“Is This Nuclear Plant To Blame For Soaring Thyroid Cancer Rates In New York?” – (Ecowatch)

I came across this article rather alarming headline today. I figure it deserves some attention. So here goes.

In the late 1970s, the rate of new thyroid cancer cases in four counties just north of New York City—Westchester, Rockland, Orange and Putnam counties—was 22 percent below the U.S. rate.

First off, some graphic representation. Since I and most others are likely unfamiliar with the layout of New York State.

Above is a map of NY counties and districts (click to enlarge if necessary). You can see the 5 boroughs of New York City at the very bottom of the map (in pink). The 4 counties noted are just above on the mainland (the lower part of the red section).

The following is a map of where Indian Point is in relation to these counties (and New York City). The source bias is blatantly apparent, but none the less, it does the trick.

In the past (around 2011 to be precise) I had worried about this plant and its proximity to one of the biggest cities in the world. For an obvious reason (the worlds worst nuclear accident following Chernobyl had just occurred). But it’s been awhile since it’s been on my radar.

However, looks like it won’t be an issue (well, at least a continually operational issue) for much longer. More on that later.

Today, it has soared to 53 percent above the national rate. New cases jumped from 51 to 412 per year. Large increases in thyroid cancer occurred for both males and females in each county.

That’s according to a new study I co-authored which was published in the Journal of Environmental Protection and presented at Columbia University.

This change may be a result of airborne emissions of radioactive iodine from the Indian Point nuclear power plant, which is located at the crossroads of those four counties and has been operating since the mid-’70s.

Exposure to radioactivity is the only known cause of thyroid cancer. Indian Point routinely releases more than 100 radioactive chemicals into the environment. These chemicals enter human bodies through breathing and the food chain, harming and killing healthy cells. One of these chemicals is radioactive iodine, which attacks and kills cells in the thyroid gland, raising the risk of cancer.

The first thing I was curious about was wind patterns in New York State.  I got some prevailing wind information from a National Centers For Environmental Information PDF outlining the climate of New York in detail. The PDF can be found HERE, on page 7.

The prevailing wind is generally from the west in New York State. A southwest component
becomes evident in winds during the warmer
months while a northwest component is
characteristic of the colder half of the year.
Occasionally, well-developed storm systems moving
across the continent or along the Atlantic coas
t are accompanied by very strong winds, which
cause considerable property damage over wide areas of the State. A unique effect of strong
cyclonic winds from the southwest is the rise
of water to abnormally high levels at the
northeastern end of Lake Erie.

This information seemed important since it should give us a general idea of where any released radioactive particles are likely to end up.  Though 2 of the counties seem to match up, the 2 westernmost counties (Orange and Putnam) seem like outliers, being UPWIND for the majority of the time. Of course, I am not a climatologist. There may be other factors at work that I am not considering.

One thing that does occur to me, however, is that radioactive fallout releases have a tendency of traveling LONG distances from their point of origin. Chernobyl was famously discovered when workers at a Sweedish Nuclear plant were found to be bringing radioactive contamination INTO the plant from outside.
And even this year, something similar happened (with many also suspecting the origin being somewhere in Russia or Kazakstan). Either would make perfect sense, being that:

1.) It’s Russia.

If they accidentally created a black hole that slowly swallowed the world, we wouldn’t find out until large portions of their nation and population start mysteriously vanishing into the abyss

2.) Kazakstan (among other former Soviet satellite states) holds a lot of the legacy technology from that Era. Not to mention that I wouldn’t be surprised if Big Red still has a lot of influence over affairs. Particularly these days, with the west being increasingly undermined by its own shortcomings.

Either way, to bring it back, these releases tend to go a long way. Given the typical wind patterns, I would suspect releases (and thus, cancer rates) would not just be picked up in neighboring counties, but also in New York City, New Jersey, Long Island, and other downwind sections of the NY tristate area.

While again just speculation, I think it is built on a solid foundation of past anecdotes and incidents.

I next want to focus on one sentence of the article that sticks out.

Exposure to radioactivity is the only known cause of thyroid cancer

This one has to be highlighted because it is somewhat disingenuous.

While most sources outline symptoms and causes (explanations of the medical jargon), few give much insight into what could be driving those changes. Possibly because so little is known (it’s better not to speculate). Web MD has this to say.

Experts don’t know what causes thyroid cancer. But like other cancers, changes in the DNA of your cells seem to play a role. These DNA changes may include changes that are inherited as well as those that happen as you get older.

People who have been exposed to a lot of radiation have a greater chance of getting thyroidcancer.

A dental X-ray now and then will not increase your chance of getting thyroid cancer. But past radiation treatment of your head, neck, or chest (especially during childhood) can put you at risk of getting thyroid cancer.

https://www.webmd.com/cancer/tc/thyroid-cancer-topic-overview#1 

The Mayo Clinic explanation seems more or less in agreement.

Factors that may increase the risk of thyroid cancer include:

  • Female sex. Thyroid cancer occurs more often in women than in men.
  • Exposure to high levels of radiation. Examples of exposure to high levels of radiation include radiation treatments to the head and neck and fallout from sources such as nuclear power plant accidents or weapons testing.
  • Certain inherited genetic syndromes. Genetic syndromes that increase the risk of thyroid cancer include familial medullary thyroid cancer and multiple endocrine neoplasia.

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/thyroid-cancer/symptoms-causes/syc-20354161

Also in the explanation from the Mayo clinic is this.

Although thyroid cancer isn’t common in the United States, rates seem to be increasing. Doctors think this is because new technology is allowing them to find small thyroid cancers that may not have been found in the past.

Maybe a factor in the overall picture? I guess we will see.

Let’s bring it back to upstate New York and the 4 counties in question. The Ecowatch article is based on a study (co-founded by the author of the article) that claims an increase in cancer cases both above background and taking the rising national average into consideration. Here is the abstract of the study itself:

Thyroid cancer incidence has risen steadily in the US for several decades. While any cause of this trend has yet to be clearly identified, most analyses have concluded that there are factors other than improved detection accounting for the increase. Since exposure to radioactive iodine is the only acknowledged root cause of thyroid cancer, a review of temporal trends in incidence since the late 1970s near the Indian Point nuclear power plant, just 23 miles from the New York City border, was conducted. Rates in the four counties closest to Indian Point, where virtually the entire population resides within 20 miles of the plant, were compared with national trends in the US. The relative ratio in the local area was 0.778 in the period 1976-1981, or 22.2 percent lower than the national rate. This ratio increased steadily, to 1.579 (57.9 percent greater than the US) by the period 2000-2004, which slightly declined to 1.515 (51.5 percent greater) in the latest period available (2010-2014). Significant increases occurred for both males and females, and in each of the four counties. Annual new cases diagnosed among residents of the four counties increased from 51 to 412 between 1976-1981 and 2010-2014. Because the two large reactors at Indian Point began operations in 1973 and 1976, and exposures to radioiodine isotopes can manifest as cancer from five years to several decades after exposure, iodine emissions from Indian Point emissions should be considered as a potential factor in these trends. More studies near Indian Point and other nuclear installations should be conducted to further explore this potential association.

https://www.scirp.org/Journal/PaperInformation.aspx?PaperID=80399

One thing that comes to mind is how the numbers compare to cancer in populations around other nuclear plants.

According to this paper (see page 26), many studies of this type of risk have been done in many countries involving many different types of population density and types of nuclear facilities, with all of them coming back with many different conclusions. Some found positive correlations to being in proximity to said facilities, though none were ever linked directly to the facilities. I am not surprised by this since the cancer variant is so misunderstood, to begin with.

Another interesting set of statistics to consider (also from the paper cited previously):

  • Approximately 1 million people lived within 5 miles of operating nuclear plants in 2010; over 45 million people lived within 30 miles.
  • Approximately 116,000 people lived within 5 miles of USNRC-licensed operating fuel-cycle facilities in 2010; over 2 million people lived within 30 miles.
  • Approximately 210 people lived within 5 miles of a USNRC-licensed operating in situ recovery or conventional uranium mill recovery facility in 2010; about 11,000 lived within 30 miles.

Millions live within a stone’s throw of such facilities. Do you?
That is just generalized stats. Maybe there is something wrong with this plant itself which would make it an outlier of sorts.

It looks like the plant does indeed have a bit of a troubled history, particularly since 2012.

The plant has had 40 “safety events”, “operational events”, and shutdowns since 2012. The shutdowns have exposed apparent fragility in the nuclear facility’s workings: in December 2015 the plant was shut down for three days after droppings from a “large bird” caused an arc between power lines and a transmission tower. In April 2016, Entergy admitted it had found that bolts holding together the interior of one of Indian Point’s reactors were damaged and, in some cases, missing.

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jan/09/indian-point-nuclear-plant-close-new-york

Ah, humans. If greed isn’t what gets us, then it will be laziness. Also worth noting was some drama over the possibility of running natural gas lines on land very close to the facility.

Entergy also came under fire in 2016 after the Guardian published a safety assessment of proposed natural gas pipelines to be built by energy pipeline company Spectra on Indian Point property. The assessment, provided to the Guardian by engineer Paul Blanch and obtained through a freedom of information act (Foia), was partly hand-drawn and did not adequately account for the damage to the plant that could result from a breach of the lines.

One would think we would have been beyond such oversights with Fukushima in our rearview. But then again . . . humans.

The last part, however, brings to mind another possibility. Maybe the days of nuclear (like the days of this plant’s operations) are numbered.
Nuclear has always been a nemesis, but Fukushima certainly didn’t do the industry any favors. Though the plant does not seem to have any major infractions associated with it, just having such a facility so close to so much population is problematic on its own, even without the operational history. I suspect a combination of the increasing costs of running such a facility (particularly in the face of cheaper alternatives like natural gas and renewables) and bad public image of both the plant and nuclear energy in general as the deciding factors here. Having uncontrolled releases into groundwater sources nearby certainly didn’t help things either.

Either way, I wandered somewhat from the outset of this piece. That said, there is not much more to say on the topic. Did the plant result in a spike in the cancer rates in close proximity?

I don’t know. However, correlation does not necessarily mean causation. Though the authors of the study (and the article) claim legitimacy, I can’t help but question the bias. I will not disagree, however, that more studies can’t hurt. The more information that is available, the better off everyone is.

In conclusion, overall, I am not a big fan of nuclear energy.

In its favor, it is carbon neutral (or very close, anyhow). And it may function as a good stepping stone between the age of fossil fuels and renewables (since uranium is also finite).
That being said, it could also be seen as insanity, being the risk involved. Indeed, meltdowns and accidents are fairly few and far between. But we still have not figured out a permanent solution to radioactive wastes that will long outlive our civilizations.

Fortunately, the fact that these things are prohibitively expensive to build and operate will deter many new installations.  But those that do should consider the consequences.

Imagine a world with half the overall population (say a pandemic wiped us out), but the same number of nuclear facilities to oversee. Without constant inputs and attention, spent fuel ponds run the risk of going dry and dumping massive amounts of radioactivity into the enviroment.

Not something I considered during my freakout in 2010, or even 2011 (when the nuclear industry had the world on edge). Though possibly a good thing.

I may not have ever slept again.

Posted in Alternative Media Criticisms, Big BioTech / GMO's / Other Eco-Alternative Media Criticisms, Opinion | Leave a comment

Freedom

Freedom.

It’s a word that we are all too familiar with now.

Libertarians & Conservatives talk endlessly about defending it, despite Liberals generally being more committed to the cause overall. It is a word, but it really is a whole lot more. I can’t even really call it a philosophy. It certainly applies but in many different ways.

Every country has different interpretations when it comes to the context of the word in terms of the law. But no 2 people are alike when it comes to their PERSONAL interpretation of the word. Of course, these personal interpretations generally are irrelevant if in conflict with local laws.
A fact that makes me glad the world (at least at the moment) is not all that anarchist (or anarcho-capitalist). I’ve seen the workers sleeping on job sites in Nations and Emirates that operate in a more laissez-faire manner. It’s not pretty.

Either way, freedom may be the ultimate oxymoron. It simultaneously means the world, whilst also meaning nothing at all. All depending on how you look at it.

Take economic freedom. Otherwise known as the system revered and enjoyed by most of the world at the moment. It is true that a small percentage within this paradigm do enjoy what one could call true economic freedom. The mansion, the cars and everything else that comes with access to limitless amounts of fiat currency.
The same can not be said the lower you get on the economic ladder, however. While it is more apparent (and focused on) in the lower rungs, one can also argue bondage in the mid to upper mid class sections. While disposable income often opens up access to bigger homes, cars and more toys, you often spend the majority of your existence on the clock. The majority of your existence is spent in performing mindless tasks endlessly, with personal time coming in short bursts (with even THAT line blurring in this age). Everyone punches the clock day in day out, looking forward to old age and retirement at 50 or 60. The so-called golden years.

At a time period when natural entropy and decades of wear and tear imposed by a career have rendered many people in various states of discontent and discomfort, is when our system decides it a good time to give its sentient cogs free time.
Not when they are younger to middle-aged, full of energy, ability, and desire.  No. Wait till they have been used up and squeezed for every fiat penny that can be earned out of them. Then let them have their fun times.

If they happen to come to some unfortunate demise (be it natural or otherwise) beforehand, whatever. They may have been shortchanged of their hard earned capitalist payout by fate, but their efforts were not in vain. The entity that they enriched in life keeps chugging along. Be they show this appreciation to the next of kin or not.

There it is, my take on capitalism. It would seem that I don’t put much stock in my societies way of life. No wonder I often find myself aimlessly flipping past want ad’s and feeling irritated by resumes, cover letters and interviews.
I don’t give a fuck about rules, policies, or often irrational procedures (to be followed TO THE LETTER!). I am here to survive, and my only vessel to this end in this paradigm is through my labor. A fact that most are quick to exploit.

Insanity at best. Inhumane at worst.

If you REALLY want a glimpse into the latter, look into the plight of long-term recipients of workplace injury benefits as covered by Workmans Compensation Board’s pretty much everywhere.  In a nutshell, calling it long-term injury benefits is another oxymoron because almost, as a rule, they DO NOT cover long-term claims. They are paid by and work for the employer, and function like almost any health insurance company . . . the bottom line comes first and foremost. Avoid covering as many pricy claims as possible. And if you want to fight them in court . . . good luck. Public legal council doesn’t have the resources to help you, and the real thing will be WAY out of your range even if it does make it to court.

I saw my dad go through it, starting in around 2000. And he has never recovered from it. And likely never will.

Yet another aspect of freedom that has been long ago debunked for me.

Fortunately, there is a 3ed that is worth exploring. One that, unlike the other 2, is actually somewhat within our control. That is, mental and/or physical limitations as imposed by ourselves.

Sometimes these things are seemingly innate parts of our personalities or being. Sometimes these are things picked up along the way. The throughline of all of them being that changing them often seems impossible.
Addictions. Bad Habits. Phobias. Bad relationships. There many quirks or situations that could fit in here. Sometimes more than one at a time.

Sometimes the feeling of impossibility is just a representation of reality. Not everything can be corrected, and not everyone will be successful (even if they try). But what if the seemingly impossible is actually attainable?

It would seem that to be the ultimate form of freedom. Shaking off the shackles of mental and/or physical limitation (as they are at times connected).

This came to mind in the oddest way (as many things do with me). One night when diving into some youtube algorithmic vortex, I ended up on a video called Climbing A 360M Spire In Dubai (Nearly Caught). Naturally, I clicked (you can’t tell me that wouldn’t make you curious).
I certainly wasn’t disappointed. Though I nearly had a panic attack.

Heights have never been my cup of tea, so while I SHOULD have known what I was getting into, going right to this video was likely the equivalent of going straight from drug virginity to heroin. When the hatch opens and suddenly the 20 or so storey buildings nearby look like toys, it hits you. Then the crazy bastard stands up, and I have to pause the video. Had to remind myself that I am safe on my couch, not on top of a 360-meter high spire in the UAE. Note, NOT the Burj Khalifa (though you can get a view from that 828-meter spire  HERE. If you dare).
For another hair-raising experience, go to time stamp  2:56 on this one.

Either way, after watching some more videos like this from this guy (James Kingston, from Southhampton, UK), I learned somewhere that he was once afraid of heights.
Apparently, it all started with Parkour (Freerunning? Apparently there are 2 distinct communities, and one sees itself as incompatible with the other). Though little else could help him escape a shell, this activity did. To the point that all that was left was a strong fear of heights.
And that fear was eventually demolished by way of increasingly higher climbs.

Interestingly, it made me view these types of videos in a different way. The common views (both of which I have been guilty of holding in the past) are

1.) “What is he NUTS?! He could die!”

2.) “Darwinism at work. Let the simple wipe themselves out”

The last one may make the intellectuals shudder, but you get the point.

Of course, one can not condone this. Taking defiance of gravity right to the edge is not without risk to self and others, particularly when in urban areas. Even a falling smartphone is a dangerous proposition in a populated city or construction site. And of course, you are putting a lot of faith in a weld. While it presumably should be good, it only takes one.

None the less, I guess you could say that I understand this.

There is danger involved, and it is crazy, no doubt about it. But there is also the aspect of a freedom that is not shared by many people. Freedom from a quite common form of mental bondage that keeps many people (me included) from potentially many experiences. Even if not scaling tower cranes or climbing spires, then things like high altitude downhill skiing, bungee jumping, skydiving, rock climbing.

To shift this away from hights altogether, imagine something like weight loss. Quitting smoking or casting aside the shackles of some other nemesis. Conquering some habit, trait or phobia that previously made straightening out the Isreal/Palestine conflict look like a breeze in comparison.
Yeah, apples and oranges. But it plays into the often irrational nature of these things, as interpreted by us.

To conclude, freedom is an ILLUSION!

Like many things in life . . . sort of. When it comes to typical contexts of the word (law and economy), it is indeed what you make of it. In terms of the law, it will always be some balance between the obvious and the ridiculous. It’s the ultimate culmination of a system of order that is enforced by mere humans prone to outside influence (greed and herd ideology, among others).
Economic freedom is generally also what one makes of it, though the illusion (if you choose to call it that) becomes less visible the higher one is on the economic ladder.

Of the 3, personal freedom is where it’s at. It’s not everything (the other 2 are still the macro’s for most of us). None the less, there is nothing more rewarding than breaking down a barrier of the self. Whatever form that may take.

 

Posted in Personal | Leave a comment

True Online Free Speech – Impossible?

Part 1

Freedom of Speech.

The favored ideological cash cow of the past few years.  For a topic that generates so much noise, very little is of actual substance. Though I suppose that could be said for many dialogues in the digital realm.
It is also one of the very few cases in which the generally accepted practice (even in terms of respected intellectuals such as Noam Chomsky) is to place yourself at an extreme. All must be accepted.

First off, a little clarification. My tone suggests a bias that may not exactly be accurate. I am not against free speech. I am just fed up with the conversation as it has existed for quite a while now (in the context of free speech online, anyway). Endless yammering on and on, yet little actual constructive solutions aside from crafted points outlining how things should be. What platforms should be doing.

I am not a free speech purist. I am not a free speech anything really. I generally do very little censorship of anything that I am in control of (Twitter, blog, facebook etc), so I basically embrace pure free speech without the virtue signaling flair.
However, I question a few aspects of the free speech purist’s arguments. Let us explore.

One is the “Sunlight cures bad ideas” argument.

Aside from the speech aspect, the assumption is made that everyone is equally able to evaluate all information that is being presented to them, including that which is involving the complicated. Considering how often I see Dave Rubin and Sam Harris types being called out here and elsewhere, yet STILL they grow in popularity, I call BS on this assessment.

Going back to the speech aspect, I am unsure if reactionary actions provoked by incendiary speakers should be as readily dismissed as many people seem to think. In all honesty, I am unsure if most (be they purists or otherwise) have given this aspect much thought.

Incendiary speech from a pedestal comes to mind here, first and foremost. But also applicable are those dialogues which are not explicitly incendiary, but none the less toxic. Racist, sexist, xenophobic, that sort of thing.

Reactions due to incendiary speech tend to be rare. Like other forms of terrorism and violence, too much emphasis here may distract from other areas.

And so, other areas. It is generally accepted at face value that Racism, Sexism, Xenophobia etc must be tolerated, but rebutted when applicable. Anything else is, slippery slope fallacy!

I do not entirely write off the premise. We are dealing with people after all. However, I do have to raise an eyebrow.

Call me an authoritarian progressive, but I see little wrong with drawing a line in the sand when an idea has been decided to be explicitly wrong, or harmful. We have figured out that bias based rhetoric (be it racist, sexist, xenophobic, homophobic, whatever!) can lead to nowhere good. So why put up with it?
It eats away at the foundations of civil society.

Of course, many people of previous generations (along with many people that listen to copious amounts of Dave Rubin or Sam Harris) may disagree.
However, when it is a case of (more often than not) misrepresented or misunderstood data deliberately targeting a cohort that fears the loss of its everlasting dominance VS reality, I will stick with reality.
Speaking of reality, wait until oceans start pushing coastal dwellers further and further inland. You ain’t see NOTHING yet!

Anyway, back on track.

While the whack a mole rebuttal as necessary tactic is preferred, I am unsure if it is effective. First, the exposure of the ideas generally leads to more attention. And 2ed, there is again an assumption that the listener will be equally able to weigh and analyze even complex ideas, even if they are being described very convincingly and in a charismatic way.

Noting recent events pretty much the world over, I SERIOUSLY call into question this line of reasoning. However, am I going to explicitly come out against this “Free Marketplace of Ideas”?

No.

I just think that the tactics and the views accepted and employed almost thoughtlessly by many of us are worthy of a second look, of further consideration.
I could be barking up the wrong tree. But there is only one way to find out.

Well, 2 ways, if you take the out of the typical ideologue (“You are WRONG. PERIOD!”). If you are one of these extremely entrenched people, there is not much point reading beyond this.

More on free speech absolutism . . . it would be a bit silly for me to take that stance for a couple reasons.
For one, I live in a country that does not embrace as much free speech as the United States. Jordan Peterson makes a good living off of selling that point to anyone who will listen.
But more importantly, the context in which the free speech absolutism would be most applicable for me is in the online realm. Be it here (whether you are seeing this on WordPress or Reddit), Facebook, Twitter or otherwise. Such self-governing bodies reserve the right to not allow pretty much any speech or expression they choose (such is the accepted reality of using a privately owned and run domain). As such, me calling myself a free speech purist is just silly. Dare I say it again, virtue signaling.

As noted, I criticize people for presenting more noise than solution when it comes to so-called Free Speech online. As such, I will propose mine.

Part 2

In the free speech dialogue, once you get past the How Things Should Be stage, there is nowhere left to go but to acknowledge reality. There is currently no government-owned and/or regulated platform that can serve as the public square of the internet. End.

Okay. Where to from here?

In order for this to happen in the current status quo, the current platforms will have to embrace this practice. What if they refuse?

Do you force them using the judicial system? Nationalize them?

Remember that there are now billions of dollars on the line. Billions of dollars can buy one HELL of a fight (just ask Bernie Sanders). Not to mention that if one has a conservative/libertarian lean, overlooking such an act of economic aggression should REALLY make you question those values.

However, you don’t NEED to go through all of that trouble. Because the infrastructure to circumvent the status quo is already there. All you need to do is build the platform of your choosing.

Yes, it will cost some money and likely take some effort, but it should be worth it. Not only could it be equitable to a government-sanctioned public space, but even better. Total and complete control of content, but for federal or regional laws. And even THAT can be bypassed, depending on what country you choose to host.

The solution to the online speech situation is possible. And relatively easily attainable. It just needs to be funded and pursued.

Of course, this is dependant on net neutrality remaining in place. If you know little about the topic, look into it. But most importantly, if you still want even the OPTION of having such a platform as the one I described earlier being as readily available as the whole internet is now, make some calls.

That is my solution to the problem. The internet is built for this type of thing, so its surprising that it has not happened yet. I know that Facebook, Google and other big tech firms like buying up the competition in order to continue bucking the Myspace trend, but none the less . . . over a decade and STILL nothing?

Part 3

Before now, this would have been the end of the road. Evaluation of where the current conversation falls short, outline of how to easily remedy the solution, done. You now have the solution, so if you continue to play the typical cards, I won’t take you seriously. Because you are all bark and no bite!

Though it ended there for me before, a recent Vox video clip shone an interesting light on the topic. Though we typically see Twitter as being not all that different than the rest of them at this point, apparently that is not how it started.

If taken at face value, it was supposed to be a platform that prioritized free speech above all else, but for a few circumstances. And they supposedly tried to keep following that lead. However, years of rampant harassment begun to drive more and more users away. Which presumably forced the platform to act at the risk of losing too much of its regular user base.

That is the story, what they say. I have also heard of cases of Twitter targeting (or at least prioritizing) right-leaning accounts in its sweeps. People say a lot of things, particularly when they feel they have been wronged (or want you to believe they have no culpability). Having said that, however, I don’t doubt that harassment increasingly became a big problem. Its common knowledge that pretty much anyone with a wide online presence has to put up with this.

So, let’s say that someone finally makes my idea of a digital free speech utopia a reality. How would one prevent such a fate from condemning that platform?

Where is the line between free speech utopia and current day Twitter?

Posted in Free Speech, Opinion, Various Commentary | Leave a comment

Decimated Puerto Rico – Corporate Cash Grab?

First off, yes. The title needs some clarification.

While recent events more than likely come to mind for most of us now, the reality is that Puerto Rico has been in dire straights for decades. The nation-state equivalent of an indentured slave with a cruel owner. To take the analogy to the present, the nation-state equivalent of a poverty-stricken and indebted inner-city resident that has had to downgrade and sell so much just to get by that there is literally NOTHING LEFT to part with. And then came the divorce.

Fine, maybe a bit distasteful. But being the sexist habit of associating predatory women with dramatic weather phenomena, and having a storm named Maria involved . . . I couldn’t help myself.

Either way, despite being a US holding with residents that are technically American citizens, their treatment at the hand of the homeland is FAR from that enjoyed by any of the 50 more well-known states. Along with apathy, the nation was also allowed to become a sort of playground for corporations to do what they do best. Slap down roots and demand the world, while giving very little in return for these favors of the commons.

Either way, without the help of the homeland or its corporate parasites making use of the island for all it can give (and then some, because fuck you Puerto Rico!), the Island’s government in its desperation, had to get creative (albeit short-sighted) in its dealing. Enter Wall street and the addictively convenient financial instrument that is the bond.
Now, because of the widespread use of this instrument, not only is the fate of Puerto Rico at stake. Also at stake, are many, MANY investors of all kinds. Some of which may not even know that they have a stake in it.
People like me, with pension plans embedded in bonds and other financial instruments that are managed at arm’s length. And for those that DO want to gain some nuance as to where your stakes may lie . . . good luck.

As is his style, John Oliver puts it nicely in this segment.

When watching the clip for the first time not too long ago, I was surprised to see it dated April of 2016. Imagine that bitter pill. Decades of pillage and indentured servitude, plus hurricane, plus the Jones act, multiplied by orange snowflake more triggered by a female authority than death and destruction, equals they are screwed. Short of the guts of the US governing system doing one of the least psychopathic things in the history of the nation . . . Its hard to see any silver lining.

Either way, while the hurricane has put the island back on the map, if only briefly (I once tweeted San Juan is the new Allepo), few knew of the disaster that unfolded long before the storm. Something that is important for a couple of reasons:

1.) Problems we are ignorant to are not problems we can even HOPE to begin to fix

2.) Past actions tend to dictate future actions, even if we don’t always like (want?) to admit it

Which is where the next part of this post comes in. Companies and corporations donating goods and manpower towards the cause of rebuilding the Island. The two most notable that I have seen so far being Tesla and Google (with help from AT&T).

By now, most of us have likely heard about the Whitefish Energy fiasco. Corruption right out in the open, essentially. Or so it seems.

That is not all that is happening on the ground in Peurto Rico in terms of the energy infrastructure, however.

Enter Tesla, and Elon Musk.

I do have some issues with the man (as previously written about) that should be gotten out of the way right off the bat.

In terms of AI, he seems more prone to fear mongering than much else. I am not much of a fan of the Hyperloop, as the whole concept seems WAY more complicated and impractical in terms of the real world than even just focusing on more fuel efficient (or ideally, electric!) airliners.
And I am almost certain that Mars (and other Alein worlds) are NOT the answer to our future earthly inferno. The ultimate manifestation of our arrogant throwaway culture.

Such solutions are but the product of the scientificly engrained YET AGAIN persuing easy results without adequate contemplation. Otherwise known as, how we ended up here in the first place!
If science reunited with philosophy centuries ago, would nuclear weapons still be a thing?

Either way, a bit off topic. Having said all that, I do not dismiss ALL of Elon Musks work. Tesla is great in terms of electric vehicles and further advancing battery storage technology. Technology that the company is now donating to Peurto Rico in order to help the island build more microgrids.

And yet, with all the sad and depressing things that have been happening with Puerto Rico’s recovery, there is still a happy story—it just doesn’t come from Donald Trump and company. Elon Musk and his company Tesla got a massive number of solar panels and batteries down to Puerto Rico and used them to get the power back on at San Juan’s Children’s Hospital, which serves thousands of Puerto Rican children and had been without power despite having critically ill patients.

The coup de grace? He did it all for free, and made it clear on Instagram that this is just the first of many planned power projects in Puerto Rico.

https://www.gq.com/story/tesla-puerto-rico 

This is one single sample article, but most of them are toned more or less in the same way.

Next, Google.

Or more accurately, Alphabet, the parent company of Google. It seems that in 2015, Google restructured itself so as to make all of its subsidiaries (a mixture of both online an non-online related) more cohesive. Thus, Alphabet is the parent company, and X is the subsidiary in charge of the project.

In short, along with the power grid, a huge percentage of the communications infrastructure was also decimated. Everything from pole based fiber and copper, to cell towers. All of which takes time to repair and reboot back to service.

Where X comes in, is in essentially communication balloons. Functioning in much the same way as communication satellites, the balloons would substitute for cell towers, relaying LTE signals from mobile devices and back into the cell network VIA specially configured towers (where AT&T & others come in). Thereby bringing light connectivity to large swaths of the island with relative ease. Basically, people in these new balloon-based macro cells can text and do some light web browsing. Information can now flow in and out in real time.

Though this is the first I have ever heard of this solution being put into practice in the mainstream, I have heard of the concept in the past. And it has been used in past disaster zones to positive results. Part of the reason why it was so quickly deployed in PR (some of the kinks were ironed out).

Despite being locked in the past and held down by overbearing imperialists and unfathomable obligations, Tesla and X are giving the island a taste of the future. One hopes to rebuild the power grid into more resilient microgrids. And one is untethering major communications infrastructure from the land and putting it somewhere far more logical. The air is not just beyond land availability and NIMBY limitations, but also beyond most topographical limitations. While urban canyons and mountainous terrain are hard to cover by land, by air is another matter.

Peurto Rico has become the perfect location and candidate for real-world experimentation, testing, and demonstration of a lot of this new technology. For the Peurto Rican people, it should indeed be a net positive, being that they will presumably get a cleaner and more resilient power grid out of it.

However, I still have to look with raised eyebrows.

X’s balloon operation is temporary (presumably it will be unnecessary when most of the land-based macrocells are back online). A temporary demonstration for both research purposes and publicity. However, the power grid is not going anywhere.

My concern is ensuring this is not just business as usual for Peurto Rico, just with a different set of actors. I will not dispute the value of data collected from real-world deployments of technology. I just worry that other strings may be attached. As seems to be the common status quo when it comes to corporate influence on the island.

Posted in Opinion, Various Commentary | Leave a comment

Poppy Madness

It’s that time of year once more. Chronologically speaking, it is Halloween.  However,  I am referring to a time period that is more applicable to my personal universe.
In a nutshell, due to various circumstances of the life in which I live (one of which being my employment, the 2ed being my overly functional brain), the period between Back To School in September and New Years tends to be hellish. Its a combination of increased workloads, short-tempered consumers, and an endless supply of mindless babble. Don’t get me wrong, increased work does not overly bother me (I used to easily cope with the pressures of a fairly well oiled fast food machine). It is everything else that is unique to people that makes things difficult.
While back to school and hungry spawn bring an increase in traffic to retail, the real hell begins before the holidays. Primarily in the final days before the holidays, when the last minute shoppers flock to the store in a haste to pick up leftovers. Despite typically WEEKS of anticipation of the holidays (in terms of sales and available inventory) on the part of the retailers. Its a time of frustration and amusement for me, when that the happy and positive connotation of the upcoming holiday often stands in stark contrast to the often bitter or disrespectful holiday shopper. I am NOT saying that this is a rule of thumb by ANY means, and I am very likely influenced by my biases (particularly misanthropy). But for every one of me (of which there are likley few), there are probably tenfold more people influenced by the very opposite bias.

Either way, it goes like this. First, comes school, then Thanksgiving, then the period between it and Remembrance Day, and then the ultimate leadup (and subsequent culmination) of it all in Christmas and New Years. I began to acknowledge the period between Thanksgiving and Remembrance Day in recent times due to idiotic controversies coming up in recent years.
These controversies involving retailers stocking Christmas and Holiday fare before November 11th, the day of Remembrance. As though that is some sort of afront to the Veterans of past and present.

I would have thought that the nasty shift towards right-wing authoritarianism worldwide was far more of an insult to such people, but hey . . . what do I know? I just hate people.

So far, I have not seen this attempted retail shaming come up in the trending discourses of social media. But we’re still 2 weeks out, and the stores still have leftover sugar-laden treats to dispose of in order to make room. So that is not the focus of this piece.

Instead, my focus will be on another form of retail shaming. And I didn’t spot this on social media, either. This story is straight from an email prepared by legitamite Canadian news agency CTV.  And the controversy . . . a retailer rejecting sales of poppies.

Nova Scotia Legion branch ‘hurt’ by Dollarama’s rejection of poppy trays

Volunteers of a Royal Canadian Legion branch in Elmsdale, N.S., say they are hurt and disappointed by the way a local Dollarama rejected the non-profit’s poppy tray and donation boxes.

On Oct. 27, volunteers from the Elmsdale Legion carried out their annual delivery of poppies and donation boxes to local businesses. That afternoon, an employee from Elmsdale’s Dollarama came by the Legion’s office to return two poppy trays delivered to the store earlier in the day.

“She explained that she was working at the Dollarama when the poppies were delivered, and that when one of the supervisors came in, the supervisor got upset and said they weren’t allowed to do the poppy campaign,” Ann Creamer, president of the Elmsdale Legion, told CTV Atlantic.

The employee told Creamer that the supervisor threw the two poppy trays left by Legion volunteers “underneath the cabinet.”

“[The employee] was upset because relatives of hers were veterans, and her husband is in the military,” Creamer said. “She totally supported the poppy campaign, so she was upset that her employer wasn’t supporting it.”

The language used is interesting.  In a nutshell, the bias of the author is obvious. Not that I didn’t expect that. Much like reading an article about any other sacred Canadian trait (such as hockey or The Tragically Hip), its expected.

Also, the angry employee is wrong about the company not supporting the poppy campaign. More on that later.

In a statement, a Dollarama spokesperson told CTV Atlantic that the Elmsdale Dollarama was acting in accordance with the retailer’s nation-wide policy to prevent theft.

“Dollarama does not allow for the placement of unattended donation boxes from any third party at the cash or elsewhere in the store,” the statement said. “Check-out areas are high-traffic zones for associates to manage, with limited space, and unfortunately, a high risk for theft.”

It’s an understandable policy, really. The staff has enough responsibility keeping an eye on its own inventory without taking on the responsibility of third-party assets as well.

Not that such a policy explanation is even necessary. It’s private property. Subject to whatever rules they choose to enact and enforce.

To go one step further, one often hears about how the troops “fought for our freedoms!“. By extension, one would assume that to include the right to have reasonable control over the happenings on one’s private property. Which makes this shamming campaign look very eyebrow-raisingly authoritarian.

Isn’t it ironic . . . don’t ya think?

According to Legion member and volunteer Marion Manning, the nation-wide policy hasn’t been as firm in recent years.

“Last year we received a phone call from them asking us to bring up trays – they wanted to put them on their counters,” Manning told CTV Atlantic.

Two years ago, however, the poppies were turned down upon arrival at Elmsdale’s Dollarama, Manning said, calling the policy confusing and hurtful.

“It’s disrespectful to [my husband] Gary, putting his life on the line, and other vets. It just shouldn’t be happening.”

Manning has written a letter to Dollarama, but for now the poppy trays will remain off the retailer’s counters.

Write away.

If (when?) this hits social media, the retailer will more than likely listen, lest have to deal with an even temporary boycott of social media users that think they have accomplished some good in the world. Nothing like using public pressure and bandwagons to fix a non-issue.

The stores take the trays some years, and not others . . . disrespectful?
Hardly.
Deal with it. People have to shop more retailers than just the dollar store anyway. There are plenty of places that these trays can be situated.

What is disrespectful is this parading of one’s status as a military family member in the name of shaming a private entity into reversing a PERFECTLY legitimate policy.
And while it does not surprise me that this would make it into the national news media, it’s disheartening.

In its statement, Dollarama also said the company donates $10,000 to the Royal Canadian Legion’s poppy fund every year.

And there it is.

Unless this employee plans on matching this, I think that this conversation is over.

Still, some Elmsdale Legion volunteers said they won’t be shopping at any Dollarama locations in the near future.

And again, there it is. On the other hand, at least they are honest about it!

They won’t shop there in the NEAR future. However, come holiday time when the need for cheap foreign made gifts, wrapping paper, and knick-knacks comes along, all is forgiven!

Posted in Culture, Opinion, Various Commentary | Leave a comment

“Post-Atheism: There’s No God, Let’s Move On” – (Patheos)

Recently (in the past day or so in fact) I have come across 2 articles about our world Post-Atheism. I think a better description would be Post New Atheism.

Either way, back in the early 200o (post 9/11), the combination of both the horrible religiously driven events and the fairly recent ubiquity of the internet helped fuel a sort of irreligious revolution in the western world.  Spearheaded by the so-called 4 horsemen (Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Danial Dennett and Christopher Hitchens), the previously esoteric cohort of higher education begun to explode in numbers. To the point now that the irreligious are thought to be one of the largest untapped cohorts in the United States alone.
I use the term irreligious as a catch-all for anyone in the secular spectrum, being that I don’t expect people to adopt labels that they may not feel are fitting. I also don’t use the term Nones, because that seems a silly term to be throwing around in an intellectual environment. Not that it has stopped people like Dawkins though.

But moving on, it has been close to 2 decades since the events of September 11th, and the birth of Nu-New-Atheism. And some are saying that it is time to move on. Time to move into a post-atheist world.

I have to agree. Having already more or less adopted such a mindset in terms of my personal self, it’s about time that the rest of the world and the cohort caught up.
New Atheism has increasingly become an unintended parody of the religiosity it is supposed to be trying to defeat. Which is severely retarding its ability to fulfill that original purpose in many ways. It’s time for a reboot.

That was my condensed take on the subject. I will now switch to the article.

We’re now in the age of post-atheism, and not a moment too soon.

The Utopia That Never Was

If the study of science and history teaches us anything, it’s that everything has a lifespan. Organisms, species, and even civilizations originate, develop, thrive, and then die out. The universe itself will someday expire through heat death. So welcome to the age of post-atheism.

Read more at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularspectrum/2017/10/post-atheism-theres-no-god-lets-move/#5uh3s7zkWyB46xU1.99

I believe the word that the author is looking for is entropy.

Not really a criticism. More, a helpful hint?

In the aftermath of 9/11, atheism seemed like a great idea. The new millennium was supposed to represent a fresh start, where we would apply skepticism to all the old beliefs. Science and reason would replace religion and superstition, and the world would be a better place.

However, the problems of the world are a lot more complicated than they seemed in that moment of crisis. We can argue all day long about whether God exists, and we’ve been doing so for over a decade; not only did religious belief refuse to go away, but blaming all the world’s problems on religion turned out to be just as self-serving, simplistic, and erroneous a dogma as any religious belief.

I feel inclined to swap out Atheism in the opening sentence with Nu-New Atheism But at the same time, I can’t help but think that using the word Atheism to describe the ideology that it has devolved into recently is wrong. New Atheism could be applied here, but I know for a fact that this practice long predated New Atheism. As much as I love this speech from Madelyn Murray O’Hair, I can’t help but think she is engaging in some of the same rhetoric. The whole Atheism First mentality that still permeates American Atheists, and really, much of the cohort as a whole to this day. Pissing away the potential of an entirely new voting block due to its reluctance to embrace a label.

That is not rational.

I suppose that the pre-2000’s version of garden-variety Atheism is not all that different from what ended up taking off in the New Millennium. Both were destined to become unintended parodies eventually.

White Men Tell Us Things

Our celebrity atheist spokesmen have plenty to answer for. The Four Horsemen initially inspired us to think about religion critically, but gradually we realized we were getting sold more than books and tickets to high-profile debates; we were also buying into a right-wing mindset. The New Atheists were providing intellectual cover to the War on Terror and Muslim-bashing. They derided feminists, and applauded academic hoaxes intended to discredit critical theorists. They’ve touted the work of racist pseudoscientists and declared that philosophy is a waste of time. For people who supposedly champion critical thinking, they sure believe some wacko stuff themselves.

I still struggle with this, really.

It started with the infamous Bill Maher/Sam Harris V. Ben Afflick show some time ago. There was a lot of reactionary outrage on both sides, lots of black and white arguments made. They are racist, they are not racist.

I used to be on the side of Maher and Harris. But I have since withdrawn entirely from the debate. Meaning that I don’t take any side.

Being around philosophy types has helped make many things more clear to me than they ever were before. Conversations like the one above are often chalked full of WAY more moving parts and nuance than is recognized. And the supposed thinkers that have become famous and well respected also often  seem to miss (or ignore) the grey areas. I have yet to have ONE New Atheist that I formerly respected that does not fall into this trap.

Could this be why they so dislike philosophy?

Even their pro-science rhetoric turned out to be problematic. The two-dimensional positivism they peddle is like the Model T of philosophy of science, a construct that went extinct around the same time as did the passenger pigeon. Scientific inquiry is in hock to corporate and military interests: pop-science TV shows like NOVA and Cosmos are sponsored by Samsung, Chrysler, FOX, and the Koch Brothers. Are these institutions that value freethought?

Though I have nothing to add or say about the statement, I have to bring one thing up. The word Freethought.

These words annoy me. You often see people use labels like freethinker despite obviously only applying the logic it entails to one area . . . religion. Ideological Atheism that mirrors religiosity, conspiracy theory, identity politics . . . the only one that counts is religion!

I had to say it. Its why I, for the most part, don’t take anyone that describes themselves with a buzzword (freethinker, logical, rational, reasonable, nuanced etc) all that seriously. In a nutshell, you do not have to tell me or anyone else because we will know.

In a nutshell, you do not have to tell us. We will know.

Let’s Be Reasonable

The most dire problems we face today aren’t religious: anthropogenic global warming, income inequality, systemic racism, our vulnerability to terrorism, gun violence, corporate influence over our government, denial of reproductive rights for women, and various other intractable matters. The idea that religion will disappear if we insult enough strangers online, and then all our problems will go away, is magical thinking of the highest order.

But they’re your hours, so pass them as you will. If the God-is-God-ain’t matter still seems important to you, have at it. But that’s stale stuff.

More or less what I have been trying to say for a while now. As the planet burns, we are trying to sell the passengers black t-shirts.

To my way of thinking, it’s more important to look at our own beliefs and biases, and subject them to the same scrutiny we’ve spent years and years applying to those of religious people. We need to take an honest look at the way we conceptualize science and approach knowledge; we need to examine our society and the inequities that still exist; and we need to acknowledge that there are philosophical assumptions involved in how we define history and humanity that deserve skepticism.

There’s no God. Let’s move on.

Could not have said it better.

It’s nice to see that at least a small part of the digital universe has started to wake up and smell the coffee. Well, has become comfortable enough to share these feelings publicly. But we have a long way to go. As evidenced by many of the comments under the article.

And possibly in this comment section in the future.

 

Posted in Atheism Criticisms, Opinion, Religion & Atheism | Leave a comment

The Dawkins Scale

It has been awhile since I last broached this topic. But in these days of turbulence and super chaotic news cycles, a softball is a nice distraction.

So here goes. The Dawkins Scale.

Despite having heard this scale referred to in the past, I don’t recall ever seeing it nor looking it up (oddly enough). But I happened upon it late last night on Twitter, so I took a look.

Most vocal atheists tend to place themselves at a 6. Some militants go as far as 7, but most generally know that is as idiotic a conclusion (given the evidence available) as a 1 or a 2.
I used to be a 6, back in my days of being a loud and proud Atheist. But aside from that point in life, I can not really place myself anywhere. Which is interesting for a chart that is supposed to be a default rule of thumb for all of the above. Not that it is surprising.

Let’s start with me today. After I quit trying on new labels after leaving the Agnostic Atheist one behind a few years ago, I started to look at the topic differently. I used to (like many) feel it important to make my answer to the ultimate question known (mine being “No”). But I realized in time that for me anyway, the energy expended on the topic was WAY out of sync with its true importance in my life. The god question has no bearing on my life whatsoever, so it needs no attention.
I also realized that my cookie cutter answers to the question (the Agnostic Atheist stance) were redundant to my true sentiment. I don’t know suited me just fine.
No, not Maybe. Many Atheists like to strawman this position by using Maybe to try and force people to pick a side. But it doesn’t work on this cookie.
I didn’t give some ambiguous answer with an obvious lean such as Maybe or Probably Not. I said I don’t know.

Now, switching to my childhood and teenage years previous to Atheism.

Church was never a priority for my household. I can’t really use words like certainty to describe my position on a deity throughout this time because they don’t really fit. Certainty seems to entail a that I had considered the concept (or at very least, the topic was brought up at some point in my presence). But that isn’t the case. It was just something that sat in the background recesses of my mind and consciousness. A bit like the blue sky or the green leaves of summer. It was just there.

The 9th grade came along and changed that a bit. One could say that a deity went from a background concept to being fairly prominent, though not in the way that most would expect. I didn’t have a come to Jesus moment. Rather, trials in life (to borrow from the theists) made me hate God. Initially, for all He (I was young) was allowed to happen to me. But then later for all that He was allowing to happen to people around the world.

Fortunately for me (looking back), I had very little church influence in my life. Had I been part of a church, I may well have reasoned these trials away as just a part of God’s plan. But I was alone in my struggle. Which allowed my God hatred to transition into an acknowledgment of a void, as opposed to full-blown theism. A Christian to be precise (since I don’t live in Saudi Arabia).

Now, looking at the Dawkins scale, I am not sure that I can place myself in it either pre OR post Agnostic Atheist.

When I was young, I didn’t give it enough thought to really consider myself within ANY of the so-called theistic options, yet also was not what they call Pure Agnostic. When I decided to Hate God (presumably the Christian one I was familiar with), I suppose that could be seen as a one or a 2.
And then there is now. We come back to number 4, Pure Agnostic. This position on the chart being “both the existence and non-existence conclusions are equally plausible”. While it would be the closest entry point of which I could shoehorn myself into this graph, it still doesn’t fit.

I personally do not give either conclusion equal weight or probability of being correct. When I say that I do not know, I am not kidding. The topic is unimportant and impossible to analyze at this point (and possibly always will be), so I just accepted that and walked away in pretty much every way possible. Rather than focus on unknowable metaphysical problems, I try and focus on the physical.

I don’t fit the Dawkins scale. I don’t have a problem with that either, being that the whole thing is silly. It makes me question how exactly Dawkins came up with the dichotomy. If the child me is mostly outside of its confines, I have to think that there has to a cohort that he overlooked.
Indeed, I know that Dawkins and other Nu-atheists tend to not take criticisms from the Philosophy realm seriously. It shows in how rigid a doctrine that the once ambiguous Atheism has become in the hands of a generation following the 4 Horseman. Atheist or Theist . . . can’t get much more inflexible than that.
Either way, even aside from that well-deserved jab at modern Atheist culture (Atheism First! is a phrase that Trump helped me cook up), I still wonder how the I don’t Know people got overlooked. Unless it is the typical arrogant  “They don’t know what they are talking about, but WE will educate them!” atheist attitude. Being Richard Dawkins, it wouldn’t surprise me.

Well, I suppose that is all folks.

If you ever looked at this chart and thought “I’m not sure . . .”, no need to feel bad. Because it is dumb and extremely narrowly focused for the highly ambiguous cohort that it is supposed to be helping sort out.

Posted in Atheism Criticisms, Opinion, Religion & Atheism | Leave a comment