June 29, 2019

Crisis: On Gerrymandering, On Dying Languages, On Physics and Philosophy, On Nuclear War

“Nothing in all the world is more dangerous, than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”
  -- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.



1. Summary
Crisis Files
     A. Selections from June 29, 2019

This is a Nederlog of Saturday, June 29, 2019.

I realize that I did not commemorate the fact that I am writing Crisis files for six years now, since I started to do so after June 10, 2013, which taught me about Snowden.

I am registering it now, and may write about it the coming days, but I am also somewhat worse at present than I was for a long time. (This still continues: I have ME/CFS since 40+ years.)

There will be more about computers and Ubuntu in Nederlog soon, but I am happy to announce that Ubuntu 16.04 LTS, that I installed in 2017, works again as it did before on May 24, and after 24 hours of misery.

And on May 23 I also got a working computer with 18.04 LTS (which is worse than 16.04 LTS because its Firefox also is a menuless horror that I refuse to use, but happily SeaMonkey is not, for it still has it menus and can be installed on 18.04), so I am at present - and after two weeks of struggling - in the possession of two more or less, though not yet quite decently working computers.

So today there is a more or less common Nederlog, where "common" is the style I developed in 2013.

1. Summary

This is a crisis log but it is a bit different from how it was until 2013:

I have been writing about the crisis since September 1, 2008 (in Dutch, but since 2010 in English) and about the enormous dangers of surveillance (by secret services and by many rich commercial entities) since June 10, 2013, and I will continue with it.

On the moment and since more than three years (!!!!) I have problems with the company that is supposed to take care that my site is visible [1] and with my health, but I am still writing a Nederlog every day and I shall continue.

2. Crisis Files

These are four crisis files that are mostly well worth reading:

A. Selections from June 29, 2019:
1. Supreme Court Hands GOP Big Victory on Gerrymandering
2. The Mass Extinction No One Is Talking About
3. On physics and philosophy of science
4. Nuclear IQ, Presidential Debates, and Our Future
The items 1 - 4 are today's selections from the 35 sites that I look at every morning. The indented text under each link is quoted from the link that starts the item. Unindented text is by me:

1. Supreme Court Hands GOP Big Victory on Gerrymandering

This article is by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! It starts with the following introduction:

The Supreme Court hands down two major decisions. The first is a victory for Republicans, allowing extreme partisan gerrymandering to continue. The other temporarily blocks the Trump administration from adding a citizenship question on the 2020 census. We get response from Ari Berman, senior writer at Mother Jones, a reporting fellow at the Type Media Center and author of “Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America.” He says the ruling that federal courts can’t resolve claims of partisan gerrymandering is “almost guaranteed to facilitate massive election rigging in the future.”

In fact, I generally copy the introductions of the interviews I review on Democracy Now!, simply because I think they are good. Also, while I have followed Mother Jones for more than 10 years, I stopped following it (completely) after it changed its format so that it cannot be copied anymore, and at the same time provided extra-glossy pictures of the leaders of Mother Jones and also improved and shadowed pictures of their signatures, both of which strike me as thoroughly sick, for a supposed leftist magazine.

Anyway. Here is some more:

AMY GOODMAN: In a devastating blow to voting rights, the Supreme Court ruled Thursday federal courts cannot strike down extreme gerrymandered congressional maps. In a narrow 5-to-4 opinion by the court’s conservative majority, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that gerrymandering is irreconcilable with democratic principles, but that this does not mean the solutions are within the federal judiciary.
This comes as the Supreme Court temporarily blocked the Trump administration from adding a citizenship status question on the 2020 census, arguing the government had lied when it said the question was added to enforce the Voting Rights Act. But the court did not strike the question down, either.

Yes, I agree with Goodman that this does not sound good. Here is some more:

ARI BERMAN: It was actually a surprising opinion, Amy, because a lot of people expected the conservative majority on the court to uphold the citizenship question, despite all the evidence showing this was discriminatory and unnecessary and would suppress immigrant communities. But, basically, what John Roberts said, writing for the majority, was that the Trump administration could add a question about citizenship to the census, but they had to have a good reason to do so. And their reason, that this was needed to enforce the Voting Rights Act, in Roberts’ words, quote “seems to be contrived.”

And this seems a somewhat sensible decision. Here is some more:

AMY GOODMAN: Now let’s turn to the other decision. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts said the drafters of the Constitution realized that politics would influence how election districts are drawn when they gave that job to state legislatures. He said judges are not in the position to question lawmakers’ decisions. Roberts wrote, quote, “We conclude that partisan gerrymandering claims present political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts.” What does this mean, Ari?

ARI BERMAN: This decision by John Roberts in the gerrymandering case is almost guaranteed to facilitate massive election rigging in the future, because what John Roberts is saying is that no matter how extreme the maps, courts not only can’t strike them down, they can’t even review them, Amy. That is such a radical position. And we’ve seen such extreme gerrymandering passed in 2010 in places like Wisconsin, where Republicans have gotten 46% of the votes but 64% of seats. That’s so deeply undemocratic. And now we’re entering a new redistricting cycle in 2021. And when the Supreme Court basically says, “You guys can do whatever you want,” that means the maps passed in 2021, in the next redistricting cycle, could be even more extreme than the rigged maps we saw after 2010.

Yes, I agree with Berman. Also, it seems to me rather strange that courts do not have anything to say about obvious gerrymandering. And this is a recommended article.

2. The Mass Extinction No One Is Talking About

This article is by Robert Scheer on Truthdig. It starts as follows:

“Every two weeks, the world loses a language. Out of approximately 7,000 languages spoken on earth today, at least half will have fallen silent by the end of this century,” artist Lena Herzog told an audience at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in the spring of 2018. In a world in which English increasingly dominates global conversations and cultures, every part of Herzog’s statement will seem staggering: the vast diversity, the rapid loss, the impending extinction. Perhaps more surprising, however, are the reasons this mass linguistic disappearance is taking place. As Herzog explained in her speech, which she reads aloud in the latest installment of “Scheer Intelligence,” this extinction is no accident. Rather, it is the outcome of a human history in which concentrated hegemonic powers required the erasure of any form of communication that precluded their understanding and, crucially, their control.

I say, which I do because I disagree with the last bit of the above paragraph, namely this bit: The disappearance of languages "is the outcome of a human history in which concentrated hegemonic powers required the erasure of any form of communication that precluded their understanding and, crucially, their control", for that seems mostly nonsense to me. Incidentally, I know 7 languages fairly well (which is nothing special in my eyes).

Here is some more:

“Humanity is losing the knowledge, the variety of worldviews, and the cosmologies that indigenous communities have for centuries encoded in these languages and cultures. Let there be no doubt: This is a mass extinction,” Herzog says.

In conversation with Truthdig Editor in Chief Robert Scheer, Herzog emphasizes how the “variousness of our human mind” is one of the reasons for optimism about our species, yet the eradication of languages by dominant powers imposes monolithic conformity on us all, pushing us to speak 30 dominant languages, and, primarily, English. The dangers of this erasure, Scheer and Herzog agree, are immense. We don’t have to go far to see the results of this, as Scheer explains.

Well... I disagree with both paragraphs, but especially with the first, and my point is that "the variety of worldviews, and the cosmologies" is far less a matter of language than it is of culture, as anybody should realize who doesn't know a word of Chinese or Turkish or Hungarian (all true in my case) and gets a dictionary and a grammar for these languages:
Learning the languages is one thing; learning the world views or cosmologies expressed in them requires a lot more.

There also is another point, that is not mentioned at all in this article: All human languages are supposed to be intertranslatable, which probably is correct, at least for the far greatest part.

And there is a third point, that is also not mentioned at all in this article: Different languages also split up humankind in quite a few (thousands) of languages, of which no one understands all, or the majority, which means that the only way of understanding people with a language one does not understand (the vast majority in any case) is to get a translation.

Here is some more:

Robert Scheer: (..) There are 7,000 different languages still existent in the world. They disappear at the rate of–what was the rate? I’ll ask you, how many every two weeks?

Lena Herzog: Every two weeks, a language dies.

I did not know there are 7,000 languages, nor that every two weeks one is disappearing. Incidentally, to the best of my knowledge languages die because their speakers die, but that does not necessarily mean that the language is quite dead, and namely not if there are dictionaries and grammars for them (as for e.g. Latin). Then again, it is my guess that many languages which die because their speakers died also do not have a dictionary and a grammar.

Here is some more:

Lena Herzog: When I began working on my recent project Last Whispers, which is dedicated to dying languages, I was stunned by the sheer scale of this phenomenon, by the sheer scale of this extinction. Every two weeks, the world loses a language. Out of approximately 7,000 spoken languages on earth today, at least half will have fallen silent by the end of this century. Some predict a far more radical future—or, rather, lack thereof—for the world’s linguistic diversity. Many of these languages, having never been recorded, are vanishing without a trace. Humanity is losing the knowledge, the variety of worldviews, and the cosmologies that indigenous communities have for centuries encoded in these languages and cultures. Let there be no doubt: this is a mass extinction. By definition, it occurs in silence, since silence is the very form of this extinction.

Well... 80 years * 25 languages = 2000 languages (or 2160, if you say 26 languages) and that is not "at least half" of 7000, but OK. Also, I am probably a bit more skeptical about "the variety of worldviews, and the cosmologies" that a tribe of South-American indians may have, for example, but I say OK again.

Here is the last bit that I quote from this article:

Lena Herzog: The sophistication in messaging in this country is unparalleled by any authoritarian or totalitarian state, because they never needed it: they have always had force. The history of mind manipulation begins with the very myths of the nation’s founding; it’s continued through the theory and instant application of various technologies made to hollow out meaning from words and facts from information. Edward Bernays, Walter Lippmann, Frank Luntz, to name just a few, various think tanks, culture wars, media wars, all bankrolled by the people who own the world’s wealth, have created a massive, highly controlled network of perceptions and trigger points in all of us individually and en masse—and for as long as power has existed. They do not do it through any carefully choreographed conspiracy of secret societies, but through a fairly open and crude conspiracy of greed, the overarching indifference to anything other than that which is to their own benefit—the oldest and most effective conspiracy of them all.

No, I am sorry: This is both confused and partial, and also sounds too much like postmodernism to me - and besides, while I strongly dislike Edward Bernays and advertising and propaganda, there is more in (American) English than just advertising and propaganda, and besides, if the advertising and propaganda won "a fairly open and crude conspiracy of greed", this is mostly due to the lack of intelligence and civilization in large parts of the users of (American) English.

There is a considerable larger amount of text in the article, but I do not recommend it because it seems to me to be too political and postmodernistic.

3. On physics and philosophy of science

This article is by Massimo Pigliucci on AlterNet and originally on Aeon. It has a crazy long title which I abbreviated. It starts as follows:

The American physicist Richard Feynman is often quoted as saying: ‘You can recognise truth by its beauty and simplicity.’ The phrase appears in the work of the American science writer K C Cole – in her Sympathetic Vibrations: Reflections on Physics as a Way of Life (1985) – although I could not find other records of Feynman writing or saying it. We do know, however, that Feynman had great respect for the English physicist Paul Dirac, who believed that theories in physics should be both simple and beautiful.

Feynman was unquestionably one of the outstanding physicists of the 20th century. To his contributions to the Manhattan Project and the solution of the mystery surrounding the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1986, add a Nobel Prize in 1965 shared with Julian Schwinger and Shin’ichirō Tomonaga ‘for their fundamental work in quantum electrodynamics, with deep-ploughing consequences for the physics of elementary particles’. And he played the bongos too!

In the area of philosophy of science, though, like many physicists of his and the subsequent generation (and unlike those belonging to the previous one, including Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr), Feynman didn’t really shine – to put it mildly. He might have said that philosophy of science is as helpful to science as ornithology is to birds (a lot of quotations attributed to him are next to impossible to source).

I like and admire Feynman and am a philosopher, and indeed mostly a philosopher of science, but I agree with Feynman: Apart from the relatively few persons who studied mathematics, physics and philosophy (all three in a serious fashion), most philosophers, and indeed most philosophers of science seem not capable in - especially - physics, as indeed many physicists have been saying for something like a hundred years or more.

In fact, the same holds for me: I only started with a serious interest in logic and mathematics in my late teens, and in spite of considerable trouble, while I also did read Feynman's Lectures on Physics, I do not know enough physics + mathematics to do real and serious physics (while I have at least a minor talent for mathematics and a high IQ).

Pagliucci does not seem to agree with me:

The problem is that it’s difficult to defend the notion that the truth is recognisable by its beauty and simplicity, and it’s an idea that has contributed to getting fundamental physics into its current mess; for more on the latter topic, check out The Trouble with Physics (2006) by Lee Smolin, or Farewell to Reality (2013) by Jim Baggott, or subscribe to Peter Woit’s blog. To be clear, when discussing the simplicity and beauty of theories, we are not talking about Ockham’s razor (about which my colleague Elliott Sober has written for Aeon). Ockham’s razor is a prudent heuristic, providing us with an intuitive guide to the comparisons of different hypotheses. Other things being equal, we should prefer simpler ones.

I like Smolin and Woit (and indeed look daily on Woit's blog), but the main point is that "the notion that the truth is recognisable by its beauty and simplicity" is a mistake, and indeed one that Pagliucci briefly mentions, namely a confusion of epistemology and ontology, for it confuses truth (ontology) with the epistemological fact (how do we know) that the human mind simply is not capable of thinking about many kinds of complexities in any detail, and is forced to deal with these problems by trying to hit on great simplifications that work.

This does not say much or anything about what really is true, but it says a lot about human capacities.

Here is some more:

But as the German theoretical physicist Sabine Hossenfelder has pointed out (also in Aeon), there is absolutely no reason to think that simplicity and beauty are reliable guides to physical reality. She is right for a number of reasons.

Well... I agree with Hossenfelder on ontology, but I think she has to admit that human minds are incapable of understanding very much of enormously complex processes and interactions, and can get some understanding of what is going on only by trying to find useful simplifications.

Here is Pagliucci's conclusion:

The moral of the story is that physicists should leave philosophy of science to the pros, and stick to what they know best. Better yet: this is an area where fruitful interdisciplinary dialogue is not just a possibility, but arguably a necessity.

I disagree. First, it seems simply a fact that most physicists do physics and little or no philosophy of science. And second, as I have been saying, and as quite a few physicists have been saying, most philosophers of science are simply not capable of doing physics on a high level.

4. Nuclear IQ, Presidential Debates, and Our Future

This article is by Robert Dodge on Common Dreams. It starts as follows:

The formal debates for the 2020 Democratic nomination for President have begun this week. While there are many substantive topics that need to be covered, there are two existential threats that demand to be addressed. The threat of climate change has been discussed nominally though hardly with the urgency that it requires to stop our steady drift to ever greater catastrophic climate events. The other threat is that of nuclear war which increases as environmental degradation, resource depletion and its associated conflict follows. Yet the threat of nuclear weapons and the concept of nuclear deterrence has not and is not likely to be discussed. Despite growing scientific evidence of the increasing vulnerability and threat posed by these weapons, we seem incapable of having a national dialogue on why they should even exist. Ultimately, they threaten every single thing we care about every moment of every day.

Yes, I totally agree. Here is some more:

Our nation and the world need a virtual IQ test to understand the risk we face from these weapons. Each of us and every presidential candidate should be required to take this test and respond to these questions so we can have a greater understanding of the devastating risks we face.

Such an IQ assessment might go as follows:

1. Do you support the concept of “usable“ nuclear weapons for a “limited“ nuclear war? Yes = 0 pt, No = 1 pt

2. In the case of armed conflict, do you subscribe to the concept that “all options are on the table” including the use of nuclear weapons? Yes = 1 pt, No = 0 pt

3.  Do you support the U.S. plan for a 30 year $1.7 trillion new nuclear arms race? Yes = 0 pt, No = 1 pt

4.  Do you feel there is a safe or acceptable level of radiation exposure? Yes = 0 pt, No = 1 pt

5.  Most candidates now see and discuss the urgency and seriousness of climate change. Do you plan to confront the existential threat posed to humanity by nuclear weapons with the same level of seriousness and urgency? Yes = 1 pt, No = 0 pt

6.  Are you familiar with the concept of nuclear famine where possibly 1/4 of the world’s population would be at risk of starvation and death following a small limited regional nuclear war using less than 1/2% of the global nuclear arsenals? Yes = 1 pt, No = 0 pt

If yours or any presidential candidates’ Nuclear IQ is less than 6, the risk of nuclear war increases.

Actually, I think Question 2 gives the wrong answer - and if not, I personally do not get beyond 5 points.

Anyway. Here is the ending of the article:

The risk of nuclear war remains with us as long as these weapons exist. The only way to eliminate this risk is by the complete abolition of these weapons. The non-nuclear nations of the world, refusing to be held hostage by the nuclear states, are moving forward in the process of making these weapons illegal by international law and norms in the same way every other weapon of mass destruction has been dealt with before.

Ultimately, nuclear weapons are not a political issue but rather a survival issue. The understanding of this fact by our next president may very well determine our future.
Yes, I agree and this is a recommended article.


[1] I have now been saying since the end of 2015 that is systematically ruining my site by NOT updating it within a few seconds, as it did between 1996 and 2015, but by updating it between two to seven days later, that is, if I am lucky.

They have claimed that my site was wrongly named in html: A lie. They have claimed that my operating system was out of date: A lie.

And they just don't care for my site, my interests, my values or my ideas. They have behaved now for 3 years as if they are the eagerly willing instruments of the US's secret services, which I will from now on suppose they are (for truth is dead in Holland).

The only two reasons I remain with xs4all is that my site has been there since 1996, and I have no reasons whatsoever to suppose that any other Dutch provider is any better (!!).
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