Categories
English Risk Social Networks

Perception of Risks, Social Networks and Globalization

A radical rethink of the concept of risk is needed in light of globalization and the availability of social networking and communications tools

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There was a time when big news would happen only to complete strangers on TV. Then came e-mail, and Usenet, and groups: and so when TWA800 exploded on July 17, 1996 I knew the brother of one of the dead. Time moved on, and on September 11, 2001 an acquaintance of mine was working in one of the World Financial Center’s buildings (he survived)

When the tsunami arrived at Phuket in Thailand on December 26, 2004, a very close friend of mine was there (he survived too). Finally during the attacks in London on July 7, 2005 one of the dead was Colin Morley, fellow member of Ecademy, the online social and business networking site I belong to since 2003.

Sounds ominous doesn’t it? But it should not be seen as a sign that there is an aura of bad luck around me.

Rather, as per Jeremy Waldron’s great insight in this week’s The New York Review of Books (“Is This Torture Necessary?“, Vol 54, N. 16 · October 25, 2007), the point is that security “is not just an individual good, enjoyed by each of us as a matter of [individual] statistical probability“.

Security must be rethought as a group’s, not just a person’s. Even if on 9/11 “99.999 percent of the US population […] were not killed“, the fact that 2,974 did was a hit on the sense of security of all that could imagine themselves being in the WTC, at the Pentagon or on United 93.

That’s why the fear of a major terrorist attack or any other large catastrophe appears superficially absurd, given each one of us’s infinitesimal probability to be involved. In reality, it’s not “how bad is the risk for me?” but “how bad is the risk for ‘my group’?”

This concept can be expanded further. The first ports of call for one’s feeling of belonging to a group are obviously family, friends and acquaintances/colleagues (in contemporary terms, one’s “active social network”, to the exclusion of the people one is not in touch any longer).

What may or does happen to one’s “active social network” will affect one’s sense of security.

This means in turn that the more people one knows and stay in touch with, the lower the sense of one’s own security. Actually, the cumulative chance of anybody in one’s active social network to be involved in a large catastrophe gets higher and higher as time goes by.

And in a globalized world where people travel around, and the possibility to get to know more people increases, things can only get worse. As something “bad” is bound to happen to somebody sometime, having a big enough active social network will guarantee a hefty supply of tragedies.

If we could be acquainted with every other human being, life would be very very hard to bear.

This is a rather unfortunate, unintended consequence of social networking tools, including basic e-mail.

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Anyway, there are two silver linings to that.

First of all, just as tragedies will be in plentiful supply, so will causes of celebrations. We just have to work out a way to make those travel as fast as bad news already do.

Second, the more we know each other, the less we will be able to just harm each other. As all genocidal Dictators know, it is much harder to kill people when they are people, instead of faceless enemies.

Categories
English Kosovo peace UN

Kosovo: Dream a Dream Against the Nightmares of Reason

New, unreasonable, absurd ideas are needed to prevent diplomatic logic from perpetrating new injustice in Kosovo thereby prolonging the conflict for many years to come

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After years of postponements, the international crisis around the Kosovo region in the Balkans will climax in a little less than two months.

According to the intentions of the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, 10 December 2007 will be the final date for the negotiations between Serbia and its Southern province, whose Albanian majority have been out of Belgrade’s control from 1999.

International mediator Martti Ahtisaari has published a Plan with a series of recommendations that include independence for Kosovo. But in all likelihood negotiations will keep failing. And then in December the USA will follow the Ahtisaari Plan, but Russia will not, further attracting Serbia in its orbit.

In the meantime the European Unione (EU) will demonstrate its independence from Moscow by following the path indicated by Washington: thus doing nothing to heal one of the Continent’s most difficult conflicts.

Europeans have been developing for 60 years the art of postponing comprehensive solutions thereby creating more problems. In December 1991, the Union recognized the independence of Croatia and Slovenia, intently to stop the war between Zagreb and Belgrade but in practice triggering the long Bosnian conflict.

The Kosovo issue can be traced back to a geopolitical decision taken 130 years ago above the heads of the inhabitants. At the time the Albanians were denied independence by German Chancellor Bismarck. They got it then in 1913 but only on a chunk of Historical Albania. Substantial amounts of ethnic Albanians were stranded in Serbia, Greece and Macedonia.

The common trait of this history is that nobody has never asked the Albanians’ opinion. Even in Kosovo, the “liberation” has come from American bombs, not the local guerrilla. And from 1999, although elections have been held, the province has effectively been in the hands of the UN, following Security Council Resolution 1244.

Serbs haven’t much to celebrate from history either. Conquered by the Ottomans in 1389 despite winning an epic battle just in Kosovo, they achieved international recognition at the mentioned 1878 Conference, but then lost much of male population facing the Austrian Empire in World War I. Nazis,

Croats and Italians literally and figuratively cut them to pieces (not just figuratively) in World War II. Then, after relative prosperity under Tito’s Communism, the Serbs fought wars nearly for the entire ten years of the extraordinarily aggressive nationalist/socialist Presidency of Slobodan Milosevic.

Serbia is today a nation with a most serious image problem, seven years after nonviolent popular revolution sent the Dictator to die in an international jail. Its path towards becoming a modern democracy is still not easy, with nationalists always too close to power, a First Minister killed by the Mafia, and a list of fugitive war criminals.

With a rancorous attitude, Brussels and Washington relentlessly seem to treat the entire Serbian Nation as “guilty”, somehow illogically after making so much effort to inspire the local democrats.

Unfortunately, one point seems to escape most: Serbs are Europeans, as much as the Italians, the Portuguese and the Germans (and the Albanians).

In truth their society developed a Communist dictatoriship; there is still lots of corruption and Mafia near the power centers; some Serbs have committed atrocities, covering themselves in blood for ethnic cleansing, concentration camps and mass killings. Two egregious war criminals (Karadzic and Mladic) are still on the run.

But doesn’t precisely that make the Serbs truly European? Their history has many correspondences with the rest of the Continent’s: Communist Party; Italian fascism; Nazi genocide; and the many European war criminals never brough in front of a court of law.

And it would not be difficult to continue.

More: the EU is the fruit of the epochal paradigm shift of 1951, when France and Germany, Latin Europe and German Europe, renounced war in the European Coal and Steel Community, some 1942 years after the slaughter of the lost legions of Varus in the Teutoburg forest.

The EU is the foremost peacemaking experiment in the History of Humanity, more important because more complex also than those 4,000 completely demilitarized miles between USA and Canada.

But if peace is where the idea of Europe begins, that’s where it may end (or jam, perhaps). And so only an enlargement that would include Serbia, the former adversary, would sanction the Continental “completion” of the EU, exactly because for years Serbia has been the enemy to isolate and to bomb.

(two points for clarity: the enlargement to include Albania is also important but it appears a question of time…from a strategic point of view, it has happened already. And the other “missing pieces” from the Continent (Switzerland, Norway, Iceland) are in all but paper members of the Union, having to adhere to almost all of its directives and regulations).

Finally, without Serbia, and indeed if Serbia voluntarily and angrily refused to join the EU in open contrast to the dream of the founders (Spinelli, Monnet, Schuman), the Union would have to waste time and resources on that inner wound ready to spill blood at the first opportunity: bye-bye to further expansion with Turkey, the Ukraine, Morocco and Israel!

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Unfortunately, this is the most likely future.

In the Kosovar crisis international diplomacy has shown all its limits, and especially its “Curse of Reason”, with perfectly logical behaviors by all protagonists combining in perfectly illogical, and disastrous collective decisions.

Think of the tragic chain of events that changed the solid European equilibrium before the Sarajevo murder in 1914 to the suicidal years of the First World War; think also of the War of Korea, stopped on July 27, 1953 at the same border where it started on June 25, 1950, minus four million dead.

In Kosovo too, everybody behaves according to logic. For the local Albanians, independence is now a goal they thought they had reached a year ago. For the Serbs in Pristina and Belgrade, keeping Kosovo as a province is the last bastion to defend national dignity, having been divorced by Slovenes, Croats, Bosniacs, Macedonians and Montenegrins.

The larger fish couldn’t disagree more either. The USA have repeteadly declared their intention to recognize the independence of Kosovo, in opposition to Russia, while the EU awaits unanimity and so can only show paralisis.

It is hard to imagine how could any “logical” solution satisfy all the parties. Indeed, every “practical idea” guarantees the perpetration of this or that injustice: an independent Kosovo would be evidence for the Serbs that their interests are of no concern to the USA and the EU: frankly, one put-down too many, and without any strong reason why.

Declaring Kosovo as a province of Serbia would mean in turn the betrayal of years of expectations, and would alienate the Kosovars without eliciting so much as a “thank you” note” from Belgrade or Moscow.

Leaving the status quo would not help the development of a territory that is getting addicted to international aid, and where the way to riches passes through the local Mafia and drug smuggling.

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Some new solution is needed for Kosovo: an unreasonable, absurd, impratical idea and for those very reasons logical, reasonable and indeed practical, a lot more than the Cold and Warm Wars (and probably, the dead people) that otherwise await all of us in the future, almost with absolute certainty.

What kind of solutions? Offering independence to a smaller Kosovo, cut out according to pre-1999 ethnic lines plus adjustments, with the territories with Serbian majorities conceded to Serbia? Implementing a customs union of Serbia, Kosovo and Albania that would simplify their EU accession negotiations whilst rendering obsolete the issue of Kosovo independence?

Offering free circulation of people between Serbia and independent Kosovo, with generous aids for Serbs to repatriate? Setting aside independence in favor of a “macualted” federal state? Guaranteeing to Serbia the immediate accession to the EU as soon as the necessary laws are implemented, and in any case not after Croatia and Turkey?

Re-admitting Belgrade to the assembly of nations without the lasting distrust and independently from the situation with the war criminals? Compensating the civil Serbian victims of the 1999 war?

None of those questions may be the answer: indeed, they could be all and only Dreams.

However, what has the Powers’ diplomacy to offer, but Nightmares?

Categories
catastrophism Climate Change Conflict resolution Darfur English Policy Science Skepticism UN

IgNobel Peace Prize A More Likely Contribution to Peace than Al Gore’s

Apparently one of the reasons for Al Gore and the IPCC to receive the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize relates to “green” being nowadays equal to “peace”.

This is absolutely a fantasy as there are many, many wars and conflicts around the world and not even one can honestly be related to climate change or global warming.

The one example that is always used is the remote possibility that increased drought would be behind the Darfur genocide. Such a link has been fabricated in a recent UN report and it is a shameful way of abandoning all those women and children while providing a ready-made excuse for the people committing the genocide.

All that, because a bunch of rich people fear that world temperature may go up 2C in 40 or 100 years, and can only get their worries on top of everybody’s agendas by stocking up fears?

The issues about Darfur have nothing to do with climate. And in any case, on the entire rest of the surface of the planet there is not a single other place where armed conflicts can be even remotely connected to any presumed, measure or modelled change in the climate.

Israel is bombing nuclear targets in Syria and Damascus did not even complain, and we think that peace will come from lowering CO2 in the atmosphere??

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The contribution by Al Gore and the IPCC to present or future peace remains a mystery indeed. And other big questions remain open:

  • Why give a Prize before the fact, when we do not even have a Kyoto-II Agreement?
  • Why a political award to what is supposed to be a non-policy-making international body of scientists like the IPCC?
  • Why not a Nobel Prize in Physics for the IPCC if the science of global warming is strong enough to justify their efforts that earned them a Peace Prize?
  • Why can’t concerned IPCC scientists group themselves outside of the Panel, thus separating Science from politics?

All in all, this year’s IgNobel Peace Prize does seem a more likely contribution to peace than what Al Gore and the IPCC have not yet done:

PEACE: The Air Force Wright Laboratory, Dayton, Ohio, USA, for instigating research & development on a chemical weapon — the so-called “gay bomb” — that will make enemy soldiers become sexually irresistible to each other.
REFERENCE: “
Harassing, Annoying, and ‘Bad Guy’ Identifying Chemicals,” Wright Laboratory, WL/FIVR, Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, June 1, 1994.

A bit far-fetched, perhaps, especially about attracting annoying creatures, eliciting halitosis and the extraordinary application of the old slogan Make Love Not War to the battlefield: still, the Wright Laboratory’s efforts were (are?) about changing the nature of the armed conflicts of today, not the ones some very worried people are imagining now will happen in five or more decades.

Categories
catastrophism Climate Change English Nobel Science

Nobel Peace Prize awarded to alarmist prone to shout off questioners…

…and to Intergovernmental Panel that discards all commentaries that are not “on-message”.

Fortunately Lysenko has been dead for a few years otherwise next year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry would have been his.

And it’s the first time in history that a Nobel Prize has been assigned not in recognition of the past, not as a reward for the present, but for reasons that may, perhaps, happen sometimes in the future…


A reminder of Al Gore’s attitudes:

…after the interview [Al Gore] and his assistant stood over me shouting that my questions had been scurrilous, and implying that I was some sort of climate-sceptic traitor.”

Here also a link to the full reasons for a British High Court Justice to state that “some of the errors, or departures from the mainstream, by Mr Gore in An Inconvenient Truth in the course of his dynamic exposition, do arise in the context of alarmism and exaggeration in support of his political thesis“.

Interestingly, there are nine inaccuracies that as a consequence of a court’s decision “have to be specifically drawn to the attention of school children“:

  • The film claims that melting snows on Mount Kilimanjaro evidence global warming. The Government’s expert was forced to concede that this is not correct.
  • The film suggests that evidence from ice cores proves that rising CO2 causes temperature increases over 650,000 years. The Court found that the film was misleading: over that period the rises in CO2 lagged behind the temperature rises by 800-2000 years.
  • The film uses emotive images of Hurricane Katrina and suggests that this has been caused by global warming. The Government’s expert had to accept that it was “not possible” to attribute one-off events to global warming.
  • The film shows the drying up of Lake Chad and claims that this was caused by global warming. The Government’s expert had to accept that this was not the case.
  • The film claims that a study showed that polar bears had drowned due to disappearing arctic ice. It turned out that Mr Gore had misread the study: in fact four polar bears drowned and this was because of a particularly violent storm.
  • The film threatens that global warming could stop the Gulf Stream throwing Europe into an ice age: the Claimant’s evidence was that this was a scientific impossibility.
  • The film blames global warming for species losses including coral reef bleaching. The Government could not find any evidence to support this claim.
  • The film suggests that sea levels could rise by 7m causing the displacement of millions of people. In fact the evidence is that sea levels are expected to rise by about 40cm over the next hundred years and that there is no such threat of massive migration.
  • The film claims that rising sea levels has caused the evacuation of certain Pacific islands to New Zealand. The Government are unable to substantiate this and the Court observed that this appears to be a false claim.
Categories
catastrophism Climate Change English Politics

Climate Supremacists Cannot Tolerate Any Dissent

I have just stumbled into two examples of all that is wrong with Climate Supremacists’ mindset of impending doom by climate change/global warming: their absolute inability to tolerate any form of dissent, however mild.

First, have a look at Bill McKibben’s review of Bjorn Lomborg’s new book “Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist’s Guide to Global Warming” (The New York Review of Books, October 11, 2007).

McKibben’s review is a series of invectives against Lomborg, with ample space dedicated to denigratory remarks and the one, solitary invite to visit www.lomborg.com to read anything positive about the Danish author.

I simply cannot remember any article of comparable vitriol on the NYRB during the past 2 years at least. Evidently McKibben holds some grudge against Lomborg: from the former’s remarks, it is apparent that the issue is Lomborg’s questioning of the received wisdom of having to be very, very worried about the evolution of the world’s climate.

It is important to note that Lomborg believes in the scientific consensus of anthropogenic global warming (AGW). Alas, he commits the radical sin of trying to think for himself, of pointing out there are other issues to tackle, and (the shock! the horror!) of having received “right-wing support“.

For all of the above, Lomborg’s work cannot simply be reviewed by McKibben: it has to be demolished along with its author’s reputation, over and over again in sentence after sentence.

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The second example is an inadvertently hilarious piece by Roger Harrabin, BBC Environment Analyst (“The heat and light in global warming“, BBC News Website, October 11, 2007).

After a long analysis on all that is wrong with people that don’t think it appropriate for the movie “An Inconvenient Truth” to be shown to youngsters in schools, Harrabin remarks about his own experience after asking an inconvenient question to Al Gore:

“…after the interview [Al Gore] and his assistant stood over me shouting that my questions had been scurrilous, and implying that I was some sort of climate-sceptic traitor.”

Once again, Harrabin is a firm believer that AGW is happening, and he even shows all signs of worry for the future: still, the one time he tries to think for himself, immediately he’s considered a “traitor”.

Will Roger Harrabin ever connect the dots, and understand that Al Gore’s message on climate is an ideological, all-encompassing, freedoms-destroying credo that cannot leave any space whatsover to any dissent? Some hope!

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It is a constant of history that leaders have been able to curtail freedoms in the name of public safety and a brighter future.

As Climate Supremacists ominously follow those earlier examples, stopping their dictatorial attitudes is the duty of every libertarian and of anybody that takes liberty into consideration.

Categories
English Science Skepticism

Rock-bottom Quality at The Lancet

Plenty of red faces at The Lancet in a few years’ time when somebody will decide to carefully read what they have allowed onto such an esteemed publication:

Food additives and hyperactive behaviour in 3-year-old and 8/9-year-old children in the community: a randomised, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial– www.thelancet.com – published online September 6, 2007 DOI:10.1016/S0140-6736(07)61306-3

To the eye of the busiest readers, such a paper could not be more explicit about the dangers of artificial food colouring and preservatives :

Interpretation: Artificial colours or a sodium benzoate preservative (or both) in the diet result in increased hyperactivity in 3-year-old and 8/9-year-old children in the general population

It’s just too bad that the results published in the very same article warrant such a conclusion not at all.

(1) The study included a tiny sample of 300 children, hardly something meaningful for the “general population”

(2) Unbelievably, importance is given to result of very little statistical significance.

Statistical significance is indicated, as usual, as “p”: in the article, “p=0.044” means the probability of the result being by chance is  1/22. “p=0.02” corresponds to  1/50 and “p=0.023” means 1/44.

In other words, out of 22 results with “p=0.044“, one of them will be statistically bound to be due to chance: and thus, meaningless. In fact, it is best practice for statistical significance to be granted only for “p=0.01” (1/100) or less.

(3) The only result with an acceptable p is “mix B” with “p=0.001” (1/1000). However, that corresponds to an increase in hyperactivity of just 0.17, that is around 8.5% of the threshold (2.0) defined by the authors for Hyperactivity Disorder/ADHD

Such a low value, and the fact that “mix A” has shown no statistically-significant results, can only be interpreted by saying that the impact of artificial colouring and preservatives on ADHD is irrelevant

Note also that if I am not mistaken not even one of the children in the study ever showed any indication of Hyperactivity Disorder. And I will not even be drawn in the discussion of if and how ADHD could truly be measured as claimed in the article.

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Oh boy! Could any of that have stopped the UK’s Food Standards Agency (sponsors of the study) from abusing the results to call for a lower use of artificial colouring and preservatives in food? ‘Course not.

Let’s give the FSA their due, though: having classified honey as junk food, incredibly claiming “science” to be on the side of such an abysmally stupid choice, they have to defend their reputation and therefore can only keep misusing “science” to provide foundations to their prejudices, for the foreseeable future.

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Should we try to avoid using artificial colouring and preservatives in food, especially for children? Yes. But should we base our choice on inconclusive evidence masquerading it as “scientific”? No. Never.

Because: is it ethical to add meaningless worries to parents already 100% busy with their children and ADHD? No. And it will never be.

———–

And by the way: shame to the science editors that don’t properly read the original articles they decide to write about. Critical eyes should not be confined to movie reviews.

Categories
Burma English Ethics

Total’s Burmese Question

The IHT’s Daniel Altman mentions in his “Managing Globalization” blog French’s giant oil company Total’s reluctance to abandon its Burmese operations.

Despite decades of dictatorship and the ongoing crisis, Total “insists that its presence improves the daily lives of tens of thousands of local people“.

Well, it’s hard to imagine Total as a bunch of virginal angels wondering about their potential wrongdoings. Obviously somebody there decided some time ago it would be a good idea to invest in a dictatorship.

It is even harder to imagine any State giving away its resources for free, so it is obvious that Total is in some sort of revenue-sharing agreement with the Burmese government: hence, Total is financing the continuation of the dictatorship.

Not only that: Burma is the most corrupted country in the world alongside Somalia (according to Transparency International’s 2007 index, reported by the Washington Post on September 27 ). Who would then seriously argue that Total or any other company for that matter has found a way to get oil or gas out of Burma without paying bribes?

That would be nothing short of miraculous. So we can reasonably say that in all probability, there are all the signs that Total is, once again, propping up the Burmese dictatorship (and no, it is not alone).

Therefore the continued presence by Total is directly linked to misery for a little short of 50 million people.

Do the rights of those outweigh Total’s improvements of the “the daily lives of tens of thousands of local people“?

Well, if they don’t, then we could justify any violation of human rights as long as a reasonable amount of people appears to be gaining economically. I wouldn’t be sure that is the way forward.

So what is Total to do? It depends on what the relationship with the Junta is at the moment.

If Total has to be supine because it fears losing the contracts, and it can’t afford to, that would mean the company is running a large risk with his investors’ money, as a critical part of his revenues depends on the vagaries of an unelected number of people rather unpopular the world over, and in their country.

It is high time Total should lower that risk then, for example by moving out of Burma at the first opportunity.

If Total can gain the upper hand instead (as the Burmese Generals need a stable revenue stream, i.e. the bribes), then it should push for the necessary reforms or get out of the country: because if it does not use the power it has, then it is an accomplice in all of the deaths, assaults, tortures and incarceration.

Perhaps Total, despite its size and coffers, cannot really bring change to a country. But it is mandatory for the company to give it at least a try, or else shut up about bringing “improvements” to anybody.

Categories
America English

The Many Fathers of “America”

In the most incredible of coincidences, or perhaps as evidence of mankind’s incredible ability to find patterns everywhere and anywhere (or perhaps as indication of something else I shall not name here), there are at least six different explanations for the origin of the word “America” (with various degrees of credibility):

  • The classical explanation: from the first name of Amerigo Vespucci, the Italian explorer who first figured out that America is a separate continent, not the easternmost part of Asia. Amerigo by the way appears to derive from a Gothic word for “Master Workman”
  • Alternatively, America could be a modification of the Scandinavian Amteric “Land of Eric”, from the times when the Vikings were crossing the Atlantic
  • A related possibility is Ommerike, Norse for “Farthest outland”or derived from Gothic Amalric, “Kingdom of Heaven”
  • There was also a Richard Amerike or Ameryk or Ap Meryke “Son of Meryk”, a Welshman and the King’s official involved with John Cabot’s voyage
  • Remarkably, Amerrique is the name of an Amerindian tribe that lived in present-day Nicaragua, perhaps to be interpreted as “People of the Land of the wind”
  • And why not, there is a Saint Emeric (Latin: “Sanctus Americus“), the Son of the first king of Hungary

For those in search of more details, there is a very interesting essay called “The Naming of America” by Jonathan Cohen, with intriguing reflections on what it means to prefer one explanation over all the others.

FYI: my choice goes to Amerrique. with Vespucci’s name chosen for posterity in the early XVI century by people that could not figure out the actual etymology.

Still, it’s a giant set of coincidences indeed…

Categories
Burma English EU Europe India International Law Myanmar Politics

Burma, Myanmar, India and us

Are we going to let India lead us by our noses once again?

In these hours not that dissimilar from that night on 3 June 1989, hours before the Tian-an-men massacre in Beijing, it may be difficult to think of how to realistically support the demonstrations in Burma, apart from sending more and more appeals for calm to a Military Junta probably second to none in matters of bloody-thirsty repressions and the political and economic strangling of a country.

Still, it is possible to perform three not-just-symbolic gestures:

(1) Categorically refuse the use of “Myanmar” in place of “Burma”.

Even if “quasi-etymologically correct”, “Myanmar” is the invention of the Military Junta, forced upon the country in 1989 with no democratic process at all. If the Burmese will want to change the official “foreign” name of their country to “Myanmar”, they will be able to do so after getting their country back from the usurpers.

More: a couple of years ago the Foreign Minister of Burma protested for the use of “Burma” by the US State Department: all more the reason not to use “Myanmar”.

(2) Let’s publish the names of the dictators.

For way too long the Military Junta of Burma has been treated as a shapeless entity, not as a group of ferocious dictators (humanity-free to the point of denying Aung San Suu Kyi the chance to meet her dying husband for one last time).

Here then some of the persons who should be answering charges in a court of law, instead of commanding Burma against the will of its people:

General Than Shwe – President
General Soe Win – Prime Minister
General Major Nyan Win – Foreign Minister

If we force as much publicity as possible on the names (and pictures) of those in charge of Burma, they won’t be able to hide themselves with the anonymity they have so far much cultivated.

(3) And finally, we should not let India lead us by the nose once again.

Not only many European Governments have underplayed the scandal of the Dhruv helicopters, built also using European supplies and then supplied to the Burmese Junta against every EU embargo rule. It’s worse than that: while outside the Burmese monks were demonstrating, Indian Oil Minister Murli Deora was busy signing a US$150-million agreement for natural gas research in Burma: a clear sign of support of the Junta on the part of a “democratic” Government.

This behaviour is part of New Dehli’s strategic myopia, with India so scared by rebellions in the Northeast to the point of propping up the Burmese Military Junta to get their help in preventing an escalation of those conflicts. And it is based on the apparent impunity when a State goes against rules established by other democratic countries.

If that way of thinking would be intolerable when done by communist China, all the more so for India.

Foreign and International Trade Ministers from all the EU countries (and elsewhere) have a clear duty tonight to apply all possible pressures: including a protest against the present Indian acquiescence, and possible future complicity with the Burmese Junta, before things turn to the worse.

(link to the AVAAZ petition “Stand with the Burmese Protesters”)

Categories
Culture Democracy English Ethics Gender Equality Humanity Sociology

Step Zero in Freeing Up Half of the Human Race

“There can be no safe future without safe motherhood”
Women Deliver global conference (London, 18-20 October)

The very, very first step we need to do to provide at least the possibility of freedom for the whole of humanity, and not just men, is actually made up of two actions:

Step 0.1: diminish the chances of death during pregnancy
Step 0.2: increase the survival rate for children 0-5

In fact, as long as would-be mothers die at the enormous rates of 1 in 6 in places like Sierra Leone and Afghanistan, no wonder the relative value of each of those human beings is not considered that much.

Cynically one would ask why would anybody emotionally attach himself to a person that is quite as likely to die within a year (obviously, in reality things do not work out so simplistic, but still…).

Furthermore, if children die in large numbers (especially in their most vulnerable years, from birth to 5), the only way to nurture some possibility of leaving descendants in this world, is to conceive as many babies as possible.

Having women wait out their entire reproductive lives doing only house chores, with no time for business or political activities whilst going from one pregnancy to the next, becomes then a perfectly logical, if horrendous choice.

Given the fact that death-during-pregnancy and the need of a large number of children just to hope for one’s family not to die have both accompanied humanity for much of its existence, no wonder women have been set aside as virtual slaves for millennia.

And so there is simply no opportunity for “emancipation” if we don’t get mortality rates lower for mother and for young children.

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Luckily but tragically, the solution is not that difficult.

It’s all very feasible stuff and so it is a real tragedy that we have not achieved yet that for all: just as abject poverty and “under-development” are still very widespread.

In truth, there is a precise correlation between those concepts, and the health of women and children is one of the best indicators of how truly “rich” a country is.

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And so: let’s provide education to all the girls, and provide them with all the drugs and all the resources needed to mantain their health and the health of their children.

Otherwise, all efforts may as well go to nothing.

Categories
Astronomy & Space Cosmos English Parallel Universes Philosophy Physics Science Universe

Crowds, Echoes and Communication with Parallel Universes

The existence of a Multiverse has many philosophical consequences (and it just makes so much more physical sense than having us living in a Goldilocks Universe). And as the Multiverse has been postulated from actual observations, we can almost say we can test its existence.

Of course it would be all much more interesting if we could talk to a parallel universe.

Or would it? Communication between Universes may actually be made rather difficult by a “crowding echo effect“.

Imagine I were to try send a message via a quantum interference pattern, for example.

Obviously, all my quasi-identical copies from “nearby” parallel universes quasi-identical to my own Universe, would be trying to send quasi-identical information via quasi-identical ways at quasi-identical times: so we could all be creating so much noise as to make the reception of any message next-to-impossible.

Even more paradoxically, we could actually be reading each other’s message: but since those messages would all be quasi-identical to each other, we could mistakenly convince ourselves that we were listening each one only to his own echo.

After all what meaningful information could anybody exchange with a quasi-identical copy?

It may take a very very long time to figure out the minute differences between the two and those may as well be undetectable or absolutely irrelevant.

Categories
Death Penalty English Moratorium on Capital Punishment Radical Party UN

Support the UN Vote on the Moratorium on Capital Punishment

(by the Nonviolent Radical Party, Transnational and Transparty, registered as an Ngo in General Consultative Status with the UN’s ECOSOC under the name of Transnational Radical Party)

S.O.S. MORATORIUM

URGENT NONVIOLENT INITIATIVE FOR A UN MORATORIUM ON CAPITAL PUNISHMENT!

The 62nd UN General Assembly opens on September 24.

According to a communiqué by the Italian Government dated September 11, the text of the Resolution for a Universal Moratorium on Capital Punishment will be presented to the UN the day after, September 25.

The Members of the Transnational Nonviolent Radical Party, of the “Hands Off Cain” association and of the Italian Radical Party have however not forgotten that in 14 years the approval of the Resolution has been compromised three times, by mistakes and delays caused by, if not outright ostracising behaviour from, several European Governments.

Above all, for more than a decade the European Council bureaucracy in Brussels has hindered the voting of the Universal Moratorium on Capital Punishment at the UN General Assembly, where the number of member nations still using the death penalty has been reduced to a mere fifth of the total.

In order for the Resolution pro-Moratorium (for emphasis: moratorium on the death penalty, not abolition) to be presented at the opening of the General Assembly on September 24, we must strengthen our nonviolent movement right now – and more than ever before.

A hunger strike is in progress from September 2, by many people including Italian politicians Marco Pannella, Lucio Bertè, Guido Biancardi, Sergio D’Elia, Marco Perduca, Michele Rana, Alessandro Rosasco, Antonio Stango, Claudia Sterzi, Valter Vecellio and Dominique Velati.

At the same time, an extraordinary number of people have become members to show their support.

Becoming a member is in fact a vital part of the nonviolent action supporting the Transnational Radical Party, “Hands Off Cain” and the Italian Radical Party in their effort to provide the UN General Assembly the chance to vote the Resolution for a Universal Moratorium on Capital Punishment.

HOW YOU CAN PARTICIPATE IN THE INITIATIVE (click on the link of your chosen option):

BECOME A MEMBER OF:

Categories
English History Humanity War

History, a Murderous Farce

Napoleon, the Emperor of the French, destroyed the Holy Roman Empire in 1806, thereby establishing the basis for the ascent of the German Empire that was going to humiliate France in 1871.

Prussia and Austria fought hard to establish their leadership over Germany. The result was a militarized Prussian class that killed Germany once in the First World War, and then again with its support for Hitler.

“Of course” Adolf, from Austria of all places, dedicated his life to the nationalist cause, with the result that Germany was annihilate and Prussia airbrushed from history at the end of World War II.

Those are not the only ironies of history. The end result of the Christian Crusades was the undermining of the Byzantine Empire, and the opening up of Eastern Europe to the Ottoman Muslims. Nobody has killed as many Communists as Stalin, or as many Chinese as Chairman Mao, and since Tamerlane perhaps nobody has killed as many Muslims as Osama bin Laden and his loose “organization”.

I am sure there are many more examples of unbelievably unintended consequences. Hadn’t it been for the continuous slaughter, History would be a topic to laugh very hard about.

Categories
Climate Change English Humor Policy UK

Lib-Dems Vote to Depopulate Scotland

Brighton, 18 Sep (MNN) – At their annual conference in Brighton, the Lib-Dems have decided to back a radical series of proposals to tackle climate change – including a ban on people living in Scotland by 2040.

Environment spokesman Chris Huhne said tackling global warming would need an “enormous economic change”.

As simply too many people stubbornly keep their abodes in the damp, cold northern regions of the British Isles, generating humongous amounts of carbon dioxide just to heat their houses up, the only solution is to get everybody over to the warmer side of Hadrian’s Wall.

“Climate Change is a threat to democracy”, Lib-Dem delegates have been told, “and tough sacrifices are in order to save our planet.”

In other news: Lib-Dems are going to vote on a proposal to mandate nomadism by 2047.

This will allow everybody to move (on foot!) from one day to the next to find the warmest place where to mount their tent, without having to burn any greenhouse-gas-emitting fuel.

Categories
English Iran Politics War

Men of Peace Are Idiots

In the meanwhile, those provided with rational minds sleepwalk into a needless war of untold tragedy.

Where have I seen this already?

Categories
Atheism English God Philosophy

The Atheist’s Goddess (2)

One thing to clarify first. I wrote a blog, not a 100-page tome dissecting the question from all points of view. So it naturally had to come across simplified and blunt.

Anyway, as usual in discussions like this, the main point is not necessarily the topic of the blog. And so the contention, more than the beliefs of professed atheists, is on the exact concept of “Deity”.

Of course, usually “Deity” is associated (in the shared culture of most of the people reading this blog) with a “Personal, Sentient, Omnipotent and Benevolent God”. People are free not to believe in that God. Many of those will then develop the impression that that will qualify them as “atheists”.

According to my reasoning, that is a logical fallacy. And even if one doesn’t believe in Abraham’s God, or the Hindu “Pantheon” or whatever other organized religion, still one is not necessarily an “atheist”.

Actually, one cannot be a “logical atheist“. Since we are here there has to be something that caused us to be. Either we accept the agnosticist’s point, and that “something” is not knowable, or we have to accept the existence of some sort of Deity (or deity).

To explain it further I start with NF: “If ‘luck’ fills the ‘gap’ where you think a ‘god’ should be, it doesn’t mean that person views luck in the same way that you view God, or someone else views their gods, i.e raised to a level of a diety of some sort, to be revered and venerated”.

Well, I made in the blog the point that a deity doesn’t have to be worshiped, venerated, and may be uninterested to the world or completely lacking any conscience. There are plenty of examples one way or the other in hundreds of human traditions. And of course, it could be Nature.

In fact, I suggested that a “logical atheist” can only recur to “Luck” as the Source of Everything. Some people may not like that: call it “chance” then, or “the force of randomness”. Or “Nature” (a slightly different concept). The main argument does not change: there has to be a “Source of Everything

And so to Joe, who writes “There is no reason to suppose that anything other than natural processes are the cause of our existence”; to SL, who says “we can at least conceive plausible explanations that do not require supernatural intervention”, and to MJP, who makes the point of being an “agnostic atheist”, saying “I see no reason to posit a supernatural cause”: my answer is that the rejection of “supernatural” is not necessarily the mark of an atheist.

One can only say that the Creator in that view of the world is “Natural”. There we go with Spinoza again.

Actually, as I wrote in my reply to Joe, a wholly-natural outlook of the Universe is very, very similar to animism. Under that, we are in the hands of Nature and all its constituents. Just substitute subatomic particles with the Spirit of the River, and the Spirit of the Mountain, etc etc.

Interestingly, this is a point that did not escape JB, as per his comment: “So how many quarks can dance on the head of a pin?

And to finish: WV says “I no more consider myself an atheist for not believing in a supernatural being than I consider myself an aphilatelist for not collecting stamps”: but the situation varies considerably, if you believe or not in the nonexistence of stamps. It is one thing to be uninterested to them, another to actively argue they are not there.

Categories
Atheism English God Philosophy

The Atheist’s Goddess

Atheists have their Supreme Being too

One who disbelieves or denies the existence of God or gods”: that is the usually-accepted definition for an Atheist.

Paradoxically, though, it cannot be true.

What do Atheists believe in, in fact? By denying the existence of God or gods, they have to assume that the “world” just happen to exist, and that we are here to talk about it due to pure luck.

Or to say it better, due to Pure Luck.

The ancient Greeks themselves recognized the power of Luck, and they worshiped Her as the Goddess Thyke.

And so Atheists have to believe in something: they have to believe in Luck.

Perhaps Luck is not a personal deity. Perhaps She is not interested to the ways of the world (still, can’t resist dabbling into it) and perhaps there is no point in praying to Her.

That is besides the point. The point is that if one exists and there is no God, then Luck must exist, and Luck is the Creator: for all intents and purposes, a God.

This applies also if Luck gets out of the way, and Creation is a property of a Spinozian Nature.

Hence nobody can be a strict, logical “Atheist”.

Agnosticists, on the other hand…

Categories
BBC Cancer catastrophism English Power Lines Science Skepticism

Power Lines, Cancer and the Meaning of Statistics

Another day, another bunch of medical results draped in statistics. What is the right way to interpret them?

This article on Power Lines and Cancer provides the basic tools. In a sentence: take with a grain of salt all results based purely on statistics, where the risks or the benefits are less than 300%.

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

Do overhead Power lines cause cancers, especially leukaemia in children?

Like in a “Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern” match of oratorical tennis, two sides of a supposedly scientific debate have not been able to get down to a reasonable conclusion after 30 years of research.

One month, we are told that Science has demonstrated that Power Lines induce leukaemia and other diseases. Cue schools asking for pylons to be removed; and people selling their houses before values start sliding down.

The following month (or year), we are told that scientific studies have shown that the danger, if it exists, is not discernible at all. Cue schools asking for pylons to be removed anyway. And so on and so forth.

How can one make any sense out of this? After all those children either get, or do not get leukaemia. Should that be a matter of debate?

In an era where Science appears to be tugged in all kinds of directions (think of the MMR vaccine debate; the forecasted disasters of Climate Change; the purported obesity epidemic), an analysis of the Power Lines and Cancer debate can teach important lessons on the limits of translating Science into Policy; the need to exercise critical thinking, also about “Authorities”; the perils of letting the media interpret the world for you; and the danger that scientific analysis, endlessly manipulated by unscrupulous hacks and pressure groups, will be used to dent our freedom.

The Science

Studies on adverse effects of electromagnetic fields have been concentrating recently on Power Lines and Mobile Phones [2]. Power Lines are a source of electrical and magnetic fields in their proximity and these can interact with biological material [8]. However, for the frequencies and strengths involved with overhead Power Lines, there is no indication from laboratory studies of any negative effect, for example on rats or cell cultures.

An alternative line of investigation is through epidemiological studies, using statistics to identify adverse effects if any. For example, an increase on the incidence of diseases in children living near Power Lines (“cases”), compared to children living far away from them (“controls”).

Results are usually provided in terms of Relative Risk (RR), the ratio between the percentages of people developing an illness among the “cases” and among the “controls”. A value of 1.0 for RR means there is no difference between cases and controls. A value less than 1.0 indicates that the “cases” are safeguarded against the illness more than the general population. A value above 1.0 is evidence that the “cases” are at greater danger to fall ill than usual.

For example, the RR of developing lung cancer is around 40 23 for habitual (male) smokers. In other words, a smoker’s chance to get lung cancer is 2,300% that for a non-smoker.

The first report on higher leukaemia rate for children living near high-voltage Power Lines is the Wertheimer & Leeper study of 1979 and another by Savitz et al. in 1988 [2]. Much work has been done afterwards by organizations such the US-based Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) mostly disproving the findings above. The United Kingdom Childhood Cancer Study UKCCS (UKCSS) found no evidence for increased “risk for childhood leukaemia, cancers of the nervous system, or any other childhood cancer” in reports in 1999 (about electricity supply), in 2000 (proximity to electrical installations including Power Lines) and 2002 (electric fields in general) [5].

The most important recent scientific epidemiological results for Power Lines and cancer have been published in June 2005 by Professor Gerald Draper of the University of Oxford’s Childhood Cancer Research Group [4]. In the study:

• Children within 200 m of high-voltage Power Lines had a relative risk of leukaemia of 1.69
• Those between 200 and 600 m had a RR of 1.23. This is not compatible with current knowledge on biological effects of magnetic fields. At 200 m, fields from Power Lines are less than the average fields in homes from other sources.
• RR appeared to decrease with distance. There is less than 1% probability that this finding is purely due to chance (an estimate usually indicated with “p<.01”)
• No excess risk for other childhood cancers correlated to proximity to lines

Conflicting interpretations

At first glance, there may be something about children leukaemia, likely associated to proximity to Power Lines. Still, there is no known mechanism, and the relative risk is minimal. As pointed out in the editorial accompanying the Draper article, Power Lines may account (if they do) for no more than five cases of disease per year in the UK, compared to more than 200 children dying because of traffic accidents, and 32 in house fires [8]. Furthermore, there is no indication of effects for any other form of cancer [5]. This means that at present there is no incontrovertible data clearly indicating a cancerous danger in power lines for children and adults.

But it is not possible to design a study proving the negative, that Power Lines do not cause any risk of cancer. The consequence is that the public controversy is likely to stay with us for the foreseeable future. The diversity of comments to the Draper study is in fact truly remarkable [4].

Take for example the opinion of Denis Henshaw, Professor of Human Radiation Effects at the University of Bristol [3] (my emphasis): “[Draper’s] latest findings not only strengthen further the evidence that children living in proximity to high voltage power lines are at increased risk of childhood leukaemia, but in finding effects up to 600 metres away they invoke electric field corona ion effects as a possible causal mechanism”.

Professor Henshaw, whose work is funded by the charity “Children with Leukaemia”, goes as far as stating that “this may be the tip of the iceberg […] in terms of the many other illnesses also associated with magnetic fields such as adult leukaemia, adult brain cancer, miscarriage and depression”.

Which side is “right”? The “Authority” of the “Authorities” is not an answer: because Science is not about following the Authorities; and there are well-known scientists and organizations either side of the debate. Among those skeptical of any cancerous danger in Power Lines, the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (2001); the International Agency for Research on Cancer (2001); the U.S. National Institutes of Health (2002); and the U.K. National Radiological Protection Board (2004) [8].

Obstacles on the road to a good Policy

Where Science cannot reach, opinions start kicking in, and competing interests maneuver to cajole us in one direction or the other. In the case of Power Lines and Cancer, the controversy has indeed been “sustained by uneven reporting on this issue by the mass media” and “lay-oriented books that allege that there has been a conspiracy to conceal the health risks of power-frequency fields” [8].

“Uneven reporting” is visible on the BBC News Website. Again in response to the publication of the Draper article [1], there is an article that presents the issue in scarier traits at first: “leukaemia rates are significantly higher among children who live close to power lines”.

It then progressively mellows “In the past, evidence suggested that low frequency magnetic fields, generated by high voltage cables, may be implicated in some way – a theory which hasn’t been endorsed by [Draper’s] Childhood Cancer Research Group” before ending with “we also spoke to Dr David Grant, director of the Leukaemia Research Fund. He told us he thought the higher incidence of leukaemia near pylons was a coincidence”.

Statistical indicators are explained poorly and in an alarmistic manner. For example, a Relative Risk of 1.69 is described as a 69% increased probability to develop leukaemia. Such a reporting is mathematically right, conceptually wrong and frankly misleading. Is there as 400% growth in increasing one’s savings from £1 to £4? Yes, but it’s still just £4. Moreover, as explained below, values of RR less than 3 seldom are considered worth of note in epidemiological studies.

Perhaps, given that the page is from the Breakfast section, the BBC’s was a clumsy, rather misinforming attempt at eliciting controversy and comments from the audience (see form at bottom of page). That’s bad news for present-day Britain, where its media-conscious Government gives “insufficient weight to available evidence” placing “too great a reliance on unsubstantiated reports that often have their origin in the media” [12]

There is concern also reading on the bias of the published scientific literature. For example, a study done in Montecito [6] reported as much as seven cases of children with leukaemia or lymphoma around a school in the vicinity of overhead Power Lines. However, “five of the seven Montecito children […] attended the school. Of those five, two attended the school for a very brief duration, leaving only three with plausible cases for school exposures as a possible cause” [7].

The Montecito study is one of the scientifically flawed pillars behind the most famous “conspiracy” book, “The Great Power-Line Cover-Up” written by Paul Brodeur [10]. Mr Brodeur set out to demonstrate the cancerous effects of high-voltage power lines, and to denounce a world-wide conspiracy to keep such evidence hidden from the public.

Long rebuttals have been published since [7]. In a telling sign that there may have been a case of “investigative journalism with a purpose”, few if any opinions of the “conspirators” were either solicited or included in the book, leading to a commentator to state that “Brodeur’s criticisms of the people […] are no more than unsupported innuendo, gross exaggeration, and serious misstatement.” [7].

Dealing with epidemiological studies

Epidemiology is a powerful tool. It can even provide estimation on the likelihood that the outcome of a study is due to random coincidences, rather than an actual casual link. The Draper article cited above scientifically asserts that there is less than a 1% chance (“p<.01”) that such its findings are due to a random quirk in the measurements, instead than actual physical processes.

That 1% may appear a very low figure. On the other hand, it also means that among the epidemiological studies published every year with a similar p, one out of every 100 will on average report irrelevant findings.

Trouble is, we do not know which one. An epidemiological study like Draper’s may indicate a link childhood leukaemia-Power Lines. But there is always the possibility that by a run of bad luck, that study is the one out of 100 that “got it wrong”.

And with values of p around .05, incorrect findings will affect one out of every 20 of the great majority of Power Lines and Cancer studies. This problem is further compounded by the normal “reporting bias” (when “multiple studies are done but only some are reported” [8]). A result labeled with p<.05 may have no real meaning: when 20 or more measurements are performed, one of them will be randomly positive.

With other issues at play like “confounders”, (non-electromagnetic causes like traffic density and socioeconomic class); and “publication bias” (as “positive studies are more likely to be published than negative studies”) [8], epidemiology alone cannot suffice in understanding a phenomenon. What else is needed to complement it? Here’s a checklist [7]:

1. Epidemiology should find a strong association (i.e. a high value for RR, e.g. above 3)
2. A very specific disease should be involved (for example, one type of leukaemia)
3. There should be a consistency between studies and with data from laboratory work, cancer incidence trends and other sources. In fact, “when two studies with similar designs find different results and the differences cannot easily be explained or rationalized, neither study is accepted as definitive” [7].
4. The results should be preferably not involve a rewriting of biology and physics

Obviously, an enormous RR could be used to justify investigations on how to rewrite biology and physics. Vice-versa, a very plausible biological mechanism only needs a relatively low value for RR.

Future investigations?

As of June 2006 criteria 3 and 4 (consistency and plausibility) are still missing, and relative risks are no more than 1.5-2.5 (sometimes, they are less than 1.0).

More of the same types of epidemiological studies are unlikely to resolve anything [8]. Decades of laboratory studies have shown “little evidence of a link between power-frequency fields and cancer” even in “life-time exposure of animals”. And despite the increasing use of electricity, a 1993 report by the World Health Organization and an analysis for Sweden from 1960 to 1991 have found no discernible changes in leukaemia incidence in adults or children [7].

Perhaps it may be interesting to finally identify the role of the “confounders” [8]. But this may be like shooting in the dark: and there may really be no need to invest resources in trying to identify a link between Power Lines and Cancer.

Lessons learned

One side of the debate states that leukaemia cases do not depend on the presence of overhead power lines: because there is no evidence in that direction. The other side goes as far as to say that children, if not everybody, should be kept at distance from those same lines, in order to lessen the chances of getting leukaemia and other disease: because there is no evidence that power lines are safe.

I do not see any reason to fear power lines. More in detail: for power-line-induced leukaemia to be actually happening, a small, yet peculiar but not impossible rewrite of biology and physics is necessary. We would need very hard evidence to back that up. And there are a lot of other causes of deaths that kill much more than 5 children per year in a country like the UK.

An opinion, but that is the whole point. The problem is if and how we translate a potential risk into a policy, a set of guidelines defining our course of action. If we leave the interpretation to interested parties and sensationalistic media, they will be in charge of regulating our lives in ways unwarranted by our own scientific data.

Do we have to evacuate all areas around power lines because there is some possibility that they will cause leukaemia? Or should we agree that it is much wiser to keep living our lives, unless something is ultimately proven dangerous? To put it simply: shall we move forward only if we can get an “all clear”? Alternatively, shall we stay put only if there is any clear danger in moving?

Are we for being very cautious, or ready to embrace progress? The natural answer for Humanity seems to be the latter. Our brains are hard-wired into recognizing and appreciating the novelties in our environment. From very early childhood, we find it natural to explore, investigate. And walk. Who among us would refuse to walk until checking the ground ahead at every step?

Some have suggested to resolve the controversy by implementing “Prudent Avoidance”, one kind of Precautionary Principle, “taking steps [of modest costs] to keep people out of fields, both by re-routing facilities and by redesigning electrical systems and appliances” [7]. For example, underground lines have been suggested. But they are expensive, and “difficult, time-consuming and expensive to repair […] (and they do break)” [8].

“Prudent Avoidance” is quite dangerous for a free society [12]. It may end up becoming the hijacking tools for vocal individuals and organizations to lock up resources that could be better spent in making everybody’s lives freer and easier, instead of in the futile attempt to eliminate all chance of risk.

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

The Power Lines debate is not just about electrical power, and is not just about personal choice. It is a matter of societal power.

The definition of the very rules governing our society is at stake: if the Ultra-cautious Party wins, it will be one of the first steps in the future prohibition of most of what it is new. After all, who can demonstrate that there is no danger at all in using WiFi to get to the Internet? Or that there are no negative consequences in distributing ideas through online magazines?

References

[1] Power lines and childhood cancer, Friday, 3 June, 2005, from the BBC Breakfast programme

[2] Michel Ianoz, ‘Biological And Health Effects Of Electromagnetic Fields’, IEEE EMC Society, 2004

[3] Reported in “Responses to the CCRG study of power lines and childhood cancer”

[4] Gerard Draper et al., ‘Childhood cancer in relation to distance from high voltage power lines in England and Wales: a case-control study’, British Medical Journal 2005; 330: 1290

[5] ‘EMFs and childhood cancer’, by the British company National Grid’s EMF Unit Public Information Line

[6] R Kreutzer et al., ‘Investigation of the Montecito Leukaemia and Lymphoma Cluster Final Report [Draft]’, California Department of Health Services, 1990

[7] R D Miller, ‘Unfounded Fears: The Great Power-Line Cover-Up Exposed’, IEEE EMBS Committee on Man and Radiation (IEEE, 1998)

[8] J Moulder, ‘Power Lines and Cancer FAQs’, Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, Wisc, U.S.A,

[10] P Brodeur, ‘The Great Power-Line Cover-Up’ (Little, Brown 1993)

[12] J Luik, “Risk vs. Liberty”, TCS Daily, 27 June 2006

Categories
Climate Change Economist Energy English Environment

Pearls of Unintended Irony on The Economist

Editorial control must have relaxed at The Economist, of late, or else for a series of unfortunate circumstances nobody at HQ is reading the magazine end-to-end any longer.

That may be a couple of reasons to justify the following of pearls of unintended irony on those esteemed pages…

(1) From one kind of waste to another

Nuclear power-Atomic renaissance“, Sep 6th, where we are told that “the current expansion of nuclear power”, based on lowering emissions of greenhouse gases, “is unlikely to be slowed down by concerns about what to do with the waste”.

(2) Errare humanum, perseverare…

Jolly green heretic“, Sep 6th, where credit is given to a Stewart Brand who, having been wrong about “his alarmism over the Y2K computer bug”, and having thereby convinced himself that the world is “modular, shockproof and robust”, for unfathomable (and unfathomed) reasons considers global warming the “single most important environmental threat facing mankind”.

(3) Warming fantasy

Gambling on Tomorrow” and “Tomorrow and Tomorrow“, Aug 18th, where we are told that all current climate models are too simple, and were not really checked against reality. This from the same magazine that has recently changed its mind, and thinks global warming is “for real”.

Categories
English Formula One Sport

Drivers Not Important In Slightly Fishy F1 Championship

After the Monza GP there is finally a bit of clarity in Formula One: drivers are not that important, in 2007.

In fact, a look at the standings reveals a remarkable pattern, with McLaren’s pilots in positions #1 and #2, then Ferrari’s in #3 and #4, then BMW Sauber’s in #5 and #6 and so on with Renault, Williams, Red Bull and Toyota.

The first 14 places are occupied by successive pairings of team-mates.  

Ergo the car is more important than the actual driver.

===

Now can we say there is anything fishy, after months of allegations?

Well, there is just a hint that something may not be as usual, in the fact that Ferrari and McLaren are so much better than anybody else.

In a year where drivers are not important, in fact, what are the chances that two completely independent cars can compete so close to each other?

Wouldn’t it be much more probable for one team to be in front of the pack, having cracked the right configuration and materials for the current set of rules?

Or otherwise, if such mix can be found by more than one team, shouldn’t there be three or four competing at the top?

If I were the judge in the McLaren-Ferrary spy case, I would get both cars compared to the last detail, and with a couple of other cars too…

Categories
English Immigration USA

Bloomberg News (and the IHT) Losing Faith in the United States

Letter sent to the IHT after their publication of “Sicilians losing faith in United States“, by A. Craig Copetas of Bloomberg News on September 4, 2007

To: “Letters IHT”
Subject: A more down-to-earth explanation to Sicilians’ changing attitudes towards America (“Letter from Europe”, IHT, Sep 4)

Dear Editors

May I dare suggest a more down-to-earth explanation to Sicilians’ changing attitudes towards America? (“Letter from Europe”, IHT, Sep 4)

The Italians emigrating to the USA in the late XIX and early XX century were escaping poverty and political and social repression. Present-day Sicilians are definitely not poor, and there is very little in terms of repression.

What is the point of emigrating when one can get-by perfectly well at home?

All of this has little to do with America’s supposed fearfulness for outsiders. And in fact, Mexico and Canada aside, the nations that provided the highest number of immigrants to the U.S. compared to their population’s size in the period 2001-2005, included much of Eastern Europe, VietNam, the Philippines, and most of South America apart from Brazil, Chile and Argentina.

All in all I was particularly unimpressed by what looks like a piece of prefabricated commentary…

Categories
English God Religion

On the Nature of God

“(God) leaves you (on purpose) in doubt… were He to speak out the Truth, stating “I exist” or “I do not exist”, the world would end”
Roberto Benigni

So where is this God (or gods) that can elicit strong passions not only in the believers, but even in those avowedly opposed to the very idea that such a thing as Faith exists? Why doesn’t He (or She) just show up in front of everybody and settle the question once and for all, instead of appearing obsessed on concealing His/Herself?

An answer can be elaborated starting from two basic hypotheses: (1) God actually exists; (2) is the Creator of the Universe (or Multiverse).

As a consequence, God is not part of the Universe/Multiverse, because the Creator obviously cannot create the Creator.

Therefore, there is no way to relate to God in a scientific manner, i.e. objective, observable and measurable under repeatable, controlled conditions: in a word, impersonal.

Hence, it is a waste of time to look into Nature for evidence of the existence of God. Physics, chemistry, astronomy, biology will never show anything of the sort, just as there can be no soup on the fork.

And just as radio waves do not “hide” from the human eye, but simply can only be transformed into images and sound with a TV set: so God does not “hide” from scientific research, but can only be experienced using the appropriate tool.

That tool is Faith, a very personal endeavour made up of belief, trust, commitment and conviction in a combination that is the very opposite of impersonal and objective

===

God the Creator, if He/She exists, is extraneous to scientific reality.

Does that mean that for all intents and purposes, God does not exist at all? I would advise against taking such a strong science-is-everything stance.

Science by definition can only deal with scientific stuff. But there is a lot that can and does happen to each one of us, that cannot be repeated nor written about in a scientific article: probably, most of one’s life, and definitely, all of one’s dreams.

I am afraid I cannot repeat my dreams in a controlled situation.

===

How can Faith function then, between a Divinity that is quite literally outside of this world, and the physical brain?

A topic that will deserve its own blog.

Categories
catastrophism Climate Change Democracy English Environment Ethics Humanity Politics Science Skepticism

A Fred Fisher Moment for Climate Supremacists

The beginning of the end of Senator McCarthy’s 7 years in the spotlight was surely and improbably his mentioning of young Boston lawyer Frederick G. Fisher, Jr.: whose left-wing past the Senator unwarrantedly used to undermine US Army’s attorney Joseph Welch. On live TV, June 9, 1954, Welch famously retorted “Have you no sense of decency, sir?

Having seen what excesses the Senator could reach in his campaign to uncover Communists, public opinion turned against him.

Are we witnessing something similar about Climate Change? Have the catastrophists finally overreached, to the point of toppling themselves over? The indications are all there: because after Newsweek’s 9-page-tirade against anybody that dares to doubt anything about anthropogenic climate change (Aug 13, 2007), the tide is starting to turn.

In fact, no less commentators than Jeff Jacoby on the Boston Globe, and Robert J Samuelson in the next issue of the very same Newsweek magazine, have recently denounced the absurd attitudes of people apparently allergic to any form of dissent in matters of climate change.

For years, in the best of circumstances one has been labeled a “skeptic” (as if there were anything wrong with that!) at the first hint of not following the exact line behind the likes of Al Gore, James Hansen and the IPCC. Some of us had to repeatedly answer charges of “denialism”, a slur meant to create the impression of equivalence between those skeptical of a _possible_ FUTURE catastrophic change in the climate caused by human activities’ carbon dioxide emissions, and those still doubting the historical, PAST _fact_ of the Holocaust.

Note that I haven’t even mentioned the veiled and not-so-veiled threats of future trials ‘a-la-Nuremberg.

Between that and a complete picture of Climate Change Supremacism, only violence appeared to be missing in the actions of those carrying out a hard-headed campaign bent on stifling any hint of opposition to upcoming grand, poorly-thought-out lifestyle-changing plans such as carbon-emission-rationing.

Who knows, perhaps crosses will start burning on somebody’s lawn as soon as a zero-carbon-emission flame becomes readily available? But then, psychological violence has already started creeping in. How else to characterize President of the American Council on Renewable Energy, Michael Eckhart’s threat of career destruction against Marlo Lewis of the Competitive Enterprise Institute?

That must surely be the most egregious example of the poisonous atmosphere concocted up by climate totalitarians. But it is just the latest and the biggest in a series.

Martin Durkin, author of the Great Global Warming Swindle documentary found himself under an unduly heavy barrage of condemnations of various sorts, including highly-browed calls for censorship by esteemed Professors. Steve McIntyre, the blogger/statistician that has recently discovered a bug in the software used by NASA to incorrectly attribute the warmest of US years to 1998, has seen his website crushed by an apparent DOS attack just hours later.

My own views (a basic question: if the climate is changing, where is the change in weather, not just temperature?) have been abused at times to “demonstrate” I wasn’t worthy of engaging in a discussion in a completely different area.

We literally live in the middle of an escalation of tones. Even people genuinely worried about Global Warming must understand how dangerous and ultimately self-defeating the attitudes of climate totalitarians and climate supremacists are.

If there really is an upcoming disaster, shouldn’t efforts concentrate on getting the world prepared, rather tan on stamping out differences of opinion?

Jacoby is right when he specifies that good intentions are not an excuse. All revolutions are avowedly meant for the betterment of Humanity. But whilst the American one led to the Constitution, the French Revolution brought years of guillotined Terror.

There is no need to remind the horrors perpetrated by Italian Fascists, German Nazis and Russian Communists, believe it or not all in the name of great ideals of peace and prosperity.

Justice Louis Brandeis is quoted by Jacoby as saying “The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding.

We are the children and grandchildren of the millions that either fought to contain and defeat dictatorships, or were misguidedly seduced into selling out their freedoms to monomaniacal, homicidal types with illusions of omnipotence.

History will not and cannot forgive us, if we let that happen again.

Categories
English Olympics Sport

Open to Doping

How many years will pass before the towels will finally be thrown in in the boring comedy aganst doping in sports?

Especially with the advent of sport professionals, only freaks can be on top of the world without using any doping. And so people have been “enhancing” themselves for decades and they will continue do so regardless.

And why not? The public watches in expectation of some extraordinary feat. Well, any limit for the lightly-trained body has likely been reached and surpassed by now, so where would records come from? London 1948 may have been the last time anybody in the crowd could have reasonably competed on the field.

Antidoping efforts are therefore only a giant, hypocritical waste a time, the children of the shameful witch-hunts of the 1950’s and 1960’s against anybody not doing sports as an “amateur”.

Why can’t we get things declared out in the open? At least, control is so much easier under sunlight. Who was there instead to protect those young cyclists, all killed by heart attacks in their 20s?

Categories
English Europe Football

What Hope for European Soccer?

The soccer/football season in Europe has just started, but violence is already in full swing both off and on the pitches.

With fans too ready to misbehave with knives in the best of circumstances, players to kick each other rather than the ball, managers to whine, and referees and football authorities clueless if honest, there is almost absolute certainty of several persons dying for nothing really, outside the stadiums.

Can it get any worse? Let’s just hope no footballer will get killed on live TV.

Categories
Astronomy Astronomy & Space Climate Change Cosmos Earth English Science Space Venus

Venus Forecast

In a few years, the old ideas of Fred Singer will come back into fashion.

Venus’ retrograde rotation, incredibly massive atmosphere and relatively young (<500 million years) surface will be elegantly explained by the crash of a massive satellite half a billion years ago (with subsequent melting of much if not the whole crust, and humongous outgassing).

Current lead-melting surface temperatures will be just as beautifully explained by simple adiabatic processes.

The role of CO2 in the heating of the atmosphere via some “greenhouse effect” will be seriously reconsidered and almost completely dismissed.

========

Some quick computations:

Ratio of available solar energy Venus/Earth: 190%

Earth, surface pressure: 1000 mbar; temperature: 288K
Venus, 50km altitude pressure: 1000 mbar; temperature: 330K
330K/288K = 114% < 190%

Venus, surface pressure: 90,000 mbar; temperature: 735K
Temperature of terrestrial air compressed from 288K/1,000mbar to 90,000mbar: 887K
735K/887K = 82.9% < 190%

Far from showing any CO2-induced global warming, Venus is much cooler than expected, likely because of the high-altitude clouds that prevent us from looking at the surface.

Categories
Earth English Ethics Evolution Nature Science

Tits In No Danger of Getting Own Cartoon

Countless movies and documentaries are boringly dedicated to the apparently highly-moral lives of penguins.

Why not European penduline tits then?

Here’s why…from this week’s The Economist:

[…] both males and females [of the European penduline tit or Remiz pendulinus] abandon their offspring, a strategy that, perversely, increases the number of chicks they have overall […] in between 30% and 40% of cases both parents desert the clutch […] both males and females can mate and lay eggs with up to seven different partners in one season

I’d say, the chances of any producer selecting Remiz Pendulinus as the inspiration for next big-budget cartoon, are pretty much zero…

ps More on low-morality birds: Promiscuous Mama Birds Bank on ‘Nannies’

Categories
Conflict resolution English Ethics History Humanity International International Law Iraq War USA

After Iraq – Six Points for a New Approach to International Military Interventions

-If President Bush had followed his “Mission Accomplished” message! He may have been celebrated to this day as an accomplished Statesman

The situation in Zimbabwe appears so dire, even Pius Ncube, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Bulawayo, is calling for an outside intervention to free the locals from the overpowering elite that has ruined the Nation.

Unfortunately, no outside intervention appears forthcoming.

For each Sierra Leone where foreign troops got rid of murderous rebels, there are innumerable counter-examples of places abandoned to the rule of unsavory characters: Afghanistan until 2001, the Kurdish villages in northern Iraq until 1991, Rwands in 1994 of course, and nowadays Darfur.

Despite the experience of the appeasers in the 1930’s, the temptation is always very high towards opting against direct intervention. Especially so now, with no end in sight for the military adventure in Iraq.

But think for a minute: if only President Bush had followed through the message bourne out of the “Mission Accomplished” May 1, 2003 banner on USS Abraham Lincon to its obvious consequence! He may have been celebrated to this day as an accomplished Statesman: having successfully completed the mission of toppling Saddam Hussein.

In other words: in case of a dire humanitarian crisis caused by egregiously unlawful behavior, there is a way to intervene: by setting ourselves to fight the criminals against humanity, and to accomplish the goal of defeating them: and then, to subsequently go back where we came from.

To understand how can this be done in practice, let’s imagine that there is a need to rapidly convince a State to change its tactics.

Sadly, that is not difficult: candidates abound, where humanitarian aid is not allowed to a wayward province, or wholesale killing is still considered an option, or otherwise part of the local population is criminally treated.

1-Start by establishing a clear measurable objective (eg “remove tyrant”…and that’s it!)

This is a basic principle of management so obvious, and yet betrayed at least as often as proven correct. How many targets can one hit with one shot? Hence the objective should be “Free the Zimbabweans from the rampant inflation”. Or “Remove the Iraqi individuals that will build a nuclear arms capability at the first occasion”. Vaporous stuff such as “exporting democracy”, etc should be forgotten altogether.

2- To avoid war, use a credible threat of war

If the counterpart is hell-bent in their devilish actions, scare them by showing seriously-ready-to-use violent means. Seriousness and readiness are imperative.
In truth, the actual start of the war is a sign of failure, because evidently the actions put in place were not scary or credible enough: just as good crowd control involves showing off truncheons to frighten, rather than actually beating people up.
On the other hand, if a war looms anyway, it has to be started. Otherwise, any threatening posturing will be even less effective next time around: and therefore the risk of future misbehaviors (and wars) much higher.

3-Get in quick, get out fast

Conduct the war by getting in, shocking, aweing and then leaving.
George HW Bush understood it in 1991. George W Bush declared just as much in that banner in 2003, but then carried on with the occupation regardless. And a never-ending occupation can only erode political support at home, while keeping the troops in danger of being attacked by ever-more-empowered insurgents.

4-Stand-by, ready to invade again very quickly

Once the enemy country has been left to its own devices, the usual cliques could simply regain power (see Iraq 1991). This can be prevented by keeping alive a credible, ready-to-strike threat.
Admittedly, that can evolve into a tragically ironic, revolving-door situation, with several rounds of invasions and retreats. But then, one hopes even the most recalcitrant political elite may opt for a different take, after suffering the umpteenth invasion.

5-Prevent civilian casualties

The death of any innocent “enemy” civilian is a fiasco akin to bombing one’s own cities.
Civilian deaths have boosted rather than weakened their Government since time immemorable (think the USA’s reaction on 9/12). This is contrary to the stated objective of changing a State’s criminal ways.
The absolute reduction of “collateral damage” to the utmost minimum is therefore not just an ethical goal, it makes good political and military strategy. And it will definitely help in preventing an organized insurgency to form.

6-Invade by land, avoid aerial bombings, and stay away from big equipment as much as possible

The threat and practice of repeated invasions is only feasible if the conflict can be carried out without the use of large, hard-to-position, hard-to-move, maintenance-hungry equipment, bombers included.
Apart from logistical considerations, in fact, if we want a quick conclusion with no “collateral damage”, i.e. precision and speed, bombing cannot be an option. In fact, whatever Air Force generals have been saying for the past hundred years, the effectiveness of bombing in preparation of a later invasion has been tragically debunked in the Flanders, in Normandy, and even in the first Iraq war.
After all, the objective is change the ways of a State, not to destroy it wantonly, the latter is the only thing bombing is good at in a modern war (if anybody believes in “precision targeting”, I’ve got a bridge to sell)

Will the above ever become reality? It is well known that we are always ready to fight the last war. And so there is some hope indeed, that will have to wait for the time when it will be possible to analyze the Iraq conflict with pragmatic-historical rather than political eyes.

Categories
Democracy English Ethics Humanity USA

No War Without the Draft

The droning on of the Iraq war is a tragedy of middle-class pacifism

The draft, the forced conscription especially of men in their late teens and early twenties forcefully sent off to learn how to behave in a war, has been as unpopular in Western Europe and the USA in the last 30 years as a fact of life since the days of the French Revolution.

But now, its end has paradoxically brought about a situation where wars can be fought without much care for the approval by the people, and hence without real concern for using military power and personnel wisely and efficiently.

The turning point may have been Vietnam, another war of wastefully managed people and equipment. At the time, relatively well-off college and university American students vehemently protested, and many youths got dispatched to premature deaths also because of their families’ lack of economic and political links to find a way around the “call to arms”

Earlier efforts had seen far fewer troubles. The minority today’s American political leaders served in Vietnam, whilst the majority of their fathers fought world-conquering Germany and Japan up, close and personal.

Fast forward to 2007. The draft is no longer, in America since 1973. All soldiers are volunteers. But whilst the Iraqi conflict is going nowhere, popular protests are insignificant, with no danger of a re-run of the killings at Kent State (1970) or the riots at the Chicago Democratic Convention of 1968.

In one sense, the droning on of the Iraq war is a tragedy of middle-class pacifism. Even if many people may be unsure, unhappy and/or against the war, they do not march down the streets: because the conflict does not impact the daily lives of most people “back home” (in the USA, but also in the UK),

On the other hand, all those that opted for a military career, perhaps during the Clinton years, have found themselves facing the prospect of multiple trips to Iraq, literally at great danger of loss of life and limb (and their mind, too).

Whatever their original “lifestyle choice” for the military, surely after the second tour of duty the Nation is unfairly taking advantage of them? Either the war is important and all resources should be poured into getting it won, (especially after years and years); or it is not, and so every life lost there, including those of volunteer soldiers, is a tragic waste.

Those volunteers have dedicated their lives to fight for the USA. This does not mean the USA have a right to treat them as consumables: just like even if policemen and medics, having voluntarily joined their professions, are ready to give their lives to patrol the street or fight infectious diseases, still the State does not have a right to misuse them.

And yet that is what is happening in the Iraq war, where 10 dead a week is treated as “good news”; pictures of returning body bags are forbidden; veterans are not given appropriate treatment; and now somebody is suggesting monthly group commemorations, instead of proper salutes to each of the fallen.

With the disappearance of the draft it’s as if wars, always too serious to be left to generals, have been abandoned to politicians.

After all, Presidents, Senators and Representatives live off votes. As so, if votes do not depend on the care reserved to military personnel including casualties, there is no democratic control on wars: the Republic may have its President, but the Armed Forces risk being at the mercy of a Tyrant King with the same title.

That is a tragedy in itself. With freely elected governments and parliaments, and fairly independent judiciary, modern democracies have been fantastically good at avoiding warring each other, whilst in the XX century tens of millions have died in armed conflict. Such a miraculous result has surely something to do with the checks-and-balances of the 1787 American Constitution, whence most others derive. Unpopular and/or incompetent leaders can be voted off the power chair, and delinquent ones can be brought in front of the Law.

The remedy, as in many cases, is in the middle. Don’t just reintroduce universal draft. Don’t just leave conflicts to “professionals” with the result that intolerable amounts of them will die fruitlessly whilst wars will drag on as long as money is still available.

Simply, reintroduce the draft temporarily and only _in case of_ war. And so ultimately empower the voters, that will have to face the real issues, and decide if the Nation has the stomach to start or join the fight.

If it has not, and the citizens refuse the draft, then there is no point in going to war anyway. If instead the Nation agrees it’s time to go to war then, the whole draft-risking electorate will have all the reasons to closely follow the conflict, and get their opinions fully heard: thereby re-establishing the full checks and balances of a healthy democracy.

And who knows, perhaps there will be no more escape clauses for former enthusiasts later to claim they never really believed in the war.

Categories
Climate Change English Future Humanity Science Skepticism

The Psychological Boost of Believing in AGW

From The New York Times (*):

“Let us talk about the weather.” What is to be said of such weather as we had in the middle of the week? How is it that the weather experts do not give us some good, or at least plausible, excuse for it? Every year we have a few days of exceptionally warm weather early in the season. Usually it comes in April. It is altogether unusual for it to come in March. Some persons remember very distinctly that the days of the warm weather just past were the anniversay of the great blizzard. Why is the weather so inexplicable?

Climate has always scared us like a wild beast, so it’s all to natural for humans to kid themselves into pretending it can be tamed.

Centuries ago we would have had to sacrifice cattle to a Weather God, nowadays it’s all about “fighting Anthropogenic Global Warming”, and getting a Prius.

(*) March 13, 1898