Monday, April 22, 2019

How 2 Feed A Planet

While the number of humans known to exist in the universe doesn't seem likely to increase by more than 10% over the next decade (if even that much), it is already well past apparent that we humans need to develop the means to increase our food supply by as much as a doubling of the total quantity of food we can presently draw upon. Preferably without further damaging our only home in the process. What follows are two possible means to achieving this goal.

Water covers about 2/3 of the Earth's surface, and the sea has been a source of human sustenance for as long as we have records of human civilization (and almost certainly longer than that). But not an inexhaustible source. After at least two decades of watching their salmon catch quality and total numbers dwindle, the Haida First Nations tribe in the British Colombia region of Canada funded an effort to "seed" the areas of the northern Pacific in which the salmon fishery they depended upon for their survival grew into adulthood. This E&E News article published Wednesday, November 12, 2014, seems evenhanded enough in its reporting on the events:

"For the past 100 years, the Haida First Nations tribe in Canada has watched the salmon runs that provided its main food source decline. Both the quantity and quality of its members' catch in the group of islands they call home, off the coast of British Columbia, continued to drop.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, they became determined to do something about it. They built a hatchery, fixed watersheds damaged by past logging practices and sent more fish into the ocean for their multiyear migrations.
But the larger influx of fish that went out didn't return, and the search for better solutions for the small village of Old Massett on the north end of Graham Island in British Columbia eventually led the Haida down a path that culminated in the largest ocean fertilization project of its kind ever attempted.
In the summer of 2012, the Haida Salmon Restoration Council (HSRC) joined forces with a California businessman, Russ George, and dribbled 100 tons of iron sulfate into Canadian and international waters in the Pacific Ocean off the back of a ship.


But for the past two years, salmon have flowed into rivers along parts of the Pacific Northwest in sometimes record numbers, and questions remain unanswered about the possible success, failure or effects of the experiment.
"I can't stand up and give you a rock-solid statement that says A equals B," said Jason McNamee about whether the experiment had something to do with the massive sockeye and pink salmon runs for the past two years. McNamee is a former director and operations officer of HSRC and still sometimes acts as spokesman for the corporation. But, he said, "the iron sulfide bloom is a likely factor contributing to those runs."
End quote.
It seems inescapably obvious to me that what we need is an actual controlled experiment to address the question of whether or not fish populations in our oceans can be sustainably increased by increasing the amount of the food supply available to them during their immature stage of development.
What I am proposing here specifically is that the fifty year average of fish population(s) along the US Atlantic seaboard be calculated (annual fish population survey numbers from the US Fisheries, by species, be totaled, and that number divided by 50, resulting in the "average" fish population for the period 1960 through 2010) along with the recorded catch numbers for the same period (and the same method for averaging be applied). The specific question to be addressed by this experiment is: 
Is it possible to elevate the average number of fish in any given species by a factor of two or more over a predetermined period (5 years?) such that the average number of caught fish, by species, can sustainably be as much as doubled thereafter?
The only issue this experiment is concerned with is testing a specific method for increasing the fish populations humans rely on in part to feed us all. I submit that one yacht of a specific design could be outfitted and operated in the Caribbean and along the Atlantic seaboard for the duration of the experiment for as little as $20 million. This seems a reasonable enough expense, given the potential returns such an answer might provide.
There is another string to this particular bow.
This CNET article from 2012 gives a decent introductory look at the state of the molecular assembly of proteins and amino acids science of 7 years ago. I have no idea what Mr. Thiel thinks today, but it seems apparent that the technology isn't quite ready for market as of yet (recent stories about 3d printed human hearts notwithstanding). 
What do humans need to build a commercial farm to grow and package for transport the necessary proteins and amino acids required to assemble such molecular constructs?  Being able to assemble such food products on-site will prove a useful capability in future disaster response efforts at the very least, but the commercial application I see as most applicable to existing market processes available on our planet today is to grow the individual components, possibly only one of the components per farm, package the harvest, and have it delivered to a specialized manufacturing factory for further distribution to retail food stores after assembly into analogs of the various forms "meat" is currently marketed in, followed - or quite possibly preceded - by other non-meat foods.
Here I suggest America's military veteran community be called upon once again to provide the human power necessary to populate a variety of prototype farms to begin the development process of such a zero-to-one effort. Since this type of food production has never been attempted in known human history, the lack of specific skill sets our existing veterans possess is immaterial. What we do have is a well-developed ability to confront the unknown, and only then figure out how to live through the process while we gain some understanding of what "success" looks like in this particular given circumstance.
At this point in this narrative, I should confess that this isn't exactly an original idea on my part; Robert A. Heinlein examined many of the developmental issues involved in this proposal in his 1950 novel Farmer In The Sky (which 12 year old me avidly read some 15 years later). This specific proposal is necessarily Earth-bound, but it too involves artificial habitats within which crops are grown; habitats composed of partially underground green houses similar in concept to this example (sorry about the auto-start; it's YouTube, what're ya gonna do?). While a more substantial structure would no doubt be desirable for a permanent operation, the basic features such a structure would contain are all featured in the linked video, and an experimental development effort could make do with virtually identical structures (if only for the potential ease and reduced expense required for modification of the process).
The crop I visualize would consist of essentially algae being grown in aquarium tanks. Very particular strain(s) of algae, in very large aquarium tanks. Tanks that have rigorously controllable lighting and other inputs to regulate the growth process, and a means of removing the algae from the growth tank into a shipment container that keeps the algae uncontaminated during the transfer. I'm thinking nitrogen gas will play an important part in this "uncontaminated transfer" process for instance.
While it will undoubtedly be necessary for on-site operators in the early development stages (and quite possibly well beyond), one of the important secondary developments of this effort should be that of remote operation of such farms. It won't happen soon, but having a multitude of "food component" farms operated largely by people who live in cities close and far away, and food assembly factories staffed similarly, should be understood as also being a stated objective of this proposal. The whole idea of "robots are taking away our jobs" is both silly and the diametric opposite of the coming reality. Robots will not be autonomous, they will need human operators to approve and initiate actions taken, particularly in remote settings like those being described here. Robotic devices can be semi-autonomous in rigorously controlled environments like warehouses or assembly lines, but even there the limits imposed by programming functionality demonstrate just how little decision-making capability can be programmed into a device (for an extremely well-informed opinion on the topic of programming robot autonomy and the intrinsic limitations of programming generally, one can usefully begin here). A potential use for the US Department of Education in future might be to organize and coordinate funding and human on-site staffing of local farms and assembly plants of this nature, along with the equipment to teach school children (not to mention old vets like me) how to operate and maintain the technology necessary to operate farms and factories remotely. We're not always going to be dirt-bound farmers and factory workers (he says hopefully).
We must be able to feed ourselves in whatever environment we place ourselves. Reducing the strain our species imposes upon our only currently available planet seems a useful way of developing the means for us to do so on (or off) any planet at all. My intent with this document is to stimulate conversation regarding how we might successfully achieve that level of capability within my lifetime. I'm 65, but no pressure.

Update 4/23/19: Chris Byrne has helpfully pointed out that food production isn't really inadequate to existing and projected human population requirements. Rather, that our nutritional failures are more the result of distribution inadequacies, which makes my current framing of the network of issues involved in this also necessarily inadequate.

So, to better frame the intent of what I propose, the fish population experiment has the dual purposes of developing reliable data upon which to base decisions regarding how fish populations might be supported both locally/regionally and planet-wide. Secondarily, by developing the techniques to do so in a controllable way, we effectively achieve the means to manage what can be regarded as a self-distributing resource.

The farming idea provides a product that is easily transportable and storeable within the constraints of existing distribution, warehousing, and manufacturing infrastructure as part of its harvesting process. No new technology needs to be developed to accommodate this additional source of nutrition becoming part of the existing matrix of options humanity already has to satisfy its nutritional requirements. What this addition adds to what has to be acknowledged as our already adequate food supply is the added versatility it brings to human society being able to respond to disruptions of societal infrastructure from catastrophic events, along with the ability to easily and economically incorporate remote operations technology into our existing societal infrastructure.

The US military, for only one example, has made no secret in recent years of its inability to recruit a sufficient number of personnel capable of operating weapon (and other) systems remotely. By creating an industry that incorporates teaching people the technology used in remote operations systems and devices, this and other more general applications can more economically be incorporated into our ever evolving societal structures, on and - in not too many more years - off our planet. For only one near-term new employment option for people literally around the world, orbital manufacturing and mining operations can be much more economically performed by people on the surface of the Earth, rather than physically in orbit themselves. Taking the requirements necessary to compensate for transmission time lag, this can easily be expanded to include lunar operations as well. Potentially millions of jobs that don't exist partially because potential investors have no reason to think workers can be economically trained. Hundreds of people can be trained as a by-product of the farming technology I suggest here. They in turn can provide the nucleus of the work force needed to meet the anticipated needs of the gradually expanding requirement for remote equipment operators in orbital facilities developed to refine the resources literally being delivered to Earth through the natural processes of our Solar System (ever given any thought to what the annual meteor showers imply as a delivery mechanism for mineable material in Earth orbit?).

I hope this added framing of my proposal proves useful in developing further refinements and improvements to the basic concepts presented here.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

You Take Your Humo(u)r Where You Find It

The following "joke" blatantly lifted from a recent super chat livestream attached to Sargon of Akkad's (Carl Benjamin, candidate for MEP for SW Briton) YouTube page:

Question: What's the difference between a cabbage and a chickpea?

Answer: I've never paid to have a cabbage on my chest.

You're welcome.

Friday, April 19, 2019

What Do You Mean By "Fight"?

I've recently had occasion to think about two apparent dichotomies; words mean things, and word usage changes over place and time. Word definitions don't really change in the usual meaning of the word change. They tend to acquire added meanings that can supplant the historical meaning, but the earlier definition remains a valid usage depending on the context within which it is used. English english and American english being probably the most obvious example of usage change over place and time I can think of off hand.

The inspiration for the above came from my thinking about the word "fight", both in the limited martial arts context and in the more general strategy application. Specifically, is it better to "fight to win", or is it better to "fight not to lose"?

Fighting not to lose is the only consideration that gives the concept of "Just War" any practical meaning at all. Note that I said meaning, not justification. You can justify literally any conduct or action by simply declaring, "Deus vult!" (or the equivalent in your alternative language of choice), or you can circle around the question(s) endless epistemological expositions instead, but understanding meaning, definitionally and contextually, is what is required to actually make an informed decision - in this case, whether and how to fight.

Fighting to win requires one to accept from the moment of deciding to engage in active conflict that there are neither restrictions nor constraints imposed upon the choices you make during the coming combat, so long as the end result is your indisputable defeat of your opponent. Indeed, allowing any consideration or circumstance to interfere in achieving that outcome must be regarded as an act of treason in any fight to win conflict. Why so many people seem so willing to forget the same applies equally to all involved in such a fight mystifies me.

Fighting not to lose, on the other hand, is the underlying factor inherent to the very concept of civilization. A "no holds barred" fight is one without rules (even a knife fight, Butch :)) and therefore an unreliably predictable outcome, whether between two outlaws having nothing but the clothes they stand in or two civilizations possessed of grandeur and glory. Laws of War, Code Duello, Lines In The Sand, Street Justice, all are mechanisms to impose fighting not to lose on all combatants, such that all may have some reason to think they have an understanding of what (more importantly, how much) they risk by fighting (or not).

These are the meanings of the words we use to decide the acceptable-to-us answers to the classic 6 questions (who, what, when, where, why, how) as they apply to our routine and extraordinary competitions with one another. Our shared civilization is built upon our mutual expectation that we will all cooperate with the constraints imposed by fighting not to lose, witness our outrage and condemnation when one combatant fails to do so (or only plausibly can be made to appear to so fail). Deliberate obfuscation of the previously agreed to meanings of these words may well be the single greatest act of betrayal of trust any human can inflict upon another.

Thoughts? Disputations? I have been known to be full of shit before this; based on my track record to date, that's not that risky a proposition bet to be honest. Nevertheless, this is my ante ... fight to win is the choice of a fool, fight not to lose is the only way to position yourself to outlast your attackers.

It's also the only way to keep your world civilized while you're winning (or not) and most especially after. Update: I don't know why the long paragraph breaks; I cut-and-paste from my FB page where I first composed this. It be what it be ...

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Is Viacom Trying To Start A War Between The United States And Australia?

On Friday, 12 April 2019 (which would be yesterday as I write this), a jewish Australian named Avi Yemini along with his travelling companion Sydney Watson (who is a dual citizen of both Australia through her father's citizenship and the United States through her mother's) were reportedly detained upon their arrival at Los Angeles International Airport by Customs and Border Protection personnel and subsequently interrogated by FBI agents (apparently without benefit of legal counsel being present - frankly, I am unclear whether, or to what degree, the legal guarantees enshrined in the 1st and 5th Amendments to the US Constitution apply to non-US citizens like Mr Yemini, but I'm quite certain they fully apply to American citizens like Ms. Watson, despite their apparently being fully denied her). See here for the details available as of yet.

As can be seen in the story linked to above, Mr. Yemini asserts that "@comedycentral" is the responsible party for this event occurring. Thus the title of this post, since Viacom is the ultimate owner of (and legally responsible party for) the channel Comedy Central and the program Australian Jim Jefferies hosts on that channel. From this it can be seen that these three parties would seem to be the most likely suspects in the apparent conspiracy to defame and falsely incriminate both Mr. Yemini and Ms. Watson.

Full disclosure; I contributed US$20 to help defray the costs of Ms. Watson's current trip home to the US and can be utterly shameless in my efforts to get full value for my money. Ms. Watson has in recent months stated that on her trip to the US (some months ago, I admit) that she intended to "catch a husband". On a not-entirely unrelated note, I can honestly observe that I happen to be between relationships myself at the moment. Sadly, honesty also compels me to note that I am now 65, so I'm reasonably confident we all can see how serious this is. Or n't.

Moving right along.

In addition to the serious legal issues involved in defamation of character (which in this instance has to be presumed to include the seemingly unjust burden on fellow American Sidney Watson's future domestic or international travels by the addition of her name on TSA and other security watch lists for - also presumably - the rest of her life), are those attached to making false claims in reporting to US law enforcement agencies, something that Comedy Central is explicitly accused of doing by Mr. Yemini. From the available reporting, it appears that Comedy Central may have made a false report to US law enforcement to the effect that Mr. Yemini and Ms. Watson threatened "violence" toward Comedy Central and/or Jim Jefferies during their most recent attempt to visit the US. I, at least, can find no examples of their doing so online. Their stated intention of discussing Mr. Jefferies' alleged fraudulent misrepresentation of Mr. Yemini on an episode of his Comedy Central program last year with the respective hosts of the Louder With Crowder and the Dave Rubin interview programs may indeed have ultimately proven financially threatening to Viacom interests, but that hardly rises to the level of seriousness commonly attributed to the word "violence", seemingly making Comedy Central and Jim Jefferies guilty of filing a false report with law enforcement (I believe the Big Boy word for that is "perjury"), not to mention the heinous crime of "lying to the FBI" a matter we Americans can be forever grateful to Special Counsel Mueller for making us all too tediously familiar with.

There appears to be more than sufficient justification for a civil suit to be filed by Mr. Yemini and Ms. Watson against the apparent conspirators Viacom, Comedy Central, and Jim Jefferies (aka: Geoff James Nugent according to this Quora question response) here in the United States; it is unclear to me whether, or to what extent, Australian law applies in this instance. At the very least, I would suggest that the Australian ambassador to the United States ought to enquire (I believe Aussies do use the British spelling) of the White House whether or not the actions of US law enforcement have official backing during this apparent replay of the historically infamous Zimmerman telegram incident (you know, the fraudulent conspiracy that was used by the then-British government to involve the United States in the war they were losing at the time? Yeah, THAT Zimmerman telegram). I rather suspect The Hon. Joseph Hockey would prefer his nation not be tarred with that particular brush, now or ever. 

As to the possibly criminal behavior under US jurisdiction revealed during the unfolding of this budding international incident, the recent revelations by Attorney General Barr regarding criminal activities committed by US government employees (elected and appointed) in recent years involving numerous US allies, make a vigorous and transparent investigation of all involved in this matter seemingly rise to the level of legitimate national security concern, I would suggest (looking at you President Trump).

If it is true that Viacom thinks besmirching the public reputations of troublesome little people makes for good corporate policy, while Comedy Central management and comedian Jim Jefferies apparently agree that conspiring to defraud and defame people is "just business", I become concerned when their arrogance rises to the level of international casus belli. 

On a - hopefully - more realistic note, there appears to be enough serious allegation to justify a criminal investigation here in the US of all involved in this matter; the civil aspects remain for Mr. Yemini and Ms. Watson to take up with their respective legal counsel.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Congratulations to me, I suppose

Contrary to my own expectations, I've somehow managed to survive into official "old age"; yes, I'm 65 years old today.

Still waiting on my Medicare card to show up, of course. Fortunately I've been getting my health care from the VA for a year now, so I'm well familiar with how government health care "functions". It's only to be expected, I suppose. It'll get sorted out soon enough.

It's not all that much of an accomplishment really, just a matter of staying mobile and keeping breathing on your own. Still, there's plenty who don't manage it for all that. I'll just keep on as I have done and see what new experience today brings.

It'll almost certainly be an improvement on the alternative.


Also, I don't think I've ever made an issue of this blog's age, so this seems an appropriate time for that too; a link to my first - and to be expected inappropriate - blog post from August, 2007:

Saturday, October 13, 2018

A Good Day

So, a couple days ago the John Sanford novel "Holy Ghost (A Virgil Flowers Novel)" came available on Amazon, which means my copy arrived yesterday. I started reading it about 3 pm and finished around 11 pm (there was a trip to the Walmart and dinner to cook in there too). Virgil finds himself assigned to look into a shooting in a small town that might - or might not - be related to a recent religious "miracle". Events cascade one onto another, with seeming solutions to the case(s) dying faster than the victims.

What a wonderful way to end the long dry spell of pleasure reading this summer has been.

Do recommend.

And, there will be a new Lucas Davenport novel ("Neon Prey") releasing next April 23 to look forward to over the winter.

I think I can set things up so I can re-read all of the Prey novels in succession - maybe starting next March - so that I finish the most recent book ("Twisted Prey") the day before the new one arrives. There are 28 novels in the series so far; managing to keep myself to a rate of only 4 books a week should fill the bill nicely.

John Ringo's next Black Tide Rising novel "The Valley of Shadows" is scheduled for release on Nov 6, with S. M. Stirling's (reportedly) last book in the Change series "The Sky Blue Wolves" coming on Nov 13 ought to take care of the reading Jones for that month.

WEB Griffin's latest in the Clandestine Operations series "The Enemy Of My Enemy" comes out Dec 11, and David Weber's next Safehold novel "Through Fiery Trials" arrives Jan 8, followed by book 2 in Larry Correia's Saga Of The Forgotten Warrior series "House Of Assassins" on Feb 5.

Mar 5 brings us to book 2 in the John Ringo/Gary Poole Black Tide Rising anthology "Voices of the Fall", with May 7 bringing us S. M. Stirling's second title "Theater of Spies" in his new Alternate World War series.

These next 7 months or so offer so much to look forward to.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

On Friendship

A couple of long-simmering thoughts on the topic of Friendship and relationships more generally have come to the forefront of what passes for my brain recently, so I thought I'd share.

Firstly, much as in the novel Fight Club, there are rules to Friendship in real life. The First Rule of Friendship being: "Never Lie". Not too surprisingly to anyone who has been party to pretty much any relationship with another human being, there is the Occasional Corollary to the First Rule which reads: "SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP!", which itself has the subsequent Supporting Directive of: "Immediately Change The Subject as compellingly as you can".

Lemme 'splain this last one.

Say your Significant Other asks you: "Does this make me look fat?" (regardless of what "this" is).

Your immediate rejoinder should be something along the lines of: "You and I both know how much thought and effort you put into your diet and fitness, and how much your fashion choices and physical appearance always reflect that. Anyway, you have the ability to make anything look good."

You see how this works? The subsequent fight will be over willingness to accept responsibility (which will be your fault too) rather than your poor (not to mention cruel) judgement. These distinctions matter farther into the future than you may believe (yet).

Unlike the (purely hypothetical, he says) example above, there are those unfortunate situations in real life, when you feel compelled as a friend to abide by Rule 1 even though you know full well that all would be so much more placid in your life if you went with the Occasional Corollary option instead. Should you find yourself in such a circumstance, bide your time until the Placatory Offering tactic becomes acceptable by both (all? who knows these days?) involved (never forgetting the non-involved who have waaay too much to say about not-their-business) parties, then present your best considered offering (and, yes, there's a strategy for getting through this process too :)).

Secondly, the issue of Intra-Species Relationship Courtesies and Considerations has brought itself to my attention - again. Particularly as these involve both genders of the species (look, this issue is complicated enough without trying to slice this particular biological pie any more finely than it comes out of the slot in the usual fashion - don't deliberately make this any harder to live through!).

With no offense intended to Mr. Bill Maher;

New Rule: Anyones personal cell phone, hand bag or wallet is theirs alone, and no one else has any reason for gettin' inside anyone elses!

Now, I understand that the cops claim an exception to this, which basically works out for the rest of us as: "even if you should somehow win this particular segment of the argument, you're still going to lose the rest of the fight, so surrendering as gracefully as you can is usually your best option". Other than the cops though, if it ain't yours, stay out of it!

Look, if my wife/girlfriend/Mother asks me to get her something out of her purse, what's going to happen is I'm going to hand her the entire bag. I don't know what's in there. I don't even want to know what's in there. Should I ever have to ask anyone to hand me my wallet (? it goes in my pocket well before the gun does), I don't think I am at all out of line, or the least bit unreasonable, to expect and insist that all that happens is that the entire wallet - contents unexamined - ends up in my hand. I also don't think it the least bit exceptional to expect such consideration from other's about my or any other cell phone that isn't their personal property (Ok, the exception that proves the rule; if you give your child something like a cell phone, it's a basic term of the transaction that you are only allowing them mutual access to whatever it is - as long as you're paying for it, it's yours too).

If you want to share content from your phone with anyone, Forward it to their email (or whatever) or just show it to them directly. Other than that, nobody has any right to access the contents of your cell phone, handbag, or wallet, and any effort to convince you otherwise should arouse immediate doubt in your mind about the desirability of keeping the person making such an argument quite so closely involved in your life.

Life is a complicated experience, involving an ever-changing matrix of competing influences to impinge upon our decision making process, the result of which often seems to make suicide an option at least briefly worth considering. With Healthy Life Extension scientific research from people like the SENS Research Foundation offering more and better treatments and therapies to consider, it seems a foregone conclusion that we can only expect an even longer time span in which to suffer the consequences of our more poorly chosen actions and statements towards our loved one's. Adherence to a few basic, simple rules should go a long way towards making that extended healthy life a much Happier one too. Never mind the children; think of yourself! 

Friday, May 4, 2018

A Public Letter To Matthew McConaughey

My thanks to Instapundit for the initial link to the Christian Toto post.

In this recently posted piece in Hollywood In Toto, fellow Texan (as in by actual birth, not a late-comer migrant like myself) and justly famous actor Matthew McConaughey is quoted as saying the following regarding the ongoing public debate over firearms ownership in Texas and the USA more generally:
“The two sides (have) got to talk. Because we both agree that there’s an epidemic. We both agree something has got to change. So I was for what they were marching for, and I wanted to speak to my hometown on the capital of my state Texas’ steps. And also talk to the many men and women who I grew up with, I know that had the guns, that owned the guns, and say hey, do we really, where can we reach across the aisle here? Find a compromise for the betterment of all of us?”
Other observations were also attributed to him in the article (which, to be honest, had an entirely different, if well argued, direction), but I want to focus on this statement for now.

Yes Matthew (if I may be so bold), we do agree; all citizens of our state and country have got to talk about this very fundamental condition of our shared citizenship, but I submit to you that posing the conversation as being a binary issue (pro or con only) makes that admirable goal much harder to accomplish. There are legitimate distinctions that shade and give necessary context to this general topic that an either/or juxtaposition simply doesn't permit, if only as a result of the initial premise such an oratorical construct requires. You made the statement quoted above at a public (and at least somewhat spontaneous) public event, so post facto insistence on scholarly citation and the like would be unfair at the very least, and I make no such demands of you here. I am confident that you would agree that such citations and references will be necessary to arriving at a well considered conclusion.

We do both agree that there is an epidemic, but I would argue that it is mostly composed of a lack of agreement on the nature and substance of personal and public education on the contributing factors that lead up to individual gun ownership and usage. If I may, more on this later.

Taking a public position on an issue one can be certain beforehand will be widely regarded as controversial at best, requires a degree of personal courage and integrity that I compliment you on embodying so well. There are few enough of us at any time who are prepared to do so "in front of God and all" as my grandmother was known to say; anyone who does so is worthy of public recognition as a matter of simple justice. That said, can we also talk about the record of the compromises made by various parties to this issue over the past century or so?

May I suggest we begin our talk with this brief (I promise) Quora discussion of the topic by B. F. Caffrey: Why wont gun owners ever compromise? I will simply offer the opinion that compromise has been a well-trod path here-to-fore, very much in one direction. As always (who is this Mr. Phelps guy?), venture into the Comments section at your own peril.

I will leave the arguments for further restriction on our rights and opportunity to gun ownership and usage to those prepared to make them; I am perfectly willing to discuss things with those so convinced of course, but I feel unprepared to honestly state their case for them. On the other hand, may I assume that I am the first to introduce you to my fellow blogger (and Arizonan, but let's not hold that against him) Kevin Baker? Unlike so many, Kevin has spent literally decades researching and discussing most of the various aspects of firearm ownership and usage from as scholarly and practical a viewpoint as anyone I am familiar with (who isn't actually being paid to do such a thing). Please Matthew, take the time to click on his name and follow the link to his blog page The Smallest Minority (redundancy alert!) and scroll down the page, paying attention to the links listed on the (somewhat ironic) left hand side of the page. Click on any of them; no apologies from me for leading you down into that warren of intellectual rabbit holes, but I hope you will agree that the topic is indeed well and truly explored as well as critically examined.

If you have any energy left after that traumatic experience, you might also want to give some attention to the ravings being spouted by that well-known right-wing propaganda site (sorry, the snark got away from me there) The Washington Post. On October 4, 2017, that newspaper published an article by one Cari S. Babitzke (identified as a PhD candidate in history from Boston University, so presumably not a working journalist) (sorry, I'll quit). Not wanting to commit any gender assumption faux pas, I will limit my observations to noting the article's obvious effort at an even-handed approach to the topic.

Returning to my earlier mention of education, I hope I have gone some way toward demonstrating why I believe the talk we need to have about guns ought best to center around the sub-text of education. Not just the more traditional approach to history, but the philosophical, legal, and economic influences that resulted in our being asked when we were school boys to memorize "Four score and seven years ago ..." and all that. Elsewhere in the HiT article I quoted from at the outset of this letter, you are also quoted as saying:
“One, let’s ban the assault weapons for civilians. This is a no-brainer. And to my friends out there that are responsible owners of these recreational assault weapons that they use for recreation, please let’s just take one for the team here and set it down. That issue saves lives,” he said. “Number two, let’s restrict the capacity of the magazines. Look here: in the state of Texas, we have a three shell limit to hunt migratory birds. Do the math. You get my point.”
Once you have had opportunity to read the links I suggested above, you will realize that your point One isn't nearly as simple as it is commonly believed to be. In all seriousness, would you be willing to argue that a bolt action hunting rifle in 30:06 caliber would qualify as an "assault rifle" given it's descent in this country from the M1907 rifle issued to US combat troops deployed to the European Theater of Operations (circa 1917) and the Pacific Theater of Operations (circa 1941 - 1945 inclusive)? You know, (Great?) Grandpa's deer rifle. If not, why not? If so, how is that rifle in any practicable way different in design or purpose from the AR-15 gas-operated rifle (which is actually Eugene Stoner's civilian rifle design that eventually would lead to the US Army's M-16 rifle)? Can we agree that there is much to learn, starting with the applicability (not to say actual basis in reality, but ...) of the descriptive terms used? Indeed, I hope we can talk about many other assumptions that seem to inevitably appear in any conversation about guns, and gain a more transparent understanding of them.

I hope you will forgive me this observation, but your point Two is problematic at best. Your example of migratory bird hunting is a sterling example of those questionable assumptions I just mentioned. To be blunt, neither you nor I, our friends and families, not even the irritating neighbor down the street who (enter particular irritation here); none of us - nor, hopefully, any of our fellow citizens, ever - are game animals, Matthew. We are none of us, nor should we ever be thought to be, subject to the rules and regulations governing the sustainable practice of wildlife population control through hunting. The assumption that those rules ought in any way to be considered as applicable to any of us does your - and anyone else who says something so silly and thoughtless - reputation no good at all.

In closing Matthew, I wish to suggest you consider how the entirely ordinary business of instruction in an extensive selection of martial arts disciplines that exists in our state, indeed the country as a whole, might be adapted to provide an ordinary and commonplace means to educate ourselves (yes, starting as children, just as we already do) on how to safely and responsibly incorporate firearms into the routine of our lives. Martial arts instruction generally assumes that the individual is the proper level of societal judgement as regards questions of self defense, an assumption that admittedly makes for some degree of feelings of parental-unit nervousness, but no widespread, organized objection to such instruction being offered for sale that I'm aware of. As well, there are many existing schools that already include weapons usage, along with training in safe practice and related issues regarding weapons handling generally to the civil population, a great many of them children. Other than engineering issues, how are guns in any effective way different from archery or any of the other "antique" distance weapons developed during the course of human history? Can we agree that dangerousness isn't an acceptable disqualification all on its own? We already know how to safely and responsibly train, carry, use, store, and otherwise own weapons, we just don't choose to include guns (outside of the hunting/target shooting competition niche the NRA, USPSA, and IDPA (among others) already occupies quite effectively in the USA) as just one more physical activity that's part of our everyday lives because ... reasons, I guess.

I am a (not very accomplished, I'm afraid) life member of HEMA Alliance, "a martial arts federation dedicated to the study of Historical European Martial Arts". One of the distinctions between HEMA and many other studies of martial arts is the requirement that there be an existing historical document describing the technique(s) and their usage upon which to base the effort at re-creation of the particular art form in a modern practice context. While there are arguments as to how well this works as a training format, I am confident that you can see how this documentary requirement for inclusion could be applied to the study of modern firearms in a modern martial arts context. Simply expanding the existing martial arts school business model to include firearms instruction would create the widest possible availability of such education (not just academic instruction, but the actual physical safe practices of usage, the history of the weapons as examples of durable complex tool engineering, the philosophy and legal ramifications that lead to their creation as well as those that arose from their existence ... the whole thing) to include - well, everybody thanks to the internet, but certainly our fellow Texans and those other folks still trying to get here. Joining together to independently research source documents, to base a series of publicly available courses of instruction upon, that potentially lead to inclusion in established education syllabi teaching the make up and function of human civilization? That's a talk I'd like to have.

No, my idea isn't The Answer; hell, it's not even that well thought out, to be honest, but isn't that what we're talking about here, Matthew? Talking about how to work out how to safely live with guns in our midst, a condition that I believe can be honestly and fairly argued to ultimately be a necessary one, sadly. We do need to talk about guns, but together, not at (or worse, past) each other, and the only way I can see any us getting to that point in this whole thing, is if some of those few of us who have achieved a degree of public acclaim will agree to participate in some public way that sets the stage, so to speak, for the wider positive conversations we hope will develop.

There's an old saying that applies to us all equally here, I think; Lead, Follow, or get out of the way. I'm stepping up here as best an old guy can, Matthew. Help a brother out?

Monday, March 26, 2018

Proof of Life

Let's see if I can remember how this thing works.

There have been many changes in my life over the past 9 months or so. No, I wasn't pregnant, nor was anyone else because of me. Leave it for now that I have retired from my former place of employment in a somewhat spontaneous fashion, with pretty much all of the chaos - fiscal and otherwise - that might be assumed, given the complete lack of planning and preparation. Social Security and my pension, along with medical treatment through the VA (who have pleasantly surprised, consistently), are now arriving on schedule and I find myself adjusting more or less successfully to my transition into the social category of gainfully unemployed.

Having become used to not having to do anything to anyone else's schedule, I'm trying writing for money as an alternative to simple mental vegetation. Book? Movie? Can't tell yet. So far it's just words lined up one after another on the digital page, with a certain amount of coherency of narrative periodically detectable.

We'll see.

I'm still alive, probably more annoying to others than ever, with every intention of remaining so well beyond the statistical norm for my cultural demographic if I can. Come on Aubrey de Grey!

Updated 3/27/18 to add a link to a BBC interview with Aubrey de Grey (beware the autostart):

BBC interview

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Who 'da Man 2

The Verge has an interview with Yann LeCun, identified as "Facebook's AI chief ", that ties in well with my own understanding of AI, both as to function and the rate and direction of development efforts. Having read the article, I am more convinced than before that "robots" will quickly come to mean "human-controlled mechanistic devices" and "AI" will mean "non-human controlled systems". Robots will be the machines doing things (under direct - more or less - control of human operators). AI's will be complex constructions controlling devices that semi-autonomously operate systems like vehicle traffic control systems, or shipping/receiving/warehousing systems.
I keep repeating this whenever I talk to the public: we’re very far from building truly intelligent machines. All you’re seeing now — all these feats of AI like self-driving cars, interpreting medical images, beating the world champion at Go and so on — these are very narrow intelligences, and they’re really trained for a particular purpose. They’re situations where we can collect a lot of data.
So for example, and I don’t want to minimize at all the engineering and research work done on AlphaGo by our friends at DeepMind, but when [people interpret the development of AlphaGo] as significant process towards general intelligence, it’s wrong. It just isn’t. it’s not because there’s a machine that can beat people at Go, there’ll be intelligent robots running round the streets. It doesn’t even help with that problem, it’s completely separate. Others may claim otherwise, but that’s my personal opinion.

We’re very far from having machines that can learn the most basic things about the world in the way humans and animals can do. Like, yes, in particular areas machines have superhuman performance, but in terms of general intelligence we’re not even close to a rat. This makes a lot of questions people are asking themselves premature. . That’s not to say we shouldn’t think about them, but there’s no danger in the immediate or even medium term. There are real dangers in the department of AI, real risks, but they’re not Terminator scenarios.
Vehicles in the near-term future will undoubtedly have some form of semi-autonomous "AI" that will operate the vehicle without continuous direct human operator input (in limited applications, at least), but the more likely scenario will be AI semi-autonomous operation of a traffic control system allowing vehicle access to highways, stop light timing, variance of traffic speed limits to conform with road conditions (changing weather or traffic load for instance). The vehicles themselves would still require operator input to function, but the AI traffic control system would have direct access to the vehicles internal control system "AI" to limit the operator's choices (presumably with an emergency override function - factory installed or otherwise :)).

I am also pleased that Mr. LeCun agrees that the virtual assistant application is the most likely near-term market that will most broadly interact with the most people (what I called a "data orchestra")
 I think virtual assistants really are going to be the big thing. Current assistants are entirely scripted, with a tree of possible things they can tell you. So that makes the creation of bots really tedious, expensive, and brittle, though they work in certain situations like customer care. The next step will be systems that have a little more learning in them, and that’s one of the things we’re working on at Facebook. Where you have a machine that reads a long text and then answers any questions related to it — that’d be useful as a function.
Having a virtual assistant that you can verbally (and presumably textually or pictorially too) interact with, one that has internal data bases of reference sources, would be an exponential improvement of the education and skills development (training) activities that are central to achieving any success in a technologic society (education is mathematics, history, languages, art; skills development is the construction/maintenance trades, martial arts/physical fitness, ultimately engineering generally). A personal device that can provide you with immediate access to information, when and where you need it, would drastically alter the way and extent of human learning and personal capability.

One that could also call emergency services (or your lawyer) semi-autonomously would no doubt prove useful too.

Someone is going to arrive at the decision to make a business of improving humanity's individual ability to provide for itself, simply as a means to increase his/her customer base in both total numbers as well as in total market range of participation. Maybe that will be Jeff Bezos, but it obviously doesn't have to be. What it continues to seem more and more we can be certain of is that it will be.