great Depression, was how utterly unthinkable the reality of it was in the roaring 20s — how ghastly the suffering, how far people fell from their positions of privilege and seeming invulnerability, and, most of all, how quickly it overtook everyone. Exponential decline following exponential growth.

So here we are again in the roaring 20s — driverless cars, Mars missions, dreams of living forever, the “internet of things”. Enjoy it while we can. There is no soft landing on the other side of exponential growth; it’s a hard ride down. All civilizations, like all pandemics, end, usually with surprising speed in their last gasp as the limits to growth are reached and breached, and so will this one.

Posted in How the World Really Works, Our Culture / Ourselves, Preparing for Civilization's End | 7 Comments

Who Should Be In Charge of Response to Public Health Emergencies?

Another little rant from Dave.


cartoon by Greg Perry in The Tyee

If and when a country decides to go to war, whether internationally or with some of its own citizens, the strategies and tactics used to combat the deemed enemy are not debated by, voted on, or decided by politicians. If they were, the war would be a lost cause. The strategies and tactics are decided on by military experts.

I would argue the same logic should apply to other types of ‘wars’, dealing with other types of emergencies. Politicians are mostly lawyers. They are as incompetent at knowing and deciding what to do in emergency situations as they are knowing and deciding how to conduct a war.

The obvious example is pandemic emergencies. The decisions should be made by public health experts, and simply implemented, without debate or discussion, by politicians and all other authorities who lack the competence to second-guess the experts. We lost the war against CoVid-19 because we let politicians, not public health experts, make the decisions. They utterly bungled the response because they were not competent to deal with it in the first place. In a handful of countries — Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan — the political leaders deferred completely to public health experts, and they alone have ridden out the pandemic with a minimum of errors and disruptions.

The same logic should apply to other emergencies, many of which are also ‘public health’ emergencies. Murders committed by police are one. Mass shootings in some gun-crazy jurisdictions are another. Deaths from poisoned street drugs, that now kill 100,000 Americans, and 5,000-8,000 Canadians, per year, double the rate of five years ago, are a third. These can all reasonably described as “epidemics”.

And then we have existential emergencies, most notably the climate emergency, that threaten us all. XR has insisted that assemblies of true representatives of all citizens, focused entirely on grappling with the emergency and not beholden to anyone else (including voters not happy with the necessary actions), should have the absolute authority to make policies to address the emergency, which politicians and lawmakers should be required to implement in their entirety and without delay.

That says a lot about the capacity and competence of political bodies to address health issues and existential issues. They are not organized, competent, or motivated to deal with such issues. If we want these emergencies addressed promptly and competently, some other group must be in charge and have the unrestricted authority to deal with them. The political, legal and economic system must be required to support them, regardless of how they feel about them. Politicians, law enforcement and regulatory bodies should have neither the authority nor the responsibility to deal with such issues, simply to abide by the orders of the group (public health officials, citizens’ assemblies, or investigative agencies) that does have the competence, expertise, and independence to make these orders, and those groups should be given both the authority and commensurate responsibility to do so.

I can hear the shudders from libertarians. We’re going to give an unelected group power to issue orders affecting everyone, with no political oversight? Well, we don’t elect generals, but we don’t demand that our elected “representatives” make or second-guess their decisions on the battlefield. We don’t elect regulatory authorities, but when the NTSB demands an incompetently-built Boeing model be grounded, politicians don’t debate whether that’s a little unfair to poor Boeing. They ground the jet.

Our political systems are bloated, corrupted by money, short-term (next-election) focused, and largely paralyzed. It is absurd to think they can be expected to deal with an emergency, especially when it’s not a political emergency but rather a health or existential emergency.

If we want these emergencies dealt with properly, we have to take the authority and responsibility of dealing with them away from elected politicians, and give them to experts who have the knowledge and capacity to present urgent, viable solutions to these emergencies, and have them implemented without political interference. Is that a scary proposition? Of course. Public health experts make mistakes (especially when they wander into the political and “public relations” arenas). Citizens’ assemblies, if they ever see the light of day, are bound to make mistakes, too.

Could it ever happen? Would politicians ever give up the reins of power outside of a full-scale military war? The dress-rehearsal of CoVid-19 suggests the answer is a resounding no. Without it, our chances of being ready for the next pandemic, which could be orders of magnitude larger than this one, or being able to reduce police murders, mass shootings, and a spiralling epidemic of street drug poisoning deaths, or being able to seriously address the existential crisis of climate and ecological collapse, are absolutely zero. We’re kidding ourselves if we believe otherwise.

Posted in How the World Really Works, Our Culture / Ourselves, Preparing for Civilization's End | 5 Comments

10 Reasons the US Should Split Up


map from a deleted Reddit account, with one example of how the US might be broken into logical independent nations

Our Southern neighbours have been in a civil war — words, angry demonstrations, skirmishes, polarization, new hate laws and repression tactics etc — being played out mostly in the media, for years now, inflamed by the deranged ex-president and rapidly accelerating in tone and tactics.

The last civil war ended in horrific bloodshed, and, like most wars, resolved little if anything. It didn’t end de facto slavery, racism or any of the other issues it was supposedly fought over. It didn’t end the resentment among the secessionists. Had the southern states seceded successfully, as the last developed nation to allow slavery, it would have been so ostracized by the global community it would have eventually had to ban the outrageous and inhuman practice anyway. And it would have suffered such a massive brain drain that it would have evolved to be just another warm-climate banana republic. Kind of what, outside its big cities, it has actually become.

Scotland, infuriated by Brexit and the patronizing English, are readying for another independence referendum, though their English overlords are so far prohibiting it. Northern Ireland is again in turmoil over its status as an anachronistic English enclave in the Disunited Kingdom. Belgium may soon be two nations, while Québec, which nearly succeeded in its last independence referendum, seems to have backed off from the idea for now.

What is it about a country’s breakup that so often leads to hostility and war? The Soviet Union collapsed only because it became too large and unwieldy to afford to keep together. And even now it’s fighting wars to keep some of the remaining ‘republics’ in its federation from seceding. China is desperately trying to ‘re-educate’ the people in its outposts to prohibit and undermine their aspirations for independence.

It’s easy to say that opposition to independence is all about money and resources — lost cheap labour, oil, minerals, cropland. But my sense is it’s more about nationalistic pride than anything. Like in a marriage breakup, it seems to be taken as an admission of failure (the reason why many religions prohibit divorce) rather than a simple acknowledgement that the relationship just wasn’t working for one or both parties anymore. Any kind of divorce or secession is, of course, expensive and time-consuming, another reason to deny the obvious signs it’s time to move on independently.

As a Canadian, I can see few reasons for the Disunited States of America to stay as a single nation, and lots of good reasons for it to break up, the sooner the better. Here are ten of them:

  1. The diseconomies of scale: Despite all the neoliberal myths, bigger is neither better nor more efficient. Size is actually all about power. It’s about the capacity of giant corporate oligopolies to control markets, eliminate competition, and own politicians, and have laws written in their interests (profits), not the interests of their customers. Research has repeatedly shown that bureaucracy explodes exponentially as size grows linearly, and that centralization increases, rather than decreases, per-capita costs of doing the same thing. Over 90% of mergers, both of corporations and of political entities, actually “destroy value” (the whole is less than the sum of the parts). And research also shows that, beyond a certain size, ‘representative’ democracy ceases to be either representative or democratic. Collapsing the massive bureaucracies of the US would free up billions in wasted money and resources to spend on local needs.
  2. Safety: Because jellyfish were gumming up desalination plants, the Japanese made robots to swim around the facilities cutting them up. The result? The pieces grew into independent jellyfish, greatly worsening the problem. The US is currently a symbol, not of freedom and democracy (if it ever was) but of power, oppression, greed and destructiveness. So it is a target for symbolic anti-oppression actions — hacking, attacks on buildings, sabre-rattling etc. Devolution of the US into a bunch of independent nations would actually improve each nation’s image and security, re-set the bar.
  3. No need to abandon one currency or border security: The ongoing EU experiment has shown that, in this day of mostly electronic trading, the currency you use is not terribly important. The independent nations could have both their own national currency and a regional American currency, so if one were to fail, the other could still be used. And the new nations could have bilateral agreements to protect shared borders while keeping the borders between them wide open. Again, the EU has showed how this might work.
  4. Diversity and cultural growth: The cultural polarization in the US has reduced every issue to a suffocating binary preference. In most of the possible ‘nations’ pictured in the map above, there is no such fierce, incapacitating internal disagreement, so each nation could pilot its own laws and programs, allowing others to see which ones work, and adopt or tailor them, or do their own thing.
  5. Agility: Decentralization nearly always increases the agility of organizations and states. Issues, whether emerging (economic & debt crisis, climate/ecological crisis) or old (abortion, health care, right-to-die, drug laws, poverty, inequality and homelessness) that have paralyzed and polarized the US, could be dealt with much more effectively at a regional level where citizens’ situations and values are much more coherent and shared.
  6. No longer a need for contiguity: When all business was done in person, and travel was a constant challenge, nations had to be physically contiguous. Almost no discontiguous nations have survived in past. But that is no longer the issue it once was. If it made sense, from a cultural, economic, ecological or values perspective for a nation to have two or more discontiguous parts, connected ‘virtually’ (and, while it lasts, by city-to-city air travel), I think that is doable in a way it never has been, and would be a fascinating model to watch.
  7. Eliminates one or more levels of government: I would foresee the current 3-4 levels of government Americans now have to deal with, being reduced to just two: the national and the local (county or municipality, whichever its residents choose). Devolving power in this way will almost of necessity improve both the efficiency and effectiveness of administration, reducing cost and bureaucracy. Coordination is always cheaper than integration.
  8. ‘Nature states’ vs ‘nation states’: As economic and ecological collapse worsens, we’re all going to have to become more locally self-sufficient, and not depend on imports for our well-being. That starts with awareness of our local ecology, its challenges and what it can reasonably support. Nations that share a common ecology will inevitably be able to grapple with these issues better than a nation whose boundaries reflect imperialist, expansionist history, not common ecology.
  9. How problems are actually solved: Whether they are political, social, economic, system or technological problems, most problems are solved at local scale, with the focused effort of people who deeply understand and care about the issues. When organizations get too large, hierarchy replaces collaborative problem solving, top-down replaces bottom-up decision making, and ideology replaces local knowledge as the basis for understanding and improving things, to everyone’s detriment.
  10. The US as a nation just doesn’t work: The federal and many state governments are dysfunctional, failing to represent anyone except the richest 1%. The transportation system is dysfunctional. The education system is dysfunctional. The health care system is a disgrace. The military is so bloated and out of control that it fails every year to pass a basic audit of responsibility for the trillions it spends. The US has been constantly at war with multiple nations, none of which the majority of citizens supports. How could breaking up the country into more manageable sized nations not be an improvement?

I’m not saying the map above is the best, or even a viable, way of breaking up the US. It’s just an illustration. As a Canadian who’s lived across the country, the five ‘nations’ touching the Canadian border line up well with the sensibilities of Canadians I know in the adjacent Canadian areas, so this map isn’t totally out to lunch. But with an appropriate citizen consultation process, I really think the break-up of the US in some way or another would be a good thing for all concerned. Easy for me to say. If it actually happens, it will more likely be because of bankruptcy, like the Soviet Union and the British Empire, than through civil war or negotiated breakup. Still, interesting to think about.

Posted in How the World Really Works, Our Culture / Ourselves | 7 Comments

Links of the Month: May 2021

For readers who only have time to peruse a few articles from the links below, the five I think are most important to read are *** highlighted. Just a caution that this month’s top five make for rather grim reading.


photo I took on the Bowen Island causeway last week

Six-thirty AM: a poem by Doug Anderson

And the black lines the trees made at sundown yesterday
in one direction now point the other, saying
see what you missed in your life that was there all the time.
I thought of people I knew in my young swagger,
whose names I can’t remember, who cared for me
and I didn’t care back (how the mind remembers these things
suddenly, in later years, when one can no longer run as fast
away from self-knowledge to some sensual excess).

And then there are colors between the colors
and different shades of them and that Japanese elm
is wild next to the red-leafed maple—who was it
that wrote her name in the book of poems she gave me
on whatever occasion? These things sting like the tape
the nurse yanks off the healed cut taking hair with it.

The fields are greening themselves without our help
and the willow is blossoming in its gold/green way.
This all happens whether we care or not and is not sad
if we don’t. Something like snow hanging on in May
is sorrowful, and a man with a few years left
saying to the crocus, I lived, I fell in love here.


COLLAPSE WATCH


image by Tadeusz Nalepa, via Umair Haque’s Eudaimonia

*** The Net Zero trap: Politicians, corporations and ‘think tanks’ keep putting off our reckoning with the unsustainability of our economy by assuming that some magical future technology with a ‘negative carbon footprint’ (like the pipe-dream of carbon sequestration, or geoengineering) will balance our current ruinous emissions levels and allow us to go on despoiling the planet and the atmosphere. Don’t fall for it, say three professors of systems and ecology. Only an immediate, drastic, global, sustained reduction in economic activity across the board could prevent 3ºC of temperature rise by 2100, and even 2ºC is guaranteed to lead to runaway climate change. And after three decades of political blather that has seen emissions continue to increase, that ain’t going to happen.

A goal is not a plan: Umair explains that Biden’s climate goals have no chance of being achieved because there is absolutely no plan to achieve them, just a continuing dependence on neoliberal capitalist market forces, voluntary actions, and new technologies, and a threadbare hope that will somehow be enough.


LIVING BETTER


photo “Home Schooling” by Ignacio Lanús

Forest gardens, the aboriginal permaculture: Before we had ‘catastrophic’ agriculture (heavy intervention monoculture planting, weeding, fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, and irrigation) indigenous cultures on six continents used forest gardens, which require only a careful study of local ecology and strategic planting of locally-compatible food crops for a few years to produce forest-canopied gardens that sustain themselves indefinitely with no human maintenance. Thanks to Tree Bressen for the link.

*** The case for legalizing all drugs: Criminalization of drugs is a recent phenomenon, less than two centuries old. People use drugs to heal themselves physically and psychologically. Regulation of, and usage warnings on, drugs make perfect sense, but making them illegal makes no sense at all. The ‘war on drugs’, which never ends and wastes money that could be spent improving living conditions so there is less need for them, has never made any sense, except to shameless moralists, greedy Big Pharma companies and bloated police forces looking to justify their existence, argues addiction researcher Carl Hart.

Curbing coercive and controlling behaviour: Psychological abuse is hard to regulate, but it is often the precursor or accompanier of physical violence and even murder of ‘friends’ and family, particularly by men who abuse women. On the one hand, we want all the tools we can have to fight psychological abuse, both for the damage it causes and what it often escalates to. But on the other hand, do we want police, who have a lousy record dealing with domestic violence, and who lack the skills and training to intervene effectively, to be the ones using these tools?

Reforming the ‘American’ diet: Mark Bittman’s new history of food argues “the rise of uniformity and convenience in food has mostly benefited large companies, fuelled societal inequities and ravaged human health and the environment”.

Following the clues behind disinformation: McGill University’s Office for Science and Society has been using clever, concise, science-based videos to correct and gently ridicule mis- and disinformation about matters of health and science since long before the pandemic. Now they’ve upped their game, taking on anti-vaxxers, conspiracy theorists, fraudsters and quacks like Joe Mercola.

What would you like to work on next, staff?: Corporate Rebels has an interesting idea for progressive organizations: allot some % of all employees’ time to ‘bottom-up’ innovative projects dreamt up by the employees themselves, and let the employees pitch their ideas, and then let their colleagues allot their discretionary hours to whichever projects made most sense to them. Thanks to Tree Bressen for the link, and the one that follows.

Using data to hammer home gender discrimination: GenderAvenger provides clever tools that allow you to track to what degree your Zoom and in-person meetings are male-dominated, tracks how many articles in major magazines are written by men vs women, and fights against ‘manels’ (ubiquitous all-male ‘expert’ panels).

Hank Green talks to vaccine hesitants: In four minutes, Hank compassionately dispels all the reasons for putting off getting vaccinated NOW.


POLITICS AND ECONOMICS AS USUAL


from Michael Leunig, of course

***  Why it’s so hard for the US to end its wars: An incredibly depressing story by Middle-East expert Robin Wright on the region’s many failed states and the tinder keg the power vacuum has created.

An NTSB-like agency for police killings and mass shootings?: When people die in plane crashes in the US, the NTSB investigates to find out what happened, and laws are enacted to prevent systemic recurrence. Since police killings and mass shootings are much more common, and indicate systemic problems, why is there no similarly-empowered agency to deal with them? These are, after all, public health crises, not political crises.

***  Blame the victims’ memories: A woman psychologist who has defended many of the world’s worst and most famous abusers of women is revealed to be herself a confused sufferer of horrific childhood abuse, who dealt with it by blaming herself for an ‘unreliable’ memory, in this extraordinary exposé by The New Yorker’s Rachel Aviv.

***  The repressive politics of Emotional Intelligence: A brilliant and courageous article by Oxford’s Merve Imre pillories the tyranny of Daniel Goleman’s 25-year-old concept of Emotional Intelligence and how it has been warped since then to brainwash workers and the oppressed into believing their lack of EI is to blame for their suffering and their failures. “Those who are at the mercy of impulse—who lack self-control—suffer a moral deficiency,” Goleman proclaims, assuring us, like a gospel preacher, that our free will and capacity for self-improvement are limitless. The conclusion of the critique:

Envision “Emotional Intelligence” and the books descended from it as morality plays for a secular era, performed before audiences of mainly white professionals. In a theatre that admits no light or sound from the outside world, the audience watches as poor, begrimed laborers and criminals are pushed onstage to shoot their kids and stab their teachers. Pricked by the masked vices of Rage, Depression, and Anxiety, shamed by the veiled virtues of Empathy, Mindfulness, and Reason, the players have no chance at salvation. The lessons of emotional intelligence are not theirs to learn.

When the curtain falls, the audience members turn to one another to talk softly about how to teach their children to avoid such a fate, how to live happily in a world where one is bound to be inconvenienced by the violent impulses of others. Even from the front row, they cannot see that the masks and veils hide a reality in which they are no freer than the players they condemn. To pull back the mask would be to uncover an impotence they all share. And it might allow the audience and the cast to rise together, becoming angry to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way, toward the right people, who have, for the past twenty-five years, sold them some of the most alluring and quietly repressive ideas in recent history.

Israel doubles down on apartheid: Pictures of Israeli soldiers celebrating the murder of Palestinian protesters, and punching Palestinian babies, is putting a crack in the armour of blind support for Israel’s apartheid occupation of Palestinian lands. Cameras are capturing what the cowed western media and politicians are afraid to report or criticize for fear of being branded “anti-Semitic”. But after Human Rights Watch accused Israel of “crimes against humanity”, some media covered the story, but others, notably Canada’s CBC, buried the story entirely, and the Trudeau government refused any comment on it. In fact all of the major Canadian media covered up the story, and none of Canada’s political parties, including the Greens (who, under their former ‘leader’, purged all the BDS supporters from their executive and overturned the decision of the majority of members to include a condemnation of Israeli apartheid and support for BDS, from its policy framework) dared say a word about the report or the reported “crimes against humanity”.

The days of Gandhi are long gone: Arundhati Roy describes the horrors that the despotic and anti-Moslem populist Indian PM Modi has inflicted on his citizens, stirring up hate, passing discriminatory laws, preying on ignorance, lying, ignoring the misery that CoVid-19 has created, especially among the poor, and ridiculing the victims. Sound familiar?

The genocide in Tigray: Combined Ethiopian and Eritrean forces are working to starve out the citizens of Tigray, and to block all humanitarian aid from reaching them. The head of the WHO, who is from Tigray, is trying to cope with two horrific crises at once.

The vulnerability of activists to conspiracy theories: When you’ve been conditioned to distrust government, there can be some terrible side-effects. My friend Ken Ward writes:

I have a morbid, clinical fascination watching the COVID vaccine conspiracy disease spread through the ranks of climate activists. It’s horrifying, of course, but it’s a real-time window into the process of group isolation we saw, from a much greater distance, on the right. The most perplexing step toward full-on anti-vaccination conspiracy thinking is accepting that scientists & medical professionals are all in on the conspiracy; nearly a 180 turn from our stance as climate activists, where, if anything, we are critical of scientists for not fully embracing the implications of their own research. To accept the COVID conspiracy, I would have to believe that my own life partner (a family doctor and CMO of a group of clinics so dedicated to vaccinations that all routine medical work has been postponed while they run mass vaccination clinics, focusing on high risk migrant farmworkers) is in on it. Wow, this is powerful, twisted stuff. If it spreads any further, it may be the death knell for an already riven, marginalized, dirt poor, and seriously compromised climate action community.

When anti-maskers melt down: A report on one confrontation of two rich male businessmen with a pizza shop attendant shows a dangerous cocktail of “paranoia and entitlement”. And racism: “Are you fucking Middle Eastern or where are you from?… I’m worth $50 million, you’re worth zero.”

Drug manufacturers fight furiously to block generic vaccines: The lobbyists for the Big Pharma oligopoly have both US political parties shilling for them. Thanks to Tree Bressen for the link.

Democrats push for tax cut for the rich: Bought members of Congress are pressuring Biden to allow the ultra-rich to once again deduct all state and local taxes from their income that is subject to federal tax.

Canada’s death-with-indignity: While Trudeau’s pathetically inadequate and still-unconstitutional right-to-die law, watered down under pressure from Conservative and Liberal evangelicals, was finally passed, the Conservatives are now refusing to proceed with the special committee to address the issues in the law that were unresolved and shelved for two years, unless their extremist no-right-to-die representative is named co-chair of the committee. An American Christian has written a moving article for more compassionate right-to-die laws that’s received lots of attention, but it’s not moving the fanatics.

Canada’s “vaccine tourism”: The CEO of the Canada Pension Plan thought nothing of flying to Dubai to get vaccinated early for CoVid-19. Until he got back and found out he’d been fired for it. “Bioethicist Kerry Bowman said he was shocked to learn that a prominent figure would travel abroad to get a COVID-19 vaccine, especially after the furor that erupted in late December and early January over jet-setting politicians defying public health advice against international vacation travel.”  Under Canadian law it is unconstitutional to prohibit any Canadian citizen from leaving or re-entering the country, and rich vaccine “queue jumpers”, already used to jumping the queue to go to the US for faster surgeries and tests, are exploiting the loophole, encouraged by Canada’s money-hungry airlines.

BC’s poisoned street drug crisis gets worse: The BC government, five years and 7,000 deaths after declaring the crisis a public health emergency, announced a completely inadequate drug possession decriminalization plan, with no timeline and a process for a long series of ‘consultations’ with doctors and ‘expert focus panels’ before even applying for the decriminalization provision, which must be approved by the federal government. The province rejected our esteemed senior public health officer’s plea for immediate unilateral decriminalization, two years ago, outright. The city of Vancouver’s application is even worse. No matter how you look at it, it’s a complete, unconscionable disgrace. It’s yet another public health crisis being mismanaged as a political issue.


COVID-19 CORNER


illustration by the brilliant Nan Lee in The New Yorker

Nothing new to add about the pandemic since last week’s update.


FUN AND INSPIRATION


from Gatos Debochados (“over-indulgent cats”) Facebook group

The history and future of vegan cheese: We’ve come a long way from flavoured tofu. Thanks to Raffi for the link.

Artist celebrates Canada’s unknown women artists: BC’s Marlene Lowden describes her project to pay homage to dozens of mostly unrecognized Canadian women artists, and then goes on to teach you an art technique she used called blind contour drawing. A tour de force. Thanks to Jami &co at The Hearth for saving this great talk.

The most elegant key change in pop music?: Musicologist Adam Neely explains how Céline Dion’s key change at the end of Eric Carmen’s Rachmaninoff-derived song All By Myself, completely changes the spirit of the song (presumably from defeat to triumph). I personally think this particular key change is an abomination that spoils the song, but Adam’s analysis, especially of the underlying Rachmaninoff chord sequences, is fascinating.

Five-fold symmetry: The slick, fascinating and peculiarly popular Canadian vlog Veritasium describes, and visually demonstrates, one of the great puzzles of geometry, and explains how it was resolved. Thanks to Earl Mardle for the link.

How aging works: Another Veritasium offering suggests that aging/ageing is simply what results when our cells ‘forget’ what they’re supposed to do, and start doing something else. It’s a fascinating idea, though the inevitable diversion into reversing aging and living forever put me off.

The strangest video ever made: Though perhaps it strikes me that way because I’m old. The always-astonishing Hank Green makes a guest appearance on a vlog run by two very smart, well-read, engaged women who appear to try to act dumb for no evident reason. I learned an enormous amount about new things techie that are everyday reality to many under 30, and laughed myself silly in the process. Brilliant and ghastly.

Beaverton headlines of the month:

  • Canada ranked #1 in list of countries that care most about international rankings.
  • Netflix adds Canada filter to American shows by removing scenes where characters wear shoes inside the house.
  • Masked woman can’t stop smiling now that men can’t tell her to smile.
  • Subway station playing classical music to deter young loiterers, now plagued by loitering elderlies

RADICAL NON-DUALITY AND NO-FREE-WILL STUFF


one of several Scott Adams cartoons on free will, from back in the days when the gentleman was funny, and sane

The case against free will: The chorus of scientists and philosophers saying we have no free will grows steadily louder. A thoughtful and balanced summation of recent thinking on the topic. Thanks to John Whiting for the link.

My Radical Non-Duality playlist: Every video on the subject that has resonated with me since I started watching them over six years ago.


THOUGHTS OF THE MONTH


cartoon by James Norbury from Big Panda and Little Dragon

From Mary Oliver, from the poem A Thousand Mornings (via John Green):

This morning
the beautiful white heron
was floating along above the water

and then into the sky of this
this one world
we all belong to

where everything
sooner or later
is a part of everything else

∞∞∞∞∞

From my friend John Whiting, in thinking about the famous Upton Sinclair quip about how difficult it is to get someone to understand something when their salary depends upon their not understanding it:

For salary, substitute marriage, social status, religious belief, circle of close friends, peace of mind, self-respect . . .

∞∞∞∞∞

From Lisel Mueller (thanks to Larry Sheehy for the link):

Alive Together

Speaking of marvels, I am alive
together with you, when I might have been
alive with anyone under the sun,
when I might have been Abelard’s woman
or the whore of a Renaissance pope
or a peasant wife with not enough food
and not enough love, with my children
dead of the plague. I might have slept
in an alcove next to the man
with the golden nose, who poked it
into the business of stars,
or sewn a starry flag
for a general with wooden teeth.
I might have been the exemplary Pocahontas
or a woman without a name
weeping in Master’s bed
for my husband, exchanged for a mule,
my daughter, lost in a drunken bet.
I might have been stretched on a totem pole
to appease a vindictive god
or left, a useless girl-child,
to die on a cliff. I like to think
I might have been Mary Shelley
in love with a wrongheaded angel,
or Mary’s friend. I might have been you.
This poem is endless, the odds against us are endless,
our chances of being alive together
statistically nonexistent;
still we have made it, alive in a time
when rationalists in square hats
and hatless Jehovah’s Witnesses
agree it is almost over,
alive with our lively children
who–but for endless ifs–
might have missed out on being alive
together with marvels and follies
and longings and lies and wishes
and error and humor and mercy
and journeys and voices and faces
and colors and summers and mornings
and knowledge and tears and chance.

Posted in How the World Really Works, Our Culture / Ourselves, Preparing for Civilization's End, Radical Non-Duality | 1 Comment

No More Heroes: Sociological vs Psychological Stories


image from Pxhere, CC0

Zeynep Tüfekçi has this amazing capacity to see through complex issues and provide insights that most normal linear thinkers could never imagine. Her solutions to some of our most intractable problems are bold yet obvious: eg make Facebook et al into cooperatives, free from all advertising, corporate funding and profit demands, supported entirely by individual $20/year subscriptions, so that we, not the corporations and politicians, are the customers and owners, not the “product” as we are now. Instead, she says, “we’re building a dystopia just to make people click on ads“.

Her insights on CoVid-19 have been revolutionary, and her persistent fight against some misguided public health orthodoxy, which she’s backed with thorough yet sympathetic research and evidence through her work on CoVid-19’s aerosol vs surface-infection transmission, and the importance of ventilation in controlling its spread) has changed the dialogue and recommendations for addressing the pandemic, and possibly saved thousands of lives.

If that weren’t enough, she’s now throwing light on why most of us are drawn to polarizing, dumbed-down, good-vs-evil narratives (in the media, in political polemics, and in Hollywood and most modern literature).

Much of her thinking on this is being saved for a book, but she’s chatting about it with her subscribers on Insight, her Substack subscribers’ private newsletter, and she launched her thesis with this 2019 public article in Scientific American.

Essentially, she argues, there are two styles of storytelling — the simplistic psychological one, which focuses on the heroic-vs-evil behaviours of individuals, and the much harder, more complex, and educational sociological one, which focuses on a whole culture or group of people, provides context for their behaviours, and eschews judgements in favour of a complex understanding of why groups, and individuals within them, behave in certain ways, none of them categorically good or evil.

So, cop dramas that paint bad guys as irredeemable and the cops as acceptably-flawed heroes, thrive on TV, while shows that take time to develop an appreciation of a whole culture (my favourite was the ensemble cast of Sports Night, but Zeynep in her SA article uses the example of the all-but-last season of Game of Thrones), are much harder to pull off, and take time and viewer patience to develop. For lazy scriptwriters, it’s a no-brainer. The cartoonish characters’ costumes are often even colour-coded for the especially-dense reader/viewer.

It’s the same in narratives in the news. It’s easier to believe in a good-guys-vs-bad-guys explanation for CoVid-19 — an evil or inept manufacture in a lab in a country we are being endlessly propagandized to hate — rather than the much more logical explanation that it occurred the same way way every other pandemic in the past century occurred — by a zoonotic species jump. It’s easier to believe in Trump as the deranged maniac and Biden as the white knight, than to accept the very complicated reasons why the US is sliding inexorably into fear-based collective xenophobia and fascism, and Biden is neither capable nor particularly interested in doing anything about it.

It’s also part of the reason we don’t get any serious reporting about the genocides in Yemen or Tigray, or about climate change — these complex issues don’t have any clear heroes or villains, and they aren’t about individual accomplishments. Tell us a story about one specific victim or perpetrator, no matter how trivial or merely symbolic, and you might get our attention.

It all comes down to what we want to believe, and most of us want to believe in heroes and villains, in simple fixes, and in hope for a better future. Pandering politicians and writers are all too happy to oblige. It makes their job binary, and simple. The only victim is the truth.

Zeynep urges us, as thinkers, as writers, and as scientists, to prefer sociological narratives to psychological ones. To accept that we’re all doing our best, and to understand why those doing seemingly awful things are doing them. To seek to appreciate rather than rushing to judge.

She writes:

Whether we tell our stories primarily from a sociological or psychological point of view has great consequences for how we deal with our world and the problems we encounter… Our inability to understand and tell sociological stories is one of the key reasons we’re struggling with how to respond to the historic… transitions we’re currently experiencing… Hollywood does not have the right tools for sociological stories, nor do they even seem to understand the job…

In sociological storytelling, the characters have personal stories and agency, of course, but those are also greatly shaped by institutions and events around them. The incentives for characters’ behavior come noticeably from these external forces, too, and even strongly influence their inner life. People fit their internal narrative to align with their incentives, justifying and rationalizing their behavior along the way. (Thus the famous Upton Sinclair quip: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”)… If we can better understand how and why characters make their choices, we can also think about how to structure our world that encourages better choices for everyone.

My (unusual) passion and appreciation for complexity, and my preference as a result for sociological narratives over psychological ones, has, I think, allowed me to appreciate that, as I now keep saying, We’re all doing our best. It’s enabled me to overcome my entrained opposition to the idea that we’re the products of our biological and cultural conditioning, devoid of free choice. That’s a liberating understanding.

And I finally understand what’s at the heart of my revulsion to almost all modern TV and film “entertainment” programming, and almost all fiction — it manipulates us by dumbing us down to think in terms of simplistic psychological causes for everything, and hence insults our intelligence. The same goes for almost all “editorial” writing in the media, a large proportion of absurdly-oversimplified sound-byte “news reporting”, and the gazillion mindless “likes” and “retweets” this useless, polarizing, dangerous story-telling produces.

Tell me a story, by all means, but if your story doesn’t tell me, in compelling detail, what motivated all of the people in the story’s arc to do what they did, don’t expect me to believe it. I’ll keep reading until I discover the real story.

And please don’t insult my intelligence by ascribing everything that happened to one individual’s unhappy childhood, or one individual’s heroic interventions. I outgrew comic book narratives a half-century ago. All the devils we’ve demonized throughout history were, like the heroes we idolize, just standing on the shoulders of giants, and the shoulders of other complex creatures of all sizes and descriptions who, for reasons we would best start to try to understand, were ready, willing and able to give them the boost they needed to do “their best”.

Better yet, don’t tell me the story of the super-hero, or super-villain. Enough blather about mega-narcissists like Trump, Zuckerberg and Musk, please. Tell me the story of the people whose unrecognized work enabled an alleged hero to accomplish what s/he did, and the cultural backdrop that contributed to it. Or the story of the struggling, downtrodden minions whose quiet support or indifference enabled an alleged villain to do what s/he did, and the cultural backdrop that contributed to it.

Though it’s a lot more work to uncover and tell that story honestly and in all its complexity, that’s a story worth paying attention to. That’s the kind of story that informs Zeynep’s understanding of complex situations, and inspires the insights that stem from it.

Posted in How the World Really Works, Our Culture / Ourselves | 5 Comments

IHME Goes All In On Excess Deaths Over Reported CoVid-19 Deaths

This is the 17th in a series of articles on CoVid-19. I am not a medical expert, but have worked with epidemiologists and have some expertise in research, data analysis and statistics. I am producing these articles in the belief that reasonably researched writing on this topic can’t help but be an improvement over the firehose of misinformation that represents far too much of what is being presented on this topic in social (and some other) media.


IHME estimated cumulative “actual” CoVid-19 deaths per 100,000 citizens, through May 3, 2021. These numbers are on average more than twice official “reported” deaths per 100,000 citizens, and use global data on “excess deaths” from many sources.


IHME current average daily “actual” CoVid-19 deaths per million citizens, as of the week ending May 3, 2021. These numbers are on average more than twice official “reported” deaths per 100,000 citizens, and use global data on “excess deaths” from many sources.

For the past year, the University of Washington’s IHME CoVid-19 forecasters have been twisting themselves into knots to get their forecasts to be both accurate and consistent with their long-standing assumptions that (1) actual CoVid-19 deaths have been reasonably close to reported deaths, and getting closer over time, and (2) infection fatality rates (IFRs) for the disease are globally consistent when adjusted for age demographics.

Something had to give. More and more anomalies were appearing in the discrepancies between their predictions and reported cases and deaths. So this week IHME basically abandoned both assumptions. They will no longer attempt to forecast “reported” deaths, instead forecasting their computation of “actual” deaths, using a mountain of diverse sources of “excess deaths” data, and presuming that substantially all “excess deaths” since the pandemic began are attributable to CoVid-19.

That means that they believe excess deaths from other causes, such as those due to people dying at home rather than risking going to CoVid-19-infested hospitals, roughly offset, in all jurisdictions, reduced deaths from other causes affected by CoVid-19 restrictions, such as the drop in fatal car accidents due less driving. It’s not an unreasonable assumption, but, given the biases out there, it’s aroused a chorus of protests, most of them saying that “developed” nations couldn’t possibly have underreported CoVid-19 deaths that dramatically.

Here are some of the reported and “actual” CoVid-19 death numbers the IHME is now using:

The chart suggests that not only have actual CoVid-19 deaths been 1.5-3plus times what health authorities have been reporting, but that that serious undercounting continues even now to about the same degree.

It’s interesting that, a year ago, IHME was talking about the possibility of a million US CoVid-19 deaths, and ten million deaths worldwide, and after some huge revisions to their projections in the interim, they’ve come full circle to the original estimates.

IHME’s changes also acknowledge, finally, that “lifestyle” issues (notably, the prevalence of obesity and many chronic respiratory, immunodeficiency and autoimmune diseases in the Americas and Europe) affecting the capacity of our immune systems to cope with infections, dramatically affect rates of death and hospitalization for every age cohort. The IFR in much of Africa and Asia (even accounting for the current explosion of cases in India) now looks to be less than 1/5 that experienced in the immunocompromised Americas and Europe, far more than their younger demographics alone could account for. We know that much of our “lifestyle” illness is attributable to stress, lack of exercise and poor diet. Now we know that this also sets us up for disproportionate fatalities in a pandemic, might that cause some changes in this western “lifestyle”? I wouldn’t count on it.


more than a year into this pandemic, thanks to our repeated failure to Go For Zero, we still have not yet even reached global peak daily deaths from the disease

So, we haven’t learned that our poor “lifestyle” makes us much more vulnerable to pandemic disease. Or at least, not sufficiently to change that lifestyle. And we haven’t understood that preventing most future pandemics will require an end to factory farming, exotic animal harvesting, and invading the last remaining areas of the planet’s wilderness where more novel infectious diseases await us. Or at least, we haven’t learned sufficiently to abandon these ruinous, dangerous practices. What if anything have we learned?

  1. I think we’ve learned that a century-old dogma about infectious disease, that prevented us from acknowledging that CoVid-19 spreads mainly by aerosol infection, has needlessly cost millions of human lives. Next time: high quality masks ready and mandatory, activities moved outside or to very-well-ventilated spaces, and avoiding the crowds that enable super-spreader events responsible for most disease transmission. And less preoccupation with transmission on surfaces and during outdoor activities.
  2. I think we’ve learned that kids get pandemic diseases at much the same rate as adults, but because (like those in ‘less developed’ nations) they have healthier immune systems and more B-cells than adults, they get less sick, carry lower viral loads, and infect fewer others less seriously. Next time: especially when they’re doing things outdoors, leave the kids alone.
  3. I think some of us have learned to Go For Zero, right from the start of a pandemic, and stay with that strategy until it’s over. Next time: listen to the health leaders that advised Taiwan, Australia and New Zealand in 2020-21. Understand that defeating a pandemic is a public health issue, not a political issue. Lock up the damned politicians if they get in the way again.

None of that will be easy, and we humans have terrible memories and keep repeating our mistakes. And the anti-science forces and disinformation media are relentless. But, to save ten million lives, not to mention the unknown long-term damage this virus has potentially done to the bodies of billions of people, it’s worth fighting for.

Posted in How the World Really Works, Our Culture / Ourselves | 4 Comments

Homo Lapsus

barsotti truth
cartoon by the late, wonderful Charles Barsotti

Lapsus (L. adj.) falling into error; in rapid decline

It seems that most of the people I know, especially men, as they get older, and learn and know more, become more and more unhappy, despairing, even depressed.

Depression dominated much of my youth and middle age, and now, as I get older, I just realize more and more how little I know, and I grow happier, more often astonished, and gradually more equanimous.

While the knowledge that our global human civilization is in its final, potentially horrific, century is enough to bring out denial and despair in most of us, the realization that this destructive civilization cannot be ‘saved’ was, for me, absolutely liberating. The end of our civilization is a cause for rejoicing, not despair! It’s a chance for our little blue planet to heal from all the damage our species has unintentionally inflicted on it, and, once collapse is complete, it will bring the end of our human suffering and, maybe, a chance for future, smaller, human societies to thrive as a part of, rather than a destroyer of, the Earth-super-organism that some call Gaia.

So we are a wretched species, but not because we’re evil, or innately ruinous and catastrophic, but because we’re afflicted. We are not well.  Whether our species perishes like a cancer, victim of the damage it’s done to its host, leaving the planet to recover in its own, astonishing, five-billion-year-old way; or if, instead, the human animal survives as a bit-player in a rebalanced, whole, healed planet, the suffering will soon be over. Maybe even in less than a million years, a blink of the eye in cosmic time!

How can one be depressed and despairing at that realization? For our planet, and perhaps our species, the most interesting and peaceful millennia are likely still ahead of us.

The uniquely human affliction I refer to above, for those not familiar with this blog’s (latest) thesis, is the disease of self-hood, the ghastly, illusory, hallucinated sense that we are, each of us, apart from the whole of all life, of everything that is, and that, worse, each of us is responsible for the miserable lifelong struggle to survive, and to somehow make things better. And that we have free will and control over the body of the creature we presume to inhabit, even when it misbehaves. And that the consequences of that misbehaviour, and of all human behaviour, are real, solid, and etched in history’s unsympathetic, unsparing record. All an illusion, a misunderstanding, a mistaking of our brain’s fevered conceptualizations for reality.

This illusion of self-hood, separation, ‘consciousness’, finity, and control, is like a worm that has burrowed into and infected our brains. It makes us see and believe things that are not real or true, and, since it’s a contagious disease endemic to all humans from a very early age, we all inadvertently reinforce the credibility of the illusion to each other. When we all see the same hallucination, that makes it hard to deny, but that doesn’t make it real.

The vehicle for transmission of this disease (though it is a mental illness, not a virus) is our stories.

And oh, how we love our stories! When we were tiny infants, there were no stories, and no time or space within which they could be situated. But then suddenly there was this sense of self, of being, somehow, apart, and simultaneously everything else separate from ‘us’ was also seen as apart. And the story of our selves began.

And from that point on, there was a thirst to ‘know’ — to hear and make sense of others’ stories, to see how they meshed with our stories, and where they agreed and disagreed with our own. “Why?” and “How?”, we incessantly asked our parents, the first ‘others’ we recognized and heard stories from: “Help me make sense of this story.”

Some of the stories were astonishingly beautiful: The story of humanity’s fall from grace by eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge. The stories of wise and foolish talking animals. The lovely unfinished mystery story of evolution.

And then there was the indoctrination of school, where we were told which stories were correct and which were not, even though we continued to harbour a sense that they were all just stories anyway, so what did it matter whether they were approved and verified, or just made up? We heard the stories of historians and scientists and others about how things were and are and worked. And, as we all know, if you hear a story often enough, from enough different people, you start to believe it’s true.

But something has never rung quite right, for some of us, about all the stories, especially the ones about responsibility and self-control and “you can do anything you set your mind to” and the whole story about progress and the striving to make things better. No matter how often we heard these stories, some of us couldn’t quite buy them — they just didn’t mesh with our observations. Surely life shouldn’t have to be this hard!

And these dissatisfying stories created a lot of anxiety and fear and grief and sorrow and anger and rage and guilt and shame about the gulf between what “should be” and what seemingly actually was. Damn those stories, anyway! According to them, we’ve never been and never will be good enough, deserving enough. Our foolishness, bad judgement, our failure to be smart and educated and knowledgeable and popular and loved and rich and successful and recognized and healthy (physically and psychologically) and attractive and listened to and appreciated and reassured — these stories imply that these failings are all our fault. And they don’t seem to be our fault because we’ve tried our best and done what we were told. It’s unfair! It must be someone else’s fault, and surely those people need to own up to their error and make it right. Someone’s not telling us the truth.

And then there were the love stories. The ones we were told (by people we know, and in books and on TV and in movies and songs) were compelling. We wanted to believe they were true. But the people telling them were on drugs. Of course, when we fell in love ourselves we forgot that the feeling was just a combination of intoxicating chemicals that our bodies manufactured to compel us to mate and stay with other humans, and so we started to tell, and to believe, our own love stories. They became the most important stories of all.

Our stories about love proclaim that love, and only love, can redeem us, and make all the anguish and anxiety of our stories of ‘me’ subside. And they shift, for a while, our attention from our own stories to our stories about those we love. Of course, these are still our stories!

But the love stories turn out to be dubious as well. Keeping the illusion of mutual, unending love for another human alive turns out to be hard work, a kind of internal complicit con job. We want to believe that we still really love and will always love these people we said we would always love. But the drugs that compel these proclamations, these forever stories, wear off, and the stories become harder and harder to believe, or to convince others of. “If you really loved me you would…” then becomes a kind of shaming, a desperate accusation that the story we had told was untrue, or that (if we are the one let down) the story they had told us was untrue. Why would anyone lie about that?

And those other love stories, about loving our god or our country or our Party or our possessions, or our selves, are so desperate and lame that we kind of feel sorry for anyone that believes them.

Suspicious of stories, now, some of us turned to other drugs, those we thought we could depend on to make us feel better, the way the stories said we should feel. They were very good for a while, but coming down from them and falling back into the story of our “real” lives was hell.

How could we get home, to that wondrous place before all the sad, invented stories began? We tried all the paths — riches, popularity, excitement, pleasure, work, sacrifice, devotion, therapy, spiritual enlightenment — but they all led back to the infinite closed loop of us.

So now there are no paths, no escape. We are alone with our disease in the prison of our self’s own making, in the unholy mess our species has so quickly made in its distress and despair. What we observe through the headgear that we innocently put on in early childhood, and which we now cannot even see to take off, is the only truth we know, the only life we know, the only life that we can know.

Is it enough to know this? Is it enough to know that the future, which is just another story in any case, will be, without us, wondrous, magical? That as there is no time and no “we”, the apparent death of what we call our selves will be just as much an illusion as the life that apparently preceded it, changing nothing except, perhaps, the illusory burdens and grief of those we seemingly leave behind?

Is it enough to know that this is all just an amazing show, nothing appearing as everything, already, without meaning or purpose, and that it’s only we wretched afflicted humans that can’t see that, but that, one way or another, the headgear that constrains us will soon be wrenched away (though not as a result of anything we do) and all will be revealed?

Maybe, for some of us. For most, it will remain as ludicrous as Copernicus’ heliocentric argument was for two centuries after its publication — absurd, ignorable, obviously untrue, a truly incredible story. A tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing.

We will see.

Posted in Our Culture / Ourselves, Preparing for Civilization's End, Radical Non-Duality | 2 Comments

The Unhinged Apes


Image from wikimedia by Nick Hobgood, CC-BY-SA 3.0

In the article in which scientist EO Wilson famously said “Darwin’s dice have rolled badly for Earth”, he speculates on what an alien species observing us for a billion years might have to say about the evolution of life on our planet. His view is that humans are an inherently destructive, excessively acquisitive, and selfish species, and that it may be inevitable that any intelligent species will quickly self-annihilate.

It’s a very conventional argument, assuming that it is our evolved intelligence that has turbocharged our innate destructiveness, to the point we have unleashed the sixth great extinction of life on the planet and may have already rendered most of the planet uninhabitable for most if not all species.

This argument does not quite ring true for me. The evolution of life tends (for prosaic reasons Stephen Jay Gould has explained) towards greater complexity, accommodating and promoting a vast diversity of species that ‘fit’ better in each ecosystem. Despite their purported rapacity, dinosaurs ‘fit’ well in balance with their environments, and for their 130 million years of existence on the planet, did not destroy, accidentally or deliberately, their ecosystems. Had it not been for the misfortune of the devastating meteor strike a mere 65 mya, they would most likely still be around. Had they destroyed their ecosystems, they would not have survived anywhere near as long as they did. That has nothing to do with intelligence, or ferocity; it is simply the laws of evolution.

At some point, humans ceased to ‘fit’ well in their ecosystems, and tried, futilely, to make ecosystems fit them instead. That effort was doomed from the outset, and we are now seeing its consequences. So the question is, What caused humans to stop ‘fitting’ well within the ecosystems we had evolved to thrive in (mainly, as tree-dwellers in tropical rainforests)?

The answer is probably complex. There is some evidence that our species was nearly completely eradicated when massive cosmic radiation from exploding supernovae some three million years ago essentially burned up all the tropical rainforests, so we had to abandon them and try to ‘fit’ in some other ecosystem (requiring us, among other things, to become bipedal). So part of the answer is that, as for the dinosaurs, our ecosystems changed so that we no longer ‘fit’.

But I suspect that another part of the answer is that, due to the Darwin’s Dice accident of trying out consciousness (ie creating a mental model of reality in the brain and positioning our invented ‘selves’ in the middle of that model), we became unhinged. By that I mean, we became disconnected from all other life on the planet, and convinced that our separation from it was real. As I’ve argued before, Gaia is in essence a super-organism, one ‘creature’ acting in its own collective interest. That ‘acting’ is not ‘intelligent’ the way we use the word to describe our selves; it is simply a successful evolution. Had it not been successful, in the sense of optimizing the fitness of its components, it would not have survived, and our planet would be, like most, lifeless.

The creation in the human brain of the illusion of separation, of separate “consciousness”, rather than being a sign of true intelligence or evolutionary advance, was, I think, rather an horrific mental illness, a loss of capacity to see what really is. It is similar to the mutation of cancer cells, which, like humans, are incapable of fitting in with the rest of the organism of which they are a part, and instead, in the desperate, disconnected, diseased attempt to survive, replicate until they actually kill the entire organism.

The trying-out of the idea of separation and self consciousness might well have been a simple extension of the instincts that provoke the fight/flight/freeze reaction when an existential threat is perceived. This reaction is evident in the tiniest and most small-brained creatures. There is no “thinking” involved in it (thinking is far too slow a process). How can such a process have evolved in creatures that have no sense of self, of being separate from the threat their instinct is responding to?

We cannot know, of course, but there may be a hint in the behaviour of many animals immediately after they recover from their fight/flight/freeze reaction. It takes the form of a furious shaking of the body. There is some speculation that the fight/flight/freeze instinct equips the creature with a rudimentary, brief, horrific sense of itself as separate from its predator, and hence in danger — a hallucination of sorts. Then, when the danger has passed, the hallucination ends — it is “shaken off” and everything is once again seen as it really is — with nothing separate, no space or time, and nothing needed.

I think it’s plausible that our sense of “consciousness”, of being “permanently” separate with a sense of self, positioned in space and time, is the same instinctive horrific hallucination permanently etched in “consciousness”. A cosmic evolutionary misstep, enabled by a brain with too much excess capacity for its own good. The illusion of self-hood is a maladaptive disease of the brain that afflicts us all starting in early childhood.

To me, there is no more compelling explanation for humanity’s outrageous, un-“fit” behaviour, its horrific self-inflicted suffering, and its lifelong unhappiness.

It is not the human species that is inherently destructive, acquisitive and self-obsessed. It is the endemic disease of consciousness, of self and separation, that has afflicted us all. The disease that has unhinged our sorry branch of the apes.

 

Posted in How the World Really Works, Our Culture / Ourselves, Preparing for Civilization's End, Radical Non-Duality | 2 Comments