Archive

Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Freedom of Speech Matters, Even if the Provocateur is Alex Jones: 1

August 10, 2018 11 comments

As I briefly talked about in my previous post on this topic, the willingness of large monopolistic corporations to cut off essential services to an unpopular person without due process is highly problematic. Some of you might say that people like Alex Jones, who are cheerleaders of an ideology which hold private and corporate power to be supreme, deserve to be screwed by the very system they worship. And, Yes.. it is darkly funny and ironic that a prominent cheerleader for libertarianism got run over by large corporations acting as surrogate government agencies.

Some of those who commented to my previous post put forth excuses such as.. “they are private corporations”, “he was doing illegal things”, “Google, FaceBook and Apple are not monopolies” and “Free Speech protection does not apply to private corporations” etc. I for one find the sudden love among LIEbrals for private corporations, private property rights, insights into laws about monopolies and free speech rather amusing. Wasn’t it barely two weeks ago when LIEbrals were loudly professing to believe in exactly the opposite of what they are claiming this week?

Then again, establishment LIEbrals have been enthusiastically kissing the ground which Mueller and his fellow NeoCons walk on for almost a years now. They act as if the failed and highly expensive occupation of Iraq never occurred. They pretend that all these newfound icons did not lie through their teeth about the presence of WMDs in Iraq, how american soldiers would be greeted as liberators, how the occupation would cost less than 60 billion USD etc. And don’t forget all those ‘mainstream’ media outlets pimping fake intelligence in 2002 and early- 2003.

My point is that there is something very wrong and short-sighted about cheering on a bunch of wannabe tyrants just because they are persecuting some unpopular person first. And this raises the even bigger issue of why protection of free speech is so important. Let me begin this part by saying that we have laws to protect free speech because it is implicitly understood that free speech is often unpopular speech. Nobody is going to persecute you if you shout “USA, USA” at some game or “thank some veteran for his or her service”. Protection of free speech is, therefore, exclusively about protecting unpopular speech.

Free speech is about calling an asshole an asshole. It is about openly criticizing unjust institutions and systems. It is about organizing and protesting against injustice and unfair treatment. It is about expressing viewpoints contrary to the popular narrative. It is about expressing a dissenting viewpoint in as colorful a manner as you choose. Free speech, especially unpopular speech, provides a feedback mechanism for society to find out and address problems, both temporary and systemic- if it chooses to do so. As you will soon see, there is a good reason behind my decision to put a photo of Alex Jones alongside MLK, Malcolm X and Larry Flynt in the attached graphic.

I am sure that a few of you might be scandalized by my decision to compare the current travails of Alex Jones to such historical and notable figures such as MLK and Malcolm X. That comparison is however far more accurate than many of you would want to admit. For starters, the biggest controversies surrounding MLK and Malcolm X during their lifetimes centered around what they said and the causes they openly supported. Let me remind you that Jim Crow laws, overt “legal” discrimination against blacks and generally treating them as less-than-human was the accepted way of doing things in USA as late as the mid-1960s. In other words, their speech was unpopular speech.

Now ask yourself, have you heard of any instance of either MLK or Malcolm X being denied phone connections by the Bell monopoly of that era, because of their unpopular views? I am sure many whites would have loved to see that happen, but it did not. But why not? Well.. there were laws and regulations that prevented monopolies such as Bell from denying service to people without due legal process. Long story short, they could not deny telephone connections to anyone who paid their bills on time and did not intentionally damage their rented equipment.

The same was true for gas, electricity and water utility companies. Similarly, it was quite hard for major public venues (even at that time) to deny them space for holding large meetings. Compare that to the situation today. Do you think FaceBook would have let groups which openly protested “existing laws” exist on their platform? Would YouTube keep hosting videos in which someone like MLK encouraged his supporters to break “existing laws” even when those laws were clearly unjust. Let me remind you that majority of whites in 1960s were against civil rights and racial equality.

To put it another way, even somebody like MLK would have been deplatformed by internet and communication monopolies such Google, FaceBook and Apple if they had existed at that time. Let us now talk about Malcolm X, or more specifically what he said in his more well-known speeches. Do you think he would be able to remain of social media platforms such as FaceBook, YouTube etc after his famous ‘The Ballot or the bullet‘ speech? Ever considered that a lot of what he said in his other speeches would have gotten him multiple strikes for “hate speech”.

Or what about Larry Flynt, whose first famous conflict with the establishment was over his decision to publish spread nudes of women in the 1970s. And yes, I know they were very hairy- because it was the 1970s. Was the telephone company able cut his connection because they disagreed with the ‘morality’ of his business decisions? What about the press who printed his magazines? Moving on a bit further, do you remember how he got himself into that famous supreme court case. In case you don’t, he used his magazine to incessantly troll religious and conservative frauds such as Jerry Falwell. He won the case and they made a film about it later.

The point I am trying to make is the laws to defend Free Speech are really about defending Unpopular Speech. There is a reason why the standard for what constitutes Free Speech is set such that it is not easy to suppress it with spurious claims of libel and slander- especially if you are a public figure. To be clear, this does not mean you can libel and slander people in a malicious manner. In fact, I know people who received satisfactory settlements against certain well-known news outlets who had libeled and slandered their good name.

If Alex Jones libeled and slandered people or actually incited violence against specific individuals, he should be sued by the affected individuals and the case should be tried before an independent judge and jury and under conditions where his legal counsel can cross-examine the plaintiffs and their witnesses. In other words, even somebody like Alex Jones deserves the benefit of due legal process. His fate should not be decided behind closed doors and on the whims of some petty and unaccountable tyrants employed by internet monopolies such as Google, FaceBook and Apple.

In the next part of this hopefully short series, I will talk about why corporate media outlets peopled with supposedly “professional” and “objective” journalists are a far bigger hazard to public well-being than an alcoholic clown continuously screaming at the camera and hawking nutritional supplements.

What do you think? Comments?

Why Trump Supporters Want to Believe Fanciful Bullshit such as QAnon

August 4, 2018 5 comments

In the previous few weeks, I am sure that those of you who spend too much time on the internet might have come across something known as QAnon. To make a long story short, QAnon is a collection of conspiracy theories named after the eponymous online handle first associated with it, which claims to have internal knowledge of an ongoing counter-coup lead by “true patriots” against the “deep state” and “liberal” Hollywood and corporate media types. In other words, they are just spewing the same bullshit that alt-right types such as Mike Cernovich aka Sterno and Alex Jones have been tweeting and shouting in online video clips for the last two years.

So why did I decide to write a post about QAnon today even though I first came across it a few months ago. For starters, it is a remarkably unoriginal and comically tragic conspiracy theory- for reasons that I will soon describe in more detail. But secondly, and more importantly, it is of little consequence other than its entertainment value- like watching a mentally retarded guy trying to pick up some hot girl. One should not really enjoy watching such stuff because of principles concerning basic human decency, but it is just so damn entertaining. So, that is why I have kept an eye on the latest twists and turns in this tragically comic farce.

Now, let us talk about why I described this farce as a ‘remarkably unoriginal and comically tragic conspiracy theory’. And Yes.. I decided to write about it today since I was too bored to finish an intellectually stimulating article. Having said that, let me ask you a simple question: What does the type of belief displayed by believers in QAnon remind you of? Where else have you come across a bunch of gullible losers believing that a top-secret bunch of benevolent and powerful beings secretly planning to overthrow the current ‘unjust’ system and expose ‘morally’ corrupt elite which will result in a new reign of the ‘righteous’? What does it remind you of?

What about any religion based in Apocalypticism.. you know, like Christianity? If you replace “true patriots” with”god and angels”, “unjust current system run by morally corrupt elite” with “corrupt global system run by Antichrist”, “exposure and arrest” with “the final battle” and “new reign of the true patriots”with “kingdom of heaven”.. you get a pretty familiar narrative. That is also why the almost exclusively white CONservative losers who support Trump are so willing to believe in this tragically comic bullshit which has the same overall narrative as the other big crap they believe in.. or claim to believe. I hope you are starting to see what I am talking about.

So what kind of person believes in Apocalypticism? The simple, but unpleasant, answer is a loser.. in more ways than one. And do not, for a moment, think that I have a better opinion of secular apocalyptic cults such as global warming- now been rebranded as anthropogenic climate change. People who believe in apocalypticism are, almost exclusively, either currently without control over their future or have no agency in their own lives or are rapidly losing whatever control and personal agency they once used to have. Now think of the type of people who are most enthusiastic about Trump becoming president. Does any of this ring a bell?

Long story short, the most ardent Trump supporters are socially CONservative whites of mediocre intellectual capacity who once had stable and well-paying blue-collar livelihoods but are now either already living the precarious existence which was once restricted to non-whites or are well on that path. You might have heard terms such as “economic anxiety” and “economic populism” thrown around my corporate media types during and after the 2016 election. And yes, the more ardent Trump voters and supporters are losers- in more ways than one. And you know what.. I would be sympathetic, if so many weren’t also full of beliefs such as white supremacy.

But let us not get carried away by the idea that only Trump supporters are gullible idiots. I am sure more than a few of you remember Louise Mensch. Remember how her hilariously nutty claims about double-secret investigations against the Trump administration were catnip to the ‘I’m With Her’ types. Remember how she peddled her bullshit in allegedly “respectable” national newspapers and talk shows? But why go that far back? Just have a look at the late-night TV talk show hosts such as Stephen Colbert, Bill Maher, Trevor Noah etc. When was the last time they did not devote at least 15 minutes of every show talking about the “Mueller Investigation”, “Russia”, “Putin”, “Collusion” etc?

I mean.. can you say (with a straight face) that people who believe that “QAnon is real” are bigger dumbfucks than those who endlessly prattle about “Putin”, “Russia”, “Collusion” and the “Mueller Investigation”? How is belief in one delusion superior to belief in another? At this stage, I am willing to say that people who believe in grey aliens performing rectal probes of random people in flyover country sound more sane than those who support QAnon or the Trump-Russia collusion conspiracy. Seriously, why have so many people taken crazy pills? This is nuts..

What do you think? Comments?

Some Thoughts on the Best Way to Destroy Pathological Ideologies: 4

August 1, 2018 11 comments

In the previous post of this series, I made the point that pathological ideologies and their willing vectors never give up doing what they are doing unless the vast majority of them they are dead. I had made a similar point in a short series written almost five years ago (link 1, link 2). My point was that genocides committed during course of WW2 required a significant minority of people to be enthusiastic followers of whichever ideology they claimed to believe or practise.

With that in mind, let us consider a few thought experiments to understand the necessity of vectors for success or failure of pathological ideologies. On another note, please read the entirety of this post before commenting on it..

Thought Experiment # 1: Consider the artificially caused Irish Famine of 1845-1849. More specifically, let us consider whether the vast majority of deaths during those years were caused by a genuine lack of food or a system of governance which saw and treated most of the Irish as little better than stray animals. There are many villains in this story, some more well-known that others. Nowadays, many people rightly blame the laws passed by the British government in decades prior to that incident as well as their lack of response in response to human suffering. But were they the only villains, and more importantly- who enforced their laws in Ireland?

Well.. the unpleasant part of that famine and many others in the same era was the role played by local landed gentry and law enforcement personal in enforcing laws and regulations which caused the famine. Holding only the British government responsible for that famine gives a pass to all the Irish landlords, merchants, petty bureaucrats and law-enforcement types who made tons of money during the famine while their country men and women were starving around them. The Irish famine would not have been possible without the active and enthusiastic collaboration of many local CONservative-minded rich and petit bourgeois types who worked hard to make it so.

Now comes the ‘thought experiment’ part.. Imagine that the willing collaborators and their families kept on dying of an untreatable disease with extremely high mortality- which for an odd reason affected them almost exclusively. Imagine that the disease in question killed off over 50% of the collaborators and their families within a year. Now ask yourself, how long could the British government of that era keep on replacing all their faithful dead servants, if the new ones kept experiencing the same high rates of mortality? And why would even the most greedy and sociopathic types want to accept a job that came with almost certain death within a year.

Thought Experiment # 2: Consider Late Victorian Holocausts, especially in India. These are a series of famines which killed anywhere between 30-60 million people in the second half of the 19th century- and does not include tens of millions who died in similar artificial famines in the same countries between 1775-1850. These numbers, among many others, provide an interesting counterpoint to claims about death by famine under state communism in the first half (or so) of 20th century. If you believe that state communism caused the Ukrainian famine of 1930s and Chinese famine of early 1960s, one also has to accept that capitalism caused an equivalent of deaths in the 19th century.

But this post is not about whether capitalism caused these famines (it most certainly did) or whether racism played a major role in how events unfolded (shockers.. it did), but about who was responsible for causing the tens of millions of deaths. Once again, we can certainly blame the British government of that era, but doing so tells us only a small part of how things went down. Here is why.. you see, there were never more than 100 k British stationed in any part or the whole of India at any time from 1775-1947. In fact, there were less than 30 k people from the British Isles in India in most years. So, how can you entirely blame such large-scale events on presence of an absolute minority who never accounted for more than 1 in 500 individuals?

And once again, the answer to this apparent ‘mystery’ is that British had a huge number of local collaborators who were willing and enthusiastic about working for a system which was responsible for the death of millions of people who looked like them. Today, we often forget that policies which caused these famines also made many Indian merchant families rich beyond your wildest imaginations. Many Indians still do not want to face the unpleasant fact that the Indian army, police, local administrators etc which carried out the genocidal mandates for British colonial types were almost exclusively local and Indian. In other words, it was basically what happened during the great Irish famine but on a much larger scale and over multiple time periods.

Now let us perform a similar ‘though experiment’. Imagine a situation where willing Indian collaborators and their families kept on dying of untreatable disease with rates of mortality such that entire batches or recruits for various colonial institutions dropped dead within a year. Now ask yourself again, how long could the British government of that era keep on replacing faithful dead servants, if the new ones kept experiencing the same greatly enhanced rates of mortality? Also, would it be possible for them to be able to continue recruitment if the recruits knew they would be dead within a year? And would they be able to govern India without local collaborators?

The point I am trying to make in both thought experiments is that external state sponsored events such the Great Irish famine and large Indian famines were only possible only because a small but significant minority of local people were willing and enthusiastic about working for obviously pathological ideologies. Furthermore, timely removal of this small but significant minority from the realms of living would have effectively terminated those mass tragedies and prevented the untimely deaths of many millions of innocent people. The real question then is, what level of excessive mortality among a behavioral minority who are enthusiastic participants in a genocide is acceptable in order to prevent deaths of many times that number of innocent people.

In the next part of this series, I will use some more thought experiments to explain this concept in more detail.

What do you think? Comments?

Some Thoughts on the Best Way to Destroy Pathological Ideologies: 3

July 25, 2018 11 comments

In the previous post of this series, I pointed out that WW1 (and WW2) led to a marked reduction in the number of mediocre men in Europe who were willing or able to support the ideology of race-based colonialism. FYI- I am not implying that remainder of population in those countries experienced enlightenment and became liberal after 1945. It just so happened that the survivors finally realized they were just disposable tools who did not benefit from sustaining and working for the ideology in question which hen lost it critical mass of followers.

Also said something about discussing the effect of WW2 on continued viability of ideologies such as German Nazism, Japanese Nationalism and associated belief systems such as Eugenics. Well.. I am going to do that now. But before we go there, let us talk about how all or any of this relates to the world we live in right now. So let us start by asking ourselves with a few questions about why things in the world around us are the way they are.

Why did all the non-violent movements which began in response to the global financial crisis of 2008 (Occupy Wallstreet etc) not translate into anything beyond spicy memes and memorable slogans? Why have large public demonstrations against extra-judicial murder of black men by police in USA not reduced their incidence? Why does the debt load of students attending universities in USA keep on climbing every single year to even more ridiculous levels? Why do costs of mediocre healthcare in USA keep on rising every year?

Why do elected officials, bureaucrats and the ‘system’ in general act is if they can get way with anything they want? Why do working conditions for the average person keep on getting worse with each passing year? Why do large corporations feel so confident in their ability to abuse their customers without any real consequences? Why does the militarization of “law enforcement” apparatus in USA continue unabated? Why do petty bureaucrats, alt-right supporters and SJWs think they can harass and abuse others at will?

The very simplistic answer to those questions is that all those people, groups and entities firmly believe that they can get away with whatever they want because they will no repercussions or accountability for their actions. A significantly longer answer starts with acknowledging something that most people are unwilling to, namely that you cannot convert assholes, parasites and viruses into someone who is not noxious. People who build their existence around being an asshole, parasite, virus or an ardent supporter of noxious ideologies are never going to have an epiphany or willing give up being abusers.

Nazism did not decline into insignificance and become disreputable because its supporters saw the light of reason. Nazism became a disreputable and insignificant ideology because most of its ardent supporters were killed on the eastern front in WW2 or died in soviet ‘labor’ camps after WW2. Oh.. and most women in the eastern part of Germany were raped by Russian soldiers after WW2. To put it another way, even marginal supporters of Nazism had to pay a very heavy price for their previous support of that ideology.

Lets just say that it took a lot of effort to make sure that Nazism became a highly disreputable and marginal ideology. And you know something else.. there was realistically no other way to reach that endpoint. Do you really think that ardent believers in Nazism would have changed their ways if they had just been exposed to another viewpoint, received a better education, read more books or witnessed non-violent demonstrations against that ideology? Do you think they would have changed their viewpoints if they had interacted with more Jews or Russians?

The point I am trying to make is that supporters of ideologies which attract members through the promise of a license to inflict pain and death on innocent people cannot be reasoned or bargained with. The ultra-nationalists who flourished in Japan between 1919-1945 did have genuine grievances with international system of that era. They were also correct about Japan being short-changed after WW1. The Nazis too rose to public popularity based on genuine grievances such the highly unfair nature of Versailles treaty and the Great Depression which started in 1929.

But that does not excuse what Nazis did to millions of Eastern Europeans and Jews or Japanese did to millions more in China and Korea. But more importantly, a large part of the mass appeal of both ideologies was that they provided an opportunity and excuse for mediocre CONservative men in both countries to torture and kill millions in other countries. Let us not pretend that the vast majority of ardent supporters of Nazism and Japanese nationalism actually cared about the ideology they allegedly believed in, other than as justification for torture and murder.

Ideology, you see, is simply a self-justification for behavior. You cannot, therefore, destroy a noxious ideology by exposing its internal contradictions, hilarious irrationality and general emptiness. Ardent supporters of noxious ideologies use them as mental crutches to justify what they want to do while still being able to claim to themselves that they are “good”, “moral” and “law-abiding” persons. Noxious ideologies can only be destroyed once most of their ardent supporters are dead and the rest discredited as losers in conflicts.

In the next part, I will write more on how the mental crutch provided by ideologies such as Nazism and Japanese nationalism allowed its supporters to perform truly horrible acts in the 20th century. I will also compare that to how belief in race-based colonialism was used by mediocre CONservative men from European countries to justify equally horrific acts in the 19th century.

What do you think? Comments?

On the Jingoistic Delusions of Arstechnica Fanboys about SpaceX: 1

July 11, 2018 6 comments

As regular readers know, my longer posts are usually about large-scale trends, systemic issues and other ‘meta’ phenomena. This one is about something far more specific and kinda obscure. However, as you will see, it does eventually connect with a few meta- trends. So what is it about, anyway? Well.. I am going to cast the harsh light of reality onto absurd and delusional fanboy-ism displayed by “journalists” at technology oriented websites (especially ArsTechnica) towards SpaceX and Elon Musk.

In case you require a quick refresher, here are a couple of links to my previous posts on SpaceX (link 1, link 2). Also, as many of you know, my cynicism about Elon Musk is largely due to the outrageous claims mabe by him about future of his enterprises as well as his P.T. Barnum-esque PR efforts. As I have said before, the dreams of endless profits, market monopolization and “disruption” which he is selling to rubes are also darkly funny. But enough about him, let us talk about his fanboys (paid or otherwise) in american “journalism”.

To understand what I am talking about, have a look at some of the fanboy-type articles posted on ArsTechnica about SpaceX. While I am no stranger to the concept of “journalists” promoting and pimping whatever product or ideology their corporate masters require of them, the sheer amount and degree of magical thinking, fake positivity and informercial-level promotion of SpaceX by alleged “journalists” working at ArsTechnica is reminiscent of supermarket tabloids (the ones only old people seem to read nowadays).

Some of this “journalistic” booster-ism is extreme enough to become unintentional parody (example 1, example 2). The articles which pissed me off, and were the reason for writing this post, concern their willingness to lie about the space programs of other countries- often displaying no understanding of the geo-political and historical considerations underlying the funding of national space programs. While ArsTechnica “journalists” (metaphorically) sucking Elon Musk’s dick might be “normal”, lying and making up bullshit to massage the delusions of its more jingoistic readers is a bit too much.

A few recent articles such as ones about the “inevitable collapse” of the Russian space program and its future prospects are particularly illustrative of what passes for “journalism at ArsTechnica. Let us first talk about their “journalistic” posts about the Proton launcher- which for many years was a cheap, if inherently problematic, commercial launcher. For example- if you read this piece of propagandist bullshit without knowing enough of the background, you might be led to believe that there was something newly wrong with the Proton launcher system. Unfortunately for the presstitutes at ArsTechnica, the reality is quite different. On a side note, feel free to browse some of their other recycled jingoistic posts which pass for “journalism” at ArsTechnica.

The Proton launcher family was always the red-headed stepchild of Russian space program. To make a long story short- the fact that it used hypergolic fuels and was promoted by Vladimir Chelomei, made it particular unpopular with Sergei Korolev and his faithful proteges. In fact, it would never have been developed if Korolev had not died in 1968. Well.. he died unexpectedly and Chelomei ensured that it got developed. And yes, it had tons of teething problems and failures in its early years. Eventually they were able to make it work reliably. But there is more..

The two main reasons USSR did not develop a RP-1/LOX equivalent of the Proton was because the later was cheap to manufacture and quite reliable after 1972. So there was no point in spending more money to develop, test and validate yet another new launcher system which was not significantly better or cheaper than the Proton. It also helped that the launch sites used by the Proton were situated in regions where an occasional catastrophic failure was not a big deal. Why fix something that is not broken?

Anyway.. after the dissolution of USSR and commercialization of space launch facilities by Russia, it became a fairly popular launcher because it was reliable enough and cheaper than equivalent Ariane launchers. FYI- Commercial launches by Boeing and others in USA had been almost dead since mid-1980s because of their exorbitant prices. So Russia just kept on cranking out more launchers inspite of many looming problems, especially Kazakhstan’s increasing reluctance to let them keep using the Baikonur launch site.

To make matters worse, they made the decision to transition from Proton to Angara launchers without first properly developing and validating the later system. To make a long story short, poor management (and graft) by those in charge of the Angara program in combination with mismanagement (and graft) of those in charge of the now deprecated Proton program predictably caused issues with reliability and costs of the later. Furthermore, Chinese rockets were already competing with the Proton for low-end of the launch market. The entry of SpaceX in the launch market merely sped up the process.

To quickly summarize this part, the Proton launcher family is Russia’s equivalent of the Titan III rocket family. In other words, good and important enough to last far beyond when it was meant to be replaced, but always fundamentally problematic. To claim that issues relating to half-hearted attempts at winding down its production and replacing it with Angara are somehow different from similar delays and screw-ups experienced by USA while transitioning from Delta-2 and Titan III to Delta-4 and Atlas-5 is intellectually dishonest.

And this brings me to another bullshit story being peddled by the presstitues at Arstechnica. As I briefly mentioned earlier, they are trying to push the claim that Russia somehow lacks the money and will to keep funding its space program. I see this one as an index example of how many jingoistic americans are incapable of thinking in addition to being severely deficient in their knowledge of history. The development and funding of pace launch systems, you see, have always been primarily about strategic prerogatives- not “free market” bullshit.

The development of space launchers by USSR (now Russia), USA, EU, China and India is largely driven by considerations such as maintaining and developing technological capabilities, employing their own people, developing related industrial sectors and nationalistic pride. I cannot think of any space program which has consistently turned a “profit”. And for good reason.. capability in projects and programs related to national security and strategic capability is far more valuable that any arbitrary monetary value.

To put it another way, no large country with any degree of strategic independence is going to shut down its space program and outsource it to SpaceX. And they all have far deeper pockets and infinitely more staying power that SpaceX. It is also worth mentioning that almost everything developed by Russian space program in the past has been about strategic considerations and national pride. I should also mention that in the 1990s, many “respectable” western news outlets were full of endless stories about how Russia would lose ability to make nuclear weapons, ICBMs, nuclear submarines, would be invaded from east by China etc.

So what happened since then in the real world? Well.. it turns out that it was USA which got involved in and lost wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and now Syria. It was USA that got de-industrialized through “free trade agreements” and now has serious problems fielding reliable next-generation military aircraft and aircraft carriers. It is people in USA who keep on getting screwed over by rapidly rising costs in the education, health and housing sector. It is USA that is now experiencing record low fertility rates in native-born women and a rapidly increasing number of deaths from drug overdoses, alcoholism and deferred medical care. It is cops in USA who now behave like their power-crazed versions in other countries were supposed to behave.

To put it another way, it is the USA (not the rest of the world) which is now in terminal decline. And this brings us to the issue of who is the real audience for this laughable propaganda and fanboy-ism from american technology “journalism”. Spoiler: It is meant for an American (and perhaps British) audience, who might be delusional and desperate enough to believe that ‘their team is still winning’. The thing is.. most people in countries which matter haven’t believed in anything coming from western (mostly american) “news” outlets for over a couple of decades- at the very least.

In the next post of this short series, I will focus on how “journalists” at ArsTechnica and other american “news” outlets write about other countries.

What do you think? Comments?

Dream of Mars Colonization as Sold by Elon Musk is a Hilarious Fraud: 1

July 7, 2018 20 comments

Over the past few years, I have noticed a recurring theme which emerges during any prolonged defense of Elon Musk by his fanboys. It involves their firm belief in his increasingly outrageous claims about the relative ease and plausibility of human colonization of Mars. While establishing permanent human settlements on Mars is an interesting idea, doing so is not plausible without very significant technological advances in multiple areas as well as abandoning the organization of society around any form of capitalism. In the rest of this post, I will provide an overview of the many technological and other problems which will doom such an endeavor.

Let us start by quickly going over the unsuitability of the BFR (as currently envisaged) for such a mission. Imagine, for a moment, that Elon Musk somehow finds a way to build and successfully test that particular launcher design. Let us also imagine that it can put a payload of between 150-200 tons into Low Earth Orbit (LEO). So, how much of that can be put into a Hohmann Transfer Orbit bound for Mars? And that brings us to the first problem. Moving a payload from LEO to TLI or any Mars transfer orbit requires a pretty large amount of fuel to achieve the delta V changes necessary for such a change- and the fuel for that has to some from within the payload.

For example: Saturn-V could put about 130-140 tons into LEO but only 45-50 tons of that could be injected into a TLI orbit. Furthermore, the third stage of Saturn-V utilized a very efficient LOX-H2 engine with specific impulse values close to maximum possible for chemical rocket engines. To put in another way, 200 tons injected into LEO translates into barely 70 tons of useful payload for simply entering into a Mars transfer orbit. And that 70 tons must contain enough fuel to inject itself into a circular orbit around Mars (once it reaches that planet), soft land on its surface and then climb into Martian orbit for re-entering the reverse Hohmann transfer orbit to Earth.

Of course, there are ways to increase the payload deliverable to Mars. It is possible, for example, to use multiple BFR launches to build a Mars transfer spaceship in orbit. Nuclear- or solar- powered machines pre-delivered to Mars could produce the methane and oxygen from local resources to power return flights to Earth. But regardless of how you try to solve this problem, the actual amount of payload deliverable to Mars by even the largest rockets imagined by Elon Musk are pretty meager for starting anything approaching a small permanent settlement.

And it gets worse. A one way trip to Mars using chemical rocket engines and the minimum energy Hohmann transfer orbit will take about nine months. To be clear, nine months or even a year in LEO is doable largely because the spacecraft is still partially protected from solar and cosmic radiation by the earth’s magnetic field. Also, post-journey physiotherapy and rehabilitation on Earth can (over a few years) reverse most deleterious effects of living under conditions of micro-gravity. That is not the case if you travel to Mars, because there might be nobody or very few people to help you after landing on it.

Living under conditions of micro-gravity for more than a couple of weeks has serious and long-term negative effects on bone density, muscle mass and the cardiovascular systems- even if you exercise every single day on the spacecraft and take drugs to counteract some effects of micro-gravity on your body. Decades of medical experience with counteracting the physical effects of micro gravity has shown us that those who have lived for more than a couple of months on space-station take year or two (at least) of physiotherapy to start feel close to normal once again. And don’t forget those astronauts are returning to a planet with normal gravity and tons of medical personnel and facilities.

Mars, on the other hand, is an uninhabited planet with 1/3rd the surface gravity of Earth, a magnetic field too weak to shield you from solar/cosmic radiation and surface atmospheric pressure barely 1/100 th of that on earth. In other words, the “living conditions” on Mars are pretty dismal. Perhaps more importantly, the combination of significantly lower surface gravity (than earth) and high radiation environment is almost certain to cause tons of negative health effects in humans foolish enough to live for more than a few weeks (or months) on its surface.

While living a few meters below its surface, and under a layer of ice, would reduce the amount of ionizing radiation from space to less horrible levels, it would not be surprising if almost everyone living on Mars for any prolonged length of time ended up developing (and dying from) some form on cancer or other chronic diseases. Let us also not forget about the large amount of resources necessary to supply even the smallest Martian colony with food, medicines and equipment from Earth. While it is possible to use small nuclear reactors or solar panels to convert subsurface ice and atmospheric CO2 to oxygen, water and methane- almost all other consumables and equipment to maintain, and perform repairs in, such a colony will have to be ferried from Earth.

In the next part of this short series, I will write about how the currently dominant socio-economic paradigm of capitalism (especially late capitalism based on financialism and metrics based “productivity”) are an even bigger obstacle to human colonization of Mars.

What do you think? Comments?

My Thoughts on the Systemic Scam Underlying Tesla Motors: 2

June 30, 2018 37 comments

In my previous post in this series, I made the point that there many similarities between the overall career trajectories of Elizabeth Holmes and Elon Musk than most want to acknowledge. Based on the comments section of that post, it appears that some of you think that comparing a now-disgraced con artist with your favorite secular prophet du jour is unfair. Some of you might also think that Theranos, unlike SpaceX or Tesla Motors, was a complete con-job based on an unsound idea and totally fabricated results. The reality, however, is far more complex and nuanced.

But before we go there, let us talk about another facet of the almost uniquely american scam known as a technology based startup based in, or around, Silly Valley. To be more specific, let us focus on the type of people who start or are the public face of such corporations. I recently came across an interesting article which made an argument about entrepreneurship in USA that I also made in the past. To summarize, the article says that all entrepreneurs who achieve any lasting level of success in USA are scammers and con-artists who just got really lucky.

In other words, all those Silly Valley entrepreneurs constantly promoting their “disruptive” and “innovative” product or service “which will change the world” are just scam artists who have found the right elevator pitch, facial mannerisms and organisational image to sell to gullible fanboys and cynical banksters who will lend them other people’s money. Being a successful entrepreneur in USA is now almost exclusively about having the right image and sales pitch in addition to pushing emotional buttons in rubes rather than delivering even a fraction of what was promised.

To be fair, none of this is really new and american rubes have been enthusiastically buying snake oil of all types since the nation was founded. What is, however, different now is that real world technological progress (as in improvement) has stalled for at least a decade (and more) in many fields. Don’t believe me? Look at trends in life-expectancy (even for the super-rich), increasingly crappy quality of your smartphone and laptop, the almost complete lack of any major medical advance (to treat common diseases) for well over a decade.. I could keep go on.

This combination of very obvious (if largely unspoken) technological stagnation combined with sequelae of 2008 financial crisis has drained public faith from most american institutions. It is also partially the reason why Trump was elected in 2016. Another consequence of this (richly deserved) loss of faith in traditional institutions is that any slick con-man or con-woman with some TED-Talker skills can successfully start a new corporate cult. Even recycled scam sellers, such as Alex Jones and Mike Cernovich, can make tons of money and gather an army of “followers”. And those two are not even the worst offenders of their sub-genre.

So how is the scam perpetrated by somebody like Elizabeth Holmes, Elon Musk or any other Silly Valley CEO different from the dietary supplements and self-help books hawked by Alex Jones and Mike Cernovich. Well.. for starters, Silly Valley scams are based around a core of truth or plausibility. For example, lithium-ion battery based electric cars with decent performance have been feasible since late 1990s, United Launch Alliance (ULA) was abusing its rocket launch monopoly in USA by charging outrageous rates and advancements in medical diagnostic technology have reduced the specimen size necessary conducting each test.

It is therefore reasonable to start corporations to explore development and commercialization of better electric cars, cheaper rocket launchers and diagnostic tests which are faster and can use a smaller specimen size (or volume). So what makes Tesla Motors, SpaceX and Theranos scams rather than somewhat respectable businesses? Well.. as I have said in previous posts, it comes down to the dreams they are selling to their fanboys and investors. For example, SpaceX would be a perfectly normal business if it promoted itself as a launch company with cost-competitive rocket launchers. But that is not what its public image and market valuation are based on.

Instead the market valuation of SpaceX is based on believing their hilarious claims about lunar tourism, colonization of mars and monopolizing the global space launch market. To put it another way, they are selling a series of highly implausible dreams. Similarly, as I mentioned in previous post of this series that, Tesla Motors public image in USA and stock valuation are based on the belief that it will displace Toyota, GM, Hyundai etc as the premier and other dominant automobile manufacturer in the world. It also presupposes that electric cars will somehow magically replace gasoline/diesel cars throughout the world, within the next 15 years. If you don’t believe me, have a look at market valuation of automobile manufacturers (including Tesla Motors) versus the number of vehicles they sell per year.

But what does any of this have to do with the saga of Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos. As it turn out.. a lot. The idea underlying Theranos, namely miniaturizing medical diagnostic tests such that they require very small amounts of blood or other bodily fluids, is fairly reasonable. In fact, some technologies that it was trying to incorporate into its own system has been previously shown to work well- perhaps not well enough or with very small volumes- but work well enough to merit further development. The problem with Elizabeth Holmes, her ‎Svengali (Ramesh Balwani), and the upper management of that company was that they over-promised to the point where they could not deliver anything close to what they promised.

It did not help that they apparently had an insufficient grasp of the technological aspects of whatever they were trying to promote. To make matters worse, they tried to scam their way out of this self-inflicted disaster by doing a variety of illegal things- from using diagnostic systems from other manufacturers to make it appear that their own system worked, abusing and threatening their employees and a whole lot more. But more importantly, through all of this Elizabeth Holmes continued peddling the scam under the guise of “female empowerment”, dressing like the next Steve Jobs, speaking in a fake voice and much more.

Curiously (or not), she had no trouble finding tons of rich, famous and allegedly smart people who were willing to invest millions and billions in her scam. Theranos started to implode only after it became too obvious that she pulling an enormous scam. Even then, many of her rich financial backers kept expressing confidence in her abilities. So what was the reason behind the now divergent fates of Elizabeth Holmes and Elon Musk. Well.. in my opinion, Elon Musk got lucky because he built his companies around ideas which could survive a quick back-of envelope calculation.

Electric cars with decent performance and relatively inexpensive RP-1/LOX rocket launchers were either already feasible or mature technology for at least a few years before he started Tesla Motors and SpaceX. Elizabeth Holmes, on the other hand, tried to pull of a scam in an area which lacked a similar base of proven technology. She chose poorly and was unlucky. But make no mistake- their main business model was, and still is, selling people and investors on their dreams of “technological disruption, “unlimited profits” and “market monopolization”. And that is why Elizabeth Holmes is an unlucky female version of Elon Musk.

What do you think? Comments?