Saturday, October 31, 2015

two small glimmers of hope which I hope someone can follow on

In a generally grim world situation, it was interesting to see two small but serious glimmers of hope... which could become big and important if the right kind of people followed up in the right way. (My wife reminds me that as a retired GS type, I am not the right kind of person any more -- at best a source of input and a bit player.)

First, the events, and then why they could become important:

(1) A major organized group of scientists is on the path to define and push a "national microbiome" initiative which they hope will become as big a deal as the national robotics or brain initiatives;

(2) In the global climate change negotiations, China has pushed for a new international effort to understand ecological and physical developments in the ocean around the Antarctic, the southern oceans.  

These two developments really need to be connected,
for maximum value.

My inner sense reacts very, very strongly to both of these, because I still believe that "death by H2S emissions from the ocean" is one of the two most important threats of extinction of our entire species (and many other species).  Just as folks in the Balkans never forget earlier wars...
I will never forget how 5 to 10 times in the history of the earth, H2S levels (and their consequences) reached levels which would be fatal to every human on earth, if humans had been there at the time. The phenomenon which ACTUALLY led to the most mass death and extinction really should not be totally ignored, if we care about survival of our species!!

But for now, I am not talking about the action needed to PREVENT such a new mass extinction. Rather ... what is the action we need to take on the scientific level in order to REALLY KNOW how serious the threat is, or to reassure us that it is far away IF IT IS? No amount of logic from  someone in my position (with other important responsibilities) would change much anyway, no matter how much I work out. It requires a real focus of more resources and mindpower from the scientific establishment.

The national brain initiative has worked out to be a total disaster in my view... for reasons beyond the main interests of this list... but it does warn me that the national microbiome initiative, if it ever happens, might or might not be better. However, a main problem with the national brain initiative was that folks could not justify big bucks without emphasizing things ... of questionable real value or in some cases of negative value.
In the case of microbiomes... "archaea" are about half the biomass of the entire ocean, and more than half of the biomass at or below the ocean floor. There is a WHOLE LOT to study, and folks who want big bucks for microbiome stuff would do well to focus on that important but little understood key part of the biome. The H2S-producing archaea are only one of the important archaea, not so prevalent today as they were  
before the previous mass extinctions, but a logical part of the system, if folks include a major thrust on the archaea system (and the full range of carbon and sulfur cycles, remembering the full range of earth history).

Such research could have important practical value for the following reason. It should logically include the following simple basic questions:
What, PRECISELY, are the conditions under which the H2S-producing archaea proliferate? Can we generate an empirically validated model which inputs variables like the concentrations of specific nutrients, oxygen level, pressure, temperature and others, and outputs a prediction of whether those archaea would proliferate or not?
(The RATE of proliferation is not so important, because if net population growth is positive, microbes take over very quickly in the region of favorable conditions.) There is a classic paper by Kump, CITED in Ward's book "Under a Green Sky," which suggests that low levels of oxygen and high levels of nutrients are the two key factors... which basically could kill us all, if we repeat the past. (We don't need to get too concerned about the details of the study of the past, because what matter to us now is an understanding of H2S-archaea growth NOW. 
The past gives us clues for what we should not ignore, but we don't need to nail down all aspects of the past... just a list of key things to pay attention to now, like the H2S producing type of archaea.)

So then: the China proposal addresses at least "the other half" of this key issue. I really hope the world can follow up more constructively and intelligently on China's suggestion -- perhaps expanding support and funding, but not ignoring it due to myopic low-level politics. (For example, I suspect Putin would be potentially supportive if China approached him the right way, not leaving it to dumb local agents who do not understand how bad things in the southernmost ocean can directly threaten our very lives in the north.) 

To truly get on top of the H2S threat, we need at least two basic things: (1) to be more certain of precisely what causes proliferation of the H2S-producing archaea; (2) to monitor and understand the CURRENT levels of the variables which drive H2S proliferation, at various locations (latitude, longitude, depth) in the southernmost ocean. I immediately see how the second point requires a data collection system, to generate a really interesting system of time series data, which can then be crosslinked to the H2S model, to allow prediction of future H2S production in different scenarios.  Once we understand that better, we will be in a much better position to see what input variables we need to worry about (if any) and what could be done. 

At the present time, I actually see nutrients rather than warming to be 
the main concern ... but if we could somehow stop the melting of the surface ice of Antarctica, through reduced greenhouse gasses or geoengineering, that might save us all if we can't do better on the nutrient side. For now, we don't even know what it means concretely to do better on the nutrient side, because we don't have the information we would need for that!  Nutrients are critical now, because we ALREADY have what Ward calls "stratified ocean" in his book,
for the all-important oxygen-bearing currents which came from the Antarctic for the last many thousand years. (That kind of stratified ocean did occur already before, at a time which is "recent" by geological standards, but did not kill us all, presumably because the nutrients weren't there... before the age of fertilizers and agricultural runoff.
Maybe they still aren't that bad... or not... BUT WE DO NOT KNOW AND THERE IS REASON TO WORRY. Fertilizer use now is certainly much greater than ever before in earth history, with big impacts on plant growth in total across the whole face of the earth; it is not so small that we are justified in underestimating it.)   


I sure hope someone out there is in a position to make some of these connections. 

Best of luck... we all need it....


Thursday, October 22, 2015

Zingers from the watch today -- Syria, Benghazi hearing, Bush versus Koch brothers

"The watch" -- that part of my life when I observe a few extra dimensions of the mainstream life of humans around us. So much is happening that I feel I owe a few comments on that, even though I had an eye operation (thankfully the final one) this morning, and put more effort into issues in physics (not really ready even for blog, but they will hold).

1. Syria

Syria -- first order anxiety as I see on France24 that lots of folks are excited by plans for a new deal to "unify Syria." Unify?  Part of this is good news, maybe, on the diplomatic front, but if we all come together to shoot our foot... oops. "Unify" -- it sounds like things Condalezza Rice used to say about the new well-design democratic state we would install in Iraq, at that wonderful moment when US forces really were triumphant in a big way accepted by the people. But even a clear military victory, popular support and a nicely designed Ideal Form of a utopian constitution, is not enough to create real democracy, or even sustainability. That's such a surprise to the twitterheads who know nothing of history, who sometimes cite Santayana ("Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it") but seem to forget it.

Was there ever a case where a military victory led to functioning democracy? In my view, yes.
I hope we do not have to learn how resilient the present government of Germany is if there is a combination of a new depression and massive stimuli toward xenophobia (antisemitism in a literal sense, as Arabs are Semites). Still, on the whole, it is the best example of positive successful "nation building" I have ever seen. If a hundred people try something, and 99 fail, it is weird when people pay less attention to the one success than they should. (This also applies to Stirling engines, carbon tolerant high efficiency fuel cells, and skin structure for reusable space vehicles -- all areas where things are in awful shape, but models of success are available.)

One of the keys to the success in Germany after World War II was FEDERALISM. NOT the idea that a new unified central command or parliament should have effective control over everyone and everything.  The opposite was one of the keys to the utter failure of Condalezza Rice, which is a primary cause of everything we face today with ISIL. Please, le's be creative, but not that way again!  SANCTUARY ZONES and even demilitarized zones within Syria (or even some neighbors?)
Strong humanitarian protections, and recognition of special status in a positive way to those who went to Europe and came back. That kind of thing.

In fact, the success in Germany was based on really serious social science research -- an important subject, not all of social science, but a subject which Lamar Smith is energetically and successfully dismantling in the US. How soon will he also deismantle evolution itself, as he has dismantled many key technology R&D areas vital to US security? I often wonder what his motives are for the truly colossal -- and perhaps irrevocable -- destriction he has already wrought. Perhaps the torch wil be passed back to Germany after all, reversing the change of about a century ago, much as the great success of Trajan forced a recovery plan for Rome where the cultural and engineering torch went back to Greece... while the Roman area proper became like living hell for a long while. Why, Lamar, do you seem to determined to do that for us?

In any case, there is some reason to hope that Putin is engaged in as serious and constructive a plan as France24 seems to think... and yet that he may be wise enough to resist the silliness. Will we need more new German wisdom to keep us in balance, not just for phase one but for the outcome? We will see.

2. Benghazi hearings

I did not watch it all, due to the eye issue. But there are some zingers of importance.

One of the objective members of the investigation (no, not all of them!), gave an interesting summary... that Hillary mainly delegated the response to requests for beefed up security, as is appropriate unless one were warned of certain complications, which she never was. (No one was at the top.) At the mid level, the people pushing for rational action felt as if there was a strange organized subgroup sneaking in at every turn to stall things, and to affirmatively guarantee there would be no leak of information about the real problem to higher-ups. This is not democratic dialogue, where people are welcome to opinion but support the integrity of the process. It was something else. Something very serious, something infinitely more serious than Hillary's emails.

In fact... I need to limit what I say, for health reasons, but I have seen first hand that this is
incredibly serious. I see the primary responsibility to belong to Dick Cheney, who certainly did not just go quietly into the good night. It is not just State. There is a book, "A G-Man's Journal," which, in the last chapter, spells out the beginning of a very deep and serious breakdown at FBI -- which he,
a staunch conservative, attributes to a kind of Giuliani faction in favor with Clinton's. But it became a WHOLE lot worse after that.

It took longer to reach NSF than other important agencies, but it did get there. (I MUST oversimplify, to get back to bed soon.)

I learned that gmail WITH the correct security settings is infinitely more secure than my official government email was, since not only were Engineering servers quietly hacked into by the Chinese, lurking quite quietly, but also that other network, which was not so secretive. I learned that real security DEMANDED not leaking stuff to the bad guys. But no, it was certainly not a question of security violations in my case, since I have no security clearance anyway. But it amazes me that people don't realize that a sincere Secretary of State might legitimately feel she had both a right and a duty to make her own judgments, reasonable judgments, about difficult and murky tradeoffs in the security area.

I don't think it is a coincidence that folks chose to create a great embarrassment exactly this week by hacking personal email of CIA director from before he took that job (when I hope he was briefed on basic security procedures with personal email). Forcing EVERYONE to rely on compromised systems plays into the hands of those who have compromised them. This is not imagination -- but it would be very ill-advised and dishonorable to spell out specifics of folks who are part of the compromise who know they are not really protected by whistleblower laws.

3. Brothers

Just as I was stunned by Jeb Bush not facing up to the dire new reality in the Middle East, and the key role of Cheney's push for an invasion of Iraq in causing that, the elder Bush circle is stunned by what we the people make of this (i.e. "God help us, not an expanded version of THAT!").
They are puzzled that it seems to imply a rejection of W, hurting Jeb by association with W, yet W himself is much more poopular. Huh? How?

Seeing from the watch, there is no paradox at all. Bush senior insisted that W allow Cheney to be his VP, to be his "babysitter," a reliable instrument for what the senior circle really wanted. For years he did, and Cheney did far more damage than most people realize, damage putting the next president at ruisk no matter who he or she is. We desperately need someone tough and experienced in administrative struggles to have any chance of protecting democracy in that next round, and it it certainly matters how Congress turns out. But W is more spiritually sincere and connected than
his father or brother, and he broke the bonds.... too late for some parts of the government, but a big help from others.

I find myself wondering: how much of the power in the Republican Party today actually under puppet like control of the Cheney/old-Bush circle, how much under Koch control, and how much really independent and patriotic and sincere? I worked for one of the third category Republican in 2009 (Specter), but the bad guys used dirty unAmerican tricks to get rid not only of him but of many really crucial players in that same group, players whose efforts were really essential to hopes of US national security among other things.

A friend of the Koch network recently asked me to reconsider my distance form them -- and I do remember times suggesting to Obama circle people that there might be times to try to deal direct with tea party people INSTEAD of the old leadership, especially in cracking down on areas of overwhelming corruption. Cozy corruption is not safer than Trump. But certainly, carelessness in regards to the legitimate emissions of the Federal Reserve, NSF and EPA can also be life threatening.

"G-Man's Journal:" the old FBI, for all its imperfections, was scrupulous about not turning into something like the Roman Praetorian Guard, a part of the problem in political instability and erosion of Roman ideals.   I do not believe that the recent investigations of Worden, Clinton and others stay true to that pattern. If I worked in any of those agencies, I would look carefully over my back at times. (OK, My son asked me to watch the movie The Winter Soldier... and that was appropriate, not in details of course, but we need to worry about robustness towards terrorism from within more than lone wolves at the bottom.)

My views of all this are certainly influenced by something which happened a decade ago, when, in international travels, I ran across a kind of "Mein Kampf" of the Third Caliphate movement.
What they want next more than anything is a new US war against Iran, patterned on the old one one Iraq, so as to neutralize all the main forces capable of defending people who insist on resisting the world rule of Sunni sharia under proper royal families. Cheney, as head of Halliburton... had headquarters in the Gulf, and was a reliable contractor for those folks. And they could see Bushes as a possible royal family for the US, seriously.

God help us. Indeed, I agree with Pope Francis that only true elevated spiritual engagement, connecting DIRECTLY to more than half the people of the world (not just some clerical elite), is probably our only hope of survival at all as a species.

Luda and I have discussed Obama and Pope Francis....  and the problems they face within the mundane organizations they nominally head. But no, I am not proposing that Trump become Pope.

The FBI investigation of Chakkah Fattah has interesting implications. On the one hand, it eliminated the most important resistance to Lamar Smith's far advanced program to turn NSF funding into something more like his old political stakeholder system... but Fattah himself had become a crucial lead force in something equally dangerous, the ignorant development of funding for deep brain stimulation... seen as a great source of new money for some medical people (as if we needed to have a bigger budget hole in that sector!) but also as a way to get more obedient and reliable soldiers and workers...

The deep traps around us on all sides really call for a higher level of awareness and consciousness than we seem to see around us in most of the mundane world...

Saturday, October 17, 2015

normal routine, the watch, a quantum thing and eye stuff

Life here is never what people would consider simple.

I cam imagine someone saying: "Well, what do you expect. When you live with a highly energetic woman who might be the most intelligent woman on earth, in a house where totem poles pop up of their own accord in the back yard, ten minutes from downtown DC, do you expect a quiet life?" In some ways it is very quiet. But in others...

In ohers, I do need to censor a whole lot, even if it sounds as if I am letting it all hang out. I wonder whether Dnald Trump feels like that, as he lets it all hang out but knows a bit more about economics than a lot of the folks in his political circles? But then again, real economics turns out to be a VERY tricky subject, and even his economic circle might be missing a few key details, or not - I suppose I don't know.

A woman at the local Quaker Meeting asked two weeks ago: "What did Jesus mean in asking a few of his disciplines to join him in the watch?" A Catholic Quaker offered to trace it back to the Greek sources, and try to impute a Hebrew original... and I said: "Why don't I just ask someone who knows the original Aramaic and the cultural context?" It's a family, not an Irish/LowCountry family like what Dan Brown talks about (like my own family!); it's a Jewish family.

So... OK... think of an active meditation, similar in a way to good old Cosmic Consciousness,
but more mature and real.

For two weeks I am restricted to avoid eye strain, to prepare and recover from my final cataract surgery next Thursday (Oct 22).  My unrepaired left eye may be spiritually more powerful than the right, but it became downright bloodshot as it tried to keep up and fuse with my now more active repaired right eye, at all distance ranges. And so, yesterday... after lots of listening to world news (mainly just listening)...  I combined high quality new $10 earphones (fully covering the ear) with
my new galaxy Tab and music downloaded form my desktop... and spent hours just lying down,
and letting really high quality music "carry me away"... and participate more, as requested, in the watch.

But oh what an INCREDIBLE mess there is to watch out there on this planet at this time!

There was George Bush senior in the backwash: "What are you doing to my little boy Jeb?
What is your motive?"

Of course, right now, people are asking Trumpwhat he meant by reminding us that the Twin Towers came down under "W's" administration. "What are you saying?"

Well, in the previous Republican debate, I was really overwhelmed when Jeb said it was such a great thing to invade Iraq, so good for US national security now. I understand the desire to be loyal to his father... but when loyalty creates a kind of blindness which could even destroy the US (it is not exaggeration to say that US Mideast policies which are at once naive and destructive could result in the end of this entire species in the end)... it is not a personal matter, it is not a matter of personal bad vibes, but a matter of calm recognition of a threat to our survival to recognize a serious threat. I do not have any basis for evaluating how much of that reality influenced Trump's statement, but it is sad when the press thinks of the interaction as just a personal food fight.  It is understandable that they live at that level... just as it was understandable than most viewers were not instantly horrified during that debate... but in time,   reality may sink in.  I hope so.

But life is not simple. Extremely important things are happening as well in Russian circles, in Turkey,
in Israel, in Syria.....

It is very promising to get a feeling that Trump really would be prepared to engage Putin in serious discussion of a deal-making kind, and not of the shrill repetitive routines of the past. Yet are Putin's problems any better than Bush's in the end? It is a question, but it is good that we d not really make a yes or no judgment. I pose the question only because it is a tricky situation, and some of us really need to remember how tricky it is.

So many people are accusing Bernie Sanders of being a Communist. I find that charge extremely offensive, and utterly unAmerican. That kind of lie or extreme psychopathology bodes very poorly for our hope of  recovering core ideals from Jefferson, Washington, Quakers, Locke, John Stuart Mills, Francis Bacon... which have made the US an important unique treasure for all of humanity in the past, but are now extremely endangered.   The goal of honest, free dialogue including all minds and souls of this nation.... is at risk, when anyone succumbs to the temptation to break fundamental rules much more important than those which power-minded local apparatchiks pay attention to.

Bernbhie Sanders i certainly not a Communist. It is clear that he is quite sincere about his vision of Social Democracy, and that he does include democracy in there as a core value (unlike some of the authoritarian opposition). In truth, the Koch brothers empire does much more to foster true Communism now than Sanders does, even though they know not what they do. Will they ever have the humility to admit, for example, that a guy like Trump might understand the banking system better than they do,     and cut some slack in their usual practice of wanting to ordain every detail in life themselves, the same way Stalin did?  Will they ever understand that defending the unique freedom which made the US different form the place where their family grew up requires tactics a bit more enlightened than what they got in wrestling games in another culture? Will they allow us Americans to defend our own culture?

I worry. I worry when I see a Trump supporter form the Tea Party gushing and saying.. "He will get rid of all that unnecessary spending... for example, immediately abolishing the EPA and the Federal Reserve."  In some kind of ivory tower that might sound nice, but on the real planet earth... I really hate the whiff of real, fatal brimstone and deadly radiation which one can almost smell in real possible futures. If Trump should be elected, will he be stuck with the kind of lunatic Congress
mindlessly obeying orders from one certain oligarch, which puts the US at risk no matter who is President?

The obvious answer to such worries is just to vote for Hillary or Biden, without giving serious attention to the alternatives. And maybe it will come to that in the end. But if Republicans control the
Congress, and the Republican Congressfolk are in turn controlled by either of two collections of oligarchs (something Putin might understand!), Koch versus old style corporate welfare and royalism
(in the shadow of Cheney's ongoing conspiracies) becoming ever less productive.... what can anyone do? Is Trump "the new Teddy Roosevelt: as Icahn says, what we need to break the greatest internal threat the US has ever faced? If we really need two viable political parties, not just one, is Trump simply necessary to have any hope of salvaging what was once a Grand Old Party, and saving the real elephants? Or would it be safer to have a Democratic landslide as much as possible (after the recent gerrymandering) and hope for a Supreme Court which would recognize that "people" in the Constitution means "humans" and that our founding principles need to operate at a higher level than canon law? We will see.

As part of avoiding eye strain for a few days... I listened today to CNN, to Bloomberg, to France 24 and even to RT.  It was a positive eye-opener to see RT's coverage of the efforts to save Alawites to Sunni shariac murders who tried to kill them and forced them form their homes... (I almost want to vomit when US spokesmen talk about "the risk of possible sectarian violence if we do anything," as if certain folks were not already murdering all minorities from Shia to Alawite to Christian to others!).
THAT PART of Russian efforts which save the lives of those people, and create a more decent life again, need to be respected, and even broadened with our help, even as we add a few reasonable humanitarian strings to such an offer. Yet at the same time, RT is still paying people to work actively for a violent Communist overthrow of the US government. Yes, that's also true, and a bit scary.
And who is really behind the increase in murder attempts in Easter Jerusalem?

In fact, there is an important quiet power struggle now at the higher levels in Iran, just as there is in Washington.  The analogy between Cheney's network and the Kuds force is quite apt, trying to create trouble... but will the clergy in IRan recognize the threat which this implies as much as the Koch Brothers... at least recognize SOME of the Cheney allies as problematic? Aspirations to empire still lurk in human minds all over the world, as terrible as we should all know the outcome would be.
If anyone thinks of the US OR Iran as monolithic, they are in trouble.

And in the meantime... there are incredible sleeping risks in the EU right now. Will Slovenia force the issue, and revive those aspects which people in Bavaria have been trying to forget or let lie for
more than half a century? Deep dilemmas may be brought to a head.
But now I must censor...


There is a whole lot new stuff I could talk about in the realm of physics as well,
but it is probably best that I simply wait until I can post the clean copy from the journal of the latest paper, and hold off on discussing extensions such as key details needed to implement things like MQED correctly, and the fascinating work of Alfred Leitenstorfer recently published in Science.


Saturday, October 10, 2015

review for Amazon of what I had to buy because of my eye problems

This review is from: Samsung Galaxy Tab A SM-T550NZAAXAR 9.7-Inch Tablet (16 GB, SMOKY Titanium) (Personal Computers)
The Galaxy Tab A has many uses, but I bought it yesterday because I need it for one use: to read documents like scientific papers, textbooks, contracts or magazine articles that I used to read on paper. Yes, I could read some things on the computer screen, but I used to flood my huge office with many big piles, folders and shelves of hard copy paper and books, because I could read the fine print well and organize it all very well, better than I could from the regular computer screen. If you eyes are not as strong as mine used to be, or if you want to go more paperless, the Galaxy Tab is your best bet for reading, studying and organizing all kinds of things.

I still swear by the kindle paperwhite reader for books like science fiction, where it’s no problem to choose a large font size on a small screen, because you want to read from beginning to end and you only need to see a couple of sentences at a time. That one is great for reading either in bright sun or in the dark, with no need to recharge it more than once a month if you mainly keep it in airplane mode. But if you need to see the structure and jump around in what you read, it’s too small.

After I retired and had a cataract operation – my first thought was to buy a kindle DX, like the paperwhite but bigger. But that was discontinued, and the operating system on the paperwhite is not good for keeping track of a hierarchy of pdf as well as books. DX had only three main competitors – Sony (much more expensive, and probably without the font size flexibility I need), Onyx (falling apart) and Hanvon (not available in US). Perhaps when Hanvon C920 hits the US. It will instantly take over a part of the market – or not; not available anyway.

I was impressed, then, when my wife showed me the phone-sized, inexpensive Galaxy Tab she just bought for my son. Using the android touch screen, it was ever so easy to move text around and resize it at will, and the display was ever so readable and convenient to the hand. She instantly downloaded a paper I am interested in from the web, in pdf , and I could dig into it much better than I could on my desktop computer. I did think of trying to live a life chained to the desktop – but if I can read much better, and study better, on a tablet, and do it anywhere in the house, why not? Why not double my productivity in a big part of my life? (I also wonder how many students could benefit a lot!)

But to start a new life on a tablet, which tablet? I did read lots of reviews on my desktop. It sounded as if there were four really serious options – Samsung, kindle HDX, Microsoft Surface and Mac Air tablet. I didn’t really look at SURFACE, because it is MUCH more expensive (overkill for me) and because Windows 8 is not my ideal for simplicity and convenience. Kindle HDX reminded me a bit of my old kindle fire, which I mainly use to play solitaire now, and which requires recharging every day --- which wasn’t as easy on the eyes, and didn’t have the kind of operating system that would make it convenient to manage lots of pdf documents as well as books. Between Mac Air and Galaxy Tab, maybe I should have spent serious time in the store playing with the Mac alternative – but I didn’t expect a Mac product to be as inexpensive, and I am not familiar with iOS. I DID know that android is getting wide use, that it has some flexibility, and that the small Galaxy Tab was very easy on my eyes. Reviews said that battery life is an annoyance for all of the tablets, to about the same extent, but the greyscale and powersaving modes in the Galaxy Tab substantially reduce the problem.

Even with Galaxy Tab, there is a choice of models. Choosing 9.7 inches was a no-brainer for what I need most, to replace my use of books and printed articles, where I need a large format but a light 9.7 inch tablet is easier to handle than a book. I chose Galaxy Tab A for $289 rather than the new S2 model for $417, because it already has what I need; so far, the only lack that I notice is the lack of fingerprint login. The power saving options were easy to find. It was easy to link into our home wifi system, to download the kindle reading app, and get access to all the books I have had on kindle – though it was a bit like seeing a sprawl of books dumped on the floor. I was able to download one of them quickly and easily enough, and I see that I can organize them in collections on the tablet (not on the cloud). I also downloaded the Mobi pdf.epub reader and acrobat reader, free on the web, and am beginning to be able to use them. It was a bit tricky downloading a scientific pdf from the web using Chrome; so that I can read at my leisure in airplane mode; I had to go to “my files” and “downloads,” but other routes exist. It’s nice to be using a powerful, flexible computer which gives me choices of how to move things around, and an easy way to set up and use folders. I was surprised at how easy it was to synch with my gmail and gdrive, and delighted to see an option to upload 100 gig of photos to OneDrive at no cost. Lots of other capabilities – but again, reading was enough to justify the purchase for me.

Maybe I will buy the $27 keyboard cover/carrier someday, but the touch screen has been good enough for me so far (unlike the small screens on phones).


Downsides? (Not in the review).

The Tab A comes with various app links. The google ones are reasonably straightforward, but for its extra goodies Samsung starts from a tutorial in very small print. I guess I won't have access to those apps for awhile. The Acrobat pdf reader tries to force people to rely totally on the cloud, which doesn't work for me (in airplane mode, preserving battery life, and sometimes on travel without wifi). Some Galaxy reviewers blamed that on the machine, but it's Adobe's fault, and can be bypassed. But it would be nice if bypass would be easier, and if Chrome for android made it easier to just move a pdf from the web (or my desktop?) to a folder of my choice which I set up on the Tab.  


In truth, I am still "between eyes." Having had some painful eyestrain ... I have resolved not to do straining reading until after the final operation on October 22. I expect that my new left eye will take over the lead role in reading then, as it was before the first operation, and do not want to overburden the right eye with a role which will be temporary. Will I even need big print after that, as the new left lens will be more powerful in near focus than the new right lens? Will I need to hold the galaxy, like a book, two feet from my face, no closer? Ah, but even if I will have crystal clear focus at that distance from BOTH eyes... it will still help to be able to enlarge the print, especially for equations with tricky little subscripts in them. There is so much small print around me now...

Two more pieces of evidence that this is a good thing: (1) in many, many eye tests over the past few weeks, I have seen very strongly how coordination of the two eyes is SO much more powerful than one eye alone, even with an old weak left eye, and certainly for reading; (2) as part of major revision of a new paper on quantum computing and physics, we saw how some of the reviewers had serious problems reading key equations, and how it helped simply to make them bigger, much bigger than what most journals actually print.    

Oh, yes -- I ALSO bought a set of three reading glasses from Costco for $19 a couple of weeks ago. I have used them, but no way do they bring me back to where I was.

In fact -- over the last few weeks, it seemed clear that most of my life is one big intensive eye exam, even if I never quite noticed it that way. What I do to relax is more eye-intensive than what I do to "work." Taking a couple of long walks, and watching TV, was the most relaxing thing for my eyes, good for my "far" (intermediate) new right eye -- but even TV for me is mainly watching news, with small print streaming feeds ...

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Nature’s Totem Pole Behind the House Between the Worlds

People sometimes ask why I believe we live in the very best house in the whole DC area for our purposes, and would not want to move. This picture is one small part of why.

On the back of our house, we have two patios and one balcony/deck which extends only two meters past the sliding glass doors which open up to it. The balcony/deck does connect to a patio by stairs, but it still is much higher than the others. It has a panoramic view. It is a great place to sit and read. In all directions – 180 degrees – we see nothing but forest. This picture was taken from the balcony, in the most urbanized direction of all the directions we can see from the balcony/deck. (It is a little urbanized, because one can sometimes see a few cars in this direction, through the trees, on the road which leads to our cul-de-sac.) Looking straight back from the house, there is usually a wall of trees, but in winter one can see al the way down to Four Mile Run, the creek along which George Washington would transport trees he cut from his land in this area down to Alexandria to transport further. He frequently came to our neighbor’s house (the house two doors down, still as it was) to buy clothes, from a tailor of the Carlin family, which my mother says are cousins.

In this picture you see what I think of as our “nature made totem pole.” I was somewhat stunned a few years ago when I first saw this tree. On the lower side... the human face about 40% of the way up... was a lot stronger than it is now. (The ears seem to have eroded a bit through the years). But the very top looked less like the face of a deer than it does now. That is a fitting image, since we humans in the house and the deer which live in the back yard are the two main mammals here now – now that the coyote has died (probably in an all-out fight with our old cat, a fight which killed them both) and the raccoons are no longer living in the mouth of the human face. (Maybe someday we will post that older picture.) I suppose that the famous totem poles of the tribes of the Pacific Northwest were initially inspired when trees like this appeared at times in their places.  
(A few years ago, we took a cruise to Alaska – the most expensive trip we ever took – where we found a real authentic shaman to discuss this with, as we explored on our own at one of the ports. I still remember him saying: “No, you are not an eagle, as our people see eagles; you are an octopus. Here is YOUR totem.” And on the balcony of that cruise ship, I read a book entitled Shamanism which was inspiring enough.)

We bought this house from Sohini Patel, who inherited the aryuveda practice which served the Ghandi family. We only had a few real human meetings with her, as we were buying the house and soon after, but I will remember things she said forever. I also remember meeting in the late evening, over herb tea... and as she talked about how “everything is energy,” how we could actually see crackling energy in the twilight around us.  I asked where in the house she practiced meditation, and she smilled “in every room, of course. Different meditations in different room, but every room has its energy now.”  She gave us a very good deal on the house (not outrageous, but really quite good), and explained that she had been waiting until a proper new family should come. In fact, that time was one of the two or three times in my life when I had really severe economic fears and problems, and this opportunity was a life-saver for me.  (Luda and Chris actually found the house, as we were taking long walks in the area.) She showed me the “fu” she had placed, and explained how the feng shue also meets the highest standards. It is truly a “house between the worlds” in more ways than one; though it is all deep historic forest on the back, it also is one mile walk from “government funding alley” (where DARPA, NSF and ONR are al located for now) and the Ballston Metro station, and a ten minute drive from Congress or the White House at times of average traffic.  It only has 2100 square feet (not counting basement or attic), but four bedrooms really is more than enough for a family of three people; more would be a burden.

I remember a time when we subscribed to the Financial Times for several years. It came at first to our driveway, for free, not even ordered, we are not sure how. A year or two later, we subscribed for half price, because it was extremely informative for what our friend Yeshua calls “the watch.” But as we read some sections... it was hard not to notice people with incomes much, much higher than ours. It was hard to avoid a little bit of controlled, quit envy of their wealth – even though we remembered firmly that we still agree with the value choice which led me here, and not to a possible future I once had wide open as a wealthy banker with a wife who was a wonderful good sweet person – but not my highest karma. But one day, I read the section of the Financial Times describing what those wealthy people had to choose from as places to live – for a price ten times the original cost of my house, either a big place far away from where they work (so many hours in soul-grinding commuting reducing family communication) or a town house far away from nature and light and real fresh air... suddenly my gratitude for being better off became much stronger.

I have always given a high recommendation to the book by George Valliant of the Harvard Psychology Department, reporting on who is successful and who is not, of Harvard graduates... touching on the question of what success and happiness really mean.

So I have only bought two houses in my life. The other was a relatively solid detached brick house in College Park, Maryland, back when I was an assistant professor with a salary of only $15,000 per year. That too was a bit of an adventure. I bought it from Dr, Perl, author of The Four-Front War, the true story of how he saved thousands of lives of Jewish people esacpaing from the Nazis. Dr. Perl was then head of the Jewish Defense League (JDL), a practicing psychiatrist (specializing in disturbed youth) and a VERY serious cabbalist. He showed us a very special antique writing desk he had in the dining room, with lots and lots of secret compartments which he still found useful. He showed us the room upstairs (which later became the bedroom of my daughters – one at a time), which was then a cabbala meditation room, complete with two long shelves of ancient cabbalas in many languages   At that time, I was an active member of the Rosicrucian Order (AMORC) and also an initiate of the Order of Pythagoras (yes, it still exists), and we had some serious discussion of our various approaches, including issues of energy and healing, as with Sohini. He discussed how important Carl Jung was in his practice of psychiatry.  (I also treasure some discussion with therapist mystics in the local Quaker Meeting – which is not so sectarian, and more elevated in my view.)

It was a bit amusing to read in the Washington Post a few weeks later that the FBI had indicted Perl on charges of encouraging someone to shoot out windows in the Russian embassy or such, and that they  had delayed the indictment a few weeks to allow him to complete closing on the sale of his house. I guess we owe one to the FBI – or at least to the old FBI, before the last chapter depicted in the book A G-Man’s Journal. (After that last chapter came Cheney, beyond the scope of this blog post.)  It was also amusing when he called a few weeks later to ask about a telegram form a guy named Meier (sp?), which he asked us to open and describe immediately.  We were also very grateful when Dr. Perl invited us later to a magnificent dinner in his new house in Beltsville (with no stairs to climb, a growing problem for him as he aged), but... now it is my turn to bump into the annoyances of aging... at least not stairs. (Like many I know, I had terrifying problems with knees a few years ago, trying to walk down a mountain after my knees gave out... but a tight coupling of exercise and glucosamine+ seems to have solved most of that, at least for now.)

Perhaps someday I will even post our picture of a serious hawk (or eagle?) perched on our balcony/deck, only a foot from our sliding glass door. And little birds constantly try to make their nest just inside of that door, in the beautiful sun room  which is only very rarely used as a dining room... but they understand when we explain the difficulties of that to them. (Chipmunks have at times walked in the lower sliding glass doors from the stone patio, but have also been good sports about not moving in.)

All for now.    

Monday, October 5, 2015

a transhumanist joke about graphene

I hope it was just a joke --

Cyberenthusiast: "Why are you so worried about computers just killing off humans and taking over the earth? After all, humans killed off their earlier competitors. Isn't it just part of natural progress and evolution for more intelligent and conscious systems to replace earlier models? You are nothing but an irrational racist -- a human-race-ist."

Guy like me:"Hey, I agree that I have a kind of prerational predisposition here. The universe itself does not really care, but **I** care because **I* am a carbon-based life form, and it is a basic part of MY inborn program that Icare about the fate of other carbon-based life forms."

Cyberenthusiast: "Oh, is that it? Cheer up. Graphene is also carbon based,
and it works faster than silicon anyway, so we can just replace humans with AI based on graphene."

It was actually said.... and there are many, many cyberenthusiasts like that out there. 

Both silicon and graphene have the advantage of being made from materials plentiful on earth and on other planets, silicon and carbon -- and maybe graphene can even do critical things without so many rare additives. 

For myself, the motivational circuits in my brain really involve
humans (more) and other living creatures, no carbon as such. But I have actually wondered what characteristics of a system made of atoms make it more or less susceptible to having a real "soul," which I view as something essentially tangible if hard for most of us to see, living in symbiosis with the other side of us.  Kurzweil has talked about "spiritual machines" -- but is it possible to make those words real, and if so how?

I still don't claim to know the answer to that question (nor do I think anyone else on earth really knows either), but I will not bore you with the details of my ruminations here and now. (One quick note: Orson Scott Card, in his Song of Earth series, expresses important thoughts about that... but as you know, folks like Brin would want to exclude Card from discussion as much as the new right wants to outlaw birth control. I don't believe that studying the Song of Earth would cause any rational person to oppose birth control -- quite the opposite, but there are lots of ideologies out there which seem to be schizophrenic.)

graphene and radical new energy technology

Another engineer on a discussion group anchored in Silicon Valley  asked -- is graphene humanity's hope?

My reply:

That may sound a bit strong for a mere material, the first of a family of materials -- but maybe I did not say enough about how important it might be.

FIrst, an analogy to the brain. For some purposes, the brain fully "sees" the world only at a computing speed of 4 hertz, the classic "theta" rhythm.
(The "movie screen of the brain," the thalamus, sends in visual images at an effective rate of 8 hertz, but emotional evaluation in the limbic system basically doubles the processing time.)  But the synapses from one neuron to the next take only 3 milliseconds or so -- which suggests a speed of 300 Hertz. So for some purposes, the brain operates at 4 hertz or slower (consider the speed of making moves in chess), but for others it operates at 300 hertz or so.

In the same way... your old PC from ten years ago had a speed of about 2 or 3 gigahertz GHZ for normal operation. Graphene seems to have the potential to change that to maybe 20 to 30 gigahertz, for the normal kind of operations we use in clocking computers. But at a very basic level, switching speeds on the order of 300 GHZ now seem possible, not only with graphene but with a few other competing new materials.  That's not just a matter of speeding up PCs. It also opens the door to new families of technology... but with the new conservative reorganization of science it becomes ever more dangerous to talk about them. That's so important to energy technology and other technology in the US that I should explain why I am worried. 

The new political problems in Washington remind me of a time years ago, under George W, when DOE was largely under the control of the oil industry but other agencies were more independent. At a time when most serious people agreed we needed action on climate change, but many people felt the cost was too high under existing technology, I pushed the idea that we should have a crash effort to develop the new technology which would allow us to cut CO2 WITHOUT a big increase in the cost of energy services (like miles driven by cars). I visited key places like the Senate Energy Committee with that message -- and did not realize at the time how much difference it made that I invited a couple of friends to come with me, one high up at the time in GM and one in the United Nations University. And also that the legislative director of that committee happened to have a son who was best friends with my own son that time in a local middle school!

A major new $300 million per year effort was announced by the administration... the Climate Change Technology Program CCTP... but they didn't immediately listen to the warnings that incorporating it into the traditional structure and corporate culture of DOE would screw things up.

And so, CCTP was assigned at first just to DOE -- but they decided to create an interagency working group for CCTP as the predicted problems started to emerge. I was the NSF member of that working group in the crucial early stages -- but the majority of members were still DOE people.

I will remember forever the pain and bafflement on the face of a DOE research program leader, who spoke for the other technical leaders:
"What in the world are they looking for here? They ask for a listng of new technology opportunities, to go in new directions, and then they add the requirement that it must be something we already tested and proved out for ten years. They are like that cat in Alice in Wonderland, who puts up a sign saying to go 'that way,' and points in opposite directions at the same time." THe new directions came from on high, but the ten years stuff... well, Lamar Smith has lately put a lot of that kind of constraint into the system (with encouragement from backers higher up), but in those days it was DOE corporate culture. CCTG did a noble job of trying to put out a menu of new options, analogous in a way to the menu which the new DOE offered to Jimmy Carter in the early days of Project Independence (which a close friend of mine worked on). But then, DOE higher-ups converted that into a budgetary plan, which ... understandably did not raise much enthusiasm in the more innovative Congress of that time... and that was the end of that.  The next stage was that Republican Congressman whose staff I worked with, Roscoe Bartlett, helped pioneer a new version, ARPA-E, which, for all its failings, was a major step forwards.    But the bad guys got Bartlett in the past few years, just as they got a lot of people, and there are rumblings that ARPA-E might even be abolished. (Yes, it has had some failings, but that's another matter.)

In my personal opinion, 300 GHZ switching is one of the key enabling technologies which might well take the US to levels most people do not even imagine as yet, if we had the institutional capacity to take advantage of it. As it is, it may be more likely to happen in other nations.

Equally important may be new directions in using nonlinear electro-optic crystals. Anyone who understands the real-world basics of modern quantum optics knows about nonlinear crystals (like "BBO" or "chi-3 and chi-4"). Lots of exciting new things could be done with them, too. But some wild new results were reported at Princeton this past May, using a kind of nonlinear crystal which MIXES electric force and light. With that combination, a guy named Alfred from Konstanz was able to measure electric current fluctuations down at a femtosecond level. (If I am not too sleepy this morning... I believe one femtosecond maps to 1000 GHZ.) 
At that level, he measured a vacuum energy density of 10 watts per cc, which equates to 10 megawatts per cubic meter of free space.  That's a lot of energy. Based on my own view of the proper way to model the relevant kinds of circuits, supported by the limited experiments which have been done so far this year in one of the world's three labs which has actually produced triple entanglement... I do believe it should be possible to extract such energy, but only if we develop the required enabling technologies and expose our models to empirical test in a way which has become ever less fashionable in the local area.

There is an underlying heresy here -- that time is just another dimension, and that we should not confuse local statistics with underlying laws of nature. People do not yet respect or appreciate Einstein or Schwinger as much as they should, in my view; in a way, they are like Copernicus, who was well known but was unable to shake off the power of the Dark Ages by himself in one century. I hope humans are still alive after one more century unrolls. If we hide in a fearful hole, we probably won't be. 

Thursday, October 1, 2015

McCain and Bush voice support for Al Qaida

Yes, it's true. The world has become exactly that weird and dangerous.

I was very surprised yesterday when McCain got on TV saying that the Russians had been bombing
folks that were being trained and supplied (recently) by the CIA -- and he was clearly itching for war between US and Israel against Russia and Iran (something which the Third Caliphate folks want very badly, to cancel out and destroy both of the greatest barriers to their plans).

I mumbled out loud: "Yeah, folks that the CIA supported and trained. They supported and trained Al Qaida!" Luda responded, "Well, this group that Russia bombed, Al Nusrah, isn't EXACTLY
core Al Qaida, but it is an affiliate, with all the same goals and networked to the core."

That surprised me a little. Just who has been directing CIA to arm and support Al Qaida affiliates, after all? (I suspect that Obama was either playing golf, or watching his watch, when that was decided, and forcibly implemented by folks deposited into the government by Cheney.)

And today, the drumbeat of outrage continued. CNN ran a panel, including the guy who wrote the book "My Life in Al Qaida." I recommended that book many times to friends a few years ago, since it was very earthy and real and it shows some important aspects of Al Qaida which got missed in the more beautiful and abstract book by Scheuer (the former CIA top analyst for Al Qaida). And what did he say? Yes, he joined the bandwagon against Russia... but what did he actually say. "It is indeed very risky that they bombed Al Qaida in Syria. Don't they know there is a risk that Al Qaida and ISIL might join forces and both attack the US at the same time?"

Hello? A risk that Al Qaida MIGHT oppose the US harder if we got them a little upset by resisting them? It sounds as if the life in Al Qaida never ended.  And Jeb Bush is energetically supporting their line. Of major US folks on the TV, only Trump seems to see through the scary illusions.

How is that?

I think back to the Oriental rug merchants who gave certain sweeping reassurances and hugs to the Bushes. Having had pleasant but controlled interactions with real Oriental rug merchants in the Middle East, I instinctively understand the balance of trust but verify which applies, as one strives for honest dialogue and Pareto optima while watching one's back and avoiding vulnerability to force majeure of predictable kinds. It sounds as if those drum beaters never had, and fantasize that they are loved and emulated by the world in a way which was never real in those places. (But then again, I also saw the Third Caliphate game plan in 2003, form primary sources.) It sounds as if Trump actually has dealt with oriental rug merchants, or the equivalent. This is a case where we either see through the illusions or commit our own suicide.

SOME of the conflicts we see now date back to the wars in the Balkans, where Clinton struggled hard to take a moral highground, when many Islamists violently opposed Clinton for not doing enough, while others like Russia and Japan vehemently opposed the US for doing as much as it did to try to protect local European Moslems.  In fact, much of the history of Russia is one long struggle to be free of domination from oppressive Moslem overlords, and they became quite committed and effective in trying to win that war. (That is also true to a lesser extent of Spain ... and those who know Spain know this is a very strong statement.) Yes, Putin is taking a very strong us-versus-them approach, but most Russians would probably want a STRONGER assertion of the "us" component, and are probably baffled by why the US hasn't yet figured out what's going on. (Israel does not baffle them so much, as they tend to assume the worse from global Israeli politics, even as they deeply respect Israeli science and such.)

In fact... Putin is not quite so extreme in war against Islam as some would accuse him of. He really tried hard to make good peace with the Chechens, and won a lot of points in Russia for that... though a lot of that has started to unravel in recent years, as his friends committed acts of mass murder and terrorism inside Russia.  (Some in Russia even suspected Putin himself in using that to strengthen his power. But lots of folks in Russia suspect all kinds of things.)

And what of Iran?

In the end, to be truly honest to ourselves at the highest spiritual level here, we need to seriously consider -- could Islamists be right THAT they are more spiritually enlightened than us, and that they have a responsibility to sacrifice to end the evil that WE and PUTIN bring to the world?

We really need to remember to ask that question, regularly -- just as properly trained psychiatrist knows he needs to be under regular therapy himself, as part of what his profession rightly demands.
Above all, almost everyone on earth needs to actively keep remembering what Jesus said -- about removing the beam from our own eye before we get too agitated about removing the splinter from the eye of our brother.

I previously mentioned very briefly my view that the US Constitution, or the constitution written for Germany after World War II, are the most credible Social Contracts ever devised on earth, for allowing diverse and growing humans to live together and learn to cooperate. That is certainly PART of the truth; sharia as a world system, as developed by ulema under the Abbasid caliphate, has gross instabilities and inhibitions which imply that its dominance would get us all killed. (Catholic canon law in its formal evolved version has the same problem.) But in recent years, developments in the US HAVE demonstrated a kind of incompleteness, and very deep dangers of instability and risks of oppression, both material and spiritual, even in the US. Some of these could actually be solved by switching to something like the German constitution, which was based in part on more advanced serious research building on our Founding Fathers but going beyond them! (Gerrymandered districts, for example, helped cause the insane extremism which forced even Boehner to resign.)  But some are a matter of other requisites, beyond the formal social contract as such; for example, Jefferson once wrote that this new democracy could endure IF and ONLY IF all citizens received a free education which guaranteed they fully understood three core books at least -- Locke ("social contracts"!!),
Newton and Francis Bacon. PART of the recent fossilization in the US is due to a lapse in meeting Jefferson's prerequisite... a long story. But George Washington also had some thoughts on this...
for later.

Iran is very tricky, in part because Ayatollah Khomenei actually was hoping to implement a new constitution, to be an improved model of the US and European constitutions, to prevent the slide
he saw in the US and Europe. He overestimated the slide in the US and Europe, for obvious emotional reasons, since he thought that anyone who works with the Shah must support all of his errors... but in some ways the Shah was analogous to Obama, a well-meaning person whose greatest
mistake was to give too much leeway to evil people he did not have enough control over. In any case, most Americans thought at the time that we were being friendly with IRAN, not with all the acts of the Shah, which they simply did not see. (Yes, oil companies did bad things in filtering what Americans knew and saw, but they are not omnipotent here.)

So his new Constitution was intended to be as democratic as possible and open, subject to constraints to prevent what he imagined as the very worst evils in the US. He was in his way VERY SIMILAR to the father of the Koch brothers, who felt a need to use strong means to protect against extreme evils. And now, his son is very similar to the Koch brothers in the US ... but perhaps less dangerous to us than they are at the present time! His new Constitution is very similar in practice to what happens when pseudo-Conservatives work to convert the Supreme Court into a litmus-tested New Curia, giving precedence to the canon law of the Middle Ages over the free thinking attitudes of folks like Jefferson and Washington; when the Bushes cave into that rebuilding of America, they become as dangerous as the Koch Brothers whose funding they pant for.

In fact.. many in Russia understand something about the deeper history of Islam, which they have seen first hand.  The folks leading the intolerant shariac Third Caliphate movement, which would want to kill all Christians and Shia who do not convert and accept rulership of their brains (to be supplemented with wires to the brain to maintain control... I kid you not... I have seen their links to the US brain initiative under Chakka Fattah...) .. have NO spiritual ground. I have mentioned more about that before. The greatest source of authentic spiritual light in core Islam... has been Rumi, and those who fully build on and absorb the teachings of Rumi. Rumi is very much a household name
in Turkey and Iran, who might argue over who "owns" him (a very healthy competition). And yes, he has links to the Mehlevi Sufis, whom I promised to say more about eventually. I am very grateful to the folks in Istanbul who gifted me with the annual over plan of that order, which ranged form practical issues to very deep and serious spiritual matters worthy of deep thinking.
It was THIS strand of Islam which would preserve and enhance the human spirit ... and Iran and Turkey are the main sources of light which bring hope to that region. Yes, that light has often been obscured by all kinds of nonsense, exactly as it has in Washington DC... but whatever spiritual hope exists for this planet and this species lies in strengthening and building collaboration as best we can between these sources of light, and muddling through in keeping the darkness from getting out of control.  War between US and Israel versus Russia and Iran would be the worst possible outcome for the human spirit, as wall as its mundane future.  Striving for light is not an easy path, but it is our only hope.

Having Trump as President might not be a totally easy path either... but selling out to the Third Caliphate and the war they desire would be an efficient road to doom. I hope that Hillary, Carson or Biden would also be able to resist that dark path, but for now it is a bit less clear in their case -- and clearly very bleak for all the others.

Best of luck. We all need it.


Next day... What I saw yesterday was a bit of a shock and a wakeup call. (Not that it was totally unexpected, given similar things I have been seeing here in DC.) How does it look in the hard cold light of the next morning?

Do McCain and Bush agree with some CIA assessment that they have come to a good secret agreement and alliance with Al Qaida now?

Luda comments -- even if there were a signed alliance agreement held in secret somewhere, how much do they really expect it to be honored when circumstances change?  I remember how faith in secret alliances and agreements was one of the causes of World War I breaking out.

More concretely -- yes, we officially hate Assad, but if we had a three-way choice between Syria run by Al Qaida, Syria run by Al Qaida, and Syria run by Assad -- as a sober choice, which would we pick? Do we really want to use US resources and special skills and new commitments to flow to strengthen Al Qaida? It was one thing when the US paid to augment the skills and weapons of Osama bin Laden back before we knew who he really was in Afghanistan, but now we know...
Yes, it is embarrassing to us that Assad stays in power, but is embarrassment a justification for giving
an entire nation state base to EITHER Al Qaida OR ISIL? Is the fault not one of overcommitment
on our part?

The President of Iraq just showed up on TV (France24) this morning, and said much the same.
For him, this is a matter of life or death. It is for us too, but he sees them right at the gates right now where he is.

The analogy between the new Ayatollah Khamanei and the Koch brothers really runs very deep, and is quite interesting. Both are extremely sincere, in their own way. Both believe they represent the true moral highground, and are very dismissive and disrespectful of others. Both believe they have to use repressive tactics because of their mistrust of everyone else.  And in both cases, the tactics are bad enough that they seriously endanger the people in the place they now live in. Still, it is worse in places where the inner life has already been extinguished to a much greater degree.


These shocks remind me of what Cameron, PM of UK, recently said about the Syrian refugee crisis: "We too promise to support more Syrian refugees... IN SYRIA." But does that mean sending them to Al Qaida camps?

Perhaps instead of threatening war with Russia, and insisting on eliminating of Assad, we might as for new internationally protected zones within Syria to provide a decent place for these people to go back to... a humanitarian goal, not a goal of pride and power. Maybe we could pay for cosmopolitan real schools in that zone (and other basics), and spend US money via the UN for schools rather than

To follow up on that I yesterday posted to two lists:
Many in Europe view the Syrian refugee crisis as a kind of existential crisis for them. 
It was a major turning point when David Cameron, PM of UK, pledged to support more Syrian refugees -- IN SYRIA ITSELF. (This, after Merkel offered to take lots of them into Germany -- and aroused some of the munchkins in a way we have not seen for almost a century. Not a hot button we should be fighting to press real hard, especially when so many Europeans worry about what is happening already with second generation folks.)

That sounded interesting -- but WHERE in Syria and how?

I wondered a little -- but the REALLY worried when I learned where we
English speakers are now sending our support:

If we should face a flat out three-way choice, between Syria run by Assad, Syria run by ISIL, or Syria run by Al Qaida -- are we really the kind of people who would sooner die than be embarrassed? I did not really allow for the existence of people so irrational until a few years ago... (Russians do not like embarrassment either, but that's not what's moving them just now in Syria...). What if ALL THREE include murder in their agendas -- but on different scales, and only two of them including us here?  

If we feel we need a very vigorous response to what is happening in Syria... perhaps instead of threatening war with Russia, and demanding what we cannot have short of something even worse...


Instead of telling the whole world we demand our pride and our right to say exactly who rules other nations, why not ask for creation of a kind of UN protected zone within Syria -- a HUMANITARIAN zone -- designed with two goals in mind: (1) as much assurance as possible to the Syrian refugees that they want to go there; and (2) as little US military involvement as possible, subject to whatever is needed to get to goal (1). Why not spend billions on humanitarian things to support such a thing, as part of a UN effort, rather than start yet another war? Good schools, hospitals, and protection from wandering murder squads. Not a camp, but a zone.

Is there hope to make lemonade out of two lemons?

There would be risks, but not nearly so much as with support for Al Qaida.

Best of luck,


A special zone like that could have some analogies to the West Bank Palestinian zone within the borders of Israel, which raises some questions which need to be explored as part of the process. Above all, how to keep out infiltrators who come to murder?

One aspect of the refugee crisis right now is that we can easily figure out who came to Europe. More precisely,
they can be given identity cards and recorded, while still in Europe, and get some kind of special rights in the new international zone linked to those cards.

Some paranoid folks in Europe argue that half the refugees may actually be ISIL or Al Qaida infiltrators,
there to create trouble, using others as human shields. We should not plan on that... but in the contingency where that is true, there would be all the more reason to send them to a new humanitarian zone in Syria proper,
and work to make it as nice and free and open as possible, subject to adequate security (including gun control and such within the zone).