Categories
Atheism Culture Dawkins English God Religion

The Four Horsemen of Atheism

There is plenty of people more qualified than me to debunk yet another “contribution” to the Atheism-Faith debate, just published on Italian Sunday newspaper  “Domenicale Sole24Ore” (Maurizio Ferraris, “Not knowing What To Believe“, October 29)

Anyway, here I propose a classification, from the point of view of the Person of Faith, of Contemporary Atheism in four categories: Indifferent, Devout, Faraway and Economic

(1) Indifferent Atheist is a person with no interest whatsoever in the Divinity and Religion: and with whom the only meaningful dialogue for the Believer will be about sport, cinema or television

(2) Devout Atheist sees religion as a series of moral precepts useful to manipulate this or that social reform: in a sense, the Devout Atheist resembles more the Antichrist than a person with whom to start a serious conversation on Religion

(3) Faraway Atheist thinks like Ferraris, and whilst not possessing faith, pretends to reduce it to a fairy tale for children and/or idiota. This view of the world makes no distinction between Jesus Christ and Father Christmas; comes out with monstruosities such as “He who believes in an Infinite God, believes in everything“; reduces religious tradition to an accountant’s sheet of dogmas to follow in order not to be “heretical” (a naive point that will sound ancient to Roman Catholics, and completely stranger to Jews, Muslims, Hindus, etc etc). One would expect Ferraris to burst into laughter at the mere presence of a Person of Faith in the same room as him: hardly the best and most rational attitude (Ferraris is obviously not alone: see Richard Dawkins in “The God Delusion” and Daniel C Dennett in “Breaking off the Spell: Religion as Natural Phenomenon”)

(4) Economic Atheist finally, understands that a serious non-indifferent Atheism that aims at least to understand the why Believers exist, must learn from the recent revolution in Economics: where the hyper-rationalist Homo Economicus of the old theories has been replaced with a person who follows a systematic logic, simply not mathematical logic

And it is only with the Economic Atheist that there is any meaning, for the Person of Faith, to discuss Religion. Not having the prejudice of considering Faith as synonymous of irrationality, the Economic Atheist will indeed be open to an exchange of ideas (sadly, not a given as it should be)

Facile discourses in religious topics by Atheists of other types, are worth as much as a women-only bathroom on Mount Athos, the famous Greek monastery on whose territory only men are allowed

Categories
Cosmos English Ethics Parallel Universes Philosophy Religion Theology Universe

God’s Many Dices (II) – The Philosophy of Parallel Universes

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
(Hamlet, I, v, 166-167)

In a Reality of many and much varied Parallel Universes, as modeled from contemporary Cosmology, it is possible not just to revisit and better understand scientific puzzles like the nature of Mathematics and Time, the Goldilocks Enigma, and the Many-Worlds interpretation of Quantum Physics

The Science of Parallel Universes has also significant consequences outside science itself, and can be used to provide answers to age-old questions in the fields of philosophy, morality and theology, such as:

  1. Why would a benevolent God, or gods, or any Creator let bad things happen?
  2. Do we have Free Will and what exactly is that?
  3. Are we the combination of a physical entity called body and ethereal ones called mind and/or soul? And what is the reality of our thoughts?

Surprisingly, the one and only assumption really necessary for that to happen, is for cosmos to be unimaginably big, containing an untold number of different versions of everything we see, some of them stranger to us than others

(I know: the below is far from complete, far from perfect, and under development: but elegantly simple)

———-

A branch of contemporary Cosmology predicts that “All There Is” (let’s call it the Cosmos) is made of many “Parallel Universes”

Not of the creepy, nearby kind favored in sci-fi movies: as explained by Max Tegmark of MIT in a recent SciAm article, those Universes all reside in the same hugely gargantuan volume of space but at very big and growing larger distances from one another

Those Parallel Universes can be grouped in Multiverses at Level I (same physics, only initial conditions differ); Level II (different physical constants and particles); and Level IV (different physical laws, different mathematical structures)

More: there is equivalence between the Level I//II set of those Universes and the multiple-outcome probabilistic world of Quantum Mechanics (the Level III Multiverse)

This suggests that the quantity of Parallel Universes is truly huge, and their diversity enormously great: because their combination will cover everything that is possible

A detailed overview on the topic can be found at this link

———-

But if “All There Is” coincides with “All That Is Possible”, then any thing that can happen, does, did and will do, in some Parallel Universes (or just one)

Let’s call this the “EP:H Model of Reality“: somewhere, sometime everything possible happens

(That should obviously read Almost Everything and almost any thing: it depends on the number and variety of Parallel Universes. The qualifying adverb is implied in the rest of the text)

The implications beyond a strictly scientific arena are almost unimaginable

———-

1. Why would God, or the gods, or any Creator let bad things happen?

In the EP:H Cosmos, because the possibilities of existence appear to be more important than a pre-ordained good and evil

++++

The question about the apparent inaction of the Divinity in the face of iniquity or calamity is the topic of the branch of philosophy and theology called Theodicy: from the Greek: theos, “god” and dike (pr. dee-kay), “justice”

“The justice of God” (or lack thereof) has kept philosophers busy for millennia

Why for example doesn’t any God just intervene to rescue a little child on top of whom a house has collapsed after an earthquake? Or to eliminate a little-know Austrian painter called Adolf instead of letting him butcher people in the millions?

In ancient Greece, philosopher Epicure elaborated the Epicurean Paradox, arguing that a benevolent, omnipotent God indeed does not exist: “God either wants to eliminate bad things and cannot, or can but does not want to, or neither wishes to nor can, or both wants to and can. […] If he can but does not want to, then he is spiteful […] If he wants to and can, which is the only thing fitting for a god, where then do bad things come from? Or why does he not eliminate them?” (from “The Epicurus Reader”, translated and edited by Brad Inwood and L.P. Gerson, Hackett Publishing, 1994, p. 97)

Interestingly, whilst Epicurus still believed in a different kind of Gods, his argument has been repeated by countless people since, as way to deny tout-court the existence of a God.

Pick a tragedy, any tragedy, and you will find your proof that there is no God

German polymath Leibniz coined the term Theodicy in a 1710 essay, and he is remembered as arguing that in spite of much evil within it, the world is the best of all possible worlds. He went further, saying that God as “infinite being” will create as a matter of course an infinitely rich universe (perfect in the sense of being complete)

In reaction to that, after the Lisbon quake of on All Saints’ Day, 1755, French philosopher Voltaire wrote the novel “Candide, or Optimism” (1759). In there, Leibniz himself (or possibly, French savant Pierre de Maupertuis (1698-1759)) is satirized as the character Pangloss, convinced against all kinds of odds and runs of bad luck that “All is for the best in the best of all possible worlds

++++

The centuries -old Epicurean argument against the existence of God loses validity in the EP:H Cosmos: the God(s) (if existing) is/are simply letting everything happen.

Everything means everything: everything good, and everything bad. It will include all things evil, and all disasters (and not-so-incidentally, all joys and all luck)

This is known as the Plenitude Principle. It can be traced back to Aristotle, and has been reasoned by many including St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas and Kant.

Paraphrasing then Albert Einstein (once scorning Quantum Mechanics by saying that “God does not play dice with the Universe”): God (if one exists) does indeed play with the Universe(s), throwing a very large lot of dices, making sure that all possible results do happen

This is another way of saying that there is no “morality” in “Nature”

Reality coincides with the Realm of The Possible, not the Empire of the Good: therefore, for a benevolent (or otherwise) God (if one exists indeed) there may be no meaning in “preventing evil”

———-

Three (obvious?) points about EP:H and the Divinity:

(a) EP:H is no proof of the existence of God(s)
(b) If there is no God the Theodicea question becomes a moot point
(c) A Divinity may as well choose to intervene, in particular circumstances in particular Universes…that’s compatible with EP:H as long as the action is physically possible)

———-

2. Do we have free will and what exactly is that?

With EP:H, on the whole Free Will is an overall illusion, and a particular reality

+++

The issue of Free Will is about a conscious being’s ability of choose and/or control their decisions

In the EP:H Cosmos something somewhere is going to happen, as long as it is possible. At first glance then, the question of Free Will may appear as having no meaning

In one sense, anything possible is compelled to happen

If there is, say, a one-in-a-million chance of you buying the winning lottery ticket, and 999,999 copies of yours have failed to do so in as many Universes, well, really there will be no escape…

Still, each individual’s life experiences are evidently a limited subset of the whole range of possibilities. Therefore the fact that everything is happening can only be statistically reflected at the level of the person, who may as well retain Free Will for all intents and purposes

Thus, each of us is practically free as individual to choose one’s next action. The only constraint is on the set of all our “copies”. They (we) will commit all possible acts wherever they exist somewhere in the Cosmos, but only when considered together

On the other hand, in a gas that is moving in one direction as a whole, a particular molecule can yet move at a particular instant in the opposite direction. Likewise, each of us can still be free to choose which way to go at every particular step in our lives

Paradoxically (but only up to a point), the EP:H Cosmos is made of items that are individually free, but constrained as a group

———-

3. Are we the combination of a physical entity called body and ethereal ones called mind and/or soul? And what is the reality of our thoughts?

Everything is physical: there is no need for any “external metaphysics” located somewhere outside of the EP:H Cosmos

+++

The belief in a soul may have accompanied our species for at least 30,000 years (although our concept of it is of strictly ancient Greek origin). It has sometimes crossed or collided with the other belief, that of a mind just as well separated from lowly physical body, a major point in the philosophy of great rationalist Descartes himself.

Current Christian theology speaks of a soul-body singular union that will be reinstated by God at the End of Times. But a fundamental question remains: how can a non-physical entity act in the physical world? Where is the ultimate interface between the body and the soul?

Wolfgang Pauli answered with the consideration that in quantum physics, it is not possible to precisely measure all variables, and thus they may be considered even not to “physically” exist: in a sense, “hiding” metaphysics in the uncertainties of quantum mechanics

In the EP:H Cosmos things are much simpler. There is no need for anything “beyond physics” to exist: either it is possible, and therefore is indeed “happening” in one or many Parallel Universes: or it isn’t possible, and therefore it does not exist

Thus there is no need for the concept of a soul. But that does not mean that the soul does not exist: it means that it is a physical entity

Or starting from a slightly different point of view: in the EP:H model, anything we can think of is indeed “happening” in some other Parallel Universe

But if thoughts inside us are as real as anything we experience outside ourselves, then there is no necessity for a “spiritual” or “metaphysical” world beyond the physical universe

———-

EP:H is a strange Cosmos indeed

It is a freer world: God (if one exists) prefers to make everything (possible) happen rather than constraining us in a particular setting. Even if our life will overall resemble some of our copies’, still we can choose to do whatever particular action we want

Our whole being is a single entity, not a split creature with an untraceable soul. The world in our heads is just as real as the one in our hands

It is at the same time a terrible and an uplifting thought

Somewhere out there in the EP:H universe, I am (i.e. my equivalent being is) winning loads in Las Vegas. Somewhere else my whole family is being gunned down and/or persecuted. In a place I am the Emperor of the Galaxy, in another I wasn’t born, or my infant body has been discarded in some garbage dump

Somewhere, I am a refugee holding on to dear life to reach some kind of Promised Land. Somewhere else I am the policeman charged of sending the refugee back home, or the people-smuggler profiting from the refugee’s awful situation

What sense can we make of all of this? Obviously, the best way to understand all that is through probability

In fact, even if “everything happens” it doesn’t mean that it has the same chances to happen. It only means that somebody able to oversee all the various “equivalent Earths” out there would see some kind of a pattern.

For example, with my body size and shape the likelihood that any of my equivalents is the topmost dancer at the local Russian Bolshoi theatre in any Universe is, say, 1/100,000. In an EP:H Cosmos big enough to contain one hundred thousand of my equivalents, just a lonely one of them will manage that miraculous feat (in the Universe of the Very Plump People, no doubt)

If the Cosmos is instead full of 100 million of my copies, there will be a whole thousand of them proudly working as “primo ballerino” at the Bolshoi (in the 1,000 Universes of the Very Plump People, no doubt)

But if on the contrary the Cosmos contains just 10 Maurizio’s, well, so much for my Barishnikov impersonation

———-

Is the inherently ethics-less EP:H Cosmos a licence to do as one pleases?

Can we justify any action we do by saying that everything is happening, anyway? Can one make it out with the intern whilst his copy is becoming the US president?

(Well, we all know something managed to do both at the same time. Is there an unfortunate William C of Little Rock, Arkansas, living a life with no lust and no power in another Universe, just to even out the overall chances?)

On the other hand, even if there are countless other people out there, similar or even identical “copies” of us, in EP:H each individual is still substantially free to will as he or she wants to

And just like there are many copies of us in the Cosmos, there are many houses like ours in our streets. Some homes are tidy, some dirty, some are well maintained and some are left to run down

Still, the state of any other house has no bearing on our individual “duty” to keep our own house as clean and in as good conditions as possible (if we want to)

And so for our own good, for everybody’s good, because of our nature, to happily live next to one another: or for whatever personal reason driving us to act in one way or another, still there is a meaning to have, develop and follow our own specific brand of ethics (if we want to). All that, whatever the number and diversity of Parallel Universes

———-

The journey through the implications of a EP:H Cosmos of many and much varied Parallel Universes has just begun

Consider the concept of “Humanity”: just as every “copy of me” is another Maurizio with slightly (or a lot) changed initial conditions, so every person could be seen as the copy of somebody else, from the same Universe, with changed initial conditions

Not only then we belong to the same species, we may as well consider each other as variations on the same theme

In EP:H we are all brothers indeed: twin brothers

———-

Perhaps there are as many questions as universes, still left to explore. Is the EP:H model too simple? Does it explain too many things at once? Can it be partially or wholly confuted?

What’s next step in discussing Cosmological Theodicea? Is it compatible to the beliefs of any mainstream religion?

One thing we can be sure of: things much weirder still are out there to discover

There is a theory which states that if ever
anybody discovers exactly what the Universe is for
and why it is here, it will instantly disappear
and be replaced by something even more
bizarre and inexplicable. There is another theory
which states that this has already happened
(Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe)

Categories
Astronomy & Space Cosmos English Multiverse Parallel Universes Science Scientific American Space Universe

God’s Many Dices (I) – The Science of Parallel Universes

Space is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is
(Douglas Adams, “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”)

By considering the implications of contemporary Science and in particular of the Cosmology of Parallel Universes, it is now possible to build an all-encompassing Model of Reality

From solid scientific bases, such a Model may be able to move Science itself beyond the “Realm of the Whats” and into the “Region of the Whys”: providing clues not only for what is out there, but also for the reasons why things are the way they are

Not only can we say that All-There-Is (let’s call it the Cosmos) is far larger and more diverse than we have ever fathomed. We can even work out elegant explanations on scientific conundrums like:

  1. Why our Universe is so very well “tuned” for life, and especially for intelligent life to exist
  2. Why is Mathematics such a powerful tool in our scientific investigations
  3. And why against a microscopic world driven by probabilistic quantum mechanics, there is the macroscopic deterministic-like tangible reality of our day-to-day experience

———-

Parallel Universes” is the title of a thought-provoking Scientific American article (now a Special Report) written by Max Tegmark, currently working at the Dept. of Physics at the MIT in Cambridge, MATegmark’s Parallel Universes are not meant to be fifth-dimensional ghosts lying next to us, metaphysical threats that can be visited by opening the wrong door as in overdone horror sci-fi movies

In fact, Tegmark writes that the most logical deduction from all known cosmological observations is that Parallel Universes are just “out there”, albeit exceptionally far

In this respect, the Cosmos becomes the set of all Parallel Universes, plus the empty space in-between

Some of those “Parallel Universes” are identical copies of ours. Some are more or less similar to what we experience. Others are barely alike our Universe, others still less and less so

Present-day theories and observations “predict” 3 or 4 types of mutually compatible “Multiverses” (i.e., collections of “Parallel Universes”):

  • Level I – Universes with different initial conditions
  • Level II – Universes with different physical constants and particles
  • Level III – The Many-Worlds interpretation of quantum physics
  • Level IV – Universes with different physical laws

In some Universe, a copy of me has never completed writing this article (for great joy of the readers, no doubt). In other Parallel Universes, neither I nor you exist, and there are completely different subatomic particles, physical laws, even mathematical structures

Tegmark defines “Level I Multiverse” as the collection of “Hubble Volumes” similar to the one we inhabit, composed of the same stuff and following the same laws of physics

Only, as the initial conditions were different, the history of each Universe differs. Still, the “simplest and most popular cosmological model predicts that you have a twin in a galaxy about (10 to the power of 28, or 10^28) meters away”

Such a number, the result of a straightforward computation based on the size and composition of the known Universe, means that there is a massive 10 billions of billions of billions of meters between each of us and a doppelganger sharing the same history (at least so far)

On the other hand, that’s “just” 25 times as far as the radius of our own Universe (the so-called “Hubble Volume”)

Much farther away: another solar system and, say, a 100-light-year radius of space completely identical to ours (10^92 meters); and an entire Universe practically indistinguishable from ours, with all the galaxies and stars and planets and people, all in the same position (10^118 meters)

Remarkably, the “currently popular theory of chaotic eternal inflation” predicts also the existence of a “Level II Multiverse”, a collection of Level I’s (like “gas pockets in a rising loaf of bread”) each with its own set of “nature fundamentals

Within Level II, some Level I Multiverses will have extra spacetime dimensions, some will be made of different elementary particles, some will be built around different physics constants

Perhaps somewhere out there, there really is the Liquid Space of Species 8472, from the TV series Star Trek Voyager. But that’s still not all in this fascinatingly game towards increasingly weirder levels of Multiverses

Tegmark describes as out there, on the edge of anybody’s wildest imagination, “all mathematical structures exist as well

This is the “Level IV Multiverse“: and its existence may help us clarify the so-called Miracle of Mathematics

In the 1960’s paper “The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences” Nobel Prize E. P. Wigner has extensively written about such a “miracle”, describing the unease of the scientist when realizing how “the mathematical formulation of the physicist’s often crude experience leads in an uncanny number of cases to an amazingly accurate description of a large class of phenomena

A clear example is in the theory of gravitation, extremely simple in its formulae and yet capable to account for the behavior of an enormous number and variety of planets, stars and galaxies

In a large Level IV Multiverse, if there are enough Level II Multiverses each with its own mathematics, then one or more of them will be bound to possess a coincidence between mathematics and physics as strong as the one we experience

At the same time, in some place far, far away, there is a completely different mathematics at play. And so if our Earth’s orbit is an graceful, regular ellipse, the path followed by another Earth in another Universe will resemble the work of a madman

———-

The Level III Multiverse deserves particular attention

Prof. Tegmark describes Level III as the standard “Many-Worlds” interpretation of Quantum Physics

“Many-Worlds” is an attempt at reconciling the probabilistic behavior predicted by Quantum Physics for microscopic particles with the deterministic working of the day-to-day macroscopic environment

In the famous example of Schroedinger’s Cat, a (macroscopic) feline is locked in an opaque box next to a weapon triggered by the nuclear decay of a (microscopic) atom

(Disclaimer: No animal has been harmed during the writing of this article)

In the box, the cat is somehow alive and dead. The atom’s decay is described statistically as a quantum phenomenon. The so-called “wave function” of the cat-weapon-atom system, provides a measure of the probability for either event (“cat alive” and “cat dead”), will have to “collapse” to a single outcome when the box is opened, and the cat can be seen alive or dead, not a collection of probabilities

In the Many-Worlds interpretation, that is explained by postulating that our Universe is “branching” into a Universe (A) where the cat is alive, and another (B) where the cat is dead. By hearing the meowing, we observe that we have somehow landed in A (an identical copy of us will of course mourn the unfortunate mammal in B)

Now, this is ridicule even more than most Models of the Cosmos. With a “branching” for anything happening to each atom and subatomic particle, the number of copies will have to increase exponentially trillions of trillions times a second (perhaps made by some Humongous Celestial Photocopier forever replicating Universes?)

———-

Thankfully, we can get out of that physical cul-de-sac by considering that all possible Universes already exist at Levels I and II Level, rather than having them perpetually xeroxed at Level III

Tegmark reports indeed equivalence between the Level III Multiverse (the probabilistic cosmos of quantum physics) and the Level I/II Multiverse (Parallel Universes with different initial conditions, physical constants and particles)

Tegmark goes on to say that Level III “adds nothing new

That is not strictly true: it adds a lot:. It means that the number of Parallel Universes is gargantuan: because for the Level I/II-Level III equivalence to work, all the possible “wave function collapses” of every particle of our Universe have to be happening somewhere, sometime in the Level I/II Multiverse

And so the Multiverse is extraordinarily big and contains a huge number and a very large variety of Universes. And the Cosmos is not deterministic: it only appears as such to our limited experience, lacking the ability to “see” what happens in other Universes.

Paraphrasing Albert Einstein (once scorning Quantum Mechanics by saying that “God does not play dice with the Universe”): God (if one exists) does indeed play with the Universe(s), but with a very large lot of dices, making sure that all possible results do happen

———-

In this respect my only negative comment about Prof. Tegmark’s text’s is the cavalier usage of the term “infinite”The number of Level I/II Parallel Universe is giant, enormous, hard-to-describe, colossal, etc. etc. But needs not be “infinite

Tegmark himself acknowledges as much, when he writes “The estimate [that we have twins in galaxies on average 10^28) meters away] merely [assumes] that space is infinite (or at least sufficiently large)” (my emphasis)

For example, to us puny human beings, measuring in the region of 2 meters / 6 feet a finite space with a radius of, say, 10^(one million) meters would behave as infinite for all intents and purposes without possessing any of the logical impossibilities of the “infinite

Infinite” carries a baggage of apparent impossibilities: for example, “infinite” is as large as “two infinites” and “half a infinite”. An infinite space cannot expand as it always occupies by definition its own maximum volume. Etc etc

French authors Luminet and Lachieze-Rey appear to make a big fuss about precisely the same point in “L’Univers Chiffonné” (Fayard, 2001)

As “infinite” has historically been a dangerous word for discussions, and arguments about its nature risk overshadowing the actual gist of an article or book, we should refrain from using that word at all cost apart from the exceptional circumstances when it is strictly necessary

———-

The existence of a very large number of Parallel Universe has several interesting upshots

As Tegmark writes, when seen through the Quantum Physics’s lenses of “Many-Worlds” the Levels I Multiverse may explain Time, as “a never ending slide from one already-existing state to another”: like an unending jumping from one Universe to another, and so on and so forth

In other words, if there are enough Universes out there, there will be a Universe “T+1” with a copy of you, one second in your future: so instead of imagining yourself traveling forward in time one second per second, “the passage of Time” could just mean yourself “in Universe T+1

Tegmark explains also how a very large number of Parallel Universes can help us confine the (in)famous Anthropic Principle to the annals of irrelevant philosophy

Our Universe is “fine tuned”: even tiny changes to one physical constant or another would make our very existence next to impossible

This is called the “Goldilocks Enigma”, after the fairy tale about a girl entering the house of the three bears. Why are the Universe’s characteristics not too warm, not too cold, and just about right?

Past answers included the self-referential “Anthropic Principle”, stating more or less that the Universe is like it is because otherwise we wouldn’t have been here to talk about it: a bit like analyzing a defeat by stating “you’re a loser

Tegmark elegantly prefers taking a different route

Within a Level II Multiverse, inside our particular Level I Multiverse our particular Hubble Volume does harbour life because there’s lots (really lots) of other Hubble Volumes out there, in many Level I Multiverses: and one (or more) of them is bound to be just about right for life as we know it

This is a bit like analyzing a defeat by stating that “not all participants to a competition can be winners

Goldilocks may have just had to taste three soups before finding one not too warm, and not too cold. In our case, the Cosmos may need to have 3 trillion Universes, or many more, before getting it “right” for humans to exist: but the underlying principle is the same

———-

What is there to prevent all that from happening? Is all of the above just too large, too complex, too un-necessary, or even not elegant enough?(a) Are all those Parallel Universes an ugly waste of space and time?Years ago people argued against there being a galaxy of stars, as the absolutely vast majority of them do not provide heat or illumination to any human whatsoever

Tegmark also asks, “What precisely would nature be wasting?

In fact, if there are huge quantities of Hubble Volumes (“Universes”) at Level I and II, there is no reason why there would not be huge quantities of universes at Level IV

Furthermore, the Level IV Multiverse is truly an esthetically pleasing Cosmos, even from a strictly philosophical point of view

We have learned that our planet is not the Center of the Universe. Apart from being able to harbor life, Earth is a run-of-the-mill planet in an average star in a not-so-special galaxy, belonging to an ordinary Local Group gravitationally linked to a Supergroup like many others, in a corner of the Universe that is not extraordinary at all

Let’s call that the “Banality Principle”, with us since at least since the times of Copernicus (banality “with life”, obviously)

And in the Cosmos of the Levels I, II and IV, isn’t our own very Universe just one of many, sporting one of many possible sets of initial conditions, elementary particles, physical laws, mathematical structures, in a virtually unbound escalation of the very same “Banality (with life) Principle”?

(Is there anything then beyond Level IV? I bet there is. But our imagination is silent about it, at least for now)

(b) Would a Cosmos made of all those Parallel Universes be just too complex to comprehend?

Tegmark replies that more often than not there is far less complexity in defining a set with a general overarching rule, rather than a particular item of that set with a precise description: “complexity increases when we restrict our attention to one particular element in an ensemble

Consider in fact a description of the Cosmos, “All-There-Is” as the Level IV Multiverse: there are many sets of physical laws and mathematics, each at work in its own Level II Multiverse, all expressed following a large variety of different initial conditions in a large number of Hubble Volumes (Level I Multiverse)

That’s 38 words

A description of our own Hubble Volume, with all its physical constants having particular values, and all the galaxies and stars and human beings placed in a particular position, etc etc would be definitely much, much longer than 38 words

And a Cosmos made up of a single Hubble Volume is complicated indeed

The simplest and arguably the most elegant theory involves Parallel Universes by default” – writes Tegmark. “To deny the existence of those universes, one needs to complicate the theory by adding experimentally unsupported processes and ad hoc postulates” (like finite space)

And finally, “Our judgement therefore comes down to which we find more wasteful and inelegant: many worlds or many words” (my emphasis)

(c) Is all the above just too weird?

Illuminatingly, Tegmark responds “[…] what did we expect? When we ask a profound question about the nature of reality, do we not expect an answer that sounds strange?

(d) Are all those Universes just too far away to care?

I am not sure that remains a relevant question against a Model that provides new insights into the nature of Mathematics and Time, the Goldilocks Enigma, the Many-Worlds interpretation of Quantum Physics and Einstein’s dice-playing Divinity

Anyway, it is true that spatial distances even to the nearest Parallel Universe are too large to comprehend, let alone traverse or even use to communicate anything.

Or are they? There is a phenomenon called “Quantum Entanglement” or (by Einstein) “action at a distance”. If you get two particles A and B to share the same quantum state, by observing A it is possible to know the state of B: actually, the state of B is “instantaneously” determined by the observation of the state of A, no matter how far separated they are

Now, if we only could demonstrate entanglement between two or more Parallel Universes…

———-

Anyway, we need now not limit ourselves to pure science…what are the philosophical consequences of a Cosmos made of a humongous number of Parallel Universes?

Categories
English Humanity Iraq War USA

Help the American Heroes of the Iraq War

Dear American Citizen

The Iraq War has been going on for more than 3 years now. Many Americans soldiers are being sent back home daily, dead or wounded (the latter sometimes, a fate worse than the former)

With no clear indication for an immediate stop for that, and a very uncertain political future for Iraq itself, that’s simply too tragic: it is high time every individual provided all the help they could

I am referring especially to all the people that are convinced that a continuing presence in that country is necessary: if you are of the right age, enlist at once

If you are not, do find a way, any way to help the soldiers, and their families

If you don’t want to enlist or help, actively support the immediate withdrawal of all US troops from Iraq

(If you are, or anybody in your family is already a war veteran, I respect you)

——–

I will not deal with the reasons for the USA to invade, stay or leave Iraq, or talk about any other country, since the importance of American decisions and actions cannot be overestimated

Whatever the color of your politics, there surely is a big problem now: American soldiers are dying or being maimed in Iraq in large numbers

Tragically, some of them may even be dying for no other reason than because the mid-term elections are in a few weeks’ time, and not tomorrow

And especially in case of a quick exit leaving Iraq as death-stricken as ever, a lot of those soldiers and their families may have had their lives ruined, interrupted or ended needlessly

Like all veterans of all long-standing wars, the US soldiers serving in Iraq are all heroes to me (apart from those guilty of crimes)

Does it make any difference the fact that the US Army is made of volunteers? After 3 years of war, it does not. Surely there is no draftee as such: but then what would you call a person that is called on for their third tour of duty?

Didn’t they know what they were going to be asked to do, when they enrolled? Well, all those that joined the army before the war surely did not. And I am not sure how many are really willing to carelessly undergo three tours of duty in present-day Iraq

Don’t they get paid well for their efforts? They are not paid “well”: at best they are paid “right”. And if they have no choice but to return to Iraq, there is little consolation in any money

Aren’t they sacrificing their lives to let the rest of the people get on with theirs as if nothing ever happened? After a few hundred billion dollars of US expenditure in Iraq, and with no end in sight, that question is too tragically ironic to deserve an answer

What if one does not support at all the intervention in Iraq? Well, if you believe those soldiers are there for no good reason, you will surely be motivated to save them one way or another

——

And so, unless you are or anybody in your immediate family is already a war veteran, I suggest there is only one way forward: support the American Heroes of the Iraq war, all of them.

If you are of the right age, enlist at once and save a soldier and their family from having to survive the icy-cold months of the soul of another tour of duty (What about those that have committed crimes? All more the reason to get them repatriated asap)

If you are not of the right age, there surely must be a way to help the soldiers and their families

If you don’t want to enlist or help, join an organization advocating the immediate withdrawal of all US troops from Iraq

Categories
Dawkins English God Religion

Dawkins Inc.’s Hyperrealism Myth

Richard Dawkins’ “The God Delusion” and Daniel C Dennett “Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon ” are both works of awowed atheists somehow intent to speak out about “religion”

And it appears that in both cases, the message is an exhortation to get rid of the divine and the religious sides of one’s life, in order to walk positively free and serene towards a bright future without the weight of legends and superstition

This over-reductive vision of the idea of the Myth (not to mention of the Rituals) is not absurd, is inhuman: because to consider religiosity as a child’s play of fantasies and personal and collective delusion, means to deny the existence not just of a God, but an important part of our human nature

Does anybody really live without a myth? “Myth” in a positive sense, even just the archetypal symbol of our hopes for being or having something better

To those that think that rationalism is the only logical way forward I want to say: even Voltaire had his share of petty behavior: who knows what, perhaps he kept picking his nose

Does that mean that those that want to be guided by Voltaire’s thought, are also all nose-picker? Of course not

The “guide” is not the “true Voltaire”: it’s Voltaire-the-Myth. And that’s just about right. He may never had spoken the famous utterance about fighting to the death to defend somebody’s else right of free speech: who cares? Those words are an integral part of the myth of Voltaire

Paris, was it really worth a mass? Was a kingdom given given away for a horse? To spend time trying to verify those and any other “myth” is an interesting historical exercise but makes one lose sight of the original meaning

Would it not be stupid to throw 2001 – A Space Odissey in the bin because there is no black monolith orbiting Jupiter?

The fantasy of a certain contemporary attitude, hyperrealist to the point of being completely imaginary, was already underlined by Piero Manzoni in his bizarre 1961 “Merda d’Artista

————————

I am sure even the ancient Greek myths, obscure fairy tales for us, had in origin important meanings and messages

It’s therefore a pity that to the word “Myth” and to the idea of the Divinity, it is now customary to associate the concept of the Great Unwashed, uncultivated, lazy, stupid and easy to fool: “And so from now on we can do without that”

On second thought, that’s a Myth too

 ———————–

UPDATE: There is a nice review of Dawkins’ book on the New York Times / International Herald Tribune:

A passionate atheist’s case against religion By Jim Holt The New York Times – Published: October 20, 2006

Grab it while you can

I particularly like this passage: “Despite the many flashes of brilliance in this book, Dawkins’s failure to appreciate just how hard philosophical questions about religion can be makes reading it an intellectually frustrating experience

Categories
Climate Change English Environment International Herald Tribune Letters

Climate Hysteria – a letter published on the IHT

The following letter of mine has been published top on the International Herald Tribune on October 16, 2006

Title: Climate Hysteria

[Dear Editors] 

Your editorial criticizes Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma for dismissing media “hysteria” about global warming (“Hysterical climate doubters,” Oct. 13)

But panic and frenzied reporting about global warming is indeed the norm, with a barrage of stories on disappearing species, uncontrollable pests, rising seas, floods, droughts, heat waves, fires, violent storms, scarce food and forecasts of millions of human deaths

“Global warming hysteria” is unfortunately what appears on the pages of countless newspapers and publications. The real debate is whether that hysteria is justified and if it serves any purpose apart from scaring people

Maurizio Morabito England

The original was bit longer and a tad less harsh 😎

Dear Editors

You criticize Sen James Inhofe of Oklahoma for “dismissing media ‘hysteria’ ” about global warming (“Hysterical climate doubters”, IHT, Editorial, Oct 13)

But panic, frenzied reporting about global warming is indeed the norm, with a barrage of stories on disappearing species, uncontrollable pests, rising seas, floods, droughts, heat waves, fires, violent storms, scarce food/jobs/resources, and forecasts of millions of human deaths

On your very pages, Nicholas D Kristof lamented the catastrophist stance of mainstream environmentalim (“I Have a Nightmare“, IHT, March 12, 2005). And a left-leaning UK think-tank has explicitly compared it to adults-only horror movies ( “Warm Words: How are we telling the climate story and can we tell it better?“, IPPR, July 2006)

“Global Warming Hysteria” is unfortunately what appears on the pages of countless newspapers and publications

What is really a matter of debate, is if that “hysteria” is justified, and if it serves any purpose apart from scaring people

Some people answer yes on both counts

Categories
Astronomy Climate Change English Science

An Indirect Way For The Sun To Influence Earth’s Climate

The old idea that cosmic rays influence climate on Earth by increasing cloud cover is finally being proven

Exploding Stars Influence Climate Of Earth” (from Spacedaily)

[…] The data revealed that electrons released by cosmic rays act as catalysts, which significantly accelerate the formation of stable, ultra-small clusters of sulphuric acid and water molecules which are building blocks for the cloud condensation nuclei. A vast numbers of such microscopic droplets appeared, floating in the air in the reaction chamber […]

It is known that low-altitude clouds have an overall cooling effect on the Earth’s surface. Hence, variations in cloud cover caused by cosmic rays can change the surface temperature. The existence of such a cosmic connection to Earth’s climate might thus help to explain past and present variations in Earth’s climate. […]

What makes this all the more powerful, is that it could expand the role of the Sun in the shaping of Earth’s climate, as it can be used to link Solar magnetic activity (i.e. the number of sunspots) to the heating and cooling of our planet

Interestingly, during the 20th Century, the Sun’s magnetic field which shields Earth from cosmic rays more than doubled, thereby reducing the average influx of cosmic rays.

The resulting reduction in cloudiness, especially of low-altitude clouds, may be a significant factor in the global warming Earth has undergone during the last century. However, until now, there has been no experimental evidence of how the causal mechanism linking cosmic rays and cloud formation may work […]

Likewise, when the solar magnetic field was weak during the Maunder Minimum (1645-1715), winters were definitely harsher

Categories
Astronomy & Space English Science Space Technology

Mars, the OAP Planet

MARS, the International Journal of  Mars Science and Exploration, has just published two articles by Donald Rapp about the hurdles still to be clarified before sending astronauts to the Fourth Planet: “Mars life support systems” and “Radiation effects and shielding requirements in human missions to the moon and Mars

The latter article contains sobering statements about the current status of space-travel technology (my emphasis):

For Mars missions, we conjecture a 400-day round trip transit to and from Mars, and about 560 days on the surface. The [Galactic Cosmic Radiation] dose equivalent with 15 g/cm2 of aluminum shielding during Solar Minimum is about double the allowable annual dose for each leg of the trip to and from Mars. If a major [Solar Particles Event] occurred during a transit, the crew would receive a sufficient dose to reduce their life expectancy by more than the 3% limit. […]

On the surface of Mars, the accumulated [Galactic Cosmic Radiation] exceeds the annual allowable [amount]. For a 560-day stay on Mars [it] would exceed the career allowable dose for most females and younger males.

May Richard Branson live looooooooong then (and prosper)!

Categories
English EU Sociology UK

Napoleon Was (not) Here

What if a member country’s relationship with the European Union depended on the achievements of the most famous Corsican in History?

Take…the United Kingdom (please! I mean, as an example)

What about the UK? Don’t we all know that the Emperor of France was unable to cross the Channel? Those 25 miles of sea had seen the advance of Julius Cesar, Claudius Augustus and William the Conqueror, but were impenetrable to the Victor of Austerlitz, either by sea (with his fleet destroyed at Trafalgar by Admiral Nelson), or by a risky tunnel from the Calais area.

But that is the point: having endured no French invasion, the English (and Welshmen, and Scots) did not experience some important changes, “details” that are now native to cultures and societies of the European Countries, that around the year 1800 were under the hegemony of Paris

From this point of view, many of the clashes and misunderstandings between the British nations and the rest of Europe are consequences… of the Fall of the Bastille (a reminder to Chinese President Mao’s 1950s answer about the impact of the French Revolution of 1789: “Too early to tell” )

Some differences between Great Britain and the Continent are self-evident: for example, Napoleon deliberated for cemeteries to be transferred outside cities, whilst most London Churches sport quite more recent tombstones nearby

But the real break with past after the violent end of King Louis XVI of France, was something more meaningful than simple administrative decisions concerning public hygiene

In fact, the French (people and elites) moved on to export the Principles of the Revolution: Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. Those were extraordinarily new concepts and revolutionary indeed for an Europe rigidly divided then (as now) in sovereign States keen to defend their own (ruling classes’) interests

Amid all the chaos of war, French armies propagated those Principles in the popular consciences in Germany, Spain, Italy and beyond. The administrations that followed had the stated goal of freeing their “brothers”, that is all nearby nations, reorganizing them around the idea that all the Citizens have the same rights, and are equal in front of the Law

The very notion of a European Union proceeds from the idea of a Militant Fraternity between Peoples (curiously, an attitude currently disliked as “American”). More: in its fit of destruction against the Ancien Regime France allowed a person like Napoleon Bonaparte, born far away from the old Bourbon elites, to become first a General, then a Head of State, and finally an Emperor

Of Italian origins, with little links to the Upper Strata of society, and without a large inheritance to sustain himself, Napoleon came from Corsica, a restive island itself far away from the command centres of the Kingdom and then the Republic

The conquering French Emperor and his armies, powerful and invincible masters and liberators of Europe (apart from the British islands and little more), showed thus to all the people of the continent that lineage, commercial interests, money were not needed (not even a good accent) to soar to power

In the United Kingdom instead, there is no historical trace of a popular revolution capable to change the nation and subvert the Establishment, nor of a non-Establishment person (no matter how exceptional), to take control of the State

Popular uprisings, of course, did happen in centuries past, but they all failed. The most serious, in 1381, saw thousands of peasants march only to see a young king renege on his promises (and execute their ringmasters)

The one Revolution that succeeded brought to power nobleman Oliver Cromwell in 1646: but he refused to let himself proclaimed Head of State (in stark contrast, Napoleon crowned himself in Paris in front of a reluctant Pope)

Europhile Ireland, also untouched by Napoleon, managed instead a popular revolution to free itself from United Kingdom at the beginning of XX the century, reinforcing the feeling that British ambivalence towards the European Union is linked to a its (un-) revolutionary history

The consequences are not difficult to imagine. The British population has become allergic to any thought of an uprising, and has maintained a strong sense of Authority. In what other modern state could one find the citizens officially defined as “subjects” of the Queen?

And with all the wars and revolutions of the XIX and XX century, where else is power firmly in the hands of the (old) ruling classes, the so-called “The Great and the Good”, a mixture of nobility and hereditary merchant classes uninterruptedly in control, at least from the age of Wilhelm of Orange (King since 1688 having been “invited over” by a group of English parliamentarians)?

Obviously not all the UK political leaders of last three centuries were of high lineage or coming from powerful, rich families: but all of them effectively belonged to, or became part of the Establishment. Margaret Thatcher, potentially an outsider woman in a world of men, worked instead to re-establish the most cliched idea of what the British society ought to be (centred, not by chance, around her person as a sort of Queen-in-all-but-name)

The British tradition of Authority is continuously renewed also in the apparently more democratic aspects. For example, governmental planning, a process theoretically opened to the opinions of all citizens, is so mysterious and forcefully dedicated to reach a consensus, that is almost impossible for plans not to be watered down, let alone be able to change the status quo

The British citizen is educated never to complain in an effective manner. The tradition of the “stiff upper lip” is waning but not disappearing: think of a person that does not reveal feelings nor emotions, and whose mouth never betrays joy nor anxiety: whose passions, and whose angers therefore, remain hidden, to leave Society undisturbed. People may complain about the quality of the trains, but they will do nothing more, stoically enduring antiquated pre-modern services reminding of 1980’s continental Europe.

True, the National Health System (NHS) is now at the forefront of contemporary provision: at the wrong forefront, one might say, as it is showing the rest of Europe that nurses can cheaply (but how effectively?) “diagnose” illnesses simply by following rigid criteria based on the patient’s own reporting of symptoms, rather than with a careful analysis and an experienced doctor

The dutiful “customers” accept the situation as a necessity, unaware of the fact that today’s awful service will become tomorrow’s standard. Healthcare managers of course are very happy with the savings, and further encouraged to find out how to spend less, without consideration to the actual health benefits to the patients

Particularly rigid and unmovable, cold and impersonal, the British bureaucracy is clearly geared to satisfy superiors rather than citizens. The year 2006 opened with the case of an old couple separated by social workers: he, a veteran of the Second World war; she, blind. The husband’s GP ordered him to enter a clinic specialised in the treatment of the elderly. Alas, the wife could not follow, as her situation did not fulfil obscure criteria established by the local Council

Last I checked on this piece of news, paradoxes were piling up, all related to an excessive importance given to the “Authority”. The husband is unwillingly parked in the clinic, but does not return home as he is following doctor’s orders. The wife is home just as lonely with the family taking care of her now. Some letter-based protest had been lodged by their children, but they did not move their father back nor considered using a private healthcare provider

The social workers, instead of improving the citizens lives, became responsible of a serious and self-evident injustice that ruined the life of two old innocents. Why couldn’t they do differently? Because there is no alternative

Any “personal interpretation” of the rules (the shock! The horror!) would be considered an act of insubordination and the career of the “guilty” probably finished to the moment. And of course there is no official channel where to ask exceptions to the regulations in exceptional circumstances.

In a centre-driven, hard, harsh, pyramidal and frozen structure, even the social worker, as any other representative of the State or any organization, is just a messenger

There is also a European aspect that is directly affected by this attitude. The EU is famous for its “directives”: technically, “a legislative act of the European Union which requires member states to achieve a particular result without dictating the means of achieving that result

Peculiarly, those directives do not have the same consequences in the UK as elsewhere. For example recently hundreds of local British abattoirs have been closed due to some EU directive, whilst nothing of the sort has happened in the rest of the European Union.

Some fundamental cultural misunderstanding must be at work: so whereas most countries consider a “directive” as a “strong suggestion”, a rule indicating the direction of things to come, in the UK it is interpreted as a mandatory law that must be followed to the letter: exactly the difference between guidelines expressed by popular representatives, and the imperative commands of a King/Ruling Prime Minister.

Even in 1968, to the rioters in France, Italy and Germany the English youth answered with pointless rebellions as seen in movies like Quadrophenia. And today, instead of blocking crowded trains like in Turin or Milan, London commuters find refuge in witticisms about the state of the railroads

It’s not by chance that British humour is famous worldwide, well developed (and widely tolerated). It’s one of the three main discharge valves for life-stressed citizens. Another valve is the creation and destruction of myths (like Tony Blair). And the third is the ambiguous celebration of alcohol and alcoholism, but these topics deserve their own articles.

And so consider Bonaparte’s disasters at Trafalgar and Waterloo, when trying to understand British idiosyncrasies about “Europe”. For now let’s just heave a sigh whilst lamenting: Napoleon, why didn’t you come here?

Categories
Astronomy Climate Change English Letters Science The Economist

Asteroids and Global Warming

No, I am not going to suggest that Global Warming will cause huge meteors to fall from the sky (but I am sure somebody somewhere is just blogging about that…)

Here instead a letter I have just sent to The Economist on risk mitigation, global warming and asteroids:

Dear Editors

In “Dismal Calculations” (inside The Survey on Climate Change, Sep 7th 2006) you write that “Global warming poses a serious risk, and the costs of mitigation are not so large as to be politically unthinkable. Mitigation is better done gradually than swiftly, because the faster it is done, the more it will cost” but then conclude that “the economics of the subject are too uncertain for policymakers to lean heavily upon them

Well, there is at least one topic where there is a serious risk, a risk that is far more certain and whose economical consequences are well accepted in a consensus far larger than global warming’s. That topic is the destruction that will be caused by an asteroid 20 meters or larger hitting our planet 

One would expect people making the case for mitigating global warming because of its potentially serious consequences, to be even more active and more concerned about setting up a planetary defence system to protect us all from the killer space rocks that we know for sure are going to hurtle our way

Why talk only about mitigating global warming then? Is it because it gives its proponents a chance to enact their own dreams of social engineering?

Categories
English Innovation Science Technology

Epigenetics: The Next Big Thing in Science

Familiarize yourself with this word: Epigenetics

It basically says you’re not just the product of your genes. Or even of your genes and your environment

Your mother may have cuddled you early on out of trouble (on deep into it) for the rest of your life (as reported on The Economist  [subscription may be necessary])

Theoretically, your great-grandmother (or much less likely, great-grandfather) may have been exposed to something that slightly changed their cells’ environment, and you are now paying the consequences…even without any changes to your genes

But that is nothing compared to the possibilities that may open if epigenetics is well understood. We could soon get tumors switched off with a relatively simple cellular-level intervention, rather than cumbersome DNA modifications

And by simply changing a few chemicals in a just-fertilized human egg, we will be able to program a genius as the identical twin of a fool

Categories
English International Politics UK USA

Losing The War for Hearts and Minds

Between Venezuela’s Chavez parodying the Devil (aka George W “Cowboy” Bush), and Iran’s Ahmadinejad undermining the legitimacy of the UN, B&B (GW and Tony Blair) are losing out big time on their war to conquer the hearts and minds of Humanity

And if Chavez and Ahmadinejad will learn to put aside their stupid rants doubting the existence of the Holocaust, or in favour of a curios form of populist communism, they’ll become much more marketable to the Western public

When is the XXI century finally going to start??

Categories
Culture English History Humanity Politics Sociology

Six Billion Eichmanns

Not long ago I blogged about the gathering clouds of a holocaust of Muslims, especially in Europe: “A future Holocaust of Muslims? Letter to BBC’s ‘Any Questions’”  (11-Feb-06 1:56pm):

The Western reaction to the brouhaha about those idiotic Danish cartoons has been […] [about[ flaunting the “superiority” of Western culture […] making no distinction between millions and millions of peaceful Muslims and a handful of violent protesters

[…] “superior Western Culture” (especially European) cannot deal with the concept of properly respecting, or even letting exist an “alien” minority in their midst. Look at what happened to indigenous Americans in the North and the South, to the Aborigines in Australia. Think what happened to the Jews. […]

With the security services busily imprisoning people for the crime of “wrong religion” (or “wrong beard”, or even “wrong hydrogen peroxide”), the forecast remains uncertainly pessimistic.

This sounds preposterous: I have been told that Western civilisation has come a long way from the 1930s, that Law is definitely the Rule now, that human rights are enshrined in too many bills and constitutions.

Maybe. Would our forefathers have believed that they were going to become genocidal? Who could have thought about Auschwitz in the Germany of Bertold Brecht and Karl Valentin? Who was expecting the Sarajevo of the 1984 Winter Olympics become a territory of war and massacres barely 8 (eight) years later?

Of course, we are better than out ancestors. Of course we can learn from their experience. Too bad that’s exactly what they would have said of themselves.

Of course we are better than Germans in the 1930s-1940s, or Jugoslavians in 1992, or Rwandans in 1994. Too bad the very act of pretending that we are better than anybody else, is fundamentally anti-Christian, hence a betrayal of whatever good has been produced by “Western Civilisation”

=================

In truth, we have been killing our own citizens too many a century to seriously believe things are different this time around. What then can help us prevent any reversion to our old thirst for killing friends and foes?

(1) Acknowledging that things are not well: and that they are not well, with us as individuals.

No need to believe my words: here is what David Cesarani writes about the ordinary nature of evil (“Becoming Eichmann: Rethinking the Life, Crimes, and Trial of a ‘Desk Murderer’”, Capo Press; reviewed by Barry Gewen on the New York Times, May 12, 2006 in “A portrait of Eichmann as an ordinary man”)

Under the right circumstances, normal people will commit mass murder, [Cesarani] says, and the circumstances of our age – with its racism, ethnic cleansing, suicide bombers and genocidal killings – are ominous. “Eichmann appears more and more like a man of our time,” are his concluding words. “Everyman as génocidaire.”

It is important to note that Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi war criminal tried and hanged in Israel in 1961, was no rabid anti-semite

In Austria, Eichmann had Jewish friends, was employed by Jews […], had Jewish relatives by marriage. […] it wasn’t anti- Semitism that led Eichmann into the party. […] The turning point came after 1941, when forced emigration gave way to genocide. Under the pressure of his new duties, Eichmann changed.

(2) Keeping in mind that idealistic political goals are the more likely to ruin us, the more wonderful they look on paper (and in mind)

A poignant example is provided by French philosopher BHL (from an interview by Jan Tunku Varadarajan of the Wall Street Journal, Jan 23, 2006):

When the Hegel of modern times will write this history, he will say that the real crucial event was Cambodia…Because till Cambodia all the revolutionaries in the world believed that revolution had failed because it didn’t go far enough, because it wasn’t radical enough…The first revolution in history to be really radical…And what we discover, all of us? Instead of paradise, revolution gives absolute hell.

Tellingly, it took years for the Cambodian crimes to be fully recognised by leftist parties, just as the enormous numbers of dead Chinese peasants during the Great Leap Forward at the end of the 1950s did not impede cultured “progressive” intellectuals from supporting Chairman Mao to his death and beyond

(3) Refusing and repudiating any talk of us-vs-them, and all forms of political propaganda capitalizing on division and even the slightest hint of hate

Here again BHL in the same interview:

We are engaged in a war against terrorism, but the war is a political one, not a religious one, not a civilization one…It is suicide to say that this is a civilization war, because if it is such, it is an endless war, bloc against bloc. If you say “political” you make a bet on the outcome

(4) Keeping in check the societies and cultures each one of us belongs to, instead pontificating on what is wrong in other societies and other cultures

If, say, you believe it is your duty to “defend Western Civilization” then it is your duty to understand and put into practice the old saying about motes and beams. Otherwise, you are betraying the deep root of your very cause

============

Gewen ends his commentary in hopeful despair, talking about Hanna Arendt, who wrote several reports for The New Yorker at the time of Eichmann’s trial, and a book, “Eichmann in Jerusalem

Arendt’s approach was unyieldingly universalistic. Her analysis of Eichmann was a demand for individual responsibility, an insistence on the need constantly to exercise personal choice, whatever society might dictate. This is a cold ethic, as severe as Kant’s, so difficult it has a quality of the inhuman about it. For who among us can maintain the unceasing moral awareness she calls for?

And yet, we ought to strive at least for that goal.

So please do keep vigilant.

It took just half a decade to get a failed minority party into an organization of thousands getting trained for mass murderers. In the age of the Internet it may take far shorter a time than that

Categories
Astronomy & Space English Science Space

What Trouble with Pluto?

There is one thing I can’t understand in the ongoing “what’s a planet” saga (now set to demote Pluto, Ceres and anything else apart from the 8 pre-1930 classical planets)

Say, if the previous proposal had been accepted and we were presented with 12 planets: what was wrong with that?

The New York Times went as far as to define it an “abomination

Let me rephrase that: in-between bombings, volcanic eruptions and Dick Cheney’s declarations about anti-Iraq-war campaigners being al-Qaeda complicits, the NYT editors have found the space&time to say that to expand the definition of “planet” is an “abomination culturally

Edwin Hubble discovered in 1923-24 that unfathomable numbers of Galaxies populate the Universe. Did he ever have to think that having more than a handful of Galaxies would have been any kind of “abomination“?

————–

On the other hand there is something we are going to miss if there are only 8 planets in our System. Simply, there will be fewer targets to reach.

————–

As for the current proposal, it is way too elaborate and so it defeats itself.

For example if a planet is “by far the largest body in its local population“, and “the local population is the collection of the objects that cross or close approach the orbit of the body in consideration“, I can imagine plenty of objects beyond Neptune whose orbit does not cross or close approach much of anything else (what is in fact the meaning of “close“?)

Also, what is wrong with Ceres, that is way larger than any other asteroid, and moves in an orbit with little inclination and eccentricity?

————–

Finally, that proposal depends on the current theories on the formation of the Solar System. Do we really have to change the definition of “planet” every time we improve our science?

Categories
English Innovation

Pixar’s Cars – a movie for automotive buffs (no spoiler)

Whatever certain engine-challenged critics have decided to report, the latest Pixar feature, Cars is no “dud”.

It is an engaging cartoon full of hidden jokes and with a storyline and complex meanings way beyond any Toy Story or Monsters Inc. divertissement

Cartoonist extraordinaire John Lasseter and friends have made a movie that does exactly what it says on the tin: everything in it is about cars, down to the buzzing flies (miniature trucks). The only biology appears to be in the form of plants, especially saguaros

It may therefore become a little boring if you happen…to hate cars and trucks.

Perhaps not “one for the missus”?

And how many children will understand half of the jokes, or even recognize an old-style Fiat Cinquecento?

Cars is a movie that deserves to be seen several times. It will surely be declared a masterpiece in the decades to come, perhaps the herald of a new era of feature-long cartoons mostly aimed at an older segment of the audience than usual

Categories
Climate Change Democracy English Policy Skepticism

Climate Change Propaganda? No thank you

Today’s TCS Daily (Europe) sported my article on the sinister side of Climate Change propaganda, a commentary on the recently-published report ““Warm Words: How are we telling the climate story and can we tell it better?”

global-warming pessimists […] are now being encouraged to make-believe their own reality, building for all of us an almost certainly gloomy future. Armed with propaganda rather than rational persuasion, they are advocating an orthodoxy reminiscent of some past Communist States. […]

[The authors of the report] go as far as to implicitly recognize that possibly climate change catastrophism is “another apocalyptic construction […] perhaps a figment of our cultural imaginations”. […]

Is the terrain being prepared for zealot eco-revolutionaries soon to remove most freedoms and a wide range of technological achievements, imposing us a future “eco-friendly” life of pain, illness, manual labour and struggle, with the belief that human ingenuity is an evil that will destroy the planet instead than improve our lives? […]

I am still waiting for a single weather pattern to change due to Global Warming. Feel free to point that out when (and if) it happens

Categories
Antiterrorism English Humor Politics UK

The Nightmare of the Terror Suppository

Just received from the future

London, 14 Aug 2011 (MNN) – British Police has today foiled a major terrorist plot involving a novel usage of bodily orifices. A group of men, women, children and dogs were arrested in various parts of the UK after an inside source aired their plans to board a series of planes, trains and automobiles after inserting exploding suppositories in their, well, you all know where suppositories are meant to be inserted

Whilst security forces have been removing potentially triggering beans from kitchens and refrigerators, thousands of previously neglected doctors are being given the limelight (and some searchlights) in all major international airports

They are instructed to proceed with proctological examinations of all passengers. People are reacting surprisingly calmly to the new in-depth safety procedures. Are they used to the feeling already, one wonders

In other news, reports indicate that new proposals for air travel safety against terrorism will involve the prohibition to carry humans on board. According to a spokesperson, “It is a well-known fact that all terrorists are humans, so it is in the interest of travelers that we make sure none of that species travel on passengers planes”

Categories
Antiterrorism English International Policy Politics

Idiotic, Suicidal Terrorism Is Bound To Destroy Itself

News come and go. What if Scotland Yard comes back in a few weeks’ time apologizing to everybody and anybody ever accused of masterminding a bogus terror plot

Much more important for most of us, what is the long-term perspective of present-day suicidal terrorism?

It’s that there isn’t much to fear about, because suicide-based terrorism is peculiarly idiotic, bound to destroy itself (unless we do anything egregiously wrong)

  • For the law of diminishing returns, either attacks get bigger and bigger, or the targeted population will feel habituation rather than increased fear. It’s like opening (the proverbial bonfire) with the stakes too high, and having to destroy one’s forest simply to keep up
  • There’s millions of potential victims, and one day they will surely come up with novel solutions to prevent the killings, making further attacks quite hard to organize: think the Israeli wall, think the changed tactics of the US Navy after the first round of Japanese Kamikaze pilots
  • Just like then, “the best and the brightest” in the terror organization are bound to blow themselves up. They can be substituted, but it does take around two decades to make another terrorist. In the meanwhile, ranks will be increasingly fuller of coward weasels that couldn’t stomach the suicide they themselves require of the others
  • Those people want to die whilst the rest of the world wants to live. Guess who’ll be sticking around the longest? On average, both aspirations are bound to be fulfilled
  • In the fight against relatively well-organized societies, for the terrorists the only way to victory is to get hold of weapons of mass destruction.  But even in that case, the only thing a suicidal terror organization will succeed in doing, is to eliminate itself

Instead of making the life of the many increasingly more difficult, the best thing we can do is first and foremost to get on with our lives (unless of course one is professionally involved in the prevention of terror attacks and other criminality)

Categories
English Radio Technology

The Future of Radio Broadcasting

Three non-mutually-exclusive directions for the future of radio broadcasting:

(1) So-called High Definition Radio (HD Radio), using existing frequencies for high-quality sound, simultaneous multi-programme broadcasting, digital services, etc

(2) Continent-wide Satellite Radio, like Italy’s WorldSpace, widening the number of potential listeners to anyone that understands the language, and allowing transmissions in zones where the signal is weak or intermittent

(3) Obviously, a widespread use of podcasts, and their transformation in commercial vehicles with the introduction of very short advertising (and therefore not easy to fast-forward on an iPod or equivalent)

In theory one would also be speaking about DAB, the “digital radio” fanfared in the UK, but despite years going by and an unremitting passion as radio listener, I do not see any future in an expensive technology that basically promises only a cleaner sound (and is still battling with its own million different “standards”)

Categories
English History International Politics

Oil Prices are bound to fall soon

Oil Prices are bound to fall soon…and for reasons that will appear obvious in hindsight (so why not spell them out now?):

  • Behind the recent price hikes for crude oil there is a combination of transient causes such as the Iraq fiasco, and the herd mentality that has brought many people into the Commodities markets and convinced them to buy oil alongside everybody else. When those causes will deflate, so will the oil price
  • Higher prices stimulate more research into how to extract more oil. When the market will find again its sanity, higher supply will mean lower prices.
  • Higher prices stimulate also the construction of additional refineries. These take several years to come online, and will crash the price of oil when they’ll all do at the same time: just as those miles and miles of communications cable laid down during the Internet boom of the 1990’s are behind today’s cheap cybersurfing and free worldwide calls,
  • The possibility that oil is costlier because we have just reached a peak in production capabilities is remote. Why now? Why not 10 years ago, or 20 years in the future? Why would it happen so suspiciously close to 9/11 and the crises that have followed?

The real difference this time around is that all those predictions of future doom-and-gloom will be forever available on the Internet, perhaps for a good laugh when “experts” will try to recycle themselves in the future into the “oil is a practically inexhaustible resource” camp

Categories
English USA

898 days to go

On January 20, 2009, the 44th President of the United States will finally be sworn and take office

Although it is not impossible to imagine the new guy (or gal) faring worse than President George W Bush (and friends), it is definitely not a given either

Categories
Democracy English Humanity Israeli / Palestinian Politics Sociology

Think the Unthinkable: Make Bombing a War Crime

Lives of enemy civilians have already little importance but in hypocritical declarations for the media.  

The progressive increase in the ratio between civilian and military casualties has been a sad trend during the history of war. Together with the overall rise in our weapons’ killing efficiency, it will only mean that in a few decades if not years, wars will be fought with zero dead among the warriors, and millions among the rest of humanity

Actually, the fact that wars mainly kill and maim people with no weapon, no intention to use weapons and posing absolutely no danger whatsoever to the enemy, is considered sound and sensible. It is accepted. 

But it really makes no sense

———-

I was surprised actually this week at my relief when finally Israel soldiers marched into Lebanon, instead of just the usual rounds of military airplanes trying to “surgically” act and killing hundreds of bystanders in the process (not to mention the distorted lives of countless children living in terror of the sound of bombers flying nearby)

Finally, I thought, there will be real people fighting each other directly, not through bombs far away

And so there will be the hope that a soldier won’t kill groups of children, like an airplane pilot does: perhaps, by the mere fact that the soldier will have to look at whom he’s killing, whilst the pilot gives his soul away to a robotic murderer.

————

Can bombardment be anything but a war crime?

In fact, say you are a Hizbullah fighter shooting rockets towards Israel. Are you aiming them at anything in particular? If not, anything and everything is your “target”. But then what are military advantages gained in killing mothers and children, something that is bound to happen? And if there aren’t what are you doing shooting those rockets but an indiscriminate killing, a crime then against the rules of war?

Say you are instead an Israeli pilot releasing a smart bomb to destroy a building where you’ve been told Hizbullah wdfd shooting rockets from. Imagine now the bomb actually hits that building, and not one nearby. Say, tens of children are killed. Even if somebody would be able to demonstrate the military advantages gained in doing that, who is going to do that? What independent tribunal will check your behavior? And still, if you were sorry about those children, what will make you less liable than a just-as-sorry person guilty of manslaughter?

This is not limited to Israel and Lebanon. The US and other forces have periodically justified the bombings of villages in Iraq and Afghanistan, as a justified way of targeting al-Qaeda terrorists.

Just as in Vietnam, we terminate lives in order to free them

————

The above does not even cover the use of cluster bombs, merrily floating towards the ground while luring little children to get near them toy-like killers

What do we do with killers and people committing manslaughter in “normal” life? Why would that have to be any different in war, apart than when all the people involved in the war are consciously doing so?

————

What kind of civilization are we talking about: one that has learn its ways out of the Nazi’s destruction of
Guernica in Spain during the local Civil War?

Are we willingly equating ourselves to the supposedly despised Nazis? Has any other Nazi policy or strategy been accepted in any other part of life?

And yet for some reason we all espouse the idea of “total war”, where every pram and every hospital bed in the enemy’s hands is to be bombed like an aircraft carrier or a dirty-bomb production facility

Instead, for the sake of safeguarding our lives, we give the Governments we have freely elected the power of taking out somebody else’s, however innocent, however young or old. How nice to sleep soundly with our consciences bloodily clean

Truly the Pearly Gates will open only for a few elected people!

————

What should a State do then, to fight another State or militia? Use a “novel” approach: send infantry with the precise aim of finding, routing, destroying the enemy soldiers.

You’re going to lose plenty of soldiers (if you can’t stomach that, surrender at once): but you will concentrate your fire power onto getting rid of the enemy’s ability to harm you and your country.

————

How can anything else be taken as reasonable?

What would you think of a racing driver wasting fuel in knocking down the mechanics of the other teams and their families, instead of focusing on winning the race with the minimal effort?

A more complete analogy would be: what would you think of a racing driver intent at (1) knocking out down the mechanics of the other teams and their families, (2) making the other drivers’ racing easier, and (3) lining up his own mechanics for the others to eliminate?

Because bombings have always elicited a stronger fighting mood in the enemy. And any civilian that dies as “collateral damage” is an argument in favor of exploding terrorist bombs among innocent bystanders

————

And so the Geneva Conventions must be expanded to prohibit all kinds of remote warfare, starting with bombing, but in the most exceptional circumstances (such as the targeting of military compounds)

We must protect civilians for our own sake. Because the idea that children and the elderly can be considered legitimate targets or even acceptable collateral damage surely is repugnant to anybody but mass murderers. Because it’s our lives that are becoming more and more cheap and expendable.

We must go back to the old ways of military confrontation between military forces. Anybody touching any person not actually fighting should be considered a war criminal and treated as such

————

Is this feasible? We know we could win wars by slaughtering each and every one in our enemy’s population. That’s what happened for thousands of years, and yet, we have managed to outlaw such a crime against humanity.

Many nations could have access to chemical arms of untold horror and killing potential. Many have used them, in World War I and up to the Second World War. And yet, we have managed to outlaw such a crime against humanity too

Ditto for nuclear weapons

————

The only thing preventing us from seeing bombings and all other kinds of “remote warfare” for the crimes they are, is the same thing that prevented our forebears to understand that wars need have rules too: and so until the Red Cross was founded, wounded enemy soldiers were left to die, and bayonets were badly-shaped for un-necessary harm

————

Think the Unthinkable: Make bombing a war crime

Categories
Astronomy English Humanity Innovation Politics Science Space

How to run a successful political campaign

Recommendations For How to Run a Successful Political Campaign

As extracted from a lecture given at the British Interplanetary Society in London on June 29 by UK parliamentarian Lembit Oepik:

The main gist appeared to be (a) get yourself prepared, (b) learn how to communicate, and most important of all (c) do not act like a True Believer, treating with disdain anybody not yet married to the cause

  • Be an expert
  • Describe a danger or issue that people understand
  • Do it with a smile
  • Don’t involve yourself in other issues
  • Keep in mind the ultimate goal: be ready for when the danger materializes
  • Clarify from the start your assumptions, the barriers on the path to success, and what organization you are going to need
  • Politically, the main goal is establishing a Task Force to get the Government to take ownership of the problem.
  • Facts and responsibilities must be clearly established. “Take it to the top”, i.e. the Government itself
  • Prepare the Parliamentary debate beforehand
  • Question yourself: why would a Government care?
  • Write to your MP asking for something to be done
  • Understand the letter will be passed to a “researcher”. Write it so as to help the researcher find the necessary information
  • For the Media, prepare a handful of established pictures and stick to those, so you won’t have to describe the basics of your problem again and again
  • Get ready for a long wait for “next big push”, when the campaign runs out of steam

——————

Lembit Oepik has been the LibDem MP for Montgomeryshire in Wales since 1997

Officially, his lecture at the British Interplanetary Society in London on June 29 was on the cheerful topic of “We are all going to die

Self-styled profile provided at the lecture included age, Estonian parents escapees from Stalin, a birth in Northern Ireland (admittedly, not the wisest choice for emigrating a place to), a degree, a long-standing passion for Astronomy, and being a risk taker.

His grandfather was Ernst Julius Oepik, who did NEOs NEOs (Near Earth Objects, i.e. asteroids and comets flying close to our planet)work in the 1950s and 1960s, when it was particularly unfashionable.

Lembit Oepik wanted to get the UK government interested in NEOs.

He started by asking himself why would a Government care, so that they’d take seriously the threat of an asteroid smashing against our planet

Cynically, Governments won’t be interested in “extinction level events” wiping out most of humanity: if that were to be announced, all the Government would think of is that they will not lose next election.

It’s all different with relatively small impacts: a 300m-diameter asteroid could cause catastrophic effects on the economy or social cohesion, without killing billions of people. The Government would be left with the job of patching things up together again.

How to establish then a Campaign to defend ourselves against NEOs? Oepik and his team defined their Assumptions (date is early 1999)

1. A future impact is a certainty
2. It can definitely destroy civilization without wiping out humanity
3. We are taking care of lower risks already, incidents and disaster with far easier consequences
4. The threat from NEOs is not taken seriously
5. There is no sign of any Government working on this.

(Three interesting facts as an aside:
(i) If the Tunguska asteroid or comet of 1908 had hit a few hours later, say, just on top of Westminster Abbey (similar latitude), most of London would have been wiped out
(ii) A 15-km asteroid would be enough to kill up to 90% of humanity. That would leave alive a still sizable 600 millions of us)
(iii) Whatever solution we come up about the threat of NEOs, it may still not be enough. An asteroid zipping on the other side of the solar system that gets aimed at us as if straight from the Sun, would be invisible in the glare of the stellar light, and detected (if at all) when it’s way too late)

Then Oepik listed the Barriers:

1. Governments follow “fashion”
2. Governments think about elections, voters’ fears and anything that can hurt them
3. On a human timescale, hugely-disastrous NEO collisions against our planet are rare an event. If we would be living for 100,000 years, we would witness a couple of terrible impacts. We can only expect a Tunguska event every 100 years.
4. Space is not as fashionable nowadays as in 1969

The Campaign was then organized around:

a) Goal
b) Core Proposition
c) Timetable
d) Team
e) Political Strategy
f) Media Strategy

Goal: Create a NEO task force to investigate the threat and publish a Government report with recommendations for actions

Core proposition: Present the effort for tracking NEOs as an insurance policy (comes down to around 10€ per citizen). Computations were based on actuarial risks: insurance experts can calculate the short- and long-term costs of action and inaction, for countries and insurance companies. This is easy then to compare with impact devastation, and with other risks

Timetable: Relevant Ministerial Department contacted in March 99; Parliamentary debate in April 99; Task Force established in December 99; Report published in December 2000; Actions from 2001 onwards

(Actually, finding the right department has been a challenge in itself. Oepik run into a bit of luck as the long-standing Minister for DTI (Lord Sainsbury) was personally interested)

Political strategy: Make NEO threats a public talking point. Establish facts and responsibilities. And “Take it to the top”, i.e. the Government itself

It is also important to prepare the Parliamentary debate beforehand, making sure the Government spokesman on the floor is aware of what request is going to be submitted.

Media strategy: Elicit press interest. Scare tactics are Ok in this case as the upcoming disaster is a certainty. “Near misses” by NEOs must be publicized, along with the effects they would have had had they stricken our planet.

The aim is to balance the politicians’ neglect and the media’s sensationalism, sometimes destructive irony and sarcasm.

(Oepik saw himself described alternatively as the Savior, or the Destroyer of Planet Earth, when the asteroid sporting his grandfather’s name was mistakenly thought approaching our planet)

A handful of established pictures are very helpful, as after they are distributed through the popular press, they can easily be used in the future to recall the whole issue in the minds of the readers without having to explain the whole problem all over again.

(In another case of hard luck, a “miracle” happened in the midst of Oepik’s efforts, and 2 movies came out of Hollywood on the topic of NEO threats: “Deep Impact” and “Armageddon”, the latter with Bruce Willis. It became much easier to get the media interested)

Situation now: The Task Force was established without much of a problem, and included topmost scientists. As a positive sign of strength, Oepik himself did not have to be a member of it.

After a year, the Task Force came out with 14 recommendations. Only one of them has been implemented: the Government has pushed for NEO threats to be considered as facts, with regular coverage by the media.

Oepik is now waiting for the opportunity for “next big push”, something to get the remaining 13 recommendations back on top of the Government’s priorities.

He is also asking everybody interested in the issue to write to their own MP asking for all recommendations to be implemented asap

The evening ended with a Q&A session. Oepik re-asserted his conviction that scare tactics are in this case justified, as chances of dying because of an asteroid impact are superior to those winning the UK lottery. He wasn’t clear however on how he planned to differentiate his campaign from others also using scare tactics.

Finally, Oepik strongly recommended not getting oneself embroiled in other, even similar campaigns, so as not to lose focus

Categories
Climate Change Development English Letters Politics Science Scientific American

Shermer wins against Sachs in the July 2006 Scientific American magazine

Date: Wed, 26 Jul 2006 15:44:23 -0700 (PDT)
From: “Maurizio Morabito”
Subject: Shermer vs. Sachs on the July 2006 magazine: Shermer wins
To: editors@sciam.com
CC: “Michael Shermer”
Dear Editors

Still puzzled by your choice of providing Jeffrey D. Sachs with a full page of your magazine _not_ to talk about science, I could only appreciate the (unintentional?) irony of seeing the Sustainable Developments column juxtaposed with Michael Shermer’s (definitely science-related) Skeptic musings.

And especially so in the July 2006 magazine: on the left side, Mr Shermer discussing how skepticism should be applied to politics, because “partisans twirl the cognitive kaleidoscope until they get the conclusions they want“.

On the right side, Mr Sachs…twirling “the cognitive kaleidoscope” until he got the conclusions he wanted.

For example, Mr Sachs mentions the Darfur crisis saying “the deadly carnage…has roots in ecological crisis directly arising from climate change“.

That is not given out by Mr Sachs as a possibility or a hypothesis: rather, it is clearly described as a “fact”

Would you mind asking Mr Sachs where he took that “fact” from?

I know that the relationship Darfur-“war on scarce resources” has been mentioned recently by some clergy members in the media. But it would be big news indeed to hear that _that_ has been “demonstrated”, let alone accepted as a “fact”

Mr Sachs goes on to more politicized statements, such as “A drought-induced famine is much more likely to trigger conflict in a place that is already impoverished“. Could you please ask Mr Sachs to provide a list of all conflicts triggered by drought-induced famines, say, during the last 100 years?

Please do follow Mr Shermer’s suggestion: and do control for “confirmation bias” on all your contributors, _including_ those writing about something else than science
 

Categories
Democracy English Technology

Mobile phones, weapons of self defence

Personal recording devices, and by that I mean especially mobile phones, will soon become a tool for reasserting our individual rights

Already now, one can record sound and even images with nobody noticing. Pictures are taken with no much of a fuss in the most unlikely of places, and whatever happens in the (connected) world, some sort of audio/video record usually tends to show up on the Internet (newsmedia are starting to make large use of user-provided content).

All you need for your mobile to become an electronic shield is some kind of wireless minicamera and a bit more memory on the phone

Your entire life will then be recordable *

And what could be there to record, as a way of defending oneself? For example: when asked for a bribery, the business person could walk into next police station and deposit the evidence of the crime.

Or when threatened by the mob, he or she will be able to throw back the threat. Or when confronting politicians that are trying to expand their sleaze empire, the “victim” will have the option of cashing in by sending the right files to scandal-hungry magazines

Elderly people will be able to show who attacked them in their house, and which carers treat them inhumanely

Children bullied at school won’t need to hide a thing, and life will become harder for sadistic teachers and nannies as well.

We’ll soon be able to literally see the last thing a murder’s victim was looking at

Even torturers will be in trouble, if they won’t take care of eliminating anything with an electronic memory: and still it may not be enough: one can imagine pictures being downloaded elsewhere continuously (it already happens with some mobile phone providers), so that even if the Bad People snatch the camera, what’s been snapped until then will be left for posterity

Expect a flurry of hi-tech bust-ups then not prepared by police. Ehi, even Robocop got out of trouble by showing what he had recorded.

And expect lots of “interesting” items appear on gossipy and even serious newspapers, mostly during the initial period, with people not smart enough to understand they are being filmed during 99% of their lives.

Things will definitely get better on several fronts for a while (and even if you’re the paradigm of honesty, just be careful about picking your nose in the street: your fame may be preceding you at your next job application)

But surely it will be no Paradise: criminals and evildoers will simply have to find a different way.

Some scandals will turn up to be elaborate hoaxes based on doctored pictures, and no doubt we will see discussions about that at trials, as entertaining as genetics during OJ Simpson’s

Still, it will be a progress. Hypocrisy will need a tad more effort to be maintained.

After all, the only freedom we are losing by getting our lives recorded, is the freedom of not having to face our individual consciences

(* How much memory? 24hx3600s/hx24pics/s=2 million pictures. Say, 320×240=76,800 pixels x 3 bytes = 230kB/pic

So one day is 230kB/pic * 2 million pics = 440 Megabytes. With a good compression rate, 200 Megabytes. Do we want to record while asleep? If not, 180 megabytes may suffice. How long before that much will be available on mobile phones? It is already. Average memory now is a bit more than 400 Megabytes)

Categories
English International Israeli / Palestinian Politics

The 2016 Middle Eastern terrorism recruitment campaign is in full swing

There’s been plenty of analysis of the current crises around Israel, both in the Gaza strip and Lebanon, surely many of them more meaningful than anything I can write myself

That said, in my not so humble opinion (also, as a student of International Relations) I can see multiple games being played, and multiple strategies on several fronts, including the international media and public opinion at local, regional and global level.

This is seldom if ever talked about on TV and in print. I find the vast majority of interviews misleading at best.

And any comment blaming the crisis on one or the other side is pea-brained, or misinformed, and even dishonest

I’ll simply list then a few ideas and issues I am mostly concerned about:

• It is apparent that nobody cares about civilian lives, especially Lebanese lives

• We have yet more confirmation that lives have different values. That looks like something everybody agrees on. During the 2000-2005 Intifada, one Israeli dead every 3.4 Palestinians. Nowadays it’s one Israeli dead every 10 Lebanese. This is supported by the fact that the freedom of one Israeli soldier has been bargained for the freedom of around 133 “Palestinian” prisoners

• We are a few lives away from the “Perfect XXI Century War”, with no military casualties at all (thus completing a trend started hundreds of years ago, when most of the dead and injured were instead military personnel)

In fact, classic military infrastructure is hardly being touched

• The phrase “disproportionate response” is disingenuous when pronounced by politicians and experts. Everybody’s response is perfectly rational and proportionate from their point of view.

The key to their “rationality” is lack of care for civilian casualties especially if Lebanese

• Israel had been preparing this for years. No major military intervention, especially when being fought on the second front, can be organised overnight. One may hazard the buildup started at least one year ago, as an alternative fighting front to keep “warm”.after the Gaza pullout

• Hizbullah had been preparing this for years too. Instead of the usual short-of-target missiles (the kind wasted around by Hamas nowadays) they have a truly impressive set of different rockets, with an underground transportation, collection and distribution network that does not care of the existence of roads and bridges. All wonders helped a lot by plenty of oil money from Iran

• Before the current crisis, Hamas was in a weak position: a failure as a Government, a failure economically, a failure politically with the Jul 26 referendum risking to delegitimise its very Charter, if the Palestinians had recognised Israel’s right to exist. Now that referendum is postponed indefinitely

• Israel was in a weak position too: blatantly unable to defend (and find) his own soldiers, sitting lamely watching Hizbullah arming itself perhaps for an invasion, and in danger of being outmaneuvered by the Jul 26 Palestinian referendum too.

The new Prime Minister, lacking military credentials, can only show himself ruthless and militaristic, giving free hand to the Generals. The difficult promise to get out of some West Bank settlements was quite risky to fulfill, so it is much easier now as it can be shelved for a long time.

The weakness of Israel’s position is confirmed every time an Israeli utters the overused words “Israel cannot do otherwise”. Hardly the stuff of a regional Power: why and when did it let itself get cornered like this?

• And Hizbullah was not in a strong position either: not yet ready for a full-scale war, with the threat of UN Resolution 1680 calling for its disarmament, always on the edge of being cancelled out by a political crisis in Tehran or Damascus, or even in a nuclear deal between Iran and the rest of the world

All in all, military and political commanders on all sides have no interest in ending the conflict in the short term. Or even medium

• Stock traders may think the same as the markets in Israel and Lebanon are not suffering as one would expect in a time of war

• Sadly this is not an intifada, fought to get oneself in best position for an upcoming permanent peace settlement. This is a war of political annihilation

• First to be annihilated is Lebanon as a State. There is no effort to defend its own citizens, for example. And Hizbullah, in theory part of Beirut’s Government, launched on a campaign on its own without agreeing or alerting anybody. In other times we could have called it a Hizbullah Protectorate, but as they have no intention to protect anything in Lebanon, the nearest similarity may be Germany during the Thirty Years’ War: a playground for somebody else’s wars

• Negotiations cannot go anywhere. There is nothing to negotiate between Hamas and Hizbullah., and Israel. One can only see them negotiating about the others’ embarking on a one-way trip to the moons of Saturn

• Anybody not directly touched by this war has little to worry about. Witness the US’s sluggish reaction: Condi Rice may go there as “early” as next week

• The fact that Iran is behind Hizbullah means not one of the states around Lebanon and Siria will want to be involved in any conflict. They would all have very little if anything to gain by intervening, and a lot to lose

• Much easier for the whole world to let the fighters pummel each other into stupidity, and get ready to make the most of whatever the outcome.

• It is hard to conceive any ending that will not see Israel getting the upper hand once again, as in every war from 1946 apart from 1956 and 1973 (perhaps!)

• On the other hand, just like the 1982 invasion helped create Hizbullah, the 2006 war will mean yet another terrorist recruitment campaign “supported” by Israel

The terrorists of 2016 that is.

In an alternate, happier reality, Israel is showing the strength of its democracy by actually caring at least a iota about civilian Lebanese (not just in words; but then, in this universe the UK and USA have taught the lesson, with their disregard for Iraqi lives). Hizbullah is showing the strength of its Islamic credentials by allowing compassion to all civilians, rather than none.

Hamas and Hizbullah have learnt that there is no point complaining if the lion living next door starts mauling your children, after you hurt him, poke him and finally woke him up. And at least one Leader of non-violent attitude is helping all the inhabitants of Historical Palestine to learn to live together.

In a different alternate reality, also happier than ours, the international community is going to stop the unstoppable war by drying up its financial resources. Nobody can shoot if they don’t have the money to buy the bullets. And enough people are thinking there, how idiotic is to pass one’s hate down to their innocent offsprings

But this is what we’ve got. As Steve Hackett wrote and Phil Collins sang for Genesis 30 years ago:

Let’s skip the news boy (I’ll make some tea)
Arabs and the Jews boy (too much for me)
They get me confused boy (puts me off to sleep)
And the thing I hate – oh lord!
Is staying up late, to watch some debate, on some nation’s fate.

Categories
English Family Morabito

Remembering Charles Morabito, PoW 25084 at the Berga slave camp

It all started for me whilst reading the IHT, with a NARA photo of Charles Morabito’s then-grave at Berga:

Now I know Charles was a very unfortunate Prisoner of War, sent to a deadly slave camp in the last months of the war. The PBS pages about the documentary “BERGA: SOLDIERS oF ANOTHER WAR” list him as prisoner #25084, with rank PFC

He may have been of the 106th Infrantry Division, but it is not a given. I’m still looking for details

Categories
Development English International Policy

Limits to Front-End Beneficiary Participation in the Development Process

Prepared for the course “Development in Practice”, Birkbeck College, London March 2006

Introduction

The global sustainability debates, a turn towards a deliberative/communicative academic approach to Development [15], disillusionment with traditional blue-print planning [9]: these are some of the reasons behind the ongoing popularity of Front-End Beneficiary Participation, i.e. the involvement in a project, long before its design stage, of the people that are going to benefit from it (the Beneficiaries, communities and individuals).

With a group approach, FEBP can in theory encourage self-reliance among Beneficiaries [3][16][9], guarantee wider reach and involvement, and achieve “higher production levels“, a “more equitable distribution of benefits” and a reduction in recurrent costs “by stressing decentralization […] and self-help” [16], apart of course from helping in the adoption of innovations and even supporting social peace [12].

However, to fulfill its potential, FEBP must allow Beneficiaries to move up the Ladder of Citizen Participation, beyond tokenism [2] to let them have an effective say in the definition, control and verification of what is done, and how. But who really has that “power“? For example, what are the consequences of internal power dynamics [9] among Beneficiaries? With the above in mind, FEBP’s limits are evaluated here with the help of published literature and an analysis of the experience of Concern.

A Development Organization: “Concern

Started by Irish priests after the Biafra famine of 1968, Concern is a “non-governmental, international, humanitarian organization dedicated to the reduction of suffering“, with as goal the “elimination of extreme poverty in the world’s poorest countries” [8]. Its Beneficiaries are typically living in extreme poverty in States in the bottom forty of the UN Human Development Index; often in a rural setting, dependent on agriculture, lacking essential services in health and education and denied fundamental rights [1]. Emphasis is on lifestyle improvements sustainable without “ongoing support from Concern” [6], and on the promotion of gender equality [8].

Projects (covering Health, Basic Education, Livelihoods, HIV/AIDS and Emergency Response) focus more on matters of necessity than efficient use of resources [1]. The work is organized “directly with beneficiary groups or “a wide range of intermediate organizations” [5] in alliances such as FairTrade and MakePovertyHistory. Usually, research is carried out by answering questions such as ‘Does this [proposal] fit our mandate?’, ‘Can we intervene?’ (security, skills, funds, relationship with host government), ‘How much should we spend?’ and ‘How should we intervene?’ [4].

Results: The Limits of FEBP

FEBP at Concern – For Concern, FEBP is fundamental, “not only important but imperative” [1]. As stated in the Project Cycle Management System and several policy papers [1], any analysis “should include the involvement of those living in poverty” [4]. The actual implementation depends on targeting –scale, level and mechanism of involvement [6] – and is usually achieved through the following tools [1]:· Participatory Rural Appraisal, with local knowledge, analysis and plans [17]· Participatory Learning and Action, with local people learning their “needs, opportunities, and […] the actions required to address them” [14]· Community-Based Participatory Development, i.e. engaging existing structures

· Gender and Development (GAD), seeking the “participation of women and women’s groups at every stage of the process” [1]

· Goal Oriented Project Planning (ZOPP), with the involvement of all stakeholders

· Rapid Rural Appraisal, interdisciplinary teams with local involvement [11]

· Other tools of best practice depending on appropriateness and skills

Methodological Limits Concern’s attention to GAD reveals how important issues of power are in the techniques of FEBP. In fact, Participation runs paradoxically the risk of disempowering people “already without a voice” [7], for example if the Development Organization approaches the Beneficiaries just as yet another “interest group” lobbying its way to being listened to and catered for [10]. Additional problems relate to on Development workers’ lack of awareness of participatory principles and methods [1], combined with a plethora of not-easy-to-select available tools. There are also the usual difficulties with “issue remoteness” (Beneficiaries don’t get involved unless policies/actions have an immediate impact in their lives) [9]; and “consultation fatigue” (projects ask too much and too often to and from their participants) [10]. Any implementation of FEBP is also bound to the particular Organization that is sponsoring it, to the Project that will be designed [9], to the Community whose participation is requested; and by the natural, human resistance to change of the Development workers, their cultural baggage and their linguistic abilities. FEBP may also suffer from uncertainties on “what is a group” and the “group’s” internal cohesion / homogeneity (the “myth of community”) [9].

Beneficiary-side LimitsThe outcomes of FEBP approaches are in fact greatly influenced by complex psychological group dynamics [9], such as exchanges (between the community, its members, the Development Organization and other “actors”) of their “relative power”, the capacity to control, influence, and decide. For example, as FEBP is done through groups, certain individuals may feel less prone to fully participate, if they don’t see that as part of their contribution to the society. The community itself could feel inclined to express its “needs” in terms of what the particular Development Organization is expected to deliver.

Poor, poorly educated, poorly skilled, subsistence-farming beneficiaries may also not have enough time or other resources, to become fully aware of participatory principles and methods, and to dedicate the appropriate amounts of time to FEBP. And on top of the usual cultural/linguistic barriers, Beneficiaries have to deal with the unfamiliar terminology of institutional language and the jargon of Development [9].

Mitigation The shortcomings of FEBP restrict its possibilities, leading at times to “formulaic”, “religious” [9] applications of “rigid” methodologies [1]. Participation could transmutate in political co-option: “talking” a previously-neglected community (often, its already overburdened female members), into providing cheap labor [9].Good Participation evidently depends on Good Governance of FEBP, starting from lessening the consequences of power dynamics: by giving due consideration to the “relative bargaining power” of the Participants, Beneficiaries included [9]; by delegating decision-making to a local level [1]; and by building close personal relationships with individuals, not only communities [9].

Knowledge, effectiveness and flexibility can be improved via a “Lessons Learned” process: with FEBP appraisals and improvements as ongoing tasks; with their results pushed out to the whole Organization; and with the replication of successful participatory programmes [1]. “Lessons Learned” must also include the spreading of the awareness of the limitations of FEBP itself, and lead to the exploration/investigation of alternatives [9].

Conclusions

In the face of its many advantages Front-End Beneficiary Participation has specific limits and is no panacea for the efficient and effective development of communities:

· Limits of FEBP come both from the approach taken by the Development Organization; and from the conditions of the Beneficiaries themselves

· Issues include Power, Awareness/Information, Flexibility, and Culture

· When limitations are native to FEBP, improvements or alternative approaches should be considered

· A continuous re-evaluation of methodologies an increased attention to individuals may help overcome some of those constraints

Bibliography

[1] Deering, K. (UK Head of Partnership Development at Concern Worldwide UK) (2006) Personal correspondence with the author.

[2] Arnstein, S. (1969) A ladder of citizen participation. Journal of the American Institute of Planners, 34: 216-225

[3] Chambers, R. (1984) Putting the last first. London: Longman

[4] Concern Worldwide (2000) How Concern Targets Countries for Poverty Elimination. Dublin

[5] Concern Worldwide (2001) Capacity Building Policy. Dublin

[6] Concern Worldwide (2002) Concern’s approach to emergencies. Dublin

[7] Concern Worldwide (2004) Programme Participant Protection Policy. Dublin

[8] Concern Worldwide (2005), Policy Statement. Dublin

[9] Cooke, B., Kothari, U. (2001) “Introduction”, in Cooke, B., Kothari, U. (Eds.) Participation: the New Tyranny. London: Zed Books Ltd.

[10] Croft, S. and Beresford, P. (1996) “The Politics Of Participation”, in Taylor, D. (Editor) Critical Social Policy: A reader, London: Sage, pp175-198 (cited in Cornwall, A., and Gaventa, J. (2000) From users and choosers to makers and shapers: Repositioning Participation in Social Policy. IDS Bulletin 31 (4): pp 50-62)

[11] Crawford, I.M. (1997) “Chapter 8: Rapid Rural Appraisal”, in Marketing Research and Information Systems. (Marketing and Agribusiness Texts – 4). Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

[12] De Soto, H. (1989) The Other Path: The Economic Answer to Terrorism. New York: Basic Books

[13] Healey, P. (1997) Collaborative Planning: shaping places in fragments societies. Basingstoke: Macmillan

[14] International Institute for Environment and Development (2003) What is Participatory Learning and Action?. London: IIED

[15] Mbiba, B. (2006) Participation: The ladder of citizen participation and limits to participation. Lecture Notes

[16] Van Heck, B. (2003) “Why Participation and What are the Obstacles?”, in Participatory Development: Guidelines on Beneficiary Participation in Agricultural and Rural Development. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

[17] World Bank (1996) The World Bank Participation Sourcebook, Appendix I: Methods and Tools. Washington, D.C.

Categories
Climate Change English Environment International Herald Tribune Letters Policy

Ethics and Coal

Is this sad or cool? I just had my seventh published letter on the pages of the International Herald Tribune (June 28, 2006)

“Coal’s False Promise”

Jeff Goodell indulges in circular reasoning when he writes that the biggest problem with coal is “what it does to our minds. It preserves the illusion that we don’t have to change our lives” (“Coal’s false promise to America,” Views, June 24).

If coal is abundant and available, as Goodell reports, surely there are fewer reasons to worry about the end of cheap oil? And if coal causes environmental problems because of antiquated extraction and burning practices, isn’t the problem one of improving those technologies and processes, rather than abandoning coal altogether? 

One is left with the impression that the campaign against coal is just another moralizing enterprise, taking advantage of purported shortages to corral us into living a “more ethical” life.

Maurizio Morabito Orpington, England

I will blog about the other six letters published so far (and all the ones never printed), but for now a list is available by searching for “maurizio morabito” at this link

Categories
English Football Humor World Cup 2006

WC wisdom

a. if you cannot score you cannot win

b. if you beleve your midfield is the strongest in the world, it isn’t

c. it is easier to simulate than to suffer a foul

d. if you want to fall it is far more convenient to do it in the opponents’ penalty area

e. putting a defender at just one of the goalposts is not enough

f. defending by using the offside rule depends on all the defenders being awake and aware of their surroundings

g. it is better if your goalkeeper has previous familiarity with the rounded thingy everybody else is kicking around

h. lots of goals against a weak team are no evidence of greatness

i. referees’ influence on the result cannot be underestimated

j. if Blatter speaks in the morning against touching the ball with one’s left hand, use the right one