Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Monday, October 25, 2021

The Lone Star Republic

For quite a while now, there has been a movement for Texas to secede from the U.S. I think this is a great idea! There might be a few minor complications, however.


First, all of the U.S. military bases in Texas would immediately close. All of the moveable equipment would be trucked out, and all the personnel would leave. Too bad for local businesses. Since Texas would now need its own army, navy and air force, it might be able to use the bases, but it would have to buy all of the aircraft, ships, trucks, tanks and weapons. Texas would also need its own coast guard, of course, and it would need to patrol its own borders, with Mexico and with the U.S. -- and securing the borders with Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma and New Mexico would be quite an undertaking! Of course the Republic would have to raise the tax revenue to do all this.

Then they would need to execute trade agreements with the U.S., Mexico, and the world. Until that was done, no goods could enter or leave the republic. Whatever agreements were ultimately negotiated would likely include tariffs and various bureaucratic procedures and regulations that would make trade with the U.S., and the world, far more expensive. Texas could no longer import goods coming in through Pacific or Atlantic ports without paying additional duties at its own border. 

 

Texas students would not be able to study at U.S. colleges and universities without a visa, and vice versa. Texas universities and medical centers would no longer have access to NIH , NSF or PCORI funding which means that scientific research in the state would effectively end, and its universities would face financial collapse. NASA's Houston facility would close.

 

Everyone who currently lives in Texas and works in a neighboring state would lose their job. Federal funding for housing, highways, Medicare and Medicaid, education, SNAP, community health centers and other health care safety net programs, would end. The FBI would no longer investigate federal crimes in Texas, and the DEA would go away as well. The republic would need to negotiate on behalf of Social Security, SSI and SDI recipients but it's hard to imagine that the latter two categories would get a dime and it would be entirely up to the U.S. whether retirement benefits would continue.

 

The republic would no longer have the benefit of forecasts from the National Weather Service, information from the census or Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. patent protections and copyrights, the Agricultural Extension Service and agricultural subsidies and crop insurance, flood insurance, FEMA assistance, or the CDC. It would need to negotiate agreements for telecommunications and Internet access. I could, of course, go on.


One would expect a massive population exodus, but that's okay. Those are probably the very same people who are teaching critical race theory to third-graders, gay marrying, and making war on Christmas. So it's all good in the end.




Sunday, October 24, 2021

The final frontier

As the world -- or at least the corporate media -- seems enthralled by the spectacle of billionaires taking joy rides to the edge of space, I feel compelled to comment on the larger implications. There are no larger implications, other than the prospect that billionaires may continue to take joyrides to the edge of space until they get tired of it, then they'll find some other way to waste their ill-gotten gains.

 

This may seem a digression, but bear with me. Many people find it so compellingly obvious that we ought to have discovered other technological civilizations in the galaxy, and even be in contact with them, that they actually call the absence of detectable extraterrestrial civilizations a "paradox."  That is ridiculous. Would we be detectable to ET? Our feeble radio broadcasts are undetectable a couple of light years away, and since the nearest star is more than 4 light years away, that means nobody but Homo sapiens is watching I Love Lucy reruns.


Sadly, Einstein was right. It is impossible to travel faster than light. Physicists have had more than a century to chew over relativity and this conclusion is absolutely airtight. Star Wars, Star Trek, the C.J. Cherryh universe, Asimov's Foundation, Dune, the Hyperion Tetralogy, Buck Rogers -- all that is impossible. Actually, it's practically impossible to travel at even a substantial fraction of the speed of light. If you're going at 20% light speed and hit a grain of sand, it will be like an atomic bomb. The starship Enterprise has a deflector array but they never explain how it works, and that's because it can't.


But you're never going to get to that velocity anyway. It's also impossible to accelerate in a vacuum without throwing away reaction mass. They've had since 1687 to chew over Newton's conclusion on that subject and it's also airtight. That means you can't accelerate to anything like 20% of light speed without an immense store of fuel and you need to save more than half of it to decelerate and maneuver once you reach your destination. So while travel between stars is physically possible, it requires decades if not centuries. I'm not holding my breath until people invest in sending a robot to Proxima Centauri in the hope it may send a radio message to their great grandchildren, and I don't expect many extraterrestrials are particularly motivated to do that either.


If Elon Musk really wants to go to Mars, a rocket that shoots people up 69 miles and then falls back to earth is not a step in that direction. It's irrelevant. The journey would require a totally different technology.

 

I can't think of any particular reason to go to Mars in person. It's a very unpleasant place to say the least, the average temperature being -63 C which is -81 F and no breathable atmosphere. While we've gotten pretty good at sending robots, sending people is not possible with current technology because nobody has figured out a practical way of shielding them from radiation. (In low earth orbit we're inside the earth's magnetosphere, which gives us shelter from charged particles.) 


So it's fun to explore the solar system with robots, but there is no payoff to earthlings to traveling in space in the flesh. There is no conceivable economic payoff. Low earth orbit is a commercially valuable space, but even there humans have no useful role to play. So let's pay attention to the one planet that really matters to us.

Sunday Sermonette: Let's do the Time Warp again

You may recall a few chapters back that Samuel gave his farewell address. Then he didn't go anywhere. He's still here and in fact he will continue to stick around for many years to come. In this chapter, he tells Saul that God regrets making Saul king, that he is no longer king, and God will give his kingdom to someone else. Then Saul goes on to continue being king for many years to come. He fights and wins several battles and engages in much further ado, until he finally loses a battle and dies -- as king. 


The chapter also concludes saying that Samuel will never see Saul again for the rest of his days. Spoiler alert: Samuel sees Saul just three chapters later. Obviously, at least two and probably three versions of the story have been muddled together, and passages are inserted in the wrong places to achieve any narrative coherence. 


I won't harp on why God supposedly turns against Saul (even though he doesn't.) It's the same depravity that pervades the Deuteronomic history. God commands Saul to murder all of the Amalekites - men, women, babies -- and all of their animals, because of something Amalek did hundreds of years ago. Saul spares their king and a few animals, which is unforgivable disobedience. Family values, folks, that's what you'll find in the Bible!


15 Samuel said to Saul, “I am the one the Lord sent to anoint you king over his people Israel; so listen now to the message from the Lord. This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy[a] all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’”

So Saul summoned the men and mustered them at Telaim—two hundred thousand foot soldiers and ten thousand from Judah. Saul went to the city of Amalek and set an ambush in the ravine. Then he said to the Kenites, “Go away, leave the Amalekites so that I do not destroy you along with them; for you showed kindness to all the Israelites when they came up out of Egypt.” So the Kenites moved away from the Amalekites.

Then Saul attacked the Amalekites all the way from Havilah to Shur, near the eastern border of Egypt. He took Agag king of the Amalekites alive, and all his people he totally destroyed with the sword. But Saul and the army spared Agag and the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves[b] and lambs—everything that was good. These they were unwilling to destroy completely, but everything that was despised and weak they totally destroyed.

10 Then the word of the Lord came to Samuel: 11 “I regret that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions.” Samuel was angry, and he cried out to the Lord all that night.

12 Early in the morning Samuel got up and went to meet Saul, but he was told, “Saul has gone to Carmel. There he has set up a monument in his own honor and has turned and gone on down to Gilgal.”

13 When Samuel reached him, Saul said, “The Lord bless you! I have carried out the Lord’s instructions.”

14 But Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears? What is this lowing of cattle that I hear?”

15 Saul answered, “The soldiers brought them from the Amalekites; they spared the best of the sheep and cattle to sacrifice to the Lord your God, but we totally destroyed the rest.”

16 “Enough!” Samuel said to Saul. “Let me tell you what the Lord said to me last night.”

“Tell me,” Saul replied.

17 Samuel said, “Although you were once small in your own eyes, did you not become the head of the tribes of Israel? The Lord anointed you king over Israel. 18 And he sent you on a mission, saying, ‘Go and completely destroy those wicked people, the Amalekites; wage war against them until you have wiped them out.’ 19 Why did you not obey the Lord? Why did you pounce on the plunder and do evil in the eyes of the Lord?”

20 “But I did obey the Lord,” Saul said. “I went on the mission the Lord assigned me. I completely destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag their king. 21 The soldiers took sheep and cattle from the plunder, the best of what was devoted to God, in order to sacrifice them to the Lord your God at Gilgal.”

22 But Samuel replied:

“Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
    as much as in obeying the Lord?
To obey is better than sacrifice,
    and to heed is better than the fat of rams.
23 For rebellion is like the sin of divination,
    and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,
    he has rejected you as king.”

24 Then Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned. I violated the Lord’s command and your instructions. I was afraid of the men and so I gave in to them. 25 Now I beg you, forgive my sin and come back with me, so that I may worship the Lord.”

26 But Samuel said to him, “I will not go back with you. You have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you as king over Israel!”

27 As Samuel turned to leave, Saul caught hold of the hem of his robe, and it tore. 28 Samuel said to him, “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to one of your neighbors—to one better than you. 29 He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a human being, that he should change his mind.”

30 Saul replied, “I have sinned. But please honor me before the elders of my people and before Israel; come back with me, so that I may worship the Lord your God.” 31 So Samuel went back with Saul, and Saul worshiped the Lord.

32 Then Samuel said, “Bring me Agag king of the Amalekites.”

Agag came to him in chains.[c] And he thought, “Surely the bitterness of death is past.”

33 But Samuel said,

“As your sword has made women childless,
    so will your mother be childless among women.”

And Samuel put Agag to death before the Lord at Gilgal.

34 Then Samuel left for Ramah, but Saul went up to his home in Gibeah of Saul. 35 Until the day Samuel died, he did not go to see Saul again, though Samuel mourned for him. And the Lord regretted that he had made Saul king over Israel.

Footnotes

  1. 1 Samuel 15:3 The Hebrew term refers to the irrevocable giving over of things or persons to the Lord, often by totally destroying them; also in verses 8, 9, 15, 18, 20 and 21.
  2. 1 Samuel 15:9 Or the grown bulls; the meaning of the Hebrew for this phrase is uncertain.
  3. 1 Samuel 15:32 The meaning of the Hebrew for this phrase is uncertain.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

The lab leak hypothesis: Stick a fork in it

I have never really understood why this is so important to the wingnuts. Oh well, I suppose I do. It was a way to gin up a narrative to smear Anthony Fauci. That is the claim that Covid-19 originated in a laboratory in Wuhan which had indirect funding from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, which Fauci heads. The non-insane version of this was that it was an accidental release, which would be worth knowing. The insane version was that Fauci was the mastermind of a plot to foist the virus on the world in order to bring about a One World Socialist Dictatorship. On the other hand, the pandemic is a hoax and it's not worse than the flu, but if you can't hold at least three contradictory ideas at once, you ain't a Republican.


Anyway, the retiring director of NIH, Francis Collins, exits with the following conclusion:

 

Statement on Misinformation about SARS-CoV-2 Origins

Analysis of published genomic data and other documents from the grantee demonstrate that the naturally occurring bat coronaviruses studied under the NIH grant are genetically far distant from SARS-CoV-2 and could not possibly have caused the COVID-19 pandemic. Any claims to the contrary are demonstrably false. The scientific evidence to date indicates that the virus is likely the result of viral evolution in nature, potentially jumping directly to humans or through an unidentified intermediary animal host.

 

I won't crowd the plate with all of the data, but here's a fairly easy to understand graphic that is dispositive:

 

 

 

The blue bars show the percent genetic overlap of the viruses studied in the Wuhan lab with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19. The light orange bars show the viruses, occurring in nature, which are most similar to SARS-CoV-2. They were not studied in the Wuhan lab. QED. You will find the source document here


From this analysis, it is evident that the viruses studied under the EcoHealth Alliance grant are very far distant from SARS-CoV-2. Included for comparison is RaTG13, one of the closest bat coronavirus relatives to SARS-CoV-2 collected by the Wuhan Institute of Virology (ref) and BANAL-52, one of several bat coronaviruses recently identified from bats living in caves in Laos (ref). Although RaTG13 and BANAL-52 are 96-97% identical to SARS-CoV-2 at the nucleotide level (>900 nucleotide differences across the entire genome), the difference actually represents decades of evolutionary divergence from SARS-CoV-2. Experts in evolutionary biology and virology have made it clear that even the closest known relatives of SARS-CoV-2, which were not studied under the EcoHealth Alliance grant, are evolutionarily too distant from SARS-CoV-2 to have been the progenitor of the COVID-19 pandemic (ref, ref).  Field studies continue the search for more proximate progenitors.


Of course the corporate media won't get this, they're scientifically illiterate.