Wednesday, March 20, 2019

A "process" matter that is actually life-or-death for the U.S.... and the U.K.

Momentum is building for preferential voting (PV) systems, that let voters rank-order their preferred candidates or outcomes. This option is being forced on the Democratic Party, for example, by their flood of candidates who must be sorted-out in just a couple of 2020 primary months. 

PV -- or rank-choice voting -- would let a state's voters make multiple choices, maybe five in-order, so the election might stumble a bit toward actual consensus, instead of an insipid first-past-the-post that would leave the sane 70% of the country simmering with resentment, instead of enthusiasm.  Below I will talk about efforts to implement PV in the US... and why it's even more important... in Britain.

But first, something you really have to watch.

== The great failure mode of all democracies ==

An amazing video on staggering wealth inequality. Left out... the context of 6000 years, when this was the principle aim of princes. Only the recent enlightenment realized a core truth, that while property is a vital incentive for creative competition... it is inevitably toxic when too-concentrated. (Like any good thing: food, water, air.) When it concentrates too much, human nature rears its ugly head and cheating ensues. (And this is not "left-right"! Communist commisars behave in exactly the same ways as kings, sheiks and zillionaires.)

The video claims that Senator Warren's proposed wealth taxes are new. But I quibble. The American founders seized and redistributed up to 1/3 of all the land in the former colonies in order to stymie feudalism! (And it was feudalism, not 'bureaucrats' who Adam Smith denounced and the Founders rebelled against.) Especially the Greatest generation (see below) found ways to stimulate a vast middle class. 

The rich need to decide whether to follow their smartest peers (Gates, Buffett, Bezos) etc. and keep that social contract. It can be done without pitchforks and torches, tumbrels and guillotines. But there isn't much time.
== Democrats, this "mere process" means survival  ==

Lawrence Lessig and Equal citizen ran a campaign to bring ranked choice voting (RC) to the New Hampshire presidential primary. And it's on the verge of succeeding, with your help. RC voting - or preferential balloting - has been used by us super-wise and forward-thinking science fiction folks for the Hugo and Nebula awards for four decades and it is standard in Australia and a few other nations. 

RC/PV doesn't always come down to the best candidate. But it will always prevent the worst from happening -- a horrible monster squeaking by with 40%, though hated by a divided 60%. 

This potential reform in Iowa and New Hampshire takes on special importance given the vast field of Democrats attempting to run for president. The present system is simply insane at parsing out front-runners! What? Is a candidate who got a whole 16% the “front-runner” ahead of rivals who got 15%, 14%, 12% and 12%? Does that let a fringe constituency control the divided majority? Democrats could help themselves considerably and us, by arm twisting both of those states into trying a preferential ballot process just for that DP primary, to see how it goes.

BTW, Lessig will give the conference keynote at the Future of the Open Web conference n Friday, May 17,at the Hyatt Regency San Francisco hotel. 

Oh, as an aside: this article told about a similar time – 80 years ago - when an "American populist" threw giant rallies - under superficial patriotism - actually boosted the interests of foreign fascist plotters and divisive hate. "When Nazis Took Manhattan: In 1939, an event at Madison Square Garden was billed as a "Pro-America Rally". It was, in fact, a rally in support of Hitler and fascism." It tells of one brave fellow who infiltrated the rally in New York... as my father did when they threw a similar bund-fest in Chicago. And yes, the parallels with today are creepy. (Especially if you've been watching "The Man In The High Castle.")

While we’re historical… Extra History is one of the best things on YouTube. Quick, animated summaries of past eras that shaped our age. A 6-parter filled in my gaps about Sun Yat-sen and the Chinese Revolution. Another swept me across the end of the samurai era. This one about the Gracchi brothers shows how oligarchy undermined the Roman Republic, which was then torn up by radical populism. It all makes clear how fevered and harsh was "history" and why our present oligarchy plots against the new, modern, grownup ways of doing things.

The animations are way fun, but the narration is so good that I get everything while turning my back to cook or do busywork at the computer.

And now, back to those ranked voting processes that are essential, for democracy to get functional again.

== Perplexidus Albion ==

Regarding Brexit, sure, the blatant next move is for the UK to hold another referendum, with the following in mind:

* The British people were not aware, the first time, that Brexit was powerfully backed by Putin's Kremlin. Guilt-by-association is as valid a point as any other element in this argument.

* Both the Brexiters and the Conservatives know that their political careers are over, if a second referendum cancels the charade. Hence frantic resistance.

* Brexit showed the insipid absurdity of deciding complex issues with binary ballots.

Hence, any second Brexit vote should offer Britons  a multiple choice ballot:

1.  Hard Brexit with no deal.

2. Theresa May's deal.

3. Remain in the EU under the old treaty.

4. Remain providing the EU is willing to negotiate more state sovereignty over residency.

Blatantly, #4 would win the automated runoff, even if millions gave first preference to something else. Moreover, European leaders already know that universal residency mobility was a Bridge Too Far. They are already backpedaling on that and rule-complexity and would signal a willingness to oblige.

Some technologies and solutions are only tried once the old ways have calamitously failed. Preferential referenda weaken Parliament, which deserves it, and will exile a generation of obsolete politicians. That's not a bug, but a feature.

== Ties go deep ==

Trump’s deep Russian ties go at least to when a Putin ally-oligarch in 2013 paid DT $10 million to bring the Miss Universe pageant to Moscow, and many stinking hijinks commenced.

In EARTH (1989) I portrayed a coalition of developing nations finally getting fed-up and declaring war upon the money-laundering mafias – like Zurich and the Caymans and the State of Delaware – that have helped rob trillions from poor populations across the globe. It’s still possible for one – just one – president of a small country to do something epic and historic and transforming, and I could map how. But you should read this article from The Atlantic by Franklin Foer that starts with showing 

Further: “The collapse of communism in the other post-Soviet states, along with China’s turn toward capitalism, only added to the kleptocratic fortunes that were hustled abroad for secret safekeeping. Officials around the world have always looted their countries’ coffers and accumulated bribes. But the globalization of banking made the export of their ill-gotten money far more convenient than it had been—which, of course, inspired more theft. By one estimate, more than $1 trillion now exits the world’s developing countries each year in the forms of laundered money and evaded taxes.”

In effect, this has meant the impoverishment of billions of human beings, higher taxes for you and me, and the outright deaths of tens of millions, making these thugs among the world’s worst outright murderers. And making all of this genuinely a “war.”  See also  British journalist Oliver Bullough’s Moneyland: Why Thieves and Crooks Now Rule the World and How to Take It Back.

Don’t skimp. Read the whole thing! Because there’s items like this, toward the end:

“In her important history, Corruption in America, Zephyr Teachout, a legal scholar and liberal activist, argues that during the country’s first 200 years, courts maintained the Founders’ vigilance against corruption. For a good chunk of American history, a number of states criminalized lobbying in many forms, out of a sense that a loosening of standards would trigger a race to the bottom. That near-phobia now looks quaint, and also prescient. The political culture, the legal culture, the banking culture—so much of the culture of the self-congratulatory meritocratic elite—have long since abandoned such prudish ways.

“The defining document of our era is the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010. The ruling didn’t just legalize anonymous expenditures on political campaigns. It redefined our very idea of what constitutes corruption, limiting it to its most blatant forms: the bribe and the explicit quid pro quo. Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion crystallized an ever more prevalent ethos of indifference—the collective shrug in response to tax avoidance by the rich and by large corporations, the yawn that now greets the millions in dark money spent by invisible billionaires to influence elections.”

It’s not that it’s hopeless. Some real measures happened in 2001 and in 2007. And almost all of this would end – returning tens of trillions of stolen wealth and giving law-abiding citizens a huge tax holiday – if we had one simple, two sentence worldwide law:

“If you own something, say so publicly. Anything not claimed by a living person, government or accountable foundation is abandoned property.”

It is likely that all the world’s outstanding debt, acting as a lamprey on the arteries of all the world’s economies, could be erased by that simple measure, ending the masks and shells and laundering scams, allowing tax rates for all law-abiding citizens to be slashed, everywhere, and erasing most kinds of corruption.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Can Democratic Proposals Win Popular Support?

First, a literary note. A little late, I lift a glass (join me) to Janet Asimov, gifted healer and writer and fierce guardian of Isaac's legacy. Janet and Robin commissioned the Killer Bees (Bear, Benford & Brin) to write the Second Foundation Trilogy and I found her light but firm guidance invaluable in sorting through Isaac's loose plot threads. She kindly expressed happiness with that final result. A treasure, whose 91 years were filled with contributions to the species and the future.
== Another shooter who should be renamed ==
After every mass shooting folks ask again about my 1999 proposal on Salon to remove one of the killers' top incentives ... fame. Or infamy. In this case it was blatant. See my call for the "Erastratos Solution," seizing the perp's most-valued possession - his name - replacing it with "Doofus25" or "tinyprick17." There's no freedom of speech issue, since reference works and Wikipedia will still have footnotes. But any use of the original name in larger than 5pt type would be trademarked by a fund for victims. Let's try it; see if the scum howls! In comments below, offer and argue over your own proposed re-names for the New Zealand monsters. Let's vote. Then let's agree to spread the word.
== Can the democrats pull together a plan? ==

While Kremlin trolls and homegrown idiots try to incite strife within the Democratic Coalition (the "Union" side in this phase of the American Civil War), others are sensibly pointing to reasons why disagreements between left and center should be put off for a while, at least till they run out of areas of vigorous agreement!

It's not that they lack ideas. Moreover, since  both progress and flat-fair-competitive markets do vastly better during Democratic administrations, it is hilarious to watch their opponents -- a party of Kremlin shills -- hurl accusations of "communism!" By every factually supported metric, citizens should be taking torches to the shambling, undead shell of the party of Lincoln. And  yet, for all their vastly-better record at honesty, sincerity and policy smarts, DP pols seem utterly lobotomized when it comes to the art of judo-polemic.

And their priorities suck.  Nothing will be accomplished till politics return to negotiation over facts.

For example, while moderate old curmudgeons like Diane Feinstein demand "how you gonna pay for your Green New Deal?" they miss the point. Such proposals -- e.g. Medicare-For-All, or  Free College -- might rise or fall based on their factual merits, if facts themselves regained their importance at the negotiating table. The Putinist-GOP has made it their central goal to make American politics be about incantations and cheating. We've seen that the monsters and traitors won't lose power till those tricks are defeated. 

Hence top priority should go to:

1 - measures that restore Americans' ability to perceive and compare facts.

2 - measures to eliminate electoral cheating, e.g. as pushed by Lawrence Lessig.

3 - measures to resume the fight against climate change. Yes, former WA Governor Jay Inslee has cleverly focused his campaign on this, but it is still putting the cart before the horse.

Liberals, think. Not a single thing you want will happen without those coming first. And if those come first, you will get a lot of what you want.

Here's why. Because most of the public wants reform! Yet such numbers make no difference on the current playing field: 

"About 75 percent of Americans favor higher taxes for the ultra-wealthy. The idea of a federal law that would guarantee paid maternity leave attracts 67 percent support. Eighty-three percent favor strong net neutrality rules for broadband, and more than 60 percent want stronger privacy laws. Seventy-one percent think we should be able to buy drugs imported from Canada, and 92 percent want Medicare to negotiate for lower drug prices. The list goes on."

Read that important article by Tim Wu in the NYT. But there's more he doesn't mention. Large majorities favor the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. They favor allowing student debt to be refinanced, just like mortgages. They favor ending gerrymandering (and blue state voters have been doing that, already, as it is blues who have been ending the $%%$$! Drug War, you libertarians take note.) 

And if you remind voters of other things the Greatest Generation instituted, like ant-trust laws and vigorous federal R&D, they tend to want those to. Oh, and again, ending the damned Drug War.

Prioritize, dammit! Jay Inslee has made #3 the centerpiece of his campaign for the Democratic nomination. But I am hoping and praying that at some point, someone seeking to stand out from the pack will realize the power of #1 and #2... the pair that are absolutely needed, before anything else can get done.  If you want help crafting #2, talk to Lawrence Lessig and let's all get behind bill HR1...  which won't stand a chance till we tackle issue #1.

There are ways to do that. Some 2nd tier DP candidate should talk to me. 

== The opposition: “socialist” tax rates? ==

Dialing in, polls show that 59 percent of U.S. voters agree with the just-elected 29-year-old Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (AOC) proposal for a 70 percent marginal tax rate on whatever the richest earn above $10 million. 

(Hey, moguls, you won’t have to pay it, if you actually invest in R&D or productive capacity or high velocity industry, the things you claimed Supply Side cuts would get you to do. Just finally do what you said you would, and there's no 70% marginal rate for you. Just as the fairest tax - the Inheritance Tax - is the tax that no one with a soul actually has to pay.)

Meanwhile, Senator Elizabeth Warren is talking about a wealth tax

And I have been demanding that Democrats restore the iconic status of the “Greatest Generation” and their wisdom seeking a flat-fair-open-competitive market, under leadership of their favorite living human, Franklin Roosevelt.  (And to her credit, AOC has tepidly begun this process, referring to FDR obliquely with her "Green New Deal." See below.)

But are the proposals on the table sensible? How can any program of re-uplifting the working poor and middle class accomplish anything when world mafias launder trillions of wealth through secret international back channels? 

== The ultimate weapon against mafias, worldwide ==

It won't surprise you that my own top proposal -- for the plant, not just the U.S. -- emphasizes transparency ... universal clarity of ownership.

See: Given the agility of money-movement, this would only work if an angry world citizenry demanded it as a worldwide treaty. (And in EARTH I portrayed a radicalized world citizenry demanding it.)

Essentially, it comes down to one sentence: "If you own something, say so." 

All right, a second sentence. All property that goes without claimants who are living humans or foundations must revert to public domain. 

Sure, there are complexities of proof and a myriad details. For one thing, it should be phased in, starting at the top, so poor farmers have time to get their paperwork in order, helped by reforms like Peru instituted so successfully, planned by Hernando de Soto Polar. (The perfect overlap of liberalism and sane libertarianism.) And yes, it will be a golden age for lawyers. So? The number of lawsuits will employ a quarter of the human population, solving AI driven unemployment! ;-)

Read about the implications, especially how it would immediately benefit you.

But the core point is this: none of the proposals on the table, like high marginal income tax rates or wealth taxes or universal income or capital, can possibly work without this. And then we get to the irony… that those measures will be largely unnecessary if we get transparency of ownership! Why? Because –

 -- there'd be so much abandoned property – dropped by cheaters like kleptocrats and drug lords and mafiosi -- that most government debt would likely be wiped out! Resulting in lower rates for honest taxpayers. No confiscatory wealth taxes needed.  

Find another proposal that promises that win-win. In essentially two sentences.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Peering ahead - human evolution. Living in a simulation? And some interesting sci fi.

With Facebook in a state of collapse (long predicted) I could use your help publicizing this here Contrary Brin blog!  Just look at the cool and interesting featured items, below!

== Human evolution ==

I take pride that this blogmunity - weblog community - is one of the oldest and most erudite on the Web. One of you wrote in comments: 

I'm not sure this qualifies for the Predictions Registry, but this article in today's Chicago Tribune addresses a subject that you weighed in on a while back. Humans have managed to separate sex from reproduction, and while this is most often thought of in the context of getting to have sex without worrying about the consequences, there are those going in the opposite direction as well--people who want children without the bother of romance. And as the second group passes on their genes while the first group does not, will "industrial reproduction" become more the norm over time?”

One of the flukes of human nature that might explain the Fermi Paradox is that we are polar opposites to the 'Moties,' in The Mote In God’s Eye. They are ultimate creatures of Malthus, doomed always to overpopulate as quickly as possible. We appear to have been saved – or at least have a chance – because human women are satiable, whenever they feel their children are truly safe and healthy, and seem to prefer having an average of about two. Yes, this happened in part because we can adaptably switch from High-R to High-K reproductive psychology, swiftly emphasizing care of high investment offspring, rather than pushing out numbers. But another factor is the separation of the thing nature evolved us to seek desperately – sex – from actual reproduction. Both of these drivers resulted in a species that appears capable of giving the finger to old Malthus.

For now. I’ve long said we have a narrow window… perhaps three generations… before those who zealously want to have lots of kids start filling our gene pool with that compulsive trait, replacing sex as the nexus of avidity and making us more Malthusian... more like Moties.  We can deal with this either by spreading to the stars, as a plague, or becoming super-High-K and far-seeing-wise.  Anything other than those two will lead to the Motie catastrophe, and Malthus getting the last laugh.

Noteworthy, today's worldwide attempted mafia-oligarch putsch would re-establish dumbass feudalism and knock out either of those survival possibilities.

== A simulation? ==

Talin offers a fascinating argument for why we are not living in a simulation – essentially that it would take at least 1000 atoms in a big computer to calculate the details of a single atom in the simulation. Well, well. There’s an answer or two. At the high end, you can try to explore the arcane calculations of computability contained within Frank Tipler’s brilliant book The Physics of Immortality, which asserts that our godlike descendants will have infinite (actually infinite) computational power available to them at the end of time, when the Big Crunch brings all the matter of the universe back together again. Okay, okay, it now appears that there will be no Big Crunch. Still, TPOI is essential reading for any truly deep discussion of computability of simulations. (And Roger Penrose appears to have offered at least a tentative way we might have a cyclical universe even under conditions of endless expansion.)

At the other end is the science fictional answer from The Universe Makers or The World of Tiersor several novels by Greg Egan, or the movie The 13th Floor… that the simulation is only high fidelity near the “protagonist” and just probabilistic farther away or where he/she (actually, you) aren’t looking. Which does sound eerily like Quantum Observer stuff.

Still, this is a pretty good counter argument to the standard “we have to be in a simulation!” nostrum.  Have fun.

== Some recent novels! ==

For bold galaxy-spanning science fiction, try Alex White, whose titles are terrific! “A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe,” has been followed by “A Bad Deal for the Whole Galaxy.” But then there’s Mira Grant’s “Kingdom of Needle and Bone.”  Oooooh.

Mary Branscombe’s way-fun new novel is “The Vampires of Silicon Valley.” The hook? You're a thousand-year-old vampire who has to save the world just to have somewhere to live, but you happen to look like a teenage girl. What else can you do except go to silicon valley and take a bite at VC funding?

J. Neil Schulman is a very different kind of libertarian (quasi-Randian) than my liberal-Smithian variety. I poke hard at the naïveté of believing civil servants are more of a threat to liberty than the feudal lords who oppressed 99% of our ancestors and who are right now striving to bring a return to dismal-horrid mafia-oligarch rule. The branch of libertarianism that worships property and government-hatred over competition, which only thrives when regulated to prevent cheating, is kinda jibbering loony.

Still, Neil can write. And while his new novel — The Fractal Man — has some tendentious and self-indulgent qualities, it does offer up some finely-meshed fun with parallel and alternate worlds, kind of like Heinlein’s Job: A Comedy of Justice.

Not related is Matt Ginsberg’s recent novel The Factor Man, about a fellow who develops an algorithm that can factor any multiple of prime numbers, and hence break most of the world’s encryption. A bit light on the implications of such a discovery, it is still a compelling thriller, well-written and thought-provoking.

Sundiver is still available on Audible. We'll be releasing a new e-version soon.

Okay, everybody’s a sucker for top ten lists.  I’ve got plenty.  Here’s this one approach to “30 best sci-fi films that explore the fluidity of time.”

Another 2018 Best SF Novels list. Some amazing stuff - with new titles from Mary Robinette Kowal, Cixin Liu, Becky Chambers, the terrific Emily Devenport (Medusa Uploaded) and much more!

And an anthology of 17 short stories by Israeli science fiction authors has been gathered in a new collection titled “Zion’s Fiction” along with an introduction by Robert Silverberg.  Or Zi-Fi.  

An interesting premise for the eco-driven but scientifically grounded (and western-like) Melt Trilogy by K. E. Lanning “After catastrophic global warming melts the ice caps, humans desperate for land colonize a de-iced Antarctica.

== The “Self-Published” World Contains some (Rough) Gems!

Amid interesting transitions in art, you have the world of self-published fiction (SPF).

My colleague in the SETI/METI community – retired senior U.S. diplomat Michael Michaud – has published a short novel, EASTERN WIND, about discovery of an ancient shipwreck suggesting early contact between Asia and North America. “Behind this story lie the growing power of China, climate change and a rising world ocean, and the political assault on science.If you have inflexible standards about the nuts and gears of polished fiction writing, then you deny yourself the world of self-published stories that sometimes offer compensation with romance and big ideas.

Gary Dejean, PhD has an SPF all about our transformation into cyborgs and possibly a “plussed” version of humanity, in H+ INCORPORATED. An orphaned child getting slowly used to his full-body prosthetic befriends a young journalist who herself hopes to one day be fitted with similar implants. Meanwhile, a secretive military contractor tests combat exoskeletons for a corrupt government. Hard-science anticipation with a strong dose of cyberpunk.”

== For the Predictions Registry ==

For two decades some fans have kept a Wiki tracking my predictions, especially from EARTH. Already listed is my 1989 forseeing of a worldwide wave of Chinese tourism, illustrated in several scenes set in New Zealand. Well, what could be more specific than this news item:

The boom is only expected to continue. In February, New Zealand will introduce a yearlong Chinese tourism initiative; China is the country’s second-largest source of tourists after Australia, and the fastest growing… But Mr. Milne, the tourism professor, said not enough had been done to prepare New Zealand communities for an expected doubling in the number of Chinese visitors. He added that New Zealand had a history of overlooking local residents’ concerns as it sought to aggressively increase tourism.”

== Finding Solutions ==

It’s important to reinforce that most modernists are not dogmatists and are capable of diversity of opinion and even changing our minds when strong evidence demands it. One example is nuclear power. Yes it is problematic! So. Give every Nevadan who voted a $500 rebate and open the damn Yucca Mountain repository, already, to get the waste away from our cities! And research better designs that would ease the huge costs of regulatory management for safety.  

Still, a swathe of “liberal” leaders, like Stewart Brand – the world’s top “techno-hippie” – have long said we need to look again at nuclear’s carbon free benefits. James Lovelock, founder of the Gaia Hypothesis, if 100% correct: nuclear power is the only green solution.

As Daniel Duffy puts it: “Opposition to nuclear energy is based on irrational fear fed by Hollywood-style fiction, the Green lobbies and the media. (And pushed hard by propaganda subsidized by oil and coal interests.) These fears are unjustified, and nuclear energy from its start in 1952 has proved to be the safest of all energy sources. We must stop fretting over the minute statistical risks of cancer from chemicals or radiation. Nearly one third of us will die of cancer anyway, mainly because we breathe air laden with that all pervasive carcinogen, oxygen. If we fail to concentrate our minds on the real danger, which is global warming, we may die even sooner, as did more than 20,000 unfortunates from overheating in Europe last summer.”

I don't go that far. But I have the advantage of having seen some of the new designs that cannot melt down and that offer a nightmare scenario primarily to carbon lords, coal kings, petro-sheiks and their ringleader in the Kremlin