10/29/2018

What Works Is Also Silly

wingnut logic

Memes appear to be the way humans absorb information in this weird “new” age. Nick Anderson is one of the best at this messaging system, so support him here: https://www.patreon.com/editorialcartoons.

10/15/2018

A Better Story Than A Pretty Good One

As good a movie as “Catch Me If You Can” was, the real story is far, far better. Being a parent is one of those things that our fractured, disloyal, unappreciative, corrupt, and uneducated society either devalues or corrupts out of superstition. The real story of Frank Abagnale's father and his relationship with his father to the moment of his parents’ divorce is amazing. The real story of how Abagnale became the criminal that he was well-punished for being is incredibly funny, sad, and amazing. His recommendations for how you protect yourself from cybercrime are insightful and valuable and I am going to stop using my debit card for ANYTHING once my nitwit credit union figures out how to quit screwing up their website.

Knowing and Believing

One of the often fatal flaws in human behavior is deciphering the difference between “knowing” and “believing.” The less you know, the more likely it is that you won’t know what you don’t know and that you will believe things that are not knowable. Got that?

It’s often the same with “need” and “want.” You want a cell phone, but you don’t need one. People survived for a few 100,000 years without them. You don’t need a car, you could live closer to work or take a bus or train. You choose to live where you feel you are forced to drive rather than walk, bike, or take mass transit. You choose to do work that makes you feel the need to drive. You need food, water, and, depending on where you live, shelter and clothing. You don’t need clothing if you live someplace warm, like humans did (and do) in Africa for most of our species’ evolution. There are thousands of things people in western societies imagine they need that are merely wants: entertainment, luxury, territory and wars over territory, philosophy, money and economics, education, and so on. But try living without food and water for a very short time and you’ll discover the meaning of “need” and shortly afterwards you won’t exist at all.

6791492_f1024The same goes for knowing verses believing. People often say they know there is a god and an afterlife or magic and spirits and ghosts or alien invaders from Alpha Centari who stick probes up human asses for inscrutable reasons. All bullshit. None of those things can be proven in any way. Even some of the things we know are hard to prove, but most of the things we believe are just made-up fairy tales of varying qualities and quantities of idiocy.

difference-between-knowledge-and-belief-7-728Gravity, for example, is consistently demonstrable. However, physicists have only uncovered some parts of a complete theory of gravity, regardless of how well we know it works. We know two bodies are attracted to each other in some proportion to their mass. We know there are some qualities of mass and gravity that current physics does not fully explain. Scientists act as if they believe in the current definition of gravity because it mostly provides accurate information; except in extreme astrophysics and sub-atomic examples. When a better explanation comes along, scientific belief will change to reflect that information. That is how theories work.

Biologists know that the theory of evolution is a fact. Examples of evolution in a single human lifetime have been demonstrated in viruses, bacteria, and even small animals under extreme environmental stress. There is no theory of “intelligent design,” only wild speculation based on superstition and desperation. A theory is “a well-confirmed type of explanation of nature, made in a way consistent with scientific method, and fulfilling the criteria required by modern science.” Religion meets none of that criteria in any way. Interjecting a magical “designer” into an explanation of biology or physics only throws off every inquiry based on that assumption so that all conclusions derived from that concept are demonstrably flawed. 

We may desperately want there to be a god who cares about us, individually, and it is possible that some people actually need to sustain that belief to cling to what passes for their grip on mental health. That, of course, is a perversion of “need” in the real, physical world and it may turn out to be one of the many reasons humans are not a sustainable species. Replacing the kind of insanity that comes from spiritual insecurity with the delusion of religion does not get to the core of the insanity.

a few godsThroughout human history, there have been thousands of religions and probably tens of thousands of a wild variety of gods. While most of the gods looked and acted suspiciously like humans, there were (and are) more than a few animal gods, weird multi-limbed humanoid gods, and outright fantastical things that Marvel Comics couldn’t have dreamed up. All of those gods had one thing in common, some group of humans invented them and believed in them. All of those whacky humans believed they knew how the universe worked and their religion and gods were at the core of that belief. So, pardon me if the religion of the century hasn’t impressed me any more than the ones from previous centuries.

d9f4f5636c09ad874736377df3f774a4One of the vital reasons the founders of the United States of America chose not to base the Constitution and the country’s foundations on religion is that humans have historically gone to weird and terrible lengths to sustain their beliefs. If a nation (as many have) adopts a religion as a core value, it is necessary to force everyone to pretend to believe the tenants of that religion; no matter how ridiculous those concepts may be. When the physical world contradicts almost any of the religion’s beliefs, the promoters/priests of the religion are forced to “burn the heretic” to protect the religion from reality. In many instances in history, that reaction has set back human progress, society, and security enough cause societies and countries to collapse into religious and moral decadence. It is, in fact, a clearly stupid idea.

Even being an atheist requires belief, just not as much. I cannot say I know there are no gods or afterlife. I can say I absolutely believe individual humans only get one shot at life and that what we call our being or spirit dissipates into nothingness the moment we die. Weirdly consistently, a superstitious person can say they absolutely know there is a god and an afterlife. They can say that, but without a shred of evidence what they are saying is “I don’t know the difference between knowing and believing and I don’t care.” No rational person should take that sort of person seriously, ever.

The serious aspect of people who are unaware of the difference between knowing and believing is the danger those people pose to the stability of a society and to the sustainability of the species. History has demonstrated that superstitious people will commit mass murder and cultural suicide in the service of their delusions. So, while their beliefs are nothing to consider seriously, their threat is very real and constant. People driven by belief are dangerous to all life on this planet.

10/08/2018

Facing Red Wing’s Reality

clip_image002What is often called “optimism” is often delusion. In the case of the city of Red Wing, Minnesota the city’s historic planning for spontaneous, prosperous and strong growth has been a city delusion almost since the city’s founding. The Prairie Island Nuclear Plant went online in 1973. As you can see by the city’s population history, the city’s population jumped by about 30% between 1970 and 1980; mostly fueled by the power plant employees’ inflated salaries. The two reactors are slated to go off-line in 2033 and 2034, since Xcel has no plans to renew the 60 year licenses. The Treasure Island Resort and Casino opened in 1983, which provided another smaller spurt in the city’s population. Since 2000, the town’s population has been, essentially, flat at about 16,000 people and the city only added about 1,000 people between 1990 and 2000.

However, the city’s optimism has been fueled by drunken sailor optimism since the city’s inception in the 1850’s. In 1995, the city built a 222 acre high school complex capable of housing a lot more than the current 1,000 8th-12th grade students. Current demographics and population growth trends indicate that considerably less of the facility will be needed or used in the next few years. The city just finished “investing” $3M in the Sheldon Theater, a show place that has no more chance of providing taxpayers a return on their investment than Donald Trump has at competently reading a teleprompter. This past year (2017), the city council voted to add a 2nd fire station to the west side of town, where it is desperately hoped the city’s growth might happen due to the miniscule commuter advantage to the Twin Cities. Over the past two decades, there have been several attempts to encourage some population growth on the west side of town with minimal results. You would think that a growth plan would assume and encourage some kind of mass transit to the Cities, like rail, but the city and Goodhue County both assume similar or increased car traffic in spite of obvious trends away from single-passenger vehicle commuting. When the Prairie Island power plant begins to shut down, it is reasonable to expect that a population roll-back similar to the 1970’s growth will occur and the city will be stuck with several expensive, oversized facilities and a drastically reduced tax base.

New Picture (1)In an effort to reel-in as much property tax as possible, this tiny town has incorporated 41.19 square miles of the Mississippi River valley. As Google Maps aptly illustrates, very little of the City of Red Wing is “city.” About 6.6% of the city is water and at an average of 475 inhabitants per square mile practically a ghost town. If the city were as dense as the Twin Cities, one of the least dense cities in the nation, we’d be at around 1,800 people per square mile and would need only about 9 square miles of that 41.19 square mile city; which means at least 32 square miles is largely unoccupied but still requires the city services and resources.

All of that acquired territory was gathered when a small portion of that real estate (Prairie Island) brought large tax revenues. Fairly regularly, Xcel and the NRC do a little song and dance around the illegally stored spent fuel cask inventory and nuclear facility relicensing. Some part of that dance routine occurs every seven years, with the latest one in 2015. Xcel does an ROI analysis at each approval, inspection, or maintenance interval with political, economic, and risk assessments at each turn. Renewables are becoming a large part of the company’s income with considerably less downside at risk. It shouldn’t be a surprise to hear that Xcel decides to begin to decommission Prairie Island rather than invest the millions necessary for the next refueling. The company has clearly stated that it “has no intention” of asking for another NRC license extension in 2033. Somewhere between now and 2033, 40-70% of Red Wing’s property tax base will vanish and with it a fair number of the highest paid residents in the area. Unless there is some miracle replacement for that revenue, property taxes will either skyrocket or Red Wing’s city services will take a huge hit along with the higher-than-typical city and county employee salaries.

Red Wing PopulationAt the risk of being accused of being alarmist, I think Prairie Island’s closing is going to be an unrecoverable hit to the city of Red Wing. Based on the city’s sudden growth when the power plant was first installed, this chart is my estimate of what will happen to the population of Red Wing, Minnesota; depending on when Xcel decides to start shutting the plant down. This estimate only considers the effect on the city if just Prairie Island closes. (If you have Excel, you can play with my data on this spreadsheet.) Odds are, as the city’s tax base gets kicked in the ass by the largest property taxpayer the city will first try to shift the burden to other local industries. If that happens, more than just this one critical employer could vacate the premises. If that happens, those nasty looking downturns beginning around 2022, 2029, or 2033 will look a lot worse. If Xcel is followed out the door by BIC, Red Wing Shoes, or any of the other major employers the city could even be forced into bankruptcy.

Atlantic City PopulationThanks in part to our current Bankruptcy King/President, we have a model of this kind of community catastrophe. In 1930, Atlantic City had a population of 66,000 citizens. In 1976, the voters legalized gambling. By 1990, the city had lost 28,000 citizens and after a brief faux-boom the city’s casinos (including Trump’s) began to close their doors, declare bankruptcy, and default on owed property taxes. Residents were left holding the bag and many of them were forced out of their homes by the city’s attempt to avoid defaulting on local government pensions, reducing costs, and downsizing the bureaucracy. If you don’t think Atlantic City tax-ratethis could happen to Red Wing and you are a local resident, you will keep your eyes tightly closed and wish for a miracle. If you are a realist, you have to be worried about the county and city’s extravagant spending habits and exorbitant civil service wages (and the resulting pension expenses).

What kind of “miracle” could prevent this small town exodus and economic downturn? I can’t think of an industry that could replace Xcel and Prairie Island, but it’s not hard to imagine a combination of Red Wing’s strong infrastructure, mass transportation, and internet entrepreneur-ship that could at least stem the tide. Red Wing has affordable 21st Century internet service, which is unusual for Minnesota and the upper Midwest. There is still a train station and AMTRAK service to Red Wing, although it is too unpredictable, slow, and infrequent to be considered much more than a placeholder until (and if) real infrastructure improvements happen.

The real miracle would be a sudden burst of realistic thinking by the City Council, school board, and local residents. The current thinking is “spend it while we have it,” but that’s not what’s happening. The city government is spending a whole lot of money it doesn’t have as most of that spending is financed with bonds and debt and there is little-to-no municipal or county savings for the rainy days that are sure to be coming. It’s easy to imagine that if Red Wing began to build up a reserve of cash for the future, current residents would whine that if the city can afford reserve funds it can afford to reduce taxes. Americans, especially faux-conservatives, are really lousy when it comes to acting fiscally conservative. We are the most timid nation on the planet when it comes to science, rational thinking, education, foreign relations, and pretty much anything that might take more than a sentence to explain, but we are fearless when it comes to long term debt. I can’t decide if its because many Americans either think their gods will save them or if they just don’t care about their offspring; or both. Whatever the cause, it’s not a good trait over the long haul.

10/07/2018

The USA Has Never Been A Country

A1 orE4S85L._SY500_The United States has always been the exact same mess it is today. If you can fool yourself into believing the “good old days” were good for anyone but a small minority, good for you. You probably believe in gods and the power of prayer, infinite resources and a flat earth, you cross your fingers and knock on wood for good luck, and when you recite the Pledge you pretend to believe “one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all” was something that Christian socialist actually believed just before the 20th Century began. The indivisible nation had already proved itself to be a fragile falsehood in 1860 and 1892 was primetime for the kind of racial inequality America is famous for all over the world. The country wasn’t even five years old when working class people began to realize that they were barely 2nd class citizens and tried to rebel against the rules of the new nation. Local officials and the military led by George Washington make it clear to the people who had sacrificed the most to create the new nation that their sacrifice was going to be wasted on the rich and powerful.

Social and traditional media have done a good job of illustrating how unequal this country’s society is, but that doesn’t mean anything has changed or will ever change for the better. YouTube and cell phone apps regularly demonstrate how quickly and violently police “handle” minority citizens, but that’s just a modern version of what muckraking journalists were trying to tell society 20, 50, 100, 200, and 235 years ago. For that matter, in the 1880’s Charles Dickens was telling the same kind of stories about the country we rebelled against to supposedly resolve those issues.

Emperor-1200x630Not only has the United States always been a magnet for international rejects from the Pilgrims to Irish Catholic potato famine rejects to ISIS wannabes, but even the mainstream is full of people with wildly different views of tolerance, decency, respect, and community. The rise of “popularism” and nationalism and extreme racism in the world probably demonstrates that humans are incapable of building sustainable communities, but the USA has often deluded itself with dreams of being a “melting pot” and presenting a democratic ideal to the world. Today’s racially intolerant MAGA nitwits are just a rerun of the country’s terrible history. Nothing new here, move along.