Categories
politics social commentary

Homelessness As A Product Of Prosperity

An Update:
I originally created this post back in June 2019 but for some reason it ended up in the drafts instead of being published. Since then my speaking out on this issue has resulted in so much aggravation on social media from those who disagree with that I’ve had to tender my resignation from broadcasting / streaming city council. Before it goes too far and people go after my partners business or engage in criminal mischief like they have with the Mayor of our town. (those links may stop working later in 2020 once the hosting runs out on my gftv.ca site and if I decide not to carry on with it)


I’ve been reading this HuffPost article Why America Can’t Solve Homelessness. Hobbes has brought some ideas to my awareness. One of them is the topic of the post.

As the economy has come out of the Great Recession, America’s unhoused population has exploded almost exclusively in its richest and fastest-growing cities. Between 2012 and 2018, the number of people living on the streets declinedby 11 percent nationwide — and surged by 26 percent in Seattle, 47 percent in New York City and 75 percent in Los Angeles. Even smaller cities, like Reno and Boise, have seen spikes in homelessness perfectly coincide with booming tech sectors and falling unemployment.  
In other words, homelessness is no longer a symbol of decline. It is a product of prosperity. And unlike Eric, the vast majority of people being pushed out onto the streets by America’s growing urban economies do not need dedicated social workers or intensive medication regimes. They simply need higher incomes and lower housing costs.

from the HuffPost article Why America Can’t Solve Homelessness

In my 13 years of covering local politics I’ve seen various topics become the major fire under council’s butts. Heavy handed dealing with volunteer organisations. The Deer Problem. Is Garbage Collection really a function of the City? The Universal Residential Water Meters. The Homeless.

Even though our town was hit by the worst flood in its history last year (2018) it’s really that last one, The Homeless, that is the major problem council is taking heat over at this time. This problem was inherited from the previous council in that it was already a hot topic before last fall’s election. And had been the major issue bugging the town and council in these first two years of its 4 year term.

The previous council’s way of dealing with the problem posed by the persistent homeless camps along the river and rising friction between the more scary homeless and the public was to evict the main support they had, soup kitchen / thrift store and bad weather shelter, from the city owned property they occupied. And then tear the building down leaving the non-profit society to fend for itself and find a new location. Simple solution to a complex problem. Except it didn’t solve anything – we still have the homeless. The druggies. The petty thievery.

And rising affluence isn’t just transforming the economic factors that cause homelessness. It is also changing the politics of the cities tasked with solving it. Across the country, as formerly poor neighborhoods have gentrified, politicians are facing increasingly strident calls to criminalize panhandling and bulldoze tent encampments. While city residents consistently tell pollsters that they support homeless services in principle, specific proposals to build shelters or expand services face vociferous local opposition.

Gee – let’s see: I was just reading about a nearby town, Penticton, bringing in stricter bylaws about hanging about and in the article they referred to a recent panhandling bylaw, Bulldozing tent encampments – we just take them down but bulldoze the soup kitchen and shelter. We have the last bit too – more on that coming up,

In our Canadian government system there are governmental entities called Crown Corporations. They are funded by taxpayers. They have mandates. Unlike other parts of the government, such as departments of the various government ministries, a Crown Corp. enjoys certain exemptions. They are on a mandated mission for the Crown and under our parliamentary system the Crown is the head of government. (we have a Queen even though she’s in another country on the other side of the ocean). So they can, and do, behave in a ‘my boss beats your boss’ way when it comes to other members of government.

In my province, British Columbia, there is a crown corporation called BC Housing. It’s mandate is housing for the people of BC. Shelters. Low-income housing. Supportive housing. Transition Houses. People who need it but cannot afford it.

Last year BC Housing responded to the needs of Grand Forks with two housing projects.

One was to provide a little over 50 low income housing spaces. A whole chunk of our town has been told that their properties are going to be bought out. And the land go back to being flood plane. A certain number of the people who lost almost everything last year are low or fixed income. The cost of buying a new house are beyond many. Two years ago they had a house. This year they’re living in trailers or rentals (if they can find them) or doshing down on a friend’s couch or squatting in a house that will eventually go away. The city would like to retain as many taxpayers and spenders as possible. But housing was a problem before and rentals very very scarce. They are there but all full up.

The other BC Housing project is Supportive Housing for the Homeless.

Both projects have gotten a lot of push back though the supportive housing has created the biggest waves. If you read the HuffPost article at the top you’ll remember that this push-back happens everywhere.

People have been offended by the way BC Housing went about the whole process. They employed a numbered company and used an out of town real estate agent to represent the buyer. So the seller had no knowledge of who they were selling to.

BC Housing says that this is because if they were open about their plans inevitably the prices for the properties they desire would get jacked up. That sounds like a valid reason. But I think there’s more to it than that . . . I think that they’d rather side step the onerous and interminable process of public consultation and angry recriminations that would ensue.

Some on City Council felt offended that BC Housing did not consult them. The public feels like they should have had a say as well.

Let’s see how that would go: BC Housing says they want to put in a Supportive Housing project that would house 40 homeless people. Almost immediately the rumours and predictions and scary scenarios would pervade social media. People would start to hammer local politicians with questions about the project. Where will it be? – not in our backyard. Who would be there? – druggies and criminals. Who would pay for all this? – and why all this money for losers? Won’t they bring in druggies from other towns if they can’t fill the beds with the ones from here?

As more and more people’s fears are stoked the more pressure city council will get. I’ve seen the way people treat council and it’s not pretty. They do not understand how it works. Or what council has power over and what it has no power over. If a government is doing something people don’t like then the closest government gets the treatment.

Unlike Provincial or Federal politicians city councillors live in the communities they govern. People can stop them on the street, in the checkout line or anywhere and start questioning. Or complaining. Or threatening – meaning no more votes for you. And most local politicians stand alone without the backup of a political party.

So local politicians are much more amenable to public opinion and petitions and town hall gripe sessions. Savvy civil servants know this. So if you were in the position of BC Housing with a mandate to get x number of housing projects / units done in a given time period then why would you engage with the local political process knowing it will likely bog down and get ugly?

I hear many of the arguments against it. One type in particular I find curious. It goes something like “we’re such a soft touch that they hear about it an come here. Other towns send their problem people here to our town.”

No matter how many times people who are in a position to know the real facts explain the fallacies in those statements the message does not get through. When they say most of the homeless are people who grew up here, that it’s a small cohort that are the real problem . . . either they are not believed or it doesn’t stick.

I’ve heard the local RCMP detachment head say twice that most of the homeless we have are from here and yet people keep ignoring that. Even politicians. When the Mayor mentioned that the bulk of those served by the soup kitchen were poor and elderly and not the thieving-drug-monkeys (not his term but one locals have coined) the gallery loudly scoffed. As if he was joking or telling a lie. When the BC Housing director for a big chunk of the interior of the province told the public that she hears the same fearful mistaken impressions in almost every city she serves it was clear that half the crowd did not believe her.

It’s a relatively easy thing to check on. And if you just watch the national news you’ll see homelessness is a serious problem very many places. But people insist on holding onto the mistaken idea that somehow we’re extra specially bad.

It is true that the homeless have become more of a visible problem in the past while.

I often encounter the idea that the druggies are leaving used needles in public spaces such as playgrounds and parks. Where the unwary can get jabbed.

Perversely many of the same people who pass that horror story on will also express shock and revulsion that the city has put sharps disposal containers in places downtown. It’s a waste of taxpayers’ money they say. It will somehow make the problem worse , , , maybe emboldening the needle users.

When I point out that there were sharps disposal containers posted in public spaces back in 2004 before this latest crush of homeless I get blank stares. Or “See!” as if it backs up their argument somehow.

Every needle places in a disposal container is one that isn’t laying in wait in the grass. (had to point that out to our previous Mayor) But logic doesn’t appear to apply.

This has been a long winded preamble to the topic of the post. Thanks for bearing with me so far. I’m getting to it.

I’ve been turning that idea over in my head. It’s caused me to reflect on some of the things I’ve seen in my life and heard about in history.

The first big Stock Market Crash of 1929 was caused by smart money speculators pumping the values of stocks up because they could. Because so many naive members of the public were putting their money into stocks. And then the smart money was dumping those stocks when they could reap the best profit. Doing this in such a way that the knock-on effect caused a run on the banks which couldn’t withstand that. Artificially valued stocks devalued over a few hours and millions lost everything.

Back in 2008 we had another event instigated by the financial services segment of the economy. Huge collections of crap mortgages were incorrectly valued as good mortgages and used as financial underpinnings for businesses and fortunes. When those mortgages began to fail, as was inevitable given the greedy way the whole thing was done, many people lost billions of dollars.

We’re now learning about how the pharmaceutical industry has been ruining the lives of millions with opiods because it’s profitable to do so. From the makers to the national distributors to the politicians it’s clear that laws will be broken if it means profits will be made. And if people are getting addicted and lives are being ruined in the process they are just roadkill on the path to more profits. CBS 60 minutes lays out how conniving by big pharma enabled a drug like Oxy to be relabelled into a category that helped to create the opiod crisis the USA is in now. You might not be able to view the video but the text is pretty explanatory.

Not long ago I watched a Fifth Estate piece, Kickbacks Caught On Camera, about how most pharmaceutical reps and pharmacies in the largest province in the country regularly break a law that says kickbacks are illegal. That drives the price of medicine up.

Recently I watched a 60 minutes piece on a price fixing scheme where the biggest Generic Drug makers conspired to drive the prices of some medicines up by hundreds of percent. The term I remember from that is that these companies had become “Too Big To Care” about the ultimate user.

I hear about how the USA doesn’t like that China has played a game where companies doing business there were obligated to share their expertise and tech with their Chinese counterparts. The companies complained to US embassy and government officials but didn’t want them to push the topic too much because they didn’t want to be shut out. This kind of technology theft by coercion is one of the problems the USA has with China. It could have been head off decades ago by forcing China to play fair but that wouldn’t work for Big Business so it was left alone.

Time and time again we learn about how Big Business is caught screwing the system. Engaging in criminal behaviour, damaging behaviour, hurtful behaviour – all in the name of profit.

Add to that the growing gap between the rich and the rest of us. The downward pressure on the middle class.

Real Estate prices are rising fast. Vancouver BC has become one of the most expensive cities to live in in the whole world. Families with both parents employed find it hard for afford property. Some families are living with other families as room mates just so they can have a house.

Vancouver and Toronto have been drivers of house pricing in Canada over the past few decades. Price rises in these cities eventually are followed by rises in smaller markets.

But now we learn that a significant driver of pricing in Vancouver has been money laundering. Not just in the real estate market but also in government regulated casinos. Apparently for a number of years people could show up with bags of cash – literal bags of cash – and the casino would take it in and later on pay money back. Clean money. And when regulatory agents reported and warned about this nothing happened. Action was stifled at a high, political, level. Because someone was making a profit somewhere.

So those who are really rich, and some who work for them, manipulate the system in ways that enrich them but impoverish everyone else. It’s a game that only the wealthy can play without suffering.

I can see how people have a problem with Capitalism. While it might rightfully be the Capitalists that are the problem the system is the way they want it to be. Because they can afford to make it that way.

So how do you fix that?

Well for homelessness you might look to Finland.

Categories
social commentary

Finally – Drug Execs Are Going To Prison

The Opiod crisis is an engineered, profitable, enterprise foisted on us by Drug Companies. That’s not a paranoid conspiracy theory anymore – it’s now a fact backed by investigations by journalists and government. Now the crisis is out of control with street Fentanyl flowing into the black market from China, but it began, and was majorly fueled, by US drug company executives with no moral compass, no scruples and a strong case of greed.

Finally the government is striking back and drug company executives are facing prison time. People have died in the thousands . . . too bad they couldn’t be facing homicide charges also.

Maker InSys had a Fentanyl-based spray it was marketing. The company has gone through the mill already and its founder is heading for a 5 year prison stay. Other execs are also donning the orange jumpsuit crowd.

seven Insys executives and employees were found guilty of racketeering conspiracy, an offense introduced in the 1970s to pursue organized crime, as well as charges of wire fraud conspiracy and mail fraud conspiracy. As well as Mr Kapoor, Mr Babich and Mr Burlakoff, they include Richard Simon, national director of sales, and Michael Gurry, who oversaw the unit responsible for getting reimbursements from insurers. Both received sentences of 33 months. Two regional sales managers were also convicted.

Their greed was so extreme they even made a rap video for themselves about how good business was.

“I realize how gross and disgusting and offensive it is now, but I was just so impressed with the work and the money and the detail that they put into it, I was like, emotional,” he said.

Mr Burlakoff said at first he admired the video but now views appearing in it as one of his biggest mistakes.

“I showed it to my wife and my kids and they enjoyed it. They didn’t know anything about Subsys or titration and that patients were actually dying as a result of it.”

Mr. Burlakoff was Head of Sales for InSys

Read more about in this article at PBS Frontline.

I can hardly wait to see who heads to the dock next. There’s a lot to choose from.

Categories
social commentary Uncategorized

Banksters Bag 60 Billion and EU Govs Going After Them

Apparently there’s been a huge heist going on for the last 15 years. We’re just starting to hear about it now after 60 billion dollars has been siphoned out of government treasuries by this little bit of banker trader magic they didn’t actually have a law preventing it because they figured it was so illegal or bad they didn’t really need a law.

Well as they know in China all too well if there is no law saying you can’t do it people will go ahead and do it.

This little trick essentially allowed investments to yield twice the tax write-off.

The scheme was built around “cum-ex trading” (from the Latin for “with-without”): a monetary maneuver to avoid double taxation of investment profits that plays out like high finance’s answer to a David Copperfield stage illusion. Through careful timing, and the coordination of a dozen different transactions, cum-ex trades produced two refunds for dividend tax paid on one basket of stocks.

https://nyti.ms/37mqfYT

It May Be the Biggest Tax Heist Ever. And Europe Wants Justice. https://nyti.ms/37mqfYT

From the article it would appear that once bankers and traders learned of cum ex it did not take them long to get on board and just start fleecing the EU for all the money they could get.

To me this is very reminiscent of the way the banking industry got into a mess with bad asset backed credit default swaps, you remember the little thing that dealt the world’s economy a body blow back in 2008. It turned out that almost a whole industry was engaging in the kind of wishful thinking that the balloon would never burst and the party would go on forever.

Well it looks like that’s what’s been going on for a while now with cum ex. Now the countries want their money back and they’re going after banksters and lawyers and anybody else involved. Germany itself had 56 investigations yielding 400 targets, individual banksters. Lawyers and Law firms involved are not immune from this. Could be very interesting.

American bankers didn’t try cum-ex at home because they feared domestic regulators. So they moved operations to London and treated the rest of Europe as an anything-goes frontier. Frank Tibo, a former chief tax officer at a bank where Mr. Shields and Mr. Mora worked, said American and British cum-ex traders regarded the Continent as a backwater of old economies ripe for swindling.
”There was this culture in London, and it really came from New York,” he said. “These guys were either from New York or trained in London at New York banks, and they looked at Europe as their playground. People at the highest levels were collaborating to rip off countries.

emphasis mine

So it’s a strategy developed in the USA but never used in the USA. I wonder if the US government will protect US financial workers who stashed their ill-gotten gains in the US banks. If Europe decides to go after that will Washington go along? Trump is oft quoted as seeing any money within his grasp as being his money, so if the banksters make nice with him maybe he’ll shield them. It wouldn’t be the first time he went to bat to shield some american from european justice. (I think he enjoys poking the EU in the eye any chance he gets)

And it won’t be easy going after them – you have to explain the illegality for jurists and that will prove to be quite difficult apparently.

Academics have struggled for years to explain the trade and say its impenetrability is part of what made it so successful — as though someone had found a way to weaponize string theory. At the Bonn trial, defendants spent days walking judges through cum-ex’s nuances, with one baffling slide after another.

Suffice it to say, the goal was to fool the financial system so that two investors could claim refunds for dividend taxes that were paid just once.

The trade was pure theater and required a huge cast: stock lenders, prime brokers, custodians, accounting firms, asset managers and inter-dealer brokers. It also required vast quantities of stock, most of which was sourced from American shareholders.

One of regulators, Dr. Hanno Berger, eventually was seduced, by the riches to be made, into joining the side he was tasked with regulating. His reported attitude leaves no question he saw the negative impacts of this way of fleecing the government – here is what he told underlings at one meeting:

“Whoever has a problem with the fact that because of our work there are fewer kindergartens being built,” Dr. Berger reportedly said, “here’s the door.”

Sounds like something Gordon Gekko, from the movies Wall Street and Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, would say.

This should be an interesting couple of years. I predict the banksters won’t pay back as much as half of their ill gotten gains. Why? They have money and time on their side – the politicians could be gone with the next elections. Cynical I know but that’s the real world unfortunately.

Categories
social commentary

Speculation versus Society

As I was listening to a news broadcast regarding homeless issues in other cities in my province one of the things that was said, by a person who is currently homeless, was that availability of rental properties has gone down. In other words the number of available rental properties has gone down. So every time you go to apply to rent a place the owners of that place can pick and choose who they want. And of course they would rather not take a chance on somebody who is currently homeless – I get that. 

This triggered a train of thought. 

I have seen the argument put forward that the places where profitability has returned homelessness has soared in the United States. As the increasing profitability, and local economy heating up, drives up prices for goods and services making it more expensive to meet your ends – one of those being shelter.

I was struck by the idea that when you have something that people consider to be a basic requirement for human life such as shelter or food or medicine and someone comes along and shows how you could commodify that and turn a profit on it then it’s just a matter of time before Capitalistic urges and Societal needs clash.

Example: Fuel or Food?

A few years ago people were getting very concerned about the idea that Petroleum, from which we get Gasoline, was getting scarcer to find and more expensive to produce. When they get concerned about gasoline, the price goes up and the moment that the price goes up people look for other ways to make more profits off of it.

When they were thinking there might be a shortfall in actual petroleum, growing corn for ethanol became seen as a viable alternative. And a lot of talk happened about the competition between gas tanks and stomachs for that corn.

Farmers were looking at the possibility of producing corn for gas tanks rather than for stomachs because gas tanks pay more. What an idea!

People who produce food making a choice to produce it for commercial and industrial concerns as opposed to feeding people.

Example: Short Term Rentals

A while back somebody came up with the bright idea of short-term rentals instead of long-term rentals And Air B&B was born. 

When you look at how many rental units are available in a given local economy and how many people there are that need rental units you get a certain equation. When the owners of a lot of those rental units en mass decide to take them out of the long-term rental market and put them in the short term rental market that means that the actual available number of rentals for long-term rental goes down but the number of people looking for long-term rentals hasn’t.

So the competition for a rental property increases as more people think about turning rental properties into short-term rental commodities

This adds more action to the real estate market. With people looking to buy places that they can do this with and since they’re looking at these places as earners and not places where they want to live they are more inclined to pay more money for them than they would if they were buying them for their own, personal, use. That’s Speculation.

That helps heat up the real estate market which raises up prices. As property values rise so does taxes. When prices go up what happens is there’s pressure on people who are actually doing long-term rentals to increase what they charge in rent because their costs go up. So if you’re looking for a long-term rental, or you’re actually looking to buy a place for yourself to live in you’re facing increased prices and increased competition. 

Example: Healthcare

Here in Canada we have socialized medicine, but down south of border in the United States it’s not that at all – health costs are the number one cause of personal bankruptcy.

There are people here in Canada who would rather see us have a medical system like the US where if you have the money you can get treatment right away. You don’t have to wait.

I understand their frustrations with waiting, believe me I do, but here’s the thing: the way things have become in the United States everybody needs to get some sort of Health Care insurance. Unless you’re really really rich you really can’t afford to take your own healthcare costs on by yourself 

So most people are in some sort of plan that is part of some sort of Managed Health Care.

Now the Health Care Management organizations have doctors and hospitals and arrangements with drug suppliers on the one hand and and they have arrangements with patients on the other hand. They sit in between and they still make some profits. https://pbs.twimg.com/media/EIKzjS8WsAE9Ges?format=jpg&name=large

Think about that.

You can’t go right to the doctor of your choice. You can’t go right to the hospital of your choice. You can’t go right to the pharmacies and get your stuff. You go through your Healthcare management organization.

That Healthcare management organization is supposedly there to make things easier on you. But they’re also there to make a profit off of you as a subscriber. And they’ll have to make a profit off of the services they provide which means that the doctors who work for them are basically employees. They have a proscribed list of things they cannot do. Drugs they cannot prescribe to people and a list of things they can actually do and that their Healthcare Management company will actually cover or pay for it.

The idea that some major corporation could get in between the customer and the provider of a service and somehow make the whole thing better and still make a profit and keep the costs under control is patently ridiculous. These companies are not in the business of being there for social good. They’re in the business of being there to bring profit to their shareholders.

If you don’t believe me then consider that people in the USA pay far more for the same services than others in other countries.

Example: Medicine

In the Healthcare sector which sub-industry makes the most money? So much that they have year after year profit increases above 20%?
Why it’s the companies that make the drugs and medicines!

In recent years we’ve seen multiple examples of businessmen buying drug companies that have needed drugs, which come from no other supplier, so they could then jack the prices of those drugs through the roof (1, 2) to increase profitability and milk them for all the profits that they could get. Patients who need these drugs just have to pay more. The health management companies will have to pay more.

At least one speculator like this, Martin Shkreli, has gone to prison and others have faced financial ruin but that does not stop others from trying to engage in the same profit-taking moves. Putting dollars ahead of people’s lives and health because they can.

Exaggerated profit-taking even gets to the generic drugs. These are the drugs which have gone off patent which means that anyone can produce them. You would think that drugs which have gone off patent, and can be produced by generic drug makers, would see competition and that would drive prices down but there is strong evidence that shows that generic drug companies have been colluding to elevate the prices and keep the prices high.

Example: Prisons

The USA incarcerates more of its own people than any other country. One of the consequences of the ‘war on drugs’ was a huge increase in the number of people imprisoned.

The increasing costs of the penal system became seen as a potential business opportunity and a case was made that this is something private businesses could do for less cost.

So now more people are in privately run prisons than government run facilities.

Do you think it’s harder to get out of a private prison than a government one?

The government doesn’t want to house you any longer than they have to – it costs the taxpayers money. So they have an incentive to create conditions and programs that help convicts work towards earlier release and find better opportunities and be less likely to re-offend after they leave.

The for-profit prisons budgets are ultimately tied to how many convicts they have to take care of in any given budget cycle. Their understood incentive is to house as many convicts as they can and keep them for as long as they can. They may claim there are other factors that work against this thinking but I would suggest those are window dressing on a deal that stinks.

There’s at least one instance, Kids for Cash, of judges engaged in deals with for-profit prisons to send more offenders there than into programs that see no incarceration. In that case the victims were juveniles. We have no way of knowing how many other similar case exist where those involved weren’t so stupid they got caught.

Corporations are not in the business of being good society members – no – they are in the business of making profits for their shareholders plain and simple.

At the turn of this century when scholars were looking at the future they predicted that the major cause of warfare in this coming century will be over Water. And as it becomes more scarce it becomes a valuable commodity.

When I was a child there was next to no sales of water to the individual unless your local water supply was problematic. Now we have a generation of people who have grown up with bottled water for sale almost everywhere. At some point fresh clean water, one of the most basic substance needed for humans to survive, will become something you can only get if you have the money . . .

So to come back to my original proposition: Anytime someone comes up with a new way to commodify, or make a profit, off of something that everyone else considers to be a basic human need it is just a matter of time before Capitalist urges and Societal Needs Clash.

Categories
astrophysics rambling social commentary

Stretching Conventional Wisdom Too Far

Today found me reading an article (https://phys.org/news/2019-10-giant-radio-galaxies-defies-conventional.html) about research into the far distant universe.

In this case the research was “New research on giant radio galaxies defies conventional wisdom”.

The article begins with this summation:

Conventional wisdom tells us that large objects appear smaller as they get farther from us, but this fundamental law of classical physics is reversed when we observe the distant universe.

https://phys.org/news/2019-10-giant-radio-galaxies-defies-conventional.html

Now I understand conventional wisdom (CW) and why it would tell us that: CW operates within the scope of human scale thinking that has obtained since time immemorial to us humans. And yes things that are further away do appear smaller.

But CW appears to have suffered arrested development sometime in the 19th century (the era of Classical Physics) – before we discovered:

  • that light takes time to cover distances.  So the further away something is from us the light we see from it comes from further back in time.
  • that almost everything in the universe is moving away from us at increasing rates of speed the further it is.
  • that this universe we live in was once a small thing that experienced a Big Bang and expanded enormously (and still appears to be expanding)

My own version of CW knows these things and takes them into account. So when I read that opening paragraph I was a bit perplexed – why would anyone with the same basic cosmology education I got think that the things we see very far out there, from very long ago, would not appear to be larger?

Confused?

Let’s see if my basic logic can help you follow this . . .

We think the universe is about 13.6 Billion Years old (13.6 GY) .
This also means that the edge of the visible universe is 13.6 GLY (Billion Light Years) from us.
That means when we see some object or structure 10 GLY from us the light was emitted 10 GY ago when the universe was just 3.6 GY old.

Good so far? (if not go back, reread and rethink about that – we’ll wait for you 🙂

Okay – this is where it gets interesting.

The universe is expanding.
Hubble was the first to discover that there was more universe our there than just what we saw in our galaxy. That the nebulae were actually other galaxies outside our own Milky Way.
He measured the spectra of their light and found that these were shifted towards the Red end of the spectrum.
He noticed that when he measured the red shifts of objects at inter galactic scales the further the object was from us the more red shift it had.
Meaning not only that these things are moving away from us (otherwise there would be no shift in the spectrum) BUT the ones further away are moving away faster than the closer ones.

Eventually we worked out that this is because the universe is expanding and has been since the beginning it apparently had.
One way to think about it is that measuring stick that once crossed the universe is still there but the gradations on its scaling are getting smaller in size and larger in number. (much the same as a dollar from 50 years ago is still a dollar today but due to inflation how much you can buy with it has shrunk – in both case we call this inflation)

At a very very early stage of the universe the structures formed occupied a certain fraction of the size of the actual universe.

At the age of 3.6 GY the universe was 3.6G LY in radius.
And let’s say that a large galaxy of 500,000 LY in size had formed and a monster black hole at its centre had been spewing and feeding the huge polar lobe structures we now know that they form.

These lobes are typically larger than the galaxy that spawned them. So let’s say these grow to 750K LY in size. Two of them plus the galactic bulge between could span 2 Million LY.

In a 7.2 GLY diameter universe 2 Million LY is a fraction of 2/7200 or 2.78×10^-10. That is the size and fraction of the size of the universe it was when if formed 10 GY ago.

Moving forward in time to Now.

The universe has expanded to 27.2 GLY diameter. This is approx. 3.778 times the size it used to be 10 GY ago.

All the structures that existed 10GY ago that do NOT have a strong gravity well to hold all their parts close in have also expanded in size.

So the galaxies themselves might have enough mass within them to keep most of their masses within their gravity wells . . . the ejected stuff further outside the well’s mouth will be subject to this universal expansion.

In the cases of Radio Galaxies the lobes of radio emitting gases and plasma may well fit in this category.

So lobes that were 750K LY in diameter would have grown to 2,833 LY in diameter after 10G years of expansion.

If you buy into the expanding universe you have to also buy that structures evolved Billions of years in the past cannot fail to appear larger now than old-style Conventional Wisdom would suggest.

When you look at the Wikipedia article (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radio_galaxy) on radio galaxies you will find this: “The largest radio galaxies have lobes or plumes extending to megaparsec scales”

A parsec is just over 3.262 LY. A mega parsec is 3.262 Million Light Years.

If we took our example radio galaxy and moved its birth back to 1 Billion Years in the life of the universe (12.6 GY ago) the expansion by now would have been 27.2 times instead of 3.7. So the 750LY lobes would appear to be 10.2LY across now.

Back when I was 12 years old (mid 60s) I learned about Hubble and the Red Shift and the expanding universe. Without benefit of a calculator I could still come up with a size and age of 12.5 GLY size and 12.5 GY age. Admittedly rough calculations by a child but this is how I’ve learned to think about the universe.


Why is that decades have passed – we’re even in a new millennium now – and that child has grown into a gray haired man but still our Conventional Wisdom is stuck somewhere before my grandparents were born?

Perhaps that is part of the problem our society appears to have in relating to science and technology. If you sound like you’re a scientist or know science you’re some kind of ‘elite’ and that’s a bad thing in the current political climate pervading society.

The idea that scientific fact and theory are being relegated to being ‘just another opinion with as much credence as the opinions of politicians and snake oil salesmen and charlatans’ scares the crap out of me.

Back when the Khmer Rouge emptied the cities they had a purge of \intellectuals’. Anyone who wore glasses was automatically branded an intellectual and sent to camps to be worked to death. Why? Because they could read . . .

When I see the wholesale discarding of science and scientists in favour of political expedience; denial of evidence based predictions because they prescribe hard-to-do solutions; I have to ask how did we come to this?

People want the world to make sense.

If the brightest brains tell them the world is so strange that they would not understand it even if they could understand the science all they hear is: you’re too stupid to understand this stuff – leave it to us. (which implies a classification-by-smarts system where the scientists are smarter and therefore in a higher class)

I know most scientists aren’t out to lord it over the normal people but that’s one possible take-away that non-science people get.

In better times they might get other, less negative, take-aways . . . but not now. Now there’s so many ‘alternative truths’ floating about being spouted by ‘truth tellers’ it would be very hard for the uneducated to filter out the crap from the facts. And most of those sources push some form of the negative take-away. Reinforce the idea that you cannot trust science and scientists. And most of those web denizens are engaged in reaching out to the non-science-people in the world. Like most media outlets they make money from the eyeballs and views and clicks they garner. So the more egregious and outlandish or scary the claims they make the more money they make. Truth is secondary.

A good education is pretty much free on the web as well . . . why most do not avail themselves of it is another issue.

I wasn’t trying to be preachy – just scratching an itch.

Categories
social commentary

Veterans for Trump waited months for Facebook to help after their page was hijacked by a North Macedonian businessman

https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2019/09/17/popular-facebook-page-vets-trump-seemed-be-place-former-military-months-macedonians-controlled-it/

In case there’s a pay wall in the way of the article: Essentially a Facebook page started by patriotic veterans in the USA was taken over by some business guy in Macedonia and it took months for the Americans to get Facebook, an American company, to hear their plea for help.

It’s interesting that even in this era of heightened awareness of foreign disinformation efforts to meddle with US politics it took months for these people to get Facebook’s attention – and that only really happened after they said they’d buy advertising.

I’ve read in other places about how hard it is to get the attention of a human being at Amazon or YouTube. Even after your Amazon marketplace business has been hijacked or scuppered by bad actors you have to spend thousands of dollars and months of time to ‘correct’ the situation with Amazon.

It appears that these digital Titans are loathe to employ real humans to do customer service and support because that would bite into their profits too much. So they appear to think they can get away with automation as much as possible. And there’s a never ending series of tales of woe that result from this no matter if it’s customer, vendor or employee relations involved.

Categories
politics social commentary

Trump’s plans for housing

Trying to understand Trump can be confusing at best.

He says on the one hand he’s there to help those left behind by the mess the ‘elites’ have made. On the other hand he’s filthy rich and most things his administration does make things easier for the rich and harder for the working schlump.

This last week I read two stories about Trump’s administration related to having a home or not.

First let’s look at the buying a house part: (https://beta.washingtonpost.com/business/2019/09/10/trumps-housing-finance-plan-will-make-mortgages-more-expensive-especially-black-borrowers-say-housing-groups/ )

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are the entities that purchase mortgage loans and package them into securities they guarantee. Fannie is the Federal National Mortgage Association and Freddie is the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation.

They are government sponsored enterprises created near the end of the Great Depression of the 1930s to “the organization’s explicit purpose was to provide local banks with federal money to finance home loans in an attempt to raise levels of home ownership and the availability of affordable housing … expand the secondary mortgage market by securitizing mortgage loans in the form of mortgage-backed securities, allowing lenders to reinvest their assets into more lending and in effect increasing the number of lenders in the mortgage market by reducing the reliance on locally based savings and loan associations (or ‘thrifts’).”

Essentially to help create and maintain a housing marketplace where citizens can afford to buy homes and home can afford to be built.

Trump’s administration has this plan to overhaul the country’s housing finance system. Part of it is to end government control of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Fair Housing and Lending groups say this will make mortgages more expensive for minority borrowers and aspiring homeowners in the South Midwest and Rural communities.

Why would they say that? Because it would change the direction from citizen centered to profit oriented “The plan is a potential windfall for hedge funds that have invested heavily in the companies’ stocks.”

Those that know say this will make it harder for those at the bottom and edges of the economy to become home owners.

With the way the economy is going it is becoming harder and more expensive to hold onto that home once you’ve got it.

Property values are climbing and with them taxes. The single biggest portion of household debt is rent or mortgage. And it gets bigger each year. Faster than pay cheques increase for sure.

And the employment market is changing as well. More of the old dependable well paying jobs are being replaced with lower paying and gig style employment with less benefits.

So at a time when people are faced with more costly living they are also put into a less beneficial working environment. Which means even more people are close to that ‘one missed pay cheque and you lose your home’ situation. Or one unexpected large bill. Or one accident.

Did you know that in many places by missing just one bill payment on any bill your bank will jack your credit card interest rate up to %29? So that tight home finances plan your family had gets even tighter. And slipping through the crack gets even easier.

That’s how people get squeezed out of the system and become homeless. And once they are homeless it’s a very hard slog to get out of it.

These days many jobs do direct payment for payroll. But that requires you to have a bank account and if you’re homeless with no fixed address good luck getting one of those. Potential employers want people who can and will show up for the job consistently on-time. Homeless people aren’t seen as fitting into that category of hires. Writing resumes, having clean clothes, having a phone to call back on – these things are essential to finding a job and not easy to have if you’re homeless.

Homelessness has a stigma attached to it.

Many people who are not homeless don’t understand and are scared of the them. They are seen as lazy, drug using, petty criminals who litter the streets and parks with their little tarp shanties and discarded needles and bottles. While that may not describe the majority of the homeless it’s the perception the rest of society apparently has.

The homeless situation in quite a few US cities has become very bad. Los Angeles has 60,000 homeless living within it. Nearly all cities in California have serious, crisis level, homeless problems.

Trump’s administration has a plan for them too . . . (https://beta.washingtonpost.com/business/2019/09/10/trump-pushing-major-crackdown-homeless-camps-california-with-aides-discussing-moving-residents-government-backed-facilities/ )

The title says it all: Trump pushing for major crackdown on homeless camps in California, with aides discussing moving residents to government-backed facilities

  • What government backed facilities are they talking about? Where?
  • Who will run these facilities? Government or Private?
    IF it’s private businesses – how much funding will they get?
    How much profit taking will they do?
  • How did the last government mandated housing for undesirables work out? The places they send illegal immigrants to.

And if it’s a crackdown and the homeless don’t want to leave sunny California for some other place what happens then? Will they be rounded up by force like ICE raids do for illegal immigrants?
When they resist will they be charged with a crime and sent to Administrative Detention camps?

As many point out the actions of this administration have tended to cut supports for the homeless and make affording a home more difficult. This all exacerbates an already bad situation.

But maybe it all works out for the best in Trump’s mind.

  • The homeless will never stay at a Trump branded facility.
  • His big money friends will make even more profit from all of this.
  • Doing something to get the homeless out of people’s sight and mind will likely play well with his supporters after Fox News has massaged the story.
  • And he gets to beat up Democrat city’s administrations and politicians while doing it.
Categories
applied science social commentary xcience

Revivification News During Easter Week

An interesting collision of science news and religious holy days took place this past week.

While the Christian world got ready to observe Easter, remembering how Jesus was executed and then resurrected, the world of Science was announcing the cellular reanimation of hours-dead pig brains. (Nature, MedicalExpress)

Nothing divine was going on with the reanimated pig brains – the researchers were just checking a hunch. They have been working with tissue taken from brains, dead ones of course. The fact that the tissue is from dead animals and is isolated in 2D sheets instead of in a 3D matrix of neural tissue, like it normally is, presents problems. Such as: How do you know the results aren’t being affected in some way by these limitations? Are the results from studies applicable to living specimens?

To further complicate studies dead tissue has biochemical processes happening that change the very things being studied in a short time. It was inevitable that compounds would be developed to perfuse the tissue to try to maintain some semblance of the chemical environment that the tissue was in while still in a living creature. The blood replacement they used in this particular lab they call BrainEx (for Ex Vivo).

What they noticed was that even after hours of being ‘dead’ the tissue showed signs of cellular viability. So they devised a simple test – through a hog processing company they got access to a few heads from recently killed pigs. After extracting the brains they perfused them with the Brainex solution. And what they found has many many people wondering . . . neural cellular integrity was preserved, some neuronal, glial, and vascular cellular functionality was restored.

They didn’t see any evidence of global, coordinated neural activity so while the parts might have limited restored functionality the brain itself wasn’t switched back on in any real sense. But this is just a first step . . . who knows where it might lead? Just like in the old Brer Rabbit story I’m guessing it will become a tarbaby that will lead us into a philosophical and ethical thorny briar patch. (and I just mentioned the issues around using that term in a recent post)

Some of the easy ones to predict are: when can we say the creature is really dead? Or a human? For those jurisdictions that use brain death as a determining factor – will they revised ‘when’ that can be said to take place with finality? What about the stock in cryogenic-suspension companies that only preserve the head – will that go up? What does Dead really mean? I’m sure others will come up with more.

So while all the wannabe Doctor Frankensteins of the world have some hope . . . I’m wondering if next Easter some people will be replacing that Bunny with a Piggy. After all this aspect has nothing seriously connecting it with the religious event (and is likely pagan inspired) and neither animal lays eggs.

Categories
social commentary

History Herstory Makes Monetary Misery

Nothing kills a joke like having to explain it. And if the joke has anything off-colour about it that can see it called into question at some later date in a completely non-comedic context then that joke becomes a sin and anyone who has retold it becomes a sinner.

Welcome to the Future.

Anything of any cultural significance with an age older than 30 years ago is suspect. Anyone who performed any time before 30 years ago is a potential risk for public institutions to be associated with.

Case in point: Kate Smith, “The First Lady of Radio”, “The Songbird of the South”

In the first year of her career as a radio performer she sang a top 20 song which came from a theatrical production which was a satire on racism.

A satire. Defined as the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.

The song’s name is all that is needed to call Ms. Smith’s suitability for public association into question: “That’s Why Darkies Were Born”

Is the problem only the name of the song?
Is the problem that a serious subject like racism was attacked by using humour as the weapon?
Or Is the problem that our current society can brook NO connection to racism of any kind unless it is a clear, unambiguous attack on racism?

Popular cultural content reflects the culture of the time. Culture evolves over time. Eventually some of what was generally accepted becomes unacceptable.

And that leaves us with a problem: What to do with all the popular cultural content we come to have a problem with?

It appears that the most risk averse entities in our world (those who can be directly affected by negative public opinion) choose to simply remove it from their world leaving the rest of us with gaping holes in the history of pop culture. But hey it’s all about the Benjamins (money) ain’t it? Threaten the cash flow and watch the icons go (away).

I liked the popular radio program Prairie Home Companion. It ran for decades (1974 to 2016) and was much loved and well respected. All it took to push all that back catalogue out of public access was one or two suggestions of a touch on the back or hurt feelings by women that happened in the middle of the societal recriminations flowing from the Harvey Weinstein scandal.

The accusations weren’t criminal. No sexual encounters of unbalanced power dynamic took place or even were alluded to. But a risk averse Minnesota Public Radio decided that not only was Garrison Keillor a problem but no one should be allowed to access ANY of the thousands of Home Companion programs is had in its catalogue of content. This situation existed from November 2017 to April 2018.

That it happened at all is a shame. That it took legal action to restore the back catalogue to public access is a shame.

Let’s return to the current case, Kate Smith.

She didn’t write the song. It was even performed at one point by a person of colour. It’s Satire. But apparently we have to pander to the Lowest Possible Common Dummy rule. IF anyone could possibly construe / misconstrue the lyrics as being a serious derogatory attack on people of colour then nobody should be allowed to associate [us] with that. Fill in the [us] with whichever entity you want like Baseball teams for instance.

It’s a shame that those who set themselves up as the protectors of public virtue can only see the public as small minded, immature, ignorant masses that have to be protected from bad things like humour they don’t get. Leaving the rest of us questioning the rationality of those in charge and worrying if we’ve ever said something that will come back to haunt us at some point.

Almost makes one want to become a public Asshole just so no one can later get any traction from accusing us of being one. Kind of like President Trump has apparently done.

But this yen to rewrite our history by excising things we don’t want to be exposed to, this urge to engage in revisionism, hurts us in the long run. There’s the ‘those who forget history are doomed to repeat it’ warning.

Understanding how we got to where and what we are as a nation or culture becomes much harder when you grow up not even knowing all the bits that collectively brought your world to where it is.

If you weren’t made aware of past cultural treasures that helped form the culture your live in because they were officially forgotten then how can you understand your culture? You don’t know what you never knew and no one informed you about. It might as well have not existed or happened . . . except that it did. You just don’t know about it.

Then there are terms that have been part of the lexicon like Call A Spade A Spade or Tarbaby.

If you use those terms in something you are publishing nowadays you open yourself to accusations of racism even though the origins had no racist connotations at all. The spade referred to is an entrenching tool – a shovel. The tarbaby is a thing that burns and sticks to you if you touch it. And for a whole generation of adults those meanings have been completely supplanted by racist redefinitions. And that means that for many that is the only definition they have or have ever had. Which means that any published article, book, song, movie, play – anything that used them can be subject to the same treatment that Kate Smith is going through now.

Sad isn’t it? That You have to live in a dummed down, white washed, world because Fear of the Stupid and Ignorant made it so. Ironic isn’t it that the term ‘white washed’ which we use to describe the actions of this purging of offensive content will sooner or later suffer the same fate.

I’ll leave this off at this point because I’m pretty sure I’ve laid enough ammunition for somebody to excoriate me with at some later date. Think I’ll get working on my next project ‘Getting In Touch With Your Inner Asshole’.

Categories
social commentary tech gripes

Daring or Dangerous?

This is the last lost draft I’m dredging up to publish. (it’s not that old)

I’ve been involved with computers for a long time. And have picked up a lot of bits of knowledge about a lot of things along the way. Human psychology seems to pervade most industries and affect how they work – computers are similar in that every industry that adopts them changes forever in ways incomprehensible to those who were in it before.

I’ve been in the position of deciding whether or not I wanted to allow public postings on sites I manage and am therefore legally responsible for. And I’ve watched as sites such as Napster, YouTube, and Facebook took decisions opposite to what I’d make regarding open-ness and allowing the public to decide on the content.

It appears that the credo of ‘move fast and break things’ that Facebook had works to grow your business enormously. Leaving the inevitable work to rein in rampant abuse to a time down the road when you’re better equipped financially and experiential-ly to deal with it.

It also appears that the problem with (not) actually doing it that way is also a human psychology one – by the time you’re in a position to need to do something about it you’re focused on other things like growth, marketing, trying to please the investors, trying to appear your best for your IPO.

So the hard work on these issues that needs to get done gets short shrift.

Being tech companies they all seem to think that they can throw tech resources at it to manage the problem better. Better Data to make Better Decisions and Plans. Meaning more code to monitor and analyze human / system interactions. And lately that means an AI.

If you become embroiled in a dispute on YouTube or Amazon you find yourself in a system that doesn’t appear to care that you’re an honest producer / seller / broker because you almost never get to hear from a human. The system can be gamed by those who know how its done and that can be painful for those victims who don’t.

For some reason they seem to be averse to actually deploying more people to handling people problems. Possibly because they are technology oriented rather than people oriented. Even the vanguard ‘social network’ Facebook appears to be using humans in ways that make them appear like replaceable modules. By that I mean they took a while to get around to deploying more humans to monitor content and then didn’t back those staff up with proper support for when they suffered repercussions from what they were exposed to in their jobs.

This article in the Verge “Prime and Punishment” shows how the online marketplace that is Amazon has evolved into a nasty jungle rife with dirty dealing denizens if you’re a seller.

Rivals can engage in dirty tricks, various versions of identity theft of your trademark, product or company name and it can cost you lots of time, money and anguish to fix something that a half hour conversation with a human being could solve.

Considering that this anguish might entail a number of people who work for you losing their jobs and you losing your company this behaviour is problematic at best and dangerous at worst.

If this was a government people could petition to get things changed. They could express their displeasure at the voting booths. Politicians would be bending over backwards to let voters know that they will not stand for this and will do their best to fix it.

Because it’s a commercial concern there’s not much that can be done. You can bitch and complain to Amazon but until a human being hears your plea nothing will get done. Just having reached a human is still not enough to get things changed however. To do that you’d have to get someone high up, like Jeff Bezos, to make changes happen. From everything I’ve heard about Jeff he’s not all that inclined to get involved with human beings with problems. And that’s not likely to change until something comes along that does listen to humans and threatens Amazon’s monopolistic position in the online marketplace.

So don’t hold your breath . . . until that happens you have to daring to bet your future on the dangerous marketplace that Amazon has become. And if you’re thinking of ever running for public office you have to be wary of being daring in your public postings and comments because those have a dangerous way of coming home to roost later on when you least expect them.