Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.
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  1. Departing thoughts on 2020 (and the first two  decades of the twenty-first century)
    • Evolution by natural selection is a fact even though many people prefer to believe it is not. Nature does not care what you and I believe or do not believe.
    • The original hypothesis was first published (to the public) by Charles Darwin on 1859-11-24 in his book On the Origin of Species but numerous experiments over 161 years have promoted this hypothesis into a confirmed theory.
    • Five years later in 1864, the familiar phrase Survival of the Fittest was first used by biologist Herbert Spencer in his book Principles of Biology
    • The increasing volume of white noise since 1995:
      • Since the dawn of the twenty-first century twenty years ago, I have heard an increasing volume of medical and scientific nonsense from non-experts on both sides of the political spectrum.
      • Recent conspiracy theories like the one claiming that "COVID-19 is a Chinese military weapon" are just as absurd as paranoid utterances we associate with "vaccine hesitancy" or "that 9/11 was an inside job"
        comment: vaccination is probably the single largest life-saving human invention ever created. Ask yourself "when was the last time you saw children wearing leg braces after the ravages of polio?" because when I was growing up in the 1950s every public school had a least one. 
      • "I believe" the internet is partly to blame since it can spray conspiracy theories, both scientific and political, directly into the brains of people with no working Baloney Filter (never learned critical thinking)
      • On top of that, politically biased cable news programs hosted by attractive young women (to get higher ratings) have actually convinced many people that traditional newspapers are not to be believed (those programs use the phrase MAIN STREAM MEDIA which can be used to easily dismiss anything you do not agree with.
      • Things have gotten so bad, that when newspapers published photographs of New York hospitals with 18-wheel truck trailers being used as makeshift morgues to support the spike in COVID-19 deaths, many claimed the photos were faked to support some sort of liberal conspiracy. And all this got me thinking...
    • We now live in an age of Survival of the Smartest. (or smartest + fittest)
      • If you dismiss some information because it was published by the MAIN STREAM MEDIA rather than your favorite politically-biased news outlet then you will probably die sooner (you will go to your grave knowing you were "politically right" but you will also be "dead wrong")
      • If your idea of doing research is "looking up stuff on the internet" then you will probably die sooner
      • If you have a limited education but think you are smarter than scientists and doctors who have more (and were trained to think critically) then you will probably die sooner
      • If you ignore expert advice on any topic (eg. you will not eat less sugar, you will not reduce the consumption of alcohol or tobacco, you will not exercise more, you will not get vaccinated, you will not where a face mask until this mess is over) then you will probably die sooner
    Comment: The internet was designed and developed by academics (scientists and engineers) who wanted to provide other academics with the free flow of valuable information. These people probably never guessed that the internet would be used to "allow crazy people to reach out to other crazy people" or to "promote conspiracy theories which were previously only found in tabloid publications sold at super-market checkout lines". 
  2. Jupiter Saturn conjunction: How to see the 'Christmas star' of 2020
    Get ready for 21 December 2020, when the "great conjunction" of Jupiter and Saturn brings them closest in the night sky since 1623.
    This month, stargazers across the world will be treated to an event that only happens once every 19.6 years, on average. On 21 December, Jupiter and Saturn will appear in the same place in the night sky in an event called a great conjunction. These two so-called gas giants of our solar system, which are usually bright enough to see with the naked eye even from the light-polluted heart of a city, will align, as seen from Earth, to look like one extremely bright planet. This year, the pair will be just 0.1 degrees apart in the sky, making it the closest such event since 1623. For reference, the diameter of the full moon in the sky spans around 0.5 degrees as we see it from Earth. The next time these planets will be visible this close together in the night sky will be the year 2080. Jupiter and Saturn are the most distant of the planets that can be seen easily with the naked eye. Uranus is only visible this way in particularly dark skies, and you always need binoculars or a telescope to see Neptune. Because Jupiter and Saturn are the furthest from the sun of all the naked-eye planets, they orbit the slowest. It takes almost 30 years for Saturn to do a lap of the sun, while Jupiter takes about 12. This is why conjunctions between the two are the rarest of those between all the easily visible planets.
    Continued here: www.newscientist.com
    comment: This very-close conjunction where the two planets appear as one star happens (approximately) every 400 years -AND- is the most plausible explanation for the Christian cultural meme "Star of Bethlehem" of 7 BC. Look to the South-West as the sun goes down over the next 30-days to see them separate (the maximum conjunction was on Dec-21). What you see in the South-East at sunrise is Venus. The Jupiter-Saturn combo do not rise until 10:12 AM which means they will not be visible.
  3. THE EXPANSE (season 5)
    • the first three episodes of season-5 will begin showing on Tuesday Dec-15 at Amazon Prime Video
    • one new episode will be released each Wednesday week starting on Dec-23
    • the will continue until Wednesday Feb-3 with the release of episode 10
    • seasons 1-4 are always available


  4. China is starting of a new era of lunar exploration (and space exploration?)
    When it comes to space exploration, China has long taken third place. The cold war’s space race saw the US and the Soviet Union vying for firsts – satellite, human in orbit, landing on the moon – and left few records for China to claim. That changed last year, when its uncrewed Chang’e 4 spacecraft made the first landing on the far side of the moon. Among other experiments, it contained a “lunar garden” of seedlings that went on to host the first plants (that we know of) to germinate on another world. The Chang’e missions, named after the Chinese goddess of the moon, have seen the country orbit, land and rove – all important, but fairly common. But Chang’e 5, launched this week, is attempting something that hasn’t been done in more than 40 years – bringing moon rocks back to Earth. Continued here: www.newscientist.com
  5. Neil deGrasse Tyson on Coronavirus, Climate Change, War & Space Exploration

    On this episode of Going Underground, we speak to world-renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. He discusses what the United States and many European countries have gotten wrong in their Coronavirus response, the politicisation of science and the damage it has done to effectively fighting Coronavirus, opportunities and hurdles in fighting climate change, how militarisation and warfare have always been linked to advances in science and technology, how war is not just an American but human disease, why China will be the first to hear from aliens if they contact us, the future of space exploration and much more!

  6. War or Peace? Officially, NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization of 1949) requires member countries to spend 1% of their annual GDP to purchase military arms for themselves so they will be able to contribute to "collective self defense" (the original threat was Joseph Stalin and the USSR). Despite the fact that the USSR ceased to exist in 1991, NATO members in 2014 agreed to increase spending to 2% of GDP by 2024. Meanwhile, the EU (European Union) requires that member countries contribute 2% of GDP to peaceful R&D (Research and Development) and this got me thinking:
    One organization supports the creation of weapons of defense (which are also used offensively through 'arms sales' to third parties) while the other is committed to the peaceful exploration and sharing of scientific knowledge.
    I think it is safe to say that military spending shifts the emphasis from "R" to "D" but people today forget that World War 2 was won by the countries with the smartest research scientists. Everyone knows that creation is more difficult than destruction but most rational people would agree it is worth the effort.

    1. the combined military spending of all NATO members constitutes over 70% of the global total and many people wonder if this is desirable or sustainable.
    2. the USA and Canada also contribute to NORAD (North American Air Defense)
    3. recent NATO problems:
      1. NATO was used to take down Libya in 2011 (then, the most economically rich country in Africa). This triggered in the migrant crisis in Europe (another example of Karma if you ask me)
      2. NATO was implicated in the problems in Ukraine in 2013 when it appeared that Ukraine would become a NATO member.
      3. Witness the recent aggressive action of NATO member "Turkey" against the Syrian Kurds. NATO is meant to support a collective self defense but should NATO countries support a NATO member that "starts a war"?
      4. Britain and France (both NATO members) seem content to manufacture, then sell, arms to countries throughout the middle east
    4. NATO members in 2014 agreed to increase spending to 2% of GDP by 2024 but this was a reaction to 2013 problems in Ukraine/Crimea which we now know were triggered by NATO
    5. It was presidential candidate Donald J Trump who, in March 2016, declared NATO as expensive while obsolete. Perhaps now is the time to get rid of it.
  7. COVID-19 Death Numbers: Since the human population is quite large (7.8 billion for planet Earth; hundreds of millions for various large countries), deaths are statistically predictable from year-to-year. So when a pandemic strikes, statisticians will project "excess deaths" by subtracting "expected deaths" from "actual deaths". From this subset scientists will apply perform sampling measurements to determine the how many of deaths were due to COVID-19. American numbers from here ( https://www.bmj.com/content/371/bmj.m3948 ) show the "excess deaths" number at 225,000 over 120 days which results in an average of 1,875 deaths per day. It is "estimated" that two-thirds were due to COVID-19 which translates into 1,250 deaths per day.
    Stats Links:
    Date American COVID-19
    Deaths 'per day'
    Nov-20 2,000 reported by BBC; This is a little higher than the raw 120-day average
    Dec-03 2,500 reported by NYT;  This number is a lot higher than the raw 120-day average
    Dec-05 2,700 reported by NPR; This number is a lot higher than the raw 120-day average
    Dec-08 3,100 reported by NPR; This is higher than the deaths caused by the 9/11 attack(s)
    Dec-17 3,700 source: Johns Hopkins University (higher than 9/11)
    Dec-30 3,860 source: Johns Hopkins University (higher than 9/11)
    Jan-8 4,100 source: Johns Hopkins and NYT (1,100 higher than 9/11)
    Jan-12 4,400 source: Johns Hopkins and NYT (1,400 higher than 9/11)
    • The rise in death rates is a direct consequence of Americans ignoring advice given by professional health professionals (scientists, doctors, nurses) over "Thanksgiving Holiday" week which includes the "Black Friday" shopping ritual on Nov-27.
    • Folks, wearing a mask in public will attenuate viral transmission. Especially over the "Christmas - New Year" break.
    • While the 9/11 attack(s) were a cultural shock to most Westerners (and they vowed revenge) that last number means that Americans are experiencing the equivalent of a 9/11 attack every day and yet many claim it is fake news
  8. It is Ottawa, not Beijing, which initiated "hostage diplomacy". (triggered when Canada backed Donald Trump's illegal sanctions against Iran which Huawei legally ignored)
    As a former member of the Canadian Forces, I’m appalled by Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan’s lack of judgment. On Oct. 7, 2020, during a widely-reported panel discussion hosted by Slovakian think tank Globesec, he claimed that China was engaged in “hostage diplomacy.” It’s frightening that the minister cannot distinguish between the actions of his own government and those of China. I wish to remind him that, on Dec. 1, 2018, his government acted upon a request of the Trump Administration to arrest Meng Wanzhou, CFO, Huawei Technologies. The U.S. indictment was approved by a New York State Court on Aug. 22, 2018, and the U.S. tried unsuccessfully following that date to pressure dozens of countries, through which Meng travelled, to arrest her. Every single country refused until Meng arrived in Vancouver on Dec. 1, 2018, and Trudeau slavishly acceded to the “urgent” U.S. extradition request. Developments following Meng’s arrest confirm her arrest was politically motivated. On Dec. 6, 2018, Trump declared he might release Meng if he secured a favourable trade deal with China. He also told John Bolton that Meng was “a bargaining chip” in his trade negotiations with China. In fact, in “The Room Where it Happened,” Bolton reveals that Trump privately gave Meng Wanzhou the nickname, “the Ivanka Trump of China,” a moniker indicating Trump understood he was asking Canada to take a high-value hostage in the person of Meng Wanzhou to be leveraged against the People’s Republic to get a trade deal favourable to the U.S.A. So, it was the Trudeau government, which first initiated “hostage diplomacy” in relation to China. Following the arrest of Meng, the Chinese government arrested Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig on espionage charges. While I have no opinion on the justifiability of the charges against the Two Michaels, I believe the fraud charges against Meng are unwarranted. After all, they arise from Huawei’s alleged dealings with Iran, in violation of U.S. unilateral sanctions against that country. In the first place, the U.S. unilateral economic sanctions against Iran are illegal. According to the UN Charter, only the UN Security Council has the authority to impose coercive economic measures against member states. And all those UN-approved measures against Iran were lifted in the JCPOA (Iran Nuclear Agreement) which came into effect in 2016. When Trump abrogated that agreement in 2018 to the chagrin of the entire world, Trudeau’s government also expressed regret. It stated it hoped that the other parties to the JCPOA would continue to honour its provisions. In effect, then, Meng, a Canadian permanent resident, has violated no Canadian law. She’s being held under house arrest by the Trudeau government for violating a U.S. sanctions regime on Iran that no other country in the world recognizes. This bizarre situation is termed U.S. “extraterritoriality,” where the U. S tries to enforce its domestic laws on other countries. Canada should not play along! The arrest and extradition proceeding against Meng have contributed to deteriorating Canada-China relations. At various times following Meng’s arrest, China, which is Canada’s second-largest trading partner, banned importation of Canadian canola, pork, and lobsters. Since livelihoods of thousands of Canadian farmers and fishers depend on the export of these products to China, they were severely affected. Thirty per cent of Canadian exports go to China, but Canadian exports only account for less than 2 per cent of China’s imports. So the potential of even more harm is possible. In addition, the promising Chinese-Canadian collaboration on a COVID-19 vaccine collapsed. Canada and its people paid dearly so far and gained nothing from the Trudeau government’s decision to hold Meng as a hostage for the U.S. in its trade negotiations with China.
    Henry Evans-Tenbrinke (2020-10-16)
  9. Julian Assange. There are a lot of things to dislike about him but that does not mean anyone should cheer his current treatment in a British court. Why did the judge bar NGOs, like Amnesty International, from covering this spectacle while limiting the number of public spectators to 5? And why are witnesses for the prosecution not allowed to be cross examined while this luxury is not afforded to witnesses for the defence? And why are big newspapers like the New York Times and Washington Post (to only name two of many) not covering of this travesty of justice?
    On Contact: Chris Hedges interviews Craig Murray
  10. My Two Cents Worth on "America, China and COVID-19" :: Any person, politician or not, who claims that China created COVID-19 or manipulated the COVID crisis to create an economic advantage for China is either deranged or deluded. Were mistakes made by lower level officials in Wuhan? Definitely. But errors happened, not because the decision makers were Chinese, but because they were human. The fact that China published the genetic sequence within four weeks at the end of January surely has to count for something positive. As I type this, the COVID-19 death count in the USA has passed 196,000 397,000 lookup and some stuff I'm reading/hearing/watching sounds like the USA is heading into a cold-war with China. The problem with cold wars is that they can accidently escalate into hot wars (the Spanish American War and the Vietnam War immediately spring to mind).
  11. Commenting on Huawei: It appears to me that people in the west only support capitalism when the west wins. When a Chinese company, like Huawei, becomes the next Nortel, then ridiculous conspiracy theories are invoked. IIRC, Huawei was one of many companies that bid on the sale of intellectual property, as did Apple, Google, Blackberry and others. Huawei was not one of the winners which forced it to increase its own R&D operations (estimates put Huawei R&D in 2019 at a massive 40% of net income). People claim that Huawei steals IP (intellectual property) so how is it that many industry experts agree that Huawei is 19-24 months ahead of everyone else on 5G. Anyway, western companies continually accuse each other of IP theft (look at the number of times that Apple is in court for stealing IP from Broadcom and Qualcomm). Other western companies are no better (Apple has sued Google; Facebook is currently suing Google). The CEOs of these western companies justify this by saying "this is just the way business in done".

    On a related note, Huawei telephone hardware is nothing more than a special-purpose programmable computer made in China which is almost always installed along with a CISCO firewall. Firewall transactions are almost always logged and monitored so someone would need to show me proof that data packets were seen going back to China (or show how packets could flow from China back to the west for any nefarious purpose). On top of all that, Apple manufactures their equipment at Foxconn in China. This is the same place where Microsoft manufactures the Xbox One and Sony manufacturers the PlayStation4. HP desktops are manufactured by Megatron in China. So why is Huawei being singled out? Shouldn't Trump block the imports of all these companies as well? Heck, many of these consumer and small business appliances are seldomly protected by firewalls.

    I think it was Deng Xiaoping who once said "The Middle East has its oil, China has rare earth". Since modern electronics is dependent upon rare-earth materials then it should be no surprise that Chinese-made electronics is much less expensive. Speaking of Deng for a moment, in 1985 I was attending school in Boston where it appeared to me that Chinese students were everywhere. Apparently, Deng had sent 1.3 million Chinese students to the USA to receive a top-quality western education paid for by China (one of my more-gifted Chinese classmates was accompanied by "two minders" who were there to ensure that he returned to China). Unlike Mao, Deng saw great value in education and realized that this was the best way forward for China. Thirty five years later, China has moved more than 350 million Chinese citizens from poverty into the middle class. This number is greater than the current population of the USA so is it any surprise that China is doing well? Meanwhile, there is a tendancy amongst westerners to label "an educated person" as "an elite". It seems to me that the world has flipped.
  12. Now here's a smart idea. The European Parliament (EU) just voted to end daylight savings time in 2021
    The main reason given was that Europe's closest trading partners, China and Russia, do not shift their numerous number of time zones, and having Europe change its clocks twice annually was bad for business between all. But as a computer programmer and system admin, I can tell you that not having your computer systems change their internal clocks is a huge advantage.
  13. Our culture is awash in lies, dominated by streams of never ending electronic hallucinations that merge fact and fiction until they are indistinguishable.  We have become the most illusioned society on earth.  Politics is a species of endless and meaningless political theater.  Politicians have morphed into celebrities.  Our two ruling parties are, in reality, one party - the corporate party.  And those who attempt to puncture this vast, breathless universe of fake news, designed to push through the cruelty and exploitation of the neoliberal order, are pushed so far to the margins of society, including by a public broadcasting system that has sold its soul for corporate money, that we might as well be mice squeaking against an avalanche, but squeak we MUST
  14. A conservative friend of mine was fond of asking me political questions (I am a centrist) then would cut me off mid-sentence before I finished answering because he did not value my (just beginning) response. Apparently he was the only conservative amongst his family of brothers, sisters and parents but had no problem thinking he was right while they were wrong. How could this be? This thought rattled around in my mind until I stumbled across a book titled The Republican Brain which was positively reviewed by liberals and conservatives alike. The book contains several points which I will pass along here:
    • Size differences in two brain structures, the amygdala (larger in conservatives) and the anterior cingulate (larger in liberals), bias human perspective of the world. Therefore ...
    • Conservatives see most issues as "black and white" while liberals see "shades of gray"
    • Conservatives play politics as a team sport so will almost always "vote their party" while Liberals will split their vote choosing alternate parties (now you know how Trump got in)
    • Conservatives (larger amygdala) are more fearful of others so are more easily encouraged to vote for POPULIST issues like "building the wall" or BREXIT (funny point: Britain had the lowest number of Syrian immigrants but apparently the highest political reaction against them)
    • Since conservatives only see things as black and white, they try (and sometimes succeed) in converting liberals over to their way of voting. It seems to me that the reverse never happens
Continued here: Index Part-2 (more sciency, while less newsworthy, stuff)

"2001: A Space Odyssey"
A mysterious monolith awakens the imagination of humanity's distant ancestors.
A second monolith awaits humanity's giant leap to the moon. And in orbit around Jupiter,
a third monolith beckons humanity to transcend beyond the limits of of body and machine.
Click: 2001: A Space Odyssey @ Wikipedia

"a Feynman Diagram"
Feynman Diagram (animated) Feynman Diagram (static)
"All forces in the universe are mediated by particle exchange"
This "Feynman Diagram" (of electron repulsion) depicts the movement of two electrons (1 to 3 and 2 to 4) in space and time. A virtual photon transfers energy between them (5 to 6) causing them to repel each other.
To learn more:
1) brief explanation
2) detailed explanation
Legend: Y-Axis (up-down) is time while X-Axis (left-right) is space

Neil Rieck
Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

Yes, this is the old "Laptops and Lederhosen" site


  • Humanity's coming Dark Age
  • STEM Book Recommendations (Dark Age antidote?)
  • Thomas PaineThomas Paine (1737-1809) wrote about many modern topics including " the importance of the separation between church and state" and " racial equality" (he proposed "abolishing slavery" 100 years before Lincoln). The following three titles are a "must read" for all modern citizens:
  • Adam Smith (1723-1790) was a self titled "moral philosopher" who developed economic theories with the intent of redistributing wealth to workers who were about to be displaced by the industrial revolution. Anyone reading Smith's books will come to the conclusion that American capitalism is based upon a synthesis of Adam Smith and Charles Darwin (survival of the greediest). Many things Americans attribute to Adam Smith are not found in his books (the 'invisible hand' is mentioned only once in a revised edition of WoN). What would he think about hedge funds and activist investors?  
  • The $2 Trillion Dollar War by Nobel Prize winner Joseph E Stiglitz
  •   Comparative Anthropology
  • the Enlightenment (my favorite topic)



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