If genocide is sudden, painless, unexpected, complete and absolute, if a people simply vanish without screams, without fear, without anticipation, if one nanosecond they are and the next nanosecond they are not, and if somehow you are responsible, are you a war criminal or a savior? Ultimately we all vanish, usually with screams, usually with fear, usually with anticipation. For years I’ve longed for a sudden painless death: a dismembering that tears me apart faster than my nerves can relay pain. Imagine such an end for all of us – at once – now. Why linger? We will go extinct. There will be a last human. And if the last human dies with screams, with fear, with anticipation how is that better than sudden genocide?
One night, a few weeks ago, I was driving west on I86 near American Falls when I spotted a long string of blinking red lights. The lights stretched over a large arc of the horizon. My first thought was “Jesus H. Christ now what?” As an amateur astronomer, I have climbed mountains to get away from light pollution. Now some jackwagon was ruining an entire rural horizon with a goddamn string of synchronized windfarm lights.
May I ask why?
Windfarms blink at night to warn planes they’re flying to low. Please! The towers are well under 400 meters. If you are flying a plane below 400 meters in mountainous locales like Idaho you have far more serious problems than running into wind turbines. This is another example of stupid regulation. There is absolutely no good reason for lighting up entire landscapes. It wrecks the view, distracts drivers, (cars on I86 were slowing down to get a better view), wastes energy, rapes the night sky, and reminds everyone what an environmental tax-subsidized eyesore windfarms are. Don’t even think of disagreeing. When was the last time you looked at a landscape littered with wind turbines and thought, “This is so much better than it was before.”
Yes, I know windfarms are saving us from global warming. If you believe that you are probably exactly the type of person that signed off on ruining an entire county’s nighttime view with goddamn blinking windfarms.
It’s been ages since my last blog post. Yes, I’ve been a very, very bad blogger. Lesser men would throw themselves on the metaphorical feet of their readers and beg for forgiveness but if you’re expecting apologies you don’t know me! I write for myself; if you choose to read my ramblings, well that’s on you.
Since my last entry I have:
- Retired. I finally pulled the plug on being a so-called productive member of society. Now I’m an old Social Security draining parasite. Since I no longer pay net taxes I am effectively dead to the state and they would love it if I was actually dead. Dead people are easier to finance. Unfortunately, I’ve always been on to the deep state and my new mission in life is to claw back every single tax dollar I ever paid with butt loads of interest. When I snuff off this mortal coil I am going stick you with a giant uncollectable I OWE FUCKING YOU! If you create financially unsustainable systems that encourage abuse, well guess what, you’re going to get abused. God, I’m loving being a bitter old man; it’s what I was born to be.
- Continued to pursue my hobbies, especially photography. This year (2019) I set the mini-goals of shooting, on average, one picture per day and scanning at least three hundred prints and slides. This may not sound like a lot but it takes me time to select the best images, process RAW files, restore film scans, edit or hack pictures, write captions and compute keywords. I treat every uploaded image as a milliblogging opportunity. Some of my image captions are longer than some of my blog posts.
- Taken on some new family responsibilities and obligations.
- Taken some trips.
- Worked on various personal software projects.
Arthur C. Clarke once remarked that only unimaginative people get bored. I’ve always had something on my mind and I’ve always lived in my head. This has always been my problem and my strength. With retirement, I am casting off my shriveled shackles of pretense. I’m not even going to pretend to care about other people’s problems. I will think about what I find fascinating and do what I find worthwhile.
Call it retirement privilege snowflakes!
Now get back to work and pay your taxes you have old parasites to support.
Intelligible systems are built on a few basic principles.1 While reducing my dour skepticism to the memorable maxims that codify Informed Naked Ape Protocol I repeatedly asked myself what animates unflagging skepticism? What turns naturally cheerful and optimistic people like myself into raging cynics? What motivates noble trolls to put down the pizza and grab the keyboard? Only one answer sprang to mind: other people.
Regardless of your politics, gender, education, race, age, nationality, or ethnicity, you have probably noticed there are a lot of scummy people out there.
Why is this?
The answer derives from our evolution. Evolutionary advantages often accrue to individuals that cheat. Cheating is a fundamental behavioral adaptation that has been observed in many animal, bird and plant species. Cheating is so common that cheating the system is the system! How cheaters might benefit was best illustrated in the hilarious Ricky Gervais movie The Invention of Lying. In Ricky’s world, everybody told the truth until one day he discovered that you could lie. The best scene in the film has Ricky running into a beautiful woman on the street. He tells her that the world is doomed unless she immediately agrees to have sex with him. Given the dire circumstances, she instantly agrees to save the world. Clearly, liars are going to enjoy immense reproductive success in a world of truth tellers. Similarly, scumbags will profit in a world of purely honorable people.
We don’t live in a world of purely honorable people or purely scummy people. Human scum density is complicated; it depends on more variables than the weather. Nevertheless, we can infer that human scum density is seldom zero and is often appreciable.
How big is appreciable?
My bitter sampling of humanity yields an estimate of approximately 0.05 for contemporary American society.2 It’s definitely bad news that 5% of the people around you cannot be trusted or depended on. It’s even worse news that human scum, like pond scum, often floats to the upper echelons of society. This is a nasty reality and I wish it wasn’t so but reality is often unpleasant and leaves few options: either adapt or be crushed.
The first step in adapting to scummy naked apes is acknowledging the most fundamental fact about them — enough people are scum!
- The human preference for systems with a few axioms is an artifact of our primitive intellects. There are few if any human beings that would be comfortable with axiomatic theories that depend on trillions of independent axioms yet we know that such systems exist and remain incomplete. Our drive to reduce things to a manageable set of rules, even when we know it is naïve and futile, amounts to little more than thumb-sucking. It makes our baby brains happy even if it will not solve our problems.↩
- Yes, human scum density varies with culture. Some societies are briefly more virtuous than others.↩
It’s been almost a week since the Las Vegas Mandalay Bay massacre and the idiot media is still looking for “a motive.” They remind me of O.J.’s fruitless search for the “real killer.” I don’t watch the alphabets, except when trapped in airports or, with increasing annoyance, in my employer’s cafeteria so I’ve missed days of mindless speculation but my limited TV sampling confirms what’s easily gleaned from more efficient news sources. The killers “motive” is still unknown and the authorities are still looking.
In all the blather about the mysterious highly organized and thoughtful killer, it’s never occurred to anyone (on TV anyway), that the lack of an apparent motive is exactly what the killer hoped to achieve.
Consider the usual mass media slaughter script. An individual, or group of individuals, attack and murder a sufficiently1 large number of “innocents.”
If, as is often the case, the attackers are well-known terrorists they will typically gloat and issue more threats. Public threats trigger the idiot media’s “analysis.”
If the terrorists are Jihadis the idiot media will downplay the attack while issuing stern warnings about not jumping to racist conclusions about an “entire religion.” Then, when forced by competing news organizations like Fox or right-leaning bloggers, they will join the fray and condemn the killers while searching for a way to blame Trump.
If the killer is black and the victims are black — well this isn’t news! Press the ignore button and complain about anything that can be plausibly blamed on Trump. And, fortunately for the idiot media, that well will never run dry.
If the killer is white and the victims are mostly white (bingo for Las Vegas), spend a day or two glorifying the murderer. Review his2 typically pathetic and meaningless life while running candlelight vigils, peace garden plantings, and out-of-tune Kumbaya-a-thons in the background. In more sober moments touch on the “known motive” for the mayhem. Tut-tut the violence, reassure moronic viewers that violence is never the answer. Play a few bars of Imagine then, when appropriate mourning turns to anger, use the “known motive” to pivot to what the idiot media wanted to talk about from the beginning: gun confiscation.3
The sooner the idiot media can get “the motive” out of the way the sooner they can get down to one of their favorite topics. Sadly, the Vegas killer, being an intelligent and detail oriented psychopath, anticipated this and left no clear motive forcing the idiot media to fixate, like a dog licking its ass, on “the motive” for day, after day, after day. Every day spent discussing “the motive” inflates the killer’s infamy. He’s already the most famous mass killer in recent history.
Real villainy requires incomprehensible dread and clear motives eliminate dread. When Jihadis kill it’s no big deal. Their sky fairy manual exhorts true believers to behead, enslave and tax infidels. It’s hard to imagine a violence-free way to realize such goals. When black hating psychopaths open fire in churches the idiot media have ready-made dread dispelling explanations. If you can quickly explain an atrocity it almost ceases being atrocious. But, if the horror can never be explained, if it sticks in your existential craw, it remains a source of terror forever. This is what the killer was really aiming for.
I view the Las Vegas massacre as deadly performance art. The killer has more in common with “artists” that drop their pants in public and pee on crucifixes than cause-driven revolutionaries or garden variety psychopaths. What exactly motivates public “performance” crucifix urination? To even ask the question is to mock it. For one deadly night the Vegas killer staged a performance that upstaged all the other Vegas shows and unlike another showing of Cirque du Soleil or Menopause the Musical his performance will be remembered forever. The mass kill is a new art form and the idiot media is its biggest patron.
- Sufficiently large is an ever-increasing natural number that is now greater than ten.↩
- The overwhelming majority of mass killers are male.↩
- It’s impossible to have an intelligent debate about guns in the US is because neither side is willing to discuss their ultimate goals or take responsibility for their positions. Gun controllers secretly want the second amendment appealed and all existing guns confiscated. Nothing else will satisfy them. They naively think an unarmed society will never be abused by the state. Gun holders often point out that the second amendment was never about creating a safe and secure society but about erecting deadly barriers to government tyranny. Unfortunately, they’re unwilling to admit that a heavily armed populace will result in large numbers of firearm deaths. US gun deaths are an order of magnitude greater than comparable western societies: that tree of liberty is more bloodthirsty than expected.↩
Future generations will remember Bill Clinton for two things, not having sex with that woman and authorizing the launch of Cassini. I was working in Dallas Texas in the months before Cassini’s launch. It was 1997 and the Internet was just beginning to disrupt everyday life. Google was morphing from a thesis to a company and abominations like Facebook, Twitter and smartphones were years away. It was a time of CD-ROM games, 56K dial-up modems, bulletin boards, hand crafted HTML websites, and Netscape Navigator. Even in its primitive state the Internet already exhibited many of the things I value and detest about it today. Two events made this abundantly clear. The inane shenanigans that preceded Cassini’s launch and the death of Carl Sagan.
I had a few beefs with Sagan. Like all science popularizers he often dumbed things down to misleading levels and, like most western academics, he was naive about vicious authoritarian regimes. In Sagan’s mind, a handful of exemplary Soviet scientists went a long way toward excusing the Gulag and purges. I overlooked his good-natured naivety. It was, and still is, a common delusion. Many intelligent people fall victim to the belief that their superior accomplishments endow them with universal wisdom. This is pure classic hubris.
Sagan had flaws but he was also the real scientific deal. He predicted the surface temperature of Venus before it was measured and contributed both scientifically and politically to the success of some of the 20th century’s most spectacular space missions like the Martian Viking landers and the epic Voyagers. Even his popular stunts like the Pioneer plaque and the Voyager gold records were classy and compelling. For me, Sagan’s most enduring quality was his very public and relentless refusal to buy into irrational bullshit. He rhetorically dismembered idiots that saw faces on Mars and skies full of alien bearing UFOs. The Martian face turned out to an eroded mesa, just like Sagan said it was, and we are still waiting for genuine rigorously authenticated evidence of real UFOs. Sagan’s often said, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence!” It’s a maxim I apply every single day and you should too.
The day Sagan died I connected to the Internet with my trusty 56K dial-up modem. I was looking for unofficial Sagan obituaries and boy did I find them. It turns out that UFO cultists did not appreciate Sagan’s precise and correct analysis of their unsubstantiated nonsense. Clearly, he was part of the vast centuries old global cover-up. Everyone knows that the Illuminati, the Masons, the Rothschilds, the Jews, and the Jewish aliens in the UFOs, are suppressing UFO evidence: presumably to facilitate draining our precious bodily fluids. I exaggerate but not by much! It was my first encounter with unhinged Internet trolls. My already low opinion of the people’s intelligence dipped lower. Of course, trolls come in all flavors. There are good trolls, the ones I agree with, and evil trolls, the ones I disagree with. Overall, a free Internet with hate mongering vicious trolls is vastly better than a censored Internet that’s been reduced to a giant empty echoing, ruling-class-approved, safe space. “Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me.”
No matter what you think of the boorish behavior of UFO cultists celebrating Sagan’s death it’s clear to all, including the UFO cultists themselves that they are, in Douglass Adam’s exquisite words, “mostly harmless.” No one gives a crap what ufologists (yeah it’s a word) think and nobody will pay attention to their ravings until they meet well-defined standards of proof. Sorry guys it’s a skeptic’s world and we won’t be lowering standards of scientific validation for you.
Unfortunately, anti-nuclear don’t launch Cassini, nitwits almost aborted what turned out to be an undisputed marvel of our age. I remember these 1997 loons and until they crawl out from their troglodyte caves, prostrate themselves before the great and powerful Internet, and publicly admit that they were completely wrong about Cassini, that launching the probe was the right thing to do, and that some tiny risks are very much worth taking, I will forever curse, mock, belittle, and remind others of their appalling judgment and sniveling cowardice.
The Cassini launch hysterics began when a pack of dolts noticed the word “Plutonium” in Cassini’s press material. Plutonium, oh my god! What are those privileged white devils in JPL up to? The JPL white devils tried to explain how RTG generators work and that a safe reliable compact long-lasting power source was required for operations at Saturn where sunlight is around 0.011 Earth’s intensity but math is hard. Way too hard for ideologues triggered by visions of Plutonium saturated Challenger like explosions spreading deadly radiation over a wide area. It was all over hyped rubbish. As of 2017, it’s not clear that RTGs have killed a single person in over fifty years of use let alone the tens of thousands the Cassini Cassandras were picturing. The white devils lost patience and did a little back of the envelope calculation that assumed a major Cassini crash that uniformly spread the probe’s “deadly Plutonium” over the entire Earth. Given this absurd worst case scenario, how many excessive cancer deaths could we expect? The calculation estimated about 5,000 spread over a lifetime: not enough to worry about! Michio Kaku called bullshit on this absurd scenario and quickly concocted his own absurd scenario that had Cassini crashing into a dense urban area with laser guided bomb casualty maximizing effectiveness. This bumped the dark wet dream body count to 200,000. Both calculations were ridiculous. This entire episode is neatly summarized in this Mother Jones (can you believe it) article.
The launch of Cassini and its Earth flyby imposed miniscule risks. Even if things went horribly, but realistically wrong, it’s unlikely the probe would have killed more than a thousand people. Whenever I hear projected death tolls I convert the statistic into one I care about. What are my chances of dying? The Earth’s population was roughly six billion in 1997. The chances of Cassini killing me was at most one in million and probably much less. What type of whiny cowardly snowflake would give up the glories of Cassini for one in million odds of something bad happening? I would have accepted much worse odds.
I wasn’t the only one willing to take an infinitesimal risk to advance human knowledge. Just before Cassini’s launch the anti-Cassini mob planned a march in Washington to screech, wave banners, and go full incontinent leftist ape. In their bush baby brains Cassini had to be stopped. Before 1997 protesters rarely faced counter protesters but Cassini touched a deep nerdy nerve and a small band of pro-Cassini protesters showed up shouting “Don’t be a weenie, launch Cassini,” and like the Greeks at Marathon, they drove the stunted grunting anti-Cassini beasts from the rhetorical field. I like to imagine the “don’t be a weenie, launch Cassini” ruckus stirred Bill to take a break from dipping cigars in intern vaginas and get on the phone to authorize Cassini’s launch.
Today the pro-Cassini protesters would be erroneously described as “alt-right.” Actually, they were simply and absolutely right as hundreds of thousands of stunning Cassini images, thousands of scientific papers, and dozens of unexpected discoveries about Saturn and its Moons attest. Cassini exceeded everybody’s expectations. The Voyagers were the greatest space probes of the 20th century and Cassini is the greatest of the 21st so far. If we’re lucky we’ll see Cassini surpassed and that is something to look forward to.
The total solar eclipse of August 21, 2017, was my fourth complete solar eclipse. I’ve seen two annular eclipses, 1994 and 2012, and two total eclipses, 2001 and 2017. Annular eclipses, or rings of fire, are worthy spectacles but nothing compares to a total solar eclipse. Some things have to be experienced to be fully appreciated. Unless you have stood under the Moon’s shadow you don’t really know what it’s like. Pictures and recordings all miss the mark. Maybe one day, when virtual reality directly hooks into all our senses, it may be possible to record totality but until then you have to get under the Moon’s shadow and, this is absolutely crucial, only totality counts!
Here in the Boise Idaho area, many people decided 99% was good enough. This is not even wrong! The August 21st eclipse took place right in the middle of Western Idaho State Fair and like all make a buck opportunists the fair promoted an “enjoy the eclipse with us event.” There was only one problem: Boise wasn’t in the totality zone so advertising dollars were spent reassuring fair-goers that 99% was close enough; that a measly 1% difference was no big deal; that it wasn’t worth refraining from shoveling junk food down your obese pie-hole on the overpriced midway for a few hours. Cosmic spectacles cannot be allowed to suppress the bottom line.
Fortunately, I knew better. The difference between 99% and 100% is vast. Solar eclipse awesomeness is not linear! It’s actually more like a logarithmic step function with a really big step at totality. XKCD accurately summarized this with his with recent eclipse cartoon. He correctly notes that total solar eclipses are off the scale.
There was no way I was going to miss totality, especially when it was in my backyard, so we got up at 4:00 am on the 21st and headed east to Mackay Idaho. I’d already driven around southern Idaho and Oregon scouting eclipse watching locations. My preferred location was on Sunset Peak in the Lost River mountain range of Idaho. Unfortunately, Sunset Peak required that we climb the mountain the night before, camp out near the summit, and then wait for the eclipse the next morning. It would have been cool. Sunset Peak is slightly over 3,050 meters with nice views to the west and east. It would have been possible to watch the Moon’s shadow race over the Boise and Sawtooth mountains, blacking out one peak after another. I was all ready to pack up and go but my wife no longer camps out in tents. This is a problem I am still working on.
With the mountain summit vetoed we checked out the Snake River Valley near Huntington Oregon and Stanley Idaho. Both locations are very scenic but both required traversing easily congested roads. To ensure totality we would have had to go the night before. So we were right back to camping in tents. My third option Mackay Idaho was a nice mixture of, easily reached on good roads, large enough to find parking on public lands, and far enough out-of-the-way to avoid big crowds.
Mackay is about four hours from Meridian. To make it before first contact, shortly after 10:00 am local time, and to miss projected heavy traffic, we started at 4:00 am. In retrospect, we could have left later. Traffic was light on I84 and almost nonexistent on Idaho highway 20. We hardly saw another car until Highway 20 crossed the road to Sun Valley. Sun Valley was in the totality zone but it was too far from the center line for me. Leaving early paid off when we reached Craters of the Moon: a smoke reddened Sun was creeping over the eastern horizon and illuminating the black volcanic flows.
Turning north at Arco Idaho we headed north to Mackay. There was more smoke in the air than I would have liked. The further north we went the thicker the smoke got. When we reached Mackay you could smell the smoke. Mackay sits in a valley. Details on mountains to the east and west were obscured by smoke but the sky was completely clear of clouds and at totality the sun would be high overhead. I worried about smoke’s impact on the corona but I cheered myself up with the thought that sunblock cream wouldn’t be necessary.
Being two hours early Mali decided to nap in the car while I walked around Mackay taking pictures. Main Street was blocked off and street vendors were setting up tented stalls and big meat smokers. Others were busy selling souvenirs. Most of the stores were closed. The eclipse was a good excuse for a holiday. I waited in a donut line and chatted with other eclipse tourists. One Maryland couple had just arrived in a rented car from Salt Lake City. A few Italians had come all the way from Naples. I saw lots of Utah, California, Alberta and Nevada license plates. Total solar eclipses gather the multitudes.
After checking out downtown Mackay I drifted back to the Centennial Rest Stop where Spanish science students were setting up equipment to observe the eclipse. They had come all the way from Spain to watch the eclipse in tiny Mackay Idaho. The moon’s shadow turns even the most unlikely places into tourist attractions. The scientific utility of total solar eclipses in the 21st century is not what it used to be but eclipses do offer great excuses for globe trekking and the re-enactment of historical experiments. The Spaniards were busy preparing weather balloons and getting ready to photograph the corona. They were also making objective lens solar filters for people who brought binoculars and telephoto lens. I considered having some made for my 16×70 astronomical binoculars but decided against it. Instead, I went back to our car, woke up Mali, and then started hauling eclipsing paraphernalia to the viewing area. Unlike many present, we didn’t have a lot of gear: just binoculars, three-legged folding stools, cell phones, cameras, and eclipse shades. Shortly after setting up our stools the Spanish students started counting down to first contact. Shortly after 10:00 am the eclipse started.
At first, people were excited to see the Moon slowly nibble at the Sun’s disk but they quickly quieted down. I got the impression that many were questioning the so-called awesomeness of solar eclipses. It’s just a boring black cookie-bite Sun. What’s the big deal? I think many were also surprised by how long it took for the Moon to cover the sun. I’d seen this phase before so I wandered around the crowd taking pictures while the Moon slowly covered the sun.
Fifteen minutes before totality the changing light was getting hard to ignore. The human eye adapts logarithmically to changing light levels. At this point in the eclipse more than 90% of the sun was covered, dropping light levels by a factor of ten, but it was only in the last five minutes that it became obvious that it was getting dark. I spotted a flock of pigeons gathering on the fences nearby. They were disturbed by the change in routine. As totality approached people started counting down. I peeled off my eclipse shades and glanced directly at the waning light. As the sun squeezed down to a pinhole of brilliant light I saw dazzling rainbow halos around the sun. I’m developing cataracts. When I stare into bright point sources I see rainbow halos. I had never looked at a point source as bright as the Sun and the effect was both beautiful and alarming. I will have to do something about my cataracts in a few years.
At totality, the blasé crowd erupted. Many started squealing, pointing, and yelling. Mali pointed to a flock of pigeons, the same flock I had spotted on the fence before, tearing through the air. I briefly looked all around to see the 360-degree sunset. I was expecting a deep orange dusk all around up but it failed to appear. We were too close to the mountains. Then I pointed my 16×70 binoculars at the eclipsed sun. Three flares were visible and the corona’s filaments were as beautiful as ever. The corona was not as extensive as the 2001 eclipse and the core region near the sun seemed brighter. I looked around for planets and stars. Venus was easy. I was expecting to spot Mercury and Mars but I the only star I saw near the Sun I later identified as Regulus. I didn’t try to photograph my first total solar eclipse but near the end of totality I grabbed my DSLR and fired off a few 300mm telephoto shots just to see what might come up.
Then, as suddenly as it started, the Sun burst forth. One bystander yelled, “Do it again!” The small crowd kept buzzing as more of the Sun was exposed. The consensus was, “Yeah, total solar eclipses are freaking awesome and totality is totally worth seeing.” Later, while standing in line to view the Sun and receding Moon through a Hydrogen Alpha filtered telescope, I overheard a fellow in the crowd say, “I’d read about shadow chasers, people who go all over the world to see total eclipses, I thought that was crazy, until today!”
The next total solar eclipse is in 2019. The greatest eclipse is in the Pacific, later the shadow runs over parts of Chile and Argentina. I’ve always wanted to visit the large observatories in Chile and view the southern sky from the super dark high elevation skies of the Atacama. This with totality is close to amateur astronomer heaven.