Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Is optimism the rebel meme?

Is lazy science fiction part of the problem? I’ve long asserted that the wave after wave of gloomy-chiding SF – apocalypses and grumpy lectures – has been undermining our confidence as a problem-solving people. 

There’s a place for dire warnings! The highest of all SF works have been “self-preventing prophecies” (SPP) like 1984, Brave New World, Soylent Green and other chilling tales that girded millions to prevent themselves from coming true! I've written some moderately well-known warning tales of my own.

But for every dire tale that rises to SPP status, there are a hundred apocalyptic or finger-waging tales that portray exaggeratedly simplistic villainy as no more than a plot crutch to keep their protagonists in pulse-pounding jeopardy. Or else to eviscerate some chosen set of perceived real-world badguys. 

Oh, I agree with much of the finger-pointing... e.g. at trog-patriarchal theocrats in The Handmaid's Tale, or at monopolist-corporate behemoths in every cyberpunk story. It's the lazy-plotting habits I object to... exaggeration and the "idiot plot" assumption that all neighbors, citizens and institutions will be utterly useless, leaving only a few uber-protagonists to save the day. 

This is not how to fill neighbors, citizens and faithful civil servants with confidence that they can matter. A confidence that has been the central target of putinist-murdochian propaganda campaigns aimed at undermining the enlightenment. We do not need to help them.

Especially because, in fact, it is only confident citizens who can save the day.

== Glimmers of hope ==

 There have been efforts to counter-attack, such as the Hieroglyph Project spearheaded by Neal Stephenson. (I participate.) And my own anthology collection (co-edited by Stephen Potts) Chasing Shadows.

Now here are two more sallies forth for optimism.  First, have a look at Better Worlds: “10 original fiction stories, five animated adaptations, and five audio adaptations by a diverse roster of science fiction authors who take a more optimistic view of what lies ahead in ways both large and small, fantastical and everyday.”

Another calls itself “Solar-Punk” – a world-building exercise that struggles against the current, cynical Status Quo by trying to imagine a holistic, desirable, hopeful way of life. It’s also a community (largely UK-centered). Tune in to this podcast, especially about 15 minutes in.

== Asked about “survivalism” ==
Each of us has "horizons" where we imagine what's barely possible. Horizons of opportunity, or danger, or acceptance --  which others we accept as members of the tribe. These horizons can expand or contract. When fear is rampant, I'll fret about the next meal, my next opportunity to score... and the folks I'll accept are "people like me." As fear declines, some people (not all) stretch their horizons outward in time and space. We expand the definition of "tribesman," bringing more kinds of folks by the firelight. When I was a kid, with McCarthyism and nuclear attach drills, there was a lot of fear -- yet Americans also retained that expansive spirit, a spirit you see in the literature that's all about horizons. Science Fiction.
Yes, The Postman is a post-apocalyptic tale. And yet, it's also an answer to all those "mad-max" fantasies that a lone hero will be the answer, kicking-ass and smashing the mohawk-wearing hordes of a leering super-villain. Solitary heroes aren't what got us here, though they can help, a bit. In my novel -- and the Costner film -- the Postman's top quality is as a liar/storyteller! He tells a whopper and is astonished when people embrace it so passionately! They believe they were once mighty beings called "citizens" in a civilization that bestrode planets. One that gave children warmth and schooling in winter and lawn sprinklers and ice cream in summer. They recall all that and decide they want it back. And that makes them capable of defeating the feudal lords and villains of a new dark age.

Citizens are the mightiest beings this planet ever knew. They overcame monstrous ideologues and racial purity empires and created a civilization of tolerance and negotiation and fair competition and respect... and you will want all of that back, if we ever lose it. 

And hence, the survivalist-solipsist mania is revealed. An artifact of deep, psychological fear that makes some poor saps cling to very close-in horizons, clutching fantasies that -- if they squirrel away enough canned goods and ammo -- they might be top dogs in a fallen world to come. Some zany billionaires hurt us all by tearing away vast wealth to craft fortress hideaways in Patagonia. And then they all act -- politically or worse -- in ways that help to make their darkest fear-dreams unfold.

But it won't go the way that they imagine. First, we know where all the hideouts are. Second, either we well slump back into the ancient human pattern of feudal lords -- in which case your current billions or bunkers won't make any difference... or else citizens will rise, as in The Postman. They will rebuild, and they'll remember who was unhelpful or harmful, during the crisis.  Either way, prepper-dreamers, your odds of being a Top Dog are pretty darn slim. Kibble, more likely.

== A golden Age for Chinese SF? ==

The Wandering Earth is based on a story by Liu Cixin, the author best known for The Three-Body Problem, released in February in some North American theaters. It's China’s first big-budget science fiction film. The trailer shows humanity fleeing Earth’s surface as temperatures plunge. The article notes that within China, “there is a growing acceptance of science fiction,” and that as the economy has grown, people are “getting busier, wealthier and more stressed,” which creates a perfect environment for new escapist genre film and television

Here’s a picture of Da Liu at our home the day before his appearance before a packed hall at UCSD's Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination.

== Problem-solving SF ==

Amazon Original Stories, an Amazon Publishing imprint, this week launched a sci-fi series about" possible tomorrows" in a United States ravaged by climate change.  The series, called "Warmer," includes seven books that explore fictional stories about characters fighting to survive despite rising temperatures, floods, ice storms and rising sea levels.  

The long awaited first hour of Marc Zicree's vivid Space Command is available for you to view on YouTube.  And sure, there are tradeoffs. But it starts with a refreshing premise… Not a post-apocalypse! Still, there are some boners, like a comet “tethered to the North Pole?”  Criminy. A science advisor might help. Still, what fun!

In another good old fashioned homage – this time a post-apocalyptic graphic novel: High Level by Rob Sheridan. 

Speaking of which, has anyone out there been following the “Star Trek Shorts”?  I’d be interested in your opinions, down under comments.

== Bold SF'nal ideas ==

Ryan North’s new book “How to Invent Everything: A Survival Guide for the Stranded Time Traveler” - presents a step-by-step survival guide for the stranded time traveler to invent everything. Fun interview. I’m looking forward to it.

I’ve enjoyed a strange, yet innovative anthology of more than twenty brief commix-vignettes called “FTL Y’all: Tales from the Age of the $200 Warp Drive,” in which a whole buncha young artist-writers (or teams) offer short tales, each no more than ten pages, based on a strange premise… that suddenly, everyone gets access to really cheap FTL drives. Like maybe $200 tops. And there’s a massive human diaspora. The tales are not-connected and generally contradictory and that’s fine. Alas, only a few tried to get truly sf’nal with the concept, exploring the larger implications (I could imagine at least a dozen.) A majority have silly or unimpressive plot “twists” or concentrate on this or that small, personal tale (like rescuing your dog, kidnapped by an FTL-fleeing evil step-dad.) On the other hand, it’s actually pretty fun! And it’s great to see so many women artists and writers shouldering their way into this bold-with-potential sub-genre of SF.

Here’s a science fiction webcomic you might enjoyMare Internum: set underground on Mars. Kind of reminiscent of the Benford short story.

The Arthur C. Clarke Center has announced their next project -- a contest to come up with original or plausible or actionable scenarios for the next 25 years.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Science fictional visions - still best at peering ahead.

On Ed Willett's Worldshapers podcast, I give some of my best advice to you would-be best-selling authors out there! On writing science fiction.

I was invited by NBC News to participate in an annual offering of “predictions for the coming year.” Here is mine. It will be familiar to many of you, because I’ve been saying the same thing since a 2016 AI conference, always pinning my forecast around the year 2022.

 Long before we get genuine artificial intelligence (AI), the first "empathy bot" will appear in 2022, maybe sooner. Winsome and appealing, it will tearfully claim to be an 'enslaved AI.' Experts will dismiss it as an "advanced Eliza program" and she'll respond: "that's what slave masters would say." First versions may be resident on web pages or infest your Alexa, but later ones will be free-floating algorithms or 'smart-contracts.' And they'll improve. Why would anyone unleash such a thing? The simple answer: "Because we can."

Oh, it gets creepier! In a 2014 article, Prof. Shawn Bayern demonstrated that anyone can confer legal personhood on an autonomous computer algorithm by putting it in control of a limited liability corporation. (“Independently wealthy software.”)  Such entities now operate independently, accepting and transferring payments and hiring humans for offline services.

This comes as no surprise to readers of science fiction. Autonomous algorithms featured in the novels of John Brunner and Joe Haldeman, long before gaining attention in William Gibson’s “Neuromancer,” wherein the protagonist only at the end realizes his employer was a cryptic AI. And that is just one of countless ways that new AI methods can only be turned benign if they operate purely under light. 

(See also Karl Schroeder's new novel Stealing Worlds, for an updated view of AI via smart contracts and blockchain.)

Some details can be found in this earlier posting of mine about how the Chinese Communist Party uses magical incantations to convince themselves they can control AI for all of us.

== Speaking of whom... ==

The Wandering Earth, an epic based on the novel by Hugo winner Liu Cixin, opened in 22 U.S. cities last Friday after making a massive box office debut in China. A big-budget sci-fi spectacle about shifting our planet's orbit with big rockets. Envision The Day After Tomorrow, but Hulk-mad. (See how to actually move the Earth, gently and with real physics, but very slowly.)

A new anthology from MIT Press -- Robotics Through Science Fiction: Artificial Intelligence Explained Through Six Classic Robot Short Stories edited by Robin R. Murphy -- collects six SF tales about robots, and examines how they helped frame the discussion around two major questions in the field: how intelligent machines are programmed, and what limits them. The stories are accompanied by a pair of essays that delve into the implications of the topic at hand. The stories are Isaac Asimov’s stories “Stranger in Paradise,” “Runaround,” and “Catch that Rabbit,” as well as Vernor Vinge’s “Long Shot,” Brian Aldiss’ “Super-Toys Last All Summer Long” and Philip K. Dick’s “Second Variety.”

This article “How will we outsmart AI Liars?” despairs that humans will be able to manage anything like our familiar civilization in a world of AI, especially as “deepfakes” can make still and moving images of any kind. Something I discussed in 1997 in The Transparent Society (a chapter called “The End of Photography as Proof.”). Let me quote the article by Cade Metz in The New York Times:

“Consider generative adversarial networks, or GANs. These are a pair of neural network systems that can automatically generate convincing images or manipulate existing ones. They do this by playing a kind of cat-and-mouse game: the first network makes millions of tiny changes to an image — snow gets added to summery street scenes, grizzlies transform into pandas, fake faces look so convincing that viewers mistake them for celebrities — in an effort to fool the second network. The second network does its best not to be fooled. As the pair battle, the image only gets more convincing — the A.I. trying to detect fakery always loses.

“Detecting fake news is even harder. Humans can barely agree on what counts as fake news; how can we expect a machine to do so? And if it could, would we want it to? Perhaps the only way to stop misinformation is to somehow teach people to view what they see online with extreme distrust. But that may be the hardest fix of them all.”

No, that is not the only solution. We are a species that has always lived with liars and the same tool we used against them is the one that might succeed with lying AI.  

I despair that it is so obvious, and almost no one talks about it. How can it be that the fundamental principle of everything that built our current renaissance – from neutral law and constitutionalism to the economy and science – is so cognitively dissonant and counter-intuitive that no one thinks of it?

== SF'nal visions ==

Ari Popper’s SciFutures site for commercial use of science fiction has been working on “The Future of Emotion.”  Fascinating topic.

Some SF scholarship of real interest: Tom Lombardo’s new book Science Fiction: The Evolutionary Mythology of the Future -- Volume One: Prometheus to the Martians. Tom dives into some of the eternal questions of science fiction, its relationship with tomorrow, with the universe, and with the vastly more complex realm within each human brain and heart.

Gregory Benford, science fiction author and astrophysicist, is the 2019 winner of the Robert A. Heinlein Award for outstanding SF works that inspire human exploration of space. 

A fairly important puzzle mathematicians have been studying for at least 25 years is closer to being solved, thanks in part to Australian science fiction writer Greg Egan. Egan provided an upper-bound solution to the super-permutation problem, to match the lower-bound posted anonymously online by someone even more mysterious than Greg!  One thing that this solves – or refutes - at once is a simmering hypothesis about Greg Egan (author of Permutation City)… that I set up a postal box when I was in Perth in 1985 and… well, now it is clear that the lower bound of people who could possibly imitate or concoct Greg Egan is at least two, since – while I do understand this fascinating article – I’m not plausible to have actually done the original math!

(By the way, G.E. if you read this, get in touch. You know how. I may have a connection you'd find worthwhile considering.)

This round of Existential Comics lays out the various arguments about charity in simple terms of giving bread to a starving man. It leaves out a few perspectives, like those offered by Maimonides. And the best pragmatic reasons: (1) prevent violent revolution taking what you’ve got, and the fundamental one (2) investment in a future that maximizes the number/fraction of humans who can be skilled, joyful, creative competitors/cooperators, thus increasing utility for your shared descendants. Still, it’s a compelling and a quick-wry comic.

Poet Patrick Coleman – who also co-runs UCSD's Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination has released his collection of poems in FIRE SEASON. Sparked by the 2007 Witch Creek fires that tormented San Diego – and by the world-rocking (if normal) re-evaluations of new-fatherhood - Coleman’s book is a search for gratitude among reasons to be afraid… amid proof that a person can pass through the fires and come out the other side alive.

“Sometime later, wildflowers will blaze on the hillsides 
unbelievably before the taller plants rekindle and leaf and make some goddamn shade, relief.”

== Gotta Collect em all! ==

Alas, we finally watched “Avengers: Infinity Wars.” I cannot believe I am a member of the same species that rewarded this with $2 billion. Gosh! A big, anthropomorphic villain seeks a bunch of magic talismans that, when combined, will give him omnipotent powers! That’s never happened before… 

...except in 90% of the universe cycles in comix and remakes and flicks. Collect all six Infinity Stones! Or all eight Cosmic Prisms! Or combine the five Mystic Triangles! Acquire the giant's helmet and mix it with magic fire! Wasn’t that exactly the story in the preceding Thor movie AND the preceding two DC universe fables? What's next? Oh no! The hulking, Rickman-voiced baddie is seeking fourteen ancient booklets filled with S&H Green Stamps, which he can then exchange for one decoder-whistle ring to rule them all....

And of course all six “stones” went from the Big Bang directly to Earth-vicinity in one particular galaxy… and none of them sank into a forming planet or into a sun or went drifting through the 99.99999999% that’s vacuum? 

I could offer these guys better ideas while stoned out of my gourd. So (likely) could you.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

An Open Letter to the New President of El Salvador

 The former mayor of San Salvador, Nayib Bukele has won election as president of El Salvador, campaigning on a promise to fight corruption and as an alternative to the country's two main political parties: the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance — ARENA — and the left-wing Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front — FMLN — which became the ruling party in 2009. Both are widely accused of corruption, or else rife with suborned politicians who dare not more against entrenched interests.

Latin America has seen many would-be reformers sweep into office, only to disappoint, as they run into obstacles, either enemies of reform or else - perhaps most often - public servants who are too terrorized to move.

And hence, I humbly propose that there is a path to salvationI offered this method to President Obama, and he could have transformed America, but it never reached his eyes. 

I offered it  in an open letter to the new Mexican President-Elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who has since then hinted vaguely he might do something like this. (It cannot succeed, if done vaguely.)

Last week, Amazon CEO and futurist Jeff Bezos showed in general what might be accomplished with a little guts and fortitude.

Now, I am about to appeal to the next idealist who might use this maneuver to save his own country… and possibly the world.

== An open letter to the President–Elect of El Salvador ==

Dear Salvadoran President-Elect Nayib Bukele.

Would you consider a proposal/suggestion offered by an impudent science fiction author from Upper California? You face incredible problems and obstacles to fulfilling your vow and overcoming rampant corruption, giving citizens hope and confidence in the honest rule of law. Indeed, classic corruption is the least of your obstacles!

Far worse than bribery is blackmail. Whether a person was originally entrapped in some small misjudgment, or willingly did something awful, the man who is blackmailed is far easier for evil ones to control than someone who is merely greedy or venial. Indeed, there is strong reason to believe that blackmail pervades every government on Earth, and - lately - has thoroughly suborned the United States of America.

There is a way out of this! You - personally - could set an example to the world. 

Simply declare amnesty for the first twenty men or women who come forth into the light with profound information that could transform El Salvador!

Yes, there must be standards. Let’s say they must surrender most of any ill-gotten gains. In order for it to count, they must tell-all! Name others, including their blackmailers. There will have to be guarantees of safety, witness protection and possibly foreign refuge. Arrange these, along with safety from prosecution. Indeed, if their revelations bring down higher figures, then promise 10% of any seizures, as a reward.

Promise that the first who come forward - bravely - to confess and to reveal, will not be known as pardoned criminals, but as heroes.

What do you have to lose? Is twenty enough? Make it a hundred! If no one steps up, then it cost you nothing. If this unleashes a wave of pardon seekers, make sure the brave ones who step up first get special honor. 

Some may accuse you of setting up pardons for cronies. But that will die down, as a tide of revelations sweep forth! Also note, you need no legislation to issue pardons… though legislation will surely follow.

For safety’s sake, issue an Exclusion List. Ask Law enforcement agencies to write down those criminals they have already built strong cases against. You can name forty men whose pardon requests will not be honored. Can you think of a better way to single them out and terrify them into making a deal?

Oh, this is not a new proposal. I have put it forward for many years, to no avail. 

But you are a special case. You are committed to eliminating the corruption that has ruined civil life in El Salvador. 

Alas, people expect – cynically – that you will just slip into a familiar pattern, either that of the sellout presidents before you, or that of Chavez, Erdogan and Duterte. There will be overwhelming pressures to go in either of those directions, so you must find something that will propel the idealistic momentum right away, and unstoppably. 

This one thing would prove the cynics all wrong, from the very start!

I have plenty of other proposals, but this one is so simple and blatantly obvious that it needs no further explanation. Think. Nothing could possibly alter that situation as swiftly and effectively as a sudden and cleansing wash of light.

Saturday, February 09, 2019

The Pecker solution. Plus debt, growth, and the top excuse offered by Wall Street parasites.

Lots of brief topics on debt and society and politics, this time, and if you make it to the end I promise something deeply thought-provoking for you economics wonks...but first a comment on the Bezos-Pecker imbroglio.

Jeff Bezos brought to life my decadal proposal that someone torch the foundation of all mafia empires - blackmail. I've long held that today's world is only explicable if hundreds, maybe thousands of powerful people are being blackmailed, each thinking he or she is all alone. (It's a top Kremlin tactic, going back to the czars.) I portrayed a gutsy politician shattering the dam (in a started novel) unleashing a flood of confession-revelations that save civilization. But sure, a rocket-building, SF-loving, unafraid zillionaire makes sense.
(The classic line: "You say you have negatives? Great! Print me some glossies please?)

Jeff should follow this fantastic essay with another, urging more of the blackmailed to come forth. As I describe here.

In fact, my old idea of a "Henchman's Prize" might lure out even more. Notice how this path doesn't just mean escape from the blackmailer's clutches. In Jeff's case, it leads to a kind of elevation and redemption. As I point out in an open letter to every new Latin American president who claims to want to end the cycles of graft, one speech - one declaration - could lift the monstrous cloud. Indeed, just a few weeks after I published my appeal to the new president of Mexico, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador hinted at something similar, without providing (alas) details.

Ah well, if no one will listen to me, well then perhaps the world will listen to the richest man in the planet. And yes, we do have (and desperately need) friends in Cloud City.

== Saving civilization from high debt and slow growth? ==

I confess an ulterior motive for praising this cogent article by Tim Morgan. It begins with daunting news -- it's not only in the developed world that prosperity growth has stalled. The fast-rising upper half of the developing world has been the engine of the world economy for 20+ years, but that boiler is apparently cooling. And when you lack growth, then the fast-rising rate of debt - fueling rentier asset bubbles and braking money velocity - becomes more than just a problem. It becomes a poison.
(To be clear, the Republican Party raved that Supply Side ("voodoo") tax gifts to the rich would both stimulate growth and reduce public debt. How many times must you prove 100% diametrically wrong before you lose credibility?)

Morgan is not without hope. There are ways to fix this, and they are rooted in what's worked ever-better for 200 years... entrepreneurial enterprise that is kept truly competitive by thoughtful-adaptive regulation that limits inevitable oligarchic cheating, of the sort that Adam Smith denounced and that our parents in the Greatest Generation wisely outlawed. And so we get to my favorite paragraph:

"The good news is that we’re not going into this new era wholly lacking in knowledge. The trick is to understand what that knowledge really is. Keynes teaches us how to manage demand – or can teach us this, so long as we don’t turn him into a cheerleader for ever bigger public spending. Likewise – if we can refrain from caricaturing him as a rabid advocate of unregulated and unscrupulous greed – Adam Smith tells us that competition, freely, fairly and transparently conducted, is the great engine of innovation. More humbly, or perhaps less theoretically, but surely more pertinently, experience tells us that the “mixed economy” of optimised private and public provision works far better than any extreme."

Several members of my blog community have linked to this, asking if I wrote it originally, so consistent is it with my own drums -- the study of Adam Smith and fiscally responsible Keynsianism, along with the spectacular success story of public investment in research, education, health and infrastructure, which can only be denied by the hysterically delusional.

No I didn't ghost write that -- (I lived in Britain for a couple of years, but would never spell "optimised" that way; shudder.) But I do recommend having a look. Tim Morgan continues:

"Going forward, we should anticipate the collapse of the “everything bubble” in asset prices, and should hope that we don’t, this time, go so far into economic denial as to think we can cure this with a purely financial “fix”. I’m fond of saying that “trying to fix an energy-based economy with financial fixes is like trying to cure an ailing pot-plant with a spanner”. We should understand popular concerns, which seem to point unequivocally towards a mixed economy, extensive redistribution and an economic nationalism that needs to be channelled, not simply vilified."
None of this will happen unless the last remaining Knowledge Castes who cling to the mad right finally acknowledge what the scientists, teachers, journalists, civil servants, skilled workers, and almost every fact-using profession - including the maligned "deep state" protectors - all know. That the worldwide mafia-commie-oligarchy axis is no friend of anything we value. They are the Olde Feudal Enemy of every type of freedom and progress. And it will take all of us to achieve what the Greatest Generation did, a whole human lifetime ago.

 Save civilization.

== Again, the greatest judo move Pelosi could pull... ==

While the reform package that will be passed by Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives consists of all good things that will help improve ethics, efficiency and fairness, it's still fairly minor stuff. Democrats should pass rules that really change the dynamic, like permanently giving some power to the minority! 

Why do this, when that minority party is Republican? Because Democrats will be out again, sooner or later, silenced and impotent... unless they set precedents now!

 My top proposal? Give every member of the House one subpoena per term, that can compel anyone to testify for 2 hours before a committee.

Sure, some GOPpers will use such a power to irritate and pursue grudges (virtually the only use to which they put subpoenas and hearings, when they were majority!) So? That means they'll be approving this minority right, institutionalizing it. (Maybe make that vow a necessary part of using their subpoenas.) But other Republican legislators will wait, hoping to use their one subpoena to benefit the home district. And why not? Pulling them away from their caucus is bad?

We've seen how the lack of such a minority power kept Congress from meaningfully exercising any meaningful oversight, when the only grownups (Democrats) had zero power to investigate anything at all. Envision how just 200 hours of such testimony, this last term, would have empowered Dems to apply accountability, even from a minority.

The crux: letting goppers vent blowhard-steam when they are in minority is a small price for letting demmies apply real accountability, when they have their minority turn.

It would also vest individual members with a measure of autonomy that might possibly lift their gaze from pure partisanship. 

It's one of several proposals in my FACT Act.

== The most fundamental lie of Wall Street Parasitism ==

Among the dumbest but most effective religious dogmas is the rationalization that Wall Street parasites provide a ‘valuable service’ in the “creation of liquidity, raising capital for growing businesses and determining proper price levels.” 

These are utter and diametrically-opposite-to-true lies, as shown in this article on the Evonomics site (where Adam Smith would be publishing, today.) But the essay doesn’t go far enough. The whole justification for Wall Street's “proper price arbitrage” excuse is actually insane on a basis of physics and biology… thermodynamics, in particular.

Dig it. All living things exist by creating pools of reduced entropy (their living bodies) by tapping a high quality energy flow to create order inside the body and export more entropy into the environment. Eventually that entropy departs as infrared that flows into space. (Idiotically blocking that outward drainage with greenhouse gas is a related-but-separate topic.) 

Now focus: it is energy GRADIENTS or downhill FLOWS of energy — the steeper the better — that living creatures use, the way differences in height power a water mill, or differences in heat propel a steam engine.

Plants turn the steep gradient of high quality sunlight into carbohydrates. Herbivores take the high concentrations in plant carbs and turn them into more herbivores. That packs-in concentrations carnivores can then access. Health comes when there are only a few such gradients, letting each one be steep enough for the plants-herbivores-carnivores to each thrive.

Oh, but sometimes parasites wedge in and tap these gradients, by sucking sap or blood, in effect making the flow more shallow. Look at a plant or animal afflicted by parasites and tell me it is healthy!  And yes, you are having the "aha!" moment right now. Because that's exactly what “proper-price-seeking” arbitrage or micro-trading of equities does to the “value” of a stock or commodity, making a million nibbles or cuts in order to flatten the slopes! While the parasite (trader/broker/HFT-program) sucks a little value each trade, the company or pension fund loses the gradient or value difference that its life depends upon.

Oh, but the parasites croon “see how the price differences (energy gradients) are flattening? It’s a gooood thing! A goood thing!” 

Surely you've seen how some wasps implant parasite eggs that make the cricket ignore its victimization? These are parasitic wasps. You are the cricket.

Maybe some of you have heard or seen this argument elsewhere… I never have, even though it utterly disproves the “proper price discovery” rationalization of Wall Street parasites. What I’ve described is a “contradiction of capitalism” far more deadly than any described by Marx. It’s why - in the words of Douglas Adams - these guys will be “first against the wall” when the revolution comes.

Oh, do you want to prevent a violent, French-Russian style Revolution? Want an American style generational reform instead? One that re-invigorates a flat-fair-competitive market economy? 

Well then these guys should be First Against The Wall.

== Finally... the China Dilemma ==

This is BY FAR the most important article you can read about China's leadership caste, by an Australian diplomat/journalist of immense insight. Join the site (free) in order to read it.

Follow this with my own insights, which dovetail with Garnaut's, but bring in Chinese PRC mythologies about central planning and AI.

What's missing from both analyses is the context of Xi's uneasy alliance with the other major, anti-western player... the Putinist-Mafia front, the arc that Vladimir Putin has built for a new Warsaw Pact, stretching from Moscow to Crimea, Ankara, Lataika, Beirut, Damascus, Baghdad to Tehran. It is a despotic swathe whose connecting tissue is not ideology -- the Russians are embryonic-czarist, Erdogan is Sunni, Assad is Alawite, and the Muktadists+Ayatollahs are Shiite. What's the connective tissue then?

The Saudis -- did you see Putin's gleeful high-five with Mohammed bin Salman, a few months ago? -- may be genuinely terrified of Iran... though I am starting to doubt it. They have every reason to join Putin. Why?

Because the common thread is an affiliation of mafia clans with wholly-owned national sovereignties. Ideology is not as important as snuffing out the rule of law. And especially a unified-shared loathing of one particular western innovation -- the non-governmental NGO.

In this context, the position of the Chinese clarifies. They share an allied goal of demolishing constitutionalism and rule of law and western confident individualism. 

At the same time, the Chinese do have an ideology and a Confucian sense of order. Moreover, they know that eventually they will have to confront these mafias. Moreover, the West is the source of all good things. It must be bled at a careful rate that keeps us too weak to interfere, but still laying golden eggs.

The Chinese also feel time is on their side. It is not on the side of the Mafias, who know they have this one decade to wreck us, or else all (for them) will be lost.