Saturday, September 27, 2003

Mars as Bright as Venus

Dear Readers,

I find this poem of John Updike deeply stirring. Sixty thousand years ago, when Mars came close to earth, our world was a very different place. John Updike describes:

Men saw, but did not understand,
the sky a depthless spatter then;
goddess of love and god of war
were inklings in the gut for them.

And now after countless, senseless wars, deaths, destructions amid the constant struggle for love and goodness, the brown star has come so close again, “burning in the east”, while this world of ours twirls in storm of events.

Sixty thousand years from now, when the mars return to our closest proximity, what would be the state of this world? The poet describes the cosmic truth:

Small dry red planet, when you loom
again, this world will be much changed:
our loves and wars, at rest, as one,
and all our atoms rearranged.

“All our atoms rearranged” and “our loves and wars” at rest sixty thousand years from now. A changed world. Will there be any “civilizations” left to seek the beauty of poetry?

Regards,
Mahbubul Karim (Sohel)
September 27, 2003


Mars as Bright as Venus

By JOHN UPDIKE


O brown star burning in the east,
elliptic orbits bring you close;
as close as this no eye has seen
since sixty thousand years ago.

Men saw, but did not understand,
the sky a depthless spatter then;
goddess of love and god of war
were inklings in the gut for them.

Small dry red planet, when you loom
again, this world will be much changed:
our loves and wars, at rest, as one,
and all our atoms rearranged.


New York Times, September 28, 2003

Thursday, September 25, 2003

Reality in the Melting Pot


Dear Readers,

What would it be like being in a nested multiverse simulations, that is similar to Keanu Reeves and Lawrence Fishburne acted movie, The Matrix, the blockbuster hit of the summer?

Paul Davies writes, “In the Tegmark multiverse of all possible worlds, some worlds will have intelligent civilisations with computers powerful enough to create authentic-looking virtual worlds. Like in the movie The Matrix, it may be almost impossible for an observer to know which is the real world and which is a simulation. And if the simulation is good enough, is there any fundamental difference between the two anyway?”

In multiverse theory, all bets are off. “Mathematicians have proved that a universal computing machine can create an artificial world that is itself capable of simulating its own world, and so on ad infinitum. In other words, simulations nest inside simulations inside simulations ... Because fake worlds can outnumber real ones without restriction, the "real" multiverse would inevitably spawn a vastly greater number of virtual multiverses. Indeed, there would be a limitless tower of virtual multiverses, leaving the "real" one swamped in a sea of fakes.”

Paul Davies calls it “Reality in the melting pot” and “there is no reason to believe we are living in anything but a Matrix-style simulation. Science is then reduced to a charade, because the simulators of our world - whoever or whatever they are - can create any pseudo-laws they please, and keep changing them.”

The ending of this article is quite amusing. Mr. Davies points out that the multiverse theory predicts duplicate cosmic regions, including duplicate earths, even the duplicates of you and me and all the others. The writer muses, “So if you are uncomfortable with the multiverse idea, content yourself with the fact that there will be another you out there somewhere who has just read a thoroughly convincing refutation of the entire multiverse concept.”

Regards,
Mahbubul Karim (Sohel)
September 25, 2003


Reality in the melting pot

According to 'multiverse' theorists, life as we know it could be nothing but a Matrix-style simulation

Paul Davies
Tuesday September 23, 2003

Five hundred years ago it was widely believed that the Earth lay at the centre of the universe and mankind was the pinnacle of creation. Then along came Copernicus and showed that our planet was merely one of several orbiting the sun. Since then the lesson of Earth's mediocrity has been reinforced again and again: ours is a typical planet around a typical star in a typical galaxy, of which there exist untold billions.

The Copernican principle - that our location in space is unremarkable - is the default assumption for most scientists. But recently this principle has been challenged by a group of cosmologists who claim that what we have all along been calling "the universe" is nothing of the sort. Rather, it is a tiny fragment of a much vaster and more elaborate system that, for want of a better word, has been dubbed "the multiverse".

The basic idea is simple. Cosmologists think the universe began with a big bang about 14bn years ago. This means we can't see anything farther than 14bn light years away, however good our telescopes may be, because light from those regions hasn't had time to reach us yet. But this doesn't mean there is nothing there, and for decades astronomers supposed that what lies beyond this horizon in space is likely to be more or less the same as we observe in our cosmic backyard - just more galaxies.

Now this assumption is in serious doubt following major developments in fundamental physics. A key premise of the more-of-the-same view of the universe is that the laws of physics are identical everywhere and for all time. But physicists have found that some features of nature thought to be law-like might actually be frozen accidents - properties that were locked in only as the universe cooled from its fiery birth.

Take the mass of the electron. Why does it have the value it does? Well, maybe the mass isn't decided in advance once and for all by some deep law, but just comes out at random, like the throw of a die, in the searing maelstrom of the big bang. In which case, it could come out differently somewhere else. In the same way, the strength of gravity or the number of space dimensions might also vary from place to place.

There is no evidence for any substantial variation in these features out as far as our best telescopes can peer. But that is no guarantee that a trillion light years away it will be the same. Electrons could be heavier there or space might have five dimensions. A God's-eye view of the cosmos would then resemble a patchwork quilt, with a haphazard pattern of properties. What we took to be universal laws of physics would be relegated to mere by-laws, appropriate only to our local "Hubble bubble", while far out in space other "bubbles", possibly generated by other big bangs quite distinct from ours, possess other laws.

Multiverse enthusiasts bolster their claims by pointing to the astonishing bio-friendliness of the universe. It has long been known that the existence of life depends rather sensitively on the exact form of the laws of physics. Change things a bit and life would never have happened. This looks suspiciously flukey, but it can be readily explained by the multiverse. Most of the cosmic patches in the quilt will be sterile, their physics all wrong for making life. Only here and there, in rare patches where all the numbers come out right, will life arise and observers like us evolve to marvel at it all.

History has thus turned full circle. According to the multiverse theory, if you look at Earth's location in space on a grand enough scale, then it does occupy a special and privileged position, namely one that can support life. Like winners in a gigantic cosmic lottery, we find ourselves in a rare bio-friendly patch for the simple reason that we could not exist in any of the bio-hostile ones.

If one accepts recent advances in fundamental physics, then some sort of multiverse seems inevitable. But how far down this slippery slope should one go? Max Tegmark, a cosmologist at the University of Pennsylvania, argues that there is no need to stop with properties like the strengths of forces or the masses of particles. Why not consider all possible mathematical laws? Don't like the law of gravity? No problem. There's a universe out there somewhere with gravity that waxes and wanes in a paisley pattern. Of course, there's nobody there to admire it.

Tegmark's speculation forces us to confront what is perhaps the deepest of all the deep questions of existence: why there is something rather than nothing. There are only two "natural" states of affairs. The first is that nothing exists. The other is that everything exists. The former we can eliminate by observation. So should we conclude that everything exists - all possible worlds? Those who would argue against this position must concede that there is some rule that divides what actually exists from what is merely possible, but not real. But where does that rule come from? And why that rule rather than some other?

These are murky waters, but they get even murkier when we scrutinise what is meant by the words "exist" and "real". In the Tegmark multiverse of all possible worlds, some worlds will have intelligent civilisations with computers powerful enough to create authentic-looking virtual worlds. Like in the movie The Matrix, it may be almost impossible for an observer to know which is the real world and which is a simulation. And if the simulation is good enough, is there any fundamental difference between the two anyway?

It gets worse. Mathematicians have proved that a universal computing machine can create an artificial world that is itself capable of simulating its own world, and so on ad infinitum. In other words, simulations nest inside simulations inside simulations ... Because fake worlds can outnumber real ones without restriction, the "real" multiverse would inevitably spawn a vastly greater number of virtual multiverses. Indeed, there would be a limitless tower of virtual multiverses, leaving the "real" one swamped in a sea of fakes.

So the bottom line is this. Once we go far enough down the multiverse route, all bets are off. Reality goes into the melting pot, and there is no reason to believe we are living in anything but a Matrix-style simulation. Science is then reduced to a charade, because the simulators of our world - whoever or whatever they are - can create any pseudo-laws they please, and keep changing them.

The final twist in this saga is that almost all multiverse theories predict the existence of infinitely many duplicate cosmic regions, including duplicate Earths and duplicate Guardian readers. There will also exist all possible variations on this theme.

So if you are uncomfortable with the multiverse idea, content yourself with the fact that there will be another you out there somewhere who has just read a thoroughly convincing refutation of the entire multiverse concept.

· Paul Davies is a physicist in the Australian Centre for Astrobiology at Macquarie University, Sydney. His latest book is The Origin of Life, published by Penguin.
Economic Woes and 9/11


Dear Readers,

For the last two years we all have been hearing the catastrophic effects of September 11 attack on economy. Particularly, Republicans are all embracing when they come to explain the not-so-good economy under Bush policy. Lee Price, who is the director of Research at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington D.C., writes that the terrorists’ revolting goal of disrupting American economy by their murderous acts, is failed. He writes, “it’s hard to find an economic indicator that supports the notion that today’s economic troubles can be properly explained as the backwash from 9/11. That claim simply does not withstand close scrutiny. While pockets of the U.S. economy remain worse off as a result of 9/11, the net effect on total GDP today is negligible and may well be positive.”

Perhaps we provide unnecessary satisfaction to the terrorists and their sympathizers by linking today’s economic trouble with September 11 attacks. And the most conservative politicians use it to divert our attention from the real issues behind the economic woes.

Regards,
Mahbubul Karim (Sohel)
September 25, 2003



Don’t Blame the Economy on 9/11

By Lee Price

The notion that a large part of our current economic woes is attributable to the attacks and aftermath of September 11 has become almost an article of faith for many policy makers and commentators. It’s been repeated so often, rarely questioned, that it has begun to feel like established fact. The sky is blue, and the attacks of 9/11 sent our economy into a tailspin that we are still struggling to pull out of. Reasonable people can argue about whether the sky is really blue. But it’s hard to find an economic indicator that supports the notion that today’s economic troubles can be properly explained as the backwash from 9/11. That claim simply does not withstand close scrutiny. While pockets of the U.S. economy remain worse off as a result of 9/11, the net effect on total GDP today is negligible and may well be positive.

For the last three years, we have had a substantial rise in both unemployment and idle equipment. At times like these, the biggest constraint on total output is a shortage of demand for the goods and services businesses offer. In fact, September 11 has actually boosted demand by causing both government and business to spend more on security than they otherwise would have.

Don’t get me wrong. There can be no doubt that the economy was thrown for a loop by the attacks on September 11. But it was a short-lived loop. Retail sales, travel, and the financial markets were put on hold for a number of days. Within a couple of months, however, retail sales had moved back on the strong growth trend that had preceded September 11. The stock market was closed for a period and took an immediate dive after reopening. Within a couple of months, however, the major indexes all soared past their September 10 levels.

September 11 depressed leisure travel for several months longer and caused some shift away from some destinations (such as New York) and toward others. By today, leisure travel has largely overcome the effects of September 11, with some locations gaining at the expense of others.

Businesses have not resumed traveling to the same extent as before September 11. Since much earlier in 2001, businesses have been reining in travel to keep down expenses and raise profits – the same reason that explains business caution in hiring and investment for the last two-and-a-half years. The added hassle of tighter security plays only a marginal role in explaining lower business travel.

Two years later, the nation still feels traumatized but has largely overcome the economic aftershocks of 9/11. Because of that trauma, we are spending more on security. As a result, our economic output is no lower today because of 9/11 and it may well be higher than it otherwise would have been.

One cautionary note is in order, however: 9/11’s effect on GDP could turn negative in the future as the labor force and productive capacity become more fully employed. At that point, diverting more resources into security would reduce new investment, slow additions to our productive capacity, and retard GDP growth. We remain far from that situation today, however.

After the attacks, policy makers from the President on down exhorted the American people to continue to live their lives and go about their daily business – with added care and vigilance, to be sure, but without yielding to fear. They said that to do anything else would be to hand victory to the terrorists, who wanted the blows they struck to resonate through the economy. Two years later, it seems that the people took that advice to heart. Although the current economic picture is not as strong as any of us would like to see it, the people did not succumb to fear and the impact of the acts of terror on the economy have faded.


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Lee Price is Director of Research at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C.

Published in EPI, September 11, 2003

Saturday, September 13, 2003

Is Free Trade War?

Dear MuktoChinta Readers,

How plausible it is that Naomi Klein’s opinion might be true? If she is then the world is indeed in great mess more than we can imagine.

Yes, there are pro and cons on the volatile issue of globalization. Thousands of anti-globalization protesters are trying to make aware of the invisible issues, buried under the hodgepodge of tanks and missiles, in Middle East and in other parts of the world. Where the poor can’t even afford the basic amenities, like water, IMF is demanding price hike, making water, the lifeblood of human civilization, like ordinary commodity.

If you have money, you can buy honey; if not, get lost.

In this case, without water, without drinkable water within people’s affordability, millions and millions will perish in the countryside where there are no spectacular “shock and awe” kinds of televised events getting unfold.

Perhaps all the world events, the gravely disturbing ones are occurring due to the invisible and underlying economic interests. Rachel Corrie, the twenty three year old brave American heart, who understood it with her dear life, crushed underneath the rotating demolishing monster.

Perhaps, it’s not the religious issue, how hard and mighty way they want us to believe. The economic scarcity, the intense desire to distribute the dwindling pies among the favorites, is at the core of the issues here. Dearest Rachel understood that priceless water is getting diverted from the Gaza to flourish Israeli agricultural land while millions of Palestinians lead their miserable life in thirst.

About twenty seven years ago, there was an article published in The Nation by Orlando Letelier. He was the ”former foreign affairs minister in Salvador Allende's overthrown government. Letelier was frustrated with an international community that professed horror at Pinochet's human rights abuses but supported his free-market policies, refusing to see "the brutal force required to achieve these goals. Repression for the majorities and 'economic freedom' for small privileged groups are in Chile two sides of the same coin." Less than a month later, Letelier was killed by a car bomb in Washington, DC.”

Terrorism, killings of the innocents, for whatever “justified” or “unjustified” causes, are utterly immoral. Whoever behind senseless murders of ordinary folks, may that be the notorious Al Qaeda, or business attired smiley crooks, pampered by the neocons smattered governments, remain accountable in the humming cries for justice among billions of world citizenry.

And justice surely they deserve.


Regards,
Mahbubul Karim (Sohel)
September 13, 2003


Free Trade Is War

by Naomi Klein

On Monday, seven antiprivatization activists were arrested in Soweto for blocking the installation of prepaid water meters. The meters are a privatized answer to the fact that millions of poor South Africans cannot pay their water bills.

The new gadgets work like pay-as-you-go cell phones, only instead of having a dead phone when you run out of money, you have dead people, sickened by drinking cholera-infested water.

On the same day South Africa's "water warriors" were locked up, Argentina's negotiations with the International Monetary Fund bogged down. The sticking point was rate hikes for privatized utility companies. In a country where 50 percent of the population is living in poverty, the IMF is demanding that multinational water and electricity companies be allowed to increase their rates by a staggering 30 percent.

At trade summits, debates about privatization can seem wonkish and abstract. On the ground, they are as clear and urgent as the right to survive.

After September 11, right-wing pundits couldn't bury the globalization movement fast enough. We were gleefully informed that in times of war, no one would care about frivolous issues like water privatization. Much of the US antiwar movement fell into a related trap: Now was not the time to focus on divisive economic debates, it was time to come together to call for peace.

All this nonsense ends in Cancún this week, when thousands of activists converge to declare that the brutal economic model advanced by the World Trade Organization is itself a form of war.

War because privatization and deregulation kill--by pushing up prices on necessities like water and medicines and pushing down prices on raw commodities like coffee, making small farms unsustainable. War because those who resist and "refuse to disappear," as the Zapatistas say, are routinely arrested, beaten and even killed. War because when this kind of low-intensity repression fails to clear the path to corporate liberation, the real wars begin.

The global antiwar protests that surprised the world on February 15 grew out of the networks built by years of globalization activism, from Indymedia to the World Social Forum. And despite attempts to keep the movements separate, their only future lies in the convergence represented by Cancún. Past movements have tried to fight wars without confronting the economic interests behind them, or to win economic justice without confronting military power. Today's activists, already experts at following the money, aren't making the same mistake.

Take Rachel Corrie. Although she is engraved in our minds as the 23-year-old in an orange jacket with the courage to face down Israeli bulldozers, Corrie had already glimpsed a larger threat looming behind the military hardware. "I think it is counterproductive to only draw attention to crisis points--the demolition of houses, shootings, overt violence," she wrote in one of her last e-mails. "So much of what happens in Rafah is related to this slow elimination of people's ability to survive.... Water, in particular, seems critical and invisible." The 1999 Battle of Seattle was Corrie's first big protest. When she arrived in Gaza, she had already trained herself not only to see the repression on the surface but to dig deeper, to search for the economic interests served by the Israeli attacks. This digging--interrupted by her murder--led Corrie to the wells in nearby settlements, which she suspected of diverting precious water from Gaza to Israeli agricultural land.

Similarly, when Washington started handing out reconstruction contracts in Iraq, veterans of the globalization debate spotted the underlying agenda in the familiar names of deregulation and privatization pushers Bechtel and Halliburton. If these guys are leading the charge, it means Iraq is being sold off, not rebuilt. Even those who opposed the war exclusively for how it was waged (without UN approval, with insufficient evidence that Iraq posed an imminent threat) now cannot help but see why it was waged: to implement the very same policies being protested in Cancún--mass privatization, unrestricted access for multinationals and drastic public-sector cutbacks. As Robert Fisk recently wrote in The Independent, Paul Bremer's uniform says it all: "a business suit and combat boots."

Occupied Iraq is being turned into a twisted laboratory for freebase free-market economics, much as Chile was for Milton Friedman's "Chicago boys" after the 1973 coup. Friedman called it "shock treatment," though, as in Iraq, it was actually armed robbery of the shellshocked.

Speaking of Chile, the Bush Administration has let it be known that if the Cancún meetings fail, it will simply barrel ahead with more bilateral free-trade deals, like the one just signed with Chile. Insignificant in economic terms, the deal's real power is as a wedge: Already, Washington is using it to bully Brazil and Argentina into supporting the Free Trade Area of the Americas or risk being left behind.

Thirty years have passed since that other September 11, when Gen. Augusto Pinochet, with the help of the CIA, brought the free market to Chile "with blood and fire," as they say in Latin America. That terror is paying dividends to this day: The left never recovered, and Chile remains the most pliant country in the region, willing to do Washington's bidding even as its neighbors reject neoliberalism at the ballot box and on the streets.

In August 1976, an article appeared in this magazine written by Orlando Letelier, former foreign affairs minister in Salvador Allende's overthrown government. Letelier was frustrated with an international community that professed horror at Pinochet's human rights abuses but supported his free-market policies, refusing to see "the brutal force required to achieve these goals. Repression for the majorities and 'economic freedom' for small privileged groups are in Chile two sides of the same coin." Less than a month later, Letelier was killed by a car bomb in Washington, DC.

The greatest enemies of terror never lose sight of the economic interests served by violence, or the violence of capitalism itself. Letelier understood that. So did Rachel Corrie. As our movements converge in Cancún, so must we.


The Nation, September 12, 2003