Saturday, May 21, 2022

Crypto is not a dog... or doge... or is it?

As this goes online, Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are in apparent price-freefall. This posting - prepared over a month ago - will not discuss the recent coin market meltdowns. Still, it seems a good moment to offer some light on one aspect.

First, I actually know a little about this topic. I've consulted with a number of companies, agencies, etc. about the blockchain era. More generally, about the conceptual underpinnings of "smart contracts" and the eerie, free-floating algorithms that were long-predicted by science fiction, but have become reality, as we speak. (Yes they are out there; some may be living right behind the screen you are looking at.)

One topic generating excitement - though the notion has been floating since the 1990s - is that of Decentralized Autonomous Organizations, or DAO, which are portrayed in many novels and utopian manifestos as a way for humans (and their helpers) to bypass sclerotic legacy nations and codger institutions with self-organizing action groups, using NFTs and Blockchain tokens to modernize and revitalize the concept of guilds -- global, quick, low-cost, boundaryless, open and inherently accountable. Bruce Sterling wrote about this notion in the last century (as in his novel, Heavy Weather) and other authors, like Neal Stephenson (Cryptonomicon), Karl Schroeder (Stealing Worlds), as well as Cory Doctorow (Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom), Annalee Newitz (Autonomous), and many others roam this conceptual landscape with agility! 

To a large extent, versions of DAO thinking underlie moves by nations like Estonia (or "E-stonia") to modernize democracy and public services. Also spreading widely is the related notion of Citizen Assemblies

But today I want to focus now on just one aspect of this brave new world: whether DAOs can find a middle ground between autonomy and accountability, by self-policing to reduce bad behavior by predators, while retaining their better, freedom enhancing traits.  

== Can blockchain-based DAOs - especially coin communities - self-police? ==

This is an important topic! Because major legacy nations like China are already stomping hard, using as justification the way cryptocurrencies do empower the very worst of parasitic human criminals. That justification might be reduced or eliminated if DAOs or blockchain communities could find a positive-sum sweet spot, cauterizing predators while preserving their role as gritty irritants, creating pearls of creative freedom.

Although there is no way to "ban" crypto currencies in general, there is an approach to making them much more accountable to real life law.

Let's start with an ironic fact. Blockchain-based token systems are not totally secret!  

Yes, they use crypto to mask the identity of token (coin) holders.  But those holders only "own" their tokens by general consent of all members in a communal 'shared ledger' that maintains the list of coins and which public keys stand ready to be turned by each owner's encrypted keys. In that sense it is the opposite of 'secret,' since the ledger is out there in tens of thousands of copies on just as many distributed computers. Attempts to invade or distort or corrupt the ledger are detected and canceled en masse. (The ecologically damaging "coin mining" operations out there are partly about maintaining the ledger.)

All of this means that - to the delight of libertarians - it will be hard to legislate or regulate blockchain token systems. Hard, but not impossible. For example, the value of Bitcoin rises and falls depending on how many real world entities will accept it in payment. And as stated above, and some governments have been hammering on that, lately.

There is another way to modify any given blockchain token system, and that is for the owners themselves to deliberate and decide on a change to their shared economy... to change the ledger and its support software.  No one member/owner can do that. Any effort to do so would be detected by the ledger's built in immune system and canceled. 

Only dig it, all such ledger-blockchain systems are ruled by a weird kind of consensus democracy. While there is no institutional or built in provision for democratic decision making in the commons - (Satoshi himself may have back doors: a separate topic) - there is nothing to stop a majority of bitcoin holders from simply making their own, new version of the shared ledger and inserting all their coins into it, with new software that's tuned to less eagerly reward polluters and extortionist gangs. 

Oh, sure, a large minority would refuse. Their rump or legacy Bitcoin ledger (Rumpcoin?) would continue to operate... with value plummeted as commercial and government and individual entities refuse to accept it and as large numbers of computer systems refuse to host rump-coin ledger operations. Because at that point, the holdouts will include a lot of characters who are doing unsavory things in the real world.

There are vernaculars for this. Indeed it has been done, occasionally, in what are called soft and hard 'forks.' 

== A forking solution? ==

A “fork,” in programming terms, is an open-source code modification. Usually, the forked code is similar to the original, but with important modifications, and the two “prongs” comfortably co-exist. Sometimes a fork is used to test a process, but with cryptocurrencies, it is more often used to implement a fundamental change or to create a new asset with similar (but not equal) characteristics as the original.

With a soft fork, only one blockchain will remain valid as users adopt the update. Whereas with a hard fork, both the old and new blockchains exist side by side, which means that the software must be updated to work by the new rules. But the aim is to render the old code so obsolete and so widely spurned that it ceases to have any use to anyone.

As an example: Etherium did a fork when about $100 million worth of coins (that would now be worth tens of billions) was tied up in a badly written smart contract that a hacker was stealing. The community decided to kill that smart contract showing that immutable blockchains can change if 50% +1 decides to change it.

If you squint at this, it's really not so radical.  (Don't even ask about the blockchain "spork!"). It is just an operating system upgrade that can only occur by majority consent of the owner-members of the commune.  As pioneered at the famous University of Fork... or...

And so the stage is set to 'regulate' in ways that leave the potential benefits of blockchain - self-correction, smart contracts and the like - alone while letting system users deliberate and decide to revise, a trait that should be possible in any democratic or accountable system.

Now, is there a way to use a Grand Fork to change the insane approach to coin "mining" so that ledger maintenance can be achieved without encouraging planet-killing pollution and waste?

== And finally... ==

The concept that I called equiveillance or look-back accountability, in The Transparent Society - and Steve Mann called sousveillance - is labeled "inverse surveillance" by members of the Asimov Institute, in Holland. “How can we use AI as a Panopticon to promote beneficial actions for citizens by organizations?” A proof of concept was explored in a 2021 hackathon

Well well. These are harder concepts to relate than they might think, I know from experience! Yet they are fundamental to the very basis of our kind of civilization.

Friday, May 13, 2022

From geology to quantum science to a healthy planet...

For your weekend... as I traditionallly do, here's a round-up of recent science news...

First, here's the latest CARTA conference - the Center for Anthropogeny (human origins) at UCSD. This one with talks having to do with the theme of "The Planet Altering Apes."

== Physical Science ==

The observation of the Higgs boson  at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) has validated the last missing piece of the standard model (SM) of elementary particle physics.  The mass of the W boson, a mediator of the weak force between elementary particles, should be tightly constrained by the symmetries of the standard model of particle physics.  So… do recent results mean we have a problem here?

Wireless Sensors: Tiny Battery-Free Devices Float In The Wind Like Dandelion Seeds…” or a lot like the ‘localizer nanochips in Vernor Vinge’s great novel  A Deepness in the Sky.  

A new form of ice discovered, which forms at high-pressures: Shades of Kurt Vonnegut! Here’s ‘ice-ten’ or Ice-X!  Scientists speculate that it could be common on distant, water-rich exoplanets.

Asking the Ultimate Questions, Robert Laurence Kuhn’s recent presentation at the Institute of Art and ideas (IAI-UK), is posted on the Closer To Truth YouTube channel.

== The biologic world ==

States and cities have also begun to decriminalize psilocybin – the core of magic mushrooms - in general or for medicinal purposes, especially treatment of depression. 

The disturbing rise of bird flu; already more than 27 million birds have died or been slaughtered. Will we see a poultry vaccine?

Apparently fish can calculate....stingrays can perform simple addition and subtraction in the low digit range.

Forty to fifty percent of all animal species are actually parasites, including 300,000 different types of worms that parasitize vertebrates.

Interesting question: Why didn't our primitive ancestors get cavities?

== Insights into our planet ==

In Earth’s past, two gargantuan 'super-mountain' ranges may have fueled two of the biggest evolutionary boom times in our planet's history — the first appearance of complex cells roughly 2 billion years ago, and the Cambrian explosion of marine life 541 million years ago.  

Is Earth’s ‘solid’ inner core something like my fictional-hypothetical descriptions in Earth? If the material is ‘superionic,’ then the majority iron atoms might be 'solid' in the crystalline lattice structure, whereas the carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen molecules would diffuse through the medium, creating the liquid-like element.  

And in related matters, the top mineral form of the mantle is perovskites… which are still (since I wrote Earth) among the best high pressure/high temperature superconductors. So… is she alive? Way too soon to tell. But the traits (or potentialities) keep piling up!

Moving a bit outward toward Earth's mantle… “Earth is layered like an onion, with a thin outer crust, a thick viscous mantle, a fluid outer core, and a solid inner core. Within the mantle, there are two massive blob-like structures, roughly on opposite sides of the planet. The blobs, more formally referred to as Large Low-Shear-Velocity Provinces (LLSVPs), are each the size of a continent and 100 times taller than Mt. Everest. One is under the African continent, while the other is under the Pacific Ocean.”  Might this explain the unusual solidity of the African continent?

Meanwhile, fast melting Alpine permafrost may contribute to rising global temperatures.

There have been wonderful paleontologic finds at the Tanis site, in the Dakotas, which show many creatures exceptionally well-preserved who seem to have died suddenly the very day that asteroid ended the era of the dinosaurs. I look forward to the show - Dinosaurs: The Final Day with Sir David Attenborough, which was broadcast on BBC One. A version for the U.S. science series Nova on the PBS network will be broadcast later in the year. allegory of uncertainty

Four quantum physicists are in a car. Heisenberg is driving like he is in The Matrix. Schrödinger is in the front seat waving at the other cars. Einstein and Bohr are in the back arguing when they get pulled over. The officer asks Heisenberg, “do you know how fast you were going?”

“No, but we know exactly where we are,” Heisenberg replies.

The officer looks confused and says, “you were going 120 km/h!”

Heisenberg throws his arms up and cries, “Great! Now we’re lost!”

The officer looks over the car and asks Schrödinger if they have anything in the trunk.

“A cat,” Schrödinger replies.

The officer opens the trunk and yells, “This cat is dead!”

Schrödinger angrily replies, “Well it is now.”

Bohr says, “on the bright side, a moment ago we didn’t have a position, speed, or a cat. Now we have all three!”

Fed up, the officer says, “I just want to know how many of you I need to bring back to the station!”

“Roll dice for it?” Einstein asks.


Now back to your regularly scheduled 21st Century crises...

Friday, May 06, 2022

Ripping off masks... and a powerful (if dry) way to pop the lie-bubble

I'll get to a potent meme (below) that shreds one of the clichés most-shared by both left and right. And shredding it will help one against the other. But first...

In Earth - and differently in Existence - I speculated on ways that 'ownership transparency' might solve many of the crimes and contradictions of feral capitalism, without resorting to anti-market socialism. Defenders of capitalism are hypocrites if they talk about free and competitive markets while excusing secrecy that blinds 99% of market participants. They should be the first to demand world transparency of who owns what.

So am I glad that the Ukraine war is causing the U.S., U.K and even Switzerland to rip veils off some of the shell corporations that own all those seized yachts and so much property in London, New York, Paris etc.? Well, yeah. Sure. But watch our own aristos scramble to make sure this remains only about Russian Oligarchs. I'll be shocked if truly broad reforms happen.

It's gonna take a lot more than Ukraine. Possibly even a "Helvetian War."

Thomas Piketty elaborates: "Let’s say it straight away: it is time to imagine a new type of sanction focused on the oligarchs who have prospered thanks to the regime in question. This will require the establishment of an international financial register, which will not be to the liking of western fortunes, whose interests are much more closely linked to those of the Russian and Chinese oligarchs than is sometimes claimed. However, it is at this price that western countries will succeed in winning the political and moral battle against the autocracies and in demonstrating to the world that the resounding speeches on democracy and justice are not simply empty words."

== Again, the one thing that would transform the world almost instantly ==

Transparency of property and ownership would likely make competitive markets work vastly better while slashing the parasitive effects of all sorts of cheating and (likely) reduce effective tax rates on honest citizens, worldwide. But it is the sort of reform that seems unlikely in the near future.

It may not happen till tumbrels are rolling through the streets, alas.

But there is one thing -- one action by one leader -- that could transform America and the world, overnight. You've seen it proposed here time and again. Jobee could do it all by himself, not even needing Congress.

Maybe he is hoping Putin will do it for him.

Only now the topic I promised. A potent meme that shreds one of the clichés most-shared by both left and right. And shredding it will help one against the other.

== The boring stuff – deficits and how each party tries to ‘stimulate’ the economy – actually matters! ==


As I show in Polemical Judo, Democratic Party pols are seldom smart enough to use powerful memes like this one -- that Biden and the dems have actually reduced the federal deficit for the first time since Obama. 

Not only that, but Democratic Administrations are always* more fiscally responsible than GOP ones.  While caring far more for the poor, oppressed and workers… and science and the planet… and rights for women and minorities... they also reduce, rather than lay heavier debt burdens upon our children.  


Is that really, really hard for you to parse in your head?  

We are so used to each party’s clichés, such as Republican-hypocritical demands for fiscal prudence, while spilling tsunamis of red ink, opening America’s carotid arteries for greedy suction by aristocrats… and the almost equally-dumb obsession of the far-left called “Modern Monetary Theory” (MMT.)

In fact, honest Keynesians are the only adults in the room, running deficits to effectively help the working class during rough patches… then paying down debt in the resulting good times. Clinton did it. So did Jerry Brown, Gavin Newsom…. the list goes on. Not just this round, but every round, as I showed here:  


‘So Do Outcomes Matter More than Rhetoric?’ 


This matters! Because there are two large groups we must draw into the Union side in this especially hazardous phase of the U.S. Civil War. And both of these groups are needed by the only coalition that stands a chance of saving the republic, civilization, planet and posterity. 


First, the frippy sanctimony-preeners of the left need to grow up and learn (as AOC, Bernie, Liz and Stacey know) the meaning of the word ‘coalition.’ One keeps hoping the next news item will snap the poseurs out of their ritual chants of “Biden is Republican-lite!”  

Maybe the looming reversal of Roe v. Wade will do it. But don’t hold your breath.


We ALSO absolutely must peel away the 10% - possibly even 20% - of Republicans who maintain at least a sliver of residual sanity. Why? Because the confederate/Red/Foxite/Trumpist/Kremlinite, anti-science and anti-fact treason party is in demographic collapse! If we can peel away just 10%, all their cheats, including gerrymandering, will fail!  


And that’s where the ‘fiscal responsibility’ thing comes in. It is a wedge you can pound in, to cleave off some of those ‘ostrich Republicans.’ 


Start by demanding a cash wager, whether Democratic Administrations always* prove to be far more fiscally responsible!


Picture your Tucker-hugger blinking in dismay when he realizes one of his cult’s core catechisms is proved – proved! – to be diametrically opposite to true, and he better admit it, or pay off on the bet.


All right. I know your lazy response, shrugging that ‘it’s hopeless to even talk to those people'... 

...and I am telling you now that – hopeless or not – it is your duty!  If just one in ten of you peel away just one… well…. 


Look up the old phrase: “All heaven rejoices when…”



How Putin may seek an exit strategy to save face by declaring a “Mission Accomplished!” moment. Very cogent analysis. Also, this fellow is among the few who describes in detail how under GHW Bush a flock of western vultures - most of them Cheney family-connected - swarmed into Russia to help a hundred or so Soviet commissars snap up shares of sold-off state enterprises… of several reasons why I rank Bush Senior as unquestionably and by far the worst U.S. president of the 20th Century, who set the stage for our crisis ridden world.  Alas, the author of this piece gets a bit kooky toward the end. But the first half is worthwhile.



* Sure, ‘always’ is a strong term. There are undoubtedly exceptions, though I know of none since 1980. So? Use the polemical power.

Friday, April 29, 2022

Wormholes, blackholes... and more!

Just returned from my first speaking tour in 2+ years. Vaxxed & masked in public areas but pretty relaxed holding small meetings with brilliant researchers at UIUC Champagne.

Only now... how about some science?

Let's start with a fabulous rundown by Peter Diamandis of the 5 top things we may learn from the newly-launched James Webb Space Telescope! And yes, I was a skeptic about this hugely complex machine. The fact that it appears to be... well... perfect suggests that maybe you ought to consider yourself a mamber of a fantastically competent civilization... whenever our anti-modernist cousins stop dragging at our ankles.

Strange things keep manifesting! (Ain't it cool?) Pairs and clusters of strands stretch for nearly 150 light-years in the galactic center region and are equally spaced. The bizarre structures are a few million years old and vary in appearance. Some of them resemble harp strings, waterfalls or even the rings around Saturn. But the true nature of the filaments remains elusive.

Giant radio galaxies are yet another mystery in a Universe full of mysteries. They consist of a host galaxy (that's the cluster of stars orbiting a galactic nucleus containing a supermassive black hole), as well as colossal jets and lobes that erupt forth from the galactic center. Now, an utterly humongous one has been found with radio lobes reaching 5 megaparsecs.  

The new Imaging X-Ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) space telescope reveals wonders out there in ‘a new light.’  

An excellent article about why black holes appear to spin so fast - via conservation of angular momentum - that the edges of their ergosphere’s may approach the speed of light. 

And meta cosmological -- If the physics theory of cosmological coupling is correct, the expansion of the universe causes black holes to gain mass.

And even more meta! “spiderweb of wormholes could solve a fundamental “information paradox” first proposed by Stephen Hawking.” 

== And within our solar system ==

2020 XL5 is an Earth Trojan — an asteroid companion to Earth that orbits the Sun along the same path as our planet does, only 60 degrees ahead at L4. These are far more rare than the large numbers collected 60 degrees ahead or behind Jupiter. Over a kilometer wide, it is speculated as a potentially useful base (especially if the Type C asteroid contains volatiles like water)… but also as a place we ought to scan for “lurker” interstellar observation probes… as I describe in EXISTENCE. 

Large-scale liquid on Mars existed much longer than suspected, according to this Caltech report. Martian salt deposits are often found in shallow depressions, sometimes perched above much larger craters that are devoid of the deposits. MRO data showing shallow salt plains above craters suggests that some wet patches endured rather late, as recently as 2.3 billion years ago. Some of these deposits are on terrain that's a billion years younger than the ground the Perseverance Rover is rolling across right now.

The European Space Agency said that its Solar Orbiter – which was launched in 2020 on a mission to study the sun – quite by accident passed through this comet’s tail in late 2021. While within the tail, one of the sensors aboard Solar Orbiter measured particles that were definitively from the comet and not the solar wind. It detected ions of oxygen, carbon, molecular nitrogen, and molecules of carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and possibly water. Visible light images can hint at the rate at which the comet is ejecting dust, while the ultraviolet images can give the water production rate.

Three prominent features on the Kuiper Belt object Arrokoth – the farthest planetary body ever explored, by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft – now have official names. Proposed by the New Horizons team and approved by the International Astronomical Union, the names follow a theme set by "Arrokoth" itself, which means "sky" in the Powhatan/Algonquin Native American language.

Ice roofed worlds might be a majority of all life worlds. Tidal heating is foremost, but also radioactivity and a weird effect of serpentine rocks relaxing slowly into a lower energy structure!

Ah, balmy Venus: “Venus, our closest planetary neighbor, is called Earth's twin because of the similarity in size and density of both planets. Otherwise, the planets differ radically… While previous studies suggested Venus might have once been covered in oceans, new research has found the opposite: Venus has likely never been able to support oceans.” Any water clouds that did form fled to the night side, where they did not reflect sunlight (albedo) but did trap in heat. So the place never cooled down.

Still, oceans may yet come to Venus!  See how in my novella “The Tumbledowns of Cleopatra Abyss”! On my website and in Best of David Brin stories… my top stuff! 

Scientists have identified what appears to be a small chunk of the moon – possibly blasted off it by an impact 100,000 years ago. Kamo`oalewa is one of Earth’s quasi-satellites, a category of asteroid that orbits the Sun passing frequently by Earth. Also a perfect place for an alien observation post! 

An interesting theory about the origin of Earth’s water: the solar wind - charged particles from the Sun largely made of hydrogen ions - created water on the surface of dust grains carried on asteroids that smashed into the Earth during the early days of the Solar System, helping to explain how lighter isotopes and hydrogen complemented water arriving from early comets and carbonaceous chondrites.  It also suggests “astronauts may be able to process fresh supplies of water straight from the dust on a planet's surface, such as the Moon."

At 100 km across, comet Bernardinelli-Bernstein (BB) is the largest comet ever discovered by far, and it is active, even though farther from the sun than the planet Uranus. The size of comet BB and its distance from the sun suggests that the vaporizing ice forming the coma is dominated by carbon monoxide.  To understand this better, you might go to my doctoral dissertation. Or else the best look at these objects… a novel… Heart of the Comet!

The solar system’s strangest moon? Saturn's IapetusWell… after Titan of course. Tropical-balmy beach resort Titan. Ahhhh! Yet, read about the curious, unexplained features of Iapetus.

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Romanticism & Resentment: Great for art! Terrible for running a civilization

My romantic soul agrees with this vivid howl! (From Robert A. Heinlein's Glory Road.) 

How vivid, and don't we all... at least in part... agree?

And yet, this plaint by a Heinlein character -- a scarred Vietnam vet and sci fi fan -- also exemplifies the lethal Problem of Romanticism, in which arty emotionalism gets all the mighty propaganda! Propaganda just like Heinlein's passage (though seldom as eloquent.) 

Let me put it as a bald assertion. Romanticism may be one of the most-central aspects of being human... and not always for the better.

From the Punic Wars all the way to modern Hollywood flicks, romanticism has spent centuries propelling rage and demonization in all parties, in all human conflicts, making calm negotiation next to impossible. (Admit it. Some of your own passion is about “MY kind of people are virtuous and those opposing my kind are inherently and by type morally deficient!”)

Oh, let's also admit from the start how addicting righteousness can be! Yes, it must have been reinforced during evolution because of the passion and forcefulness it supplies, during the struggles each generation faced, across the last half a million years. So reinforced that it can be hard even to notice.

== NOT a good basis for policy, in a complex world ==

Emerging from the voluptuous high of romanticism is hard, but not quite impossible, as we’ve shown during the last 200 years of gradually augmenting… maturity.

In fact, as one who lost nearly all of his cousin family lines to one of the most romantic of all vile movements, let me thank God that the romantic soul is having its hands peeled off of policy at long last, after 10,000 years of wretched fear-drenched rage, in which every generation's tribes called their rivals subhuman, deserving only death, like the Tharks of Mars, Tolkien's orcs, the Trojans that Achilles slew in heaps...

...or the Black folks who Confederate romantics enslaved as sub-human and Jews slaughtered in millions by romantics playing Wagner...

...and successively masses of robots... then clones... then masked storm troopers who George Lucas mowed down to our delight since, naturally, none of their kind had mothers to mourn them?

== We need romanticism, at our core! Only... ==

Here's a pretty basic question.  Look at Heinlein's list of great adventures his character longed for. Now tell us which of them  would be even a scintilla as good a place to raise a family as this tawdry, fouled up mess of a world he was complaining about.  Oh, it's tawdry and messed up, all right. But largely by the ways it has failed to move away from the kinds of brutal, even sadistic adventure-zones that were rampant both in fiction and across nearly all of human history. 

But there are equally many ways that we have started leaving all of that behind!  And your long, comfortable lives, free of most anguish, pain and death while staring at the flat screens of these palantir miracle devices, kind of suggest our change of path was the right course.

At long last we are giving policy over to the part of us that does fair argument and science and the freedom of even despised minorities to speak and demand we LOOK at them with compassion and respect!

That transformation is not complete - by far - and it may yet fail! But we are close - so close - to exiling 'romance’ from daylight activities of fact-based policy, sending that part of us instead over to the realm where it belongs. NOT the daylight hours of invention, argument and negotiated progress... 

...but to the campfire hours of moonlight and stars dancing overhead - or the couch or movie theater or pulpy novel - when... YES!... we can unleash that wild, romantic spirit. Those hours when we still need to bay at Luna or Barsoom, to relish garish adventures and quests against dragons...

...or to scan a million black squiggles on pressed vegetable pages, or glowing from a kindled screen, and let those incantations draw us into the voluptuous, subjective roar of which Heinlein speaks!

I make such incantations! I craft good ones. (You'll enjoy them!) 

But no. 

That side of us should never again be given the tiller of nations or policy. (As crazy people at all political wings are right now demanding that we do!) 

The daytime halls of policy and science and truth-seeking and negotiation... and yes, even revising even our most passionate biases - that's when and where we must (it is long past time) at last grow up.

== Recovery from authoritarian regimes ==

Here's an amazingly cogent and well-parsed theory for how authoritarian regimes often transition to democracy after a long reign by an autocrat who is both repressive and good at effective rulership and development. It reminds me of Asimov’s ‘psychohistory’ riff on strong vs. weak emperors vs. strong vs. weak generals. In fact, this article strikes me as a much more cogent psychohistorical contribution than any of the recently popular “historical cycles” bilge that’s been going around. Income, Democracy, and Leader Turnover, by Daniel Treisman

“Abstract:  While some believe that economic development prompts democratization, others contend that both result from distant historical causes. Using the most comprehensive estimates of national income available, I show that development is associated with more democratic government—but mostly in the medium run (10 to 20 years). This is because higher income tends to induce breakthroughs to more democratic politics only after an incumbent dictator leaves office. And in the short run, faster economic growth increases the ruler's survival odds. Leader turnover appears to matter because of selection: In authoritarian states, reformist leaders tend to either democratize or lose power relatively quickly, so long-serving leaders are rarely reformers. Autocrats also become less activist after their first year in office. This logic helps explain why dictators, concerned only to prolong their rule, often inadvertently prepare their countries for jumps to democracy after they leave the scene.”

Certainly Singapore and South Korea followed this model. Did Pinochet? Iran’s Shah is hard to fit here, except to put him in the category of “less strong than he thought he was.” So. Can we hope this will be legacy of some of today’s world strongmen?

And finally... 

I may have linked to this before. Here's Mark Twain blaming Sir Walter Scott's romanticism for the Civil War

"Then comes Sir Walter Scott with his enchantments, and by his single might checks this wave of progress, and even turns it back; sets the world in love with dreams and phantoms; with decayed and swinish forms of religion; with decayed and degraded systems of government; with the silliness and emptinesses, sham grandeurs, sham gauds, and sham chivalries of a brainless and worthless long-vanished society."

I knew I liked the fellow who crafted Huckleberry Finn, one of the finest and most noble of all fictional rascals.