ACCELERATING DISRUPTION

By Mike Cronin

You’ve probably heard of the concept that computer speed doubles roughly every 12-18 months. This concept is called Moore’s Law, named after Gordon Moore, one of the co-founders of the computer chip company Intel. He made his observation in 1965, and it has largely been accurate.  Moore’s law is part of a larger phenomenon, something called the accelerating rate of change.

Think of it this way:  A farmer from the 1500s transported 200 years into the future would not have been amazed by the technological advancements to farming in the 1700s. For the vast majority of people, technology simply didn’t change during their lifetimes.  Fast forward to the late 1800s: My maternal great grandmother crossed the plains in a covered wagon in the 1890s and settled in what is now the little town of Kiowa, Colorado. Steam technology existed then; she had probably heard of, or may have even ridden on a steam locomotive.  She might have sent and received telegrams.  But most of the new technology of the day was concentrated in the coastal cities. Pioneers and settlers were still using wagons and draft animals. A Roman Centurion from 1800 years in the past might have been amazed by a steam locomotive or a telegraph, but he would have found her Conestoga wagon unremarkable.  This same great-grandmother lived to watch men walk on the moon.

In her lifetime, gasoline and diesel-powered cars and trucks replaced the horse as the primary means of personal travel.  The automobile industry disrupted the horse culture; now horseback riding is primarily a hobby for people who can afford to keep horses. Telephone, radio, and television grew to become the primary means of sending and/or receiving information. These technologies disrupted (but didn’t eliminate) mail service. She was born at the tail end of the Industrial Revolution and lived through the Gilded Age, the Jet Age, and the Space Age.

She died in the early 1970s.  Since then, the rate of change has only accelerated.  The computer network that would become the internet was just getting started in the 1960s when Moore made his observation; now it is the predominate feature of modern life. Television and radio gave rise to the “mainstream media,” i.e. the big three networks: ABC, CBS, and NBC.  Satellite and computer technology allowed cable upstart CNN to join the club in 1980, followed soon after by other cable networks.  CNN disrupted the status quo and initiated the 24-hour news cycle.  The “big three” had to play catch-up.  Advances in internet speed and the invention of “hypertext mark-up language” (HTML), gave us the World Wide Web.  Within a decade of CNN disrupting the existing main-stream media, “the Web” enabled even more disruption. News aggregators. Blogs. Online magazines. Email and RSS feeds. And now: Streaming media. Smart phones. Wi-fi. Digital currency. AI. Fusion. Nano-tech. DNA editing. Laser weapons. Robots. Self-driving cars. With the accelerating rate of change has come the accelerating rate of disruption. In our lifetimes, we will experience more technological advancement than has been accomplished in the previous 20 millennia – if we can successfully ride the waves of disruption!

ACT LIKE A PREDATOR, GET OSTRACIZED; ACT LIKE PREY, GET PREYED UPON

By Mike Cronin

With all of the celebrity sexual misconduct coming to light in recent weeks, you might be tempted to believe that all men are created predators.  Certainly, some prominent figures want you to believe exactly that. But is it true? Let’s look at it.

To start with, homo sapiens are indeed predators – the most successful predators on the planet. In a very real sense, we are animals: vertebrates, mammalians, primates, at the very top of the food chain. Or at least we still have all of the genetic traits of animals, including the drive to survive – both as individuals, which we fulfill by eating, seeking shelter, etc., and as a species, which we fulfill via the individual drive for procreation. With a few specific exceptions, we use the same physical equipment and engage in similar behavior for both drives: We use our senses and our appendages to seek out suitable “subjects.” This makes it is easy to equate predation for food with “predation” for sex.

Much more recently we evolved the capacity to reason. Some animals can adapt their surroundings to themselves in very limited fashion. A variety of animals make nests. Termites can make temperature-controlled mounds.  Various other animals have some rudimentary problem-solving skills. They can use a stick to dig, or a rock to smash open a nut. Some very bright primates can even use sign language to communicate with humans. But no other animal can derive abstractions from concretes and principles from abstractions. No other species has mastered fire, or the ability to make more complicated tools out of simpler ones, or to make written language, or to do any of the myriad other things that only humans do.

This highest function has given humans something no other animal species has: the ability to consciously override our most basic drives. In contravention of the drive to survive, humans can commit suicide, go on hunger strikes, and take crazy physical risks.  In contravention of the drive to procreate, humans can be chaste, or they can resist the full force of the sex drive in subtler ways, such as monogamy and self-restraint, for example. Holding our animal natures under a degree of restraint has enabled the rise of civilizations.

On the other hand, the actions of sexual predators are easy to interpret: they are the actions of people (usually men) that have chosen to give in to their animal urges. Some of their actions are completely natural in the context of animal behavior, but they are abhorrent in the context of civilization, and absolutely destructive in the context of rights-respecting societies. Perpetrators of such acts deserve to be ostracized and punished.

In the case of the ongoing sexual misconduct revelations in the mass media: clearly, many powerful men have either chosen to stop being civilized, or they felt entitled to take such liberties as reward for their prominence, or both. Dozens (and perhaps hundreds, by the time the dust settles) of men will be implicated. This is not typical of all, or even most, males. If most males engaged in such behavior, there would be no such thing as civilization; we would be stuck at the hunter-gatherer stage of technological advancement.

So, what about women? Just as surely as men, women have animal drives. In females, the drive to procreate manifests in attraction to males who are best suited to ensure their offspring achieve physical maturity.  The preferred indicators of such suitability vary among women, but they boil down to “Alphaness.” A suitable male might be regarded as such for his dominance (not domineering) behavior, wealth, physical appearance, intellect, confidence, prominence among others, or some combination of such factors. Regardless, a male with a high degree of “Alphaness” will be more attractive to more women than a male with less.

In the context of cases now being played out in the media: There are women who are naturally attracted to prominent men for their “Alphaness,” such as the ones now being revealed for their sexual misconduct. While it is true that no criminal liability should attach to the victims of sexual misconduct, it is fallacious to think that any and all such victims were selected completely at random. Predators look for easy prey. So, what was it about these victims that screamed “prey” to these predators?  Youth/inexperience. Incapacitation/innebriation. Low situational awareness. Low confidence. Isolation. False or misinterpreted willingness signals. It could have been any combination of any of dozens of factors.  If sexual predators can notice these “victim signals,” they are ipso-facto noticeable. We can identify them and teach people how to avoid giving them – or to mitigate their effect.

So, what can we make of this?

  1. Most men are not sexual predators, but a few are.
  2. Sexual predators choose to ignore civilizing restraint and act on baser animal drives. This often results in criminal conduct.
  3. Most victims of sexual assault are not random. They were selected based on giving some combination of “victim” signals the predator found enticing. The victims might not have been aware they were giving off such signals. “Victim signaling” is not criminal. We shouldn’t blame or punish the victims for it. But it’s not undetectable; we can identify it and teach people to avoid it.

MORE CLIMATE CHANGE CLAMOR

By Mike Cronin

Dear scientists,

I am pro science. Really, I am. I’m with you on evolution, medicine, fusion research, etc. and so on. So, I want science to tell us what is really going on with the climate and to come up with a rational response. You might be tempted to tell me that you already have, but here’s the thing:  It’s hard for most folks to to tell where your good climate science ends and leftist environmental dogmatism begins.

We are told that the hypothesis “human activity is the cause of global climate change” is “settled science.”  Hmm. The fact that the climate is changing is certainly settled science.  The climate has always changed, even before humans existed, and certainly before human industry emitted extra CO2 into the atmosphere.  Even so, it does sound plausible to us lay folk, given the amount of greenhouse gasses human industry produces, that humans are changing the climate – but the entire body of climate science becomes suspect when, every so often, “scientists” and/or politicians are caught “cooking the books,” i.e. exaggerating the evidence for human-caused global warming, or altering or evading evidence that may contradict the hypothesis.

We lay people are taught in primary school that good science happens as a result of following the scientific method. This includes testing hypotheses with repeatable experiments, and submitting one’s findings to critical review. If one’s experiments can only be done on climate “models” that necessarily can’t accurately replicate the actual climate, and/or if one’s hypotheses requires “cheating” the scientific method for “validity,” and/or one labels other scientists (much less lay critics and skeptics) who have found flaws in your work as “deniers” (i.e., heretics), one is not doing good science.

It gets worse: It seems like for every good climate scientist doing proper, credible work, there is a gang of anti-technology leftist zealots who weaponize scientific findings in order to bludgeon the credulous into enacting premature policies, legislation, and regulations that stymie human freedom, and to steer public funding towards additional politicized “scientific” climate investigation that produces yet more suspect “data” – bought and paid for. The zealots don’t stop there.  It’s not enough to scare people into worrying that the climate is going haywire. Rather, these maniacs blame climate change on white oppression and demand restrictions on technological advancement, carbon taxes, and the like for developed countries such as the US (all in the in the name of social justice, of course), but not for developing countries such as China and India.  In other words, their climate “solution” doesn’t do anything to curb human industrial activity, it just shifts the worst of it to Asia – and in so doing, reveals the true goal of most “environmentalism:” Wealth redistribution.

The unparalleled ability of humans to adapt our surroundings to ourselves is one of the things that makes us unique among species.  Technological and industrial advancement has led to steadily increasing human life spans. Surely, the answer to human-caused climate change, if indeed an answer is even required, is for humans to employ technology to adapt ourselves to the changed environment or adapt it to ourselves – or both.  This requires unchaining human minds and harnessing the power of the free market, not the pseudo-scientific dogma and choking restrictions of enviro-socialism.

Stop The Hurricane Blame Game

By Mike Cronin

“You never let a serious crisis go to waste.” Those are the words of Rahm Emanuel, Mayor of Chicago and former Chief of Staff under President Obama. Plenty of people are taking him up on that advice by exploiting notable natural disasters (presently, Hurricane Irma is their wellspring) to further their own agendas. Curiously, people on (supposedly) opposite spans of the ideological spectrum are finding ways to blame Irma (and Harvey before her, and Katrina before both) on human activity they don’t like:

The first variety are stories that repeat the oft-heard statistic that Hurricane Irma is the most powerful Atlantic hurricane in recorded history and that she is a result of human-caused global warming. Let’s break this down.  First, whether or not a given natural phenomenon is the “most powerful” in recorded history makes good headlines, but it’s almost irrelevant – because recorded history is a vanishingly small slice of time on the geologic clock. If we scale the lifetime of the earth to be represented by a human lifespan – say eighty years, then all of recorded human history represents the span of an eyeblink or two.   Indeed, reliable recordings of meteorological phenomena such as hurricanes have only been commonplace for perhaps the last 150 years or so.

Another angle: Right now, there are three hurricanes: Katia in the western Gulf of Mexico, Irma, and Jose east of the Caribbean. Some articles are noting this as another bit of evidence that global warming is to blame – but there have been at least two recorded occasions when four hurricanes existed at one time, and the earliest of those dates to 1893.

Then there are the religious extremists who claim that natural disasters are God’s punishment for our sins, especially homosexuality and abortion. This pastor claims Hurricane Harvey is God’s punishment of Texas for failing to pass an anti-LGBT law. Actor Kirk Cameron claims Harvey and Irma have been sent by God to teach us humility and to make sinners repent. The same tone was on offer from some of the more extreme branches of the religious right for Hurricane Katrina over a decade ago.

Bottom line: We have no way to know whether Irma is in fact the most powerful hurricane in Atlantic history, ergo we can’t possibly know if her notable strength is truly the result of human-caused global warming, or of natural climate change, or if she is merely a “normal” large hurricane among the millions that have crossed the Atlantic over the eons. Since the conditions that cause hurricanes pre-date human industrial activity, we can safely assume the sin of emitting too much carbon dioxide is not the cause of Irma. What about biblical sin?  As the late Christopher Hitchens once pointedly observed, Hurricane Katrina, allegedly sent to punish us for the sins of homosexuality and fornication, destroyed almost every part of New Orleans except the French Quarter, wherein lies the red-light district!

The jury is out on the effects of humans on climate change, but the fact that the climate is changing is irrefutable – it is always changing. Likewise, the idea that God punishes us through disasters is ancient, but “disasters” only result when humans are affected by specific incidents of naturally occurring phenomena that have been occurring since before the rise of humanity.  The real tragedy of disasters is that we continue to put faith ahead of reason. Reason tells us that if you occupy a place that is in a hurricane zone, you are at risk. You can either mitigate that risk by being well-prepared to evacuate or to survive, or you can deal with the consequences of failing to make such preparations. Neither God nor global warming are responsible for that, you are.

Eclipse of Reality


How many times did you hear that last Monday’s solar eclipse was a “once in a lifetime” event?

While solar eclipses may be “rare” in any given place, and while it may be rare to be in the path of totality, solar eclipses are not “rare” overall. As astrophysicist and science popularizer Neil Degrasse Tyson has pointed out, solar eclipses happen about every two years or so. They are more common than presidential elections!

Overall rarity notwithstanding, the eclipse on Monday was unique in at least two ways.  It was the first solar eclipse since the late seventies to cross nearly the entire US, and thus it was the first one in the US to be covered by millions of cell-phone and Go-Pro toting Americans in the age of social media.

This led to an amazing phenomena the news media have largely ignored: Far more Americans, of all colors, creeds, and classes, voluntarily gathered in peace across the country to observe the spectacle of nature than ever willingly gather together to hate and destroy, a la Charlottesville or Phoenix.

So we have at least two cases of the media presenting an alternate reality: One is in perpetuating an inaccurate understanding of astronomical phenomena in order to increase excitement…so that they can be seen to be reporting on the excitement of the “once in a lifetime” event, in the hopes that if you weren’t out looking at the eclipse yourself, you’d be tuning in to catch it on live TV.

The second case is more insidious. The mass media, so jaded by their constant purveyance of crises, largely neglected to report on, or even notice, the good news that Americans can be far more united in common cause than we are supposed to believe.  No, it might even be worse than that.  The second case may be an example that the media actively ignores, or even tries to “reverse engineer”  facts and events that run counter to the lie narrative that America is being destroyed by greedy, right-wing, white, trans-, homo-, and Islamo-phobic, Christian middle-class men, as alluded to in several political cartoons about the eclipse:

Instead, too many media personalities have been indoctrinated to believe, and worse, promote, the idea that the solution to all our ills is to let the anointed class do our thinking for us and lead us to more “diversity” (of grievance groups), more “rights” to the time and/or property of others, and more restrictions on freedom and liberty. That idea has proven to be destructive in every time and place it’s been tried.

All news is fake; some news is useful.

Not so Random Matter?

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By Mike Cronin

I started out thinking I had several disparate items for this week’s post, but they all seemed to tie together:

It’s science-project season at my son’s school.  He brought home an information/instruction packet.  He had to get a parent to sign the first page – which is a letter to parents explaining that the kid has to do the science work on his own, but parents can help with the non-process portions of the project (e.g. helping the kid get materials) etc., etc. On the reverse of the first page is a progress tracker.  The kid has to get his parents to sign each time he hits a milestone on the project.  My son got dinged on the first milestone because I didn’t sign it.   The first milestone is to have a parent sign the letter to parents.  Yes, that’s right: The purveyors of the science project’s hand-out material failed to notice they are requiring a parent sign the back of a form in order to certify that the parent signed the front of the form…and they make the kid take the hit if the parent doesn’t jump through the hoop.  On a science project. You know, Science?  The subject where they teach kids logic, critical thinking, precision, peer review, attention to detail, right? Little things like that.

Speaking of science, I work in a small office with five other people. All five are scientists and/or engineers. Our office serves as a kind of internal think-tank. We do quantitative and qualitative analysis, among other things. I am the only one in the office who does not have a degree in science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM).  My colleagues can run rings around me on any kind of math-based reasoning or problems.  On the other hand, I usually get the better of them when it comes to verbal expression.  I like to tease them that they are all experts at qualitative reasoning, while I am the quality. At any rate, our work sometimes involves (mathematical) models and simulations. Someone in the field once quipped that “all models are wrong, but some models are useful.”

Given the public’s current fascination with the phenomena of “fake news,” I think an adaptation of the “models” aphorism is apropos as a guidepost for judging the efficacy of anything in the media: “All news is fake, but some news is useful.” Two cases in point:

Some right-wing media sources are reporting that Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of U.N.’s Framework Convention on Climate Change, as much as revealed that the UN’s plans to combat climate change are really a set of blinders to hide the real agenda: the destruction of capitalism. While the UN is no friend of capitalism, context matters, as does the thing that is not being said.  Figueres undeniably advocates for the alteration of the global economy when she says:

“This is the first time in the history of mankind that we are setting ourselves the task of intentionally, within a defined period of time, to change the economic development model that has been reigning for at least 150 years, since the Industrial Revolution,”

Note that she stops short of stating that the current global economic development model that must be changed is capitalism (it isn’t, by the way – it’s a mix of capitalism and controls), or describing what model should obtain.  I would not be surprised to learn that Figueres is indeed anti-capitalist, nor would I be surprised to learn that UN efforts to combat global warming are indeed a smokescreen to hide the destruction of capitalism, but Figueres’s statements fall short of being a smoking gun – more like an eyebrow-raiser. The subject bears watching.

Meanwhile, on the left side of the fake news spectrum, we have the New York Times’ headlines for Friday’s attack at the Louvre in Paris by a “lone wolf” Islamic jihadist. Their first headline read: “Louvre Museum Evacuated after French Soldier Opens Fire.” At best, this headline leads you to believe the incident revolved around the actions of a French soldier. At worst, it leads you to believe a French soldier went nuts and started shooting up the Louvre.  A few hours later, the headline had changed to read: “Assailant Near Louvre Is Shot by French Soldier” Again, the French soldier’s actions seem to be the focus.  As mentioned previously, context matters, and what is not being said matters. What the vaunted New York Times neglected, or purposely refused to highlight in their headlines, was that a man shouting “allahu ackbar!” (i.e. “God is great” in Arabic) and wielding knives attacked some French soldiers and was shot by one of them in response.

It would not do to depart from The Narrative by highlighting yet another attack by a Muslim against Western targets, even as the militant arm of the “tolerant” left is convulsing over President Trumps’ recent “anti-Muslim” immigration restrictions, now would it? Instead, the “Newspaper of Record” felt it must mislead readers with deceptive headlines. I’m not suggesting the Times should have gone with “Islamo-Fascist Nut-Job Takes Knives to a Gun Fight in Paris; Wins Darwin Award Nomination,” but something like “Assailant Shouting in Arabic Shot by Soldier At Louvre” might have hit the right balance between not jumping to conclusions about the attacker’s religion, intentions, and connections, and the response of the soldiers.  All news is fake, some news is useful.

Directing our own Evolution?

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By Mike Cronin

We have global communications and transportation. In Europe, most of the Americas, and most of Asia at least, we have enough food to eat and wondrous technological gadgetry. Anyone labeled “middle class” today lives a far more luxurious lifestyle than royalty did less than a century ago.

Some of our most basic problems, such as bigotry, racism, and other social ills have been at least partially resolved, for at least part of the world.  Will we ever be able to finish the job?

I submit the answer does not lie within the bounds of governments and politicians,  It lies in diminishing the mismatch between the relatively steady pace of evolution and the accelerating rate of technological advancement. Our species may be on the cusp of such an advancement.

Human beings evolved on the plains of Africa.  We were smaller, slower, weaker, and had less effective sensory apparatus than the alpha predators.  We didn’t even have biological “weaponry” (such as fangs, horns, or claws) to defend ourselves.  How did we achieve mastery over lions, leopards, and hyenas?

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From “2001: A Space Odyssey:” A human ancestor learns tool usage

We lived brutal, tribal-centric lives as we evolved higher intelligence. Other animals adapt to their surroundings, humans learned to adapt their surroundings to themselves.  We learned to use fire to cook meat.  Cooking made it easier for our bodies to absorb the protein value of the meat, which allowed our brains to add more neurons per volume than our primate cousins – and other mammals with similar-sized, or even larger, brains than our own.

Other animals can use simple stick and stone tools; humans are the only species that tamed fire.  This started humans down the path of technological advancement. Fire. The wheel. Bronze. Iron. Steel. The lens. Science. Industry. Atomic energy. Space flight. Internet. But while our technology advances faster and faster, human evolution follows at a more leisurely pace…for the moment.

For example: We vilify adults who engage in any kind of sexual activity with minors, but the concept of “minor” is a modern legal distinction, not a biological one.  Girls reach physical maturity well before we consider them to be of sufficient emotional maturity to have children – because adults now live long enough to accumulate much more knowledge and wisdom from the ever-increasing store of knowledge and wisdom available that the gulf between a 25, or 35, or 55 year old man and a 13 year old girl renders a sexual relationship between them abhorrent to us.  But before the advent of civilization and the division of labor, humans that made it to 30 were elderly!  Most people died in their 20s or earlier of disease, tooth decay, or child birth.  It was necessary for a girl who was physically old enough to bear children to start doing so – for the sake of the survival of the clan or tribe.  The modern concept of maturity didn’t enter into it.  Our distant human ancestors didn’t have to worry about homework, getting a job, health insurance, paying the rent, career advancement, global warming, elections, or taxes.  They had to worry about finding food for themselves even as they sought to avoid becoming dinner for a big cat.

ALL humans lived like that as recently as 10,000 years ago – a mere eye-blink in evolutionary timescales, and a few, isolated, human cultures still live that way to this day. Culturally, we have had varying degrees of success in putting aside our physical differences in gender or coloration or belief and living together, but there is still friction, conflict, and in parts of the world, warfare over these differences. It takes enlightenment to put aside the tribalism that defined our social development for untold millennia and behave at a higher level than out stone-age ancestors, who’s DNA still forms the cornerstone of our genetic makeup.

Treating people as property, warring against competitor tribes for resources, superstitions about unseen forces that can literally blow apart a mountain, light up the sky, and move the earth, fear of the unknown – they all come from the same place – from our infancy as a sentient, sapient, speciesSome recent breakthroughs in genetic engineering may have put us on the verge of being able to routinely and casually alter our own DNA – in effect, to design our own evolution.  But we aren’t there yet.

Realizing this about ourselves may herald our transition to “toddlerhood” in the climb up the ladder of species maturity.  I gave thanks on Thursday that I don’t have to worry that my lack of fang or claw will doom me to fall prey to an animal that has them; that in fact I may live to see our species make its first self-directed evolutionary steps – if our scientists can overcome our cavemen!