Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Slippery news

One of the things needed, if you're going to strive for rationality- is "facts" that have some chance of being real. And it's getting harder to get hold of those, or to keep them where everyone can see.

One of the news sources I regularly scan is the NHK World feed; the Japanese version of National Public Television.

For reasons that are fascinating to speculate about, this news source often seems to be almost "unfiltered" - they just blurt out the truth, as they record it from first hand sources.

Like this; for instance, in toto:
"40% of residents' exposure tops annual limit"

"More than 40 percent of the people surveyed in 3 municipalities near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant were exposed to radioactivity levels above the annual safety limit in the 4 months after the disaster.

"Fukushima Prefecture released on Monday the results of its survey of external radioactive exposure among some 9,750 residents of 2 towns and a village after the accident last March. This number excluded people working in places with high radioactivity, such as a nuclear plant.

"Participants were asked about their behavior over a 4-month period immediately following the nuclear accident in order to estimate their external exposure.

"Forty-two percent of the respondents are estimated to have received more than one millisievert --- the annual limit for the general public --- in the 4 months following the disaster.

"Estimated exposure exceeded 10 millisieverts for 71 people. The highest dose was 23 millisieverts for an adult woman.

"Among young people under the age of 20 at the time of the accident, the highest exposure was 18.1 millisieverts over 4 months.

"The prefecture is conducting the survey on all its 2 million residents.
Monday, February 20, 2012 19:28 +0900 (JST)"

The thing is- the next day; you can't find that story anywhere. I'm pretty sure the "filters" kicked in. The original link does still work, one day later; but my experience is that in several days, they stop working; hence my in toto quote.

Do you suppose it would be news, of international interest, that where 1 millisievert per year is the "allowed" dose, they were finding numerous people with 10 millisieverts - accumulated in 4 months? And some up to 20?

Nah. Haven't seen anyone pick it up, yet.

Then; today's fun story from them:
"Survey: 95% of disaster debris not yet disposed of

"The Japanese Environment Ministry says 95 percent of debris from last year's disaster in northeastern Japan has yet to be disposed of more than 11 months on.

"The March 11 quake and tsunami created more than 22 million tons of debris on the coasts of hardest-hit Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima Prefectures alone.

"The ministry said on Tuesday that just over one million tons, or 5 percent, of debris has been either incinerated or buried. 72 percent is still stored at temporary sites.

"The ministry says many of the incinerators planned for disaster-stricken municipalities have yet to enter operation. It cites the difficulty in finding sites for new incinerators.

"The ministry also says disposal in other areas of Japan, expected to shoulder 4 million tons of debris, has hardly begun.

"Environment Minister Goshi Hosono told reporters the ministry's goal of completing disposal by the end of March, 2014 is unrealistic.

"He asked municipalities outside the disaster-affected region to help, noting that delays are greatly hampering reconstruction.
Tuesday, February 21, 2012 13:25 +0900 (JST)"

The link for that is here.

Hey, I just wouldn't want you all to be worrying about Greece today, and forget that the problems in Japan are - pretty much entirely not dealt with. At all.

But hey- Technology will certainly come to our rescue; the free-market system guarantees it!

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Struggle for Rationality

Gaia's Daughter commented on the last post, and I was in the process of responding when I realized I had a new post on my hands.  Her second comment (read the first, too):

"Okay, my last comment was really depressing so I thought I might amend it a bit. I do think that circumstances may force Truth upon us sooner rather than later . . . the day of 'no other alternatives' may be closer than we think. I also believe that there are a lot of exceptional people out there planting those seeds for a better future -- a future that may surprise us."

 Gaia's- lots of things there I totally agree with; in fact I'd probably intensify most of them.  Your "People for the most part are not really rational beings -", for example, is wildly optimistic.   :-) And boy, am I not kidding.

   The vast majority of humans operate their entire lives on exactly the same mental levels as all the other species on the globe; we simply react to the environment around them.  Even the most enlightened and and aware of us mostly run on auto-pilot; and the illusion that our actions are based on "reason" is exactly that- illusion.  There are vast tomes written on this subject, which we reasoning people read, groan over, and ignore.  A good place to start investigating is the classic "Extraordinary Popular Delusions And The Madness Of Crowds."  And I will again say, with no kidding whatsoever, boy, was MacKay ever an optimist. And you will note, from the date of the work, that this is hardly a new conversation.

   There is, however, a spark of rationality in our species.  We are aware that logic and reason exist.  And we know they can be useful.  History is almost our only real tool for demonstrating this, but its arguments are forceful.  The slow, painful, and intentional invention of Science being my best example.

  Persons striving for Rationality, like you and me, observed that the "knowledge" belonging to the human race, which we use for making life or death decisions of all kinds, was in fact an utter rag-bag of nonsense.  Aristotle, for example, propagated the most absurd information (geese grow from barnacles) as absolute fact- and these facts were accepted as gospel, for centuries.

  The founders of Science first - noticed that.  I will point out that "noticing" is an incredible achievement, and far from easy or simple.  It amounts to my statement yesterday that I spend most of my time trying to see - what is the problem.

  Then astonishingly, the Founders of Science did something second: they sought to do something about the problem.  I will point out here that they probably did not make a rational choice to pursue this huge problem.  It was more likely motivated by other animal drives.  But pursue they did; until the pursuit took on its own life, becoming a cultural force of its own.  The result; which took hundreds of years and hundreds of human minds to refine; is the Scientific Method.  It is now tightly formulated, in several places, most accessibly and neatly (to my mind) in Koch's Postulates.  Understand- the refining of the Method is not finished; and a huge number of people who make their living as "scientists" in fact do not follow the Method.  Many don't truly understand it; and like all tools in the universe it can be abused.  But.  Used carefully; the Scientific Method is an algorithm for Truth.  It can, and does, distinguish between illusion and components of Objective Reality.   (If you're one of those who dispute the existence of objective reality, you might as well leave now.  You will gain no traction here.  I believe on Gravity.)

Alas- here is where we are stuck.  We have a tool we can use to discover Truth.  But we became philosophically sidetracked when the vast majority of educated persons, putatively trained to rational thought, made the irrational and generally unstated assumption that Truth = Good; or more usefully and less commonly put, Truth = Wisdom.  We have, I will firmly state, abundant evidence that those equations are invalid.

  May I state it this way?  I have noticed that - our collections of Truths, or Knowledge now validated by Science, are assumed to operate also as Wisdom.  But in fact- we have a useless rag-bag of collective Wisdom.  Exactly equal to Aristotelian Knowledge.

  What we need is another collective effort to establish the equivalent of the Scientific Method; but it needs to be a method that will return Wisdom; valid, reproducible, objective, operable.

  Recall that it took hundreds of years and hundreds of minds to sort the Scientific Method out of the tangle of mental processes that preceded it.  Ignore for the moment that it's still only a tiny minority of human minds that actually use or comprehend Science- remember that that tiny minority, and Science, have utterly and irrevocably altered the world.  Acknowledged or not, the power of the Scientific Method is irrefutable.

  That's what I'm asking of you all.  Gaia's Daughter- your thinking shows me you are on the path.  You're finding it depressing.  So do I; but realize you are in the same place as the scientific thinkers in the 11th Century- struggling through millennia of mental murk.  

   And I'm afraid I must add a depressing observation of my own, re: your comment  "I do think that circumstances may force Truth upon us sooner rather than later . . . the day of 'no other alternatives' may be closer than we think. "   Alas, the astonishing durability of delusional systems is broadly demonstrated, historically.  The US Wall Street Stock Markets being a case in point- there's no shred of rationality anywhere; yet it keeps going.  

   We can all see, very clearly, that the path humanity is currently on cannot endure, and is deeply unjust in many ways; but I'm beginning to suspect it can keep going, in robust zombie mode, for a long time.  Change may not be able to depend on collapse; likewise collapse might not enforce change.  If we want a healthy, just planet, we may have to find new ways.

  It is not easy- to see where no one has seen before.  I doubt that one mind can do it all.

  But we need to try.  And why should we not start here?


   And, another "tsk-tsk!" from the New York Times today, with a story of Truth inserted into the system and ignored, leading to disaster.  Do read it.  And the fate of the poor fellow who tried to make the system work; expected it to; trusted it to.  This is our reality- across the board.  Not the exception.  Yet the great majority of us still come out of higher education, and find this surprising and counter-intuitive.  
   Then we get depressed about it, and withdraw (I'm not an exception.)  

   What we need to do, is find a new way to engage the problem.  Entirely new.  The "Occupy" people are on the right track- they have no stated agenda- because they are smart enough to know they do not know what is needed.  

   Like the invention of Science- progress on problems of this magnitude come very slowly and in tiny pieces.  Put it on your list.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

So; the problem is...

   That, actually, is what I spend most of my time trying to see.  Exactly what is - the problem?

   I can tell you this; 9 times out of 10, in our world, "the problem" is misidentified or unrecognized.  Or even more frequently, denied.  What problem?

   There is an excellent bit of investigative reporting in the New York Times today (alas, not all that common).  It details how one determined man uncovered virtually all the abuses in the mortgage industry, years ago- reported it to all the various relevant authorities - and was ignored completely.

   It's an excellent study in the powerlessness of the individual, these days.  And to my mind- the reporter, well buried in the story, entirely misses her own point.

   She thinks this is a story about corruption in the mortgage and financial industries.  But it isn't.

   It's a wonderful, excellent, exhaustively documented story about how "truth", clearly and authoritatively presented, fails to penetrate our cultural apparatus to bring about corrections and change.  Systemically.

   This is "the problem" I'm talking about in the blog title.  Here on this blog, and on the various companions we all tend to peruse, we have an unusual collection of highly intelligent folks, able to see through the various cultural smoke screens, and see, really, truly, how this or that societal practice is inadequate to our needs, and we can recommend excellent possibilities for how it could, really, be made to work better.  We do it all the time.

  But The Truth -whichever one we're talking about at the moment - has no traction.  Systemically.

  The problem about this problem is- we believe otherwise.  The true religion of Academia, in particular, is the belief that discovering truth will bring change, progress, justice - good.  You just have to discover it.  Then, magically, Truth brings good.

  Manifestly- this is not so.  The present article in the Times documents that, in detail- and yet, still ends on the hopeful note that now, at last, these truths will bring change for the better.  100% of experience to the contrary notwithstanding.  Faith - not reason - claiming that reason will prevail.

  Personally- my own religion is - action.

   Now that I know The Truth Has No Traction - what do I do about that?

   First, tell you.

   Second - ask you: ok, so- from the cultural standpoint- how can we systemically give tank treads to Truth?

Friday, February 3, 2012

Plugging away; and, Guinea fowl...

Hi, folks.

Hopefully, I'll be writing more regularly again. We just had a big pile of "stuff" all at the same time, over the past weeks; leaving me with very little energy.

I come back here though, because of you guys. Some of the "stuff" was hard and depressing (of course- it's life) but it cheers me up to check back here and see that my readers stick- and in fact even slowly increase, even when I'm not writing actively. It's nice to be listened to.

One of the things slowing down my return to regular writing is the huge number of things that need writing about. Way too many. Too many of which are downer type things that I don't just want to dump on you. (Like, for example, the really great news from Japan this week; that they will be starting to actually try to tap deep ocean methane clathrates, opening up an entirely new, and huge, can of fossil fuel worms for the world.) Not going there, at the moment, you'll have to fret on your own.

I've got brain overload; and I've been reluctant to just pass it casually on. Not helpful. But then, in comments on my last post, Tickmeister asked for "useful guinea fowl information" - and that triggered my avalanche.

First of all, Ticky, do search the blog here for "guinea"; there will be quite a few posts, with a bunch of information. Start there. What I wrote is still valid. (Well, except for the part where I said "we've solved all these problems..." oooh, embarrassing, that one.)

But; I did leave the entire enterprise hanging; promising "more soon", and failing to deliver. The problem was the "more". There's too much "more"; and most of it is murky. I hate putting out non-information, it's a pet peeve of mine when I have to sift through other people's crap: "We just got guineas last week, and they're the greatest! You need to get some now!" Yeah? How'd that look at 2 years? Silence.

Quick summary on guinea fowl: We've had them since 2008. I think 4 of the original birds are still alive and well, and I value them highly. We've got a total of around 30 now. We're intending to try to hatch a lot more this year. But then; we tried to hatch a lot more last year- and failed completely.

They're a good animal to have. They are, however, not chickens; something people insist on and persist in forgetting, constantly. If you want to keep guineas, and benefit from their company- you have to pay attention. Every day- just like all other livestock.

There are a lot of ways in which they are less trouble than chickens- when they are out free range, they find about 90% of their own food. They're good at surviving predators; both mammals and hawks. We still think they're promising.


Ok, see; way too many "buts". Not for the guineas; for me. If you're thinking about keeping guineas- I'd encourage you to try them. They can be worth it. But. A great amount of the information on exactly how/when/what etc. that's available - is iffy. At best. "Guineas behave thusly..." is likely only half true. My own version of the various aphorisms regarding half-truths: "A half-truth is the most durable of lies."

And. Do I have time to write the monograph on keeping guineas? Not today. Besides; at this point in my relationship with them- I'm mostly aware of how much I don't know.

Which at the moment is my feeling in regard to the entire Universe.

So, cheer up. You're not alone.