Cryptocurrency

I have been covering many topics related to future technology of late. One topic that has been on my radar but that I have not given much thought to, are cryptocurrencies. Most are likely familiar with the topic through the most well-known variant (Bitcoin), though there are hundreds of more varieties. The phenomenon even has a home in popular culture in Mr. Robot (spoiler alert!), in Evil (E) corp’s attempt to switch the world over to E-coin (as opposed to the traditional US dollar) after the 5/9 hack.

This has been in my periphery for some years now, but I recently grew interested in it on account to 3 factors. Some interest was generated by various segments of The Majority Report which outline the technology’s libertarian roots. However, the major triggers were a combination of viewing a segment on the subject by John Oliver, AND hearing about the David Pakman show being robbed of a few grand in of cryptocurrency.

Both in the same week.

This is not the first time that a hacker has made off like a thief in the night with a bunch of coins. But you could say that it was the first time it hit close to home. If one can say that as a regular viewer of an online personality. Isn’t it interesting this online infrastructure has done for human relationships and interactions?

Anyway, John Oliver covered the topic in enough depth to satisfy the casual viewer, but not mine. I understand skimming over the black box stuff and getting straight to the meat of the issue (this seems to be driven almost solely due to popularity), but I need more. I love peeling back the shell and seeing what circuits lie beneath.

And so that is what I will attempt to do. Peel back the curtain on cryptocurrencies like bitcoin, as well as blockchain, the underlying mechanism that drives them. Blockchain in itself being something that I find myself increasingly running into (there are tv spots advertising the technology now!).

The obvious place to start is the underlying platform that is blockchain.

Simply put, a blockchain is a continually growing, widely distributed, and continuously updated list. The technology was invented along with bitcoin as a completely decentralized way to keep an ongoing ledger of the currencies use, but it could also be put to use in other areas (such as tracking shipments).
In the context of bitcoin, the ledger (along with various forms of cryptography) prevent the so-called double spending flaw of digital currencies. Since a bitcoin is nothing more than a digital file, copies could be made, thus (in theory) ending in an unlimited amount of currency. This glut of non-existent (fraudulent) coins can destabilize the currency by devaluing it (relative to other currencies).

One of the benefits of common and uncommon cryptocurrencies (expect both lists to change as the year’s pass) is the independent and fairly isolated nature of the framing that supports the respective systems. All necessary background data pertaining to past transactions involving the given currency are publicly available, a necessity due to the finite number of bitcoins in existence (the reason why a glut of fake coins would crash the value of the currency as a whole).
As it stands, not all cryptocurrency ledgers have (or likely, will) prove immune to attacks attempting to break the double-spend safeguards, as happened with Ethereum Classic earlier this year.

I should explain Ethereum. Like Bitcoin, Ethereum is yet another variety of cryptocurrency, forking off from what is now known as Ethereum Classic. There are 2 different types of fork (hard and soft):

1.) A hard fork results in 2 (or presumably, more) different and incompatible blockchains (and thus, 2 different types of coins). Ethereum Classic and Ethereum are a good example.

2.) A soft fork results in 2 different blockchains, but with the forking chain being compatible with the parent chain. For example, the SegWit fork in context to  Bitcoin. 2 different blockchains, the same pool of coins.

https://cryptocurrencyfacts.com/understanding-hard-forks-cryptocurrency/

Since the only requirement to creating a fork (hard OR soft) on any blockchain seems to be a good enough white paper, this would seem to make the whole of the system ripe with vulnerability. A malicious fork could net a whole lot of crypto to reward the efforts of the creator, and it’s not entirely clear that most adopters would know how to spot the deception. A completely understandable enigma given that the whole phenomenon is complex as it is.

Though seemingly an exercise in the theoretical, such attempts have been found in the context of the Ethereum blockchain.

https://cointelegraph.com/news/two-alleged-ethereum-scam-forks-appropriating-users-private-keys-report-finds

From the look of it, the 2 forks seem to do what they are intended to do, but with the downside of sending users private keys to a remote server. A remarkable find given that this key is what users need in order to access the coins in their wallet. If it is compromised, the coins are as good as gone.
Fortunately for the average user, a fair number of organizations seem to be keeping a close eye on the crypto world, watching for these blockchain level scams. When it comes to everyday fraud though, it’s up to all users to be vigilant.

Though a different problem entirely, just as much grief can be caused by the loss of a private key. Whether it’s forgotten, lost or otherwise beyond your reach, so too are the coins held behind that key. If there is no way to retrieve the key, they are as lost as the cash stashed in the cabins of the Titanic.

https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/news/bitcoin-exchange-quadrigacx-password-cryptocurrency-scam-a8763676.html

It’s happened to many users before. Millions of dollars worth of coins lost to forgotten credentials or careless storage. However, this appears to be the first time a coin exchange (the crypto equivalent to a bank) lost its funds due to password negligence. An allegation that I don’t hesitate to use considering that Password managers exist. As much as they annoy me, they would be VERY handy given the circumstance.

As it turns out, the QuadrigaCX scandle was about much more than just password negligence. The guy also had very sticky fingers.

https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/quadrigacx-founder-used-aliases-moved-assets-into-personal-accounts-ernst-and-young-1.5182984

But I am getting a little lost. Possibly, reversed in terms of how I should be presenting this. Either way, back to the origins of crypto.

The most well known of all of them (and most valuable) is currently bitcoin (and has been pretty much since it’s inception and introduction to the market back in 2009). Despite the explosive popularity of the bitcoin whitepaper and the phenomenon that followed (which is now gaining enough economic power to catch the attention of those with a skeptical eye of anything outside of traditional investments), we don’t know who got the ball rolling.

Uh . . . what?! The Mark Zuckerberg of the digital currency world is STILL a mere blank avatar, even a decade out from the debut of his handiwork?

It would seem so.

The name floating around in the absence is Satoshi Nakamoto, his(?) digital pseudonym. From releasing his ongoing project with a cryptography mailing list in late 2008 and the first software (and coin release) in early 2009, right to handing the reins of the Bitcoin  black box over to a fellow named Gavin Andersen in mid 2010, we still don’t know the identity of the person behind the pseudonym.

When it comes to obtaining Bitcoin for yourself, you have the choice of either mining for newly minted (well, newly released) coins, or obtaining coins already in the marketplace. Since it is a currency, it can be obtained in more or less the same ways (direct purchase, payment, wages, gambling etc), though the prices for direct purchase are WAY out of reach for many. As of today (August 12th, 2019), the value of 1 bitcoin is $11,374 USD. This is up from the $7,400.00(ish) that it was back in May of this year (when I started writing this).
As for mining, that is also generally out of reach of most of us. Being that it involves enormous amounts of computational power that only the most wealthy investors can afford. Such is the expense of Bitcoin mining that it has a carbon footprint (those servers have to be powered by something!).

https://www.businessinsider.com/bitcoin-climate-carbon-emissions-rising-2018-10

Though Bitcoin is out of the reach of most people, there are plenty of other alternative cryptocurrencies that are both valued low enough to be accessible AND requiring of much fewer resources for their mining (such as Etherym and Monero). However, as with how all things involving the internet and anything valuable go, the nefarious are never far behind in their quest to hunt down ever more profitable vulnerabilities.

Enter, the crypto miner.

Though generally not nearly as profitable as ransomware deployed in the right environment (such as corprate, or more recently, municipal networks), crypto minors can become a significant source of revenue if deployed on a large enough scale. Given the wide variety of ways that these minors can distribute themselves, generating massive numbers is generally not an issue.

First, you have the obvious. Browser drive-by downloads.
However, these can be of limited use because any AV worth it’s salt should catch that almost instantly, and if not, certainly after a heuristics analysis.
Where things get complicated is when these minors (or a worm that it is bundled with) takes advantage of old unpatched vulnerabilities in all manor of internet-facing infrastructure. Set and forget devices such as routers and servers. Devices that are often issued patches when these exploits are found, yet devices that almost never actually GET updated in any way (if they don’t ship auto-update capable).
Unpatched older home routers that shipped with unknown bugs (or even idiotic default settings, leaving them far more open to the internet than most owners realize) have become notorious for enabling all kinds of exploitations (from mining to DDoS attacks). However, there is also no shortage of unpatched commercial equipment deployments out there that can easily be exploited for personal gain.

But I am once again, I am off course.

Not that you shouldn’t heed this advice, however (KEEP YOUR DEVICES UPDATED!!). It’s not just good security . . . it’s as much a part of everyday life as keeping your doors locked while you sleep.
This is second only to good password hygiene.
Along with keeping your software up to date, LOSE THE REPEATED PASSWORDS!!
There are many password managers on the market (free and paid) that allow the ease of use of only needing to remember 1 password (for your vault). Take the time to transition your now more secure passwords into a vault and you will have less to worry about if a service you use inadvertently spills your credentials into the wild.
You will only need to change 1 password (as opposed to ALL OF THEM).

It’s 2 relatively easy to implement changes in digital behaviour. But they serve to protect you from 2 growing areas of consumer exploit. Certainly, something to think about if you are considering getting into the crypto game.

I will now conclude this piece. So far, I have covered many downsides of this technology. It would seem, disproportionately so.

Given this, I will now look at some positives.

I think the most obvious one (as outlined by its many proponents) is the focus on the individual, along with the ease of cutting out the middle man in almost every transactional situation. Though offsite wallet storage options for coins exist, individuals can also opt to keep their coins stored on a computer, mobile device, or even a physical piece of hardware (generally connected to a USB port). Transactions of all types are promoted as being more straightforward, with less interference (and of course, fee’s) than one would face when dealing with a traditional banking or lending institution.

We will now pause to explain the concept of the cryptocurrency wallet. It is not quite what it sounds, though the name given helps to make the concept more digestible to the less technically literate. It is less a wallet that stores all your coins than it is a repository of your private key.
Though no coins are actually moved in any of these processes (I know . . . ), it’s all about tracking. In order for coins to change hands, the sender has to know the recipient’s public address (anyone that deals in crypto will have one). It’s a bit like an email address. In order to access these funds, coin owners also have their own personal private key. This is what gives them access to all of their coins, and thus needs to be heavily guarded against theft, loss or human error (OPPS! I forgot my key!).

Either way, I’ll let the Huffington Post’s Ammer Rosic explain some of the positives of cryptocurrency as viewed by its proponents:

How will cryptocurrency help you?

Fraud: Individuals cryptocurrencies are digital and cannot be counterfeited or reversed arbitrarily by the sender, as with credit card charge-backs.

Immediate Settlement:Purchasing real property typically involves some third parties (Lawyers, Notary), delays, and payment of fees. In many ways, the bitcoin/cryptocurrency blockchain is like a “large property rights database,” says Gallippi. Bitcoin contracts can be designed and enforced to eliminate or add third party approvals, reference external facts, or be completed at a future date or time for a fraction of the expense and time required to complete traditional asset transfers.

Lower Fees: There aren’t usually transaction fees for cryptocurrency exchanges because the miners are compensated by the network (Side note: This is the case for now). Even though there’s no bitcoin/cryptocurrency transaction fee, many expect that most users will engage a third-party service, such as Coinbase, creating and maintaining their bitcoin wallets. These services act like Paypal does for cash or credit card users, providing the online exchange system for bitcoin, and as such, they’re likely to charge fees. It’s interesting to note that Paypal does not accept or transfer bitcoins.

Identity Theft: When you give your credit card to a merchant, you give him or her access to your full credit line, even if the transaction is for a small amount. Credit cards operate on a “pull” basis, where the store initiates the payment and pulls the designated amount from your account. Cryptocurrency uses a “push” mechanism that allows the cryptocurrency holder to send exactly what he or she wants to the merchant or recipient with no further information.

Access to Everyone: There are approximately 2.2 billion individuals with access to the Internet or mobile phones who don’t currently have access to traditional exchange, these people are primed for the Cryptocurrency market. Kenya’s M-PESA system, a mobile phone-based money transfer, and microfinancing service recently announced a bitcoin device, with one in three Kenyans now owning a bitcoin wallet. (Let me repeat that again. 1/3)

Decentralization: A global network of computers use blockchain technology to jointly manage the database that records Bitcoin transactions. That is, Bitcoin is managed by its network, and not any one central authority. Decentralization means the network operates on a user-to-user (or peer-to-peer) basis. The forms of mass collaboration this makes possible are just beginning to be investigated.

Recognition at universal level: Since cryptocurrency is not bound by the exchange rates, interest rates, transactions charges or other charges of any country; therefore it can be used at an international level without experiencing any problems. This, in turn, saves lots of time as well as money on the part of any business which is otherwise spent in transferring money from one country to the other. Cryptocurrency operates at the universal level and hence makes transactions quite easy.

https://www.huffpost.com/entry/7-incredible-benefits-of_b_13160110

It should be noted that the author of this article is also the CEO of a company called Blockgeeks, an organization that looks to be specializing in courses covering everything one needs to know to get in the game of blockchain (and by extension, cryptocurrency). Not exactly a case of conflict of interest, but worth keeping in mind.

And now, the long-awaited conclusion. Almost.

As it stands right now, I am personally leary to embrace the technology as it exists today. Aside from the libertarian-leaning selling points of it spawning skepticism in my mind (as opposed to curiosity), I just don’t trust cryptocurrencies at the moment. I am far too risk-averse than to hedge my bets in an emerging market that is not only barely a decade old, but also a rife target for law enforcement due to its inherently lawless nature.

Can any government takedown Bitcoin, or any other digital currency? At the moment, no.

It reminds me of the grief that P2P programs like Limewire and Kazza brought to content heavyweights like the RIAA and the MPAA in the early to mid-2000s. Unlike the easily accessible public trackers of the BitTorrent protocol that would eventually replace these earlier platforms (such as Gnutella), decentralized filesharing made it much harder to take stock of all participants on the network. Such was the scope of the network that not all users would necessarily see all other users.

Though all of these protocols still exist to this day (it’s true!), they were eventually rendered obsolete by way of government actions eventually taking down all of the most publicly available access points to these networks (P2P programs). Not to mention the availability of legal options (particularly streaming, now).Though you can still peak into these networks, it’s not nearly as easy as it once was (nor will the pickings be as plentiful).
BitTorrent will eventually suffer the same fate. As governments both knock out the aggregation sites and issue warnings to copyright law-breaking offenders (by way of tracking their IP address VIA trackers). It won’t go away, but it will go out of favour. And then we will repeat the process again with the next technology (stream-ripping?).

The way that cryptocurrency is currently deployed is effectively a black hole for law enforcement. Many know this, and take full advantage of this anonymity for this very reason. Which is why it is going to be a prime target for future enforcement.

If I were to hypothesize how this may come about, I would guess that new and officially sanctioned cryptocurrencies will be developed (just as there are several different currencies in use worldwide). As these begin to pick up steam, the writing will be on the wall for people invested in the outlaw currencies, and they will go where the money is.

Like the Gnutella and FastTrack filesharing networks that preceded it, the accessibility of unregulated currencies will eventually become far too complicated for most to bother with. And as legitimate users depart, coin exchanges will have less and less cover for any illicit activities happening within their servers. Like the owners of torrent aggregation sites or the developers of P2P network access platforms (who technically don’t control how users utilize the service), they will too eventually no doubt bow to the legal pressure.

Cryptocurrency (and blockchain technology itself) is fascinating. And I have no doubt that it has a place in the financial landscape going forward. However, I would be VERY surprised if the cryptocurrency landscape as it stands today remains as it is for more than maybe 15 years. As much as libertarians love freedom, governments don’t like black holes.

In the time since this piece was first drafted, Mark Zuckerberg has jumped into the crypto marketplace with the release of Libra. At first, I thought that this may be Zuckerberg (and Facebook’s) reaction to reading the tea leaves (just as I just did). However, it is looking more like Evil corp’s E-coin as showcased on Mr. Robot. Nothing like beginning and ending on the same note.

Though it is being marketed as a way of getting the unbanked online, it’s hard to take a private entity at its word. Particularly if there are fears that the currency could end up becoming powerful enough to compete with legitimate currency.

That is a whole lot of consolidated power.

Crypto is not going away. It’s current form isn’t going to stay the same. The question now becomes, will the new form be any better than the current one?

The Future Of The Alberta Tarsands Industry, And The Future Of Work

Part 1 – Introduction

Back in 2015 and into 2016, the world looked at the choices of the American electorate and wondered . . . why?

Though it may have been a fairly small part of the campaign picture, why on earth are these people doubling down on coal?!

In terms of fossil fuels, there is nothing dirtier. In terms of economic efficiency, natural gas is far superior to coal. Even without factoring in renewable sources, the cleaner fuel natural gas is already winning against coal when it comes to North American electricity generation. And when one takes into account renewable sources of power, the necessity for coal is actively dropping.

At the moment, the necessity of fossil fuels in electricity generation is apparent. Peak electricity use tends to fall during times not conducive to solar power. A huge problem for electricity-hungry economies.

It’s a problem, but it won’t be a problem for very long in my estimation. The solution to the problem is storage. Instead of throwing away an afternoons worth of solar energy, how can it be harnessed and stored for release at a more opportune time?

Fortunately, that problem is actively being researched by people as we speak. Since it corresponds to 2 very important sectors of our modern-day society . . . electricity generation and transportation. The 2 are inherently interconnected by nature. With extended range and reliability in the EV will come better electricity storage solutions, and vice versa. Just give it 10 or 15 years.

Having said that, coal IS out. Even though fossil fuels are still necessary for the generation of electricity, coal is obsolete. Meaning that anyone willing to double down on its future is either lying for personal gain, or delusional.

Part 2 – Oil Sands

The same goes for Alberta bitumen. The Alberta Tar sands have no future.

Truthfully, I don’t even like calling it oil because it is far from it. It’s all in the name. It’s tar, not oil. It seems more reminiscent to the bottom of the barrel bunker fuel that powers the worlds seagoing cargo fleet than anything else it likes to compare itself too (West Texas Intermediate?).

My first exploration is as surprising as it is interesting.

When checking that bunker fuel (or marine fuel, alternatively) was indeed what I thought it was, I was correct. But it seems, only for a short time.

The International Marine Organization (a specialized agency of the United Nations which is responsible for regulating shipping) announced in late 2016 its plan to limit the sulphur content of marine fuel oil to 0.5% from its current 3.5% status. Though there is much groaning in the industry about the cost of changes and lack of time to prepare (imagine that), I don’t doubt that it will all sort itself out. Either a few lower sulphur bunker fuel sources will become much more valuable, or fleets will embrace alternatives (such as diesel or liquefied natural gas).

https://www.jwnenergy.com/article/2018/8/meeting-imos-new-limits-sulphur-marine-fuels/

This made me wonder about how much sulphur is contained in Alberta bitumen (and if this would further erode its value). As it turns out, a worthwhile inquiry.

Bitumen has an extremely high amount of sulphur content, earning it the designation of heavy sour within the industry. Sour crude has less sulphur than sweet crude, and it seems that bitumen is one of the most sulphurous fuels on the planet. Adding yet another problem to the ever-growing list against Alberta oil production.

There do exist options to remove this sulphur content. However, the process is very expensive and will only add a further discount to Alberta’s bitumen. If producers don’t remove it then it will be up to the customers themselves.

https://business.financialpost.com/commodities/energy/how-sulphur-is-quietly-posing-one-of-the-most-immediate-threats-to-canadas-oilsands-industry

Though I had approached these 2 topics (ISO 2020 and Alberta Bitumen) separately, it seems that the 2 are inherently connected.

When it comes to the refinement of sweeter forms of crude oil, the result is generally a majority of gasoline, diesel fuel and other end products, with a mere residual amount ending up as low-end bunker fuel. When it comes to tar sands production however, the refined amount of gasoline and diesel fuel is closer to 50% of a barrel, with the rest being heavy sour crude. This can be coked into more usable transportation fuels, but again, this all costs money.

It’s a big problem for the oil industry in general, have always used marine the marine shipping market as an outlet for the residual leftovers of production. I can only imagine the scope of the problem is magnified when close to half of the end product is this heavy sour crude. Particularly if the producers don’t own or build their coker facilities.

Part 3 – The Future Is Not Bright

I will now move back onto the original track that I had started with this writing. That being, the tar sands is obsolete. Any major investment put into the project now is going to be wasted capital in relatively short order. And from an ecological perspective, if the Canadian Government does not start dealing with the toxic legacy of the oil sands NOW, the problem is going to be a WHOLE lot worse later. Because companies that go out of business don’t have to bear the burden that is reversing the ecological footprint they created when they were operational.

Consider the scope of tar sands operations. Now, consider the amount of infrastructure (potentially dangerous or environmentally damaging) which will need to be either dealt with or left to rot. And while we are at it, consider the fate of towns and cities alike that are driven primarily by oil patch revenues. When commodities and industries go away, communities shrink and contract. Not to mention the toxic legacy that the remaining longstanding residents will have to endure.

Not all that long ago, taking this stance on the Alberta oilsands would have seemed asinine.

We have always had an ecological and moral argument. But let’s be honest . . . civilizations blinded by easy money tend to be shortsighted to the point of being delusional. In the past, this delusion was a source of deep depression for many like me. As long as the money was flowing, the ends justified the means. Even though past examples of the risks of gambling on one single industry (particularly one driven by huge corporate multi-national entities) are numerous. Often even if the gamble potentially has very real implications for the lives of their children. The ends always justify the means.

Part 4 – The Changing Winds Of The Market

To make these arguments 10, 15, 20 years ago would have been certainly premature. And rightfully. Alternatives to the internal combustion engine were barely out of the realm of the pipe dream, and the footprint of renewable energy on the grid was hardly worth noting. However, as explored before, that is no longer the era we live in.

Hybrid vehicles have been on the market for around 2 decades now. However, it wasn’t until the past 2 years that we seen adaption to EV’s start to ratchet up on a worldwide scale. It’s a change in market wind direction that has not gone unnoticed in overall market trends, either.

Consider the sale of electric vehicles (either fully electric or plug-in hybrids). Adoption in North America has been slow, with new EV sales accounting for 2.16% of Canada’s and 2.1% of the US’s 2018 vehicles sales. For Canada, that is a fairly large jump from 0.18% back in 2013 (0.60% for the US in 2013). However, it’s tiny in comparison to Norway.

Whilst most nations were below 0% adoption back in 2013, 2 notable exceptions are Norway (6.10%) and The Netherlands (5.55%). Though adoption in the Netherlands seems to have plateaued in the following 5 years, not so for Norway. They skyrocketed to 49.1%.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electric_car_use_by_country

Though Norway is the shining beacon of EV adopters, most of Europe (excluding France, Denmark and Germany) are ahead of North America. Though I am not entirely sure why adoption rates are lacking in the 3 European nations, range anxiety and extreme climates tend to be the big worry in the North American market (particularly in the continental interior). 
That, and the fact that no one seems to want to deploy level 3 charging stations even in areas suitable to current day EV technologies (in, and equally between, population centres).

Part 5 – The Drawbacks Of EV’s

When it comes to problems which need to be resolved in regards to electric vehicles, they are not all limited to the obvious ones. For example, in North America, a big source of funding for roads (and other public infrastructure) maintenance currently comes from gas taxes. If this is not addressed, the infrastructural shortfall will only grow as more and more petroleum-powered vehicles are scrapped.
Another far more potentially problematic factor in this could be the North American electricity grid itself.

Part 6 – The Grid

It depends on collective charging habits. Since solar power is fully online in the afternoon, the best time to make use of this clean energy is the afternoon. However, since most of us spend that time of the day working (usually without access or permission to company electricity), the charging has to happen in the evening or at night.

It all lies in electrical demand patterns of any given timeframe. In a nutshell, when most people are awake, demand goes up. When most people are asleep, demand goes down. The demand begins early in the morning and generally peaks at around 4pm. The late afternoon peak is when all major users of electricity (commercial, residential, industrial) are online simultaneously.
Though all of this demand would have to be met by coal, gas or other plants 24/7 previously, numerous recent solar energy installations in many areas help by single-handedly being able to cover much of this daytime peak demand. However, the problem comes when the sun goes down. Even though the demand still tends to be high at sundown, the previously abundant supply goes away fairly quickly.

This problem is known in the industry as the duck curve. Though the sun does a great job of taking care of the daytime demands, the rapid transition into the evening hours can be rough on existing generating infrastructure (which was generally not designed for rapid changes in demand).

https://www.energy.gov/eere/articles/confronting-duck-curve-how-address-over-generation-solar-energy

EV’s come in here because charging them could make this peak power usage problem worse. For example, if peak loads now tend to start dropping at around 6 pm, EV charging may push this peak further into the evening or night. And even if longer demand periods are not much of an issue normally, consider times of weather-induced demand on top of regular demand. For example, if EV charging coincides with commercial, residential and industrial peak usage AND air conditioning.
A valid consideration not just on account to typical summer weather patterns (let alone what the greenhouse gas afflicted future holds), but also because the international grids of North America have already demonstrated such vulnerability in the not too distant past.

2003

The 2003 blackout in the northeast happened on account to a series of cascading failures on both sides of the border, a big factor being demand. A system that was already immensely stressed due to increased load was thrown into complete chaos by what would likely otherwise be a minor set of events in the grand scheme of things.

  1. A problem with telemetry data flowing into what’s known as a state estimator is corrected by staff at Midcontinent Independent System Operator, who forget to reset the monitoring tool after correcting.

  2. A powerplant in Eastlake, Ohio trips offline (unrelated).

  1. About a half-hour later, transmission lines in northeast Ohio start to trip on account to sagging into nearby trees (presumably on account to carrying the extra electricity needed to make up for the lost power plant)

  1. Alarms are either unnoticed or ignored by staff in charge of regulating electricity flow in Ohio

  2. Another local line fails due to sagging into a tree south of Clevland.

  3. ANOTHER localized failure in Ohio (one called the Hanna-Juniper Interconnection) trips yet another feed offline. As utility officials and MISO attempt to troubleshoot the failures, they don’t inform any interconnected utilities of their internal problems.

  4. Another line is tripped off somewhere in Ohio

  5. The major failures begin as several high capacity lines connected to another Ohio electricity utility fail in rapid succession

  6. Between 3:46 and 4:13 pm, grid instability causes interconnected grid management systems to automatically trip offline power plants and connector lines serving the most populated areas of both eastern Canada and the eastern United States.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northeast_blackout_of_2003#Sequence_of_events

Of course, this succession of failures represents a very different time in North American electricity grid management. On account to this set of failures (a situation fairly reminiscent to issues leading up to the 1965 Northeast blackout as well), governing bodies on both sides of the border tightened up processes and communication between all interconnected entities. But on the bright side, it’s been 15 years since the last burp on this segment of the North American grid, so maybe the systems are indeed better suited for the ongoing (and really, growing) electricity demands of a growing economy.

When it comes to the problems potentially posed by electric vehicles on already strained power grids (at least during peak periods like hot windless evenings and nights), we have to consider one important aspect. This is a potential problem to North American and European (I am assuming) grids as they are currently deployed.

Profits in electricity generation, like profits in commercial sectors such as big-box retail, are all about scale. Generating power for customers of a localized area is inherently reliable (fewer points of failure that can cascade), but scaling up tends to be far more profitable for all involved. When you can sell power externally, your infrastructure investment and repair budget are that much larger. Meaning that customers should see lower electricity costs as a result. The bigger your customer base, the more spread out the costs.

Scaled up electricity grids are efficient and good for regional and national economies, but they come with the inherent risk that faces any machine dependant on many interconnected parts. Not to mention the problems posed by the sheer geographical spread of the operations. Widespread power grids are extremely efficient, but not at all resilient. Few forms of infrastructure are more vulnerable to climate change than interconnected international power grids.

Which is where ever-evolving battery technology may present a potential fix to an issue caused by increased electrification of vehicles. To provide the comforts and range necessary to quell range anxiety in much of the public, batteries will both need to store a lot of power (at a wide range in temperatures), be stable, and be fairly compact. Though lithium-ion has brought us a long way, there is definitely still room for improvement on many fronts.

When battery storage becomes cheap and compact enough to make new EV’s (and EV conversion kit’s for those so inclined) affordable to the average person, it stands to reason that scaling this technology up for use in power grid stabilization will also become cheaper.

The duck curve will become a thing of the past. With the ability to store extra energy created by solar and other methodologies comes increasing freedom from previously necessary fossil fuel-driven peakers, as the industry calls then. Not just the peakers, but also many existing generating systems. Coal is facing that reality right now, but so to will oil, gas and most other fire fueled stations.
Maybe even nuclear. It may be carbon neutral by nature, but the technology comes with a whole new set of nightmarish problems of its own. And no, I’m not talking about one in whos how huge the number incidents such as Chernobyl, Fukushima or Three Mile Island either. More, the already huge and constantly growing number of spent fuel rods, irradiated water and all the other waste generated by nuclear power. Most of this waste is currently stored in and around the nuclear facilities in which it was generated (for lack of anywhere else to store it). Given the constant maintenance that this stuff needs, it is the definition of non-resilient. A nasty pandemic could have the potential to upset this powder keg, let alone unpredictable chaos in the natural world.

https://www.ucsusa.org/nuclear-power/nuclear-waste

https://medium.com/the-long-now-foundation/the-other-10-000-year-project-51425d40f93

Hyperbolic?

Maybe a little. In this context, a good candidate for an entirely new piece of inquiry. However, when the topic of electricity generation is on the table, one should explore all aspects. Particularly when this increasingly ageing technology is almost obsolete at this point.

The economic argument is obvious. The initial investment may be steep. But the returns once the system comes online (and eventually pays for itself) are virtually limitless. Every other non-renewable generation method requires the ongoing purchase of raw material (be it biomass or trash, coal, oil, natural gas or uranium). A grid powered by renewables runs on freely available ambient energy.

Part 7 – A Real World Example

The benefits of an early form of such tech are already deployed (with a measure of success) in the interior of Australia.

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/sep/27/south-australias-tesla-battery-on-track-to-make-back-a-third-of-cost-in-a-year

Australias interior now enjoys a reliable electrical grid thanks to the battery banks ability to smooth out periods of instability. This setup seems to work for Australia (it has both smoothed out grid instability AND paid for itself by offering storage access to the rest of the continent).

It is far from accessible (or sustainable!) in other ways, however. For one thing, the price tag ($90 million) is steep for even the largest of electric utilities. While significantly less than the cost of building new conventional generation plants, it’s still a bitter pill when the longevity is only 15 years (or potentially less, if the batteries don’t hold up). Which means both a further investment AND the need to dispose of all of these batteries properly. Not to mention the fact that lithium is also not a limitless resource (soon leaving us back at square one).

While current-day lithium-ion battery technologies are relatively well suited for use in electronics and modern-day EV’s that don’t typically have much of a lifespan beyond 15 years, this isn’t suitable for such long term installations as power grids. None the less, it’s still a promising technology that will no doubt help bridge a transition into firstly, a more renewable-powered electric grid. And secondly, a more resilient power grid.

Part 8 – The Future Of The Power Grid

When the word resilient hits my ear in this context, the implication seems to be local and regional over national and international. If the goal is reducing reliance on fossil fuels and being more chaotic climate adaptable, then this is certainly a good game plan. However, the issue then becomes how to bring power companies into compliance with this (being that electricity profits are generally greatest for energy which is exported to other regions or electric utilities).

Naturally, this does not have to be a dichotomy. AKA small self-contained grids VS gigantic macro grids.

I suspect a better usage of resources would be a hybrid of sorts. A co-operative approach to how utilities keep the electrons flowing. More or less how the system works now, but without the inherent vulnerability of being reliant on ever more strained power infrastructure. I can picture something like the internet . . . many grids of all sizes which can be interconnected, but only sharing power if it’s needed. Advances in battery storage even open up the possibility of exporting electricity out of the country (imagine sailing a ship charged with energy to Europe, China or elsewhere), or even flying it into places which are hard to reach (like the Canadian north). Such places currently rely on diesel generators.

Fortunately, we’re not entirely dealing in the realm of utopian future technologies when it comes to this stuff. We’re not quite there when it comes to retrofitting the electrical grid in any sustainable way, but defeating much of the range anxiety associated with EV’s is now within reach.

Part 9 – The Trans-Canada EV Corridor

Back when I began writing this paper in its rough draft form months ago, the Canadian charging network for EV’s was virtually non-existent for the entire corridor between British Columbia and Southern Ontario. That is not to say that charging stations didn’t EXIST. They just weren’t the level 3 chargers capable of quick charging an EV to the 80% level in a half hour. Level 1 (ordinary outlet) would take forever, and level 2 wasn’t much better (at least 5 hours).

Recently, however, a partnership between the Canadian government and a flagship Canadian gasoline brand is going to bring a pair of level 3 chargers to many of its stations located along the Trans Canada highway. Thereby effectively erasing what was once the enormous range gap that represents the prairie provinces.

https://driving.ca/auto-news/news/canadas-ev-charging-network-is-growing-making-electric-road-trips-possible

Granted, that has to be supplemented by more infrastructure within city limits once EV adoption takes off (imagine the line-ups!). Even so, however, entirely enabling of the Trans-Canada highway as an EV corridor is a big step. Not to mention it being an inherent business opportunity for restaurants, stores and other attractions located near charging stations.

Part 10 – The Future Of Transportation

When it comes to the trajectory of both the mobile technology and the motor vehicle industry, this change fits right into where this is all going. Vehicle anatomy is the way of the future. Though it can likely just as easily be deployed in petroleum-powered vehicles, I am confident that we’re not far from the day when running gasoline and diesel will become more expensive than it’s worth. And not all based around fuel prices, either. Once demand starts to drop, I suspect the price of oil will also drop. Rather than pushing the prices up, the race will be in the other direction.

While fuel prices are one aspect, maintenance is another.

Everyone (particularly those in charge of a fleet) knows how much it takes to maintain an internal combustion engine.

Oil changes. Lubrication jobs. Fluids for all manner of purposes. And of course, the fact that a machine of many moving parts is a machine that has many failure points.

Unlike its gasoline and diesel counterparts, EV drive trains are a whole lot simpler of a machine to maintain. For one, oil is unnecessary, and lubrication is minimal (compared to a fuel-driven vehicle).

https://www.quora.com/Are-electric-cars-more-reliable

Part 11 – Canadian Politics

Which brings us back to there here and now.

The latest attempt by seemingly all parties equally (minus the Greens) to appease Canada’s oil patch workers is making the argument that the road to a cleaner future is paved with tar sands bitumen. Or to put it in a way that every single Alberta resident that I have talked to puts it:

“People don’t get it. We HAVE to build these pipelines!”

Whilst the proposal would seem to strike a balance between career tar sands workers and ecologically conscious Canadians, it’s still bullshit. It might be grounded in reality if we were Texas or Saudi Arabia, but the product we offer the world is FAR from it.

This paper alone illustrates pollution problems (namely, high sulphur content) which are going to be affecting the value of bitumen IMMEDIATELY. And even with the gradual transition of Asia onto cleaner energy sources that the majority of bitumen supporters seem to be banking on, consider this little nugget of information. Air pollution in China is now hindering solar power output from the nations many installations. At a cost of billions of dollars.

https://www.fastcompany.com/90375916/chinas-air-pollution-is-so-bad-solar-panels-no-longer-work

I understand that Trans-mountain can support either bitumen or conventional oil. If China (presumably, as the largest market opportunity) is to purchase bitumen, then it must be transported back home and further refined into usable fuels on arrival. Adding to this already dire air pollution problem.

And if they choose to purchase the already refined stuff, it’s antithetical to their place in the Paris agreement. It is antithetical either way!

Part 12 – WCS vs. WTI

A common comparison that I often hear in the media is the price differential between Western Canadian Select and West Texas Intermediate. Both are umbrella’s covering a general type of petroleum-derived from a general geographic area. However, though they are usually put side by side, I would argue that to be akin to the well-understood description that is Apples VS Oranges.

It is true that in terms of market accessibility, West Texas Intermediate has Western Canadian Select beat. WTI has always had the infrastructure for export, as opposed to tar sands exploration (which only began in 1967, around 100 years after the discovery of oil).

However, there are important differences in the end product that needs consideration. A big reason why I keep using the term tar sands, as opposed to oil sands. It’s meant to drive home an upcoming point. West Texas Intermediate is fairly light and sweet (low in sulphur). Western Canadian Select is heavier, sourer (more sulphur content).

Crude oils that are light (higher degrees of API gravity, or lower density) and sweet (low sulfur content) are usually priced higher than heavy, sour crude oils. This is partly because gasoline and diesel fuel, which typically sell at a significant premium to residual fuel oil and other “bottom of the barrel” products, can usually be more easily and cheaply produced using light, sweet crude oil. The light sweet grades are desirable because they can be processed with far less sophisticated and energy-intensive processes/refineries. The figure shows select crude types from around the world with their corresponding sulfur content and density characteristics.

https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=7110

In processing this grade, existing refineries have to be upgraded. Will markets that Western Canada hopes to attract be willing to make the commitment on account to the lower price?

Maybe.

Will refineries here in Eastern Canada be willing to make upgrades if access to WCS were more streamlined?

I doubt it.

I can’t help but seeing WCS producers as always facing a catch 22. Being the nature of what they are making available, it will never be as valuable as other common standards of quality (for example, WTI). And if Canada were to expend the capital to build the facilities needed to create a product that the world wants, the industry will STILL be operating at a loss. In most market cases, complex manufacturing process costs are passed on to the consumer. However, you can’t do that if you wish to remain competitive with even other North American benchmarks.

The debunk

I would not be doing my job if I didn’t note here that this point of mine has already been destroyed.

My argument is both wrong and flawed because processors of heavier grades of crude can get more usable end product out of a barrel of oil (by way of cracking the larger hydrocarbons down to the smaller ones more suited to running machinery) than processors of lighter crude can get from that raw material. Processers of lighter crudes end up with more heavy waste product just on account to the inability to refine it further.

Although it sounds counter-intuitive, refineries can actually make more money by processing heavy sour crude. Over the past 10 years, most refineries in the Gulf Coast and US Midwest have been modified into high-conversion facilities. These refineries crack and coke the heavy crude “bottoms” into high-value products, removing all traces of sulphur to produce expensive low-sulphur fuels. These highly complex facilities are specifically designed to process heavy sour feedstock, such as Western Canadian Select. In fact, refining margins are better with heavy crude feedstock than lighter oil.

https://www.oilsandsmagazine.com/technical/product-streams

Though I don’t doubt the logic, it is not without cost.

First of all, working with heavy feedstock requires a steep initial expenditure or pricy upgrades. And on top of that, the cracking process itself is very energy-intensive. It is true that there are many refineries stateside that have been built (or retrofitted) to process this crude since the early 2000s or so. However, the past 20 years has also had oil prices that more than justified the expenditure. But going forward, this is changing.

Demand is what keeps the price of oil high, and keeps even heavy hydrocarbons profitable. However, there is more progress than ever towards alternatives to the once irreplaceable fluids that are gasoline and diesel fuel. More than that, these internal combustion replacements are tending to be far less maintenance intensive than today’s engines (perfect for fleets, let alone daily use). And most prominently, citizens and societies are becoming far more aware of our changing climatic realities than we were previously.

It dosesn’t matter how you slice it. The future is coming, and it is NOT heavy energy friendly.

Part 13 – Pipeline Logic

Profit in this business goes hand in hand with demand. It’s why we’re all hearing about pipelines, here, there and everywhere. We have the supply, Asia has the demand, so LOGIC! Build the pipeline!

Current day oil consumption certainly makes the gamble seem worthwhile. At least 50% of global oil consumption goes into transportation. It makes for a huge pie in which to grab a slice of. But also, an ever-shrinking pie, given obvious trends visible on the horizon.

With the reduced need for lubricants like motor oil and others in EV’s, demand will inevitably fall even below the original 50% number. Also not considered are potential alternatives to diesel fuel for power generation in remote areas.

https://www.truthdig.com/articles/a-solar-powered-future-is-finally-upon-us/

We will now pivot back to where we started.

Back to my claim that Albertans (and Canadian’s) are betting a losing hand when it comes to backing Alberta bitumen. Though a lot of this analysis is based around shifting winds in the industry as a whole and transitions based around technology which has not yet been realized, this is not entirely the case.

Remember, IMO 2020 regulations kick in NEXT YEAR (that is, 5 months from when I finish this paper!). And though electrification of the transportation sector will take time and planning, bitumen-based products will become un-profitable LONG before the entire world fleet is switched over. As demand for oil gradually falls, producers will adjust prices to keep customers. Not unlike any other high competition sector anywhere in the world.

In this dynamic, producers of sweeter crude are inherently better positioned, since they have a desirable product as a baseline. Though they won’t be making TODAY’s prices, they will still win on the profit angle. And as one travels down the sour spectrum, this product will be much like it is now . . . a bit lower quality, but still valuable for a time.

One benchmark that will NOT stack up in this dynamic, is WCS. As it stands, the industry goes into turmoil if the price of oil takes too much of a dive. If sentiments and trajectories remain firmly tied to the oil sands extraction industry (without even an attempt at creating a safety net), the result will only be downsized people and communities, and more human suffering. Not unlike the fate of any number of communities worldwide which were intimately tied to a now obsolete industry or resource.

Part 14 – Where To Go From Here

Though it may seem like I am laughing in the face of the inevitable impoverishment of many thousands of people, I can assure you that is not the case. It is easy to highlight problems and wrongs. But the more difficult task is often in looking for answers.

When it comes to the technology side of this stuff, I am full of possibilities. When you break open the barriers and let the mind free, the sky is the limit on this stuff. And one of the most fascinating parts about these technologies is the fact that they are no longer mere theory anymore. What is my and your current day pipe dream is likely future reality. Heck, we may be closer to that point in time than we think. I only drafted this paper back in May (it is now July) and have already observed at least one paradigm-shifting change. Canada will soon have an operational EV corridor!

The more difficult part is the social aspect. Progress is all well and good for the species, but such is hardly consolation for those cast aside by the transition.

It gets even dicier when one considers that in the grand scheme of things, this is just the beginning. Of all the jobs that the loss of the oil sands extraction industry will eliminate, it is NOTHING compared to what automation of an increasing combination of industries will bring us.

The Transition Economy

At the moment, we seem to be entering a period which is oddly reminiscent of a transition period between the era of workers and the era of machines. Referred to colloquially as the gig economy (and also the sharing economy), we’re in a time where sharing our goods for cash or working on a freelance basis is increasingly becoming the norm for many. Many of these positions are tied to smartphone apps acting as a middle man in connecting various businesses with their desired customer base.

Rather than a path to the future, however, I can’t help but see this as a stepping stone to the age of automation. Though automation can not replace the human for all roles, many of the current day gig economies positions are FAR from immune, given the right advancements. We are well on the way to self-driving vehicles and autonomous delivery drones already.

The Downward Spiral?

The era in which we find ourselves barreling toward, the era of automation, may well test the bounds of civility in many places. Given the already rocky path that we find ourselves on as it is, one can’t help but worry. And I am not just worried about the political reactionaries dragging the enraged masses further and further to the right. I also worry about the habitual knee jerk refusal to even deal with the problem that manifests itself in anti-automation stances. For example, refusing to use a self-checkout or menu terminal on account to not wanting to eliminate jobs.

I hate to break the news to you, but those cashier jobs are ALREADY on the way to being obsolete. These companies made the choice a long time ago to make the switch, and it is GOING to happen. My advice to you is to get used to it.

Part 15 – Focusing On The Real Problem

So much energy is wasted on boycotting cashier replacing machines that could be focused to other far more pressing problems. For one thing, cashier jobs eliminations due to machines are generally net negative, as these employees are often shifted elsewhere in the store. I suspect that this will the case for a while yet since productivity needs of much of the service industry are still complex enough as to be hard to automate.

Amazon may have opened a store without cashiers, but the shelves don’t stock themselves. Furthermore, Walmart developed an order writing robot (which bases its decision on empty holes on shelves), but they still don’t have one that can fill that hole when the truck arrives.

Of course, there is likely a time limit on these jobs, too. We wouldn’t be here if cost-cutting wasn’t priority #1, to begin with.

And so the question becomes, what then? If my job were to one day be eliminated by progress, obsolescence or collateral damage of a combination of the 2, what do I do?

Given that I have always had an interest in technology, that seems like the most obvious route to choose. Though the term is a HUGE umbrella with seemingly unlimited possibilities (my current day excuse for not moving forward in this area), the industry comes with inherent stability.

As social media has taught me, the sky is the limit when it comes to future tech. And as the Security Now, Darknet Diaries and Hackable podcasts have taught me, there is even more career stability in the probing and prodding of every exposed surface of this new technology. Whether your goal is planting a crypto miner, cashing in a bug bounty or pen-testing companies weak points, your advancement opportunities are virtually endless.

When it comes to retraining, the tech and IT industries are going to be one of the bright spots as time goes on. Whether on the front lines as a mechanic or in the background keeping all the systems online, there will always be a place for people with the right certs. And when it comes to getting such certs, there are already many online resources that help make the learning curve (or just keeping up to date) much easier.

If federal and provincial governments spent as much money on establishing and maintaining programs like this as they currently do on creating and airing propaganda for the oil & gas industries, imagine the possibilities!

Of course, this lateral movement is not for everyone. Which brings us to the VERY difficult part of this thought experiment. Going outside the box.

Part 16 – Re-Writing The Story Of Human Purpose

For likely as long as there has been industry, jobs have been more than simply a means to an end. Hard work is considered a virtue. And as such, the simple fact of being employed tends to be a big part of a person’s identity. Both in terms of their self-worth, and in terms of how they are perceived in society. While this is blatantly visible in how people look at so-called welfare queens or the homeless, a more interesting case study is older generations working habits. Many that have chosen to retire end up back in the workforce. Not always out of necessity. It’s more to do with a lack of meaning. Without a place to be at a set time, they find themselves without purpose in life.

It’s an interesting problem. One that I can’t help but see this as somewhat cruel, being that “The hard work tide lifts all boats!” mantra is an increasingly rare phenomenon. People are so brainwashed by corporate growth propaganda that they can’t even fully enjoy life when they finally get some free time to do so. After helping benefit these faceless entities with all the good years of their lives, these people can’t even fully enjoy their Golden Years.

Despite having such a strong opinion on the matter, though, I live by the mantra that is to each his own. The matter that is more important is this societal conditioning. The notion that we are defined by the work we do. Though this certainly had a place in the previous status quo’s, we are rapidly moving into a different era. Machines are far more efficient (and less in need of physiological conditioning) than human resources. The benign yet terrifying corporate derived terminology which sounds like it was ripped out of the Matrix.

How’s THAT for a red pill?

The era of jobs is looking like it’s coming to a close. Okay, this is not entirely true. However, given that this change is going to impact pretty much every sector in the economy, this is going to be big. One can draw comparisons to the industrial revolution, or the automobile revolution, but a HUGE difference between then and now is the sheer number of bodies on the planet. During those transitions, there were both fewer people in need of accommodation due to mechanization AND there were generally other fall back jobs to go into (the service industry). Of course, those seldom paid as well as the jobs removed, but it was still something.

Part 17 – What’s Next?

If previous economic strategies are to prove the way forward, nothing will be done. Where applicable, social safety have been available to soften the blow. However, the situation has generally been quite pragmatic. Frankly, the cost of sacrificing a Detroit or a Cleveland has never outweighed the benefits. To be fair, we’re playing a bit of an apple vs oranges game here (free trade agreements in combination with automation drove a lot of this). None the less, lost jobs are lost jobs.

Though the sheltered elites could afford to lay waste to selected regions or urban areas which were heavily reliant on now obsolete (or outsourced) income sources, that is not the case now. This wave of change will reach every single city and region, worldwide.
Not dealing with this in a guided manner runs a high risk of throwing society into chaos, and thus putting the economy into jeopardy. To some extent, we already see this happening in the form of the twins ultra-nationalism and fascism once again taking root in the liberal world. However . . . you ain’t seen NOTHING yet.

When it comes to the question that is “Where from here?”, there will always be a salesman of controversy that will have an answer to that question. Though culling the herd conspiracies of all kinds already exist, they are likely to only get stronger. Given the current inability of modern media platforms in dealing with the spread of other false information, we likely also have more of this to look forward to. Along with whatever ramifications that may bring. Unstable minds can create all manner of chaos.

Do I think that is our future?

No.

There is no doubt that the future certainly looks dark from this vantage point. Not only are people themselves not adequately preparing (aside from fruitless or pointless measures for the sake of feeling like they are making a difference), nor are the people at the helm (governments). Of course, this is not a surprise. Government officials are not usually chosen by merit or intelligence. But none the less, the extraordinarily short term outlook of many of these officials (often in the name of voter pandering) can be depressing.

Having considered all of that, barring something unforeseen, I don’t see us as descending into some post-industrial capitalism hellscape (at least, not anytime soon). While we have seen the devastation that economic stagnation can bring to communities, unlike the automation and outsourcing changes of the past, the enormous change brought by the elimination of even half to 60% of all human labour is impossible to ignore. Because it’s not just a handful of cities or regions.

It’s EVERYWHERE.

Part 18 – Lunar Lunacy

As much as the scared elites of the world would love to jump ship and hop on over to a new colony on the moon or mars . . . they have to live here too.

  1. Don’t shit where you eat.

  1. There are a WHOLE lot more of us than there are of them.

Speaking of the moon and Mars colonizing craze of recent years, it’s about time we quit beating that drum.

Spearheaded by such well know figures as Stephan Hawking and Elon Musk, the reasoning behind this (at least as comprehended by me!) seems to be “We done fucked this up, so time to try again elsewhere!“. The accepted mantra is that we have around 100 years of familiar climatic conditions left before the proverbial shit hits the fan. And the solution is. . . get the hell outta dodge.

Though I don’t disagree with the often grim assessments of the earth’s climate in the not too distant to distant futures, I think that dumping an enormous amount of resources into moving humanity onto another planet is a HUGE mistake. Though it is being made out to be a necessity for the survival of humanity, this seems more like an excuse to fund the pet project of a set of billionaires.

Before I go any further, I will state my somewhat controversial take on the issue. I do not consider hopping over to mars or the moon (and possibly elsewhere down the road) a valid option for a few reasons. One, because I find it hard to believe that this new world will have space for everyone. Indeed, I am going down a road I had criticized just a paragraph ago. Having said that, however, I highly doubt that the journey to (or existence within) said colonies will be free. Much like a 2 million dollar home in a nice area of town, technically anybody can buy it.

The second reason is more philosophical. I don’t like the idea of leaving behind a trashed and exploited earth just to hop onto the moon/mars/wherever else because chances are we will be in the same situation there. If humans just transplant the philosophies that have driven us to the brink on earth (mass consumption is driven by free-market capitalism), then how will this new world be any different?

As I see it, the only non-delusional way to interpret this would be to view us as the most dangerous parasites in the observable universe. Forwarding the desire of the organism takes priority over all other considerations. Including the long term health and well-being prospects of the organism.

Part 19 – Re-Writing . . . EVERYTHING

Rather than put all of my eggs in an outgoing basket to mars, my focus would be right here on earth. The first thing that comes to mind is carbon capture. Using a combination of natural and mechanized methodologies to try and mitigate the now dangerously high levels of CO2 in the atmosphere.

Next is making sure that things stay that way. Having the technology to reverse the damage of fossil fuel pollution may bring a positive light back to the industry. NOT a good thing, given the non-renewable nature of such fossil fuels to begin with.

The next step requires a radical change in the current status quo operations of the world today. The world is currently being piloted by numerous cancerous ideologies. Though all are not equally influential in shaping today’s status quo, it is fruitless to attempt drastic change without putting all under the microscope.

The umbrella ideology that I would argue caps all of them currently, is free-market capitalism. In the globalized world that we live in today, nothing arches over the capitalist free market. While you see various levels of acceptance of the language (places like China come to mind), non-participation in global trade is exceedingly rare. When nations that are barred from such trade for various reasons are removed, the list shrinks even more.

Some are likely to dispute this point (the power of the capitalist ideology), citing religion, ultra-nationalism and other ugly markers of our time. While all of these things are indeed often a force to be reckoned with, they are still generally directly interconnected to the capitalist macrostructure.

Consider religion. Though individual churches are not always swimming in cash (many smaller congregations are likely just barely keeping the lights on), those with a well-organized parent religion tend to hold enormous amounts of wealth. The wealth which is at times used to make pesky problems within the bureaucracy disappear (shuffling ministers around, handing out bribes, etc). Some of these organizations are arguably just as unethical as any other international organized crime syndicate you might come across. Certainly much better funded than most such syndicates.

All of this wealth (or more accurately, power) is currently being maintained in large part because of currency.

This is not to say that organized religion has not been at the head of the power structure in the past (with or without the influence of its wealth). Nor that some unforeseen future may bring about a re-visitation to this era.

It is to say that in a world where financial capital equals power, such capital means nothing if the fiction that lends it meaning means nothing.

My next example is the major swing to the right that has gripped the world in the past 3 or 4 years. Though these things indeed tend to happen in waves (at least traditionally), it’s hard not to consider the place of social media for acting as an amplifier for already simmering human rage.

The first thing that should be said here is that no social unrest is ever without nuance. The relationship between humans and their reactions to both their external environment and internal factors (such as biases) has yet to be understood by ANYONE. It’s a fascinating (yet terrifying) realization that I’m sure anyone taking the Artificial Intelligence conversation with any seriousness has concluded at some point. The human brain is the ultimate black box.

Having said that, however, this unpredictable nature tends to vanish the further you get from the person. You don’t need to know how a person came to their conclusions to be able to utilize (or exploit) this data for various purposes.

But again, I am dragging this out into the weeds.

Though it is only only one factor of many (for example, racial power dynamics are starting to change in places like the US), employment displacement due to outsourcing and automation is feeding into this anger already. And as more and more mechanization comes online, this problem is only going to get worse.

Machines are both cheaper and more efficient than human labour. For an entity that has only one purpose for existence (generating a constant growing profit margin), the choice between human and machine is an obvious one.

Part 20 – A Whole New World

The jury is still out on whether or not human-created artificial intelligence will end human life as we know it. However, it seems almost a certainty that capitalism is going to end up being this driving force. While one can understandably interpret this statement as being apocalyptic, this is not entirely the case.

Consider the place of human dating back to the early days of agriculture. Without the need for looking after one’s subsistence, the human mind was generally free to get creative. That is, aside from the catch 22 that is none of this abundant food was free. Particularly when the industrial revolution got going strong, the mentality has generally been “you earn your keep, or you don’t eat“.

In essentially the blink of an eye, an essential part of the human experience will effectively disappear for many. As inherently inhuman and problematic as this macro philosophy of the western world (and probably beyond) has proven, it is all that a great many people know.

Of all the great changes that are on the horizon for human society, this will prove one of the biggest challenges. This is MUCH bigger than avoiding self-checkouts at the supermarket or digital menus at fast-food restaurants.

Universal Basic Income

One method of tackling this problem which is gaining steam (including with a democratic candidate running in currently upcoming 2020 presidential election campaign) is with a Universal Basic Income (or UBI). In a nutshell, it is a no strings attached payout from the government (a form of social security, if you will) that is meant to offset income lost due to employment displacement. As the Universal term implies, this would go to every single citizen in a nation (no matter their tax bracket or employment status).

Though this seems like a good solution on the surface, problems become apparent with even a little digging. One of the more concerning ones (highlighted by many progressive leftists) is the possibility that this payment may be used to cancel out other currently available social safety nets. For example, will someone currently getting disability benefits (gotta love the implicative nature of these terms) have to choose between one or the other?

While this may not seem like a big problem on the surface (money is money!), consider what this money might be covering (pricey but necessary equipment?). Forcing people to make this choice (or just eliminating all other social safety nets with a flat UBI) only succeeds in transferring modern-day inequalities into the new paradigm.

With or without health insurance premiums to also take into consideration, a universally distributed income payment is not without potential drawbacks.

https://medium.com/s/free-money/universal-basic-income-is-silicon-valleys-latest-scam-fd3e130b69a0

The Human Toll

Aside from all of the problems that stem from UBI, you also have the inevitable problems that always come from simply throwing money at an issue to make it disappear. The article above makes it abundantly clear why the private sector generally likes the idea of a UBI. It’s great for business, no matter what the social cost.

That social cost is what a UBI (or any other solution that only focuses on the financial aspect of existence) doesn’t do anything to alleviate. Loss of a previously reliable income source is just part of the problem. Having such a safety net may indeed help prevent some of my darker hypothesis from coming to reality. But this is still only part of the solution.

Though work is just a means to an end for some people, one shouldn’t underestimate the purpose that it gives to others. Or what dark places some of these people may find themselves in without this guiding light of existence. After all, a UBI can pay for a lot of self-destructive temporary relief.

And again, I find myself asking . . . where to from here?

I couldn’t tell you because I have no idea. What I can say, however, is that this is a problem that is about more than money. Though that will certainly be a component, far more emphasis will have to be placed on social dynamics. For example, how can so-called meaningful employment be replaced in an era without?

Meaningful Employment . . . it amazes me how much bullshit and corporate deceit is tucked into the everyday language we use every single day without a second thought.

And now, back to where we started.

Part 21 – Closing Arguments

What was initially conceived as an opinion piece (of sorts) about how Canadian’s doubling down on oil sands resources are doing so at their peril, has evolved into something else entirely. An investigation of 2 very different topics that are vastly separate at first glance, yet inherently interconnected upon closer examination.

In closing, we live in an era of change and disruption. So accelerated is this rate of change that visible and drastic societal behavioural alterations can now be observed in time frames as short as 5 to 10 years. With the rate of change that is being seen in ALL sectors of the economy, it’s becoming clear that almost no previously stable jobs are safe from the massive paradigm shift that is upon us. Even the at one time bulletproof oil and gas sectors are now being viewed with a skeptical eye by an increasing number of high profile big-money investors. More and more institutions are starting to put the brakes on further investments in fossil fuel oriented projects for fear of being stuck with Stranded Assets in the future.

https://canadiandimension.com/articles/view/a-future-without-fossil-fuels

https://www.carbontracker.org/terms/stranded-assets/

https://www.pembina.org/blog/climate-change-and-financial-risk-of-stranded-assets

Rather than again explain my rock-solid reasoning for coming to the very controversial conclusion that is embedded in the title of this paper, I will instead end with this excerpt from the Pembina Institute article (linked above), which was published back in 2015.

Throughout the last decade, the oilsands sector has grown in importance to Alberta and Canada. But given the world’s increasing focus on climate change negotiations, it may be time to ask where Canada’s oil and gas sector is going in the future.

High cost, high impact oils are particularly sensitive to the stranding risk. Given that oilsands disproportionately fall into that category, Canada and Alberta should take note of the material risk stranded fossil fuel assets pose to investors and their own coffers alike.

“Atheism Is Inconsistent With The Scientific Method, Prizewinning Physicist Says” – (Scientific American)

Today, I am reverting back to an old topic of personal interest. That is, exploring the dynamics of the many stances that encompass the secular non-belief structure. Or as I called it some 5 years ago, Atheism.
Today’s piece is unlike any other I have referenced in the past, however. It contains a claim which is controversial, to say the least (from the standpoint of an atheist). However, it’s a claim similar to a Carl Sagon quote that atheists have a tendency of overlooking.

Either way, let’s get cracking.

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/atheism-is-inconsistent-with-the-scientific-method-prizewinning-physicist-says/

Atheism Is Inconsistent with the Scientific Method, Prizewinning Physicist Says

In conversation, the 2019 Templeton Prize winner does not pull punches on the limits of science, the value of humility and the irrationality of nonbelief

Oh boy . . .

We’re not even a paragraph in and the atheists are already hammering on the keyboards. I love it 🙂 .

Going forward, I only used parts of the article which are pertinent to the topic(s) at hand and disregarded everything else. If you want the rest, follow the link above.

Scientific American spoke with Gleiser about the award, how he plans to advance his message of consilience, the need for humility in science, why humans are special, and the fundamental source of his curiosity as a physicist.

S.A : Right. So which aspect of your work do you think is most relevant to the Templeton Foundation’s spiritual aims?

Marcelo Gleiser: Probably my belief in humility. I believe we should take a much humbler approach to knowledge, in the sense that if you look carefully at the way science works, you’ll see that yes, it is wonderful — magnificent! — but it has limits. And we have to understand and respect those limits. And by doing that, by understanding how science advances, science really becomes a deeply spiritual conversation with the mysterious, about all the things we don’t know. So that’s one answer to your question. And that has nothing to do with organized religion, obviously, but it does inform my position against atheism. I consider myself an agnostic.

S.A : Why are you against atheism?

Marcelo Gleiser: I honestly think atheism is inconsistent with the scientific method. What I mean by that is, what is atheism? It’s a statement, a categorical statement that expresses belief in nonbelief. “I don’t believe even though I have no evidence for or against, simply I don’t believe.” Period. It’s a declaration. But in science we don’t really do declarations. We say, “Okay, you can have a hypothesis, you have to have some evidence against or for that.” And so an agnostic would say, look, I have no evidence for God or any kind of god (What god, first of all? The Maori gods, or the Jewish or Christian or Muslim God? Which god is that?) But on the other hand, an agnostic would acknowledge no right to make a final statement about something he or she doesn’t know about. “The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence,” and all that. This positions me very much against all of the “New Atheist” guys—even though I want my message to be respectful of people’s beliefs and reasoning, which might be community-based, or dignity-based, and so on. And I think obviously the Templeton Foundation likes all of this, because this is part of an emerging conversation. It’s not just me; it’s also my colleague the astrophysicist Adam Frank, and a bunch of others, talking more and more about the relation between science and spirituality.

This is enough to work with, for now, Let’s take this piece by piece.

1.)

I believe we should take a much humbler approach to knowledge, in the sense that if you look carefully at the way science works, you’ll see that yes, it is wonderful — magnificent! — but it has limits. And we have to understand and respect those limits. And by doing that, by understanding how science advances, science really becomes a deeply spiritual conversation with the mysterious, about all the things we don’t know.

I can comprehend what he is telling us, here. But it’s not the pinnacle of what I personally, would be focused on. For me, the matters of morality and ethics (or more, lack thereof) in the typical pursuit of science is a far more important problem than science’s relation (whatever that entails) to spirituality.

This isn’t exactly a criticism, though. People approach this stuff in different ways and from all angles. Which is exactly how things should be, because this is how progress happens. The same group containing an infinite number of eyes can overlook an issue that a fresh set of eyes may spot immediately.

But as is my writing style, that is a tangent.

2.)

I honestly think atheism is inconsistent with the scientific method. What I mean by that is, what is atheism? It’s a statement, a categorical statement that expresses belief in nonbelief. “I don’t believe even though I have no evidence for or against, simply I don’t believe.” Period. It’s a declaration. But in science we don’t really do declarations.

And now, we come to the fun stuff.

When it comes to the atheist conclusion, the first stop we have make is the definition of atheism as it stands today. This, because I suspect a big chunk of the criticism of this viewpoint will be incorrectly based around this evolved (and really, idiotic) terminology. Not unlike the term agnostic, the usage that is common today has not stuck to the definition as it was coined.

Common utilization of the term Agnostic is to describe a sort of middle of the road stance in between atheism and theism. This is not considered a valid stance in atheist circles due to this problem of not fitting up to the proper definition of the word.

The terms “agnostic” and “agnosticism” were famously coined in the late nineteenth century by the English biologist, T.H. Huxley. He said that he originally

invented the word “Agnostic” to denote people who, like [himself], confess themselves to be hopelessly ignorant concerning a variety of matters, about which metaphysicians and theologians, both orthodox and heterodox, dogmatise with the utmost confidence. (1884)

https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/atheism-agnosticism/#DefiAgno

Some more food for thought from the same source:

Nowadays, the term “agnostic” is often used (when the issue is God’s existence) to refer to those who follow the recommendation expressed in the conclusion of Huxley’s argument: an agnostic is a person who has entertained the proposition that there is a God but believes neither that it is true nor that it is false.

Not surprisingly, then, the term “agnosticism” is often defined, both in and outside of philosophy, not as a principle or any other sort of proposition but instead as the psychological state of being an agnostic. Call this the “psychological” sense of the term. It is certainly useful to have a term to refer to people who are neither theists nor atheists, but philosophers might wish that some other term besides “agnostic” (“theological skeptic”, perhaps?) were used.

The problem is that it is also very useful for philosophical purposes to have a name for the epistemological position that follows from the premise of Huxley’s argument, the position that neither theism nor atheism is known, or most ambitiously, that neither the belief that God exists nor the belief that God does not exist has positive epistemic status of any sort. Just as the metaphysical question of God’s existence is central to philosophy of religion, so too is the epistemological question of whether or not theism or atheism is known or has some other sort of positive epistemic status. And given the etymology of “agnostic”, what better term could there be for a negative answer to that epistemological question than “agnosticism”?

It’s interesting that philosophy has seemingly come to the same crossroads that I have in the past 2 to 3 years. Rather than fighting nu-agnosticism (as is the typical move of the mainstream nu-atheist cohort), I accepted the criticism (incorrect use of the word as intended) and moved on, accepting the stance but leaving the name card blank. It’s not something difficult for me being that my status of not believing in God was without a name for around six months in my teen years. A friend introduced me to the term Atheism, and as it turned out, it was a good fit.

Of course, I did also believe in heaven at the time . . . but what can I say? My immature mind didn’t know how to handle the truly unjust nature of existence. This is an important reason why many adults cling to the dichotomies that are heaven and hell so passionately (even if many ignore the more inconvenient regulations of the said rulebook). And on the flip side of the coin, how many atheists believe in Karma?

Serious question.

Either way, anyone accusing the average agnostic (nu-agnostics?) of misusing the definition is not wrong. Where many run into a fault, however, is in proposing that a pivot to atheism or theism is necessary. But that is an argument that has been made by me countless times over the last few years. What is more pertinent, is getting to the evolved definition of atheism.
This too is something that I have written about before. Upon my realization that the commonly cited definition of atheism used these days is not only not the original definition but also idiotic. Since that critique is also in my backlog, ill keep things short.

The common definition (including when queried in a web search) cities lack of belief in the existence of God or gods. Aside from the minor detail of swapping out God/gods for deities, my issue with lack of belief is that it is ill-fitting to the context. You do not lack belief in supernatural phenomenon, you have made a decision on the matter. Though there is also spectrum to this conclusion (from the agnostic atheist to the gnostic atheist), the message is the same. Though the gnostic atheists are far more pronounced in their stance, both weak and strong atheists are citing the same root.

It is this root message that people like Carl Sagan take issue with, and I suspect that it is why a majority of those with a scientific background of any kind refer to themselves as agnostics instead of atheists.

A common assumption by atheists (when it comes to agnostic scientists) claims this weak stance is to soften the edges when it comes to their theistic fans/followers/pupils. Agnostic is more palatable than the very much misunderstood pejorative that is atheist.
Another assumption is that the people involved (even otherwise fondly respected people like Neil Degrasse Tyson) essentially don’t know what they are talking about. While it is a possibility (particularly given the caustic relationship most people of such a background have with anything involving philosophy), it’s still not necessary. After all, the field of science (particularly astronomy) is all about pushing the limits of possibility. So who better to recognize these limits than scientists themselves.

Of course, we again come back to the issue of the colloquial verses proper definition. If not agnostics, then what is/should this stance be?

Though I don’t have an answer to this question, now that I have coined it (well, at least in my brain), I am leaning towards Nu-Agnostics. Unlike theological skeptic as proposed earlier, there is a very small learning curve involved in taking the term mainstream. Both agnostic and nu-atheism are already in the common discourse, so the switch is not all that radical.
When it comes to those in the atheist cohort taking issue based on the misuse critique, I again cite the colloquial definition of atheism.
When it comes to the scholars and philosophers, my case isn’t as strong. What I will say to them, however, is it is a whole lot easier to meet people where they are than to try and force a new term upon them. It may not necessarily be up to snuff with the standards of academia, but it is this elitism that pushes people away, to begin with. What is the point of being correct when the only people privy to this wisdom is your peers?

I love philosophy. But more often than not, it’s tarnished by the very philosophers tasked with keeping it moving forward.

We now return to the Scientific American piece. Though the rest moves away from secular linguistics, I pursued it due to the interesting nature of the topics covered.

S.A – So, a message of humility, open-mindedness and tolerance. Other than in discussions of God, where else do you see the most urgent need for this ethos?

Marcelo Gleiser: You know, I’m a “Rare Earth” kind of guy. I think our situation may be rather special, on a planetary or even galactic scale. So when people talk about Copernicus and Copernicanism—the ‘principle of mediocrity’ that states we should expect to be average and typical, I say, “You know what? It’s time to get beyond that.” When you look out there at the other planets (and the exoplanets that we can make some sense of), when you look at the history of life on Earth, you will realize this place called Earth is absolutely amazing. And maybe, yes, there are others out there, possibly—who knows, we certainly expect so—but right now what we know is that we have this world, and we are these amazing molecular machines capable of self-awareness, and all that makes us very special indeed. And we know for a fact that there will be no other humans in the universe; there may be some humanoids somewhere out there, but we are unique products of our single, small planet’s long history.

The point is, to understand modern science within this framework is to put humanity back into kind of a moral center of the universe, in which we have the moral duty to preserve this planet and its life with everything that we’ve got, because we understand how rare this whole game is and that for all practical purposes we are alone. For now, anyways. We have to do this! This is a message that I hope will resonate with lots of people, because to me what we really need right now in this increasingly divisive world is a new unifying myth. I mean “myth” as a story that defines a culture. So, what is the myth that will define the culture of the 21st century? It has to be a myth of our species, not about any particular belief system or political party. How can we possibly do that? Well, we can do that using astronomy, using what we have learned from other worlds, to position ourselves and say, “Look, folks, this is not about tribal allegiance, this is about us as a species on a very specific planet that will go on with us—or without us.” I think you know this message well.

S.A: I do. But let me play devil’s advocate for a moment, only because earlier you referred to the value of humility in science. Some would say now is not the time to be humble, given the rising tide of active, open hostility to science and objectivity around the globe. How would you respond to that?

Marcelo Gleiser: This is of course something people have already told me: “Are you really sure you want to be saying these things?” And my answer is yes, absolutely. There is a difference between “science” and what we can call “scientism,” which is the notion that science can solve all problems. To a large extent, it is not science but rather how humanity has used science that has put us in our present difficulties. Because most people, in general, have no awareness of what science can and cannot do. So they misuse it, and they do not think about science in a more pluralistic way. So, okay, you’re going to develop a self-driving car? Good! But how will that car handle hard choices, like whether to prioritize the lives of its occupants or the lives of pedestrian bystanders? Is it going to just be the technologist from Google who decides? Let us hope not! You have to talk to philosophers, you have to talk to ethicists. And to not understand that, to say that science has all the answers, to me is just nonsense. We cannot presume that we are going to solve all the problems of the world using a strict scientific approach. It will not be the case, and it hasn’t ever been the case, because the world is too complex, and science has methodological powers as well as methodological limitations.

And so, what do I say? I say be honest. There is a quote from the physicist Frank Oppenheimer that fits here: “The worst thing a son of a bitch can do is turn you into a son of a bitch.” Which is profane but brilliant. I’m not going to lie about what science can and cannot do because politicians are misusing science and trying to politicize the scientific discourse. I’m going to be honest about the powers of science so that people can actually believe me for my honesty and transparency. If you don’t want to be honest and transparent, you’re just going to become a liar like everybody else. Which is why I get upset by misstatements, like when you have scientists—Stephen Hawking and Lawrence Krauss among them—claiming we have solved the problem of the origin of the universe, or that string theory is correct and that the final “theory of everything” is at hand. Such statements are bogus. So, I feel as if I am a guardian for the integrity of science right now; someone you can trust because this person is open and honest enough to admit that the scientific enterprise has limitations—which doesn’t mean it’s weak!

1.) Maybe it’s just a pet peeve, but it seems rather narrow-minded to use humanoids as the standard of intelligent lifeforms in the context of an abyss that we know basically NOTHING about.
Of course, I don’t know what intelligent life may or may not be out there. I don’t know what they may look like. No one does. That said, though humanoid was how the deck was dealt in out kneck of the woods, who knows what transpired (or may have transpired) elsewhere.

Time plays a vital role here, too. Intelligent life that died out a billion years before us or came up a billion years after us, missed us. There is a possibility that the mass of radioactivity (aka the jumble of radio signals) created by our world may serve as a marker of our once prosperous existence. But it’s still a roll of the dice in the grand scheme.

At one point, I also pondered the potential of extraterrestrial artificial intelligence getting a jump from and/or giving a lift to, some other external intelligent life forms. Based on a conversation that Sam Harris had with Dave Rubin in which touched on the subject of AI (this was before the recent IDW nonsense soured my perception of both men), my mind pondered the possible relationship between extraterrestrial AI to unidentified flying object sightings worldwide.

There is a whole lot that I will never know in my lifetime. How much human knowledge will grow, depends on many factors (with the forecast looking very gloomy at present). Either way though, best not to restrain our imagination based on Hollywood trope.

2.)

There is a difference between “science” and what we can call “scientism,” which is the notion that science can solve all problems. To a large extent, it is not science but rather how humanity has used science that has put us in our present difficulties. Because most people, in general, have no awareness of what science can and cannot do. So they misuse it, and they do not think about science in a more pluralistic way. So, okay, you’re going to develop a self-driving car? Good! But how will that car handle hard choices, like whether to prioritize the lives of its occupants or the lives of pedestrian bystanders? Is it going to just be the technologist from Google who decides? Let us hope not! You have to talk to philosophers, you have to talk to ethicists. And to not understand that, to say that science has all the answers, to me is just nonsense. We cannot presume that we are going to solve all the problems of the world using a strict scientific approach. It will not be the case, and it hasn’t ever been the case, because the world is too complex, and science has methodological powers as well as methodological limitations.

I can’t really add anything to that. Much to my surprise.

I will end my commentary here. Though Marcelo has a further quote with the potential for a swipe at 2 other names that have come to annoy me (Stephen Hawking and Lawrence Krauss), there is enough controversy in this piece already.

“GUEST VIEW: Youth Will Pay For Legalizing Marijuana” – (NewportRI.com)

Today, I will be critiquing another hit piece aimed at societal progress. In this case, an article based on a Newport, Rhode Island teachers disbelief in newly released studies that claim to show marijuana use by teens in decline in states with legalized recreational marijuana.

In fairness, this article is not entirely based on a personal rant. The author cites data which would seem to oppose that found in the far more widely distributed studies of recent weeks. Which is why I decided to take a look for myself.

https://www.newportri.com/news/20190714/guest-view-youth-will-pay-for-legalizing-marijuana

Before I even start, I will acknowledge my bias coming into this. The whole reason why the article grabbed my attention in the first place (unlike the sea of others of a similar nature published daily and weekly) was how it flew in the face of logic, as characterized by me.
Even in the years before Colorado and Washington took the first steps into recreational legalization (2012), I was a supporter of legalization. Though my views were not as streamlined as they are now (personal growth & all), 2 throughlines still run through my main arguments.
One is the human rights argument (it’s a personal choice). And the 2ed being the protection of minors aspect.

The way that current day legal (yet semi-restricted) substances are handled (alcohol, nicotine, etc) sets an age limit for purchase and does a fairly good job of keeping these substances from being directly obtained by minors. No, it’s not 100% effective (store owners or employees knowingly or unknowingly breaking the law, adults looking the other way and purchasing for minors, etc), but no law is or ever will be.
This, compared to the increasingly former status quo of procuring marijuana. Call up or meet your connection, hand over some cash, and off you go. No identification or hard questions required.

This is why I don’t get people that support prohibition as a way of protecting the children. You’re not protecting them, you are just making the substance a WHOLE lot easier for them to get. Aside from various supply issues, it’s likely easier for a teenager to get their hands on ANY illicit substance than it is for an adult to obtain a prescription.

Prohibition just pushes the transaction out of sight. It might be appeasing for a subset of people that don’t want to let the realities of the world darken their rosy outlook. However, it’s not without dire consequences. As in many situations, ignorance has a price.

Anyway, you know where I am coming from. Let’s see where author Carol Formica is coming from.

Prevention Science states there are two factors that contribute to an increased risk of drug use: access and availability.

I don’t think anyone with a fair amount of brain cells would argue this point. It makes sense.

On the other hand, the recent AP article published in the Daily News (July 9) entitled, “Teen odds of using marijuana dip with recreational use laws,” defies all logic.

According to the article, there is new research that suggests legalizing recreational marijuana for adult use in some states may have “slightly reduced teens’ odds of using pot.”

Seriously?

Yes, Carol. Seriously.

The only reason why I can see this as quote defying all logic is if your starting point is “Prohibition = No access to drugs. Legalization = Access to drugs”. If such is the case, then your outlook is SEVERELY flawed. And thus, you are in NO position to be delivering ad hom’s from a place of condescension atop a soapbox.

If you have come this far, you already know my stance.

The lead author of the study, D. Mark Anderson, a health economist at Montana State University, claims there was no change linked with medical marijuana legislation, but “odds of teen use declined almost 10% after recreational marijuana laws were enacted.”

Anderson’s study maintains the new results echo a previous study that showed a “decline in teen use after sales of recreational pot began in 2014 in Washington state.”

The study was recently published in JAMA Pediatrics and was based on national youth health and behavioral surveys from 1993 through 2017.

One point of interest is that the researchers (from the University of Oregon, University of Colorado, and San Diego State University) looked at “overall changes nationwide, but not at individual states.”

As a side note, Colorado, Oregon and California legalized recreational marijuana in 2012, 2014, and 2016 respectively.

Possibly a good critique.

A second point of interest is that the study was partially funded by a grant from the Charles Koch Foundation.

According to businessscene.org, the Koch brothers are described as “powerful libertarian donors” who support states legalizing marijuana.

A possibly good critique as well. Though I would have more gone the route of business than ideology. Marijuana is big money, so naturally, it is in the interest of big business to open the floodgates. The fact that the human freedom aspect also is at play is just the icing on the cake.

At the end of the AP article, Linda Richter, director of policy research and analysis at the nonprofit Center on Addiction, is quoted as saying, “It sort of defies logic to argue that more liberal recreational marijuana laws somehow help dissuade young people from using the drug.”

Ms. Richter also points out that other studies have found that, in states where marijuana is legal, “fewer teens think it is risky or harmful than the national average.”

1.) Neither legalization nor prohibition serves to dissuade teenagers from any substance. If anything, the forbidden fruit tends to be the sweetest. When you are a minor, this encompasses pretty much everything. Legal or illegal, it’s a restricted product.

What legalization does is limits availability. Instead of marijuana being on par with candy in terms of accessibility, it becomes on par with alcohol and tobacco. Viewing laws as a way to dissuade is ENTIRELY missing the point.

2.) I would be curious what Ms. Richter’s definition of risky and harmful are, in the context of marijuana. Does this national average constitute a reality-based apprehension towards marijuana’s drawbacks, or is it amplified by hyperbole from the anti-drug crusaders?

While legalization can also have the effect of reducing the perceived harm of legally obtainable substances (like alcohol), both extremes have to be measured. Because both have unintended consequences in their own right.

While Anderson’s study may be skewed in favor of legalization, being partially funded by a libertarian donor and including researchers who hail from states that have already legalized marijuana, there are other studies that paint a very different picture on the matter.

The High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) initiative is a federal program administered by the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Its goal is to address drug-related issues by supporting and collaborating with law enforcement, treatment and prevention partners.

The Rocky Mountain HIDTA report of October 2017, (Vol. 5), showed that after Colorado legalized recreational marijuana in 2012, “youth past month marijuana use” increased 12% in the three-year average (2013-2015).

It also showed that Colorado’s “youth past month marijuana use” for 2014/2015 was 55% higher than the national average compared to 39% higher in 2011/2012.

In the Northwest HIDTA report of March 2016, it states that youth under the age of twenty had accounted for 45% of statewide marijuana calls answered by Washington state’s Poison Center in 2014; a number that has since increased to 80% with the legalization of marijuana in 2012.

The same report revealed that from September 2013 to May 2014, the Seattle Public Schools reported 758 student violations involving drugs/alcohol. Of that total, “651 involved drug offenses only and 98% of those violations involved marijuana.”

The report further added that those violations occurred at “all levels of the public school system: elementary, middle, and high schools.”

Worth considering.

However, it’s always good to know when the source has a potentially blatant bias driven agenda.

The RMHIDTA, a federally supported task force dedicated to suppressing marijuana and other illegal drugs, claims only 50 percent of Colorado voters supported legalization in that Quinnipiac survey—eight points lower than the actual result. It also understates the 2012 vote for Amendment 64 by a point, but the comparison still supports the story that the task force wants to tell: The consequences of legalization in Colorado have been so bad that public support for the policy already has fallen.

Even assuming that the RMHIDTA’s misrepresentation of the Quinnipiac survey was a mistake, the direction of the error is not random. You can be sure that if the report had overstated support for legalization by eight points, someone would have caught it before the text was finalized. Which underlines a point that should be obvious by now: Despite its pose as a dispassionate collector of facts, the RMHIDTA, which issued similar reports in 2013 and 2014, is committed to the position that legalization was a huge mistake, and every piece of information it presents is aimed at supporting that predetermined conclusion. So even when the task force does not simply make stuff up, it filters and slants the evidence to play up the purported costs of legalization while ignoring the benefits.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/jacobsullum/2015/09/17/supposedly-neutral-federal-report-stacks-the-deck-against-marijuana-legalization/#36785dc62245

He has some examples, too.

Drugged Driving

The report says “there was a 32 percent increase in marijuana-related traffic deaths” after legal recreational sales began in 2014 (emphasis in the original). Here is an interesting fact about “marijuana-related traffic deaths”: They do not necessarily have anything to do with marijuana. The report uses this phrase to describe fatalities from accidents involving vehicle operators who “tested positive for marijuana,” which could indicate the presence of inactive metabolites or THC levels so low that they had no impact on driving performance. A positive result does not mean a driver was impaired at the time of the crash, let alone that marijuana contributed to the accident.

As the report emphasizes in another chapter, adult marijuana use has been rising in Colorado since 2006. You would expect the percentage of drivers who “test positive for marijuana”—whether or not they are impaired and whether or not they get into accidents—to rise as well. It is not clear to what extent recent increases in what the RMHIDTA insists on calling “marijuana-related traffic deaths” are due to this population-wide trend and to what extent they are due to an increase in dangerously impaired drivers. The task force seems determined to obscure this crucial distinction.

Another factor to consider: The number of cannabinoid screens performed for law enforcement agencies in Colorado nearly tripled between 2009, when the medical marijuana industry started to take off, and 2014, the first year of legal recreational sales. That could reflect increased enforcement, increased stoned driving, or a combination of both. Likewise with last year’s increases in marijuana-related DUID arrests by Denver police, which the RMHIDTA also cites as evidence that legalization has made the roads more dangerous.

Emergency Room Visits and Hospitalizations

In 2014, the report says, “there was a 29 percent increase in the number of marijuana-related emergency room visits” and “a 38 percent increase in the number of marijuana-related hospitalizations.” Like “marijuana-related traffic deaths,” “marijuana-related emergency room visits” and “marijuana-related hospitalizations” are not necessarily marijuana-related. As the report explains, these numbers, also known as “marijuana mentions,” refer to patients whose marijuana use was determined by lab tests, self-reports, or “some other form of validation by the physician.” The fact that a patient had used marijuana at some point “does not necessarily prove marijuana was the cause of the emergency admission or hospitalization.”

It is therefore hard to know what to make of the increases highlighted by the report. They could be due to increased cannabis consumption, increased willingness to admit marijuana use, increased inquisitiveness by hospital staff, or some combination of those factors, none of which necessarily means that marijuana-related medical problems actually went up between 2013 and 2014, although it’s possible they did.

The report says “marijuana-only” calls to the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center “increased 72 percent” in 2014. Here the RMHIDTA is on firmer ground, since these calls really do involve marijuana and have increased in recent years. It is plausible that the increase, which has also been seen in Washington, is related to greater availability of marijuana edibles, first from dispensaries and later from recreational shops.

Most calls involve adults, although about 18 percent involve children 5 or younger. Whether people are mistaking edibles for ordinary food or taking bigger doses than they should have, these calls surely represent undesirable outcomes. But as usual, the RMHIDTA fails to put this troubling trend into perspective. Although the number of marijuana-only calls rose 148 percent between 2012 and 2014, last year’s total, 151, still accounted for just 0.3 percent of the 50,000 or so calls that the poison control center received. The Colorado center does not report outcomes on its website. But according to data from the Washington Poison Center, just 3 percent of marijuana exposure cases involve a “major effect,” and there have been no fatalities.

The RMHIDTA, which has a strong incentive to locate “marijuana-related” deaths in Colorado, describes one homicide, two apparent accidents, and three suicides. Marijuana’s causal role in these six deaths is open to debate. But even if we take it as a given and include all 165 “traffic deaths related to marijuana” (which may or may not actually be related to marijuana) in 2013 and 2014, the death toll attributed to cannabis pales beside the thousands of alcohol-related deaths in Colorado during the same period.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/jacobsullum/2015/09/17/supposedly-neutral-federal-report-stacks-the-deck-against-marijuana-legalization/#36785dc62245

Feel free to continue reading this nice analysis. There is more.

While there are troubling stats to be considered, any good is far outweighed by the bias. If I were to guess, this organization may be on the chopping block if marijuana were to become too well perceived by the otherwise inattentive public.

Good riddance.

If the Rocky Mountain and Northwest HIDTA reports aren’t enough to make a person pause when considering the societal impacts of marijuana legalization on our youth, then perhaps the May 20 segment, “Potent Pot,” by Target 12 investigative reporter Tim White will change their mind.

The segment discussed the current uptick of marijuana vaporizers being used within Rhode Island schools.

In this past school year more than a few Rhode Island students had to be taken away by an ambulance after having an “adverse reaction to potent levels of THC,” one of which was described as an “overdose call” by the Coventry Fire Department.

In May, GoLocalProv published a study that showed Rhode Island having the highest percentage of teenage drug users throughout the country.

Prevention Science, as well as common sense, would suggest limiting access and availability of any drug.

Legalizing marijuana would do just the opposite — and our youth will pay the highest price.

First off, a quick look into Rhode Island state guidelines tells us that the sale, possession and use of vaping devices are illegal for persons under 18 years of age. Which would make the question “How are teens getting their hands on vaping devices and fluid?” a more productive way to look at this than “Marijuana = BAD!”.
And the same goes for any locality with a disproportionate problem of minors getting their hands on substances that they shouldn’t be getting ahold of.

At this point, I don’t feel like going any further. The author of this article doesn’t seem interested in much more than pursuing an already debunked status quo. To them, drugs belong in the shadows, out of sight is out of mind.

Consequences be damned.

Patriotism In Today’s World – Part 1

As most people likely know, yesterday was Independence day in the United States. Here in Canada, we celebrated our own version (Canada Day) 2 days earlier. No matter where you are in the world, you likely have an equivalent on your calendar.
Like many things I once took for granted, patriotism is one of the many things that I initially left unquestioned. As that statement hints, such is no longer the case. For a number of reasons, at this point.

For a long time, I relegated it to the realm of the Sheeple. Just another label and ideology for those that can’t seem to live without. Of course, one has to be careful not to take this conclusion too far, for it is also possible for blazing one’s own trail (for lack of a better description) to become just as powerful an ideology. It’s the reason why I don’t label myself as an iconoclast, contrarian or anything else of the sort. Whilst there no doubt exist good examples of the cohort, any viewpoint that discourages individual reasoning in favour of a generalized conclusion is suspect.

This is not to say that I don’t live without ideology. Such is not possible. I just don’t have a need to be dominated by one (or many) that mould most of my conclusions for me. Like everything else, it’s all about moderation. You look around and adopt what works, and the rest goes into the blue bin.

My earliest experiences with patriotism (a case that is likely true for most of us) came in a form that many may not recognize as such. That form is school spirit.

At least in the western world, high schools generally have a handful of sports teams, all competing under one common brand (associated with the school). My school had the Spartans, neighbouring schools in the city had the Vikings and the Plainsmen. Athletes usually enjoy a higher tier social status than most others, and school administrators themselves foster this status by cutting into educational time by scheduling often compulsory team spirit rallies. You know, get the whole school into the gymnasium for a couple hours to cheer on and celebrate the accomplishments of our athletes.

Our athletes . . . the indoctrination is still powerful LOL.

Being an inch over half way to 60 at this point, I don’t recall how many hours of my life were spent (wasted) sitting through such pageantry. However, for someone that didn’t give a damn in the slightest (even then!), one minute was too many. Of course, back then I didn’t care for a different reason (I didn’t care about anything ), but none the less, the point still stands.
I would not come to make the connection to patriotism until many years later. Though the connection likely isn’t anything more than coincidence, the parallels are interesting. Though the 2 (patriotism for one’s country and school spirit) exist independently of one another, I can’t help but think that one could influence the other. Even if one considers the dynamic of having many friends competing as Plainsmen, but being stuck attending a Spartan loyal school . . . you get the drift.

To be fair, a big component of this is the annoying nature of many sports fans. Canadian hockey fans tend to be some of the worlds worst (of course, based on my own anecdotal experience). If Cricket and Soccer can be viewed as unifying of cultures and nations, than hockey is at the opposite end of the spectrum.

However, we are now in the weeds. WAY in the weeds lol. Time to retreat.

Sporting loyalties aside, the parallels in traditions between the celebration of school spirit and patriotism are hard to miss. Both actively encourage division. As for whether school spirit traditions can influence patriotism based traditions throughout life . . . I have no idea.

Considering that most western world constitutions forbid mandating participation in such rituals (particularly in schools), however, giving the possibility some scrutiny can’t hurt.

Part 2 will explore the more recent problem of patriotism in collision with the growing trend towards fascism in recent years.

Part 3 (?) will explore the question of whether patriotism is still relevant in today’s increasingly borderless world.

10 Facts About Atheists – (Pew Research)

I found this article a few days ago over on Agnostic.com and thought it be interesting to take a delve into it a bit.

10 facts about atheists

Estimating the number of atheists in the U.S. is complicated. Some adults who describe themselves as atheists also say they believe in God or a universal spirit. At the same time, some people who identify with a religion (e.g., say they are Protestant, Catholic or Jewish) also say they do not believe in God.

But one thing is for sure: Along with the rise of religiously unaffiliated Americans (many of whom believe in God), there has been a corresponding increase in the number of atheists. As nonbelievers and others gather in Washington, D.C., for the “Reason Rally,” here are key facts about atheists and their beliefs:

As with many people, the first paragraph took me somewhat by surprise. However, I am unsure of how they define Atheism.

A big reason why I am a proponent of a more umbrella-esk term such as Secularism or non-believers (it doesn’t really matter) IS because of situations like this. People without religious beliefs are all over the map. Some may not have made the logical transition all the way to agnostic atheism. Some may not ever go that far. A few (like me) may be more interested in pursuing other matters than a new label and ideology.

Atheism is not one size fits all. Nor does it have to be.

Either way, atheism does not seem the right one in this case. Agnostic theist maybe. Theist could work. Maybe deism. In any case, more than just atheism.

As for the people that identify with religion yet don’t believe in god, I can also understand the sentiment. A big part of being part of a church congregation is social status and interaction. At times, being a member of this tribe is an integral part of maintaining a normal existence in many environments. A church can both be a support network and THE support network.

Whilst there is nothing inherently wrong with flocking with a group you have likely known for much of your life and otherwise have few differences with, this could serve as another wake-up call to the atheism-centric folk of the non-believers out there.
It’s not just about deconversion and rationalism. It should be about building support structures. Communities.
Places where people can interact during good times. Places where people can be lent a helping hand during bad times. And otherwise places wherein our collective humanity trumps all other factors.

There are some good examples to be had of this, I don’t deny that. Many good people are doing good things. But at the same time, many more in the space (of whom tend to have a significantly louder voice) are more interested in promoting an ideology and a brand than much else. An action plan that short changes both any long term goals AND people stuck living in situations of closeted non-belief out of necessity.

1.) The share of Americans who identify as atheists has roughly doubled in the past several years. Pew Research Center’s 2014 Religious Landscape Study found that 3.1% of American adults say they are atheists when asked about their religious identity, up from 1.6% in a similarly large survey in 2007. An additional 4.0% of Americans call themselves agnostics, up from 2.4% in 2007.

While this does not surprise me, I have to wonder if there may be a generational thing at play here.

Everyone knows that the internet has proven to be an invaluable tool for breaking the death grip of religion for millions of people around the world. Though the impact has resonated for people of all ages, Millenials and Gen Z grew up around the internet.

Basically, I wonder if more adults of all ages are truly leaving religion behind, or if the overall pool of adults is just growing larger. With the younger generations tendency towards secularist attitudes, is the pool of theists just becoming diluted?

2.) Atheists, in general, are more likely to be male and younger than the overall population68% are men, and the median age of atheist adults in the U.S. is 34 (compared with 46 for all U.S. adults). Atheists also are more likely to be white (78% are Caucasian vs. 66% for the general public) and highly educated: About four-in-ten atheists (43%) have a college degree, compared with 27% of the general public.

This seems to fit my hypothesis. Which also means that the number is likely only going to grow. Barring something unforeseen.

3.) Self-identified atheists tend to be aligned with the Democratic Party and with political liberalism. About two-thirds of atheists (69%) identify as Democrats (or lean in that direction), and a majority (56%) call themselves political liberals (compared with just one-in-ten who say they are conservatives). Atheists overwhelmingly favor same-sex marriage (92%) and legal abortion (87%). In addition, three-quarters (74%) say that government aid to the poor does more good than harm.

Again, unsurprising.

Though politics is indeed separate from religiosity, I suspect that real-world dynamics contribute to this. Since many atheists face friction upon publicly disclosing their choice to deconvert, it’s hard not to gain empathy out of such an experience.

4.) Although the literal definition of “atheist” is “a person who does not believe in the existence of a god or any gods,” according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary8% of those who call themselves atheists also say they believe in God or a universal spirit. Indeed, 2% say they are “absolutely certain” about the existence of God or a universal spirit. Alternatively, there are many people who fit the dictionary definition of “atheist” but do not call themselves atheists. About three times as many Americans say they do not believe in God or a universal spirit (9%) as say they are atheists (3%).

As explored before, there could be a number of reasons for this.

They might not know the terms, having never come across such discourse. They may not care. Who knows.

It just illustrates the importance of going above atheism. The potential for a hugely influential driving force in politics exists. All that is required to get there, is more unity and less brand promotion.

5.) Unsurprisingly, more than nine-in-ten self-identified atheists say religion is not too or not at all important in their lives, and nearly all (97%) say they seldom or never pray. At the same time, many do not see a contradiction between atheism and pondering their place in the world. Three-in-ten (31%) say they feel a deep sense of spiritual peace and well-being at least weekly. A similar share (35%) often thinks about the meaning and purpose of life. And roughly half of all atheists (54%) frequently feel a deep sense of wonder about the universe, up from 37% in 2007. In fact, atheists are more likely than U.S. Christians to say they often feel a sense of wonder about the universe (54% vs. 45%).

This paragraph makes me wonder about the authors understanding of the concept of atheism. It seems only skin deep. Which explains a lot.

It’s unsurprising that atheist types have so much interest in both the makeup of the world and their overall place in it because a big part of leaving religion is the loss of such clarity. If you have scripture of any kind to fall back on, the big questions are answered for you.

Who done it? God

Why am I here? God

What is my purpose? Serving God

To be outside the realm of monotheistic religion (at least the big 3) is to figure this all out for yourself. Though there are many tools available to help with the first question (after changing who to what, of course), the other 2 are more difficult. Of course, there exist many other ideologies that often times step in and fill the gaps. However, some may go there whole lives trying to figure this stuff out. Some may not ever answer that question.

I’ve been on the secular side of the fence for a good decade, and I don’t have an answer. To be perfectly honest, I’ve accepted that I may never be able to answer the final question (the 2ed is irrelevant, really).

6.) In the 2014 Religious Landscape Study, self-identified atheists were asked how often they share their views on God and religion with religious people. Only about one-in-ten atheists (9%) say they do at least weekly, while roughly two-thirds (65%) say they seldom or never discuss their views on religion with religious people. By comparison, 26% of those who have a religious affiliation share their views at least once a week with those who have other beliefs; 43% say they seldom or never do.

Not much new knowledge here.

7.) Virtually no atheists (1%) turn to religion for guidance on questions of right and wrong, but increasing numbers are turning to scienceAbout a third of atheists (32%) say they look primarily to science for guidance on questions of right and wrong, up from 20% in 2007. A plurality (44%) still cite “practical experience and common sense” as their primary guide on such questions, but that is down from 52% in 2007.

This is puzzling, possibly terrifying. It makes me wonder how this question was worded on the survey.

Back when I was an atheist, I embodied many of the common tropes that have now come to annoy me. However, I am not sure how I would have answered this question.
Science is a tool. And much like any other tool (like a knife or a pencil), it is morally and ethically neutral in nature. Which is why I question how one can turn to it as a source of right and wrong.

I am a champion of philosophy. Though it tends to get a bad rap in today’s popular discourse, it’s separation from science has almost always been problematic. If science is the hammer, philosophy is the rational mind guiding it to hit only nails. As opposed to what we have now . . . science bound for the most part, only by the morals and ethics of the scientists practising it.

Exhibit A . . . Nuclear weapons.

Back in the era of the Manhatten project, some physicists were concerned with the possibility of the nuclear blast could quite literally set the atmosphere on fire. To quote those who know a whole lot more than me:

There’s nitrogen in the air, and you can have a nuclear reaction in which two nitrogen nuclei collide and become oxygen plus carbon, and in this process you set free a lot of energy.  Couldn’t that happen?

https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/bethe-teller-trinity-and-the-end-of-earth/

Of course, this was considered to be a distant possibility. Unlike how it is often recounted, the math didn’t support such a conclusion. However, to quote a Washington Post journalist:

Still. In science there are no absolutes. That’s a lot of faith to put into your equations. The belief that they could understand the workings of the atom was essential to the whole process of building the bomb. Leo Szilard conceived of a chain reaction of neutrons while crossing a London street in 1933; only a dozen years later these scientists and generals were out in the middle of the New Mexico desert to test ideas and hardware thrown together under wartime pressure. They had a decent understanding of what would probably happen — but this had never been done before. This was a new thing on the planet. And — as Oppenheimer said — the world would never be the same.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/achenblog/wp/2015/07/23/the-man-who-feared-rationally-that-hed-just-destroyed-the-world/?utm_term=.5173c91e1c64

It’s an interesting situation that isn’t uncommon in the realm of science.

The desire to push the limits of possibility. The external weight (and propaganda) of World War 2 . All that seems to missing, is any form of checks and balances. Even if we’re pretty sure that we won’t set the entire atmosphere alight by way of this explosion, is it STILL a good idea to do it anyway?

Consider the net results for humanity going forward. Since then, nuclear weapons have only become more powerful. Not just capable of ending the world as we know it in theory, but in REALITY. All it takes is 2 nation states unleashing their arsenals, and we’re in the realm of the film On The Beach.

Given that the barrier to using these weapons is mutual destruction at the hand of an enemy, is this a net positive for humanity? Does the guarantee of death and destruction keep radical entities in line? Or does it just raise the stakes a whole lot higher than they need to be?

For example, the Mumbai terrorist attacks in 2008. Given the combative relationship of India and Pakistan, does the presence of these weapons constitute a good thing?

Consider the atheist.

There is little possibility of our having a cold war with an Islamist regime armed with long-range nuclear weapons. A cold war requires that the parties be mutually deterred by the threat of death. Notions of martyrdom and jihad run roughshod over the logic that allowed the United States and the Soviet Union to pass half a century perched, more or less stably, on the brink of Armageddon. What will we do if an Islamist regime, which grows dewy-eyed at the mere mention of paradise, ever acquires long-range nuclear weapons? If history is any guide, we will not be sure about where the offending warheads are or what their state of readiness is, and so we will be unable to rely on targeted, conventional weapons to destroy them. In such a situation, the only thing likely to ensure our survival may be a nuclear first strike of our own . . .

How would such an unconscionable act of self-defense be perceived by the rest of the Muslim world? It would likely be seen as the first incursion of a global genocidal crusade. The horrible irony here is that seeing could make it so: this very perception could plunge us into a state of hot war with any Muslim state that had the capacity to pose a nuclear threat of its own. All of this is perfectly insane, of course: I have just described a plausible scenario in which much of the world’s population could be annihilated on account of religious ideas that belong on the same shelf with Batman, the philosopher’s stone, and unicorns. That it would be a horrible absurdity for so many of us to die for the sake of myth does not mean, however, that it could not happen.”

Source: The End of Faith, by Sam Harris, p. 128–129.

https://askepticalhuman.com/miscellaneous/2017/11/26/the-truth-about-sam-harris-the-nuclear-first-strike-against-muslims

Talk about a can of worms . . . shall I rejoice in the fact that India didn’t take a page out of Sam Harris’s book and likely kill us all?

Anyway, science is a great tool for understanding (and harnessing) the world we live in. But when it comes to moral and ethical guidelines, one has to look elsewhere. Hence why I find it odd that so many apparently cite science as being their go to for such matters.

What am I missing?

8.) Americans like atheists less than they like members of most major religious groups. A 2014 Pew Research Center survey asked Americans to rate groups on a “feeling thermometer” from zero (as cold and negative as possible) to 100 (the warmest, most positive possible rating). U.S. adults gave atheists an average rating of 41, comparable to the rating they gave Muslims (40) and far colder than the average given to Jews (63), Catholics (62) and evangelical Christians (61).

One doesn’t need a study to know the reasons for this. Jews, Catholics and evangelicals are more alike to most people (religious) than misunderstood and often demonized heathens. This doesn’t account for the cold shoulder towards Muslims, but racism does.

Yes, I know that Islam isn’t a race. However, it’s all about what ignorant people think Muslims look like, and what these people think Islam is.
In reality, both run the gambit. However, since many in first world countries tend to be ignorant (sometimes proudly so) OR are listening to faux-intellectuals like Sam Harris quote Pew polls (Hello agian!), Islam often boils down to this:

1.) Muslims are anyone halfway between Caucasian and African American who wear any type of turban. This often times mistakenly encompasses Sikh’s as well, even though that belief system has origins in India.

2.) A majority of Muslims respond to a survey in favour of such barbaric practices as stoning homosexuals and murdering heathens like myself.

Notice the italics on barbaric.

That was not meant to question the morality of the practice of murdering homosexuals. It’s more meant to highlight the irony of many of these types taking THAT as barbaric, meanwhile not batting an eyelash to all manner of threatening speech aimed at a whole laundry list of their fellow citizens. Though social media greed served as the can of gas needed to rekindle this fire, the sentiment was always there.

I have heard such from people where I live. Justin Trudeau has many enemies, let me tell you that.
And I even have examples in the ecosystem that is this blog. In the comment section of a post exploring an organization called the european brotherhood. I learned of them through a sticker left on a light pole.

Some examples:

Why would you donate to a local Mosque other than you’re a terrorist? Do you choose to live under Sharia Law by Muslim rapists and terrorists? Are you a misogynist that hates his own race brainwashed by “White Guilt? Are you just a loser that’s seeking attention you’re unable to find elsewhere? Are you just some random clown SJW that believes in the false God of equality?

Fine, not exactly barbaric. More, descriptive of symptoms of the disease in which we find ourselves fighting. Also, the context is he said he would buy a T-shirt from the European Brotherhood, and I said I would donate to a local mosque. I figured it to be an amusingly triggering retort.

Whoda thought . . .  I was right!

Mate, you hit the nail on the head. These SJW’s will understand one day they’ve been played like a fiddle, by the Zionist Elite to self destruct. The true European is proud of their unique heritage, language and culture. There is nothing wrong with wanting to preserve your own race). Every race has a right to preserve their culture and to self determination (except the European man). I’m not responsible for what happened centuries ago. These Cultural Marxists should all be tied to a tree and bitch slapped back to reality like the brain dead indoctrinated useful idiots they are..


mbman “You mean innocent white Europeans? Let’s be honest here.” end quote. Are you suggesting that the 1400 British girls were not innocent and deserved to be sexually assaulted for 16 years? Are you suggesting that the European that walks home after working a long day is not innocent and deserves to get mugged and assaulted?

It is you that needs to be honest because you have absolutely no morals nor empathy for the innocent (unless of course they are non Whites). It is you that is the profound racist, racist to indigenous Europeans.

I do not know why I bother with you because you have the intelligence and empathy of a bar of soap, and for fuk sake, the soap has been debunked (you know what I mean).

You truly disgust me because you are morally corrupt, with nothing in your heart but hate, and contempt for all Europeans (even the innocent) as you have just alluded to, in your last hateful comment.

Tell me: how long were you brainwashed in the indoctrination camps, also known as the education system?

I have no patience for you anymore, the only thing you deserve is the rope, and that day will come soon for everyone like you, because you condone rape of innocent little British girls, and the murder of innocent Europeans! Shame on you!

You are a filthy disgusting pathetic mere shell of a human being, and you dare say you are Canadian. I have been to Canada 4 times, and all my family, and Canadians I know never behave like the animal you are.

Now you can do the usual Marxist nonsense, and call me a racist and Nazi for wanting to live like a civilized human being. By the way, are you still attending all those Antifa protests you love so much? I bet that “Squatting Slav” would love to interview you for youtube to highlight your stupidity.

https://mbman.wordpress.com/2015/06/25/what-on-earth-is-the-european-brotherhood/

Ordinary, supposedly civilized people can be just as barbaric as the inhuman other in which they choose to affix a target. And as for faux-intellectuals cherrypicking surveys . . . if we’re quick to make snap judgements over entire cohorts based on such responses:

1.) Should we be worried about extreme right-wing fringe Christian groups as well? Extreme right-wing groups in general?

2.) Such intellectual discourse does far more to spur on individuals like the 2 above than you realize. If commenter #2 wanted, he could easily have cited Sam Harris.

If anything on this blog were so easily fitting to fascist ideology, you can bet that I would give my head a shake and consider where I had made such a wrong turn.

Anyway, now that we are WAY in the weeds, back to facts about atheists.

9.) About half of Americans (51%) say they would be less likely to support an atheist candidate for president, more than say the same about a candidate with any other trait mentioned in a Pew Research Center survey – including being Muslim. This figure, while still high, has declined in recent years – in early 2007, 63% of U.S. adults said they would be less likely to support an atheist presidential candidate. There are currently no self-described atheists serving in Congress, although there is one House member, Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), who describes herself as religiously unaffiliated.

Again, we’re back to the lack of trust thing for this figure. Though it is interesting that Muslims are regarded more warmly than atheists in this category. Must be based in the moral compass of the individual . . .  Muslims obviously have one, how can an atheist have one?

Also, I also wonder if new generations entering adulthood are changing this figure as well.

10.) About half of Americans (53%) say it is not necessary to believe in God to be moral, while 45% say belief in God is necessary to have good values, according to a 2014 survey. In other wealthy countries, smaller shares tend to say that a belief in God is essential for good morals, including just 15% in France. But in many other parts of the world, nearly everyone says that a person must believe in God to be moral, including 99% in Indonesia and Ghana and 98% in Pakistan.

Also self-explanatory, really. Where there is a high percentage of adherence to religious ideology, people that fall outside of that paradigm are considered untrustworthy.

Though I just recently found this piece, I realize that it is potentially old news. Mostly based on data from 2016, and posted (or at least dated) June 1, 2016. Even so, however, much of the material (certainly what resides closer to the end) should have stood the test of time.

Can Prostitution Ever Be Justified?

Today’s topic is a touchy one. One that I have taken on before.

I should note that it’s less about the topic than it is the argument provided. The viewpoint that is there is no way that prostitution can ever be morally (ethically?) justified.

Period.

When I last tackled this using an article written by Christopher Hedges back in 2015, I took issue based on the fact that this view seemed to have a glaringly obvious flaw. That is, blanket justifications leave no room for deviating opinions. To be frank, activists speaking on behalf of all women. All seemingly drawing conclusions both based on a flawed view of reality (the sex work status quo will ALWAYS be as dangerous as it is now!) and seemingly abandoning a core principle of feminism. The notion that is, your body is your domain.

However, times have changed and so have I. As such, maybe it would be helpful to revisit this topic and see if I missed something. See if I may end up coming to a different conclusion.

In pursuing this, I will quote and comment on yet another Truthdig article. This one written by Julie Bindel (journalist, researcher and activist in the global campaign to end violence against women and children).

https://www.truthdig.com/articles/the-real-face-of-prostitution/

“I honestly believe it stops rape,” Benjamin told me. “It allows men to let off steam and have our natural urges met.” Benjamin was talking about the benefits of prostitution. It is good for women, he argued, because rather than rape, men can have sex how and when they want by paying for it with a prostituted woman. For men, it ensures their needs are met. In Benjamin’s view, everyone is happy.

But his assertions are as far from the reality of the sex trade as possible. Men are not programmed to rape if they cannot get immediate access to sex, and there is no such thing as a “right” to sex. “When men claim that prostitution reduces rape,” sex trade survivor Fiona Broadfoot says, “What they really mean is that it is OK to rape prostituted women, which is how we experience sex with johns. Prostitution is rape.”

Nothing like getting a running start. Oh boy . . .

1.) I have heard the sexual needs and urges line before. Hell, if I’m honest, such may have even escaped my lips at some point in my life. Not speaking about ME per se, but of the male experience generally.

Is sex a necessity for males?

According to Focus on the Family, yes.

One of the biggest differences between you and your husband is the fact that he experiences sex as a legitimate physical need. Just as your body tells you when you’re hungry, thirsty, or tired, your husband’s body tells him when he needs a sexual release. Your husband’s sexual desire is impacted by what’s around him but is determined by biological factors, specifically the presence of testosterone in his body.

Immediately after sexual release, men are physically satisfied. But as their sexual clock ticks on, sexual thoughts become more prevalent, and they are more easily aroused. The physical need for sexual release intensifies as sperm builds in the testicles. The body continues to produce and store sperm, although sperm production fluctuates based on levels of testosterone and the frequency of sexual release.

https://www.focusonthefamily.com/marriage/sex-and-intimacy/understanding-your-husbands-sexual-needs/sex-is-a-physical-need

Gotta admit, I never thought that was going to be the first stop on this journey.

Samson was a strapping young man whose attention was seized by a beautiful Philistine woman. He told his parents, “Go get her for me,” which they did. (I guess they never read The Strong-Willed Child!) During the wedding feast, Samson taunted the Philistine guests with a riddle, betting them that they couldn’t solve it. Samson’s brand new wife told her kinsmen the answer to the riddle and ended up marrying Samson’s friend. The next time we see Samson with a woman, he is sleeping with a prostitute.

Fast-forward several years to Delilah, another beautiful woman. Three times, Samson lied to Delilah about the source of his strength. Three times Delilah betrayed her lover. Yet Samson stayed with her and eventually confided the true secret of his prowess. As strong as Samson’s muscles were, his sex drive appears to have been stronger.

We often look at a man’s sexual desire as a weak link or an Achilles’ heel. As with Samson or David, the promise of fleeting pleasure has the power to strip him of all that he values in life. However, what can be a source of evil can also be a force of great good. Just as twisted women are able to pull men into sin, virtuous women can use the influence of sex to call men to morality, love, and godliness.

Like many wives, you may be desperate to work on your marriage. You may long for your husband to read relationship books with you or attend marriage seminars (and actually take notes). If you really want his attention, work with the way God designed him. A great sex life won’t solve the problems in your marriage; however, it will fortify your husband’s desire and commitment to work toward intimacy. Your sexual relationship may be the “on-ramp” to communication, conflict resolution, and building the emotional intimacy you are longing for.

 

I didn’t think I would EVER find myself referencing Focus on the Family for ANYTHING, let alone their Understanding Your Husbands Sexual Needs series. However, running into the piece brought to mind another entity. An entity that seems to be operating out of more or less the same theistic headspace, but with a much different take on the issue.

Let’s just say the duties you have to your husband or partner are more than just implied.

 

https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/women-who-stray/201805/monogamy-and-violence

Dr. Jordan Peterson, firebrand Canadian psychologist, was described recently as suggesting that enforced monogamy would be a way to reduce male violence. Peterson allegedly stated this in response to a question regarding the recent Canadian violence involving an individual involved with the “Incel” online community. The Incel term describes males who report they are “involuntarily celibate,” and unable to secure a girlfriend or female mate. These online discussion groups have become increasingly misogynist, with the premise that women are treating them poorly, withholding sexual contact.

Following the Incel incident in Canada, there was a brief flurry of outrage in response to suggestions that society “redistribute sex.” An economics professor, Robin Hanson, who suggested this, argued that the Incel movement reflected an uncomfortable truth, that there were men who wanted to have sex, but were unable to do so. Their angry, even potentially violent, dissatisfaction, could, in theory, be assuaged by tactics which increased their access to sex. Hanson suggested that legalized prostitution, education or training, promotion of monogamy and discouraging promiscuity, were all strategies which might more equitably distribute the opportunity to have sex across a wider range of persons.

The redistribution of sex was widely reacted to as indicating some form of legalized rape, where women might be forced somehow to be sexual with men they would not otherwise have chosen. The history of child brides for instance, married off to wealthy men in state- and religion-sanctioned communities, seems an example of this – on the face of it, an unlikely idea, showing that in fact, there are societies where women are forced to be sexual with men in order to serve social interests.

Both Hanson and Peterson seem to believe that monogamy is, in some ways, a social protection or prevention against violence. Peterson later argued that what he was referring to was the history of social enforcement of monogamy, and not the idea that the government should somehow get involved in regulating or mandating monogamy within consensual relationships.

 

I would love to hear what both Hanson and Peterson think about a legalized and well-regulated sex trade industry as a possible solution. Okay, not REALLY (I hate Jordon Peterson). I just . . . figure that this likely didn’t occur to either. Entirely possible, since reading this brought the whole Incel thing back to my attention.

 

Note, however, that all of these arguments are based on the treatment of sex with females, and reproduction, as economic commodities. Women have something which men desire, and perhaps even need, in order to reproduce. When female sexuality is treated as an economic resource, it does indeed support the notion that this resource may be utilized or controlled in utilitarian manner, to further social interests. Men who cannot mate or get a date, are viewed as inferior, broken and worthless.

In much of today’s world, however, far different than our history, female sexuality is not seen as property, to be sold through dowries or taken as a right of privilege. The #Metoo movement, amongst a long history of feminist reform, has placed control and “ownership” of female sexuality in the women themselves, rejecting the “rights” of powerful men to treat women as sexual objects. It has only been in a few societies in human past, where women held economic control or independence, and in those rare societies, women often also held control of their sexuality and mated with whom they chose.

Where Peterson and Hanson’s arguments fail, is that they are using data, research, evidence, and theories, based on our dark past, where women did not hold the right to choose what to do with their own sexuality. The history of socially- and religiously-enforced monogamy was one in which female sexuality was property, and marriage was based on economics. The reason that the Incel movement is angry at women, rather than society at large, is that these young men recognize that when women are given the right to choose, they are not choosing them.

 

One thing we can all agree on, we all THINK that appeasing the male libido is a necessity of life. Though calling it a necessity is certainly a stretch, it’s not a stretch to say that sex adds to the richness of many lives. If it is a consenting act between 2 or more adults (who are we to judge?), then I don’t see the problem.

However, no one is owed or entitled to sex. If your approach to this topic is on that basis, then you are WAY off the mark.

End of story.

2.)

But his assertions are as far from the reality of the sex trade as possible. Men are not programmed to rape if they cannot get immediate access to sex, and there is no such thing as a “right” to sex. “When men claim that prostitution reduces rape,” sex trade survivor Fiona Broadfoot says, “What they really mean is that it is OK to rape prostituted women, which is how we experience sex with johns. Prostitution is rape.”

It seems that we find ourselves going full circle. From men that think they have a right to a woman’s body, to women that think they have a right to speak for all women. There is no such thing as truly consensual sex with a prostitute, as this survivor would have you believe.

I do understand what she is saying. When the sex trade is the last option you have for making a living, the act of sex (whether or not John’s take it too far) is less intimate and pleasurable than it is invasive and shaming. If anything, it is an indictment of a society at large that left so few options open for women in such a situation.
I would be remiss if I didn’t also take into account sex trafficking. Not all prostitution is necessarily consensual, even on the basis of my previous statement.

Having taken that all into consideration though, I still am unwilling to concede to a blanket statement speaking on behalf of an entire gender. Though I don’t disagree with the points as raised, I have to add the caveat that this is pertaining to the sex trade as it stands now. Which would seem to make this viewpoint akin to supporting the criminalization of drugs on account to all the problems brought on BY an unregulated drug market.

Where I was going to go from here was “Not unlike with drug legalization, the world has yet to experiment with the concept of a society with a fully legal and regulated sex work industry”. The problem is, that isn’t true. Though many first world nations seem to have settled for the decriminalization of the sale but criminalization of purchase, many nations have gone further than that.

Prostitution laws vary across the world. Some countries, including the United States, outright ban prostitution. Other nations such as France, Canada, Iceland, and Norway do not prohibit the selling of sex but have made it illegal to pay for sexual acts.

In other nations, prostitution is legal. These countries include:

In some nations, local laws are used to regulate, permit, or prohibit prostitution. This includes:

http://worldpopulationreview.com/countries/countries-where-prostitution-is-legal/

When it comes to sex trafficking, I would argue that the current day status quo of most destination countries of victims has a lot to do with why the phenomenon is still so prevalent. Let’s take, for example, Nigeria.

Nigeria has a rampant sex trafficking problem. Although with the caveat that most of that traffic seems to be outbound. Vulnerable women tricked into what is increasingly often a long and dangerous journey by sea into Europe (and elsewhere).

According the US State Department’s latest Trafficking In Persons report, last year NAPTIP reported 654 investigations, with 23 convictions for trafficking offenses.
“We’re prosecuting the small fries in Nigeria,” says Julie Okah-Donli, director general of NAPTIP. “Absolutely the number one problem is the inability of destination countries to clamp down on their own criminal networks.
“We’ve looked at the root causes in Nigeria without addressing the root causes in the destination countries,” she says. “What is being done to reduce the demand for this crime?”
If I were to speculate, I would say that the message between the lines is more prohibition is wanted on the part of the destination countries. Or at very least, more clamping down on the supporting criminal enterprises. More of the same, which equates to putting a bandaid on a reoccurring issue.
Say what you want about the market for sex. How it ties into the inhumane nature of capitalism. It’s certainly symbolic of a greater picture.

Even if one chooses that stance, however, we know where this leads if we legislate on this basis. Criminal organizations don’t care about your moral or ethical objections to prostitution. Just as criminal organizations don’t care about your moral or ethical objections to the sale of drugs. Morals and ethics be damned, there is a market (there always has been, and likely always will be!) for sex.

The only rational reaction is one of pragmatism.
You CAN keep sticking to your morals or ethics as a guideline for legislation. But in the real world, such is hardly more productive than praying for the victims. Because it will ALWAYS be easier to run a criminal enterprise in a prohibitive country than it will be for the country to eliminate ALL of the offenders. PERIOD.
In this light, it would seem that moral and ethical stances are worth little more than personal comfort, possibly even agents of absolution.
I didn’t do this . . . I’m on the right side of the situation.
Meanwhile, women and girls are still being trafficked out of exploited nations and murdered in an effectively lawless paradigm.

Over the past two decades, I have interviewed scores of men who pay for sex—in legal brothels and illegal massage parlors, and on the street. I have heard every justification from these men, including one about helping women feed their kids with the money exchanged for sex. Although prostitution—both buying and selling sex—is illegal across most of the U.S., very few sex buyers are ever arrested. Prostituted women, however, are heavily and unjustly criminalized, despite evidence that the vast majority are coerced and exploited into the sex trade.

2 words.

Coerced and exploited. I again wonder if this is just status quo tunnel vision.

The link in the paragraph above contains this:

If the demand to purchase people for sex did not exist, then opportunists such as pimps, traffickers, and exploitative adults would have no one to sell to. However, there is a demand, and a very profitable one. The selling of people sexually grossed an estimated $32 billion in 2012 (United Nation Office of Drugs and Crime, 2012).

The majority of those who purchase someone for sex acts have a regular consensual sexual partner (Durchslag & Goswami, 2008). The person purchased for sex is often viewed by the purchaser as less than human. This dehumanization of those involved in prostitution is a key factor in the high levels of sexual and physical violence perpetrated against them, as evidenced by these quotes from a 2008 study by Durchslag and Goswami:

In a confidential survey conducted by the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation (2008, 66% of those interviewed who had purchased someone for sex said they believe women became involved in prostitution out of economic necessity. In addition, the study noted the following:

54% of those interviewed had exchanged drugs for sex.

19% had exchanged shelter for sex; other items of value exchanged included food, transportation, and clothing.

57% believed the majority of women in prostitution experienced some type of childhood sexual abuse.

32% believed the majority of women in prostitution entered before the age of 18.

20% stated they had bought sex from women who had been trafficked from other countries.

The qualitative responses of those interviewed in the survey that admitted to purchasing people for sex demonstrate that those driving the demand are well aware of the harm being done and that those they purchase are exploited:

Criminal Justice Responses to Purchasers of Prostitution

Educational programs and initiatives have been instituted to deter the sexual purchasing of others and to punish consumers. People who purchase others sexually are often refered to as “johns”. Therefore, the term “john schools,” describes programs designed to deter men from continually purchasing commercial sex. John schools provide information about the legal and health consequences of purchasing sex, the social dynamics that play out in prostitution, and sexual addiction (Gillings & Willough, 2010).

Proponents of john schools believe that these programs are the best way to lessen the demand for prostitution. On the other hand, there is research that suggests that john schools are not adequate deterrents on their own merits. A primary component of john schools involves requiring participants to pay a fee for the course; however, often this does not serve as a deterrent for the large population of customers that have substantial financial means. Many cite the cost-effectiveness of john schools using this fee-for-service model, but there is not substantial data indicating the true effectiveness of these types of programs. Although john schools might have their place in the spectrum of deterrence, there are other, more effective mechanisms for deterring the purchasing of commercial sex acts.

https://pcar.org/sites/default/files/pages-pdf/the_intersection_between_prostitution_and_sexual_violence.pdf

What have we learned from this pamphlet?

1.) Many sex industry workers are there due to coercion or exploitation

2.) Johns (at least the ones that tend to respond to surveys) tend to be assholes

So the solution to this problem is . . .  John Schools. Let’s make these men pay to take a class to educate (shame! Let’s be honest here) them out of ever paying money for sexual gratification again. Because that method worked SO well when it came to steming the market for drugs over the 50 odd years of the ongoing drug war.

This pamphlet is not helpful to the overall cause it claims to tackle. It’s just a condescending document which effectively enables EXACTLY the phenomenon it claims to be fighting.

Pragmatism saves lives. Moral grandstanding just drives the industry deeper underground.

Nevada is the one state in which prostitution—including pimping, brothel owning and sex buying—is legalized. It is allowed in only seven of its counties, but research into the Nevada sex trade shows that legalization has resulted in prostitution becoming normalized across the entire state. The majority of visitors to Las Vegas believe that prostitution is completely legal in the city. That allows men to easily justify paying for sex.

With debate currently raging in Nevada about whether or not to close its legal brothels, and pro-prostitution lobbyists in New York City now pushing for its sex trade to be decriminalized, it is imperative that the focus shifts from the women selling sex to the men who drive the demand.

That is why recently published research on men who pay for sex, by Demand Abolition (DA), a U.S. group that campaigns against sexual exploitation, is both timely and vital.

Its research shows that the majority of men in the U.S. choose not to pay for sex, but that the “creeping normalization” of the sex trade leads to a prevailing view that prostitution is a victimless crime. And in countries and states with legalized prostitution, rates of sex trafficking increase.

First off, I don’t think anyone should have to justify paying for sex. Period.

When it comes to Nevada, although having debate is a healthy thing, one benchmark that should be considered is risk analysis. Anti-prostitution activists feel that the data is on their side. But some also point out that the data has a distinctly cherry picked quality.

Even more misleading are No Little Girl’s charges that legal sex work makes a woman 26 times (or, as another statistic claims, 1,660 percent) more likely to be sexually assaulted than women in neighboring counties. While these stats are based on real FBI crime statistics, they only take into account a few years of data in just two Nevada counties. A broad look across all of Nevada — including counties with legal sex work where assault rates are low — show no correlation between assaults and the presence or absence of legal sex work.

Meanwhile, a number of studies of countries where sex work is legal have routinely found that legalization or decriminalization of sex work is often correlated with lower rates of sexual assault. When Rhode Island accidentally legalized indoor prostitution (a rewrite of its overly broad prostitution laws wound up deleting the language making it illegal) for a number of years, reported rapes declined by 31 percent after; when the Netherlands opened “tippelzones,” or areas where street prostitution is legal, reports of rape and sexual abuse declined by a similar percentage over the first two years.

This decline could be attributed to a number of other factors — including country culture or other laws related to sexual assault — but it’s worth noting.

https://www.vox.com/the-big-idea/2018/5/29/17404736/sex-workers-nevada-fosta-sesta

Also:

None of this is to say that a legalized brothel system is perfect or above reproach. Nevada’s regulations dramatically limit who can participate in the legal sex work system — if a brothel doesn’t hire you, you can’t work legally. Since few brothels are interested in hiring men or trans women, the system is effectively closed off to those groups. Additionally, some of the expenses and registration requirements can feel punitive and off-putting, making it harder for the most vulnerable women to work safely and legally within the system.

It’s these types of restrictions that have led many human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, to argue that sex work decriminalization — or the removal of criminal penalties for sex work, without additional regulation or restrictions on who can sell sex — is preferable to some legal sex work systems, such as those found in Nevada, Germany, Amsterdam, and Tunisia.

Yet in spite of its flaws, the Nevada brothel system is still leaps and bounds ahead of the criminal penalties most of the country imposes on all people who choose to exchange sex for money. Rather than rolling back the progress Nevada has achieved, we should be looking to the state as an inspiration for pursuing even more progressive policies that empower and uplift people who choose sex work as an occupation.

But so long as we allow our arguments about sex work to be led by morality rather than harm reduction, we’ll continue to fall prey to the kind of knee-jerk anti-sex work zealotry displayed by No Little Girl. And our sex work policies — and the safety of sex workers — will continue to suffer as a result.

Truly understanding the lives of sex workers, and the policies that help them, requires putting aside our personal feelings about sexuality and listening to the experiences of sex workers. It requires recognizing that sex work is work, even if it’s work we’re not interested in or willing to do ourselves. It requires understanding that eliminating sex work is no more feasible than eliminating abortion — people will find a way — and that making sex work safer should be our collective goal.

Don’t think I could have said it any better.

Its research shows that the majority of men in the U.S. choose not to pay for sex, but that the “creeping normalization” of the sex trade leads to a prevailing view that prostitution is a victimless crime. And in countries and states with legalized prostitution, rates of sex trafficking increase.

Speaking of cherry picking, I return to this quote.

First off, I don’t disagree. It’s a matter of supply versus demand. Where a market is opened up, someone is going to fill it. In this case, the authorities have only tackled half the problem. Though they greatly reduced many of the risks involved in sex work, human trafficking was not considered as a factor.

Going about this the proper way involves us to collectively confront what is normally an icky topic for many of us, it would seem.

Sex.

They have different reasons, from the religious to the ridiculous. But most of them leave no room for the acceptance of true sexual freedom. And no, I don’t mean freedom for pigs to go on raping sprees without consequence. I mean, the freedom for women to openly share their positive relationship with casual sex without having to dodge the idiotic double standards that societies are all too happy to promote.
It’s honestly hard to see how this doesn’t factor into the whole “prostitution is not justifiable. PERIOD” movement. When it comes to women open to (or embracing) sex work as a profession, I suspect they are not consulted because they are looked down upon.

Either way, the path to puting a big dent in human trafficking filling market voids with indentured sex workers is frankly, to promote the profession.
Yes, I know that even the most progressive societies are likely around 60 years behind embracing such a movement. But it is the only way. It is ridiculous that double standards still have so much power to hold down half of the worlds entire population. Enough with the high school antics.

It’s time for our species to collectively grow up.

And speaking of cherry picking . . . a segment from the study linked in the Truthdig article.

The article concludes: “The likely negative consequences of legalised prostitution on a country’s inflows of human trafficking might be seen to support those who argue in favour of banning prostitution, thereby reducing the flows of trafficking. However, such a line of argumentation overlooks potential benefits that the legalisation of prostitution might have on those employed in the industry. Working conditions could be substantially improved for prostitutes—at least those legally employed—if prostitution is legalised. Prohibiting prostitution also raises tricky “freedom of choice” issues concerning both the potential suppliers and clients of prostitution services.”

Thank you.

Back to the original article.

The DA research is based on the behavior and attitudes of johns. More than 8,000 adult men across the U.S. were interviewed, and a number of sex-trade survivors were asked to give their views on the research and make recommendations for change. One survivor involved in the research is Marian Hatcher. Hatcher, a victim advocate in the anti-trafficking division of Chicago’s Cook County Sheriff’s Office, was one of the peer reviewers.

“The report benefits survivors by acknowledging [that] the unequal playing field needs to be leveled, holding buyers accountable,” Hatcher says. “It provides victims and exited abolitionist sex-trade survivors [with] hope, hope that they will live in a society that provides exit opportunities and educates would-be buyers of the harms. I would like to see the policy recommendations in the report applied to both the illegal and legal sex trade. You cannot adequately impact one without the other. Together they promote the commodification of human beings, promoting violence against women and girls.”

The commodification factor is there, no matter what. All the education and deterrence in the world is not going to change this.

The answer is:

1.) Lessoning the inherent risks of an underground industry by moving it above board.

2.) Allow women to have true freedom of autonomy.

I’m starting to feel like I am being repetitive.

The DA interviews focused on “push factors” (why men pay for sex) and potential deterrents. The group considers the act of paying for sex harmful, both to the women who are exploited and to wider society, because a global culture of misogyny is on the side of the john. There are some universal similarities about men who pay for sex. Research I conducted with Melissa Farley, a clinical psychologist and coordinator of the California nongovernmental organization Prostitution, Research & Education, found that among U.K. johns, one key push factor was peer pressure from other men, within the culture of acceptance that surrounds prostitution.

The U.K. research concluded that even the lightest of deterrents, such as the threat of arrest, the risk of family members or employers being informed of johns’ actions, or details being added to a police database, can be effective. Aside from entrenched buyers, such deterrents would usually make men think twice about paying for sex.

The DA findings tell us that only about 6% of American men who pay for sex (outside the legal zones in Nevada) report having been arrested for it. When buyers perceive that risk, it could lead them to alter their activities. About one-quarter of buyers “strongly agree” that “the risk of arrest is so high I might stop.”

We are having (in some ways, have already had!) this conversation. Just switch out sex for marijuana use and procurement.
Yes, apples to oranges. None the less were dealing with an inevitable tide. If all of the might and resources of the United States Government could not stomp out drug use, how do you expect to completely stomp out an activity that is arguably even more of a human right?

We’ve been down this road. It has not helped. It WILL not help. PEOPLE ARE STILL DYING!

Shall we still keep digging in our heels, then?

The DA research found that what the group referred to as “high-frequency” buyers account for a disproportionately large share of the illegal sex trade. Around one quarter of active johns report paying for sex weekly or monthly, and these transactions account for almost three-quarters of the market. These buyers are more likely to have started at a young age, with the help or encouragement of others in their social networks.

There is a lot of money involved in the sex trade, with much of it going to pimps, brothel owners and drug dealers. On average, American sex buyers spend more than $100 per transaction. Prostitution generates vast profits—estimated at $1 billion a year in the U.K. and $186 billion globally. It is capitalism at its most ruthless and predatory, with human beings as the products.

How is it, then, that so many men consider the pinnacle of women’s freedom as being penetrated by multiple male strangers? And why have so many leftist individuals and organizations, such as the International Labour Organization and Amnesty International,  adopted the pro-prostitution line?

Who appointed you and your like-minded colleagues the official representatives of half of an entire global population?

And do you have any real world deployable solutions to this problem that are NOT completely tied to the rest of the world fully sharing your world view?

These so-called human rights organizations take the “sex work is work” line, despite the adoption of the Nordic Model, or, as it is increasingly referred to, the Abolitionist Model, by Sweden, Norway, Finland, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, Israel and France. Under this approach, prostituted people are decriminalized and given assistance in exiting the sex trade, but the buyers are criminalized. Although there is significant and growing support for the Abolitionist Model, those who believe in the inalienable right of men to buy sex consider it an abomination. When the law was being debated in France in 2013, a group of high-profile French intellectuals signed a petition that stated: “Some of us have gone, go, or will go to prostitutes—and we are not even ashamed.” They added, “Everyone should be free to sell their charms, and even to love doing it.”

A recent op-ed in Teen Vogue by a South African doctor, titled “Why Sex Work Is Real Work,” made the claim that “[t]he clients who seek sex workers vary, and they’re not just men. The idea of purchasing intimacy and paying for the services can be affirming for many people who need human connection, friendship, and emotional support. Some people may have fantasies and kink preferences that they are able to fulfill with the services of a sex worker.” Aside from the disgrace of a publication aimed at girls and young women promoting commercial sexual exploitation as a viable career option, such propaganda perpetuates feelings of male sexual entitlement.

Well, I guess I know where we stand on my previous proposal. Sex as a career opportunity . . .  NEVER!!!!!!

The op-ed actually discusses an interesting dynamic which isn’t often discussed openly. The fact that societies are growing more and more isolated. In particular, younger generations are entering a world which is often devoid of meaningful opportunities but filled with terrible role models. Though the vast majority of this isn’t tragic . . . some of it can go to REALLY dark places.

Where the sex trade could fit into this paradigm, is apparent. Though I have to be careful not to go the Peterson route, if people want to pay other people for companionship . . . so?

A person wants to pay an openly consenting partner to do things that are not typical behaviour in an ordinary bedroom?
Fine.
Why should I care if they pay someone or meet someone on a bring like minds together app?

I’ve become convinced that author Julie Bindel is less concerned about saving lives than she is in forwarding an agenda. An agenda that is hard to describe as anything BUT anti-female autonomy.

The continued existence of the sex trade relies on misogyny, class prejudice, racism, colonialism and imperialism. “If leftists can’t see how harmful the sex trade is to women,” says Bridget Perrier, a Native Canadian survivor, “you would think they would give a damn about the racism and colonialism it is built upon.”

Many of the 50 sex-trade survivors with whom I spent time while researching my book on the global sex trade, “The Pimping of Prostitution: Abolishing the Sex Work Myth,” told me about the racism, bigotry and prejudice they faced as women of color. Indeed, many black sex-trade survivors link their prostitution experience to that of slavery. Vednita Carter, an African American sex-trade abolitionist, says, “The slave-trade era is where sex trafficking began for African American women. Even after slaves were free, black women and girls were still being bought and sold. Today, there are too many poor urban areas that middle-class men drive through for the sole purpose of finding a woman or girl of color to buy or use.”

In the U.S., prostituted women are disproportionately young African Americans and other women of color. One john I interviewed in a legal Nevada brothel told me that the main reason he paid for sex was so he could “try out different colors of chicks without dating them.”

I’m not going to take a black or Latino to meet my folks,” he told me, “but they sure are hot to fuck.”

In a country and a world that is built on the mistakes and flaws of the humans that constructed and run it, is it a surprise that this also shows up in the sex trade?

To say yes would be an indicator of extreme naivety.

Also, there is no need to keep backing up these claims using the quotes of assholes. We get the point. Some people are garbage.

According to the DA research, buyers and non-buyers hold strikingly different views on masculinity and sex buying. Non-buyers are much more likely than buyers to say that purchasing someone for sex involves treating females as objects, and that those actions exploit others.

1.) I have to wonder if the same feeling applies to the career prostitutes in Nevada who have no issue with their choice.

2.) Exploitation seems directly tied into how many opportunities are available OUTSIDE of the sex industry. If women are having to turn to sex work in lieu of having any other opportunities available, then why isn’t there more focus here?

These problems won’t be solved by moral grandstanding. Or feeling guilty.

Active buyers are very likely to say they are “just guys being guys” or “taking care of their needs.” But the research also found that many men who have bought sex in the past wish to stop. About one-third of active buyers interviewed said that they do not want to do it again.

Nevertheless, the strongest support for legalizing the U.S. sex trade, aside from the pimps and brothel owners, comes from buyers.

Many active buyers believe that the women “enjoy the act of prostitution” and “choose it as a profession.” During a recent trip to Amsterdam, I met a young man in the notorious window brothel area who told me he had first paid for sex when he was 12. “My father took me to a brothel, and said I would learn to be a man,” he told me. “It is legal here, so there is no problem.”

So, many buyers are naive.

This is something that a good non-judgemental public education campaign can hammer home. If it’s run in all public facing media spaces, it can be acknowledged without the need to actually seek out the information. A plus for those that might be seeing prostitutes on the down low.

But that is just the beginning. You know where I am going with this . . .

Prostitution is, in fact, fraught with danger. A review of homicides of women in street prostitution found that they are 60 to 100 times more likely to be murdered than other women. Johns and pimps are the main perpetrators of homicide and other violent crimes toward prostituted women—in 2017, between 57% and 100 percent of homicides of prostituted women in the U.S. were committed by sex buyers.

Research by Farley has found that men’s acceptance of prostitution helps to encourage and justify violence against women; DA research reached a similar conclusion. When men feel entitled to rent the inside of a woman’s body for one-sided sexual pleasure knowing that she is consenting because of the cash, it is no wonder that these men consider women to be subservient to them—an attitude that breeds contempt.

“Look, men pay for women because he can have whatever and whoever he wants. Lots of men go to prostitutes so they can do things to them that real women would not put up with,” one john told me. I have heard countless men describe the act of prostitution as masturbation without the effort.

The DA report concludes with recommendations that are endorsed by the sex-trade survivors who helped analyze the findings. One is to roll out public education messages that challenge the normalization of sex buying, and to focus on education and public health sectors to spread the word about the realities of the sex trade. Another is to implement mandatory minimum fines for convicted johns, which would go toward exit services for the women, education programs aimed at johns, and the policing of sex buyers.

When women are forced into seclusion when it comes to flaunting (or selling!) their sexuality due to societal discrimination, they end up in disproportionately more dangerous situations than if the transaction were to be legally condoned in a less risky environment. As long as prohibition is enforced on EITHER side of the fence (buyer or seller), women will remain in vulnerable situations. Sitting ducks for any and every person with any kind of malice intent.

Prohibition does not work.

Now, the final paragraph of the OP article:

The research could make a difference, by providing more evidence of the harms of prostitution, and by helping those struggling with the polarized debate on whether we are talking about “sex workers’ rights” and “women’s agency,” or the commercial sexual exploitation of vulnerable, prostituted people.

The 2 sides are not mutually exclusive.

What is needed, alongside such research, is for every one of us to imagine a world without prostitution, and to ask the question, “Why does it exist?” In a world where women and girls were liberated from male supremacy, in which we could live as equal human beings, prostitution would be starved of oxygen.

No.

We know why prostitution exists. Most societies can’t handle dealing with the icky details in which actually tackling the problem constructively would entail. So as a result, you either have societies collectively plugging their ears and yelling “LALALA!” when concerns are raised, or instituting half measures. Which entails either decriminalizing half of the transaction OR legalizing but otherwise staying hands off. Actions meant to combat an issue that can no longer be ignored (DEATHS!), but at the same time, keeping the issue at arm’s length.

It’s time to grow up and move on from this puritanical nonsense.

Prostitution is dangerous at the moment. And it is very much tied to human trafficking. However, with a bit of collaborative global leadership with the end goal of legalizing and regulating prostitution, I think that this black market could be dealt a huge blow. Though this won’t totally eliminate the black market sex industry, it will remove a lot of the risk by empowering women to come out of the shadows and into safer spaces. Rather than being forced into some strangers vehicle (or other spaces wherein they are vulnerable), they might be able to meet in a controlled space (like a regulated brothel!). A place where raising the alarm is as simple as a scream, or the press of a button. A place where both genders (no, ALL genders) can exercise freedom of choice. Away from the judging eyes and prying fingers of agenda-driven activists of all stripes.