Bare Bones Biology 076 – You Have No Right

This short series of recent programs has been on the theme of what can we do to build a better future. I will conclude this series with an excerpt from Alternative Radio that plays on KEOS on Monday evenings. This is a speech given by Dr. Helen Caldicott. I recommend you check out her biography in Wikipedia. Dr. Caldicott was an Australian physician, but she quit her career as a physician to spend full time as an anti-nuclear advocate. She has met and interacted with many of the high-ranking politicians of the nuclear age, and I tend to agree with her strong opinions. You can download the entire podcast for a small fee at Alternative Radio, the title is CALH009-Hiroshima.

“Accidents occur not infrequently. The weapons are all computerized in each missile silo. In the Dakotas you look down when you fly over them, and in Colorado you can see them. Aged 18 to 21, yes-sir, press the button sir, each armed with a pistol, one to shoot the other if one shows signs of deviant behavior. What if he deviant one shoots the other one? The locks to turn the keys are 12 feet apart, but as they worked out, if you tie a string to one key one man can turn both locks and start the anhiliation.

“I’ve talked to some of their girlfriends. Some of them take drugs before they go on duty. We are fallable. What if President Obama develops a cerebral tumor and does some crazy things before the diagnosis is made? I’ve had patients, normal businessmen who overnight have developed acute psychoses. I won’t go into it, but it’s very scary.

“The Chinese are hacking as I speak, sometimes into the early warning system of the Pentagon. They can hack into anything these young kids. They’re very smart. And it’s all computerized. I don’t know how long we’re going to go on.

“So, is it a whimper or a bang? Do we have epidemic leukemia, cancer and genetic disease for the rest of time from radioactive waste infiltrating into the water and the food? Or we do it with a bang? And that’s these bloody labs up there, and am I angry. It’s appropriate to be angry with people who are going to kill us all. They’re killers.

“From 1973 I’ve devoted myself to this, and we nearly got rid of nuclear weapons, and then we got Clinton. How dare he? And I’m going to die knowing I didn’t succeed, and I think in medicine our stuff is we like to cure our patients, and we’ve got these stupid politicians in congress, they know nothing. They know no science. They’re scientifically illiterate. They’re retards. Some of them are sociopaths, with no conscience, you know? Like Dominici. And Obama, I’m sorry, I’ve totally lost respect for him. I was hoping and hoping and hoping, he’s so intelligent. Now going ahead with nuclear power.

“OK, so what are we going to do? Do you know what a revolution is? Do you know what Egypt just did? Do you know what putting your bodies on the line means? Martin Luther King said: ‘If you haven’t got something worth dying for, you’re not really living.’ What did Jesus do? Did he die for the principles he espoused and did those principles live on 2000 years? I’ve had eight death threats. I’ve run off the stage when people threatened. I’ve had eight death threats. What’s my life, compared to evolution?
I once said to Carl Sagan, are we the only life in the universe? And he said yeah I think we are. What a responsibility we’ve got!

Bare Bones Biology 076 – You Have No Right
KEOS Radio, 89.1 FM
Audio can be downloaded later this week at
http://www.BareBonesBiology.com

“Democracy”

de·moc·ra·cy n

“the control of an organization by its members, who have a free and equal right to participate in decision-making processes.” (Encarta® World English Dictionary © 1999 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved. Developed for Microsoft by Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.)

If Mr. Flores would ask me to help prevent someone (anyone) from expressing his point of view in a “democratic” meeting, I would wonder what Mr. Flores was trying to hide. If Mr. Flores then pointed out several times that the police were there to keep order — and he posted a couple of bouncers near the person who wanted to speak (you can see their bottom halves in the second photo) – I would make a big effort to find out why Mr. Flores didn’t want this person to express his opinion. Knowledgeable honorable people who are looking for solutions to real problems – such people are not afraid of ideas.

What is a Town Hall Meeting?

“A town hall meeting is an informal public meeting which gives the members of a community an opportunity to get together to discuss emerging issues and to voice concerns and preferences for their community.”

Mr. Flores meeting, of course, was not a Town Hall Meeting. When a person talks for a couple of hours without discussing, that is not a town hall meeting.

“dis·cus·sion n
Talk or a talk between two or more people about a subject.”

When we the people go to a town hall meeting, we expect a discussion. What can we do in a supposedly democracy in a fake town hall meeting when we are not permitted to have a real discussion?

According to a recent publication of the TEA party: “I understand that the local MoveOn.org and Brazos Progressives will be out in force preaching more class warfare.” It sounds to me like the TEA party leadership also does not want a discussion.

I can’t speak for the MoveOn Leadership in DC, because I walked out on about their fourth sentence, because up to then nearly every sentence contained the word “fight” two or three times. Well, yes – if you want to end up in a fight, then you should fight. However, fighting will only make our problems worse.

We have very serious problems that are out of control, and the only way to control them is to deal with their causes. Beating up on someone else (passive-aggressive or overt aggressive) never solved any real problem over the long term. Beating up on other people only makes more enemies. I think Jesus and Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. and the Buddha all agree on this point, and I believe they have accomplished more that is worth accomplishing than almost anyone else I know about. Winning doesn’t solve problems. It’s fun, but it only makes more enemies. If we really want to solve problems more than we want to have fun – well, our behavior labels us. Clearly we don’t.

And anyway, there is no way to win ourselves out of this particular problem in which we find ourselves. There is no way to solve it with fake town hall meetings that concentrate on economics in a fake democracy that does everything in it’s power to prevent us from understanding really what our problem is. So that we could actually get together and solve it. So, the meeting was all about economics, but – I’m not an economist, so here is the definition of economics.

“ec·o·nom·ics n
1. the study of the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services (takes a singular verb)”

So – economics studies the relationship between supply and demand. Nobody talked about that in the town hall meeting, even though the root cause of our very big problem is the relationship between supply (from this good green earth) of everything we need to stay alive — and demand (by humans).

The real problem is that we are running low on supply and our so-called economics is trying to solve that problem by selling more stuff. And borrowing money. Neither of which will solve the problem of a limited supply. Does it make sense to try to produce more when there are fewer resources? Not even to an economist, but if we only had those two choices in a condition of low supply – well, I wouldn’t do either of those solutions, I would tell the people what is the real root problem and ask them to help solve it. But as that solution seems not to be on the table, surely borrowing money can’t be nearly as toxic as trying to make more stuff when we are running a bit low on resources.

Even I know that outflows are only one side of the economics problem. And inflows do not come from people. They come from the green mother earth. If we want to try to fix our very big problem we can’t do it by focusing only on the outflows. We will have to think, talk and share ideas about the inflows, where they come from, and how we plan to get enough without destroying the green mother earth that produces them.

God made the world as he made it. God did not make supermarkets. He made the earth to be fruitful with carrots and potatoes and corn and wheat and apples. He did not make economics. He told us to be honest and kind and compassionate. He did not suggest that we use trickery and chicanery to get what we want by causing harm to others.

I say to MoveOn and the progressives and the TEA party that you are all fighting over ephemera, and if you don’t start looking for real, factual information about how God did make this world to operate – then you will all lose. And so will I.

I say to MoveOn and the Progressives and the TEA party, and especially Mr. Flores, you are all wrong when you fight over some “democracy” that is dead and gone and never was like you say it was. You should be working together to learn the real facts about how this good green earth nurtures and feeds us – learn where our real supplies really come from and how — so that you all can help to build a more bountiful life style for the future. Instead of just having a fun game of king of the hill.

If Mr. Flores were to ask me to help make sure that someone doesn’t have a chance to talk – that his ideas should not be heard, I would wonder what Mr. Flores is trying to hide. Here’s my first guess. I guess he’s afraid we folks in the audience will figure out how much he does NOT know about our world and our country and even our economy. And how much he does NOT know about what is needed to make our country honorable and fruitful once again.

So I think it would be better to ask. That guy who didn’t get to talk might have had a good idea.

Questions Answered

• What is your stance on overpopulation?

My stance is not relevant. Measurable facts are what we need to understand problems, whenever they are available. It is not difficult to know these facts. After we understand the problem, then we can have opinions about how to fix it. The basic problem is a balance of how much food is available and how many living things need it to eat. This can easily be measured. The person I know who has done the best job of measuring is Lester Brown (because he has been doing it for about 40 years and because he is honest).

• How can we stop it?

Overpopulation is a very complex problem to stop. Again, Lester Brown may have the most balanced view, because he tries to measure all the different factors that need to be addressed. I say balanced view because he studies many parameters: food resources, non-food energy resources, climate change and other problems that are brought about by an imbalance in the ecosystem. But we will need information from all fields of research to bring the problem under control in time. Apparently some people don’t want to control the problem, because there is one thing we could do tomorrow that would have a dramatic positive effect, and that would be to make birth control available to all women and men and families who want it. At the present time we are withholding this technology from the people who need it. Other kinds of solution would take longer and might be too late.

• Should we slow down birth rates?

If we don’t slow down birth rates, then they will slow down anyway beause the population will be reduced by war, starvation, genocide and epidemics. Providing birth control for people who can’t afford children or don’t want them would be very, very much kinder than killing them with war and genocide or letting them die in famines and epidemics. Those are the options — because this is a problem that is controlled by the ecosystem and neither humans nor the economy are more powerful than the ecosystem. We can’t change the natural laws that control the ecosystem, and if the ecosystem dies then everything inside it also dies.

The problem is very simple:

a) All food for humans and for all animals and for all ecosystems and also for all plants and most micro-organisms comes from photosynthesis. Only plants and green bacteria can do photosynthesis. They can make food for themselves. Every other living entity in the earth ecosystem must eat plants (or eat something else that eats plants or green bacteria) in order to stay alive. This is a good system as long as you have more photosynthetic organisms (producers) than you have of non-photosynthetic organisms (consumers).

b) The problem arises when you get more consumers than producers, and that is where the world is right now. From then on, something has to die so we can eat. For about the past 50 years it has been other species dying so we can use their portion of the available food. Now we are at the point where we are beginning to kill of each other and the plants. That’s when starvation begins because the plants make our food. The climate change question is similar. Photosynthesis makes oxygen. Eating and digesting food makes carbon dioxide, and it’s a cycle. I can send you a handbook that explains in more detail if you want it. Or you can download from this blog on the right side, Bare Bones Ecology Energy Handbook. The earth has a circulatory system of oxygen and carbon dioxide that must stay in balance. The circulatory system basically runs by the climate. Or is the climate. When that gets out of balance, the ecosystem will react. Just as any living thing will react when its physiology gets out of balance. It will try to not die. One of the important things that will then happen is that a lot of the plants will die because they are adapted to the balance we did have. It is the plants that make our food. We do not get food from oil wells or from the sun or from the wind, and we can not make food. (Because of the natural laws of thermodynamics that is also explained in the Bare Bones Ecology Energy Handbook.)

• How could we slow down birth rates?

Answered above.

• Is a bigger population hurting the economy? Is it helping it?

That question is not relevant to the problem. It is a question economists like to ask so that we will not be thinking about the real food resource problem. The economy has no power in this relationship. The ecosystem has the power. The economy is inside the ecosystem. The economy cannot make food, and neither can it change the laws of nature that keep us all alive. A bigger population is hurting the ecosystem very badly and if the ecosystem crashes we will all die and there won’t be any economy.

• Why is population often so centered? For example 8 million people in NYC.

This is not my kind of question, though I know it is partly a result of overpopulation because when people lose their homes from any kind of disaster they will tend to go to cities. If they had a little farm and they got their food from the farm, and they lose it – then they have no food and go where they hope to get a job.

Overpopulation causes starvation, genocide, war, disease — and global warming is melting the ice. So a lot of people are losing their homes. Melting the ice, for example, means people lose their land for two reasons. One is that the oceans get higher, so for example Bangladesh and some islands and Florida and some other places are getting smaller because the water is higher. Another reason is that the mountain glaciers are the source of the great rivers of many continents. If the rivers stop running and the deserts take their place, then the people will have to go away because the plants will die and the farmers can’t grow food anymore.

• What do you estimate the worlds population will be at in 2025?

This is not relevant. Why would we want to wait around to find out?

• Will birth rates slow down?

There are no valid statistics on this because this has never before happened to humans. However, all normal organisms make more babies than can survive. That is one of the natural laws. I don’t think there is any reason to believe that humans are abnormal in this respect.

But we can guess. A standard growth curve for most species is exponential, so long as plenty of food is available. That means the population doubles in shorter and shorter and shorter intervals until the food runs out. Then the population stops increasing. Then it crashes. The reason it stops increasing is because of war, famine, disease, genocide, etc. In mice and rats, some of the animals become crazy and start killing infant mice and rats.

The difference between humans and mice and rats is that humans have a brain that can understand what is happening and we have birth control technologies that we are not making available to the people who need it. So right now is the time we should be using both.

Richard Heinberg

Our Economic Black Hole

In recent months economist and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich has been saying that the American economy is “in the gravitational pull of the Great Recession”. It’s an interesting metaphor. The U.S. economy is assumed to be a satellite of some heavy object, and just needs a little more push (in the form of Federal stimulus) in order to achieve escape velocity and go on its merry way.

Perhaps the metaphor makes more sense if it’s reframed slightly. Maybe it is more accurate to think of the economy itself as the black hole. At its heart is a great sucking void created in 2008 by the destruction of trillions of dollars’ worth of capital. The economy used to be a star, spewing out light and heat (profits and consumer goods), but it imploded on itself. Now its gaping maw will inevitably draw all surrounding matter into itself.
You can’t see the black hole, of course; it’s invisible. It is composed largely of unrepayable debt in the form of mortgages, and of toxic assets (mortgage-backed securities and related derivatives) on the books of major financial institutions, all of which are carefully hidden from view not just by the institutions themselves but by the Treasury and the Fed. Added to those there is also a growing super- gravitational field of resource depletion—which is again invisible to nearly everyone, though it does create noticeable secondary effects in the form of rising energy and food prices.

The Treasury and Fed are perhaps best thought of as a pair of powerful Battlestars orbiting just outside the singularity, zapping propulsive jolts of energy (in the forms of stimulus packages, bailouts, and quantitative easing programs) at hapless spaceships (banks and businesses) in the vicinity in order to keep them from falling into default, bankruptcy, and foreclosure. Unfortunately, the Battlestars—with their limited and depleting energy sources—are ultimately no match for the black hole, whose power grows silently and invisibly with every further addition to its hidden mass. The Battlestars will themselves eventually be assimilated.

What are we puny, rank-and-file space voyagers to do? Sadly, we must resign ourselves to being absorbed by the black hole at some point. There’s at least the theoretical possibility, though, that at the heart of the singularity there exists a wormhole—a magical pathway to some other reality. In that alternate universe the economic rules are entirely different: money is not based on interest-bearing debt, and the economy is assumed to be a subset of the ecosystem, rather than the other way around. Unfortunately, it is impossible to get to this through-the-looking-glass world without passing through the singularity.

However, what we do now may have some bearing on our prospects: a few physicists reportedly believe that there are many alternate realities, and by visualizing and acting according to the rules of the reality we prefer, we might be attracted toward it rather than some other.

At least that’s the way it works in science fiction.

Letter to Larry

“The Rev. Dr. Samuel Hamilton-Poore preaches from Exodus 20:8-11, January 23, 2011, about 24 minutes. Breathing Space: Just Stop! Linger! Rest! That’s what God’s sabbath keeping commandment—and His invitation—are about. San Francisco Theological Seminary Assistant Professor. (You can go to Lafayette-Orinda Presbyterian Church website or email me for a podcast of the sermon-LL)

“I thought he made some relevant points about our society’s inability to act on issues of ecological degradation despite the knowledge we already have. Knowledge doesn’t seem to be enough. Rob Hopkins’ Transition Handbook also has a chapter (Ch 6) about the stages of change that addresses the same issue. This looks to me like the biggest challenge we face.”

Indeed I think it is the biggest challenge we face. When I decided to deal with the problem, I wrote a factual booklet describing how energy flows through the ecosystem to keep the whole thing alive. I stressed levels of organization and also, because Larry brought to my attention our lack of understanding of this issue, the necessity of biodiversity to generate resilience in the ecosystem so that it can respond to stress.

But I had to change my opinion that the information is enough. Right now my “simplest solution” that I have described is my audiocast ( http://www.barebonesbiology.com)

We would have to add two more specific dimensions to the knowledge:

First we must articulate a common goal. We think we are talking about something different and more important from each other (we being politicians, religious, the different major camps). We are not. We all want the same thing, but we each seem to think we have a special handle on getting it. Therefore we need to have a common goal so that as we all point toward the same goal we will be coming closer to understanding each other, rather than flying off in all different directions cancelling out the efforts each of the other. I try to articulate this concept in every discussion, not that I can — well, my goal is to make the world better rather than worse for my being here. You see, then it becomes necessary that we be willing also to talk among ourselves, because we have to figure out what better means. Articulating a goal is necessary before we can effectively use either facts or any other approach to bring about change.

Second we must find some way to incorporate compassion into our manipulations of the factual problems we face, because humans are hard-wired for compassion, but ecosystems are not. And ecosystems require for their survival things that humans consider un-compassionate. There is our deepest dilemma, and it needs to be discussed with compassion. To do that we need to understand that the levels of our biological organization (individual, social, corposystem, ecosystem) are different in their requirements.

We can not resolve an ecosystem dilemma using human compassion unless we inform our compassion with the factual needs of the system we are trying to influence. Humans will not cooperate with a solution they believe to lack compassion. They don’t understand that there are also levels of compassion. Innate simple heart compassion is not the only kind. We will require also to apply wisdom compassion that tries to accomplish the least amount of suffering for all of life, based on our factual understanding of reality.

The simplest possible solution:
A common goal; measurable facts; heart compassion; wisdom compassion.

Education

For what it’s worth on a slightly peripheral issue (science teaching), my interest in school, as a student, was the way in which knowledge empowered my understanding and therefore my ability to function using my own resources instead of as a tool of the system. I have seen this happen to a small percentage of my students every year when I was teaching (college level).

We have replaced science in the curriculum from the bottom up we have replaced it with nature study and “fuzzy bunny” (feel-good) compassion lessons. In fact realistic compassion often doesn’t feel good, and nature study is not science. Neither the appreciation of nature nor that nice fuzzy feeling leads to empowerment. I doubt if most teachers want their students to be empowered to know how to function and learn without the help of a teacher.

It is not appropriate to teach students critical empowerment tools for thinking until they are about 12 or 14 years of age, because that’s when they begin to “get it.” However, in our school system now (and we in Texas are working on continuing this into college) we do not teach students how to learn for themselves. We the teachers are “God,” the student must memorize and believe what we say. Only last week I had a friend (college graduate) rant on for about half an hour about how he was taught the names of all the humanoids in his anthropology class, and then they changed them all. Therefore you can’t believe anything in science. He never let me answer, but it is obvious that he was never taught any science. Science has nothing to do with memorizing the names of anything (except you have to have words to talk about things). Science is about learning how things work so we can be empowered not to throw a spanner in the works (spanner is british for wrench). The way to win an argument in that world where only words are real is to believe whatever you believe and don’t let anyone else have a chance to change your belief. The way to grow one’s understanding through science is to discuss/evaluate the issues based on the differences between measurable facts and opinions. To avoid talking about anything because it doesn’t feel good to be wrong — that is the outcome of teaching feel-good “science.” (I’ve had other people tell me “the facts keep changing” and I know very few people who actually know what a fact is, as differentiated from an opinion.)

There is no better tool in our arsenal than real science, starting with the basics, to teach students how to answer questions for themselves and in their communities — and come up with answers that correlate with reality. If we base our behaviors on opinions (as this generation has been taught to do) then we will have continuing massive disasters, because human opinions CAN NOT CHANGE physical facts. However, our teachers are trained in the liberal arts and do not know how to do this for themselves — much less teach students how. The liberal arts (out of curiosity I spent a whole year going to seminars in the department) have an almost entirely different set of critical thinking skills, and that is where our best students tend to go now, because they do get answers that relate to self-empowerment. So whenever they tell us they are teaching critical thinking skills — they are — but those skills involve HUMAN behaviors — not the primal laws of the universe.

And then there is technology, which is not science. Science is the quest to understand how things work in the real world — not our ticket to sell those things to the highest bidder.

So we are in a mess, but it will not help to train more and more students about human behaviors in the absence of aligning those behaviors with reality via the basic sciences. Nor will it help to train more and more students about the power of reductionist science in the hands of humans — without also teaching them both about basic science and about our human responsibilities to each other and to the way the world really does function — that we can’t change. How many of our teachers have even been exposed to these ideas? Why not? So then what do we expect of them or of their students?

How many people at Lawrence Livermore really understand what I just said above? If not, how do they expect to train more scientists who have the compassion to care about the implications of what they are studying and learn biology to go with their physics and their obligation to humanity and the ecosystem?

You have a wonderful project. I feel quite sure you can get funding from the “system” to set this up and it will train people how to make more food. But, really, why do we need more food? The bottom line is that only the ecosystem can make food for us to eat — and the more of the ecosystem resources we use for ourselves to eat, the less likely the ecosystem is to survive with us in it? And the more human suffering will result.

OK? That’s your question for today. Most people answer that this is an interim action for the emergency. I heard that 50 years ago and ever since. What I want to see is someone making some kind of effort to deal with the real problem that causes the emergencies — and teaching all these fine students that there is no such thing as winning unless we address reality itself.

Should We Ban the Second Law of Thermodynamics?

Apparently a law has been proposed in Arizona to ban, among other “laws,” the law of karma.

Well.

I am almost speechless.

First, the concept of karma is a well formulated appreciation, developed by scholars over the past two or three thousand years, of a natural law. That is a law of nature. That means it’s how nature functions. Just as we also know that nature functions according to the law of gravity, the laws of thermodynamics and the laws of aerodynamics, we also know that nature operates by the law of cause and effect. That means if you do something — it will have an effect on something else. If you fall off a cliff, something will happen. If you throw a rock through a window, something will happen. If you hit something, you will get a reaction of some sort.

Now, we could try to repeal this law of nature, or we could try to repeal gravity so we would no longer be tied to the ground. Or we could try to repeal the law of thermodydanmics so we could recycle our energy. Among the many, many things that we do not know about nature, these are a few that we do know quite well. And I don’t think we can actually repeal them, so in the end we would be only demonstrating our inability to understand the law of cause and effect. If you don’t know what a law of nature is — people will think you aren’t very well educated. If you don’t know what karma is, people will think you haven’t studied what it is you propose to do. If you don’t know that the Bible says exactly the same thing — “As ye sow, so shall ye reap” and so does science, and presumably all the other disciplines that try to explain reality — people will think you are not a very good Christian. If you don’t know what happens when you sow hatred, then I expect you will find out that you reap misery.

And if you don’t know why the second law of thermodynamics is crucial to our decisions about energy, download the PDF of chapter one on the side bar to the right, and educate yourself.