Monday, May 23, 2011

On the Immorality of "Rapture"

== A final word on the "rapture" event ==

I just saw that Mr. Camping was "disappointed" after expecting 200 million to be raptured! Wow, what a liberal. When I first heard of this rapture thing, the number was 144,000 exactly, and unbaptized children need not apply! (see below) BTW that's not the number going to heaven, it's the number who are so wonderful they don't have to suffer Tribulation first.

Funny how memes mutate, under criticism. By the time the “Left Behind” series took this up, they realized that sending a billion kids into years of torment might not be the best way to pitch their story! So pre-puberty children got taken up, even from Hindu or Muslim homes! Huge change. Some flexibility! (To get a clear picture of the story they are talking about - derived from a portion of the Christian Bible that Martin Luther personally despised, and that Jesus would have reviled, see Patrick Farley's Apocamon.) So the circle of inclusion has gradually expanded - though it still encourages followers to gleefully relish their inherent superiority and the prospect of their neighbors' coming torment.


(One person writes in to explain the original 144,000 figure: "They were to be the first "fruit" and once they were "sealed" they could go forth and bring the rest of the world in, therefore allowing for many more people. But the first 144,000 were crucial, coming from the 12 tribes of Israel. "Revelation 7:3-8 - saying: "Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until after we have sealed the servants of God on their foreheads." And I heard the number of the sealed, a hundred and forty-four thousand, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel" (12 tribes, and 12,000 from each). Jehovah's Witnesses are said to believe in this firmly, and the rest of their member will be left behind to teach."

(Ah... so what part of not harming the Earth is so hard to understand? And why have they stopped mentioning this 144,000 thing? And wasn't the Temple supposed to be rebuilt (God forbid) before all this happens, so the newly Christianized twelve Jewish tribes (including the ten missing ones) can be sealed? In which case, all we need to do, in order to prevent this psychopathic Patmos scenario from ever happening is simply NOT build a building? Okay then.)

The crucial point. This is all so self-centered and solipsistic - so totally focused on the individual's greedy urge to leave everybody else behind - that Jesus would certainly have nothing to do with the whole thing. People who pray for such an event to happen are inherently UNWORTHY of rapture because they are praying for their neighbors to suffer. That’s it. Summarized accurately. Top, middle and bottom.

Putting it all in completely Christian terms, Paul and Patmos may be vengeful cusses, but Jesus overrules them, and he says LOVE thy neighbor.

Don't pray for events that will send your neighbor into torment and hell --

-- which is what a number of leading presidential candidates openly avow to do! They avow to follow preachers who openly call more than half of all living Americans "damned souls." Pastors and congregations who pray for the coming of events that will send more than half of their countrymen into agony and eternal hell. Events that will end democracy, abolish rule "by the people" and terminate the United States of America. Events that will rain "fire from the sky."

And these folks want us "damned souls" to vote them keys to our nuclear arsenal.

This isn't just amusing, people. (Though I had hoped there'd be more stunts with empty suits of clothes left on sidewalks!) This matter is one that's relevant to politics and the rise of a new Know-Nothing movement that hates modernity, that hates science. And that hates us.

Every date of prophecies devastation has passed without event. No matter. Doom-seers are well-practiced at the art of recalculation.

I explore this further in my posting: Whose Rapture?



==And a clarification==

And now... a clarification. Satiation? I call satiability one of the hallmarks of sanity, and it is... but only if it means you shift your longings! When you get what you said you wanted, you should be happier! And need that thing (e.g. money) less) But that should not stop ambition and longing in general!

Mignon McLaughlin put it, “Youth is not enough. And love is not enough. And success is not enough. And, if we could achieve it, enough would not be enough.”

== Some Science and Cool Tidbits.==

This wondrous solar powered plane isn't a gimmick anymore! It looks so retro nostalgic... like something from the 1920s... yet it works. It stayed aloft 26 hours on just sunlight & batteries... and looks so cool. Also, it probably doesn't have much of a heat signature....

Pixar as an early propaganda wing of the Uplift Institute? Pushing the notion of non human intelligence?

The world's leading climate change research organization issued a report yesterday that has renewable energy boosters cheering, as it foresees substantial growth in alternative energy sources over the next 40 years.

The military is taking climate change seriously. A recent report for Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff, said: "We must recognise that security means more than defense” -- urging a strategy of sustainability as climate change is "already shaping a 'new normal' in our strategic environment." The military intends to adapt, as must shipping, insurance, and even oil companies…

No one has ever floated a boat on another world, but NASA is now considering doing just that, on Saturn's icy moon Titan.

Red wine turns metal compound into superconductor. Sake, beer and whiskey also work?

Red colobus monkeys in Uganda's Kibale National Park are being hunted to extinction—by chimpanzees. According to a study published May 9 in the , this is the first documented case of a nonhuman primate significantly overhunting another primate species.

Wow. Stunning video: NASA captures giant comet hitting the sun. My doctorate was for analyzing the composition and behavior of comets BTW. Put a lot of it into Heart of the Comet. And at Caltech I was a solar astronomer! Combo-interests! Amazing.

== As for generations... ==

At last! Someone takes on generational nostalgia! Bill Clinton points out that if the Boomers are worse people than the WWII "greatest generation" then those “greatest” must not have been such great parents, hm? Mind you! I do believe that generation accomplished their historical missions pretty well. Moreover, we boomers have our problems. Our inherent generational trait is self-righteous indignation, a drug high we cannot kick and that is poisoning America with "culture war." America in particular will be better when our calmer kids take over! But that, too is the point.

Looking at our kids, I have to say -- we appear to have been terrific parents.

==Brin-news==

For H+ Magazine, I was recently interviewed by Ben Goertzel: The Path to Positive Surveillance... on transparency, accountability, surveillance and sousveillance. and our chances to keep a little privacy in the coming age of light.

An example of the "big picture" perspective is this piece I did for Thomas Kuhn's PBS series "Closer to Truth." Are we living in a simulation? -- now posted online: Could Our Universe Be a Fake?

If any of you know teachers or librarians who happen to love science fiction and also live near Northern California or Nevada, clue them in that this year’s World Science Fiction Convention - in Reno this August - will feature a college credit course on the teaching of science fiction!


155 comments:

Robert said...

Here's a couple of interesting articles: first, a Conspiracy Theory stating that the Roswell, New Mexico "flying saucer crash" was fact a Soviet plot by Joseph Stalin, who used the German "doctor" (butcher) Josef Mengele to "modify" several children to appear inhuman to try and scare the United States with a "War of the Worlds" style invasion (probably hoping that the panic would destabilize the U.S.

I must admit, as far as conspiracy theories, this one is perhaps one of the more unique I've seen. And I have to admit, it would make for a fascinating historical science fiction story.

---------

Next, on a non-conspiracy and cooperative note, the Russian Soyuz capsule leaving the International Space Station will take pictures of the Shuttle attached to the Station - perhaps being the only pictures of the ISS, Shuttle, and the Earth all together in one series of pictures.

Robert A. Howard, Tangents Reviews

William said...

I so hate Tom Brokaw.

David Brin said...

William... you hate him because of the Greatest Generation thing?

Robert, that awful woman and her Area 51 dismal pile of crap managed to hoodwink even smart people like Jon Stewart into giving her air time. It is swill on at least SIX different levels.

(Guys, want to chime in with six ways?)

David Ivory said...

A good example of generational progress and a plea for future generations to do even better.

http://elusivem.livejournal.com/13895.html

Robert said...

Of course it's swill, Dr. Brin. It's a conspiracy theory. That doesn't preclude my admiring the concept of the theory, which would make for an interesting novel (except of course that anyone trying to write a fictional depiction of it would undoubtedly be sued and never see a red cent (no pun intended).

Rob H.

David Brin said...

I can still be disappointed in NPR & Stewart, who are usually smarter. Geez, I can (and do) come up with better swill when I'm half drunk or unconscious.

Dave Rickey said...

Bad link on the Red Wine and Iron Superconductor story, try this one.

http://www.physorg.com/news/2011-05-red-wine-clue-superconductive-future.html

Being Gen X myself, I have to say that a generation that defined itself by its nihilism has definitely swung the other direction. When I was a teenager, doom seemed inevitable, they didn't even bother to teach us "duck and cover" because it was painfully obvious that if the missiles flew, it was all over. It wasn't if, but when.

Except then came 1989, the year that sanity broke out all over the world. The Soviet Union broke up, the Berlin Wall fell, even South Africa dismantled Apartheid without turning into a genocidal clusterfuck. The generation that thought itself born to die pointlessly suddenly realized that they were going to have to worry about the future again.

--Dave (unicaker: A recluse who mails packages of home-made pasties to random academics)

Paul said...

"Roswell" is two events. One in 1947 where something crashed near the town of Roswell, New Mexico.

The other 30 years later when Stanton Friedman and the UFO community rediscovered it, and switched from "UFOs Are Real" to "UFOs Are Real and The Government Knows and is Covering It Up!".

It is retarded to argue that the soviets had a role in the 1947 incident. I mean laugh-in-your-face retarded. (Also old. I read similar claims on UFO groups on Fidonet BBSes in the '80s.)

But, IMO, the soviets would have been stupid not to feed and fund the growing UFO movement in the late seventies & early eighties. Classic destabilisation tactic.

(Ditto the civil rights movement in the '60s (simultaneously with the white-supremacist movement.))

(lghskei: Local nickname of the newly erupting Grimsvotn volcano under the Vatnajokull glacier in Iceland. Much easier to pronounce (emphasis on the "hs".))

Stefan Jones said...

Runner-up for stupidest Roswell explanation:

The U.S. was lifting Japanese midgets in special spy balloons, one of which crashed and burned, resulting in reports of diminutive hairless slant-eyed "aliens".

Rob said...

The Russian War of the Worlds thing is verifiably disproven? I trust y'all more than I do that author, but it might be fun to spend 10 minutes reading a clear refutation. Any links?

David Brin said...

Very briefly -
1. Stalin wanted to make us MORE paranoid? Um... when he was terrified of our nukes? Before he had ANY (and he never had enough to be credible till after he died.)

2. Um... we wouldn't be able to dissect and know that some Russian midgets are human? Or analyzing the metal? Or components?

3. If the saucer tech could fly secretly to New Mexico, why in the name of Marx would he give it to us?

4. Um... we can't make that shit today... but "Stalin's german scientists" could do it in 1947? When they were struggling to disassemble and copy one of our B29s?

5. Why am I writing this? Is anyone batshit enough to believe ANY aspects of this loony broad's ditzy cheap X files fantasy script?

Pat Mathews said...

But the whole UFO thing brings so many tourist dollars into Roswell!

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin in the main post:

This isn't just amusing, people. (Though I had hoped there'd be more stunts with empty suits of clothes left on sidewalks!) This matter is one that's relevant to politics and the rise of a new Know-Nothing movement that hates modernity, that hates science. And that hates us.


I just mentioned something like this at work this morning. A few of us were discussing the fact that (apparently) Camping has now said he made a mathematical error, and the new date is five months from now. We were also laughing because our company is in the process of relocating, and a nearby section of cubicles was empty Monday morning because they were moved to the new building over the weekend--or were they taken up???

After a few shared giggles, I did my typical bursting of the balloon with this comment: "Y'know, this sort of thing wouldn't bother me so much if these people weren't running our country."

LarryHart said...

Pretty much off topic here, but two separate sci-fi analogies to real life occured to me this morning.

Y'know that scene in "Atlas Shrugged" where a coal-burning train is being sent into an unventilated tunnel because no one will take responsibility not to do so, so everybody on board is going to die? And the narration bangs us over the head with how these doomed souls are NOT innocent bystanders, but each brought their fate upon themselves by buying into the "collectivist" ideals which brought society to the sorry state it was in?

Hearing about the devestating tornadoes in Joplin, MO, it occured to me that the same argument could be made about global-warming deniers dying in weather events. And no, I don't mean to make that argument itself. Rather, I'm shooting down Rand's polemic by asserting that it makes JUST AS MUCH SENSE to provide a litany of conservatives in Joplin and presume they brought it on themselves, and dare the Randroids to show me the difference.

The other sci-fi analogy that occured to me was a result of Paul Krugman's assertion that President Obama and certain Democrats are so anxious to be seen as post-partisan that they keep looking for sensible Republicans to reach out to, and therefore keep elevating people like Paul Ryan to "sensible" status. This reminded me of Harlan Ellison's "Star Trek" episode in which Edith Keeler was correct to promote pacifism, but she had to be stopped before her movement allowed the Nazis to get the bomb and take over the world. Spock comments that she is right, but at the wrong time. Ditto President Obama and his ideal of post-partisanship.

TheMadLibrarian said...

Don't forget that Jon Stewart is an entertainer. Unlike Faux News, he doesn't claim to be factually covering the news, despite the fact he is usually more accurate than they are, in his own snark-ridden way. He can be forgiven for having the occasional silly-season guest; it may well have been something his producers wanted to do. To his credit, he tried to treat the UFO lady respectfully, even though he didn't seem to be buying into her conspiracy theory.

TheMadLibrarian

elimici: a better mouse trap

SteveO said...

I dunno about that red wine article, or at best it was an amazingly poorly written article. All my bogus science detectors went off.

Do they have a Japanese equivalent to April Fools Day?

BS detection points:
-The ratio at which compounds became superconductive was seven times higher when dipped in red wine than for ethanol or water. ("Ratio?" Ratio of what to what?!?)
-"The better it tastes, the more effective it is," the institute's lead researcher Yoshihiko Takano said, while allowing that taste is subjective.
-"The researchers plan to showcase their surprise findings later this year." (Not peer reviewed or replicated)
-While superconductive flow might be two-dimensional, anything like soaking a solid lump is only affecting the very surface, implying that either it makes the surface a bad superconductor and somehow "protects" the interior, or makes it a better superconductor and the current only flows on the surface.

Someone should try to replicate once it is published (if it ever is) but my money is on an office party gag.

SteveO said...

Interesting articles in a WSJ affiliate:

Reagan insider: 'GOP destroyed U.S. economy'

Reagan insider: GOP destroyed U.S. economy, Part 2

I disagree with some of what the guy says, but a lot of it rings true, and he is calling out the GOP on being ideologues not economists.

My objections FWIW (if anyone is interested):

# I think sticking to the gold standard would have been crippling to the economy - most of the economic/technical progress since 1970's would not have been able to happen without highly leveraged currency

# I think that the way things were in 2008, the big banks really could not be allowed to fail - they got that way due to policies that we learned were bad in the Great Depression - then Glass/Steagall was repealed and let them do it all over again. Policies to prevent this need to be in place (and they are not)

# He makes it seem like Social Security is like a bank account for the individual, when it is really like insurance, but he probably has it right saying the rich should/will have to not get benefits

# I don't think a crash is inevitable for the same reason that fiat currency works - people across the world have (perhaps unwarranted) faith in the dollar and in the US - if we have policies that don't discourage that faith, they will (illogically) carry is through until things really are healthy again. On the other hand, if we do something to disturb that faith, we are in for big trouble.

David Brin said...

I welcome awakened ostriches of all kinds... though Stockman is and always was a strange man.

LarryHart said...

Steve O:

My objections FWIW (if anyone is interested):

# I think sticking to the gold standard would have been crippling to the economy...


The idea behind the gold standard seems to be that gold is somehow "real" money, and that paper currency not backed by gold has only arbitrary value. This is an article of faith in Ayn Rand's novels.

It's also nonsense. If the government had the power to erase the national debt by printing 140 billion $100 bills and sending them to its creditors, don't you think they WOULD have done so? There are natural limits on the money supply other than the availability of precious metals.


# I think that the way things were in 2008, the big banks really could not be allowed to fail - they got that way due to policies that we learned were bad in the Great Depression - then Glass/Steagall was repealed and let them do it all over again. Policies to prevent this need to be in place (and they are not)


How can Republicans who clamor for the gold standard reconcile the fact that Phil Gramm (R) was the force behind the Glass/Steagall repeal? It's a license for banks to gamble with depositors' money, knowing that any losses are insured by the socialist FDIC.


# He makes it seem like Social Security is like a bank account for the individual, when it is really like insurance, but he probably has it right saying the rich should/will have to not get benefits


I've mostly been agreeing with you, but here I dissent. You can't means-test an insurance program. And Thom Hartmann correctly points out that means-testing turns Social Security into a "welfare" program, which is the first step towards making it palatable to eliminate it.

What the rich should "have" to do is pay FICA tax on all income, not just the first $103,000 (or whatever the ceiling currently is).


# I don't think a crash is inevitable for the same reason that fiat currency works - people across the world have (perhaps unwarranted) faith in the dollar and in the US - if we have policies that don't discourage that faith, they will (illogically) carry is through until things really are healthy again.


Gold hasn't "crashed" in 6000 years. I'm a converted believer in the resiliency of the dollar. A few years back, I thought that Euros, Pounds, heck even Canadian dollars would be a good investment. Instead, the good old US dollar has been hanging in there quite well.


On the other hand, if we do something to disturb that faith, we are in for big trouble.


Like refusing to raise the debt ceiling so taht we default on interest payments for the first time ever? Maybe it would have been better for all concerned if the House Republicans HAD been taken up on Saturday.

Blight said...

So how likely is the rapture with only the very blessed going up to heaven? If we live in a simulation, I don't really see a problem; it would be an interesting performance art piece. And frankly, we live in a survival of the fittest universe where dog-eat-dog is the primary rule. The rapture enthusiasts may not be in bed with Christ, but they are heavily and heavenly invested in their own survival. And being on a end-of-days bus passing out pamphlets may have some fringe benefits: my daughter says the bus stopped at her Starbucks and they all had cappuccinos. Trying to figure out why poor people still vote Republican - or why Tea Baggers still think Obama was born in Kenya are exercises in futility. The human brain is so perversely self-interested and self-rationalizing we are lucky that we haven't been hunted down for our hair, skin and other possessions. (My sincere apology to those who have suffered this crime against humanity.)
And worse yet, note who is driving our present real-world simulation. The Tea Baggers got their idiots elected recently and the banksters and lobbyist are still in charge of the economy and the government.
In the great Russian science fiction novel, We, the last surviving intellectuals were still speculating on the problems evident in Marxist theory as they were hunted down in the sewers. David, speculation is fine, but when will "We" start creating our own reality instead of reacting to the ignorant and destructive actions of today's illiterati? Frankly, we need to reinvent civilization.

SteveO said...

Hi Larry,

Yep on most.

On SSI though, I think it will (by necessity) end up being means tested. If so, consider that it is insurance like on a car - you pay in but get no pay out unless you have an accident, and what you pay in goes to help those who did have the accident. Similarly, I pay in to SSI for the peace of mind in case my career doesn't turn out like I plan. Most of us end up paying far more for insurance (medical, dental, car, house, whatever) than we ever get back - otherwise the insurance industry would not be so profitable (well there is also a time lag between pay in and pay out where the insurance company gets to make money using your money). We are paying for peace of mind so we don't worry about something bad happening. It is not a rational statistical bet. It is a *better* bet with SSI since the government doesn't need to make a profit, so it doesn't need to charge as much for the peace of mind.

I would like it to be the other way, having paid into SSI for a while now, I just don't think it will be. I hear you on the "welfare" aspect of it too. If I could magically make people think of it as insurance, there would be no problem. But I can't even get my ostriches to see it as anything but money that they paid in that they expect back. (Even though they will draw out far more than they ever put in, that money having gone to support their parents, etc.) And FICA - a 3% increase in one of the lowest tax rates on the rich in the developed world is a non-starter with GOP ideologues. FICA won't be extended any time soon.

Gold, like baseball cards, is only as valuable as people think it is. Other than its physical property of good conduction, there is not more inherent worth in gold than in paper dollars. Arguably paper money has inherent value as an insulator, so maybe they are about equal...

And yes, I was alluding to raising the debt ceiling. :)

LarryHart said...

Steve O:

On SSI though, I think it will (by necessity) end up being means tested. If so, consider that it is insurance like on a car - you pay in but get no pay out unless you have an accident, and what you pay in goes to help those who did have the accident.


But wouldn't it be like a car insurance policy that doesn't pay off if you can afford to fix the car yourself?

LarryHart said...


Gold, like baseball cards, is only as valuable as people think it is. Other than its physical property of good conduction, there is not more inherent worth in gold than in paper dollars. Arguably paper money has inherent value as an insulator, so maybe they are about equal...


Gold is valuable because there's a limited supply, and people WANT it.

I first feared for our economic health in the 90s when someone "explained" to me that stocks are valuable for the exact same reason.

See, I had always thought stocks were valuable because they paid a dividend, or in the case of "growth" stocks, because they WOULD pay a dividend when they matured. But in the 90s, it had become fashionable for stocks NOT to pay dividends, but to boost the stock price instead. So I asked a very smart coworker what made those stocks valuable at all if they aren't even PLANNING to pay dividends.

He told me with a straight face that stocks were valuable because you can sell them for a profit. And right then and there, I knew that some day, 2008 would come.

SteveO said...

Hi LarryHart,

"But wouldn't it be like a car insurance policy that doesn't pay off if you can afford to fix the car yourself?"

Not the way I am thinking of it. Insurance is a bet vs. the probability of a disaster, right? The disaster is, "My plan for my life and wealth didn't work out. I was disabled, didn't make as much money as I thought I would, got a skill that was obsoleted, got laid off from my employer due to conditions beyond my control, etc. and now I don't have enough money to live and I can't make enough money to live."

The social security insurance is there to make sure that in a developed country we don't abandon these people to die. Most were a net benefit to society by some amount, and they paid their insurance premiums when they could, and people benefited from living in a society with them as members. Maybe thier work enabled you to invent nanotech relicators, but now they are out of a job. who has that responsibility? SSI says the society as a whole that benefited.

On the other hand, if things work out for me and I have enough money to live in my means, then I am sanguine that those premiums I paid are supporting other members of my society who weren't so lucky. Social reciprocity.

A more exact analogy is that we both are driving cars and doing our best to make it to "Retirement Land" on a not-entirely-safe road. SSI is paid like travel insurance in case we run out of gas, the car breaks down, there is an accident, we get lost, etc. If I make it to Retirement Land without incident, I might credit my superior driving and map reading skills, but probably there is an element of luck in there as well, and SSI has reduced my anxiety about getting there. I don't expect a refund on my travel insurance just because I got there safely - I received the benefit that I paid for: peace of mind.

The point on gold is that it is valuable only because people want it. Just like fiat money is only valuable because people want it. They both have little inherent value beyond minor physical characteristics. Recently it has been a good investment (and I have benefited quite well from an index with gold mining stocks) for no other reason than people want it. The cost of extracting gold from the earth has, if anything, gone down as the price has climbed sky-high, and it is not like any new uses have been found for it.

My point is that the inherent worth of gold, just like the inherent worth of fiat paper money, is decoupled from what people will pay (in terms of labor or other tangible valuta) because people make non-inherent-value-based emotional decisions on its value. On a leaky spaceship with Donald Trump and a person with no money who has one tank of air, all the gold in the world cannot buy that tank of air.

If people decide gold is relatively less desirable than fiat money, the price will come down. Not because of any change in the inherent value of gold or cost of extraction, only a change in what people are willing to exchange for it.

A basic concept of stocks is NOT that they are valuable for dividends alone (though that is part of it) but that they are worth what people think they will be worth in the future when they sell it, discounted for the cost of money (a.k.a. net present value). So it is *kind of* like baseball cards, but since stock is ownership in an enterprise, there is a more real basis for valuation than for baseball cards.

Still the potential to be a house of cards, for sure, but less so than for Beanie Babies or baseball cards.

Or gold, when it comes right down to it. :)

David Smelser said...

A couple of points on SSI and means testing:

1. Politically we don't do means testing. If 'those who can afford it can pay more' were feasible, then the Bush tax cuts on the rich would have expired.

2. Once people realize that they won't be receiving benefits (because of means testing), those people will be highly motivated into not paying into the system.

I fear that the net effect of these two factors will just exacerbate the unsustainability of the current system.

I'd much rather balance the system by raising the taxable ceiling to the 90th percentile (like it was in the beginning) and allow everyone who pays in to collect.

LarryHart said...

Steve O:

A basic concept of stocks is NOT that they are valuable for dividends alone (though that is part of it) but that they are worth what people think they will be worth in the future when they sell it, discounted for the cost of money (a.k.a. net present value).


But what is it that people "think the will be worth"? Isn't the idea that somewhere down the line, those pieces of paper are a ticket to actual money?

If you buy commercial real-estate, the property is worth something because (in theory anyway) people will pay you rent in order to use the building. The property generates income, and is therefore worth paying (say) a million dollars for if the income generated is more than you'd get in interest on a million dollars.

Isn't the value of a stock based on a similar calculation? That there's some kind of payoff based on ownership? If a stock certificate is just another form of fiat money whose "value" is "whatever someone else will pay you for it", then why WOULD someone pay you anything for it?

LarryHart said...


but since stock is ownership in an enterprise, there is a more real basis for valuation than for baseball cards.


I guess what I'm asking is what IS the real basis for valuation, if not actual dividends or expected future dividends?

SteveO said...

LarryHart,

Actually that is an interesting question. With stock ownership, in the worst possible case you still stand a chance of getting something out of it even if the business goes bankrupt. At the very least, you get some portion of the liquidated assets. (OK, OK certain classes of stock are last in line, but the principle is there...)

So stock has more real value than Beanie Babies, baseball cards, or gold since there is SOMETHING there you can exchange for whatever you consider valuable even if the business itself is not viable. Of course what people are betting on is that the company improves over time so that piece that you own today will actually be worth more as they grow/offer new products/improve efficiency/etc.

Now that said, there is a lot of irrational expectations, and people who take advantage of those expectations driving the market. But it is more than just perceived value.

What is interesting to me is that the 2008 recession was pretty much entirely a product of imaginary problems - nothing had changed for businesses, they still made the same product and (for a short while) with the same people. The problem was with money flow and unknown risks. If everyone *pretended* that everything was all right, it could have just...gone away. Instead, people freaked out, latched on to cash, demanded money for mortgage-backed security when no one was buying, and stopped the system from working, which in turn ended up having a real effect on businesses, which in turn laid off people, who in turn could not buy products, decreasing demand, and so the cycle goes.

It is actually a powerful argument bolstering the concept of fiat currency - sometimes what we believe about the economy is FAR more powerful than what is really going on.

This also disturbs me quite fundamentally...

webmaster said...
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SteveO said...

David Smelser, I don't actually disagree. The crux of the problem, as I see it, is just that, that people expect to get out of it what they put in.

Do you expect to get out of your insurance company what you pay them for auto insurance? Of course not, and yet we keep paying it (legally required in most states, just like SSI).

What I pay in SSI goes to my Mom and her generation, just like what I pay for my auto insurance goes to some poor bloke whose car was smashed by a drunk teenager. If I avoid making any claims (so far so good), when I stop driving, my insurance company is not going to pay me my money back - there is no money there to pay me back, it went out to multiple other people.

Similarly, when the chips are down, the Boomers retire, and SSI intake falls well behind its outflows, some decisions are going to have to be made. The one argument I suspect will resonate with those who vote will be means testing, since the other arguments (increase taxes, decrease benefits for that massive voting block called seniors) are probably not going to happen. There might even be an ethical argument to be made there.

I don't have to like it, I just don't see a lot of realistic alternatives for society as-it-is.

Tim H. said...

Applying SSI tax to all wages may be sufficient to see through the boomers and take some of the sharp edges off this economy. Occurs to me that since some of the wealthy seem to use money as a proxy for a biological attribute, it might be easier to eliminate the nSSI cap next year when sildenafil citrate goes generic in the United States ;) .

"fistswe", cultural autoimmune condition.

Tim H. said...

Apple has posted a support document on mac malware, "Mac defender" and related fake antivirus software:
http://support.apple.com/kb/ht4650
I don't know if mac defender can target PPC machines, but would advise caution with any such software.

Anonymous said...

I wonder how many people the latest round of rapture hysteria has left dead. It seems to me that the "prophets" who make these sorts of predictions may qualify, in some cases at least, as a variety of indirect serial killer---perhaps for some of them the death and chaos is an unconscious motive.

Or am I reading too much into this?

Ian said...

"Looking at our kids, I have to say -- we appear to have been terrific parents."

I don't have any kids but I work around many of them.

As a group, the current generation are politer, better educated and far better behaved than was my generation.

The funny thing is pretty much everyone I know who actually deals with kids on a regular basis agrees that this is true - and hardly anyone else believes us.

Ian said...

"I must admit, as far as conspiracy theories, this one is perhaps one of the more unique I've seen."

One of the most inspired I've heard is that the Apollo 1 fire was faked and the Apollo 1 crew subsequently conducted a successful moon landing.

it was only after their success that the US was prepared to risk humiliation by going ahead with the public landing of Apollo 11.

The Apollo I guys then supposed adopted new identities and lived out their lives

Ian said...

"1. Stalin wanted to make us MORE paranoid? Um... when he was terrified of our nukes? Before he had ANY (and he never had enough to be credible till after he died.)"

Here's a truly terrifying thought, up until around 1965, the most extremist elements of the US military-industrial complex were right: a nuclear war was winnable.

The US had several hundred missiles capable of hitting the USSR.

Russia had fewer than a dozen capable of hitting the US and about as many again capable of hitting western Europe.

They had NO bombers capable of reaching the lower 48.

Ian said...

"The idea behind the gold standard seems to be that gold is somehow "real" money, and that paper currency not backed by gold has only arbitrary value. This is an article of faith in Ayn Rand's novels.

It's also nonsense. If the government had the power to erase the national debt by printing 140 billion $100 bills and sending them to its creditors, don't you think they WOULD have done so? There are natural limits on the money supply other than the availability of precious metals."

Additionally as numerous countries have demonstrated over the centuries, a government can renege on its commitment to exchange gold for specie just as easily as it can print more paper money.

The only defense against that is to store your wealth in physical gold.

Unless you know, the government fixes the price of gold at $20 an ounce and requires all private holders of gold to hand over their gold to the state.

Ian said...

"Gold is valuable because there's a limited supply, and people WANT it."

Except that two principal components of why people want it are:

a. the computer industry and
b. the Indian marriage market. (Traditionally, Indian brides get gifts of gold. It's why India is one of the world's major gold importers.)

If someone finds a cheaper alloy that matches gold's properties or if, say, there's a Bollywood blockbuster where the heroine demands diamonds rather gold for her wedding gifts, gold tanks.

Or if there's a major disruption to production (like say a repeat of the floods that hit Australia a few months ago), the price of gold soars.

Which is catastrophic news for any country on the gold standard that wants to export ... anything.

Ian said...

"Arguably paper money has inherent value as an insulator, so maybe they are about equal..."

You should see the Australian plastic (sorry "polymer") currency.

Next to indestructible and almost phosphorescent.

http://www.postcardz.com.au/images/banknotes.jpg

Probably far more useful in a post-apocalyptic setting than than a soft metal that won't hold an edge,.

For starters you could probably stitch a bunch together to make clothes.

LarryHart said...

Steve O:

First of all, I realize that any response on the internet can come off as a disagreement, so let me say right off that I'm not fundamentally disagreeing with you. Just sometimes. :)


The crux of the problem, as I see it, is just that, that people expect to get out of it what they put in.


I don't think this is entirely true. Maybe for a certain subset who obsessively tracks their investments several times an hour. For the silent majority, I think they expect to get out a decent retirement income.

You're probably correct that there is a misconception about what Social Security is supposed to be. In the 30's, I think it was perceived as a sort of "minimum wage" for retirees, insuring that older ex-workers were no longer (as they had been) doomed to abject poverty. Nowadays, we tend to think of Social Security as a retirement package in entirety, which is not realistic. But that's not because the program can't meet its actual obligations. It just can't meet the imaginary obligations attibuted to it.


Do you expect to get out of your insurance company what you pay them for auto insurance? Of course not, and yet we keep paying it (legally required in most states, just like SSI).


You're mixing up two different concepts here.

I don't feel cheated or wronged if I never get to make a claim on my auto insurance. However, I would feel cheated if my claim were "means tested", and the insurance company refused to pay out because they decided I could afford to fix the car myself.

Also, I don't expect to get back what I paid in, but if I pay extra for a lower deductible or a higher maximum, I DO expect those benefits when the time comes. In that sense, you get "more" insurance if you pay higher premiums.

Switching gears a bit, think about homeowners insurance rather than auto. I can insure my house for current value or pay a higher premium an insure it for the actual cost of buying a replacement home. What I canNOT do in any circumstances is insure my house for a billion dollars. The probability that I would intentionally torch the place for the payoff would be way too high. I believe that's called "moral hazard" in the industry. For the same reason, Social Security can't insure you for the level of retirement you WISH you could have, regardless of what you contribute.

continued after character limit...

LarryHart said...

continued...:


What I pay in SSI goes to my Mom and her generation, just like what I pay for my auto insurance goes to some poor bloke whose car was smashed by a drunk teenager. If I avoid making any claims (so far so good), when I stop driving, my insurance company is not going to pay me my money back - there is no money there to pay me back, it went out to multiple other people.

Similarly, when the chips are down, the Boomers retire, and SSI intake falls well behind its outflows, some decisions are going to have to be made.


Yes and no.

That's how Social Security started out. But during the Reagan years, Alan Greenspan (to his credit) actually knew that there would be a problem when boomers began retiring. So he convinced Reagan and Speaker Tip O'Neil to actually (gasp!) raise the FICA tax rate. Doubled it actually. The extra monay was used to build up the Social Security trust fund, which now has umpty-ump T.R.I.L.L.I.O.N. dollars in it. That money is there to be paid down as boomers retire and SSI has to pay out more than it's taking in each year.

So the fact that SSI will have to pay out more than it takes in does NOT mean that it's broke, any more than you are broke if you spend more than your annual salary this year by spending down your own savings account.

Now, it's true that the trust fund isn't sitting there in cash or gold. It's been "loaned" to the US Treasury via the purchase of US Treasury bonds. The righties like to pretend that that means Social Security is just sitting on worthless paper. Yet that paper is every bit as good to Social Security as it is to China or anyone else who invests in Treasuries. The US government is obligated to pay that money back. The only way Social Security goes broke is if the Republicans have their way and CAUSE the Treasury to default on its obligations for the first time ever.

The only way that lowering SSI benefits reduces the deficit is if the Treasury is allowed to default on those bonds. It's a very strange kind of "means testing", telling the Social Security Administration "You're holding $3 trillion in bonds, but if you slash benefits so you only NEED $2 trillion, we're slashing the value of those bonds by a third." The savings isn't achieved by giving less coverage, but by (in effect) reneging on the obligation to service loans--a truly bizarre concept for any "fiscally conservative" politician to be behind.

LarryHart said...

Ian:

Except that two principal components of why people want it are:

a. the computer industry and
b. the Indian marriage market. (Traditionally, Indian brides get gifts of gold. It's why India is one of the world's major gold importers.)

If someone finds a cheaper alloy that matches gold's properties or if, say, there's a Bollywood blockbuster where the heroine demands diamonds rather gold for her wedding gifts, gold tanks.


I don't know about that.

Gold was valuable for 6 to 7 thousand years, long before there was a computer industry. And while India was around back then, I doubt they alone were driving world markets.

Diamonds have industrial uses too, but that's not what drives their price.

I can't explain the social psychology that GIVES gold its value, but I will assert that that IS the way things are--irrational as it sounds. Gold's value is mainly in the fact that it is universally perceived as a medium of exchange for value.

Ian Gould said...

"Gold was valuable for 6 to 7 thousand years, long before there was a computer industry."

In China for most of that time it was regarded as less valuable than silver.

In the 18th century , the British and Portugese merchants who were permitted to trade with China paid for their purchases of porcelain, silk and tea with silver because while outside the Central Kingdom the standard rate of exchange was 20 parts of silver for 1 of gold, the Chinese exchange rate was 8 pieces of silver for 1 piece of gold.

Ian Gould said...

I brew wine at home.

Post-apocalypse I plan on trading my booze-making skills to the local warlord in exchange for warm cot, regular meals and infrequent beatings.

I strongly suspect that as in the Rum Corps days of my country'a history, booze could once again become the standard unit of exchange.

Doug said...

"Gold hasn't "crashed" in 6000 years. "

That's right, this chart of gold prices shows nothing but increases in value. http://goldprice.org/charts/history/gold_all_data_o_usd.png

Oh, wait, no, back in the 70's the price jumped up to over $800/oz, then crashed to a third of that value over a few years. Before that, for a long time, the gold/dollar ratio was fixed, but historically it's crashed several times.

It only costs somewhere around $300 to mine an oz of gold, according to some googling I've done. Right now, gold mines that were shut down for decades because they were not profitable to run are being restarted, new smelters are being set up, companies are even mining old slag heaps because they can now extract more gold from what was once considered waste. There's even a company trying to raise venture capitalism to mine the mid-Atlantic ridge and other underwater locations as the ore there has a higher percentage of gold and other valuable minerals than any on-land source.

To my mind, this spells a boom, one that will end up with a saturated market, and an eventual bust.

Rob said...

Mansa Musa in Cairo. Gold is subject to the same kinds of motion as any fiat currency, the only difference being the difficulty of getting more of it in circulation, compared to just declaring that there is more money.

SteveO said...

Bits and pieces to all...

I have seen Oz's money - I have some downstairs in fact. Interestingly, the bills are ten years old and have depolymerized enough to where they, well, shatter, in the clear bits. :-O

LarryHart, yes it is only fine points, no worries!

About perception of SSI; it is stratified I believe. Many young people view SSI as "it would be nice, but I don't expect it." Which is probably not true, as we know. Older than that and it splits into "conservatives" (which is confounded with "boomer") and others in my experience. (Would be interesting to see data on this.) Conservatives/boomers imagine their SSI payments have been put into an account just for them and that this account has grown over the years, so they are owed that money back. I have not yet met one that knew all that money went to support their parents retirement - that each working generation pays for the previous generation's retirement. That is the miscognition I am trying to address with the insurance analogy.

Yes it was intended to be a minimum wage for all (needed to get it passed, and to get people to pay for it), but what I suspect is a high probability is that it has morphed from "a safety net" to "my retirement plan" to "retirement for those who need it."

I am not mixing up the concepts, I believe. You can put SSI into an insurance metaphor two ways:
-insurance against a disaster (disablement, retirement, with no money and no way to make money) which *might* happen in which means-testing makes sense (you don't get the payoff unless you encounter the event you insured against, having no money)
-insurance against disaster (getting old) that everyone will encounter, in which means-testing does not make sense.

I think you are constructing the latter, saying I pay my money against the inevitability of what I am insured against. I am constructing the former, I pay my money against an eventuality which may not come to pass (I might have IRAs, 401(k)s, doing well financially).

My metaphor is apt for where I think it is going, since SSI would be more like disaster insurance than like life insurance, and I think one could take an ethical position supporting that view. Your metaphor is more apt for where SSI is now. Of course, I also think one can take an ethical position for this view. The ethical dilemma is what makes this a tough nut.

You say, "Also, I don't expect to get back what I paid in, but if I pay extra for a lower deductible or a higher maximum, I DO expect those benefits when the time comes. In that sense, you get "more" insurance if you pay higher premiums."

So you would support reverse-means testing? People who make more money and therefore pay more FICA get more SSI benefits? I think we have found the perfect Republican party plank! :)

I know the money is there, heck the money is there for the current budget if we just stop spending more than the rest of the world combined on our military and "just" spend more than anybody else by a factor of two. The problem is the obligation to pay SSI benefits overlaps a time of political inability to sanely reduce spending and increase taxes to a first-world level. That is what raises the horrible specter of too much outflow, not enough inflow, and US default, either on internal obligations (e.g. SSI) or external ones (e.g. T-bills). Given that nasty position, a rational actor would have to default on the internal obligations, and so look at ways to restructure those obligations.

LarryHart said...

Doug:

"Gold hasn't "crashed" in 6000 years. "

That's right, this chart of gold prices shows nothing but increases in value...


Perhaps "crashed" was a bad choice of words on my part. What I meant was that gold hasn't stopped functioning as de-facto currency.

Sure, it's value has fluctuated. So has the dollar's. But despite predictions of the dollar's imminent demise (I thought that would happen myself a few years ago), the dollar seems to be hanging in there as universally-accepted currency.

"Just like gold", which was the point I was trying to make.

I wasn't claiming that gold (or dollars) would always increase in value over time.

SteveO said...

Yes, fiat dollars are better than gold in a variety of ways. Mainly, unlike a natural resources, they can be used to represent the real wealth of a country (its value-added productivity) in a way that a lump of metal does not.

The lump of metal (other than whatever intrinsically useful properties it has) just shows 1) how much of the stuff you can pull out of the ground and for what price in terms of labor and capital, 2) and how much people are willing to pay for that lump in "real" terms - in exchange for labor, resources, or other things they consider "valuable." But since gold has little actual use outside of electronics (and India!) and is not needed to live, its price is subject to wide swings. (Full disclosure - I know mining from experience...)

Now that I think about it, oil is more "valuable" than gold, though still less flexible than fiat dollars.

Anyway, with fiat dollars you are declaring the wealth of your nation, but if people don't believe you, those are just pieces of paper (or plastic!) that will devalue in open market until people do believe their value. Once they do believe you, you get LOTS more options on how you can leverage them into more wealth.

There is a tangible link back to real value with fiat dollars, but their value is highly influenced by impressions and trust. Thus defaulting in the US would be incredibly, unbelievably damaging.

Linking paper dollars with gold removes flexibility and puts you at the mercy of a nearly fully non-rational market. Making them fiat dollars allows you flexibility to use them in a way that allows you to declare more of them real and (if you don't screw it up) more stability, since it *is* linked to things you need to do and have to survive and to the real (subjectively determined) wealth of the nation.

SteveO said...

LarryHart, how about "the dollar has hung in there, BETTER thank gold."

I'd second that. :)

David Smelser said...

The crux of the problem, as I see it, is just that, that people expect to get out of it what they put in.
If that is the case, then how is 'means testing' suppose to fix that? If anything, it'll make that perceived problem worse.

So you would support reverse-means testing? People who make more money and therefore pay more FICA get more SSI benefits? I think we have found the perfect Republican party plank! :)

But this is how the current system works. From http://www.ssa.gov/pubs/10070.html

"Many people wonder how their benefit is figured. Social Security benefits are based on your lifetime earnings. Your actual earnings are adjusted or "indexed" to account for changes in average wages since the year the earnings were received. Then Social Security calculates your average indexed monthly earnings during the 35 years in which you earned the most. We apply a formula to these earnings and arrive at your basic benefit, or "primary insurance amount" (PIA). This is how much you would receive at your full retirement age—65 or older, depending on your date of birth."

LarryHart said...

Steve O:

Yes, fiat dollars are better than gold in a variety of ways. Mainly, unlike a natural resources, they can be used to represent the real wealth of a country (its value-added productivity) in a way that a lump of metal does not.


There's an inherent contradiction in Ayn Rand's premises: That gold
represents real value, and that industrialists like Hank Rearden earn their money by providing increased value to everybody. Unless the boon to society represented by Rearden Metal (or, say, the internet in the real world) simultaneously puts more gold into circulation, the two are incompatible.


Now that I think about it, oil is more "valuable" than gold, though still less flexible than fiat dollars.


Back in the 70s, there was serious talk of petro-dollars backed by oil. My brother and I conceived of a pizza-based economy. Both suffer from a similar problem--you're constantly CONSUMING your currency. Sure, you're also replenishing the supply, but that has to wreak havoc with accounting.

That's one reason gold IS useful as currency. The supply is more or less stable, and the amount that is actually consumed (taken out of circulation) is almost insignificant.


Anyway, with fiat dollars you are declaring the wealth of your nation, but if people don't believe you, those are just pieces of paper (or plastic!) that will devalue in open market until people do believe their value. Once they do believe you, you get LOTS more options on how you can leverage them into more wealth.


I was 11 or so when the dollar was taken off the gold standard, and I'm proud of the fact that I more or less taught myself (in very simplistic terms) that the dollar's value was based on production vs consumtion of goods and services, even though neither of my parents could explain it.


LarryHart, how about "the dollar has hung in there, BETTER [than] gold."

I'd second that. :)


Well, it hasn't had quite the staying power of gold YET. I give gold its due for longevity.

SteveO said...

David S, yes that was kind of my point. "Means testing" could be a normalization of benefits regardless of amount contributed, not just eliminating retirement benefits for the rich.

It would be interesting to see what effect on funding levels would be if we did that.

Not gonna happen, I know, but that would be more in line with the "retirement minimum wage" conception of SSI. I don't know why Moneybaggs Toorich III who retires with a gajillion dollars should also get more money from SSI than Auntie May who spent her life working long hours in a diner and has to choose between food and medicine.

On the one hand, Moneybaggs did in fact contribute more money, but on the other he benefited from a society where Auntie May's kids provided labor for his business (allowing him to make a lot of money) rather than in a society where strong strapping lads like that would beat up and terrorize the doughy Moneybaggs. Auntie May herself served him coffee and doughnuts each morning for a low low price, paid her taxes that support Moneybaggs' lifestyle. Should she not have the same guaranteed retirement benefits as Moneybaggs?

Again, there are two incompatible ethical positions you can take.

SteveO said...

LarryHart, but don't you see, your argument about consuming "useful" currency (oil or pizzas) brings you right back around to the concept of fiat currency. Gold *is* fiat currency (and was a currency for so long) for the very fact that it is not useful, just pretty. Just like a dollar bill. It just also has the problems I mentioned above since it is a natural resource, rather than a created one. Dollars have a controllable scarcity and arbitrary value quality that make them useful.

OK the dollar is less pretty than gold. (My wedding ring is made from pure gold (24k) because I am a metallurgical engineer...and it is coooool)

I know we are agreeing vociferously, but it is fun...

Anonymous said...

Another feather in David's prediction cap:

SEC approves new rewards for whistleblowers

http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/sec-approves-new-rewards-for-whistleblowers/2011/05/25/AGdNhHBH_story.html?hpid=z3

JD

sociotard said...

The rising generation is also the first in a long time that will enjoy a shorter lifespan than its parents enjoyed. Just putting that out there.

For more upbeat thoughts, take a look at how Satelite imaging has shown where to find 17 heretofore unknown pyramids. Evidently, they'd been buried by sand for millenia.

LarryHart said...

Steve O:

Gold *is* fiat currency (and was a currency for so long) for the very fact that it is not useful, just pretty. Just like a dollar bill.


This is purely a semantic argument, but...

Gold is anti-fiat currency.

The dollar bill is legal tender because the government says it is. It's a testament to the dollar's resiliency that people actually DO want it enough to treat it like gold, even outside of the United States. But in theory, it's no different from the Pound or the Euro or the Ruble in that its "intrinsic" value is the faith and credit of a government body.

Gold is something that people want, and will trade goods and services for in good faith, whether or NOT a government tells them to do so. Often despite government rules AGAINST doing so. In that way, what we're talking about is something different from what I think of as "fiat currency". It's the difference between a top-down movement and a grass-roots one.

David Smelser said...

Can someone tell me what problem switching to a gold standard is suppose to fix (or prevent from happening again)?

As far as I can tell, it would not prevent the current great recession from happening again. It would not prevent the mortgage mess, and would not prevent credit default or excessive leverage.

Dave Rickey said...

An interesting little quirk about the T-bills held by the Social Security Trust Fund: They are not automatically redeemed. The SSA *can* present them for payment, in the event of a revenue shortfall (payments by workers no longer equal or exceed payments to beneficiaries), but if it doesn't, those bonds just sit there.

The saboteurs of the SS system keep trying to present it as a "deficit" issue even though the revenue stream is completely separate because if SSI is changed so that it will never redeem those bonds, that portion of the national debt held by the SSTF will effectively cease to matter, a couple of trillion worth of the debt is effectively retroactively paid for by the non-expenditure of the funds that were banked for retiring baby boomers.

--Dave

Dave Rickey said...

It's also worth noting that in the worst case scenario" where *nothing* is done to fix anything, SSI would continue to pay out fully until 2036-2037, at which point it would start paying about 70-75% of statutory benefits. This requires no new laws or measures, but is simply what happens under existing law.

Most of the fixes that are put forward to "fix" SSI do so by paying less, sooner, so that the SSTF is never tapped, they're worse in effect than the "worst case scenario" of doing nothing. It's a shell game.

--Dave

matthew said...

@ SteveO, wow, I'm a metallurgist too. This is fairly odd. We are rare birds these days. Not many metallurgy programs left in the US.

Brendan said...

SteveO

Considering that notes are meant to be used and paper notes have an average circulation life of 12-18 months, if those notes you are talking about have lasted 10 years they are doing very well.

Paul said...

Re: social security.

I'm lost. Any chance of getting a Dumb Foreigner's Guide To The US Social Security System?

LarryHart,
"That's one reason gold IS useful as currency. The supply is more or less stable, and the amount that is actually consumed (taken out of circulation) is almost insignificant."

Just to be pedantic, about 10% is consumed in electronics/etc, 50% is used in jewellery. About 40% is used as bullion/coinage. Although the 50% in jewellery isn't "consumed" in the sense of burning fuel-oil, it's not being used as currency either.

David Smelser,
"Can someone tell me what problem switching to a gold standard is suppose to fix (or prevent from happening again)?"

It's meant to prevent inflation caused by the Government "printing money" (which they consider deficits to be.)

But really it's an econo-religious belief in eliminating central government by replacing central currency with a "market-derived" system. (After all, if your paper currency is just a gold "promisary note", then any gold-"note" is equivalent, therefore financial institution can issue legally binding currency (and anyone at all can mint coin/bullion), therefore you don't even need a central currency.)

François Marcadé said...

I listened yesterday to the Podcast “Starship Sofa” and to your Short Story ‘A Professor from Harvard” (or something close). I liked it very much. I liked the way it started like a Lovecraftian novel to send the reader off-track. I liked the twist at the end. I was expecting it, not in the sense “I saw it coming from far”, but I was thinking “It would be nice if …”.
I am sure it happens to you even more than to me, you read a novel or a short story you see a conclusion coming, and you are disappointed because the story concludes flatly or twist in a random direction and you think “I had a better idea for the conclusion”. In this case it was almost spot on on what could have pleased me the most. Thank-you.

Bob Kerns said...

Great post on the immorality of rapture! That had been bothering me as an itch in the back of my mind, and now you've given it full voice. These are nasty people.

I heard that Area 51 woman on KGO in SF the other day. My jaw dropped and got tangled up in my brake pedal and almost caused an accident.

I tried, really tried, to give her the benefit of the doubt, and suspend disbelief. I'm afraid I utterly failed. I find Uplift to be more plausible. It doesn't even manage to cohere enough to qualify as fiction.

@Paul, a quick overview of Social Security.

The system was introduced in response to the Great Depression, in 1935. Under this system, we pay into the system via taxes as we work, as a flat percentage, up to a fixed annual limit. (Thus, it is a regressive tax; I pay less percentage than someone earning minimum wage).

When we retire, traditionally at age 65, though they've been slowly raising this, we get money out of the system.

There is a trust fund, which manages the surplus of what's taken in, over what's paid out. This is called the Trust Fund. Think of it as reserves. We pay in more now, because we know that later, there will be more old people, and if the economy is bad, there may be fewer people paying into the system.

In part, people are living longer, so they draw money out of the system longer. This is a big part of the cause of the issues.

Unfortunately, most people seem to be under the illusion that the Trust Fund holds the money they paid in, and will pay it back to them when they get old. That is, they think it's their money, invested. But it was never this, and has never had anything even remotely close to enough money to be that. Benefits are paid primarily from taxes paid in, and only recently have we reached a point where we have begun drawing on that fund because income falls short of outgo.

But it has become political sport to scare people into thinking that Social Security will empty the trust fund, and "their money" will be all gone, and there won't be any left for them.

This can be fixed one of three ways (sane) ways:

We can reduce benefits -- for example, raising the retirement age, or paying less. People near retirement tend to not like this idea much.

We can increase the relevant tax. Politicians don't like this much, because younger working people don't like this much. As our demographics get older, this attitude may change. But this always means that the younger generation will pay more, for the benefit of the older generation.

So there's an undercurrent of generational conflict here, but the arguments are seldom put in those terms. It seems we don't like to think that we're depending on our children to pay us in retirement, just as we have paid for our parents, back two generations.

Or we can do nothing, and leave the problem to our children to solve. They'll be the ones paying. We'll be the ones hoping for a check that's big enough to live off.

If the Trust Fund runs out, then either the benefits get reduced to match the then-current income, or we raise the taxes, or in theory, but crazy-unlikely, the Trust Fund could borrow money. (It has no authority to do this under present law).

People have taken to saying that the Trust Fund isn't real, doesn't exist, or is just a shell, because "we have borrowed all that money". That's only true in a very narrow sense. The Trust Fund has invested US Treasury Bonds. These bonds are what makes up the national debt. So some of our debt is to the Trust Fund. But it's real debt, with a real legal obligation to pay, and the Trust Fund is no different than other holders of US Treasury Bonds. This is really only relevant if we default on our bonds -- which the Republicans have been lately threatening to force us to do, by refusing to raise the debt ceiling, but is pretty unlikely to happen.

I hope that clarifies things a little.

Paul said...

Bob Kerns,
"I hope that clarifies things a little."

Not even a bit...

Seriously, thank you for the attempt. But my god you yanks do things in the most convoluted way.

Progressive income tax, flat-rate means-tested pension, paid out of general revenue. Bam. Done. How hard is that?

Dave Rickey said...

@Paul:

Part of why it works in the bass-ackwards way it does was that when it was originated, it was dealing with an immediate crisis: People who had thought they had provided for their retirement has it wiped out in the stock market crash of 1929 or the bank failures that followed, and were literally starving to death in the streets.

So they needed a solution that would work for those people, simply creating a national pension system wouldn't do it. There was also a great deal of fear of "creeping socialism", that the scales of investment capital that would be drawn into a national pension system would result in nearly everything being owned by the pension plan. (remember we're talking about the USA, where "socialist" is an epithet).

The benefits were capped, most middle-class people capped their benefit earned by their 40's (I'm a few percent short of that, myself), but they continue paying in regardless (it's a straight flat payroll tax). Since benefits were capped, there was an upper cap placed on wages subject to the tax. So it wound up being not just a flat tax, but a regressive one.

It was a pay as you go system, payroll tax receipts were used to pay benefits directly. The demographic bulge represented by the "Baby Boom" (born between 1946 and 1965, roughly) and it having been followed by the "Baby Bust" Generation X (born between 1966 and 1985) created a situation where the number of retired would spike (starting last year) at the same time there would be a low number of workers in their prime earning phase of their 40's and 50's (*wave*). To fund the Social Security system the way it had been, pay as you go, would require increasing the tax by a factor of 3 or 4 over the next decade and holding it there until the boomers died off.

So instead they doubled it back in 1985, building up a surplus that would be used to "soften the bump". That created the "Social Security Trust Fund", which was restricted to only buying US Treasury bonds ("creeping socialism", if they owned anything else the Communists would win).

So now the Social Security system is just about break-even, having built up a $2.5T surplus over the last 25 years, which should carry it through to 2037 or so. But some people don't want it to ever cash those bonds, and are trying to make it continue as a 'pay as you go' system, which means either the benefit must be reduced, or the tax must be increased (and for other political reasons, a tax increase is not going to happen).

They are talking about "crisis" and "bankruptcy" as political ploys, as if the potential problem 25 years from now is of immediate pressing urgency. Not only is it not pressing, but it's fairly easy to deal with (simply removing the contribution cap in 2035 would make it go away).

Oh, by the way: I was born in 1970, I'm due to retire in 2037. To the extent there's a "crisis", it's aimed straight at me.

--Dave

LarryHart said...

David Smelser:

Can someone tell me what problem switching to a gold standard is suppose to fix (or prevent from happening again)?


Inflation.

Not that we are in ANY danger of inflation in the near future. But some of the wealthy and powerful seem to be deathly afraid that inflation is just around the corner. Read Paul Krugman for more details. The "serious" economists who (unfortunatly) run things have been convinced that inflation--even 1920s-Germany "hyperinflation"--is imminent. The fact that they've been consistently wrong matters not a whit.


As far as I can tell, it would not prevent the current great recession from happening again. It would not prevent the mortgage mess, and would not prevent credit default or excessive leverage.


No, in fact what it would to is precisely to EXACERBATE the Recession/Depression/deflation/unemployment problem we currently find ourselves in. The gold-bugs seem intent on thwarting any policy the government might implement to overcome recession.

I haven't quite figured out if this is out of ignorance or malice. "Ignorance" would mean that they're so single-mindedly terrified of infation that they're willing to relive the 1930s again rather than risk any chance that inflation might rear its head. "Malice" would mean that the holders of cash and commodities FAVOR depression and deflation because it makes the stuff they already own MORE valuable.

Tim H. said...

Larry, let's go with malice on that one, though whimsy would suggest a freedom of worship issue, running a large economy sensibly interferes with their worship of mammon, regulatory safeguards would indicate a lack of faith, so those go to and care of any sort for the less fortunate fails to highlight the success of the lucky.
"tratiedi", tripartite tragedy.

Jonathan S. said...

I've always thought the Social Security situation was interesting. Payments to those old enough to collect are made not from monies collected from those individuals before, but rather from later "investors".

If I were to offer a plan like that, I'd be busted for running a Ponzi scheme. When the federal government does it, it's Social Security. [shrug]

Rob said...

Paul,

SSI is complex because there are significant and powerful factions in the United States which assert that the federal government ought to have no role in regulating the national economy. They want those roles filled by State governments.

Those factions usually correlate with the people who prefer a looser confederation of states than we have, and who also assert that our 14th Amendment to the Constitution, the one that creates a much stronger federal authority over States, was probably never ratified. (I disagree; we've been living under the 14th for decades, but there you are.)

SO, in order to get it done at all, there have to be a lot of circumlocutions and compromises in the law. It's messy and convoluted, because political power is more distributed than in a parliamentary Commonwealth democracy. You blokes can turn on a dime if you want to, compared to us.

SteveO said...

Aha, but LarryHart, gold is a fiat currency too in that it is only worth what people think it is (plus a little bit of demand due to electronic applications). Just because people have been willing to exchange real wealth for it does not mean it has any intrinsic worth. Clearly, and like a dollar, it has extrinsic worth. Unlike a dollar, this worth is decoupled from national wealth, so it is inherently an inferior measure of wealth. And, as you say, would (and did when it was the standard) exacerbate problems and leave our economy at the whim of gold prices.

Of course all of that said, for non-rational reasons people have and probably will continue to use it as valuable. People are funny that way.

Interestingly, if tomorrow someone found a way to create gold from lead, (or more rationally found a big strike) the price of gold would plummet, but the dollar would remain essentially the same. If someone found out how to counterfeit a dollar, we could just make it harder to counterfeit or add clear plastic windows or whatever and the value of the dollar would remain unchanged. That is what I mean by artifical or controllable scaricity, which gold does not have.

LarryHart said...

Steve O:

Aha, but LarryHart, gold is a fiat currency too in that it is only worth what people think it is (plus a little bit of demand due to electronic applications). Just because people have been willing to exchange real wealth for it does not mean it has any intrinsic worth.


I've alreday disavowed any claim to being an economist, and I'm not sure I'm using the term correctly.

To my mind, "fiat currency" is very specifically a top-down construct. Whether it's the American dollar or the Soviet ruble, the paper currency derives its value from the fact that the government insists it will be universally accepted in the marketplace.

Some fiat currency has more "intrinsic" value than others. During the Cold War era, ONLY government force was behind the East German mark, whereas the West German mark was considered hard currency. The dollar is more like the West German mark in that sense. It's "fiat currency" (top-down) , but it also has grass-roots desirability (trust?) beyond the government control, whereas the East German markd did not.

To me, both the dollar and gold are "hard currency". Both the dollar and the East German mark are "fiat currency". I get the sense that you consider the two terms to be mutually exclusive, but I don't think that's entirely true.

But I may be wrong.

LarryHart said...

Cheney says deficits do matter.

http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2011/05/26-5

http://www.commondreams.org/
headline/2011/05/26-5


Former vice president Dick Cheney heaped praise on House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI), author of the GOP’s budget blueprint to phase out Medicare and replace it with a subsidies system for seniors to buy private insurance.

“I worship the ground the Paul Ryan walks on,” Cheney said Wednesday at a Houston event hosted by the KPMG Global Energy Institute. “I think he’s an enormously talented individual and he’s trying to do the right thing. And he deserves the support, all the support we can provide him.”

“We need to get serious about dealing with [our] debt problem,” the former vice president explained.

Most of the government’s $14.3 trillion debt is a result of Bush-era policies, such as tax cuts for the wealthy and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Cheney’s concern for the deficit appears to be relatively new. He famously said in 2004, “Reagan proved deficits don’t matter,” according to President Bush’s first Treasury Secretary Paul H. O’Neill.

Blight said...

Please forgive my ignorance - and not staying to topic: GOLD! Can someone explain why Obama has not raised the margin requirements for speculation in oil. The economy is decelerating so this is clearly a jobs issue. Does Obama need the good will of the oil speculators on Wall Street? Or is Obama using this as a stick to drive us to cleaner energy (but then where is the carrot of cheap electric cars). To go after the oil speculators should be politically popular, please forgive my ignorance, but what am I missing here?

Anonymous said...

Brin as anonymous from a conference...

Thanks Francois! I loved writing that story and hope to listen to the starship sofa version soon.

Thanks Bob! You are very kind.

Wow... you guys are REALLY having a lot of fun wrangling here! Lots of light being swapped by polite grownups. Proud, so proud, of the intellectual atmosphere here.

Blight said...

I'm working on a Rossi-style cold fusion device that will transmute lead to gold. It will result in a net energy lose, but will make gold valueless.

Dave Rickey said...

On "fiat currency": I have the almost unique experience of having created a currency used by hundreds of thousands that was *literally* pulled out of the bit bucket, ex nihilo, any time somebody was willing to put in the effort to get it.

I'm speaking of an online game, Dark Age of Camelot, which had the distinction of being the first such game that didn't suffer from hyperinflation as it matured (later, after I was no longer in charge, the game was changed in ways that reintroduced inflation and devalued the currency).

Online game economies are fascinating things to play with from the God's Eye view of the designer/operator, because you can do things that no real central bank or government can do (I *could* repeal the law of Gravity, and conservation of mass/energy wasn't even a suggestion).

One thing I've seen repeatedly in online games is alternate currencies, the official currency gets so abundant it becomes literally valueless, nobody will accept it and anything that can be acquired from the system in exchange for it becomes ubiquitously abundant. Twice, it was feathers.

The alternate currencies all have an interesting collection of properies:

1) They can be acquired only through effort, and there is an effective maximum harvest.

2) They do not naturally expire (this is a normal property of most, but not all, game objects).

3) They are common enough to circulate in quantity, but are not so encumbering that useful quantities are too bulky/heavy to be carried.

4) They have some actual utility, but not nearly enough to consume the entire harvestable supply.

These items have most commonly been gemstones, sometimes pieces of raw but rare metals, often they were ingredients to constructions that were highly sought but required large amounts of the item (often but not always, those constructions could be recycled or salvaged to return most or all of the material). Sometimes several such alternative currencies would co-exist, with variable rates of exchange, in the same game.

The only "precious metal" that doesn't satisfy all of those criteria is Silver (its chemical reactivity makes it much more consumable than the others), which is also the least valued of those metals (even though there is a lot more gold running around than silver).

So, make of that what you will.

--Dave

SteveO said...

"Fiat" currency is currency because someone (usually a government) says it is, and says that they will honor it as if it has value. Traditionally, non-fiat (at the time "hard") currency is backed by something material, like gold. The notes could be exchanged directly for some material good when presented to the government.

In this digression, I have been exploring the proposition that gold is just as, or perhaps more, fiat as paper money.

In current usage, "hard" currency is a judgment call - basically hard currency is any currency that you think has the full backing of the government AND the faith of people outside of the government (usually as evidenced by its "price" in a free market). For example, the gold in Fort Knox is there to create the impression of value for the dollar. (If we had to, we could dump gold to "harden" the dollar, and knowing that makes it unlikely we will ever have to do it.)

So even though the Chinese yuan is supported by the government, it is probably not a hard currency, since its value is dictated by the government, not by the perception of the market. A currency that people think is going to be re- or de-valued, is subject to high inflation, or belongs to a country that is (perceive to or really) not going to honor its debts (or equivalently just print more paper to pay those debts) is also probably not hard.

As far as I know (but I am no expert), every country has a fiat currency now.

Bob Kerns said...

@Jonathan S.

The difference between Social Security and a Ponzi scheme, is the element of fraud.

A Ponzi scheme is structured like the Social Security system, yet is sold as an investment. Not only as an investment, but an investment with an unrealistic rate of return.

It is this unrealistic growth that dooms it. Social Security, on the other hand, doesn't make that promise. In fact, it doesn't promise you'll even get as much as you'll pay into it; that depends on a lot of factors.

So no, despite some degree of similarity, SS is not a Ponzi scheme.

Paul said...

Rob,
"there are significant and powerful factions in the United States which assert that the federal government ought to have no role in regulating the national economy."

And we don't have those in Australia? (Nor any other country with sensible welfare?)

"They want those roles filled by State governments. [...] and who also assert that our 14th Amendment [..] was probably never ratified."

In Australia, it's those who believe that the High Court has misinterpreted Sections 99 and 109.

Balanced by ginger-groups who talk about abolishing the states whenever the Federal Government doesn't get its own way (provided the states are mostly held by a different party.)

And State Governments threaten to abolish councils (when councils threaten to block state projects, etc etc.)

"It's messy and convoluted, because political power is more distributed than in a parliamentary Commonwealth democracy."

We have feuding Council, State, and Federal governments. We have a Senate which is rarely aligned with the governing party. Our Senate system makes it easier for single-issue parties to gain seats.

We have activist courts, judges that can't be sacked, unions, business lobbies, liberals and conservatives, racist talk-back radio... oh, and we invented Murdoch.

I think the reason things are so hard to do sensibly in the US is that you think things are meant to be hard to do sensibly in the US. It's part of your cultural self-belief.

Ian said...

European aerospace company Reaction Engines gets ESA suopport fro their proposed reuseable, single-stage-to -orbit unmanned Skylon space plane.

sociotard said...

Holy prediction registries, Batman!

Geologists to be charged for not predicting earthquake?

http://www.earthmagazine.org/earth/article/354-7da-6-f

Paul said...

Memories in a dish.

SciBlog: Growing a Brain in a Dish

Paul said...

Re: Skylon

Here's the pdf report:

http://www.bis.gov.uk/assets/bispartners/ukspaceagency/docs/skylon-assessment-report-pub.pdf

Paul said...

Stonekettle Station waxes eloquent on the rapture that wasn't, and what it was. Familiar themes for Brin fans.

http://www.stonekettle.com/2011/05/final-thoughts-on-rapture-that-wasnt.html

rewinn said...

@Paul - thanks 4 the Stonekettle link; he makes some good points especially that the ONLY moral response to an offer of being Raptured is to say, "Take us all! None deserve eternal torment."

It occurred to me in reading the piece that the symbolism of being pulled up into the sky naked is overt: the Rapturists just want to moon us all.

Anonymous said...

on transparency, a guy named Eli Pariser wrote a new book called "The Filter Bubble" about how the internet browser companies are tailoring your browser web results to links that you are more likely to click on.

Paul said...

This relates to... errr, post-Carrington-Event recovery, yeah, that'll do.

Draft horses bring fiber optics to remote locations

Jumper said...

I'd rather have energy than gold. What if currency was based on energy? Oh well, it probably is anyway.

Economists might want to compare the price of an ounce of corn from a farmer's field vs. an ounce of corn in a box of corn flakes. Funny how people give up so much value there, but never even seem to notice, much less kvetch about it. Except for me, of course. And it's not so much that the flakes are valuable; it'
s that people have no idea what to do with dried corn.

Blight said...

Speaking of simulations, why don't we begin working on Civilization 2.0. For example - a global civilization that has universal environmental and labor standards - also provisions for increasing employment in participating states by directing their efforts towards improving the third world states or work on new massive space projects. Also, while we are at it, why not get rid of speculation in the oil markets by requiring higher delivery and margin requirements. Also we should set standards on equitable pay standards - rather that the increasing acceleration towards global slave labor conditions. If civilization 2.0 is not pursued by those with the intellect, talents and political savvy to do so, is a Soviet Union style crash out of the question? We almost crashed and burned in 2008 - and conditions are still deteriorating for the middle class and too-big-to-fail is even bigger and more powerful now. Frankly, sitting and spinning conceptual spider webs in one's ivory towers may someday prove fatal. So I don't give a damn about the "Rapture", it's life here on earth that should scare the hell out of you.

Bob Kerns said...

@Blight

Civilization 2.0? I thought we were running 5.1.0.2011?

Anyway, a designed civilization -- to ward off a Soviet-style crash? That's basically what the Soviet Union was founded on, and what eventually crashed -- though a long time after it went astray. There have been many such attempts over history.

In fact, I argue that is exactly what we are doing here, those of us who seriously discuss the systems and structures of society.

Communism, and all other attempts to set up a designed society, fail because they make the assumption that we can understand civilization, and design a system that works.

We can't. It's too complicated.

We need to embrace that fact as our starting point, and design for robustness of some key ideas (which we need to choose), rather than a specific mechanism.

That is, we need to design the system to evolve.

Our American Constitution was designed with this in mind, and despite (to my mind) being badly battered, still holds up after a couple of centuries. That's not all that long compared to what we should be thinking -- but it's pretty long for a designed system.

Capitalism often does a pretty good job of providing the needed feedback mechanisms.

But both capitalism and democracy suffer from limitations. Both can fail miserably when information is withheld. In the case of capitalism, sometimes the damage is limited by various rules and practices, and the ability to infer information from other sources.

In democracy, sometimes the damage is limited by the Constitution, established procedures (often mandated by the 14th Ammendment, for example), etc.

But no system can function well when decisions are based on information that is hidden or provided falsely.

That's where transparency comes in.

I like Wikileaks, the very idea of it. In the short term, it may do more harm than good -- though I strongly doubt it. But if it establishes the very idea that actions may be subject to public scrutiny, even ones taken in secret, then I think in the long run, that is a good thing.

Things that I wrote in email messages in the mid-1970s turn up in Google searches nearly 40 years later. Fortunately, I generally write as if what I write might eventually be public.

But too often, I see all kinds of nastiness exposed, that was originated under a cover of secrecy and/or anonymity.

While I think anonymity has its place as a firewall -- witness Wikileaks -- I think identity is important as well -- even anonymous identity. Look at the anonymous identities established in the Ender series, Locke and Demosthenes. They were identifiable individuals, with a specific history and reputation.

In these cases, anonymity allows for a degree of transparency which would otherwise be inhibited.

But an anonymous bureaucrat is another story, whether corporate or governmental.
(break due to length limitations...)

Bob Kerns said...

(continued)

Individuals generally need to be accountable for their actions, even when taken as part of a group.

Judges sign their orders. Presidents and governors sign legislation.

Too often we don't recall who voted for or against a particular bill, although there are organizations that track and aggregate this information based on various criteria.

But a particular amendment? That's hard to find out. Worse, who suggested such-and-such a line item in the US Federal Budget? That is almost impossible to find out.

Yet I argue that it is exactly that kind of information -- that detailed kind of information, that needs to be available as the starting point in any revamp of civilization.

That is the only thing that can provide any kind of robustness for any kind of principle we choose. It's not enough, but it is the starting point. From information, a system can begin to correct -- or optimize.

It's not enough, because transparency generates a HUGE amount of information. You've probably never read anything I wrote in the 1970s, simply because there is so much else to have read, then and since. Nothing has ever caused it to be selected out from that mass of human writing. And even if you went looking for it, you might have considerable difficulty locating it. Just searching for my name is likely to get you as many articles on the chairman of the Republican Party in Lancaster County, PA as it is about me.

Even if I gave you a hint ("rwk@mit-mc" was my email address back then, or "rwk@mc" even earlier, or rwk@symbolics.com (the first .com domain name!), or "rwk@crl.dec.com), you'd still have a lot of wading to do, just from my own output.

So not only do we need to found our new civilization on transparency -- we will need a whole new information technology around identifying the information that is relevant to civilization and it's maintenance. And the right feedback mechanisms to allow it to evolve while holding constant the design principles we choose.

I think a necessary design principle is to maintain a high degree of freedom. Restrictions on freedom can appear to give stability, but over the long run, they can backfire, because they restrict the ability to evolve and correct.

What do you think?

What should be our design criteria -- the characteristics we try to hold constant or optimize in our civilization?

What information should we be making visible? How do we deal with it? What tools do we need?

And most importantly -- how do we get there?

Bob Kerns said...

I'd also like to tie in Eli Pariser's idea of filter bubbles (re Anonymous's comment above -- irony of it being anonymous (though possibly David Brin?) noted.)

I haven't read the book (The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding from You) -- I didn't know there WAS a book -- but for a quick summary of the idea, watch his TED talk.

(In the interest of transparency, I'll note that the above Amazon link is an affiliate link. I joined that as an experiment. It costs you nothing, and has earned me $1.07 in the last year -- slightly exceeding my expectations).

Paul said...

The proposed mission to float a boat on Titan (Titan Mare Explorer) mentioned in the main article didn't get up.

Instead they chose an asteroid micro-sample return mission, called Osiris.

(Actually OSIRIS-REx, Origins-Spectral Interpretation-Resource Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer, one of those horrible backronyms they do these days.)

(emuloga: Expanded Meanings Using Loosely Organised God-awful Abbreviations)

ell said...

Bob Kerns, good posts.

Civilizations that are designed never make quite enough specific rules to cover all situations. Much of literature and drama involves the conflict between following The Rules and Doing the Right Thing. Probably this occurs because we don't really know what our ultimate values are. What serves us today may not serve us in the long term, either under the same conditions or new conditions (e.g., Ice Age, drought, overpopulation, Carrington event, etc.) What serves one segment of society may not serve another -- and the unserved portion may ultimately be the one vital to survival (scientists, women, soldiers, etc. -- pick your challenge and figure out what you really need).

rewinn said...

"...Worse, who suggested such-and-such a line item in the US Federal Budget? That is almost impossible to find out ...."

One would think that "change tracking" would be really easy to implement, and somewhat useful.

The political barriers against it me be formidable; as Macchiavelli observed, a small number of people with a large interest in a project usually win out over a much larger number of people with only a vague interest. But perhaps some brave Committee Chair could implement it for everything passing through his or her committee, to demonstrate that it need not be political suicide.

Hmm... actually, this might be a good thing to try in The Laboratory Of The States. Anybody got an in with a state legislature?

Stefan Jones said...

My Flick set from Maker Faire:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/stefan_e_jones/sets/72157626828157286/

Many of the shots are stereoscopic "anaglyphs" that need red and green glasses to view.

Both of the 3D shots featuring Dr. Brin turned out lousy, alas!

David Brin said...

Cool photos, Stefan!

Bob, good detailed thoughts. You surely do not expect Mr. Transparency to disagree?

Bob Kerns said...

Rewinn - I think even the congressmen and their staff would find change tracking enormously useful -- even if only to further their partisan agendas, by tracking what the other side is up to.

Even when motivated by politics rather than policy, I think it would be a good thing.

I can imagine each Representative assigning a member of their staff to read each and every line added to a bill by members (and staffers) of the other party. I think the prospect of 200+ eagle-eyed opponents watching every line you stick in might even have an immediate deterrent effect.

But even if not, it would enhance the checks and balances.

So I think your idea of starting with a single committee chair actually has a chance. If you were a committee chair, don't you think you'd like to have a good idea of who is doing what to what bills that come before your committee, and are reported out of them?

The problem is -- those lines are currently crafted behind close doors, sometimes supplied by lobbyists, sometimes through backroom deals, sometimes by staffers throwing together some copy-and-paste boilerplate without a lot of thought.

Still -- if every line were to be traced to an individual who placed it there, it I think it would make a huge difference. It might not tell us who paid for it, or what deal was cut, but it would get us closer to the origins, and closer to a notion of being individually responsible for your contribution to a bills' content.

I think we might be better off if every line of every bill had to be annotated at the time of entry, with a justification. We'd get fewer bills -- but overall, I think that's a good thing. I think it would focus our governmental attention, and force us to pay better attention to what is actually important out of government, and do a better job of it. (Regardless of your position on whether we have "too many laws" or "too much government", I think it's pretty easy to make the case that a lot of what happens on Capital Hill is a waste of time, a shadow dance to entice the electorate back home, come next election cycle).

It would also make it easier for the courts to interpret legislative intent -- and for legislators to understand what they're voting on.

Tony Fisk said...

One would think that "change tracking" would be really easy to implement, and somewhat useful.

...a small number of people with a large interest in a project usually win out over a much larger number of people with only a vague interest.


Or understanding.

"Gee, this Subversion thingy gives you a complete history of what changed when.

Heh! Wait 'til you try out the 'blame' option! It tells you who changed what when "

Robert said...

I've a quick question for anyone with a bit of knowledge concerning WordPress and/or the dietary habits of Spambots. Lately my site has had a significant (for me) upsurgence of web traffic from specific IPs, coinciding with a massive increase in the number of "people" subscribing to my WordPress page. These new subscribers don't try to post comments on my site's pages, though there was one odd attempt to change a password (which makes me suspect there is some issue with WordPress not letting people easily log into their accounts - I've had RL people complain about it in the past).

Is there some exploit in WordPress that happens if the Bots achieve critical mass on the site? The only other possibility I could think of is that the e-mail addresses could increase the "visibility" of spam sites that use the names of the e-mail addresses... but seeing that only admins can lot into the section showing the e-mail list of subscribers, I can't see how that would benefit the spambots seeing that the web spiders can't get into those pages.

Any thoughts?

Rob H.

unidial: a telephone network that has only nine members (and an operator)

Bob Kerns said...

heh, yes, 'svn blame' is part of what I had in mind, but I don't think it's really a rich enough model.

Rational/IBM's model of requirements traceability is somewhat closer. You'd like to trace it back through multiple documents and proposals.

And not just legislation, but also regulations -- which would necessarily trace back to enabling legislation, or be primae facie invalid.

'blame 24 CFR 28.35'

Tony Fisk said...

Since svn versions the repository rather than individual files, I think it would be rich enough.

Still, it is but one possibility of many (although I have a personal distaste of Rational ClearCase: apart from being a crock of bureaucratic guano, it has the unique and dubious honour of actively *losing* data on me)

Tony Fisk said...

Meanwhile, in Under-Earth, the War of the Benzene Ring steps up, and the term 'snooty elf' takes on a new meaning.

Cate Blanchett is being pilloried by Murdoch Press for supporting an ad for the Carbon Tax (spin = rich actresses don't speak for the poor folk who'll have to pay for this. counter-spin = Murdoch and Al-Waleed do?)

Bob Kerns said...

You can have a rational debate on the pros and cons of a carbon tax.

Or you can have Murdoch.

(I love the phrase "War of the Benzene Ring").

But ClearCase is completely different from IBM Rational RequisitePro (and even originated in a different company), and the issue isn't versioning, but tracing the flow of information between documents and between stages of the process, in addition to tracing change over time.

Even if you made everything in the Subversion repository different copies/versions of the same document (so you could merge freely between them), that doesn't tell you that such-and-such a change is the result of combining that line over there from this other document with this paragraph.

You'd also like to tie this in with annotations of relevant court decisions, committee hearings, etc. It really becomes a hypertext document with a hyper-history.

But anything would be better than what we have now. Even CVS.

Well, not Visual SourceSafe -- I've seen too many repositories fatally and irretrievably corrupted. Kind of like politicians, actually.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Bob, Rewinn,

I am in two minds about identifying “who” made any changes when constructing your legislation, who made the change is less important than “what” was changed, I could see “good” changes being reversed because of who made them rather than what they were.

Legislation should be published on-line for public submissions before returning to the legislators (with the submissions)

And then published on-line with the old version and the comments before the final vote that makes it law –

Which is what is done here - although the Government can push stuff through – under Urgency – which short circuits the process.

This gets substantially more than 200+ “eagle eyed opponents” checking the legislation; there are also “intent” statements that go out with the legislation to help the courts in their interpretation if necessary

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Guys

Important information

New chapter in Methods of Rationality

Robert said...

So much for free public education:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/05/30/school-districts-nationwide_n_867223.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/05/30/
school-districts-nationwide_n_867223.html

I would like to know why the hell Chess Club would cost $350, and that they are forcing people to pay for community service, which is now mandated for students to graduate. So in other words, having students go out and pick up trash or help older people at nursing homes costs the school money. WTF?!?

Rob H.

Blight said...

Dear Bob (it sounds better than John), in the brainstorming phase of Civilization 2.0 should we really invest our time looking at failures? In creative problem solving one never starts with criticisms that derail innovative thinking. In addition, the revolutionaries that founded the United States were working with the Enlightenment model. The United States was set up with a design in mind. As we near the so-called singularity, can we afford to be without a design? The Banksters have their hyperderivatives and lobbyists; the Koch brothers have a plan for breaking the unions; Sarah Palin is ginning up more celebrity status to increase her revenue stream. What have you done Bob to make the world a better place? Right now its people with plans and money who are crafting the mess we are starting to see unfold. If you don't do anything when the others our taken, don't be surprised when they come for you. I volunteer some of my time down at the homeless mission - and whole families, many educated are starting to show up. My engineer brother-in-law has been unemployed for the last 5 years (he was over the age limit when HP laid him off)and he and his wife have suffered several health problems without medical insurance. Yes, let them eat cake and pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Yes, we can continue to make witty blog comments and spin pretty conceptual spider webs - while others our crafting our fate. A shit storm is coming.

Blight said...

Bob, please forgive me my previous diatribe. I see that you are giving some serious thought to Civilization 5.31.2011.
(I like the fact that the version is current with the date.) When I have time, I will look closely at your suggestions and post
some of my own.) I'm also interested in what David thinks of brainstorming a new and improved civilization. I have also
given some thought as to how these changes can be systemically added. (Ideas without a plan as to how they can
be added to the system may not be without merit, but worse, they are without effect.)

Tim H. said...

Something else to consider for next level civilization, the balance between crime prevention and freedom. Interesting discussion here:
http://www.ginandtacos.com/2011/05/31/hurry-its-contagious/
The darkly entertaining thing about expanded law enforcement powers is when the political winds change, all those precedents can be used against the despised group du jour.

Bob Kerns said...

Indeed, even opposing such things can make you the "opponent du jour".

My old friend Kent Pitman has an interesting and highly relevant blog post over on Open Salon about the secret interpretation of the Patriot Act. Secret interpretations of the law are pretty much the opposite of transparency.

I'd say we're going in the wrong direction -- but I'm old enough to remember <a href='http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/COINTELPRO>COINTELPRO</a>, and those tactics have never really stopped.

I'm trying to post a comment there, linking to this discussion -- but Open Salon is broken, so who knows when or if I succeed. Or maybe it's being blocked by our government, and I should expect my door to be broken down...

Blight said...

I'm curious as to the situation of other contributors at this site. Are you basically untouched by the near economic collapse of 2008 and its aftermath? Have you, a relative,or a friend been unemployed for a significant length of time? Have any of you lost your health insurance? Are you still optimistic that our country's downward trajectory is still correctable - and why? I certainly don't sense any significant urgency in the postings I'm observing, so I'm quite curious about the contributors. In my opinion, politically we are only being given two choices in our elections: bad and worse - crafted by individuals following dated, stereotyped, timid, ideologically/lobbyist crafted strategies. The Civilization 2.0 on which I'm working will be created around a grassroots basis.
I intend to begin the process at my ranch. What suggestions would you like to share with me in developing this idea? I'm already in contact with openfarmtech.org and intending to utilize their online resources in my venture to help unemployed people.

Paul said...

200 Japanese pensioners are volunteering to clean up the Fukushima site. Most are retired engineers, including former power-station workers. Their logic is simple, the average time-to-onset of cancer is higher than their average life-expectancy.

So far they are being denied access. But an interesting addition to citizen responders.

sociotard said...

What suggestions would you like to share with me in developing this idea?

Ideas for a new civilizations? I do wish we crafted policy using Collaborative Stakeholder Engagement, like the BLM uses. It really bothers me that our Intellectual Property rules get set by industry lobbyists and politicians, and lobbyists to protect the creative commons are not invited to the party.

Blight said...

One advantage that my Civilization 2.0 experiment has is that my ranch is right next to a Hutterite colony. The colony has it right in producing most of their own necessities - and not being overly dependent on our soon to be failed state. By the way, they don't spend money on rap music or even Lady Gaga or IPads, or the other electronic crap and media, that constitutes our dying civilization. City people don't seem to be able to create their own fun. And if I am guilty of over generalizing, please explain the large attendance at professional sports shows and Lady Gaga concerts. Yes, work your minimum wage job and then spend 5 dollars a gallon going to a Gaga concert. Frankly, Civilization 2.0 is starting to take off in Montana. We are a resource-based economy and can do quite fine alone - actually much better without Wall Street and the other predators. In fact, I'm telling my representatives - TO NOT - raise the debt ceiling. So if you aren't thinking about Civilization 2.0 now, you should be. When you're at the end of the bread line or running around for emergency medical services, its kind of too late. It doesn't matter how big you think you are - or how important - in reality your aging, disposable bio mass. The leaders of this country will gladly throw you under the train.

Tony Fisk said...

The Saudis are being frank and open:

'We don't want the West to go find alternatives [to oil]'

Keep 'em in the mosque rather than the bazaar

BCRion said...

"We are a resource-based economy and can do quite fine alone - actually much better without Wall Street and the other predators."

Blight -- That's because you face no existential threats because, like it or not, Wall Street produces capital providing taxes for defense systems that protect your lifestyle. How much does your society invest in defense against foreign invaders? Especially those armed with tanks, bombers, and nuclear missiles. Those things aren't going away if our order collapses, they will just get in the hands of a Balkinized society.

I'm curious how you guys plan to withstand the modern "barbarians" in the event of the collapse you seem to so be hoping for. Civilization 2.0, as you see it, is not going to be a romantic thing; in reality is it's going to be quite brutal with billions dead from constant global conflagrations.

Rash nihilism is not a viable strategy in the modern era. Perhaps even 100 years ago, your ideas may have worked. Today, our ability to destroy is so advanced and cannot be undone, that we have no responsible choice but to preserve some semblance of global order. This means doing everything we can to be part of reforming the system. Going off in the woods and pushing for collapse is the path to global devastation that I doubt you really want to be a part of.

Tony Fisk said...

Blight, check out the Transition Town movement for people who prepare their communities for peak oil and global warming... without isolating themselves from the rest of society (that's how cults get going).

I think TTs are a good thing on balance. Even so, they're not a complete answer (for some of the reasons that BCRion covers). What they *may* achieve is stress relief for society as a whole, by identifying open loops and closing them.

BCRion said...

Just to clarify, I do think getting survival skills are a very good thing. Natural disasters happen and sometimes society is often not able to respond as quickly as we would like. I predict some rough spots are ahead, and it is good to be prepared.

That said, people should be doing everything in your power to push for some reformed and more sustainable version of the status quo. I've found many survivalist types embrace all the romantic aspects of the frontiersmen lifestyle, but ignore the darker aspects of human history of times without civilized authority. No one saved you from rampaging armies back in those days. At least then, you had a fighting chance -- Barbarians 2.0, armed with modern equipment, not so much unless you are similarly armed, and even then, expect great devastation when nukes get lobbed.

Truth be told, if society collapses, your new bosses will be the exact same as the old ones; they will use their wealth and influence to make it so. Except now, no legal system will be present to deter them and their goons from pillaging your farm, selling your sons into slavery, and raping your daughters. That is the cruel reality of what most of human history was, and civilization has largely saved us from that. We need to fight so that those days never return.

Paul said...

Blight,
Re: Civilisation 2.0

The fact that you think you're living in "Civilisation 1.0" is why I think you'll fail at... whatever you're trying to achieve. If you look at human history and see just one attempt, one version, of civilisation, then you have no sense of perspective to judge any upgrades.

sociotard said...

This may have already been posted, but here's a youtube video of people getting arrested for dancing at the Jefferson Memorial

http://www.youtube.com/user/TheYoungTurks?feature=sub_widget_1#p/u/0/kLGyMJw1iH4

Bob Kerns said...

Blight -- your idea of Civilization 2.0 and mine are very different.

That, I think, is actually a very good thing. I think a major factor that has doomed so many attempts has been a lack of diversity -- and diversity is essential for a robust society. Yes, you can have a stable uniform society -- up until conditions change.

I think the one thing we cannot tolerate in our quest for Civilization 2.0 -- is intolerance. And that includes, not trying to "preserve" our vision of the society in the face of others taking a different view.

That's where you get people bulldozing houses and people recruiting kids to blow themselves up and car bombs and wars of genocide and killing fields and a whole host of other failures of civilization.

Re: dancing at the Jefferson Memorial: My opinion is that those officers should be seriously disciplined for even making a threat of arrest. Lose their jobs for making the arrest.

And that one that slammed that guy to the ground, should face assault and battery charges.

This is NOT performing their official duties. The moment they threatened arrest for dancing, they stepped out of their role, and became oppressors, not defenders, of our civilization.

Things like this do great harm. We give these people great power; with it comes great responsibility. And it is our responsibility to see to it that they behave responsibly. And the US Constitution is the starting point.

If harm were being done by the dancing -- that is, if the dancing were interfering with the rights of others, then they would be justified in intervening -- but not because of dancing!

When we have police behaving in this fashion -- not are the rights of the individuals involved harmed -- but it has a chilling effect on the rights of us all.

Further, it undermines the trust between citizens and their police, and their government overall. It ceases to be our government, as the representatives of the people, and becomes US vs THEM.

And whenever our government becomes THEM, rather than US, we have a failure of democracy.

Bob Kerns said...

And yes, I realize the police were following orders.

But they swore and oath to uphold the Constitution. Those orders do not diminish their responsibility -- but the responsibility does extend to those issuing those orders.

We need to know who issued those orders, and every detail of the process from start to finish.

Those cops were put in the position of being expected to follow orders to violate people's rights. That should never have happened. We -- and they -- need to hold the people behind that responsible for their actions. And their superiors, for allowing it to happen and to continue.

We need to restore trust in our government. You don't do this through needless and pointless confrontations.

sociotard said...

I just found out that one of the arrested individuals is a TV show host. This wasn't a case of fun-loving people experiencing a chance encounter with a fascist cop. This was a publicity stunt.

My empathy levels have been adjusted accordingly.

Bob Kerns said...

I was clear on that from the beginning. Being a publicity hound does not invalidate your rights.

Bob Kerns said...

And calling attention to a past injustice by inducing a better-publicized repeat actually should get MORE, not less sympathy.

Brendan said...

About the Jefferson Memorial arrests: I have questions that can't be answered by looking at the video.

1: How many people were involved?
2: How much space are they taking up while dancing?
3: Are they incoveniencing other visitors to the sight?

We are carefully only shown the perifery of the mob.

I am always a bit suss about this sort of footage since I saw a photo of police leaning over a barrier clubbing protesters. A later uncropped photo later emerged that showed they were defending another officer who had been in front of the barrier, fallen, and were being stepped upon by the protesters.

LarryHart said...

Bob Kearns:

I think a major factor that has doomed so many attempts has been a lack of diversity -- and diversity is essential for a robust society. Yes, you can have a stable uniform society -- up until conditions change.


A healthy political system recognizes that both conservative and liberal tendencies have their place and their reasons.

Conservatism (rightly) recognizes that the status quo has developed in response to the external world over a long period of time, and thus is as it is for a good reason.

Liberalism (rightly) recognizes that the external world does not remain constant, and that what "worked" well for our ancestors might be obsolete and possibly even dangerous in the present moment.

Society survives best when it has a healthy does of BOTH traits, just as a species survives best when it is well-adapted to its environment AND can react to a changing environment.

I'm a liberal by temprement, but have always recognized the role that healthy conservatism plays in our society's survival. Would that the opposite were true as well--that the right didn't believe that liberalism needs to be stamped out in our lifetime. Even the authoritarian government of "Brave New World" recognized the societal need to have creative dissidents to call upon when necessary.

Paul said...

A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Michigan From Being a Burden on Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Publick. Respectfully submitted by Nathan Bootz
Superintendent, Ithaca Public Schools

Paul said...

Raw images (artefacts and all) from the Cassini spaceprobe of Saturn, rings and moons, set to discordant music. Would make suitably spooky opening cedits for an American remake of a Japanese horror film.

rewinn said...

"Are they incoveniencing other visitors to the sight?"

Freedom is inconvenient.

That is actually part of the point.

Brendan said...

Freedom is inconvenient.

So who's freedom is more important? The protesters or the other people who came to the place to see the sights? The protesters seem ready to pay a price for their freedom, but is it fair to ask others to also pay too?

I work in a place where I regularly have to shoo people away from where they are congregating. They will be in a group standing on tac-tile paths we have laid out to help guide the blind, be standing in entrance ways or sitting in stair wells. Are they doing anything against the law? No, but they are inconveniencing people around them. And don't forget these are people who also have rights.

Plus there is (I hope) still such a thing known as courtesy, if not for the auhorities, then for the people around you.

At the moment this is hypothetical of course. If this were a more transparent society we would have access to the security footage and get a better view of what really went on, not just the (probably biased) vision put out by the dancers.

Paul said...

Brendan,
"So who's freedom is more important? The protesters or the other people who came to the place to see the sights?"

Except the dancers weren't stopping people from sightseeing, there was no loud music, nor picket-lines (where it's intimidating to cross.)

The sightseers only lost access when the police closed the monument. And I don't think it's fair to blame the dancers for the dickishness of authorities ("Now look what you've made me do")

"I work in a place where I regularly have to shoo people away from where they are congregating."

Do you pick them up and body-slam them onto a hard surface? And would you not expect to be charged with assault if you did?

We've had a couple of publicised deaths in our city from fights outside of pubs as a result of one combatant falling back onto concrete. So there's currently a public campaign to try to get pub-goers aware of the dangers of "just throwing a punch".

Similarly, there's been some serious injuries amongst kids who've copied cartoonish wrestling moves, the worst offender being that specific body-slam. And I'm willing to put money on that not being something the officer was trained to do, it was something he picked up from TV (or his own teenage-skylarking.)

It was an anger-reaction. It was wrong, dangerous and stupid. Even if his colleagues reacted too late to prevent it, he should have been immediately pulled from the slamee, whom he was choking, and removed from the scene while another officer checked whether the slamee had been hurt.

But that didn't happen. More importantly, it couldn't happen. The culture against criticism of police (reinforced by superiors and courts) is so engrained that it is culturally impossible for a fellow officer to intervene, and any attempt by civilians to object is seen (by police, prosecutors and judges) as a hostile and illegal act.

And I'm willing to bet, that culture has killed people.

rewinn said...

Let the "other people who came" protest the dancers, if they wish.

I doubt very very much anyone objected. To the contrary, the other people at the Monument very likely enjoyed the show - except for the violence by the cops.

I appreciate that on private property you have the right and perhaps the duty to shoo away people doing something you don't like, but on public property, you have to put up with the public. We're really not that bad, once you get to know us.

And BTW your implication that a full video of the scene who show that the protesters were naughtily kicking the police in the shins is just silly. Why is the silent majority that the capitol police were claiming to represent so bereft of cameraphones?

rewinn said...

"...tac-tile paths we have laid out to help guide the blind, be standing in entrance ways or sitting in stair well..."
This is absolutely irrelevant to the facts of the Jefferson Memorial dance. There is no showing that the dancers endangered people on the stairways or obstructed tac-tile paths.

Brendan said...

The only reason I am putting a contrary opinion is based on the footage that has been posted here we don't know how many people were involved or how much space they were taking up or how much they were inconveniencing others.

All we know was an event was manufactured as a protest and that it was filmed by the protesters including the arrival and actions of police.

I am quite willing to concede that the police may have been acting belligerently(although the first cop was polite enough) and possibly improperly, but anything else you and I have said is pure conjecture(which I admitted to in my last comment).

Fifteen seconds of footage by someone who you have to concede has an agenda to be pushed and therefore may be biased is not enough to properly assess the situation.

If there are other news sources or video or anything that could expand upon the events I would delighted to get a better understanding of events.

One of the key ideas behind the Transparent Society is that as long as everyone behaves in a respectful manner no one is disadvantaged by the ubiquitous footage of their actions. That includes the public, and the authorities.

Tony Fisk said...

It struck me as a bit of a stunt (although there did appear to be a few police present)

The first policeman talking politely was also the guy who did the manhandling later. There seemed to be little violence otherwise

LarryHart said...

Blight:

I'm curious as to the situation of other contributors at this site. Are you basically untouched by the near economic collapse of 2008 and its aftermath? Have you, a relative,or a friend been unemployed for a significant length of time? Have any of you lost your health insurance? Are you still optimistic that our country's downward trajectory is still correctable - and why? I certainly don't sense any significant urgency in the postings I'm observing, so I'm quite curious about the contributors.


I've given up.

Seriously, I have no expectations for the next 30 years I'm likely to be alive. I continue to save for retirement as a fail-safe, because civilization has been more resilient than expected in the past, and I don't want to be caught short if it's somehow still going on indefinitely. But I don't expect to be able to retire comfortably. I expect that some day I'll simply be tired of working and call it a day.

The optimism you sense is actually the recognition that, as Frank Miller's "Daredevil" would put it, "A man without hope is a man without fear." It's quite liberating, actually, in a depressing sort of way.

To answer your specific question, no, I'm one of the lucky ones so far. Still working, no raise in years, but no salary cut either. Still have health insurance for my family and myself through work, which is the main reason I can remain solvent for the nonce. I have to be useful to the owners of the means of survival, or else they'll withhold the means of survival from me and my family. That's not "freedom", though, it's serfdom.


In my opinion, politically we are only being given two choices in our elections: bad and worse - crafted by individuals following dated, stereotyped, timid, ideologically/lobbyist crafted strategies.


Yes and no.

If the choice is between "bad" and "worse" where "worse" means mass starvation and public health disasters, then I'll keep on voting for "bad", thank you very much.


When you're at the end of the bread line or running around for emergency medical services, its kind of too late. It doesn't matter how big you think you are - or how important - in reality your aging, disposable bio mass. The leaders of this country will gladly throw you under the train.


So, apparently, will my fellow contrymen. I hope to survive as part of a COMMUNITY, because I know darned well I'm not prepared to do so on my own.

Be careful what you wish for. Bringing down civilization in order to hope something better rises out of the ashes sounds like an Ayn Rand fantasy. And my one hope for the post-apocalyptic world you anticipate is that Randists will be treated much as Holnists were in Dr Brin's novel "The Postman".

ell said...

Remember all those science fiction stories about people (even kids) building a spaceship in their back yard? A couple of Danes have launched a rocket -- and hope to someday launch a person in a rocket.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110603/ap
_on_re_eu/eu_denmark_rocket_launch

ToddR said...

"I'm curious as to the situation of other contributors at this site."

I have a job paying about 1/4 what I made a few years ago. Fortunately has medical insurance which came in handy for a repair surgery I had a couple of weeks ago which apparently is going bad so I may well have to go back to the chop shop in another week or two. High deductible though: about 3x monthly salary before insurance kicks in.

Live in a rented room with bad ventilation and I suspect mold (chronic respiratory problems since I moved there) and no access to refrigerator or stove/oven. Room in a single-family house, not an apartment so I have no legal recourse for the mold problem as far as I can tell. A 20% raise in cost of living (not phrased as "rent increase" but as "extra fee to cover utilities" which amounts to about 3x what I'm actually using as far as I can tell) was just announced yesterday.

Cannot afford to move (all the apartments around here are about 3x what I found the room for and way too close to 100% of monthly salary).

LarryHart said...

This is tangential to the "end of civilization" discussion, and maybe doesn't belong here, but I don't know who else to ask.

Wall Street is beginning to issue warnings about dire consequences if a deal isn't reached to raise the debt ceiling. Does that mean they are having buyer's remorse over backing the Republicans in 2010? Or does it mean that they're trying to put pressure on the Democrats to accede to blackmail in order to get a deal.

I realize that Wall St would be happiest with that latter scenario, but are they willing to actually risk default in a dangerous game of brinksmanship in order to achieve that end? Or has the Tea Party gone rogue, from the Wall St point of view?

I ask because I honestly can't figure out their angle.

matthew said...

How am I doing? Making more money than I ever have. 401k and a pension plan. Big bonuses.
Downside? I lost all savings in the last two years (layoff from a tech firm). I am in my mid-40's and am starting over at the point I was at when I was in my early 20's. But saving quicker than I was back then. And gods only know how secure my job is right now.
And Wall St., Republicans? Have so much hatred for liberalism that they are willing to burn the system down to win one election. I think that they feel that one more landslide is all they need to tighten the grip for the foreseeable future.

LarryHart said...

matthew:

I am in my mid-40's and am starting over at the point I was at when I was in my early 20's. But saving quicker than I was back then. And gods only know how secure my job is right now.


That's the thing. No matter how well you are doing, unless you are really uber-wealthy, you still can't make or save enough money to make your retirement secure from the costs of medical care. The only reason your parents could do so was Medicare, and now they want to take THAT away too?


And Wall St., Republicans? Have so much hatred for liberalism that they are willing to burn the system down to win one election. I think that they feel that one more landslide is all they need to tighten the grip for the foreseeable future.


That seems to be the calculation--that the Republicans intentionally crashing the economy will somehow HELP them in the next election. I guess they think they can blame it on Obama and the Democrats, even though those folks wanted a clean debt-ceiling bill, and the Republicans are clearly the one treating this as a hostage situation.

The one thing I'm not clear about is where the real corporate masters on Wall Street stand. They like the right-wing agenda, but I doubt they want an actual default. Do they have enough pull to prevent it? Or are they willing participants in the dangerous game of brinksmanship? In any case, while a US default would be devestating for me personally, so would Republican policies, so I hope the Dems call their bluff.

Say, can't Obama do one of those Bush signing statements? Pass a bill that lowers taxes and slashes Medicare in exchange for avoiding a default, but sign it with "I had my fingers crossed" so the bad parts don't count?

You know I'm really feeling pessimistic when those are the kinds of solutions I SERIOUSLY propose.

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rewinn said...

@Brendan
To draw a conclusion based upon all available evidence is not "speculation"; speculation is when you suggest that different evidence may result in a different conclusion.

All the evidence produced is of a needless confrontation against persons peacefully using their 1st Amendment right of free expression. Your entire point is that there may be additional evidence that the "mob" was actually a bunch of bad actors; that is textbook speculation.

And the dance continues.

@Matthew

"...Wall St., Republicans? Have so much hatred for liberalism that they are willing to burn the system down to win one election..."
Keeping in mind that they will get out of the financial market and into something like commodities in time to keep their wealth intact. The system may "burn down" for thee 98%, but why should the 2% care? Occasionally the Aristocracy has to send the Cossacks into the streets and fields to ride down the uppity peasants, with the result that the crops fail for a year or two, but no prince ever went hungry so long as a peasant had a groat.

sociotard said...

"Homeowners Foreclose on Bank."
Read that carefully. It isn't a typo.

Brendan said...

Rewinn,

Might I suggest you properly read what I post instead of skimming then assuming you have fathomed my point of view.

I am very glad you decided to enlighten me on the correct usage of the word "speculation". It is something that was obviously lacking in my education, a lack of which I may have been aware since I haven't used the word in any of my posts so far.

Paul said...

Police in a Miami shoot-out, which has the feel of a contagious shooting, allegedly turned on witnesses, smashing camera-phones.

Miami Herald

Pixiq, a cam blog which often covers police vs videographers.

Paul said...

Speaking of surveillance and abuse of authority, has anyone read this?

It's about a current case against an NSA whistleblower.

Disturbing stuff, not just because of the potential for abuse of this accumulated power, but because of the clear "corporate" culture of justifying that abuse of power; where telling the truth to Congressional Oversight about a billion dollar boondoggle, and an illegal domestic surveillance program on a phenomenal scale, is treated as "espionage".

"The Bush people have been let off. The telecom companies got immunity. The only people Obama has prosecuted are the whistle-blowers."

(A slashdotter with lapsed top-secret clearance had an interesting suggestion about the NSA obfuscating trial evidence on the grounds of "National security": "We currently have 800,000+ citizens with TS clearances. [...] With that many people to draw from I would think we could find a good jury pool and give people a fair trial instead of [this]". Instead, I expect having any clearance would get you automatically excluded from the jury pool.)

(illerdel: The Illuminati's country cousins.)

Paul said...

(Is it just me, or is blogger being better behaved with linked-posts since its little three day tantrum the other week?)

Paul said...

Just me.

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