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Friday, October 17, 2014

LIMITS TO LOGIC

I am tired of reading about willfully stupid humans, such as the well education and well accomplished drones at the Language Research Center at Georgia State University. For decades the LRC was mired in intellectual orthodoxy and mediocrity, investigating what you would expect and discovering what you would expect.. Then in 1982 a 2 ½ year old bonobo chimpanzee named Kanzi shattered their comfortable ethos. 
 Using American Sign language, which he had picked up from his mother, Kanzi spontaneously signed “marshmallow” and then “fire”. Given matches and marshmallows by the obliging staff, Kanzi gathered twigs, struck a match (above) and set the wood to burning. Next he jammed a stick into a marshmallow (above), which he then toasted and gleefully ate. What the humans finally learned from this “Noah Chimp-anski” was that language is not about syntax, its about communication. The revelation changed their whole scientific process...for a time.
Long after Kanzi had retired to a farm in Iowa, the humans in Atlanta appear to have fallen back into their academic lethargy, as they recently released a study indicating that apes not only think about food, but they also think about thinking about food. To the humans with degrees this is “metacognation”. As one of the two directors of the experiment explained, “There has been an intense debate in the scientific literature in recent years over whether metacognition is unique to humans.” This was the statement which convinced me that homosapians are still in search of a clue. Why didn't they just ask Kanzi? But what I really want to talk to you about is not apes, but Flouride.
 
Flouride is an isotope of the element Flourine. The nine electrons of Flourine are the hormone ravaged teenager of the periodic table, hungry to share its electrons with any other element.  It took 74 years to purify and isolate Flourine because it bonds with whatever container you put it in, corroding right through it. Even when finally isolated the pale yellow gas desperately bonds to itself – which is why it is called a diatomic. This hunger to mate made Flourine an industrial wunderkind, transferring wanted qualities from one compound to others to others. It is essential for the smelting of metals. It is the F, in CFC, once used in cooling systems. And when you hit the button on a spray can, there's still a good chance the effective material that jets out, is being carried on some isotope of Flourine.
Flouride is one of those isotopes, one electron short of its parent Flourine, making it twice as eager to bond with any available electron, even ones already happily married - as when six atoms of Florine mate with two atoms of hydrogen already bonded to a sodium atom or to a single atom of chloride. And those are the two most common chemicals, hexafluorosilicic acid and hexafluorosilicate, used in water fluoridation in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control, also in Atlanta, calls fluoridation "one of the ten great public health achievements of the 20th century.” And yet there are some humans who call it a government intrusion, and even spreading poison. To which I am inclined to respond by screeching and throwing my poo at them.
Yes, Flouride is toxic. And toxic is always bad. But remember that salt, which is vital to your survival, is made up of sodium and chlorine, both of which are extremely toxic. And drinking salt water will quickly kill you. Fresh water, on the other hand, is good for you, unless you are drowning. Sugar gives you energy, but is toxic to a diabetic. And don't even get me started about peanuts. Toxic is a level of consumption, not an absolute. Flouride is toxic in anything over moderate amounts. But at minimal levels, it is a powerful weapon against tooth decay. Areas in Colorado with naturally occurring Flouride in their drinking water had lower rates of tooth decay, which is how it occurred to medical doctors in the late 19th century to suggest adding Floride to water supplies. And stopping tooth decay turns out to also be a defence against heart attacks. It is a public health measure that costs less than a dollar a year for the average family. But try telling any of that to a libertarian, and you are liable to get a riacin tainted post card from hell. And that is what I really want to talk about – the politics of conspiracy.
Any discussion of American conspiracy theories over the last 100 years, must include a mention of Robert Henry Wineborn Welch, Jr., the North Carolina native who invented the “Sugar Daddy”, a 40 gram hunk of Carmel on a stick, 24 grams of which are sugar. The confection made Mr. Welch very rich, which predisposed him to believe anyone suggesting that sugar caused cavities must be a dirty stinking anti-capitalist. So naturally the political organization which Welch founded, “The John Birch Society”, saw fluoridation of the nation's water supply as a communist mind control plot. Lots of people wanted to believe in that conspiracy. But the only one man made millions propagating the myth was Robert Welch.
Among the 12 acolytes at the first meeting of the JBS, on December 8, 1958, was a chemical engineer from Texas named Fred Koch (above). An admirer of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, Fred was described by a family friend as “a monarch, untouchable.” Just out of college in the 1920's, he had invented a better method for cracking gasoline out of oil. But the big four oil companies drove him out of business in the United States. So Koch moved to Russia, where his built a dozen new oil refineries for Uncle Joe Stalin. While the communists made Fred rich, he also found their regulations restricting. When the Second World War forced him home, he felt much the same way about the U.S. government. Anyone who stood between Fred and what he wanted, which was money, was not merely wrong, they were evil. Fred now saw a communist hiding under every bed, and like his friend Welch, believed Presidents Roosevelt, Truman and even Eisenhower were either communist or had been duped by them..
Fred's son David admitted in 2007, “He was constantly speaking to us children about what was wrong with government.… It’s something I grew up with.” Charles Koch was told, “If you don't make it, you'll be worthless..” Says David Koch, “He could do that sort of thing so effectively." And when the old man died in 1967 while shooting ducks, he left behind a quartet of sons who felt entitled, inferior, cheated and arrogant. As a progressive writer described them, “The two middle brothers, Charles and David, are the crazy ones. The other two, Frederick and William, are the loony ones.”
David and Charles (center and right, above) took control of the family fortune, cutting William (above, left) out of the loop after he heavily invested in coal mines, which have never lived up to the Koch profitability standards. So William began decades of litigation against his two brothers. He sued over his share of a trust fund, over the sale of company stock, over a coin collection. At one point he even dragged their 87 year old mother onto the witness stand just months after she had suffered a stroke. Did I mention that William and David are twins?
If Fred is looking on from Valhalla, he must be proud of David and Charles, especially for the political groups they have founded and funded with more than $200 million, such as Americans For Prosperity, and The Tea Party. They even found a way to make William's erratic coal mine profits more dependable, by funding the global warming conspiracy movement. It was the lesson handed down by Robert Welch and his war against sugar. Many climate change critics are honestly driven, or just honestly stupid. Every “green” project stands the same chance of failure and fraud as any “non-green” business. But the only people profiting from climate change denial are Charles and David Koch. And that is not an accident.
Which brings me back to our cousins the bonobos. Another recent research paper out of Yale and Duke University “discovered” that our fellow primates “exhibit emotional responses to outcomes of their decisions by pouting or throwing angry tantrums when a risk-taking strategy fails to pay off” according to the press release. This research may be worthy of a reward for restating the obvious 
We might ask Kanzi (above) about the Koch brothers, and their risk-taking behavior, but the old boy is now retired on a farm in Des Moines, Iowa. Like Charles and David, Kanzi is the alpha male in his troop, but since bonoboos are matriarchal, his is largely a symbolic role. He spends his time constructing complex sentences complaining about his grandchildren and screwing anybody within reach, just like the Koch brothers. But in the Bonoboo world, screwing each other is a way of reducing tension. In the ethos of the Koch brothers,its a form of aggression. And that is the difference between humans and the less evolved apes. They know something we don't.
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