“Dark Matter” Probably Does Not Exist

Published at 08:27 on 30 December 2018

For many years, the basic principles of thermodynamics stumped physicists. John Dalton hadn’t propounded his atomic theory yet, so the mountains of evidence in favor of atoms and molecules had not been convincingly compiled, thus the alternate (and correct) explanation of heat being the kinetic energy of atoms and molecules rattling (or in the case of gases, ricocheting) around didn’t exist. Therefore physicists hypothesized the existence of a mysterious substance called caloric, which was said to embody heat; heating and cooling was interpreted as a flow of caloric.

For many years, the propagation of light and radio waves stumped physicists. Such radiation clearly took the form of waves, yet what was waving? Sound waves and water waves involve matter making waves. Yet light travels just fine through interplanetary space. Therefore, they thought, the universe must be pervaded with a luminiferous ether, the oscillations of which caused light to propagate. Eventually Einstein’s theories of relativity obsoleted the need to hypothesize an ether into existence.

Numerous experiments were performed in attempt to detect both presumed substances, all to no avail. Eventually, alternate and better explanations for both phenomena were arrived at, ones that did not involve the conjuring into existence of hypothetical types of matter. However, the critical point is that for some reason, people seem to prefer imagining matter into existence over revising their theories of the rules for the behavior of observable matter.

This predilection explains religious mythology as well as scientific dead-ends. Dating back to prehistory, invisible realms were conjured from the imagination to explain the holes in our understanding of the natural world. Can’t understand storms, the change of seasons, or the apparent motion of the Sun, the Moon, and the stars? Invent gods and a realm in which they dwell to explain it all.

It is reasonable to assume that this aspect of human nature is still with us today. Which brings me to dark matter: it has a lot in common with the earlier caloric or luminiferous ether. There is absolutely no evidence in its favor save how our current understanding of the laws of physics fails to explain the behavior of galaxies and other very large-scale phenomena. Nobody has ever actually detected so much as the smallest iota of this “dark matter.”

The most logical explanation is that dark matter simply doesn’t exist. It is a scientific dead-end that our human nature has conned many of us into chasing. There are in fact some astrophysicists who have come to this very conclusion.

The rub is, so far, none of the known alternate explanations (that do not involve dark matter) have yet proven sufficiently convincing. This may be because the correct explanation has yet to be arrived at, or it may be because prejudice is preventing an existing (albeit not well-known) correct explanation from being well-accepted. I will freely admit I do not know enough about the subject to offer any informed opinion as to which of the two is more likely.

But, based on what the history of not just science but all of human culture tells me about human nature, I strongly suspect that dark matter will eventually be consigned to the same dustbin of scientific history that caloric and the luminiferous ether currently are in.

Longing for a Center that Cannot Hold

Published at 10:53 on 28 December 2018

In a recent Op-Ed piece for the Washington Post, Never Trump conservative Max Boot begins with a whopper:

President Trump has launched trade wars and undermined our allies while kowtowing to tyrants. And the Democrats? They don’t have much of a foreign policy, and when the party’s progressives propound one, the results sound like Trumpism of the left.

Perhaps Max Boot thinks progressive policies “sound like Trumpism,” but they sound quite different from Trumpism to my ears.

Many progressive Democrats are skeptical of free trade (and have been for decades; Bill Clinton passed NAFTA with Republican support against the wishes of many in his own party). But I am unaware of any voices on the left arguing that trade wars are a good thing and easy to win. Boot is assuming a false dichotomy: either one must be for the status quo ante Trump, or one must be for an all-out trade war. Clearly, there are other options, such as a negotiated withdrawal from the consensus that free trade is always good, perhaps by revising existing free trade agreements into fair trade ones.

Many of us on the left are skeptical of the American empire. And for good reason: empire (and the unthinking support for it by Establishment voices like Boot) gave us the fiascoes in Iraq and Vietnam, as well as US support for bloodthirsty right-wing dictators like Augusto Pinochet, Mobutu Sese-Seko, and Suharto. Yet it is Trump who is bubbling over with enthusiasm and support for foreign autocrats (while at the same time delegitimizing empire). Again, there is the false dichotomy: either you support the status quo ante Trump, or you support Trump’s foreign policy. (How about supporting neither and not getting overly cozy with autocrats at all?)

That said, there are places where the left’s opinions more closely align with Trump’s. And so what if there are? As the old saying goes, sometimes even a stopped clock is correct. The world is not a cartoonish melodrama where all actors are either always evil and always incorrect, or always virtuous and infallible. It is nothing but a childish tantrum to assume that whatever Trump says or does must be wrong and therefore we must always do otherwise.

It is literally the truth that the economic growth during past forty years or so of free trade and deregulation has not been equitably shared. It is literally the truth that Europe pays less per capita for military expenditures and is thus in some sense freeloading on the USA. Given that US taxpayers pay for the military, it is thus the truth that Empire is costing American taxpayers, who therefore in turn could benefit under a more multipolar world.

It is an opinion, and like all opinions neither true nor false, that therefore the USA should change its trade and defense policies in an attempt to get a better overall deal for everyday Americans. It is, however, a reasonable opinion that is well-supported by facts. Furthermore, to reiterate, there are more options available than just Trumpism or the status quo ante Trump.

Now for a few more facts:

  • A growing number of those Americans made personally worse off by the policies of the US empire correctly perceive so.
  • Capitalism is the dominant economic ideology of the USA.
  • Capitalism advocates individuals competing for personal (and not collective or overall) economic gain.

It is thus empire and capitalism themselves (two ideologies beloved by Boot) which have paved the way for empire (and, increasingly, capitalism) to be delegitimized. That which originally created the old center Boot longs for has now corroded it.

Wish for the tide to not sweep in all you want, Mr. Boot, but it won’t help.

American Wigeon (Mareca americana)

Published at 09:50 on 27 December 2018

Winter is here, and with winter comes wintering birds, particularly waterfowl, which find our ice-free bays attractive.

One of the more common migratory ducks you will see in Eagle Harbor is the American Wigeon. Often one can find large flocks of this duck in the vicinity of Strawberry Point Park in wintertime.

Wigeon are skittish ducks, prone to flushing en masse into flight at slight provocations. Outside of the breeding season (such as when wintering) they tend to be gregarious and often form large flocks.

Like the male of well-known mallard, the male wigeon has green iridescence on his head. However, the male wigeon is a smaller duck, has a less iridescence, lacks the mallard’s white neck band, and has a distinctive whitish patch on the top of his head. The latter is the source of the common nickname for this duck, the baldpate.

The American Wigeon is the fifth most commonly-hunted duck in North America.

Lane Splitting Should Be Legal Everywhere

Published at 08:30 on 26 December 2018

For those who don’t know, lane splitting is when motorcycles ride in the gaps between lanes of stopped or very slow cars in heavy traffic. It sounds intrinsically dangerous, yet is legal in California, and there is no abnormally high rate of crashes involving motorcycles there.

It should be legal everywhere not only because it enables motorcyclists to commute faster (thus rewarding people for using vehicles that burn less fuel), but because it enables better traffic flow for all vehicles.

Motorcycles, you see, can cause inefficient flow in heavy traffic. This is because motorcycles rely on the angular momentum of their wheels for stability, which in turn means motorcycles have a minimum speed, below which they become unrideable. When this happens, the motorcyclist is compelled to stop, which compels all following vehicles to stop. Slow traffic has now been turned into erratically-flowing, stop-and-go traffic.

Letting motorcyclists split lanes prevents them from being compelled to stop and mess up the traffic flow in these lanes. Thus it is a win for all road users.

Odds Favor Trump Getting His Wall

Published at 08:51 on 22 December 2018

Not by much, mind you, but they still favor it. Probably 50 to 60 percent odds of the Democrats caving. Because they’re the Party of Institutionalized Stockholm Syndrome; they want the Republicans to like them. So odds are they will blame themselves and take their captor’s side, as they typically do.

Yes, yes: The wall is monstrously unpopular with Democrats. That’s why the odds of caving are only 50 to 60 percent instead of 90% or more.

Merely Following Boss Putin’s Orders

Published at 19:37 on 20 December 2018

That is my theory why Trump is pulling out of Syria. Not because of any commitment to non-interventionism. Certainly not because of any humanitarian concern (witness his fawning adoration of the genocidal Saudi regime).

Pretty much everything Trump has done in Syria has been consistent with the thesis that he is a Putin puppet. Yes, even when he bombed that air field. Remember, he told his boss about it first.

The biggest losers in this will be the Kurds, who have conducted an amazing (and amazingly successful) experiment in creating a quasi-anarchist society in northern Syria.

Perhaps this will erode his support in the Senate enough to make impeachment feasible. (There’s no shortage of Establishment national security types aghast about it already.) We can hope. Remember, when a tipping point is reached, change can happen astonishingly fast.

Junk Statistics

Published at 19:47 on 10 December 2018

The article alarmingly titled Study: Only two-thirds of Millennials fully believe the Earth is round is junk news. Why? Just look at the question and the choices for answers offered:

Do you believe that the world is round or flat?

  • I have always believed the world is round
  • I always thought the world is round, but more recently I am skeptical/have doubts
  • I always thought the world is flat, but more recently I am skeptical/have doubts
  • I have always believed the world is flat
  • Other/Not sure

How would someone who has a good childhood memory (such as yours truly) answer this question? “Other/not sure” in my case: when I was a young child, I believed the Earth to be flat, because to such a child it obviously does appear to be so. Later on, I learned otherwise, then learned the mountains of evidence that indicate so.

It’s the only accurate answer available. I have not always believed the world to be round, I have certainly not become skeptical the earth is round recently, I have not recently become skeptical the world is flat, and I have certainly not always believed the world is flat. It’s an elementary process of elimination (as arriving at any “other” category must be). I doubt I’m the only one who arrived at “other/not sure” this way.

Lesson from France: Ecology – Class Consciousness = Failure

Published at 10:18 on 5 December 2018

The gilets jaunes protests were touched off by Emanuel Marcon’s new carbon tax on fuel. These taxes were structured to fall hardest on the lower and middle classes, and they came in the context of taxes on the wealthiest having been recently cut.

Marcon is not a leftist; he styles himself as a centrist and a self-professed “economic realist,” in the typical centrist’s sense of “reality:” the duty of those on the bottom to realize that they deserve to be on the bottom, and deserve to get the short end of the stick while those on the top of society deserve more privileges (and any questioning of this sort of arrangement constitutes questioning “reality”).

It is worth pointing out that carbon fees and taxes have been enacted in other jurisdictions, where they generally have not proven so controversial. This makes it fairly obvious that the problems in France are happening because of how the French government chose to do things, and not because of anything intrinsic to charging for carbon pollution itself.

Capitalism and Imperialism Helped Cause the AIDS Pandemic

Published at 11:40 on 1 December 2018

In honor of World AIDS Day, Time magazine recently ran an article on the subject, from which I quote:

Exactly how it spread continues to be studied. A 2014 study said the strain originated in the 1920s in Kinshasa, in the present-day Democratic Republic of the Congo. The 2011 book The Origin of AIDS by infectious disease doctor Jacques Pepin argued that one might be able to trace the virus’ spread to bush-meat hunters who handled chimpanzee blood, and a surge in prostitution that took place among the disorder of the decolonization of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the ’60s. Many of the bureaucrats sent there to establish order came from Haiti, and one or more of those workers may have brought it back to the island. As for how the virus went from Haiti to the U.S., he theorizes that it may have involved another combination of factors, ranging from an unsanitary handling of samples at a plasma center to Haiti’s reputation at the time as a sex tourism destination.

That sugar-coats some truly ugly culpability. That euphemistically-worded “disorder of the decolonization of the Democratic Republic of the Congo” was in no small part fomented by the the CIA, Belgium, and foreign capitalists, who acted to undermine the rule of the democratically-elected adminsitration of Patrice Lumumba, the first president of that nation (then simply called the Republic of the Congo). And I haven’t yet mentioned the genocidial imperialism there whose death toll is estimated at about ten million. That’s right, ten million.

Haiti, too, is a victim of imperialism. Conditions are so bad there (poverty, environmental degradation) in no small part due to evil done by the imperialist nations of the First World. France refused to acknowledge Haiti’s independence, imposing crippling economic sanctions unless the slaves who rebelled repaid slave-owning French capitalists for the “theft” of the “property” they considered the rebelling slaves to be. The entire rest of the “civilized” First World, including the USA, took France’s side in the matter and refused to trade with Haiti until it capitulated.

That was in 1804, and it was not until one hundred and forty-three years later, in 1947, that the debt was repaid. During that time, Haiti’s progress was horribly stunted by its repaying of those onerous reparations. And it was in the resulting festering cesspool of poverty (the worst in the entire Western Hemisphere) that AIDS was so easily able to spread and grow when it arrived in the 1960s.

World AIDS Day

Published at 11:20 on 1 December 2018

This is a day that I’m usually pretty quiet about, because it’s a puzzle to me how to respectfully respond to it. You see, I’m a queer guy (not a gay guy) in his mid-fifties. Personally, and for reasons I won’t get to in greater detail here, that difference between queer and gay is a huge part of the reason why I managed to both avoid that HIV bullet myself, and avoid the experience of having most of my close friends die, despite being the “right” age to have experienced both.

Therefore, I can’t really relate any sort of the personal horror stories that most gay men of my age can, nor do I really feel in any way like a survivor (or have any consequent survivor’s guilt). So I’ll just have to say that while I haven’t personally experienced much of the impacts many of my friends my age have, I understand that many of them have, and that it must have been terrible.

I will say that I have had the pleasure of meeting many unassuming people who were fierce warriors during the era when AIDS was a crisis in the First World. That latter part is important; in many parts of the Third World, particularly sub-Saharan Africa, AIDS is still a huge crisis today. It is due to AIDS that many African nations have a lower life expectancy today than they did 30 years ago.