who can give up essential
liberty to obtain a little temporary
safety, deserve neither liberty
-- Benjamin Franklin
"All governments lie and nothing
say should be believed."
"Power tends to corrupt, and
absolute power corrupts
absolutely. Great men
almost always bad men."
Syrian Refugee Crisis Will Transform Middle East
2. A Labor Day Worry: The Court’s
Sharpening Their Knives
3. Court Ruling Builds a
Barrier Against Challenges to NSA
Spying on Americans
4. Welcome, Robot Overlords. Please Don't Fire Us?
5. Growing Doubt: A
Scientist's Experience of GMOs
This is a Nederlog of Sunday,
September 6, 2015.
This is a crisis
blog. There are 5 items with 5 dotted links: Item 1
is about the Syrian refugee crisis, and makes clear that this is a major
problem; item 2 is
about a crazy, false and degenerate argument of the (majority of
the) Supreme Court; item 3 is about another crazy,
false and degenerate argument of the
(majority of the) Supreme Court; item 4 is
about an article that predicts computer are as intelligent (or more)
than human beings by 2040, and promises paradise
(and I completely disagree); and item 5 is about a very
good article that explains that GMOs in fact should have
remained in the laboratories (indeed
much like most pharmaceutical innovations of the last decades, that
were invented and
marketed for profit, and not because there was good
evidence they work
and are free of harm).
Syrian Refugee Crisis Will Transform Middle East Politics
The first article today is by Charles Glass on The Intercept:
This starts as follows:
I say. This seems a good
report by a former ABC News chief Middle East correspondent. Note these
are 12 million people without houses, and
By the time the
Arab-Israeli War of 1948 ended, Israeli forces had expelled about
700,000 Palestinian Arabs from their homes. Their plight led to the
overthrow of Arab regimes as well as civil wars in Jordan in 1970 and
in Lebanon from 1975 to 1990. Israel bombed refugees in Jordan, Lebanon
and Gaza. Radicalized Palestinians staged hijackings, airport massacres
and suicide bombings that captured headlines around the world and more
than once led to dangerous American-Soviet confrontations.
The legacy of Syria’s
refugee disaster awaits. The United Nations High Commissioner for
Refugees, António Gutteres, has just declared that 4 million
Syrians are now refugees in neighboring countries. That is almost six
times greater than the number who fled Palestine. Another 7.6 million
Syrians, he says, have also lost their homes but remain destitute
within Syria. Gutteres said, “This is the biggest refugee population
from a single conflict in a generation.”
probably with little work or income - and these are merely the Syrians.
There is also this on Lebanon:
The U.N. reports
that Lebanon, a country of 4 million, has taken in 1.2 million
Syrians. This figure is probably an underestimate, because not all
refugees register with the U.N. (...) In Lebanon, displaced Syrians
live where they can. Some dwell in unfinished buildings, others in
schools or farms. Lebanon does not wish to establish camps for them as
it did for the Palestinians after 1948.
And this is on Syria before
the war started:
Before the war
began in 2011, Syria fed itself and provided almost all of its
medicines from flourishing pharmaceutical industries. Now it is
dependent on foreign charity that is anything but adequate. The U.N.
says that of the $4.53 billion needed for displaced Syrians to survive,
it has received only $1.06 billion in the first half of this year.
Gutteres lamented that aid falls far short of “the most basic survival
needs of millions of people over the coming six months.”
Which means that many
will die. How much the West will see of this is - by the way -
another question, that depends (i) on the willingness of the media to
show "harrowing pictures" and (ii) on the presence of journalists to
make the pictures, and both seem rather doubtful to me.
Finally, here is a bit on Isis:
While millions of
Syrians are fleeing, tens of thousands of jihadi volunteers are coming
in. They are the shock troops of the self-styled Islamic State, which
with Saudi and Turkish backing has taken control of large swathes of
Syria and Iraq that it calls its caliphate.
This article - which is
good and recommended - may be seen as a background to yesterday's This
refugee crisis is too big for Europe to handle - its institutions are broken.
2. A Labor Day Worry: The Court’s Right-Wingers
Are Sharpening Their Knives
next article is
Blum on Truthdig:
This has the
following second and third paragraph:
If the U.S.
Supreme Court’s dominant Republican majority has its way when the
panel’s new term commences in October, we might as well dispense with
the holiday [Labor Day - MM] altogether, or at least drop the term
“labor” from its title. Among the most important cases the court will
consider when it reconvenes is
Friedrichs v. California Teachers, which poses what some observers
have called an “existential
threat” to public unions and by extension to the entire labor
At issue in Friedrichs is
the right of public sector unions to collect limited “fair-share” fees
in lieu of full formal dues from nonunion workers to defray the costs
of collective bargaining that benefits all employees. A decision
against the teachers association would have the potential to bankrupt
government employee unions and turn the nation’s entire public sector
into one enormous “right-to-work”
Incidentally, this case is
directed against a public union, and the article also informs
its readers that the public sector has 35.7 percent
the US wage and salary workers are at presently unionized at 11.1
percent and the private sector 6.6 percent.
So yes, it seems the case
is meant to end in the taking away of an important part of the incomes
of the only somewhat effective unions there still are in the USA.
There is a considerable amount more, but I will only consider the
argument that the majority of the Supreme Court has used before.
It runs like this (with a
little introduction that sketches some backgrounds):
In a landmark 1977
decision dealing with government unions, one handed down during a more
labor-friendly era in the court’s history—Abood
v. Detroit Board of Education—the justices upheld the
constitutionality of fair-share fee systems.
But the Roberts court,
operating in a new era of hostile anti-worker judicial activism, has
steadily chipped away at the Abood rule. Starting in 2012 with its
Knox v. SEIU and continuing with its 2014 decision in
Harris v. Quinn, the court’s five Republican appointees have
emphasized that the payment of union dues by public employees is a form
of political speech subject to the constraints of the First Amendment
because public unions negotiate contracts with governmental entities
and such contracts by definition affect public policies and the
spending of taxpayer money.
The First Amendment, they
reason (and here is where the twist sets in), protects not only the
affirmative right to speak but also the passive right not to be
compelled to speak or compelled to endorse the offending speech or acts
of other people or groups. Requiring dissenting employees to pay fees
to a union they don’t want to join, the analysis continues, amounts to
such compelled speech in violation of the First Amendment.
Here is why I completely
disagree - and I quote bits from the above quotation:
1. "the payment
of union dues by public employees is a form of political speech":
That is a complete bullshit
argument: Paying or not paying money is not "a form of (..) speech" and
the persons who insist it is are lying, also in the Supreme
Court. You may as well say that crocodiles are stones, or that
mathematics is a park as saying that money is free speech. It is total
2. "subject to the constraints of the First
That is complete bullshit - and
"public policies" or "the
spending of taxpayer money" have nothing
to do with the First Amendment, that is as follows:
Congress shall make no
law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free
exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press;
or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the
Government for a redress of grievances.
3. "The First Amendment, they reason (..),
protects not only the affirmative right to speak but also the passive
right not to be compelled to speak or compelled to endorse the
offending speech or acts of other people or groups.":
Total and complete bullshit: Firstly, the First Amendment only protected
free speech, and has nothing on "the (..) right not to be compelled to speak"
(which (i) is completely different (ii) is guaranteed by other
rights) and secondly "speech" is not "money".
dissenting employees to pay fees to a union they don’t want to join,
the analysis continues, amounts to such compelled speech in violation
of the First Amendment.":
Completely insane bullshit: "paying fees" like not "paying fees" are not speech; they
are only required to pay some money to further bargaining that
will benefit them - and while you may question that legally, to
do so by appealing to a First Amendment that guarantees free speech
is sick and degenerate utter bullshit.
But OK: That is
what the majority of the Supreme Court of the USA wants to do
(they are intelligent enough): To bullshit you, with nonsense
Money is not
speech; the right of free speech does not entail the right not
to be compelled to speak; the right not to be compelled to speak does not
entail the right of free speech; and judges of the Supreme Court that
vote for bullshit of this
low level are merely frauds, for they are all easily
intelligent enough to see these arguments.
Unfortunately, they remain
judges of the Supreme Court, and therefore both the title and the
article are quite justified.
3. Court Ruling Builds a Barrier Against
Challenges to NSA
Spying on Americans
next article is
by Thor Benson on Truthdig:
mainly about a difficulty I have registered before, that amounts to
this in Thor Benson's words:
completely in line with the previous item:
One of the problems is
that a Supreme Court case from 2013, Clapper
v. Amnesty International, that focused on another surveillance
provision decided that plaintiffs needed to definitively know their
data was collected in order to pursue a case. The government would have
to admit what the program does and whom it’s targeting before the case
could go forward. Vladeck said it could become very difficult to
challenge any practices allegedly approved by the USA Freedom Act if
you can pursue a case only after you have all of the evidence to show
you were spied on.
“I’m not aware of any
other situation in law where you have to have the defendant admit what
they did before you can even go to court,” Cindy Cohn, executive
director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told Truthdig. “It
would be as if the police couldn’t arrest somebody unless they admitted
they committed the crime first.” Cohn and Vladeck both said that the
U.S. Supreme Court has previously stated plaintiffs don’t have this
kind of burden of proof to establish a court case and that it seems to
be a practice reserved for secret spying programs.
“Given what the
government has said about the scope of its program, there is certainly
circumstantial evidence that exists,” Cohn said. “Many people are
rotting in jail right now based on circumstantial evidence, and they
never admitted their crime. It’s a double standard [being set up] in
The government secretly and illegally reads your mail and downloads
whatever is on your computer, but the government's Supreme Court has
decided that no one has a case against the government, and no one is
allowed to start a legal case against the goverment, until there is
full proof that the government secretly and illegally reads your
mail and downloads whatever is in your computer - which it
will not admit because these are "state's secrets".
And thus the Supreme Court actively justifies and protects the secret
and illegal plundering of everyone's
computer and cell phone.
4. Welcome, Robot Overlords. Please Don't Fire Us?
next article is
by Kevin Drum on Mother Jones:
This starts as follows:
This is a story about the future. Not the
unhappy future, the one where climate change turns the planet into a
cinder or we all die in a global nuclear war. This is the happy
version. It's the one where computers keep getting smarter and smarter,
and clever engineers keep building better and better robots. By 2040,
computers the size of a softball are as smart as human beings. Smarter,
in fact. Plus they're computers: They never get tired,
they're never ill-tempered, they never make mistakes, and they have
instant access to all of human knowledge.
I don't think so, but I know
(and Kevin Drum knows) this is speculation.
The result is paradise.
There is a whole lot more in the article, but I will quote just two
more bits of it, and explain why I don't agree with Kevin Drum at all -
and while I may be wrong, I certainly know more about computers,
artificial intelligence, psychology and philosophy than he does. And I
am a whole lot more skeptical.
But first there is this quotation:
scientists have been predicting the imminent rise of machine
intelligence since at least 1956, when the Dartmouth Summer Research Project on Artificial
Intelligence gave the field its name, and there are only so many
times you can cry wolf. Today, a full seven decades after the birth of
the computer, all we have are iPhones, Microsoft Word, and in-dash
navigation. You could be excused for thinking that computers that truly
match the human brain are a ridiculous pipe dream.
But they're not.
Well... who says they
are not? Kevin Drum says so, and his argument is mainly
Law, that again is an instance of geometric series: Something
exponentially starts rising quite slowly, but picks up more and more
speed as it
grows, as long as it grows exponentially.
The sort of inference Kevin Drum seems to support goes like this:
Because computer's reckoning speed have been doubling every 18 months
... they will
be as intelligent as human beings in 15 to 25 years.
That is an argument which was full of holes since 1956, and it still
What is human intelligence is unsettled; why we have consciousness
is unsettled, as is the question what it is; how we think
is largely unsettled; how the brain works is only known for a
few percents at most, and that very partially; what is meaning
is unsettled; how we acquire language is largely unsettled, as
is what we in
fact acquire - and
did you ever consider what small animals like spiders can do: weave
webs from threads that are by weight stronger than steel; catch
insects; and live like spiders, all with very tiny heads and few
braincells, but as yet completely unmatched by any
supercomputer I know of?
(I am talking of the full repertoire of what spiders may do, and not of
a few bits, like walking.)
In brief, my argument is this: As long as no supercomputer
comes close to having the powers of a spider, and as long as human
intelligence (and thinking, and consciousness) is mostly a riddle,
which has been the case for the last 45 years
that I've been concerned with psychology and philosophy, any
inference from the number of petaflops a computer can process in a
second to "therefore it is close to human intelligence (or a spiders'
repertoire)" is simply baloney.
And yes, I agree computers are powerful and will be more powerful soon,
and have been processed to do many simple tasks fairly well - but to
argue from the number of petaflops to intelligence is
But yes, I agree Kevin Drum also wrote:
admittedly, pretty speculative. Still, even if it's hard to find
concrete examples of computers doing human work today, it's going to
get easier before long.
And here is a final argument:
I agree human intelligence can program (for I can), but I've never seen
an argument that in any way proved that programs are human
intelligence, or indeed that they think in the same or in a similar
sense as human beings and other animals do.
There is also this: While it is true a supercomputer beat Gary
Kasparov, it also
is true that it did not reason at all like Gary
Kasparov. (And I don't say it may not: I say it did not
- and no one has much of an idea how to make a computer
that thinks like Kasparov, or any other human: there are far
too many as yet
quite unsettled questions.)
5. Growing Doubt: A Scientist's Experience of
The last item of
today is by Jonatham Latham on Truth-out:
This starts as follows (and I
found this a very interesting article):
By training, I am
a plant biologist. In the early 1990s I was busy making genetically
modified plants (often called GMOs for Genetically Modified Organisms)
as part of the research that led to my PhD. Into these plants we were
putting DNA from various foreign organisms, such as viruses and
I was not, at the outset,
concerned about the possible effects of GM plants on human health or
the environment. One reason for this lack of concern was that I was
still a very young scientist, feeling my way in the complex world of
biology and of scientific research. Another reason was that we hardly
imagined that GMOs like ours would be grown or eaten. So far as I was
concerned, all GMOs were for research purposes only.
This gives Jonathan
Latham's background. Then there is this:
Gradually, however, it
became clear that certain companies thought differently. Some of my
older colleagues shared their skepticism with me that commercial
interests were running far ahead of scientific knowledge. I listened
carefully and I didn't disagree. Today, over twenty years later, GMO
crops, especially soybeans, corn, papaya, canola and cotton, are
commercially grown in numerous parts of the world.
Depending on which
country you live in, GMOs may be unlabeled and therefore unknowingly
abundant in your diet. Processed foods (e.g. chips, breakfast cereals,
sodas) are likely to contain ingredients from GMO crops, because they
are often made from corn or soy. Most agricultural crops, however, are
still non-GMO, including rice, wheat, barley, oats, tomatoes, grapes
I now believe, as
a much more experienced scientist, that GMO crops still run far ahead
of our understanding of their risks. In broad outline, the reasons for
this belief are quite simple. I have become much more appreciative of
the complexity of biological organisms and their capacity for benefits
and harms. As a scientist I have become much more humble about the
capacity of science to do more than scratch the surface in its
understanding of the deep complexity and diversity of the natural
world. To paraphrase a cliché, I more and more appreciate that as
scientists we understand less and less.
I completely agree - but then
the norms and beliefs of scientists are not what
drive GMO-companies like Monsanto.
In fact, there are several kinds of arguments that Latham uses to back
up the last quotation. First, there are his concerns about testing:
Some of my
concerns with GMOs are "just" practical ones. I have read numerous GMO
risk assessment applications. These are the documents that governments
rely on to 'prove' their safety. Though these documents are quite long and quite
complex, their length is misleading in that they primarily ask (and
answer) trivial questions. Furthermore, the experiments described
within them are often very inadequate and sloppily executed. Scientific
controls are often missing, procedures and reagents are badly
described, and the results are often ambiguous or uninterpretable. I do
not believe that this ambiguity and apparent incompetence is
accidental. It is common, for example, for multinational corporations,
whose labs have the latest equipment, to use outdated methodologies.
When the results show what the applicants want, nothing is said. But
when the results are inconvenient, and raise red flags, they blame the
limitations of the antiquated method. This bulletproof logic, in which
applicants claim safety no matter what the data shows, or how badly the
experiment was performed, is routine in formal GMO risk assessment.
I completely agree - and I
believe Latham about the "science" that profit-oriented
corporations like Monsanto do, in part because they are
profit-oriented; in part because I have seen science grow more and more
corrupt (when used by profit-
oriented corporations, and also in universities); and in part because
this precisely matches the techniques used by the corporations
make and sell psychiatric drugs (about which I know a lot more than
Second, there are the ends of the corporations that design and
Science is not the
only grounds on which GMOs
should be judged. The commercial purpose of GMOs is not to feed the
world or improve farming. Rather, they exist to gain intellectual
property (i.e. patent rights) over seeds and plant breeding and to
drive agriculture in directions that benefit agribusiness. This drive
is occurring at the expense of farmers, consumers and the natural
world. US farmers, for example, have seen seed costs nearly quadruple and seed choices greatly narrow since
the introduction of GMOs. The fight over GMOs is not of narrow
importance. It affects us all.
Again I quite agree, and also
see the parallel with the pharmaceutical corporations that design and
sell psychiatric drugs: These are not designed and sold to help
the patients (though they are pretended to be, in
advertisements), but to enrich the corporations - which immediately
introduces considerations and norms that are quite different
from scientific norms and from moral norms.
Here is Jonatham Latham's conclusion:
science and technology remains very difficult. Even though many
academics benefit from tenure and a large salary, the sceptical process
in much of science is largely lacking. This is why risk assessment of
GMOs has been short-circuited and public concerns about them are
growing. Until the damaged scientific ethos is rectified, both scientists and the public are correct to
doubt that GMOs should ever have been let out of any lab.
I agree, and the reason I
agree is not that I know much about plants (I don't),
but because I know much about science and morality and about their
steady declines in the last 45 years, and I know a considerable amount
and the many billions made by pharmaceutical corporations, that were as
immoral and unscientific as the corporations that make GMOs are claimed
and that also were in the end driven by the same motive: profits,
which they did realize.
At the costs of real science, real moral norms, and the rights of
And this is a fine article, that I recommend you read all of.