The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
Monday, November 30, 2015
Photo ...

Here’s Mr. Steve, our building super, raking the leaves in the driveway outside my window. Another autumn is fading away, another winter approaches.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:28 am       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Friday, November 27, 2015
Foreign Relations/World Affairs ... Politics ...

Back in December of 2006, I posted a blog here entitled “IRAQ: WHAT TO DO“. Basically, I said that the Bush Administration should give up on the idea of a unified Iraq and split the nation into a Shia nation in the west and a Kurdish nation in the north-east, with a rump state in the west (Anbar Province) as a semi-independent Sunni nation. I say semi-independent, because I envisioned this state to be in a loose confederation with the new Kurdistan. In effect, I proposed that the Kurds would share some of their oil revenues with the Sunni state and generally “keep an eye on it” so as to prevent it from falling into terrorist hands (back then, al Qaeda . . . or more accurately, al Qaeda in Iraq . . . which was destined to later become . . . well, more on that in a moment).

But of course, a partition didn’t happen. The dream of a unified Iraq was held onto by Bush and then Obama. Iraqi President al-Maliki, under pressure from Iran, decided that US military presence was no longer needed or welcomed, and Obama was more than happy to oblige him. Starting in late 2007 and ending in 2011, the US gradually withdrew all of its previously extensive military presence in Iraq. Negotiations with Maliki on keeping a residual US force of around 10,000 troops for training and intelligence broke down when the pro-Iranian / anti-US Sadrists in Parliament blocked such an agreement. Maliki politically favored the Shia factions over the Sunnis in a variety of ways, making the central government increasingly unpopular in the western provinces.

And then, al Qadea in Iraq morphed into ISIS, the Islamic State. A dormant form of political cancer suddenly grew and metastasized, as cancers often do. Had Obama pushed back more vigorously about keeping some forces in Iraq in 2011, we probably would have seen it coming much earlier, and President Obama may have avoided  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:41 am       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Sunday, November 22, 2015
Current Affairs ... Society ... Technology ...

Driverless cars are now being developed by a number of high-tech enterprises that are out to make a buck . . . eventually (this is not an easy way to get rich quick). The most famous driverless car venture is probably led by Google, which has set-up a small fleet of prototypes and has actually been trying them out in the real world. Some people think that driverless cars will start being sold and regularly used between 2020 and 2025 (5 to 10 years from now). That’s going to be interesting.

I’ve seen a number of articles (e.g., here and here and here and here and here) about the moral quandaries that the designers of driverless cars will need to face. When you make and sell a regular car controlled by a human, you don’t worry so much about the moment-to-moment decisions being made by the driver (although increasingly, automated systems in the car constantly monitor what the driver is doing, and try to warn the driver when they or someone else near them does something really bad . . . like when they are about to ram someone else’s vehicle while backing up in a parking lot, or when they start making a left while an oncoming truck is getting too close). When you design and sell a driverless car, by contrast, you have to program all of the driving decisions into the vehicle. So, in effect it’s you, the builder of the car, who makes the big decisions (through the computer program that you put into the vehicle to run it).

As such, people such as philosophy professors are pointing out that those who program these cars will need to decide what to do in morally conflicting situations. E.g., say your driverless car is cruising down the road, and it detects that a group of four people have suddenly run out into the road  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:33 am       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Tuesday, November 17, 2015
Outer Space ... Science ... Technology ...

It looks like the whole “space-plane” idea is not dead, even though the US Space Shuttle program ended in late 2011. The British “Skylon” idea has been generating increased press attention lately (you can see the November bump for it on Google Trends), even though the Skylon idea has been kicked around at least since 2000.

The Skylon spaceplane would be different in many ways than the Shuttle was, although the overall goal is similar (i.e., a rocket that takes off into orbit, drops off a payload in space, and then returns to a landing field so as to be used again). In an important sense, Skylon is even more of a “space-plane” than the Shuttle was; it looks more like a regular airplane than a rocket (somewhat reminiscent of the X-15 “semi-spaceplane” experiment of the early 1960s). By comparison, the Shuttle was just the reverse — mostly a rocket with a plane on its back.

So Skylon’s differences from the Shuttle are significant; one big factor is that Skylon would be a “single-stage-to-orbit” vehicle, something that hasn’t yet been achieved. But these differences might also be seen as an evolution of the overall space-plane concept, and not as a radical shift from the Shuttle’s basic intent. Skylon would be a bit smaller than the Shuttle was, perhaps around half as large. It would be un-manned, and is designed to put a 15,000 kg payload into low earth orbit. The Shuttle, by comparison,  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:34 am       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Tuesday, November 10, 2015
Food / Drink ... Health / Nutrition ... Science ...

Here’s another “interesting article” post from me. Yea, yea, I know, people usually do this sort of thing thru Twitter, and do it with a lot fewer words. Seems much more efficient, right? Well maybe, but I try to squeeze all the “juice” that I can out of an interesting article and share it with the world. And that wouldn’t go so well on Twitter. So, here’s another article post for you, this time from the October, 2015 Scientific American (gonna be about science, right?).

This one is called “The Fat Gene”. Sounds like it’s about the question of genetics and obesity — many people claim that obesity is driven largely by genetics and not all that much by eating and exercising habits. Thus, the fact that they are overweight is not their fault. There is some solid evidence for the existence of such “fat genes”, although it remains that for most people, being overweight is driven more by eating and exercise patterns — i.e., too many calories go in, and not enough go out. Although heredity may make it harder for some people than others to maintain a proper weight, in most cases, genes are not destiny with regard to weight.

But the article in question is not about that. Instead, the authors are searching for clues about how modern humans evolved from the great apes and early hominids. Many aspects of our past are written within our genes, and scientists are  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:05 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Thursday, November 5, 2015
Brain / Mind ... Society ...

“Let me let you in on a little secret,” said [former Secretary of State Condoleeza] Rice, a Stanford Graduate School of Business professor. “There is no such thing as an international community. There are self-maximizing, self-interested states that will push their interests as far as possible.”

This quote comes from a recent article about Russian President Vladimir Putin on the Bloomberg site. The article says some interesting things about Putin, but the grander implications of Rice’s quote have attracted my attention. That is, for the human race as a whole, tribalism trumps one-world mentality.

The question of whether humans are hopelessly tribal or are moving (however slowly) towards a “one humanity / one planet” mentality is an important one; it ultimately forms the foundation on which every nation, especially the most powerful ones, build their foreign policies. It sets the tone on how we act in getting along with other peoples from other nations. Can we proceed with ultimate trust, or do we need to forever stay on the defensive? The question applies not only at the international scale, but in our own lives today, as we increasingly interact with peoples and groups who have different customs and cultures than our own (whether they currently live within or without our national boarders).

Obviously then, the tribalism question has become a political one. Liberals say that tribalism is not destiny. Here’s a good quote from Rosabeth Moss Kanter in the Huffington Post:

Some social scientists say that in-group/out-group biases are hard-wired into the human brain. Even without overt prejudice, it is cognitively convenient for people  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:06 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
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