Friday, August 29, 2014

Be Careful Out There

Psychology as a science is a little dicey. Science in medicine is also fairly flawed in its constant flux of what is considered "truth." Mix medicine and psychology together? Well... beware. The problems in diagnosing and treating psychological disorders have "evolved" and "evolved" and "evolved" some more. There are major controversies up until today and I doubt they will ever end. You must have faith to believe...

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Intuition and Science

You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.
– Bob Dylan (Subterranean Homesick Blues)

From my own experience, intuition is the very moment of decision. There are never enough facts to make a decision. We intuitively feel that one direction is better than another. Even with the "facts" on one's side, mistakes can always happen. There is no doubt that studying and preparedness will get you closer the making the right decision. It is just that I see so many who believe what they are told and use that to make decisions, imbuing the "facts" told them with some kind of infallibility.

When I studied Zen I found that intuition was the closest word in the western vocabulary to describe the Zen way of thinking and doing. I embraced that intuition as an understood marvel. I attempted to hone my intution.

The fact that western vocabulary has no real language used to discuss the moment of decision (considering all the facts we have and making a guess) except "intuition" says a lot about the black and white world we have created. Science is always right though if I were to use a Biblical concept and judge science by it's fruits there are many fruits I would say are rotten to the core, threatening the survival of life.

Intuitively scientists have guided themselves down the course where invention of anything labor saving was considered good. Again, we must see the interaction of technologists and scientists. Currently scientists appear to be back-paddling in a sense. No longer are the inventions of coal plants, mining techniques, internal combustion engines, and man's general control of the environment thought of as good things when the study of global warming is concerned. Science could dig us out of this mess, possibly, if we have faith in science. But science does not make capitalism go in the proper direction. And the fruits of capitalism create a distinct wealthy class who have more and more of an influence on the government. Science is not in a vacuum to do the right thing. Perhaps if it had always

Science has provided us with different advancements in weaponry and each time they made a discovery in this field, it changed the face of war. Usually more people could be killed at one time by one person.

The Internet itself should illustrate the amount of change. First we could only loan out vinyl records to others, then we could tape them on cassette tapes, then we could copy cds, and finally copy digital files and share them across the Internet. All of these could just be considered more efficient ways of sharing music. The effect on the music industry was huge. The effect on exports from the USA of music was huge. This is not to say that music is worse off. It is not like we created global warming here. But the illustration serves to show that making things more efficient in copying music has consequences. Also the invention of the atomic bomb has consequences, where a few people can virtually destroy the entire world.

The efficiency of the Internet  has positives and negatives. The positives are in free distribution of information not controlled by a few. The negatives involve free distribution of information not controlled by human beings capable of intuition into the consequences of their actions.

Thus social media can be used by people to help reform a corrupt police department or coordinate the attacks of ISIS. The most recent vomit producing technological use was of drones to target innocent civilians in Gaza.

Some outcomes of science and technology may be more catastrophic than others. Your mileage may vary. You can guess that intuitively. To intuitively believe that somehow science will work out the mess... well that is intuition that incurs an admirable "faith" in the good of science but seems to not be taking into account the dire predictions given by scientists if we do not change our ways.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Rare Earth; or, Jeeees, We Are REALLY Lucky

We are REALLY lucky. The bet is too rich for my blood. I fold.

Check out the fairly insolent looking Rare Earth Hypothesis:
or the "Why are you so damned insistent upon the existence of aliens?" question. It is because of all that Star Trek stuff. You know it and I know it. :)

Honestly, this is my favorite blog to write and post to. My mind has expanded so much by throwing off the chains of perceived authority. I challenge you to join me and question those whose opinions you have come to rely upon. Use your talent to think, to guide yourself down your own path. Whenever the instinctual impulse to accommodate, acquiesce, or conform occurs, just free yourself. Think!  Ponder the possibilities... and you do not even have to make up your mind because some things are unknowable, especially to "authorities" who believe they already know and have closed their own minds.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

John Pavlovitz on Organized Religion

Blog entries of John Pavlovitz:

Part 1

Church, Here’s Why People Are Leaving You.  from
Being on the other side of the Exodus sucks, don’t it?

I see the panic on your face, Church.
I know the internal terror as you see the statistics and hear the stories and scan the exit polls.
I see you desperately scrambling to do damage control for the fence-sitters, and manufacture passion from the shrinking faithful, and I want to help you.

You may think you know why people are leaving you, but I’m not sure you do.
You think it’s because “the culture” is so lost, so perverse, so beyond help that they are all walking away.
You believe that they’ve turned a deaf ear to the voice of God; chasing money, and sex, and material things.
You think that the gays and the Muslims and the Atheists and the pop stars have so screwed-up the morality of the world, that everyone is abandoning faith in droves.

But those aren’t the reasons people are leaving you.
They aren’t the problem, Church.

You are the problem.
Let me elaborate in 5 ways…

1) Your Sunday productions have worn thin.
The stage, and the lights, and the bands, and the video screens, have all just become white noise to those really seeking to encounter God. They’re ear and eye candy for an hour, but they have so little relevance in people’s daily lives, that more and more of them are taking a pass.
Yeah the songs are cool and the show is great, but ultimately Sunday morning isn’t really making a difference on Tuesday afternoon or Thursday evening, when people are wrestling with the awkward, messy, painful stuff in the trenches of life; the places where rock shows don’t help.
We can be entertained anywhere. Until you can give us something more than a Christian-themed performance piece; something that allows us space and breath and conversation and relationship, many of us are going to sleep-in and stay away.

2) You speak in a foreign tongue.
Church, you talk and talk and talk, but you do so using a dead language. You’re holding on to dusty words that have no resonance in people’s ears, not realizing that just saying those words louder isn’t the answer. All the religious buzzwords that used to work 20 years ago, no longer do.
This spiritualized insider-language may give you some comfort in an outside world that is changing, but that stuff’s just lazy religious shorthand, and it keeps regular people at a distance. They need you to speak in a language that they can understand. There’s a message there worth sharing, but it’s hard to hear above your verbal pyrotechnics.
People don’t need to be dazzled with big, churchy words and about eschatological frameworks and theological systems. Talk to them plainly about love, and joy, and forgiveness, and death, and peace, and God, and they’ll be all ears. Keep up the church-speak, and you’ll be talking to an empty room soon.

3) Your vision can’t see past your building.
The coffee bar, the cushy couches, the high tech lights, the funky Children’s wing and the uber-cool Teen Center are all top-notch… and costly. In fact, most of your time, money, and energy seems to be about luring people to where you are, instead of reaching people where they already are.
Rather than simply stepping out into the neighborhoods around you and partnering with the amazing things already happening, and the beautiful stuff God is already doing, you seem content to franchise out your particular brand of Jesus-stuff, and wait for the sinful world to beat down your door.
Your greatest mission field is just a few miles, (or a few feet) off your campus and you don’t even realize it. You wanna reach the people you’re missing?
Leave the building.

4) You choose lousy battles.
We know you like to fight, Church. That’s obvious.
When you want to, you can go to war with the best of them. The problem is, your battles are too darn small. Fast food protests, hobby store outrage, and duck-calling Reality TV show campaigns may manufacture some urgency and Twitter activity on the inside for the already-convinced, but they’re paper tigers to people out here with bloody boots on the ground.
Every day we see a world suffocated by poverty, and racism, and violence, and bigotry, and hunger; and in the face of that stuff, you get awfully, frighteningly quiet. We wish you were as courageous in those fights, because then we’d feel like coming alongside you; then we’d feel like going to war with you.

Church, we need you to stop being warmongers with the trivial, and pacifists in the face of the terrible.

Your love doesn’t look like love.
Love seems to be a pretty big deal to you, but we’re not getting that when the rubber meets the road. In fact, more and more, your brand of love seems incredibly selective and decidedly narrow; filtering out all the spiritual riff-raff, which sadly includes far too many of us.
It feels like a big bait-and-switch, sucker-deal; advertising a “Come As You Are” party, but letting us know once we’re in the door that we can’t really come as we are. We see a Jesus in the Bible, who hung out with lowlifes and prostitutes and outcasts, and loved them right there, but that doesn’t seem to be your cup of tea.
Church, can you love us if we don’t check all the doctrinal boxes and don’t have our theology all figured out? It doesn’t seem so.
Can you love us if we cuss and drink and get tattoos, and God forbid, vote Democrat? We’re doubtful.
Can you love us if we’re not sure how we define love, and marriage, and Heaven, and Hell? It sure doesn’t feel that way.
From what we know about Jesus, we think he looks like love. The unfortunate thing is, you don’t look much like him.

That’s part of the reason people are leaving you, Church.

These words may get you really, really angry, and you may want to jump in a knee-jerk move to defend yourself or attack these positions line-by-line, but we hope that you won’t.
We hope that you’ll just sit in stillness with these words for a while, because whether you believe they’re right or wrong, they’re real to us, and that’s the whole point.
We’re the ones walking away.
We want to matter to you.
We want you to hear us before you debate us.
Show us that your love and your God are real.
Church, give us a reason to stay.

Part 2

Church, Here’s Why People Are Leaving You.   8/20/14   John Pavlovitz  from
It’s not you, it’s me.
That’s what you seem to be saying, Church.
I tried to share my heart with you; the heart of me and thousands and thousands of people like me who are walking away, to let you know of the damage you’re doing and the painful legacy you’re leaving, and apparently; you’re not the problem.
(Which of course, is still a problem).

I’ve relayed my frustration with your insider, religious rhetoric, and you responded by cut-and-pasting random Scripture soundbytes about the “Bride of Christ” and the “blood of the Lamb”, insisting that the real issue is simply my “Biblical ignorance”, and suggesting that I just need to repent and get a good Concordance (whatever that is).

I let you know how judged and ridiculed I feel when I’m with you, how much like a hopeless, failing outsider I feel on the periphery of your often inward, judgmental communities, and you proceeded to tell me how “lost” I am, how hopelessly “in love with my sin” I must be to leave you, reminding me that I never really belonged with you anyway.

In the face of every complaint and every grievance, you’ve made it clear that the real issue, is that I’m either sinful, heretical, immoral, foolish, unenlightened, selfish, consumerist, or ignorant.

Heck, many days I’m not even sure I disagree with you.
Maybe you’re right, Church.
Maybe I am the problem.
Maybe it is me, but me is all I’m capable of being right now, and that’s where I was really hoping you would meet me.
It’s here, in my flawed, screwed-up, wounded, shell-shocked, doubting, disillusioned me-ness, that I’ve been waiting for you to step-in with this whole supposedly relentless, audacious “love of Jesus” thing I hear so much about, and make it real.
Church, I know how much you despise the word Tolerance, but right now, I really need you to tolerate me; to tolerate those of us, who for all sorts of reasons you may feel aren’t justified, are struggling to stay.

We’re so weary of feeling like nothing more than a religious agenda; an argument to win, a point to make, a cause to defend, a soul to save.
We want to be more than a notch on your Salvation belt; another number to pad your Twitter posts and end-of-year stat sheets.
We need to be more than altar call props, who are applauded and high-fived down the aisle, and then forgotten once the song ends.

We’ve been praying for you to stop evangelizing us, and preaching at us, and fighting us, and judging us, and sin-diagnosing us, long enough to simply hear us…
… even if we are the problem.
Even if we are the woman in adultery, or the doubting follower, or the rebellious prodigal, or the demon-riddled young man, we can’t be anything else right now in this moment; and in this moment, we need a Church big enough, and tough enough, and loving enough; not just for us as we might one day be then, but for us as we are, now.

We still believe that God is big enough, and tough enough, and loving enough, even if you won’t be, and that’s why even if we do walk away, it doesn’t mean we’re walking away from faith; it’s just that faith right now seems more reachable elsewhere.

I know you’ll argue that you’re doing all these things and saying all these things because you love and care for us, but from the shoes we’re standing in, you need to know that it feels less like love and care, and more like space and silence:

If someone is frustrated, telling them that they’re wrong to be frustrated is, well, pretty freakin’ frustrating.
It only breeds distance.

If someone shares that their heart is hurting, they don’t want to hear that they’re not right to be hurt.
It’s a conversation-stopper.

If someone tells you they are starving for compassion, and relationship, and authenticity, the last thing they need is to be corrected for that hunger.
It’s a kick in the rear on the way out the door.

So yes, Church, even if you’re right, even if we’re totally wrong; even if we’re all petty, and self-centered, and hypocritical, and critical, and (I’ll say it), “sinful”, we’re still the ones searching for a place where we can be known and belong; a place where it feels like God lives, and you’re the ones who can show it to us.

Even if the problem is me, it’s me who you’re supposed to be reaching, Church.
So, for the love of God; reach already.

Friday, August 15, 2014

"Particle Fever"

This is a great documentary on all levels, (even though I discuss it narrowly. )

In particular, this film does a great job of documenting the contemporary PR effort necessary to garner the vast amounts of money needed to experiment and test the current theories about how our universe works. The very telling moment about this PR is when scientists actually consider doing their experiments in secret in the middle of the night, in order to make sure the experiment, portrayed as the actual experiment for the press, will go well the next day. I think this actually occurred though I did not find that part clear in the documentary. Even in simply considering this, portraying essentially falsehood as truth, is mind boggling. One scientist suggests that the press will want to know the real moment something is actually discovered... well, yes, I suppose. :)  They might want that truth, history might want that truth. Give the film credit for documenting this incredibly bizarre moment.

Also, I learned that "experimentalists" (as opposed to the "theorists")  must think Thomas Edison invented the light bulb. There is an apt comparison be made that the press was not called in until something actually worked. Imagine them reporting on each of hundreds of failures. Invention is tedious.

However this Edison idea is a confusion of technology (the experimentalists' bailiwick of sorts) with science that the CERN project is supposed to be.

Wikipedia: " Edison did not invent the first electric light bulb, but instead invented the first commercially practical incandescent light. Many earlier inventors had previously devised incandescent lamps, including Alessandro Volta's demonstration of a glowing wire in 1800 and inventions by Henry Woodward and Mathew Evans. Others who developed early and commercially impractical incandescent electric lamps included Humphry Davy, James Bowman Lindsay, Moses G. Farmer, William E. Sawyer, Joseph Swan and Heinrich Göbel. Some of these early bulbs had such flaws as an extremely short life, high expense to produce, and high electric current drawn, making them difficult to apply on a large scale commercially."

One of the flaws of an earlier inventor was the high expense to produce an apparently otherwise working light bulb by the wording. It is not as if the expense of going to the moon is considered in that accomplishment. Whoever makes it cheap will not get the full credit (yet sometimes I wonder just how much Steve Jobs did to be more idolized than the earlier pioneers of the technology he utilized.)  I sometimes find insight in the smallest of things. Or perhaps I am just sarcastically picking apart things. However, when the light bulb was mentioned as invented by Thomas Edison, I talked back to our TV. 
"Thomas Edison did not invent the light bulb!!!" I brusquely said as my wife wished once again that I was watching "Prime Suspect" or something else. Edison developed technology from science and experiments that others had done. He perfected things for the marketplace. He was the epitome of what Monsanto, cigarette companies, some trial lawyers in court, and CNN pundit quests rely upon: scientists interested in profit over ideals.
The Edison analogy is adept in more than one way.
For instance, do the political and commercial (public monies) aspects of this giant project (compared to the Great Pyramids by the scientists involved) make it more susceptible to discovering something that pleases rather than the tells the truth?
The "supersymmetric theory" is preferred over the "multiverse theory" by the theorists interviewed. Multiverse theory is basically the idea that there are multiple universes in pure chaos except for our one universe which seems distinctly suited for human life. We are the one in a billion billion billion universe that has the right characteristics. The variances are just so in our universe. The chances of human life rest on odds the size of, say, 10 people winning the lottery in the same room who all have red hair, a limp, and a cat named "Bo." Multiverse theory handles this nicely and says that there are a lot of possible existing universes and we happen to be in the one where life was created. If we were not we would not be here.

But why do they cheer lead for "supersymmetry?"  Well, as I understand it, this theory gives them more things to do in the future with the CERN supercollider in the future, whereas the multiverse theory makes the odds of finding more things higher in other universes we may never know. To me, this is precisely the point. Unless there is some careful plan, one would think we are absolutely fighting the odds if we think things will necessarily be discoverable by a random limited species in a random world.
One scientist seemed to link his career into discovering things with correct timing, no less. If not, he would be retired and not be part of it. Another scientist is correct in responding that even if retired, the knowing was more important thing.
In one way this group scientific effort is refreshing. I think the scientists lost out over the technologists at NASA for quite some time. Here in CERN, the theorists are an essential part of the mix.
My understanding of the multiverse and supersymmetric theories was certainly elevated by watching this. There was even a fairly good but concise representation of intelligent design (which is not your local tea party Texas schoolbook concept) but a construct that is fairly difficult to get away from given the unlikely nature of our universe being the way it is by chance. I was stunned to see this discussion. Stunned and very happy. Regardless of politics, this is an actual theory that can be pointed to as the most likely unless it is almost properly ruled out at the beginning as not being science. Again we are not talking about Christianity or any other religion but the simple idea that everything is so incredibly precise.. too precise for random existence.
And honestly, I wondered why the scientists were pushing for the supersymmetric theory over the multiverse theory at all. This was their stated preference in the documentary. Obviously, truth is truth, but in my younger years studying psychology we understood the massive effect that the scientist's preference can have on experimental outcomes. When you also mix in the vast expenditure of public monies and the career trajectories of all the team involved, it is definitely something to consider. It is not as if I feel that they fudged the results but the whole thing seemed a bit orchestrated... and the presentation... completely orchestrated, complete with Dr. Higgs, as touching as that was.
The multiverse theory, or complete chaos, seemed to me to be the more likely answer. Why should humanity's thoughts and wishes come into it? Even art, a most human endeavor, has expressed itself with chaos at times.
I really don't doubt I am the only person who might review this movie in this way. I am just hopeless.
Here is an interesting sentence from Wikipedia about the project as it played out following the discovery of the Higgs particle documented in this film (the "God Particle" for the press, admirers, and out of pocket citizens.)
"After the discovery of the Higgs particle in 2012, it was expected that supersymmetric particles would be found at CERN, but there has been still no evidence of them."

(By the way, this is available on Netflix... and probably Apple I-tunes and Amazon.)

Science is Not Necessarily Great / Michael Bitchens

“Human decency is not derived from religion. It precedes it.”
― Christopher Hitchens, God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything

"Human decency is not derived from science, technology, nor from religion; however, religion is the only one of the three that actually addresses the issue and has done so from the earliest known times.  Religion has had bad effects as well as good, just as science has had bad effects as well as good, and as most certainly technology has had bad effects as well as good. Of the three only technology derived from science has the ability to destroy all of civilization either by intent or carelessness. The end will almost certainly not come from a religious apocalypse with supernatural dimensions, unless we define supernatural as things science does not yet understand. But the idea that we will not understand what is happening to us is a long shot. We will probably know as we may already know. Technology intent on making our lives better, does not."
-  Michael Bitchens, Science is Not Necessarily Great: How Science and Technology Can Literally Destroy Everything while Figurative Words are for Literal Wusses :)

Time, as we "know" it

Chill out... it's just fracking science...

 No long term studies about safety, companies keep process and chemicals secret.... does this remind you of the secrecy demanded for GMOs?

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Simple Human Rights

This may well be just the beginning of an extreme right wing agenda in Israel. It will not end well for them, I imagine. They have gone from being the repressed to the agents of repression... it will not end well. To think that Israel has not changed drastically is to ignore the senses our creator gave us. Politically Israel has been given complete support for decades but for me personally, they have burned through their goodwill credits completely now. Indeed we need to strip away any rag of justification here. Lets finally consign history's mistakes to history after this atrocity and focus on the human rights of all peoples, for the good of everyone.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Morality and Science / Henri Poincare

Morality and Science*
Henri Poincaré

The dream of creating a scientific morality appeared often in the last half of the nineteenth century. It was not enough to praise the educational value of science, the benefits obtained by the human mind for its own improvement, thanks to direct commerce with truth. It was expected that science would put moral truths on an indisputable plane, along with mathematical theorems and the laws formulated by physicists.

Religions can wield a great deal of power on believers, but not everybody is a believer, for faith falls only to some, whereas reason should appeal to all. So we must address ourselves to reason, and I do not mean the reason of the metaphysician, whose constructions are brilliant but ephemeral, like soap-bubbles amusing us for an instant and then bursting. Science alone builds solidly; it, built astronomy and physics; it is building biology today; by the same procedures it will build morality. Its prescriptions will reign indivisibly; nobody will be able to murmur against them, or dream of rebelling against the moral law any more than of revolting today against the Pythagorean Theorem or law of gravitation.

But on the other side, there were people who imputed every evil possible to science and saw in it a school for immorality. The reason was not merely that science is too materialistic, or that it deprives us of the sense of respect, for we respect highly only the things we dare not look at. But its conclusions seemed to be the negation of morality. As some well-known author, whose name I forget, put it, science goes about to extinguish the lights of heaven or at least rob them of their mystery in order to reduce them to the lowly state of gas jets. Science tends to expose the tricks of the Creator who will thereby lose something of his prestige. It is not good to let children into the wings, for that might inspire doubts in them about the existence of the puppet Croquemitaine. If you let the scientists have their way, it will be the end of morality.

What are we to think of the hopes on one side of the argument and of the fears on the other side? I reply without hesitation: they are both equally vain. There can be no scientific morals; but neither can there be any immoral science. And the reason for this is simple; the reason, how else shall I put it, is simply a grammatical one.

If the premises of a syllogism are both in the indicative mood, the conclusion will also be in the indicative mood. In order for the conclusion to be put into the imperative mood, it would be necessary for at least one of the premises to be in the imperative. Now the principles of science and the postulates of geometry are and can only be in the indicative; this is also the mood in which experimental truths are stated, and at the base of the sciences, there is not and cannot be any other mood. Whence it follows, that no matter how the subtlest dialectician wishes to juggle and combine these principles, one on top of the other, everything he concludes will be in the indicative. He will never obtain a proposition which will say: Do this or do not do that; that is to say, he will not produce a proposition which confirms or contradicts morals.

This difficulty is one that moralists often encounter. They try hard to demonstrate moral law; they must be pardoned because that is their vocation. They wish to rest morals on something, as if it could be made to rest on anything but itself. Science shows us that man can only degrade himself by living in such and such a manner; but what if I don't care about degrading myself, or if what you call degrading I baptize as a mark of progress? Metaphysics invites us to conform to the universal law of the moral order it claims to have discovered; but one can reply, I prefer to obey my own personal law. I don't know what metaphysics will reply, but I can assure you that it will not have the last word.

Will religious ethics be more fortunate than science or metaphysics? Obey because God orders it, and because he is a master who breaks down all resistance. Is that a demonstration, and can we not maintain that it is in vain to stand up against Omnipotence, or that in the duel between Jupiter and Prometheus the true conqueror is the tortured Prometheus? But then to yield to force is not to obey, and the obedience of the heart cannot be coerced.
[ Or, put more simply, have faith in the heart...  :) - mike ]
* From Denières Pensées. Translated by Philip P. Wiener.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

What is this "faith" of which you speak?

I have been watching Star Trek Enterprise lately. I originally stopped somewhere in the middle of the season after the Zindi attacked. As always, local stations do such a bad job of presentation, I sometimes just think "I'll wait a few years."  Somehow I found my place on Netflix and am pleasantly surprised about how much I am enjoying the remaining episodes in the series.

One thing that struck me though (since I have been writing this insolent blog which most often delves into faith vs. science) is the theme song. I always felt it was a great intro after I got used to lyrics in a Star Trek theme. (After the positively endless Voyager theme, I liked this fairly easily. :) )

Of course, what strikes me on hearing it again are the lyrics. "Faith" is mentioned a lot. It is "faith of the heart." Perhaps the idea is that the human species has the most heart and emotions which has often been a Star Trek theme since Spock first raised an eyebrow in response to Captain Kirk.

Science fiction of course is not science, but I think it is often where people get a good understanding of science or certainly where many of us got our love of science. Science fiction books were a substantial part of my teenage reading list.

I wonder though, what is this faith? Because I think Star Trek Enterprise nails the issue of having a faith in science or humanity in its opening titles. History, progress, technology, exploration, it is all there.

Yet, I have grown to question this faith as I learned more about humankind. As I learned about atrocities conducted in the name of science and, yes, religion, I seem to have much less faith in humanity to do the right thing. As profits become the main factor driving everything, I wonder, can I believe that we can all be together as a community as the ideals of Star Trek hypothesize for our future?

It takes faith, I guess.

It's been a long road
Getting from there to here
It's been a long time
But my time is finally near
And I can feel the change in the wind right now
Nothing's in my way
And they're not gonna hold me down no more
No, they're not gonna hold me down
'Cause I've got faith of the heart
I'm going where my heart will take me
I've got faith to believe
I can do anything
I've got strength of the soul
And no one's gonna bend or break me
I can reach any star
I've got faith
I've got faith, faith of the heart

It's been a long night
Trying to find my way
Been through the darkness
Now I finally have my day
And I will see my dream come alive at last
I will touch the sky
And they're not gonna hold me down no more
No, they're not gonna change my mind
'Cause I've got faith of the heart
I'm going where my heart will take me
I've got faith to believe
I can do anything
I've got strength of the soul
And no one's gonna bend or break me
I can reach any star
I've got faith, faith of the heart

I've known the wind so cold, I've seen the darkest days
But now the winds I feel, are only winds of change
I've been through the fire and I've been through the rain
But I'll be fine
'Cause I've got faith of the heart
I'm going where my heart will take me
I've got faith to believe
I can do anything
I've got strength of the soul
And no one's gonna bend or break me
I can reach any star
'Cause I've got faith of the heart
I'm going where my heart will take me
I've got strength of the soul
No one's gonna bend or break me
I can reach any star
I've got faith
I've got faith, faith of the heart
It's been a long road

Contrast with the no lyrics Voyager clocking in at 1:40... the most boring opening sequence ever:

What the hell were they thinking? :) Dazzling is only dazzling a few times. 1:40 of used-to-be dazzling is... gees... irresponsible. :)

All of this music should instill in you the wonder of science.... fiction. These opening credits perform the same function as cathedrals.  The hum of the ship... the stained glass windows.

Rebuttal in Favor of GMOs and My Response

[My response is after the article in grey. My earlier comments on this topic are here.]

Mon Aug 04, 2014 at 04:00 PM PDT

Neil deGrasse Tyson tells GMO haters to chill out–people get angry

by SkepticalRaptorFollow for SkepticalRaptor

Neil deGrasse Tyson, probably the most popular astrophysicist, if not scientist, of this generation, replaced Carl Sagan as the spokesman of all things science for the country. While not ignoring Bill Nye's impact on making science education fun and approachable (and who took classes from Carl Sagan at Cornell University), Sagan literally passed the baton of being the country's science teacher to Tyson.

For those of us on the left side of the political spectrum, Tyson is like the hero of the pro-science crowd. This past spring, Tyson hosted a program, Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, which described and supported some of the great science ideas of our time–evolution, age of the universe, human caused climate change, and other major scientific principles. Ironically, the show was broadcast in the USA on the Fox TV network, whose news division can be charitably described as ultraconservative. Right wing Christian fundamentalist groups, one of the main key demographic groups who watch Fox News, loathed Cosmos for trumpeting scientific knowledge over religious interpretations in just about every one of the the 13 episodes.

Of course, for every reason that Fox News hated Cosmos (even though it was a huge ratings success for Fox, and has garnered a significant number of TV awards and nominations), those of us on the pro-science side loved it. Now, I'm a rarity in the science community in that I did not enjoy the show (the animations offended me on so many levels, but apparently kids loved it), I did watch every episode and would have to rank the episodes on evolution and global warming as some of the best science TV I'd ever seen–despite the lame graphics.

Although he has made comments and tweeted about his skepticism of the anti-GMO crowd in the past, it was only recently, when Neil deGrasse Tyson was recorded telling people to “chill out” about GMOs, that most people found out about it. To quote Tyson:
Practically every food you buy in a store for consumption by humans is genetically modified food. There are no wild, seedless watermelons. There's no wild cows...You list all the fruit, and all the vegetables, and ask yourself, is there a wild counterpart to this? If there is, it's not as large, it's not as sweet, it's not as juicy, and it has way more seeds in it. We have systematically genetically modified all the foods, the vegetables and animals that we have eaten ever since we cultivated them. It's called artificial selection.
His comment lead to a huge outcry from anti-GMO activists (read the comments on this article on the liberal website, Daily Kos–as a disclaimer, I also write there frequently). There's an old saying that "I fucking love science except when it doesn't support my beliefs." The anti-GMO crowd uses the same ridiculous anti-science rhetoric of the anti-evolution and anti-global warming crowd. I seriously could just change "global warming is fake" to "GMO's are dangerous", and literally nothing else, and they would say the exact same thing. I am convinced that all science deniers meet at an international convention somewhere and share strategies.

In an article about Tyson's comments, the liberal intellectual powerhouse Ezra Klein succinctly summed up the uproar about what Tyson said:
In laboratory settings, there's no evident difference between liberals and conservatives in their propensity to believe what they want, evidence be damned. In one experiment, Yale law professor Dan Kahan showed you could get liberals to start doubting global warming (and conservatives to begin accepting it) by making clear that any solution would require geoengineering. In another he showed that both liberals and conservatives were more likely to rate someone an expert on climate change if they agreed with their conclusions. In a third, he showed liberals were about as resistant to evidence showing concealed carry laws are safe as conservatives were to evidence showing climate change is dangerous.
Dr. Kahan, who has advised me that those who are opposed to vaccines are unconvinced by arguments (and even less so with my occasional uncivil commentary about them), makes a major point–evidence doesn't to those who have a political agenda or personal belief. Tyson, who has no personal involvement in GMO's, looks at the evidence as science, not a political issue.

Environmental issues are important to the liberal base. Global warming is an enormous environmental issue that happens to be critical to liberal political parties, not only in the USA, but throughout the world. But when Klein tried to find out what was the liberal equivalent to climate change, it was GMO's.
GMOs are actually an example of liberalism resisting the biases of its base. Though there's a lot of mistrust towards GMOs and fury towards Monsanto among liberals, the Democratic Party establishment is dismissive of this particular campaign. You don't see President Obama or Democratic congressional leaders pushing anti-GMO legislationThere are, of course, party actors who've been more helpful to the anti-GMO movement. In California, the Democratic Party endorsed a proposition to label GMO foods. But that's a modest step — and even that step hasn't yet made it to the national party's agenda.
Of course, as opposed to politics, where everything is painted in broad black and white brushstrokes, and the public, especially in the USA, who are impatient with any discussion that isn't wrapped up in 140 characters, science is complicated and requires more than a couple of sentences to explain in detail. Tyson felt that he needed to clarify his comments, mainly because his original comments about "chill out" originated in a 2 minute interview. A couple of days after he made the original observations about GMO's, Tyson wrote some followup comments on Facebook (I've edited the formatting slightly to make it a bit more readable):
I offer my views on these nuanced issues here, if anybody is interested:
  • Patented Food Strains: In a free market capitalist society, which we have all “bought” into here in America, if somebody invents something that has market value, they ought to be able to make as much money as they can selling it, provided they do not infringe the rights of others. I see no reason why food should not be included in this concept. 
  • Labeling: Since practically all food has been genetically altered from nature, if you wanted labeling I suppose you could demand it, but then it should be for all such foods. Perhaps there could be two different designations: GMO-Agriculture GMO-Laboratory. 
  • Non-perennial Seed Strains: It’s surely legal to sell someone seeds that cannot reproduce themselves, requiring that the farmer buy seed stocks every year from the supplier. But when sold to developing country — one struggling to become self-sufficient — the practice is surely immoral. Corporations, even when they work within the law, should not be held immune from moral judgement on these matters. 
  • Monopolies are generally bad things in a free market. To the extent that the production of GMOs are a monopoly, the government should do all it can to spread the baseline of this industry. (My favorite monopoly joke ever, told by Stephen Wright: “I think it’s wrong that the game Monopoly is sold by only one company”) 
  • Safety: Of course new foods should be tested for health risks, regardless of their origin. That’s the job of the Food and Drug Administration (in the USA). Actually, humans have been testing food, even without the FDA ,since the dawn of agriculture. Whenever a berry or other ingested plant killed you, you knew not to serve it to you family. 
  • Silk Worms: I partly mangled my comments on this. Put simply, commercial Silk Worms have been genetically modified by centuries of silk trade, such that they cannot survive in the wild. Silk Worms currently exist only to serve the textile industry. Just as Milk Cows are bred with the sole purpose of providing milk to humans. There are no herds of wild Milk Cows terrorizing the countryside.
If your objection to GMOs is the morality of selling non-perennial seed stocks, then focus on that. If your objection to GMOs is the monopolistic conduct of agribusiness, then focus on that. But to paint the entire concept of GMO with these particular issues is to blind yourself to the underlying truth of what humans have been doing — and will continue to do — to nature so that it best serves our survival. That’s what all organisms do when they can, or would do, if they could. Those that didn’t, have gone extinct extinct.
I'm fairly certain that part of the anti-GMO sentiment relies on the old Appeal to Nature logical fallacy, which states that only natural is good. Of course, how do you define natural? Diabetics inject a GMO human insulin, that is the actual human insulin gene is inserted into another organism, then it synthesizes "natural" human insulin. And if you think this is appalling, and refuse to do it, then you will die, particularly fast if you're a Type 1 diabetic.

As I've written before, evidence is all that matters in science. Yelling and screaming that Monsanto is going to crush the world and is trying to kill us all (which is seriously illogical), that's just yelling and screaming, and has nothing to do with real science. The scientific consensus on GMO's is nearly the same as it is for human-caused climate change.

For example, here is the consensus position of the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences (AAAS) on climate change:
The scientific evidence is clear: global climate change caused by human activities is occurring now, and it is a growing threat to society. Accumulating data from across the globe reveal a wide array of effects: rapidly melting glaciers, destabilization of major ice sheets, increases in extreme weather, rising sea level, shifts in species ranges, and more. The pace of change and the evidence of harm have increased markedly over the last five years. The time to control greenhouse gas emissions is now.
The AAAS has also released another statement of consensus science on genetically modified foods (pdf):
The science is quite clear: crop improvement by the modern molecular techniques of biotechnology is safe … The World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the British Royal Society, and every other respected organization that has examined the evidence has come to the same conclusion: consuming foods containing ingredients derived from GM crops is no riskier than consuming the same foods containing ingredients from crop plants modified by conventional plant improvement techniques.
I guess someone could argue that the AAAS is right about one matter, but completely off-base on the other. Science deniers all do the same thing, pick and choose the science that supports their pre-existing beliefs in attitudes. Evolution deniers try to find evidence that the world is only 6000 years old, ignore the figurative (if not literal) mountains of evidence that support evolution as a scientific fact. But there is a group of people who mock those evolution deniers, while inventing massive conspiracies and fake science to support their anti-GMO beliefs.

One last thing. People ask how can an astrophysicist speak about GMO crops, which is a valid criticism. But here's the difference–Tyson isn't pretending to be an authority figure on GMO's, he's supporting the official scientific consensus developed by authorities. I strongly criticize scientists, who may be authorities in one area, but who then abuse that authority and pretend that they can speak to the science in something wholly separate from their own. They take their fame in one field to pretend they are an expert in another one, trading in on that fame. It happens all the time with those "scientists" who sign petitions disputing evolution or climate change. They are usually engineers, or computer "scientists" or some other non-expert, who wouldn't know evolution if it smacked them on the head.

Tyson is supporting the consensus, because he's a brilliant scientist. He isn't going to suddenly switch fields to become an geneticist or cell biologist, and even he did, he'd be publishing his first paper 10 years from now. What he does is what any scientist does–examine the consensus, look at whose research has the most weight, and see if the opposing view has the same quality of research. And right now, the evidence is overwhelming that GMO crops are safe for humans and for the environment (and if you're going to bring up glyphosate, Roundup, then that's a different conversation, it's no longer about GMO's). And the evidence that GMO plants are harmful is pitifully weak.

And again, because science isn't black and white, if the scientific consensus changes because of real evidence, I'm willing to switch my position. And foods ought to be tested, and that means GMO's, "organic" foods, meats, dairy, everything. I find it ironic that there's an implication that "organic" means healthy and GMO isn't, when the science behind GMO's is significantly broader and deeper than with regards to organic foods.

I am not naive. I know that there are conservatives who think that Tyson right and wrong. And some liberals who are apoplectic about Tyson today. To me, Neil deGrasse Tyson is perfectly rational and consistent–he follows the evidence to the conclusion, not establishing a conclusion, and denying all science that doesn't support it.

Originally posted to SkepticalRaptor on Mon Aug 04, 2014 at 04:00 PM PDT.

Also republished by SciTech.

My response:

1. Does a nation need a science teacher in chief? And if we need one, can we have one more like Carl Sagan? Keep your emotions and personal agenda of always being correct in check, please. Science should not be decided using emotions or terms like "chill out" when one is not "chilled out" oneself.

2.  Quoted: "...Fox TV network, whose news division can be charitably described as ultraconservative. Right wing Christian fundamentalist groups, one of the main key demographic groups who watch Fox News..."  I'm not sure it is necessary to bring religion into this issue, however the analogy is specious about the networks.  MSNBC and CNBC are owned by the same corporate entity which has profit as its main goal.  CNBC is conservative while MSNBC is left wing. One could argue NBC News itself is as corporate as one can get when it constantly hypes its parent company. The point here in this quote is to get in a punch at religion, not to edify. Tyson did not bring religion into the issue of GMOs. And I hope he does not bring it into his "authoritative" teachings of science. Why would anyone want to alienate and push people away from truth towards ignorance? Science basically has nothing to do with religion. When science tries to explain the basic assumptions it has about the subject of creation of the universe, it falls far short in the incontrovertible truth area . Want to teach evolution in the schools? Stop attacking religion. Want people to stop demanding religion be taught in science? Don't make it an issue yourself by attacking rather than defending. I did not watch "Cosmos" but I hope it did not use all 13 episodes to pit science against religion.

3. Spellcheck. I am guilty of grammatical problems and misspellings as well but "GMOs" is correct while "GMO's" is incorrect. The article waffles back and forth between the two spellings. This is the major topic being discussed. I misspelled Neil by using "Neal" and one of my Facebook friends pounced. This article is being published for a general audience and its subject includes guaranteeing the accuracy of science. [ I have no audience. :) ] I do not pretend to be accurate. I myself admit to being flawed and error prone. Holding someone else up as an expert in ALL fields of science is just wrong and mistakes are bound to happen. Defending Monsanto? That was a mistake. Science is very complicated and splintered into very technical areas. Add to this that scientists have bosses who are not necessarily familiar with their field who tell them what to do... and, well, I question your findings. That is a part of the scientific method. Not questioning the motives of scientists... that is just ignorant.

4. I am not a science denier though I often am a science doubter. I doubt science as truth because the very point of the scientific method is that anything and everything is questionable. Doubt plays an important role in science and statements should be made carefully not on the spur of the moment. "I'll get back to you on that," is a perfectly reasonable response. I personal doubt almost everything told to me by authorities. I feel that is actual scientific thought to do so. It is quite possible that all GMOs are safe up until this time. Remember, there are many many GMO variations and will probably be a huge amount of them every year. If they are not tested for safety, I am not sure how a science organization can say for certain that they are safe. But that is the point really. Trying to hush critics is not science. I'm curious, where is the structure of testing them to get these conclusions? Is it anywhere near the amount of study done on global warming, at least by scientists who do not answer to the company? "Scientists" claimed cigarettes were healthy at one time and it was so advertised, until we got some testing by scientists not hired by the cigarette companies.

Also, the problem here is in not understanding the differences among science, the scientific method, and technology resulting from science. Please, let's get a better science spokesman than Neil deGrasse Tyson who wants so bad to always be right and wants to lecture us on what the "truth" is on GMOs and what we should believe politically about them. Again, equating GMOs with hybridization is just a stunning error and Mr. Tyson is doubling down. There is only a fairly specious analogy to be made between GMOs (gene splicing to sell Roundup in its worst incarnation) and hybridization. I understand the point Mr. Tyson is making but his methodology in rhetorical argument is just not that of a scientist.

5. Monsanto GMOs are a political issue. Tyson did not mention Monsanto. In my mind he should have because one cannot separate out the political consequences of GMO production any more than one can separate out the political consequences of producing and advertising cigarettes.  

6. People have a right to be afraid of scientists and err on the safe side of an issue. I myself err on the side of supporting legislation on global warming, that will cost boatloads of money, just to be on the safe side whether I agree with the infallibility of scientists or not.

7. The term "organic" should include the lack of use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers. One would guess that "organic" foods are less likely to be GMOs because again, one of the reasons GMOs are created is to make them resistant to pesticides so that strong pesticides can be poured on the fields. Consequentially, whether GMO foods are healthy in themselves or not, we can guess the residual pesticide may have an effect as well.

8. Another new quote, from Mr. Tyson: "If your objection to GMOs is the morality of selling non-perennial seed stocks, then focus on that. If your objection to GMOs is the monopolistic conduct of agribusiness, then focus on that. But to paint the entire concept of GMO with these particular issues is to blind yourself to the underlying truth of what humans have been doing — and will continue to do — to nature so that it best serves our survival. That’s what all organisms do when they can, or would do, if they could. Those that didn’t, have gone extinct extinct. [sic]"  If you are unsure that Mr Tyson is aware of the issue, this should put it to rest. Quest for science trumps bad effects of quest for science. But again, we are not talking about science but technology. I could make a darned good argument about the wonderful science of internal combustion engines and not worry at all about global warming. I choose not to. Basically, rash statements were made and Mr. Tyson is not correcting himself but doubling down on his attitude. That is not science. Science can consider various opinions and does not resort to ramping up rhetoric to prove all contrary opinions should not be considered. It does not have to save face.

9. The labeling issue is more rhetoric disguised as science. People want to know if food is the result of gene splicing or not. What is the problem here? Lack of information is not the hallmark of science. For whatever reason, people want to know. For obvious reasons, Monsanto does not want us to know and spends large sums of money lobbying to make sure we do not know. Science is not a totalitarian decider of political issues. If you want prayer out of schools, science is not your go-to argument. Politics are politics and democracy still has an input. A public scientist should not be arguing political issues this arcane. We do not yet have a capitalist science dictatorship. If you want people to take science seriously about global warming in the voting booth, then act like professional scientists and not Monsanto spokesmen or, for that matter, destroyers of religious belief.

Basically. Neil deGrasse Tyson has proven himself beyond a shadow of a doubt to be no Carl Sagan scientist but more of a television pundit. He tries to double down on the inductive link between hybridization and gene splicing. He relies on his audience to believe this a priori conclusion that these are one and the same. A priori knowledge is basically knowledge that does not have to be proven but one can simply surmise while sitting in one's easy chair smoking a pipe. This is not true if thinking people disagree in significant numbers. If people do not make the logical leap from Johnny Appleseed to Monsanto,  then good for them. They are thinking. They are questioning.

This is only a partial response because honestly, I think neither this writer nor Tyson realize the importance of the issue of scientists being employed in capitalistic endeavors as opposed to pure science. Neither appear to understand the difference between science and for profit technology. 

GMOs are political. GMOs are ongoing. To say a future GMO will be safe because past ones have been (even in the absence of proof or cited studies on the safety of all GMOs) is absurd. To say that they have been tested, when long range studies are necessary for the safety of any drug, or new food for that matter, is absurd as well. Absurdity is not science.

[ Keep in mind that my agenda here in this blog is to question authority in the very limited amount of time I have to write during a very busy life. My agenda is also to have fun writing. I make no claims to be correct nor anything other than the equivalent of a non-read pundit.:) ]

Nuclear Annihilation, more seriously

Noam Chomsky: How the Bin Laden Raid Could Have Led to Nuclear Annihilation of Humanity

Ever since the first nuclear weapon was deployed, we have been playing with fire.

August 5, 2014  / Alternet

If some extraterrestrial species were compiling a history of Homo sapiens, they might well break their calendar into two eras: BNW (before nuclear weapons) and NWE (the nuclear weapons era).  The latter era, of course, opened on August 6, 1945, the first day of the countdown to what may be the inglorious end of this strange species, which attained the intelligence to discover the effective means to destroy itself, but -- so the evidence suggests -- not the moral and intellectual capacity to control its worst instincts.

Day one of the NWE was marked by the “success” of Little Boy, a simple atomic bomb.  On day four, Nagasaki experienced the technological triumph of Fat Man, a more sophisticated design.  Five days later came what the official Air Force history calls the “grand finale,” a 1,000-plane raid -- no mean logistical achievement -- attacking Japan’s cities and killing many thousands of people, with leaflets falling among the bombs reading “Japan has surrendered.” Truman announced that surrender before the last B-29 returned to its base.

Those were the auspicious opening days of the NWE.  As we now enter its 70th year, we should be contemplating with wonder that we have survived.  We can only guess how many years remain.

Some reflections on these grim prospects were offered by General Lee Butler, former head of the U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM), which controls nuclear weapons and strategy.  Twenty years ago, he wrote that we had so far survived the NWE “by some combination of skill, luck, and divine intervention, and I suspect the latter in greatest proportion.”

Reflecting on his long career in developing nuclear weapons strategies and organizing the forces to implement them efficiently, he described himself ruefully as having been “among the most avid of these keepers of the faith in nuclear weapons.” But, he continued, he had come to realize that it was now his “burden to declare with all of the conviction I can muster that in my judgment they served us extremely ill.” And he asked, “By what authority do succeeding generations of leaders in the nuclear-weapons states usurp the power to dictate the odds of continued life on our planet? Most urgently, why does such breathtaking audacity persist at a moment when we should stand trembling in the face of our folly and united in our commitment to abolish its most deadly manifestations?”

He termed the U.S. strategic plan of 1960 that called for an automated all-out strike on the Communist world “the single most absurd and irresponsible document I have ever reviewed in my life.” Its Soviet counterpart was probably even more insane.  But it is important to bear in mind that there are competitors, not least among them the easy acceptance of extraordinary threats to survival.

Survival in the Early Cold War Years

According to received doctrine in scholarship and general intellectual discourse, the prime goal of state policy is “national security.”   There is ample evidence, however, that the doctrine of national security does not encompass the security of the population.  The record reveals that, for instance, the threat of instant destruction by nuclear weapons has not ranked high among the concerns of planners.  That much was demonstrated early on, and remains true to the present moment.

In the early days of the NWE, the U.S. was overwhelmingly powerful and enjoyed remarkable security: it controlled the hemisphere, the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, and the opposite sides of those oceans as well.  Long before World War II, it had already become by far the richest country in the world, with incomparable advantages.  Its economy boomed during the war, while other industrial societies were devastated or severely weakened.  By the opening of the new era, the U.S. possessed about half of total world wealth and an even greater percentage of its manufacturing capacity.

There was, however, a potential threat: intercontinental ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads.  That threat was discussed in the standard scholarly study of nuclear policies, carried out with access to high-level sources -- Danger and Survival: Choices About the Bomb in the First Fifty Years by McGeorge Bundy, national security adviser during the Kennedy and Johnson presidencies.

Bundy wrote that “the timely development of ballistic missiles during the Eisenhower administration is one of the best achievements of those eight years.  Yet it is well to begin with a recognition that both the United States and the Soviet Union might be in much less nuclear danger today if [those] missiles had never been developed.” He then added an instructive comment: “I am aware of no serious contemporary proposal, in or out of either government, that ballistic missiles should somehow be banned by agreement.”  In short, there was apparently no thought of trying to prevent the sole serious threat to the U.S., the threat of utter destruction in a nuclear war with the Soviet Union.

Could that threat have been taken off the table?  We cannot, of course, be sure, but it was hardly inconceivable.  The Russians, far behind in industrial development and technological sophistication, were in a far more threatening environment.  Hence, they were significantly more vulnerable to such weapons systems than the U.S.  There might have been opportunities to explore these possibilities, but in the extraordinary hysteria of the day they could hardly have even been perceived.  And that hysteria was indeed extraordinary.  An examination of the rhetoric of central official documents of that moment like National Security Council Paper NSC-68 remains quite shocking, even discounting Secretary of State Dean Acheson’s injunction that it is necessary to be “clearer than truth.”

One indication of possible opportunities to blunt the threat was a remarkable proposal by Soviet ruler Joseph Stalin in 1952, offering to allow Germany to be unified with free elections on the condition that it would not then join a hostile military alliance.  That was hardly an extreme condition in light of the history of the past half-century during which Germany alone had practically destroyed Russia twice, exacting a terrible toll.

Stalin’s proposal was taken seriously by the respected political commentator James Warburg, but otherwise mostly ignored or ridiculed at the time.  Recent scholarship has begun to take a different view.  The bitterly anti-Communist Soviet scholar Adam Ulam has taken the status of Stalin’s proposal to be an “unresolved mystery.” Washington “wasted little effort in flatly rejecting Moscow's initiative,” he has written, on grounds that “were embarrassingly unconvincing.” The political, scholarly, and general intellectual failure left open “the basic question,” Ulam added: “Was Stalin genuinely ready to sacrifice the newly created German Democratic Republic (GDR) on the altar of real democracy,” with consequences for world peace and for American security that could have been enormous?

Reviewing recent research in Soviet archives, one of the most respected Cold War scholars, Melvyn Leffler, has observed that many scholars were surprised to discover “[Lavrenti] Beria -- the sinister, brutal head of the [Russian] secret police -- propos[ed] that the Kremlin offer the West a deal on the unification and neutralization of Germany,” agreeing “to sacrifice the East German communist regime to reduce East-West tensions” and improve internal political and economic conditions in Russia -- opportunities that were squandered in favor of securing German participation in NATO.

Under the circumstances, it is not impossible that agreements might then have been reached that would have protected the security of the American population from the gravest threat on the horizon.  But that possibility apparently was not considered, a striking indication of how slight a role authentic security plays in state policy.

The Cuban Missile Crisis and Beyond

That conclusion was underscored repeatedly in the years that followed.  When Nikita Khrushchev took control in Russia in 1953 after Stalin’s death, he recognized that the USSR could not compete militarily with the U.S., the richest and most powerful country in history, with incomparable advantages.  If it ever hoped to escape its economic backwardness and the devastating effect of the last world war, it would need to reverse the arms race.

Accordingly, Khrushchev proposed sharp mutual reductions in offensive weapons.  The incoming Kennedy administration considered the offer and rejected it, instead turning to rapid military expansion, even though it was already far in the lead.  The late Kenneth Waltz, supported by other strategic analysts with close connections to U.S. intelligence, wrote then that the Kennedy administration “undertook the largest strategic and conventional peace-time military build-up the world has yet seen... even as Khrushchev was trying at once to carry through a major reduction in the conventional forces and to follow a strategy of minimum deterrence, and we did so even though the balance of strategic weapons greatly favored the United States.” Again, harming national security while enhancing state power.

U.S. intelligence verified that huge cuts had indeed been made in active Soviet military forces, both in terms of aircraft and manpower.  In 1963, Khrushchev again called for new reductions.  As a gesture, he withdrew troops from East Germany and called on Washington to reciprocate.  That call, too, was rejected. William Kaufmann, a former top Pentagon aide and leading analyst of security issues, described the U.S. failure to respond to Khrushchev's initiatives as, in career terms, “the one regret I have.”

The Soviet reaction to the U.S. build-up of those years was to place nuclear missiles in Cuba in October 1962 to try to redress the balance at least slightly.  The move was also motivated in part by Kennedy’s terrorist campaign against Fidel Castro’s Cuba, which was scheduled to lead to invasion that very month, as Russia and Cuba may have known.  The ensuing “missile crisis” was “the most dangerous moment in history,” in the words of historian Arthur Schlesinger, Kennedy’s adviser and confidant.

As the crisis peaked in late October, Kennedy received a secret letter from Khrushchev offering to end it by simultaneous public withdrawal of Russian missiles from Cuba and U.S. Jupiter missiles from Turkey.  The latter were obsolete missiles, already ordered withdrawn by the Kennedy administration because they were being replaced by far more lethal Polaris submarines to be stationed in the Mediterranean.

Kennedy’s subjective estimate at that moment was that if he refused the Soviet premier’s offer, there was a 33% to 50% probability of nuclear war -- a war that, as President Eisenhower had warned, would have destroyed the northern hemisphere.  Kennedy nonetheless refused Khrushchev’s proposal for public withdrawal of the missiles from Cuba and Turkey; only the withdrawal from Cuba could be public, so as to protect the U.S. right to place missiles on Russia’s borders or anywhere else it chose.

It is hard to think of a more horrendous decision in history -- and for this, he is still highly praised for his cool courage and statesmanship.

Ten years later, in the last days of the 1973 Israel-Arab war, Henry Kissinger, then national security adviser to President Nixon, called a nuclear alert.  The purpose was to warn the Russians not to interfere with his delicate diplomatic maneuvers designed to ensure an Israeli victory, but of a limited sort so that the U.S. would still be in control of the region unilaterally.  And the maneuvers were indeed delicate.  The U.S. and Russia had jointly imposed a cease-fire, but Kissinger secretly informed the Israelis that they could ignore it.  Hence the need for the nuclear alert to frighten the Russians away.  The security of Americans had its usual status.

Ten years later, the Reagan administration launched operations to probe Russian air defenses by simulating air and naval attacks and a high-level nuclear alert that the Russians were intended to detect.  These actions were undertaken at a very tense moment.  Washington was deploying Pershing II strategic missiles in Europe with a five-minute flight time to Moscow.  President Reagan had also announced the Strategic Defense Initiative (“Star Wars”) program, which the Russians understood to be effectively a first-strike weapon, a standard interpretation of missile defense on all sides.  And other tensions were rising.

Naturally, these actions caused great alarm in Russia, which, unlike the U.S., was quite vulnerable and had repeatedly been invaded and virtually destroyed. That led to a major war scare in 1983.

Newly released archives reveal that the danger was even more severe than historians had previously assumed.  A CIA study entitled “The War Scare Was for Real” concluded that U.S. intelligence may have underestimated Russian concerns and the threat of a Russian preventative nuclear strike.  The exercises “almost became a prelude to a preventative nuclear strike,” according to an account in theJournal of Strategic Studies.

It was even more dangerous than that, as we learned last September, when the BBC reported that right in the midst of these world-threatening developments, Russia’s early-warning systems detected an incoming missile strike from the United States, sending its nuclear system onto the highest-level alert.  The protocol for the Soviet military was to retaliate with a nuclear attack of its own.  Fortunately, the officer on duty, Stanislav Petrov, decided to disobey orders and not report the warnings to his superiors.  He received an official reprimand.  And thanks to his dereliction of duty, we’re still alive to talk about it.

The security of the population was no more a high priority for Reagan administration planners than for their predecessors.  And so it continues to the present, even putting aside the numerous near-catastrophic nuclear accidents that occurred over the years, many reviewed in Eric Schlosser’s chilling studyCommand and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety. In other words, it is hard to contest General Butler’s conclusions.

Survival in the Post-Cold War Era

The record of post-Cold War actions and doctrines is hardly reassuring either.   Every self-respecting president has to have a doctrine.  The Clinton Doctrine was encapsulated in the slogan “multilateral when we can, unilateral when we must.” In congressional testimony, the phrase “when we must” was explained more fully: the U.S. is entitled to resort to “unilateral use of military power” to ensure “uninhibited access to key markets, energy supplies, and strategic resources.” Meanwhile, STRATCOM in the Clinton era produced an important study entitled “Essentials of Post-Cold War Deterrence,” issued well after the Soviet Union had collapsed and Clinton was extending President George H.W. Bush’s program of expanding NATO to the east in violation of promises to Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev -- with reverberations to the present.

That STRATCOM study was concerned with “the role of nuclear weapons in the post-Cold War era.” A central conclusion: that the U.S. must maintain the right to launch a first strike, even against non-nuclear states.  Furthermore, nuclear weapons must always be at the ready because they “cast a shadow over any crisis or conflict.” They were, that is, constantly being used, just as you’re using a gun if you aim but don’t fire one while robbing a store (a point that Daniel Ellsberg has repeatedly stressed).  STRATCOM went on to advise that “planners should not be too rational about determining... what the opponent values the most.”  Everything should simply be targeted. “[I]t hurts to portray ourselves as too fully rational and cool-headed… That the U.S. may become irrational and vindictive if its vital interests are attacked should be a part of the national persona we project.” It is “beneficial [for our strategic posture] if some elements may appear to be potentially ‘out of control,’” thus posing a constant threat of nuclear attack -- a severe violation of the U.N. Charter, if anyone cares.

Not much here about the noble goals constantly proclaimed -- or for that matter the obligation under the Non-Proliferation Treaty to make “good faith” efforts to eliminate this scourge of the earth.  What resounds, rather, is an adaptation of Hilaire Belloc’s famous couplet about the Maxim gun (to quote the great African historian Chinweizu):

“Whatever happens, we have got,

The Atom Bomb, and they have not.”

After Clinton came, of course, George W. Bush, whose broad endorsement of preventative war easily encompassed Japan’s attack in December 1941 on military bases in two U.S. overseas possessions, at a time when Japanese militarists were well aware that B-29 Flying Fortresses were being rushed off assembly lines and deployed to those bases with the intent “to burn out the industrial heart of the Empire with fire-bomb attacks on the teeming bamboo ant heaps of Honshu and Kyushu.” That was how the prewar plans were described by their architect, Air Force General Claire Chennault, with the enthusiastic approval of President Franklin Roosevelt, Secretary of State Cordell Hull, and Army Chief of Staff General George Marshall.

Then comes Barack Obama, with pleasant words about working to abolish nuclear weapons -- combined with plans to spend $1 trillion on the U.S. nuclear arsenal in the next 30 years, a percentage of the military budget “comparable to spending for procurement of new strategic systems in the 1980s under President Ronald Reagan,” according to a study by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies.

Obama has also not hesitated to play with fire for political gain.  Take for example the capture and assassination of Osama bin Laden by Navy SEALs. Obama brought it up with pride in an important speech on national security in May 2013.  It was widely covered, but one crucial paragraph was ignored.

Obama hailed the operation but added that it could not be the norm.  The reason, he said, was that the risks "were immense." The SEALs might have been "embroiled in an extended firefight."  Even though, by luck, that didn’t happen, "the cost to our relationship with Pakistan and the backlash among the Pakistani public over encroachment on their territory was… severe."

Let us now add a few details. The SEALs were ordered to fight their way out if apprehended.  They would not have been left to their fate if “embroiled in an extended firefight.”  The full force of the U.S. military would have been used to extricate them.  Pakistan has a powerful, well-trained military, highly protective of state sovereignty.  It also has nuclear weapons, and Pakistani specialists are concerned about the possible penetration of their nuclear security system by jihadi elements.  It is also no secret that the population has been embittered and radicalized by Washington’s drone terror campaign and other policies.

While the SEALs were still in the bin Laden compound, Pakistani Chief of Staff Ashfaq Parvez Kayani was informed of the raid and ordered the military “to confront any unidentified aircraft,” which he assumed would be from India.  Meanwhile in Kabul, U.S. war commander General David Petraeus ordered “warplanes to respond” if the Pakistanis “scrambled their fighter jets.” As Obama said, by luck the worst didn’t happen, though it could have been quite ugly.  But the risks were faced without noticeable concern.  Or subsequent comment.

As General Butler observed, it is a near miracle that we have escaped destruction so far, and the longer we tempt fate, the less likely it is that we can hope for divine intervention to perpetuate the miracle.

Noam Chomsky is Institute Professor emeritus in the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Among his recent books are Hegemony or Survival, Failed States, Power Systems,Occupy, and Hopes and Prospects. His latest book, Masters of Mankind, will be published soon by Haymarket Books, which is also reissuing twelve of his classic books in new editions over the coming year. His website

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook and Tumblr. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Rebecca Solnit's Men Explain Things to Me.