Saturday, January 12, 2019

The alluring dream of "Central Planning."

== Central Economic Planning ==

Central economic planners generally do it badly, and we know this since the Pharaohs. But Guided Allocation of Resources - or GAR - has improved somewhat, over the centuries. The Soviets used simple accounting tools and firing squads to build massive, primary infrastructure... dams, railroads and steel mills etc. But they were incompetent at the secondary economy... making a refrigerator anyone wanted. The Japanese took computerized skills and capitalist zaibatsu structures and planned their way to great success... that hit a wall in the tertiary economy. The brainy engineers in the Chinese politburo think their shiny AI models can evade any wall. They are probably wrong, but we'll see.

If you find yourself with some time and really want to dive into this, here's my older piece explaining the underlying difference between GAR or "Guided Allocation of Resources," which all but a very few kings engaged in, for 6000 years, commanding from atop... 

...vs. FIBM or "Faith in Blind Markets," which is a libertarian religious dogma in the west that never, ever was verified, because almost all FIBM preachers just want power transfered from the state into the hands of a few thousand corporate oligarchs. In other words... more GAR! Just a lot less diverse or accountable. Seriously, see the point made here

A third path, the one actually prescribed by Adam Smith (he never called for a completely "invisible hand") and used successfully in our recent renaissance, has been Maximized Open-Fair Competition. Only, in order for it to be open and fair, the state has to intervene, at-minimum to prevent inevitable cheating. Also, by investing heavily in education, health, infrastructure and the environment, we raise up the maximum number of poor children out of cauterized-possibility, and thus maximize the utility-availability of competition-ready talent! 

Read that again. Some kinds of socialist interventions -- those that reduce cheating or that raise up the children of the poor -- are competition friendly, according even to the values of Friedrich Hayek and especially Adam Smith. This supplies a pragmatic -- not just moralizing -- justification for at least half of liberalism.

(Any libertarian who questions specific methods of liberal MOFC intervention may be helpful; criticism is valuable and some liberal "programs" really sucked! On the other hand, any who disparages it in principle is not only heartless, but either a fool or a hypocrite, no market-lover, after all.)

And yes, these MOFC interventions to keep competition flat-open-fair, plus generous state investments in R&D, are definitely a form of state planning. Much looser than most forms of GAR and certainly better than the oligarch-loving prescriptions of FIBM. In fact it is the only way to keep the "half-blind" mass-creativity of modern markets alive and vibrant.

The crux: Our system is based on a belief - rooted in our success over 200 years - that you cannot define optimum conditions for an economy, but you can create general attractor states. Example: the existence of any flat-fair-open competition at all is an attractor state that results in vastly more creativity and production…


...but that condition is unstable and critically vulnerable to cheating. Our society achieved a semblance of flat-fair-open competition by intentionally - and with deliberate foresight - altering the boundary conditions of market forces so that fair competitors and not cheaters prosper.

Case in point: the breakup of toxic pools of economic power - like monopolies and duopolies. Anti-trust rules enacted by several generations (under several Roosevelts) were spectacularly effective at limiting cheating and opening up genuine competition. Take the auto industry. With 25+ major car-makers across the globe, competition is genuine and hence, we get better cars for less money, every year. Add in further regulations to incentive emission and efficiency improvements, and one result has been that consumers saved scores of billions at the pump, since the CAFE rules were enacted.
Of course, eliminating all such regulation, especially against toxic concentration of market share, has been among the top goals of cheater-oligarchies, who seek economy-warping power. Above all, the wisdom of the Greatest Generation -- using regulation as a means to keep markets vibrant -- has been relentlessly torn down by the supposed "friends" of competitive enterprise, with the result of skyrocketing wealth disparities and decline in every metric of economic health. 

See how Robert Reich explains the “Monopolization of America.” And be outraged that the Boomers let slide the wisdom of their parents and grandparents (who adored Roosevelts for good reasons.)

Yes, I am libertarian enough to want a light hand! I am also fiercely liberal about eliminating unfairnesses, cheater conspiracies, and the prejudices and poverties that waste talent. Liberal interventions that enable all children to shoot for their potential aren't just moral, they are pragmatic -- any society that wastes talent to poverty or oppression isn't just evil, it is stupid.


And clearly we need the boundary conditions to include incentives and deterrents that account for externalities, like planetary health.


On the other hand, how liberated and healthy-educated young people then sort themselves out to work for (or create) truly competitive companies should be up to them. This is a conversation that the two cousin philosophies - liberalism and libertarianism - could be having! And the top priority of the Murdoch-Putin-Mercer-Koch oligarchy is to prevent those cousins from ever recognizing what they share... a common enemy.

Hence, I feel behooved to veer toward a small but important faction on the American political landscape. One that has been suborned to side with aristocracy. But if they shift, they might make a crucial difference.

== Grab the lapels of those lapel=grabbers... ==

You LIBERTARIANS out there need to to stop imbibing Forbes/Koch-financed propaganda that Republicans are somehow “just enough less-bad” than Democrats in matters of liberty. 

The common aphorism is: “Democrats favor freedom in the bedroom and republicans like freedom in the board-room.” 

Well, yes, if by “freedom” you mean liberating 5000 golf buddies in the CEO-Wallstreet caste to connive in secret, ending free-market competition by creating market-stealing feudal zaibatsus. You must mean that “freedom.” Not the kind that Adam Smith and the Founders fought for and the real Tea Party was all about. (BTW, you Rand followers... ever notice that her novels always portrayed old-boy corporate lords as the real monsters, not pathetic socialists? Try actually paying attention to your patron saint!)

You  freedom-lovers should notice the color of the states who are ending the goddam Drug War. States where who-you-love is nobody’s darn business. States where the attorneys general let you record your police encounters, training cops to shrug it off and act professional. States with open meetings laws for councils and agencies. States where your freedom of information requests are (mostly) not stonewalled. 

Oh, and competitive enterprise always does better under Democrats. Yes, including in "pinko" California and New York. Are you scientifically rational and "objective" enough to look at actual outcomes? I will bet you my house. 

Step outside. Breathe the much cleaner air and tell me that polluters who wreak damage on our commons should not be told to incorporate those costs in their offered goods. Eat some fresh fish caught at piers in downtown Pittsburgh. Now go to the nearby college and test for pollutants you can't smell. Go to the beach with a Ph meter and measure ocean acidification. You nerdy libertarians are supposedly bookish, so which political party is waging open war, not just against science but against every fact-using profession, even the U.S. military officer corps?

Yeah, yeah, you hate campus lefties (I despise the worst SJWs, too.) And you nurse theories about a so-called “deep state.” Sure, five million officers, scientists, teachers, journalists are all in a conspiracy together, secretly agreeing on identical lies. Riiiiiight.  Yet somehow you never cast your eye on those 5000 lords who are working with foreign mafias to restore the feudalism that crushed freedom for 60 centuries… 

...while empowering their cops to smash your camera and maybe your head. Face it, the civil war is back and the same side that made America and ended slavery is now fighting for your very right to live.

== International ==

How to “win the present rivalry with China?” asks Fareed Zakaria. “Were Washington to be more strategic, it would have allied with Europe, Japan and Canada on trade and presented China with a united front, almost guaranteeing that Beijing would have to acquiesce. It would have embraced the Trans-Pacific Partnership as a way to provide Pacific countries an alternative to the Chinese economic system. But in place of a China strategy, we have a series of contradictory initiatives and rhetoric.”

The author continues: “History tells us that if China is indeed now the United States’ main rival for superpower status, the best way to handle such a challenge lies less in tariffs and military threats and more in revitalization at home. The United States prevailed over the Soviet Union not because it waged war in Vietnam or funded the contras in Nicaragua, but because it had a fundamentally more vibrant and productive political-economic model. The Soviet threat pushed the United States to build the interstate highway system, put a man on the moon, and lavishly fund science and technology.”

I agree on all points. But I have also pushed folks in DC to grasp the power and importance of polemics. The PRC cares supremely about the memes absorbed by its people. They rigorously control what may be viewed or browsed. And they counter simmering public resentments with deliberately stoked jingoism, justifying an aggressive international stance and predatory mercantilism with “getting even for colonialism.” 

As it happens, there is a simple polemical way to utterly neutralize that meme. Indeed, the survival of the world might depend on calming that incitement in the best way passible… with one pure and crystal fact.

== And finally... ==

An excellent and insightful essay looking back a century at 1919... as we head toward the next "double-number year"... 2020.

And a reminder of my own observation... that each of the last 4 centuries seemed to "find its theme" during the second decade. Let's hope to turn ours upward, while there's still time.

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Wonders of science

Those of you in the Bay Area, Lord Martin Rees, the Astronomer Royal and one of the most vivid minds on Earth will be giving talks in San Francisco (at the Long Now idea hutch) and in Palo Alto in mid January.

Have you been following the tale of the tiny Chinese spy chips that were inveigled into countless electronic devices then sold to the West?  Fascinating story. Great line: "Two of Elemental’s biggest early clients were the Mormon church, which used the technology to beam sermons to congregations around the world, and the adult film industry, which did not."  (LATE NOTE: Some have cast this story in doubt.)

Of course, aside from some areas in which they are not behaving helpfully to the human enlightenment, there are many more worth cheering! The successful Chang'e-4 mission to the far side/polar region of the moon is cause for celebration by all humankind, and I hope they will prove me wrong about the value of the lunar surface (compared to asteroids.) Alas, the Jade Rabbit rover is solar powered and hence cannot take its assay radar into the permanent shadows where deposits of ice may lurk!

Which leads us to... a science fictional future? China wants to launch satellites to reflect sunlight to Chinese cities at night.

One more reason why SF readers need to help launch TASAT, the memory project about sci fi concepts that might be pertinent to contemporary problems. 

Meanwhile - China won't share samples of its deadly flu virus: "Given that this (Chinese H7N9) flu virus is a potential threat to humanity, not sharing it immediately with the global network of WHO laboratories, like CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], is scandalous."

== Good Stuff ==

 A long floating boom is being towed from San Francisco to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch — an island of trash twice the size of Texas. The Ocean Cleanup, which has raised $35 million in donations to fund the project, including from Salesforce.com chief executive Marc Benioff and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, will deploy 60 free-floating barriers in the Pacific Ocean by 2020. “One of our goals is to remove 50 percent of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in five years.” (Alas, more recent news suggests part of the system may have broken. The ocean is tough.)

Scientists have used CRISPR to reverse the gene defect causing Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) in dogs. DMD is the most common fatal genetic disease in children. 

SapientX makes conversational AI software for the auto industry. Their digital assistants can control primary functions in a car via a conversational voice interface. You can nag your car and become the worst front seat backseat driver!

The arrival of cheap, reliable zinc-air batteries for electrical storage could be a major game changer. 

The breach of coal ash ponds in the hurricane ravaged Carolinas has revived criticism of the Trump administration’s efforts to loosen restrictions on how power plants dispose of the toxic waste. 

A NASA balloon mission has revealed a band of clouds known as PMCs. These “polar meospheric clouds” are thin and wispy, but they might hold clues that could reveal the mechanisms that control turbulence in Earth’s atmosphere. The video offered by this site is truly incredible!  Both gorgeous and explanatory. And it’s not only far-off planetary missions that show how cool we are!

== A sci-roundup ==

“A new evaluation of data from the exoplanet-hunting Kepler Space Telescope and the Gaia mission indicates that many of the known planets may contain as much as 50% water. This is much more than the Earth's 0.02% (by weight) water content.”…. “Scientists have found that many of the 4000 confirmed or candidate exoplanets discovered so far fall into two size categories: those with the planetary radius averaging around 1.5 that of the Earth, and those averaging around 2.5 times the radius of the Earth.”

Now a new model indicates that those exoplanets which have of around 1.5 Earth radii tend to be rocky planets (of typically x5 the mass of the Earth), “while those with a radius of x2.5 Earth radius (with a mass around x10 that of the Earth) are probably water worlds…” …but with very hot, steamy atmospheres. It’s unclear whether organic chemistry would work well in such steamy hothouses.  Read more at Physics.org.

Huzzah for Japan’s Hyabusa 2 mission!  Carefully calibrated approach to the Ryugu asteroid, deployment of two small landers that have already hopped to new positions, gathering data. Let’s do this 100x more times!

Anyone seeking to understand the brilliant, early conceptualists who foresaw some of our era’s wonders should be familiar with names like J.D. Bernal and John Von Neumann and Alan Turing. And especially Vannevar Bush, whose essay “As we may think” shortly after WWII squinted at a future when all people might have access to most of the world’s information. Now a group has brought Bush’s proposed “Memex” system to life and the video is very interesting. Though it would have been good to have it explained that the sound effects were meant to mimic what Bush expected, which was remotely-physically accessing microfilms and mico-fiches.

Amazing BlackFly personal aircraft… though I had a hoax-tickle at the back of my scalp, there’s nothing on Snopes.  Yeah, amazing, though I expect drone grabbers to pick up pods as a more likely final thing. That's what Volkswagen is betting on.

Ion Drive. No, Scotty it’s already a workhorse, out in space. But for flight on Earth? Well, MIT researchers made a drone that manage - barely - to stay aloft using “ion wind”. Which means zero moving parts. 

== Evolution of life ==

Interesting! Dinosaurs evolved during, or immediately before the Late Triassic oxygen low (between 10 to 12%, equivalent to an altitude of 15,000 feet), a time when oxygen was at its lowest value of the last 500 million years. 

There appears to be strong evidence that parasites can sometimes turn “commensal” or beneficial to their victims, as discussed in Heart of the Comet many years ago.

My old Caltech classmate Joe Kirschvink, who has innovated and investigated more varied aspects of life on Earth than anyone I know, has teamed up with RARE EARTH author Peter Ward in A NEW HISTORY OF LIFE, a bold look at recent, radical discoveries that are rewriting some of the known chapters. Joe is the fellow who discovered that there were several “iceball Earth” episodes, just before the spectacular pre-Cambrian explosion of complex living species. He’s also an expert on magnetism in bird and other brains(!) And in one chapter he goes on about how crude mammals are, when it comes to lungs and breathing.  

The history of animal life on Earth repeatedly showed a correlation between atmospheric oxygen and animal diversity as well as body size: times of low oxygen saw, on average, lower diversity and smaller body sizes than times with higher oxygen. … Low oxygen times killed off species (while at the same time stimulating experimentation with new body plans to deal with the bad times.”  Also –  in mid-Cretaceous times the appearance of angiosperms caused a floral revolution, and by the end of the Cretaceous period the flowering plants had largely displaced the conifers that had been the Jurassic dominants.  The rise of angiosperms created more plants, and sparked an insect diversification.  More resources were available in all ecosystems, and this may have been a trigger for diversity as well.  Yet the relationship between oxygen and diversity, and oxygen and body size has played out over and over in many different groups of animals, from insects to fish to reptiles to mammals.  … With a bipedal stance the first dinosaurs overcame the respiratory limitations imposed by Carrier’s Constraint.  The Triassic oxygen low thus triggered the origin of dinosaurs through formation of this new body plan.”

Wow. He goes on to explain that birds supplement lungs with a “plenum” air-sac network that is rooted in their hollow bones (it’s not just for lightness!) allowing them to do efficient “flow-through” breathing. Which I referred to in a couple of my older stories. Now if only we could retrofit innovations from other species! Those dino-bird lungs. Camel kidneys. A bear’s ability to hibernate. Cancer-proofing in mole-rats. The muscle attachment points that make chimps so strong… and so on.  I’d be willing to pay them back with a little brain uplift. Well… except for bears.


== Horizons of Inclusion ==

In an earlier posting, I discussed how one of our society’s biggest projects has been to expand our “horizons of inclusion,” by not only giving full respect to previously excluded human groups, but also expanding this via “otherness” to higher animal species, or AIs, or even ecosystems.  Yet, there is argument within the community seeking such expansion/inclusion! I portray Earth’s councils expanded to include apes and cetaceans, but there are activists who despise this concept, because of the “meddling and pain” it would take, to get there. (I, in turn, assert that they may yet turn out to be seen as the selfish ones refusing to lend a hand, seeking to keep a paternalistic humanity on top, forever.)

These aren’t the only factions!  In a variant on my argument re: "horizons" inclusion of animal species in our concept of "us." Kevin Esvelt  of the MIT Media Lab has yet a third approach. Instead of just saving ecosystems and leaving other species to fight-flee-die in the natural Circle of Life, he observes that life for most wild animals is filled with paranoia, fear and pain, even in a healthy ecosystem. Moreover, millions of animals would not get to exist, if we stopped raising many myriads of them for our use (an argument also made by Temple Grandin.) 

Hence, what Esvelt wants is for us to intervene!  Not my approach -- to daintily uplift a few sub-species to join us as fellow sapients -- but rather, his would act across the whole range of animal life to reduce pain!  To replace death-fear and agony as much as possible. To maximize "hedonic value" across the whole animal kingdom.

Yipe!  What a hubristic ambition!  I've only seen it portrayed once in sci fi, in the very last story of Clifford Simak's compilation epic entitled CITY. 

And finally....

San Diego gallery was charged with selling over a million dollars worth of illicit ivory objects, reminiscent of that scene in EARTH.

If ice ages return, the Dogger Banks between England and Denmark will rise again. Doggerland!

The online science podcast “Smarter Every Day” is pretty terrific. 

Saturday, January 05, 2019

Divisive economics

Let's step away from politics.... till the end of this missive... and look instead at economics:

== Fiscal Management ==

The Evonomics site -- where Adam Smith would post, today -- offers this: Economists Agree: Democratic Presidents are Better at Making Us Rich. Eight Reasons Why.

The difference is stunning and inarguable... an average of 4.4% annual growth vs. a piddling 2.5%... and it has been consistent across 70 years. How to explain it?

The eight hypotheses offered here are interesting and consistent with modern economics. (Which "Supply Side voodoo" is not.) But #7 will resonate with what I have been saying to so-called market conservatives for years:

7. Fiscal Prudence. True conservatives pay their bills. From the 35 years of declining debt after World War II (until 1982), to the years of budget surpluses and declining debt under Bill Clinton, to the radical shrinking of the budget deficit under Obama, Democratic policies demonstrate which party merits the name “fiscal conservatives.”

Now, in fairness, a cogent Republican would answer: "Hey, weren't there Republican Congresses during some of that time?" Yes, and that actually mattered once - during the anno mirabilis year 1995, when Newt Gingrich corralled enough GOP support and negotiated with Bill Clinton to give us both Welfare Reform and the Budget Act. We almost got a third miracle, when the bipartisan Danforth-Kerrey commission proposed a compromise Entitlements Reform package that would have secured our finances for decades while ensuring every American child got health care. 

We know what happened then. Led by Dennis "friend to boys" Hastert, the Murdochian Republicans rendered the Danforth kind extinct, ending all semblance of adult politics in America. (And Newt knuckled under, instead of fighting for America.)

Proof that Clinton, not the GOP, merits credit for the Clinton surplusses is simple. Those surpluses turned red almost overnight in 2001. What changed politically? A shift in the White House, not Congress, Cause-and-effect. Subsequent Republican Congresses were the laziest in U.S. history, passing almost no bills and holding few non-Clinton-aimed hearings, except for eagerly passing Supply Side tax cuts for the uber-rich. But that's another matter.

Alas, this list is incomplete. The best hypothesis for why the economy does better under democrats is left off is my addition:

#9: Under democratic presidents, regulators act to enforce the rule of law. That’s the chief function of the Executive Branch. And when there is a democratic president, his appointees actually try to make the duly legislated laws of the United States function in the best manner intended. 

Yes, there are anecdotal examples of that being a bad thing! But negative in general? Dig it. Across 6000 years, all flat-fair-competitive markets were destroyed by cheaters (mostly feudal lords), until the recent invention of regulatory law... As recommended in Wealth of Nations. As we see in professional sports, you only get competition that is flat and fair when there’s regulation. 

Yes, it is conservative dogma that all regulation’s bad! (On occasion, regulation can be cloying, as with the industry-captured ICC and CAB -- the examples relentlessly cited by Ayn Rand -- which were eliminated by... Democrats.)  But is faithful execution of duly-enacted U.S. regulatory law negative in general? The actual evidence – both from 6000 years and the last 70 or so – suggests that the dogma is just plain wrong.

Oh, see this important Evonomics article, too!  Want to Kill Your Economy? Have MBA Programs Churn out Takers Not Makers". Why has business education failed business?” If we and Russia were truly friends, we’d send them half our MBAs. Both economies would skyrocket!

And this Evonomics piece about Wall Street parasitism. These are the heirs of Adam Smith.

== The ongoing civil war ==

One of our best essayist-historians avows that "The American civil war didn't end. And Trump is a Confederate president." Yes, I've been saying similar things about a resurgent Confederacy for almost two decades. In this case, Rebecca Solnit proposes that we've been fighting the same Civil War for 158 years. Moreover, the Confederacy has now accomplished what it never could in the 1860s, taking Washington. 

Ms. Solnit further ascribes this phenomenon to a broad loathing of modern trends by White Males. (Though, indeed, weren't they a majority of those who fought and died under the Blue, in earlier phases of this conflict?)

Most of you know my version of this is a bit more broad -- that this "civil war" is a clash of culture going back much further, to the 1770s; it ebbs and surges in phases and we are now in Number Eight, a particularly nasty one that could go "hot" as described in Sean Smith's novel "Tears of Abraham." 

We agree (as always) far more than we disagree. Still, as a Social Justice Warrior - albeit a brilliant one - Ms. Solnit can only see this ongoing conflict in terms of racism and sexism. Those certainly play major roles! But as historical psychologists have long known, the deepest undercurrent of confederate culture is romanticism -- a tendency to clutch voluptuously resentful delusions and pledge fealty to a lordly caste. 

In the 1770s that caste was the British monarchy and aristocracy that made Southerners more loyal to the Tory cause, and made them deeply abusive toward the Scots-Irish, deemed as sub-human. In the 1860s it was fealty to plantation lords. Today it is a fast-rising world oligarchy that red (gray-confederate) Americans far-prefer over the Union's favored elites -- men and women of skill and knowledge and productivity and science. That has always been a key divide: meritocratic achievement over inheritance and blood.  Nazism was a notoriously romantic movement.

(An aside, one can understand the Gray Grudge better if you look what happens to small towns every June, after High School graduation, when the best and brightest quickly scurry off to blue universities and cities and all that impudent meritocracy-stuff. This annual trauma has been going on for more than a century, feeding an underlying simmer of hate, as we literally steal their children.)

This is not a zero-sum disagreement with Ms. Solnit. Attributing confederatism to embedded romantic culture does not excuse racism, sexism and all that! My explanation should only strengthen our resistance to this chronic, 250 year-old American affliction. See my earlier missives - Phases of the US Civil War...and about how phase 3 (1852-1860) needs especially to be remembered.

We've both shown that the average American is more likely to act heroically in any emergency, rather than with cowardice. (Solnit's "A Paradise Built In Hell or her latest collection of essays on American crises: Call Them by Their True Names.) I’m enough of a fellow-traveller and ally to be glad she's out there, spreading powerfully true memes. I still think calm generalship and tactics and understanding the enemy will matter, over the long run. But yes, there are occasions when pointed fury is more apropos than mere moderate militance! I am next to you, blue kepi on my head. We need altos and tenors, barritones and sopranos singing the Battle Hymn of the Republic.

== Again, libertarians wise up! ==

I keep reaching out to an intellectual community that some of you dismiss as "hopeless." Because I think it is worthwhile. And so I point to obvious things.

1. Flat-fair-open competition is the greatest creative force in the universe. Sound pretty “libertarian”? Ah, but for all of time, flat-fair-open competition was ruined by a destructive force... cheating. The mighty use their wealth & power to cheat and prevent competition from below, preserving their sons’ privilege to own other peoples’ daughters and sons. Across history this always wrecked the promise. Always.

3. The Enlightenment found a tentative way out of this trap. It gradually improved 5 great competitive arenas, markets, democracy, science, courts and sports.  All are tightly regulated to prevent inevitable cheating. And cheaters innovate! Hence a need for revised or new regulations. Imagine a sporting league without rules or referees, but with massive money rewards at stake. Watch Rollerball. 

3. Liberals tend to frown at the word "competition." Conservatives snarl at "regulation." When it is only Regulated Competition that ever worked! Yes, over-regulation can cloy or get captured. But again, who banished the captured ICC and CAB and broke up AT&T?  Replace GOP with POC… the Party of Cheaters.

4. Meanwhile libertarians have completely abandoned the "c-word" that should be their center... "competition" in favor of “property.”  Ignore that it’s Democrats who are ending the Drug War, who are taking the Law out of your bedrooms. It’s Democrats under whom entrepreneurialism always does better. That’s always. Ask any libertarian and he won’t care about any of that. The goal of Steve Forbes and Rupert Murdoch and the Kochs is to to have them hold their noses and vote Republican, because “the GOP is ‘slightly less bad”. And that’s enough.

Keep these Mensa-type, underachieving nerds ignoring 6000 years of history, Pay for some pizza and some ego-flattering meme-rants and they’ll  trust that the fast-rising conniving cabals of oligarchs won't re-impose the great enemy of freedom — feudalism. This time — we pinkie swear we won’t!. 

Oligarchs are blocked from total power by fact folks and civil servants… so pour hate on those dedicated folks!

Oh, those  5 great competitive arenas, markets, democracy, science, courts and sports?  They all thrive to exactly the extent that all participants can clearly see what's going on. Transparency. All five wither and dies amid clots and cancerous clouds of secrecy.

Rant-mode off!  ;-)

== End to Gerrymandering? ==

It is within range of possibility - one could pray and hope - that John Roberts will decide to personally save America and Western Civilization and all our hopes for an advanced and decent human future. One ruling - this one - could be how his name will echo down time, either like Roger Taney or like Earl Warren, perhaps reversing the cheating that has stolen American democracy.

Yes, one of the worst gerrymanderers is Maryland... one of the last holdouts amid a wave of voter-led reform in Blue States. Watch as Obama and Holder and other top dems file amicus briefs against Maryland democrats, in part because this crime is now MOSTLY a Red cheat, of course. But also because it is an outrageous crime.

How to fix it? Past SCOTUS rulings evaded the issue, saying they could not see a simple remedy. Bull. Almost any nonpartisan commission would eliminate 80% of the travesty. But we now know excellent mathematical metrics to maximize "voter efficiency." Moreover, I have offered a plan that answers every known GOP objection. Unlike all others, it even retains "state legislature sovereignty!" It allows one of each state's three chambers to be gerrymandered and STILL corrects the injustice !


== Miscellaneous thoughts ==

“Today’s (2018) Congress is dominated by party leaders and functions as a junior partner to the executive," according to an analysis by The Washington Post and ProPublica.

On the other hand, the newly elected Congress will be younger, more female and more diverse, than ever before.

Has there been electoral cheating? See my article on Medium: Henchmen: We are watching

Post-election, carry forward your determination to save civilization. Have a look at Lawrence Lessig’s new campaign — to end super-PACS in America.

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

New Years Report - fighting gloom in order to thrive


My friend Martin Rees — The British Astronomer Royal — has long offered insightful views upon not only the sciences, but also the dangers we face rushing into an uncertain future. His new book On the Future: Prospects for Humanity gives even-handed criticism of both cynical denialism and hand-wringing despair, leading you toward the one thing that might save us all and help our children thrive… clearheaded pragmatism, laced with the idealism to believe we can be better. Solutions exist, but they depend upon an openminded willingness to question assumptions and learn from one another.
  
== The Abundance Report ==

Indeed, the worst plague in the world is gloom. It infests large portions of the “left” and lobotomizes almost the entire “right,” undermining the confident,  can-do spirit that has propelled nearly all progress. Know this, only a people who are confident that they can change the world stand any chance of actually changing anything. And "can" only arises when you admit "we already have."

To that end, read an interview with Stephen Pinker about how we are surrounded by good news, leading not to complacency, but a spirit of “I think we can!”

It’s no contradiction to say that we’re extending human life and there are threats: threats of climate change, threats of authoritarian politicians. You can appreciate the threats, worry about the threats, try to fight back against the threats at the same time that you appreciate the progress that we have made.

“I would say that it’s appreciating the progress that gives us the courage and conviction to try to strive for more progress. History tells us that attempts to make the world better tend to succeed. We’ll never achieve a utopia, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make things a little bit better.”

Want some anecdotal evidence?

Inspired in part by the “Tricorder XPrize, a new set of $1 test screens for the presence of a number of diseases like malaria, flu and dengue fever, various types of cancers, and genetic diseases will appreciably contribute to health. And Jimmy Carter's campaign to end the Guinea Worm parasite may reach completion this year..  

The Internet will soon be accessible from all areas of the planet, including rural locations with poor or no network connectivity. The FCC unanimously approved SpaceX’s ambitious plan to launch 7,518 satellites into low-Earth orbit. These satellites, along with 4,425 previously approved satellites, will serve as the backbone for the company’s proposed Starlink broadband network. These new SpaceX satellites will increase the number of active satellites six-fold in less than a decade. And my friends at ViaSat are taking an entirely different approach (massive geosynchronous sats) toward similar ends. Yes, they'll have more latency in voice coms, but most traffic is surfing and you'll never notice the difference. 

And yes, most of these links are brought to you by the Abundance Insider report from Peter Diamandis’s XPrize Foundation (I’m on the Advisory Council.) Get his book Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think! And realize that we have tons of hard work to do, to save the world… but good news is all over the place… suggesting we should be up to the task.

And now something cool. California-based startup Hoversurf is training one of its first customers, the Dubai Police Force, on the 2019 S3 Hoverbike. The vehicle, which can operate with or without a human pilot, weighs 253 lbs, costs $150,000, flies for up to 25 minutes, and can safely fly at an altitude of 16 ft.

== Oh, but the enemies of enlightenment abound ==

“Under the tenure of  Texas Republican Lamar Smith, the House of Representatives Science Committee has held hearing after hearing casting doubt on mainstream climate science, used its subpoena power to harass and intimidate climate scientists, entertained the conspiracy theory that sea level rise is caused by rocks falling into the ocean, and used its Twitter account to blast links to climate change-denying Breitbart articles. Smith, who is not a scientist, has used the veil of authority that chairmanship offers to pen articles imploring the public not to buy into the “hysteria over carbon dioxide” while railing against “climate alarmists” at pro-fossil fuel get-togethers. (He has also accepted hundreds of thousands in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry.)  In short, the House Science Committee has been a dark place for rational discourse on climate change. Sitting on it has been a lonely and frustrating experience for Bill Foster, Congress’s lone scientist (until last night).” - reports Maddie Stone in Gizmodo. These jibbering morons are a cancer on your children's future. Part of a campaign to discredit all fact-using professions. 

Incoming Committee Chair Texas Democrat Eddie Bernice Johnson promises relief  from this monstrous lobotomization of the world’s “greatest deliberative legislature.”   And maybe… after 2020?  A  rebirth for the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) banished by Newt Gingrich for occasionally daring (as faithful-neutral public servants) to say “um, sir, that’s not really true.”

But it’s a long road. The Denialist Cult keeps moving the goal posts. And one way they keep your confed neighbor nodding and hypnotized is by offering dollops of “science” that he learned in Junior High in incantations that let them neutralize any input from actual science

Take the fact that plants consume carbon dioxide in order to grow. That means (according to their latest capering incantation) that nature will flourish if we don’t interfere with coal barons, petro-princes and carbon lords raking in billions from their legacy-corrupt extraction rights!  Never mind that paleontology shows high-CO2 eras featured warm arctic zones… (yay? Ask the US Navy viz the Russians what each one thinks of that)… but also vastly bigger swathes of desert, across the globe.  

You think tundra zones with max one growing season will replace lost temperate zones that had two?  Not for the 10,000 years that it will take, to grow topsoil up there.  Fools.

== It gets worse ==
Oh, my, the depths of crazy have yet to be plumbed. Example: “Autohoaxers” are a movement that reflexively declares every significant event a hoax, sometimes just for argument’s sake. Kind of like Vernor Vinge’s fictional “Friends of Privacy,” who auto-generate more ersatz personas and fake items than can ever be refuted, hence making your “that wasn’t me!” denials seem plausible.
Read about this and other pyrotechnically loony modern manias now orbiting a growing *Flat-Earth Movement*. Yes you read that right. And this is just one caked, pimply crust-symptom of the disease being crammed on us by the spreading War Against Smart People. (Including every single fact-centered profession, from science, teaching and journalism to intel and military and FBI officers.)
One of you suggested “Tell the flat earthers to go to Wal Mart and get a goPro and order a weather balloon and GPS tracker. You don't have to build a rocket to see for yourself. If the Earth were flat, then you'd be able to see the Great Lakes, Atlantic and Pacific from 30 miles above Colorado."
Here’s another truly devastating one: “Soundly Proving the Curvature of the Earth at Lake Pontchartrain.”
Of course my own answer is: “How many people do you think can keep secret a conspiracy? At most fifty? Your premise is that ALL the smart people… hundreds of millions of us… are in on this globe-pushing cabal? Woof!"

Liberals are fools, if they think this is rooted in “economic decay of the white middle class.” That’s happened and needs addressing, as does the nastiest pustule on the right — racism. But those are lipstick on a pig.
Scratch the surface. This is all about an inherent American spite toward authorities or “elites.” We all think one elite or another is conniving against us. Liberals (rightfully) point at those who oppressed us across 99% of 6000 years… owner-feudal lords.
Those oligarchs - uniting in a world-mafia putsch - need a distraction to keep populist masses from recognizing them as the ancient enemy. They have a great one, leveraging and weaponizing hatred toward another elite… smart people who know stuff. And make no mistake, we are the ones confederates truly hate, for “looking down on them.”
Think about it. The knowledge elites are our immune system against errors of the past, like feudalism. And errors of the future, like climate change. They are the people who can see — and prevent — the machinations of those seeking a New Feudalism. (I portrayed this in EXISTENCE.) Hence there is a feral agenda behind the War on All Facts — removing the only obstacle standing in oligarchy’s way. 

And gleefully spitting gas on a fire, now Russian space officials talk about ‘investigating’ whether the Apollo landings actually happened. See a link below. Anything to keep us attacking each other. The chief failure mode of our brilliant enlightenment civilization is auto-immune disease.


== And so... back to saving the world ==

See the “Five Phases of  Climate Denialism.” In fact, you can often hear all five uttered during the same hour, at Fox, even though they are mutually contradictory. “Climate Change is a hoax!” and “Glaciers are advancing!” will be chanted – sometimes in the same hour as “It’s changing but no worries and humans didn’t cause it,” all the way to “It’s a calamity and we caused it, but that doesn’t disqualify our credibility; it just means it’s hopeless to try solving the problem! So leave our parasite moguls alone!”

Now “Trump Administration To Polluters: Earth Is Doomed, So Go Hog Wild.” Yes, one branch of the administration issued a 500 page report admitting what every fact-using or “deep state” professional knows, that human-generated greenhouse gases have us on course for a climate precipice of rising acid seas and catastrophically spreading deserts and vast waves of refugees. 

The monsters' conclusion? That nothing can be done to prevent this now, so why try? – is rightly ridiculed by the appalled-educated half of the nation. (Answer – “You who were wrong about every single statement and forecast up to now… why should we heed you any longer?”)

All of this is deliberate. There is no unified conservative position on anything anymore. Not deficits, or trade, or morality… nor old anchor-standards like divorce or gambling or sexual deviancy or “family values.” Certainly not regarding the health of flat-fair-open entrepreneurial market capitalism. What we have now instead are talking points aimed at various constituencies with one purpose, to keep enough of them inside the fraying Big Tent  for one more election.
== Links galore ==

One of you (Anthony T.) offered up a raft of NYT articles… “on topics Brin has written about.  A bunch of riffs on our interesting times.