Thursday, October 8, 2015

The Universe Is NOT About Us

Columnist George Will writes about the new Webb space telescope.   He writes:
"Other historians — the scientists and engineers of the Space Telescope Science Institute — study the origins of everything in order to understand humanity’s origins. In 2018, Webb will be situated 940,000 miles from Earth, orbiting the sun in tandem with Earth, to continue investigating our place in the universe."
Then he says:
"Webb, which will be the size of a tennis court, will advance knowledge about this stupendous improbability: How did material complexity, then single-cell life, then animals and consciousness emerge from chaos?
"... Webb will not shed light on two interesting questions: How many universes are there? Is everything the result of a meaningless cosmic sneeze, or of an intentional First Cause? Webb will, however, express our species’ dignity as curious creatures...."
But it's not about us. The universe is not about us.
The story of human knowledge, of science, has been a steady retreat from man's self-centeredness and self-importance.
Everywhere the universe and nature shout out man's lack of significance, while we invent mythologies that place us at the center of everything and construct gods that are like us physically and behaviorally even to the extent of being sex-obsessed. Creatures born to die in an eyeblink of time, we invent for ourselves eternal existence of a sort.
The ground-bound ape is always trying to climb trees.
There is no limit to human egotism and solipsism. Knock it down and it grows in another form.
And now Will and others present the Webb telescope as being all about human origins? About the place of man in the universe? More myths, but useful ones, used to gather funds and support for the new space telescope.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Return of El Alacran

I'm baaack!   Reports of my death or confinement in a mental ward were only figuratively correct.

What I'm going to do for the time being is to mirror selected comments I've made elsewhere, starting now.
Ode to Old Binoculars

 I got these binocs Thurs.   Old and with haze on prisms. Some corrosion from being sweated and spat on at football games.   Go Hogs stickers on the case.   Came from Arkansas.    $14+ incl shipping. Wider angle by a degree from my other 7 X 35s claiming to be wide angle. 

So I expected wide angle right? And out in the backyard that's how they looked. Less coated than my go-to Minolta or Nikon binocs but sharp, and wide, easy to follow flocks of birds in flight or to see constellations. But yesterday I took them out to the park. Wow. Never expected that depth of field. Could see ducks 200 ft out and the roadway a quarter mile beyond, all perfectly sharp and magnified. Changes perspective by a lot, some landscape painters paint that way, as though the world is a bowl. 

The problem at football games is that you'd see the spectators in the opposite stand big and sharp at 7X and not just the players on the field and it would be distracting. You'd see them all at the same time! For nature that's perfect. Looking for wildlife, need a big deep field of view. Like to try them on mountain ranges. 

Somehow it seems different from camera lenses, where wide angle lenses shrink objects far off. My impression -- and I need to test them more -- is that they act a little like telephoto lenses in making distant things look close, but have the wide field of a wide angle lens. How'd they do that? Nippon magic? 

Optics by Toei Kogaku [stamped J-B4 on the front bridge], and marketed under different brands back in, I guess the 50s into the 70s. The scuttlebut in optics forums was that these are special and that Toei optics are special and so it seems. A couple on eBay now in better shape, but at $25-50. 

Gonna look for a more extreme wide angle, say 11-13 deg.

Moral? Don't knock old optics. Some of those little unknown companies that have disappeared used elves and wizardry.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

On Gender, Etc

[This is from my forum post today.   Kinda proud of it.]

For example, what is male and what is female? Simple to decide, huh? Except not always. 

There are those infants born with unclear gender. Look at the prof's pictures above.

There are adult women who look like they have small penises, because of heredity or hormone exposure during gestation or later steroid use. Many women bodybuilders and athletes have enlarged clitorises to the point where you would not be sure what they were. "Is that a, uh, mouse under your skirt?"

Biologically, a male is a specially developed female. All the differences develop from the same structures. In a sense we are all females. And males and females both have an X chromosome. To an extent, gender is decided by whether one has one X chromosome or two. The "Y" chromosome doesn't seem to do much. So men have very little to brag about. When you add in the fact that extrachromosomal inheritance is through the mother and that includes the mitochondria that are critically involved in the cell's energy and in athletic performance, it truly is a woman's world. (The Bible got it wrong; man would have been formed from woman.)

Things can go wrong when a male is formed from a female. And so there are intersexes and those of indeterminate gender.

In the Olympics -- again we talked abut this -- it was at one point decided to do a chromosome test, a barr-body test, to determine if an athlete was male or female. Did you ever think deciding that would be so much trouble?

When the Bible says that we are male or female, it simply was not comprehended by the writer that gender is not always clear. Understand? As I said, in biblical times infants born intersex or with what were seen as malformations did not live long. If you were a mid-wife, what would you do? A monster, a sign of the displeasure of the gods or the work of the devil. For the good of society you'd remove the kid as quickly as possible and leave it somewhere to die. That's what they did. That's what everybody did. That's what is still done many places.

We are kinder and gentler with better surgery and we take care of such cases with some strokes of a scalpel, humanely, or what we mean to be humanely.

What happens if the coin flip is wrong, and a child surgically altered into a girl thinks she is a man? Happens. One of the dirty little scandals of modern medicine. YOU would forbid to him/her the option of marriage. Is that fair?

Is it fair to require that a doc make a prospective bride or groom get nekked and poke around in their innards in order to decide if they are the proper gender to get married?

I say [screw] that; let whomever marry whomever without some judge or lawyer or government official worrying about whether they are really male and female.

Lemme make it clear: real life can be ambiguous. The Bible and religious authority doesn't deal with ambuguity but fictional absolutes. Pi = 3, the Bible says, except that it isn't so.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day

It is tempting to join in the politically-correct sentiment and say that "freedom is not free," but that is a statement quite political in nature, uttered by those who have political axes to grind.

It is tempting to say that our military personnel risk their lives and impact their families in order to protect us, but that is not correct: Ulysses Grant said it when he called the Mexican War in which he served "a shabby little war" of his part in which he was ashamed.

Most of our wars and "police actions" have been shabby little wars that were never wars of national defense, but of ill-advised aggression and swagger, undertaken for political reasons.

Memorial Day is when we celebrate with prating inapposite words those sacrificed on the altars of ego and foolishness.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Presidential Election Going to the Dogs?

Columnist Kathleen Parker says it is.  All the hoopla about Romney's dog and Obama eating dog meat.

I have a cat of a breed that was raised for meat and fur over in France.   When times get hard and you can't get beef or pork at an affordable price, it's good to have some kind of meat on the table.   And I guess cat is better than rat.   Best to let the cats dine on the rats then you can have yore pic of rat-fattened cats.

Same with dogs of course.  We turn up our noses at eating dog, and prefer to gas hordes of dogs at "animal shelters."    Maybe if we ate our surplus dogs, we'd have better appreciation of life.  Is mass killing followed by disposal into mass graves all that much more "humane" than eating them?

Anyway.  Back to politics.

Parker is too young to remember, but a lot was made of it when LBJ pulled the ears of his dogs because, he said, he liked to hear them howl.    And anyone who is spotted mistreating his dog will not be elected president.  Don't be so sure this side of a candidate's character is all that irrelevant. 

If Romney's dog survived the experience of being hosed down with water and dried off on top of the car in a 55 mph wind that could give the pooch hypothermia, all that means to me is that Romney doesn't have much sense -- not that he is a deliberate pet-abuser.
One reason why this event was latched onto by Romneyphobes is because Romney is such a mystery.  
Do you know what it is that Romney actually works at?   I don't.   Romney had an office at Bain Capital, but, we are assured, was not in charge of lay-offs at companies that were being scavenged by Bain.   So what did he do? 

Romney could have invited the press into his office, shown them the papers lying on  his desk and gone over a typical workday in the life of Mitt Romney.  "I look at these print-outs to decide if a company is undervalued as to underlying assets so as to give us a good profit by buying the company and selling off those assets."  But no.   No details, no explanation.   Why?? 
What does the man do?  What are his skills?  What are his interests, other than running for office and being a Mormon?

Romney claimed he was an expert in economics.  What does that mean?   What area of economics?  Academically, he has a JD/MBA from Harvard, and seems to be more qualified in management than economics.   But we are not told exactly what he did at Bain Capital. 

Friday, March 30, 2012

The other nite I caught about 30 seconds of Charlie Rose on PBS with his guest, former sec Jim Baker. Baker was telling how Reagan's policies were pro business and fostered business expansion while Obama's are otherwise. That's an opinion you hear a lot of.

I want to comment about "the Reagan recovery."

In the early years of Reagan's 1st term, the economic outlook was dismal. We had just had inflation that was killing us, killing savings, causing interest rates to be high and unpredictable. At times it was good to have savings; I remember getting 15% interest (yes, that is fifteen percent, not 1.5% or the .15% that you might get now) on 10K CDs at the local bank. All the while there was an atmosphere of uncertainty and gloom. Marty Zweig came on Louis Rukeyser's Wall Street Week and looked hang-dog and as though he was chain-chewing Rolaids and said "there are good investments out there, if we can avoid a depression."

Then, inflation came down and the stock market soared and the recovery began; if I remember correctly the longest bull market except for the one in the 1930s when the stock market roared back even as the nation was still in depression. It got to where investors hoped to see appreciation of 70% a year, and shopped for mutual funds that showed that kind of record! (The influx of money into a highly successful fund of course drove the fund down, but few were thinking about that.) Totally crazy and unsustainable, but that's how it was.

Back to the point. What Baker overlooks is that this is a very different time. The structure of our economy is different. The savings rate is different, consumer debt is different, the proportion of wealth in home equity is different. The financial sector is wildly different from 1981, in its percentage of the economy and in the variety of securities that have been invented since then. The distribution of wealth among our citizens is radically different, with a greater percentage of the wealth belonging to the wealthy.  The middle class is disappearing.

And energy costs. Energy cost is a multiple factor in every human activity, and when energy costs are high, the cost of everything grows higher disproportionately. Reagan was lucky that the price of oil dropped early in his presidency, and that drop set off the boom in the stock market.

It was more than luck. The Saudis wanted to buy fighter planes and AWACS aircraft, and there was opposition to letting them have state of the art military tech. King Fahd's plane landed near D.C., and Reagan went on board to have a secret pow-wow with Fahd. What followed was this: Saudi Arabia would get it's planes; and perhaps linked to that, they increased oil production and undercut OPEC, lowering energy prices world wide. In my opinion, that, more than anything else, was the secret to the business recovery of the Reagan era, not Reagan's policies per se.
Rig count.   The number of all petroleum drilling rigs in use.   A measure of how actively the industry is searching for oil.
You used to find this number every week in the Lubbock Avalanche Journal.  Now you can find it at various places such as and

The current U.S. rig count is 1979 as of March 30, 2012, from the Baker Hughes website.  That is close to what it was through the period 2001-2008, during the Geo W. Bush presidency.

Here is a comparison of the decade 1973-1983 compared with 2000 through 2008.   This is from a Rigzone article dated December, 2008 and is from Baker-Hughes.

As you can see, the rig count soared during the Carter presidency and then plunged drastically about 1981-1982, the early years of the Reagan presidency.    Why?   The price of oil fell sharply on world markets.    Why?  The price of oil dropped drastically at that time because Saudi Arabia exceeded OPEC's targeted oil production.   Why did the Saudis increase production?   Because of a secret deal with Reagan.   Ronald Reagan destroyed the oil industry in West Texas -- or more accurately, set it back by decades

Curiously, no one burned Reagan in effigy in Levelland or Brownfield.

And some accuse Obama of being hostile to the petroleum industry and to business in general?

Monday, March 26, 2012

More Walter E. Williams Vomitus

Some Walter Williams columns kinda sorta make sense even if they are based on flawed reasoning. This column doesn't pass the semi-rational test.

Williams uses crime as an index of how "the liberal agenda" has failed. But criminal laws are the same, whether one is in Detroit or in a wealthy white Republican enclave in the same state. Miranda rights are exactly the same.

Indeed, you will find that a particular crime is likely to bring a stiffer sentence and higher probability of conviction if the defendant is black. So in Scarsdale, a white defendant is more likely to get probation than a black defendant in Buffalo. This is the reverse of what Williams is claiming.

If you look at the realities of arrests and sentencing and the criminal justice system as a whole, whites get more liberal justice than blacks.

Why then did the murder rate increase after the 1950s? Was it liberalism? Or was it the growth of the drug culture? Was it increased prosperity in the black population? Were more blacks able to buy guns than before? Was it because of the flight of whites from inner cities? Increasing population? Was it because of the pervasiveness of modia and advertising and the bitterness blacks felt about being denied a part of the American dream? All of these are possibilities.

And an economist should be aware that the structure of our economy has drastically changed. The trend has been toward more low-paying jobs and high-pay highly skilled jobs with little in between, which has been a total social and economic upheaval in this country.

Wiliams doesn't come out and say that a higher black crime rate was linked to the civil rights movement and an end to segregation but he might have; the correlation is there, and he is basing his argument on correlation.

Mr Williams is a rare species, a rara avis, because he is black and conservative and Republican. And so newspapers like the AJ can put his column up against their masthead and feel righteous and PC as they accomplish two ordinarily incompatible goals, having a black columnist on their editorial page and at the same time serving up more conservative drivel.