Thursday, November 26, 2015

World-news - the fall of 2015

I have no good cat picture, but this is Blacky nursing kittens.
It's hard to find the 'right' words to describe tragedies.  I only hope that the world I live in will not blow up any time soon. My favorite news program remains the Onion explains. I think they do a better job of presenting the political situation than I ever could.

So, people fight in the name of religion. What do I believe in?
I believe in being kind. I think we all have some inner strength that shines through at times. This is more obvious when we do things that at first appear impossible.

I am a scientist, and so I know that the world did not start with Adam and Eve. Life started with bacteria. Once more complex systems appeared, they grouped themselves together to be stronger.  People do that, too.

Religious groups have thus been around for  a long time. They promote a strong connection between their members through some deit(y/ies), but are all invariably outdated in their beliefs, e.g., the world is not 6000 years old, it is not right to marry underage children between themselves or to old men or have children with your father.  What such groups have in common is that they all say they promote kindness, which is often reserved to the people in the particular religion to give it more power.

To strengthen, enforce and display power, people perform violent acts. They then use this violence to promote themselves, and the organization they are part of.  In the past, people were burned at the stake in the name of God. Now, beheadings, bombings and mass shootings are coordinated in the name of Allah. Neither Allah nor God are obviously directly involved in these crusades, but the acts of violence have more power if they are done in the name of a deity. They can be then be seen as 'divine' revenge for wrongs committed in the past, which result in more killings, more opportunities for revenge, and often respect and idolization of the people perpetrating the violent acts.

 A deity remains a beautiful name for our ignorance in the same way dark matter and dark energy beautifully label 95% of the energy density of the universe. We gave the dark sector a nice name that does not make us understand it better, but it does help in obtaining funding for experiments. Beauty in a name is powerful especially when we do not know what we are naming. Who would fight and lose their life if they were told they simply further ignorance?

Humanity will always need people who promote kindness.  Ideally, the job of a religious institutions is not to judge and condemn, but help the communities they serve. I was disappointed to say the least with the response of the Orthodox church to the Colectiv disaster.  Anyone who says that people who listen to music deserve to be burnt alive should not be heading a church or any other public institution. They reminded me that patriarchs and priests are humans who are often both wrong and representative of a faulty system. I have, however, met a number of kind and talented priests. I try to remember them instead independent of denomination.

Shootings in the US. 
Mass shootings have been 64 days apart in 2015 and have increased in frequency since 2011. Some perpetrators are Arab, but many are white; writes an entertaining article about the white mass-murderers from North and South Carolina. Part of the problem is that these criminals become media sensations, and still nothing is done to prevent such events from happening in the future.

The last mass shooting was in San Bernandino. It impressed me more than the others because I remember driving through San Bernardino with my brother when he was a PhD student at Caltech. The perpetrators were a young Arab couple with a six month old baby. They murdered 14 of their colleagues at a party for the disabled.

I see it as important to stop turning criminals into media sensations. They should be statistics without faces. Whoever these people are, they do not deserve the press they get. The notoriety only attracts more criminals, who perpetrate similar acts in hope of leaving their mark on the world. I do not care who their family is, but I do believe that, in general, children should be removed from extremist families, and placed with families that do not suffer from this pathology. Beyond that I do not want to know their names, their hobbies or what their brothers/sisters/parents think.

Do I believe there will be a 3rd world war? No! I do not see reasons for a war between Russia and Turkey, Europe, and/or the United States. Since we won't see another doubling of the population, there should not be competition over resources. Moreover, each of these countries has the weapons to create major disasters on Earth, and the 'purpose' of those weapons is to prevent a war between weapon-holders. The competition for the power exerted by the chosen few over the rest of the world is ongoing with focus on the Middle East. While there is some conflict in Ukraine, I expect there is no need for a major re-drawing of borders.

More unrest in the Middle East?  I used to think that the next country to go into anarchy would be Iran, but now it seems that Saudi Arabia will perhaps fall next.

Low birth rate? More migrants
In the past, epidemics and the lack of food enforced population control. Smarter parents had children with a higher probability of survival because they usually produced and managed resources better. Now that the probability of survival is high, communities who enforce religion have children, and those who do not fail to reproduce. The more extreme the religion (i.e., the crazier), the more children they have. In countries with high levels of education, religion works only to a limited extent. So, there not enough people to perform poorly paid jobs, and we rely on immigrants. The US has the Mexicans for low paid jobs, and continues to try to attract some of the best and the brightest minds from all over the world for the higher paid jobs. Europe has migrants from the Arab world with the latest wave being from Syria. The latest wave was too dense and so very hard to deal with, but it should still lead to economic growth and to progress.

Limiting Climate Change: Alternative energy sources? Better transportation? There is a need for work in many directions that do not involve war. We have to slow down climate change, and yet integrate, educate, and bring the rest of the world's population above the poverty line.   Bill Gates writes an inspiring note after the Paris climate change talks and discusses a paint to turn any surface in a solar panel among other things. The investment in solar energy is growing in the US with Solar City proving installations for both businesses and private residences. Elton Musk plans to build a new kind of railways called the Hyperloop on which trains will be faster than planes while relying on solar energy (i.e., virtually no pollution). A hyperloop prototype might be ready by 2017. Mihai (my brother) said that Hyperloop would be like a huge LIGO detector, and turn out to be very expensive, but I am hopeful.

The next US president?
 The presidential race continues to be like a bad movie. Donald Trump's strategy relies on getting people who hate other people to identify themselves with him and vote for him. Historically, this type of strategy worked well over and over, and it really should not be surprising that it is working again. It is just that as educated individuals we believe in equality and in some kind of utopia where people are not so vulnerable due to the many things they hate.

Canada: the country of the year. One of our visiting faculty once told me that Canada is the best country in the world, and I am now inclined to agree with him. I am proud of Canada, and of their government (50% men and 50% women). It will be interesting to see how they succeed in integrating  25, 000 Syrians over the next 3-4 months.

Missions: LISA Pathfinder was launched successfully! News about LIGO's first gravitational wave detection are expected soon!