Uranus Is Not A Black Hole
History made! Decades ago, I recall explaining to someone in my patented condescending tone that it is impossible to photograph a Black Hole. Guess what? Once more, I was wrong wrong wrong. Behold, the first photograph of the event horizon around a supermassive Black Hole. This is indeed wondrous:
Had a fun time at the recent Interdisciplinary Student Research Conference on Healthcare in Ottawa. I told the organizers to make me look mean and intimidating. We chose this photo:
At the same event, I was browsing past the posters, scanning the numbers. I usually don’t bother students much about their research, because I figure they’re there for the experience, not to be grilled by some asshole. I noticed one poster with some analyses that I found a touch problematic. I was going to let it pass, when I noticed the name of the co-author…. one Pravin Shukle, MD.
Well, this would not stand! Of course, I had to give this student a hard time. But I was quick to add, that she was faultless. It’s her statistics-unfriendly mentor who is the problem!
Your move, Shukle!
My Epidemiology Book
Is a bestseller again! I don’t know who’s buying it, but keep it up! My dog needs more kibble!
And here he was, at my parents’ house, rooting through his stash of stuff.
The Picard Show
Is going to suck. I’m calling it now. I have reasons to believe this. This is what they should be doing instead:
The Call of Cthulhu
I unlocked a special middle aged achievement this past weekend. I travelled to another city and rented a hotel suite specifically and solely for the purposes of playing a tabletop role-playing game.
Of late, the game of choice in my gaming group has been The Call of Cthulhu, based upon the horror writings of H.P. Lovecraft. I must thank my old high school friend Evan Atwood for having introduced me to this game almost forty years ago.
The thing about playing RPGs in your 40s and 50s is that the scenario is missing that special quality of hiding in your parents’ basement. Now it’s done in hotel suites with champagne, wine, healthy delivered foods, the Internet as a resource, and other modern luxuries.
Add to that the qualities of the players. In our group, there is a professor, an economist, a diplomat, a lawyer, and a soldier. Who needs character sheets; that collection is a solid gaming party as it stands!
Now, I had spent a whole week crafting an intense, globe-spanning adventure featuring time travel, human sacrifice, Jack the Ripper, Nicola Tesla, Sigmund Freud, alien gods and Egyptian mythos. At the last minute, I just couldn’t pull it together. So hours before game play was supposed to commence, I instead bought a commercial module.
And here’s a brief clip of our own RPG group.
This might alienate me from some of my friends. But I have to draw a line here. Lately, it’s become fashionable among many on my side of the political spectrum, the supposedly enlightened and accepting liberal side, to speak casually and dismissively about “white people.” And frankly, I don’t like it.
I know, the scholastic argument is that the interrogation of “whiteness” is not meant to be a demeaning of actual white people, but rather of a set of beliefs, behaviours and dynamics. But I call bullshit. No good can come of this kind of divisiveness, just as no good came of it when the target is non-white people.
Here are some recent news headlines, that casually reference “white people”:
If this gets me thrown out of the club of progressives, then so be it. But I would not accept such reflexive dismissal of “brown people”, “black people” or “turquoise people.” And I will not accept it of white people, either.
We of the Left can’t have it both ways. We can’t claim that there’s no such thing as a “race” anyway, then unapologetically target a supposed race with dismissive language. We can’t demand that we each be judged on the basis of our individual qualities, and not assumed to represent a set of group stereotypes, and then unapologetically make those same assumptions of another group.
And if by “white people”, we mean a certain economic class of mainstream North Americans, then say so, and leave the ethnic/racial component out of it; because I will not accept any kind of formalized racism in my world, regardless of whom the target is.
This trend, to my mind, is even more unacceptable when applied to children. A Facebook group to which I belong, “Angry and Not Angry Teaching Resources“, which is a discussion spot for educators, has of late become ripe with teacher complaints about “white boys” and “white students”, characterizations that go unchallenged. Where is the utility, empathy, fairness and enlightenment in derogatorily complaining about children in terms of their racial groups? This should not be tolerated.
As I mentioned, if this stance means that I’m no longer part of the cool kids’ progressive club, then so be it. The utility of such tribalism has long passed, anyway.
The Greatest Threats
While we hand-wring over what evils “white people” have done, and other largely pointless distractions, I did a little intellectual soul searching this past week. I spoke to some of my smartest friends and tried to distill the true existential crises affecting the modern world.
Now, how you contextualize these crises will depend upon your politics, values, and personal stakes. I had no clear criteria when having these conversations, so all takes were welcome. Three emergent items resulted from this exploration, worthy of deeper thought on my part. And I thought I would share them with you.
(1) Climate Change
Clearly, the greatest issue affecting all of humanity now and for the foreseeable future is Climate Change. Any political conversation that does not eventually consider this factor is, frankly, missing the point, regardless of the original subject matter. Employment, economy, criminal justice, wealth distribution, etc. –all of it will eventually be changed by Climate Change. All other challenges fall by the wayside unless the trend of ecological denuding and the slivering of the biosphere is taken into account.
I am not a nihilist. I actually fall into the Pinker school of optimism, if I look at the available data soberly and objectively. Every measurable trend line, on a global level, is arcing toward progress, happiness, wealth, health, and peace.
But there are at least four failings of this optimistic perspective: (a) these trends are global, not local; much suffering is deepening in specific sectors and geographies and populations; (b) the gap between rich and poor is widening, though even the poor are becoming wealthier, just not as quickly as the wealthy are becoming wealthier; (c) as Eric Weinstein puts it, we need to consider how the “kinetic energy” of war in past epochs is now stored as “potential energy” in this present era of peace (meaning that something is about to burst); and (d) climate change is the great confounder that threatens to flatten the biosphere.
Again, as an optimist I actually see a path forward. Carbon capture technology is here and it is powerful. The rate-limiting steps are two: (a) there is not yet the political will to switch entirely to carbon-neutral economies and to roll out the large carbon capture technologies that are needed to reverse the damage; and (b) we will need to create a trillion-dollar carbon storage and transportation economy to make this happen. But, again, at least there is a path forward to avoid the total collapse of human civilization.
(2) Artificial Intelligence
The world is only now waking up to the awesome power and potential of AI. But I don’t think most people fully realize how quickly and how thoroughly this revolution will overtake us. Machine learning will, within 5-10 years, make many occupations and human functions obsolete. And it ain’t just truck drivers. Skilled workers, well paid professionals, and entire sectors will be erased overnight.
Costs for such things as health care diagnostics and product transportation will fall quickly. The modelling of human behaviour, for the purposes of economic planning, political strategizing, healthcare prediction, drug discovery, psychoanalytics and other purposes, will experience an enormous evolutionary leap forward. But the cost of that will be human disenfranchisement, unemployment, and possibly civic unrest.
Personally, I predict an unemployment rate of 30% in North America by 2035, and maybe higher. Don’t ask me to back that up with any modelling, because I haven’t done it. But crises are coming down the road.
(3) The Rise of China
I probably should not have contextualized this segment as one of “existential threats.” China is not an existential threat. They’re just doing their thing, building their economy and living their lives. But the rise of the new superpower introduces changes to the global order that not enough people are thinking about.
It is my position that the Canadian commitment to NASA’s lunar gateway is slyly a statement that Canada has chosen a side in the coming Cold War with China. And Chinese investment in Africa, while the West neglects that part of the world, is an investment in the next great manufacturing locale. Add to that the impending revolution that is 5G (more commentary coming on that), and the role that Chinese industry plays in laying out the 5G infrastructure, and we see the makings of a new hegemon.
The rise of a Chinese hegemon to replace the American hegemon is fraught with social change for which we might not be adequately prepared. And yet the only people I see discussing this on a regular basis are the accounting nerds on the business news, for only a few minutes every day.
The Chinese arrival is confounded by one very important factor: demographics. The Chinese are an old people, comparable in age distribution to Canada and Western Europe. This means that they are, believe it or not, about to run out of people. Their one-child policy succeeded in reducing population growth; and now they face a demographic cliff that might see them fail to sustain a suitably sized population at the end of this century to maintain their large economic footprint.
Compare that to the Americans, whose country is the fastest growing rich nation in the world. Did you know that? Due to precious immigration, the USA is on track to maintain a healthy population size for many decades to come. China is not traditionally an immigrant destination. How this plays out is anyone’s guess.
What do you think? What are your top three important issues to pay attention to in the next few decades? Leave your comments below.
It’s good to be a vegan. I will post the recent meals below with no description this time. Too many people ask me, incredulously, how I manage to put together a healthy diet, given my various restrictions. It’s easy and it’s fun.
Is That All?
Why not. I leave you with this: