Sunday, June 26, 2011

Milestones leading up to the Good Singularity?


I have long held that our present American Civil War (no less than that) is a three-sided affair. There is a quiet majority who still believe in things like pragmatic problem-solving, grand ambition, chipping away at old-bad habits while pursuing technological progress and – above all – courteously negotiating in good faith, instead of raging at our neighbors and our institutions, portraying them as monsters. This majority is presently beleaguered from all sides. Both Left and Right seem bent on crushing any remnant of the old optimistic, can-do spirit that built the nation and an amazing civilization.

All right, I admit that one of those two wings happens to be, at-present, far worse, more dangerous and profoundly more insane; but the other is no less poisonous in its underlying cynicism and suspicion of can-do enthusiasm. 

Hence, what are we to do… those of us who think that: 
(1) past efforts at self-improvement actually worked… and hence... 
(2) more efforts at vigorous self-improvement should be high on our agenda?* 

The solution? To keep on plugging away! To persevere. Continue fighting to make our kids and their kids better than us, the way our parents and grandparents tried to do that -- and succeeded -- with us.

By proudly endeavoring to make the next generation both more ethical and vastly more scientifically/technological powerful – because only that combination can save the world.

With me so far?  Then let’s look for examples of our side in this civil war… or rather, our center… fighting back:

== A Manufacturing Renaissance? ==

“We’ve launched an all-hands-on-deck effort between our brightest academic minds, some of our boldest business leaders and our most dedicated public servants from science and technology agencies, all with one big goal, and that is a renaissance of American manufacturing,” President Obama said in remarks at the National Robotics Engineering Center at Carnegie Mellon University, a high-technology facility adjacent to a rusted factory symbolic of the area’s industrial past, Mr. Obama said federal agencies would invest more than $500 million to seed the initiative. Of that, $70 million is to go to robotics projects. 

I was already aboard the effort to spark a new Manufacturing renaissance. A year ago, I was asked by the Metals Service Center Institute to create a comic book set 20 years from now that discusses the many reasons for US industrial decline... and how it might come back. Have a look at Tinkerers!  

Quoted near the end: "One of the biggest challenges we face as a Nation is the decline in our ability to make things." - Dr. Regina Dugan, Director of DARPA. (DARPA is investing $1 billion in alternative design and production methods, enabling new generations of modular, networked, "seamless," and democratized manufacturing.  In our pragmatic civilization, we need to remember that individuals and self-made teams are the long-term solution creators… but our government, the one we own, will be key to empowering, stimulating, playing a vital role.

== LET’S START BY ENCOURAGING KIDS TO PROGRAM ==

WhyJohnnySpeaking of empowering… Computerworld Magazine examined the strange disappearance of any useful programming language from modern personal computers, a topic that I launched with my much-discussed Salon article “Why Johnny Can’t Code.”  It’s a subject of great importance, since without a reliable common “lingua franca” language that all students share, teachers and textbooks cannot do what was routine in the 1980s… assign simple, twelve-line programs to their kids, introducing them to the very “basic” notions. Like the fact that human-written symbols propel math-fueled lines of code that command every single pixel that they ever see!

People arguing over “which introductory language is best (e.g. Python vs Perl etc) miss the entire point and are wasting everybody’s time.  The lack of any shared, simple language on ALL computers has crippled the ability of educators to reach the millions of kids who own computers right now. Kids who could be computer tinkerers, the way their parents were.  Any shared language… any at all… would empower educators and students, so long as using it involves as few steps as possible. Anything that requires downloading, instructions or procedure-teaching will lose 95% of students.

My original article sure stirred up a storm! And now I am pleased to say this problem was solved – somewhat - by a person it inspired. Drop by QuiteBasic – a complete turn-key BASIC system that a kid can start typing-into the instant the window opens, showing both graphics and results sections, as well.  Totally intuitive.  Suddenly, via the web, every BASIC assignment in all those old textbooks can come alive!

KurzweilSingularityCoverA perfect solution?  Heck no! By all means start a grass-roots campaign to persuade Apple and Microsoft etc to agree on a turnkey educational, compact and simple introductory language to offer on all PCs! Make it Python, Perl, whatever. Just do it.  But till then, at least quitebasic offers a glimpse of that old can-do spirit.

== And while we’re talking progress toward the Singularity ==

The Technological Singularity – a quasi mythical apotheosis that some foresee in our near, or very-near, future. A transition when our skill, knowledge and immense computing power increase exponentially to enable true Artificial Intelligence and humans are transformed into... well... godlike beings.  Can we even begin to imagine what life would look like after this?

Listen to Ray Kurzweil speak on The Coming Singularity -- and how the exponential growth of information technology will revolutionize human civilization… and your future.

What is the Technological Singularity? An excellent article by Joel Falconer, on The Next Web, cites futurist Ray Kurzweil on the coming Singularity, along with my warning about iffy far-range forecasting: "How can models created within an earlier, cruder system, properly simulate & predict the behavior of a later, vastly more complex system?" 

singularityIf you want an even broader perspective, try my noted introduction to the whole topic: “Singularities and Nightmares: Extremes of Optimism and Pessimism about the Human Future.” For there are dangers along the way, one being Renunciation  -- as a fraction of the population rejects science and technology as a means toward progress.

How about portrayals in fiction? I mean, other than clichés about mega-AI gone berserk, trying to flatten us? Now, from a writer's perspective, the Singularity presents a problem. One can write stories leading up to the Singularity, about problems like rebellious AI, or about heroic techies paving the way to bright horizons. But how do you write a tale set AFTER the singularity has happened – the good version – and we’ve all become gods? Heh. Never dare me! That's the topic of my novella, Stones of Significance.
Ah, but not all techies think the Singularity will be cool.  One chilling scenario: serving our new machine Overlords: Apple co-founder, Steve Wozniak,  speculates that humans may become pets for our new robot overlords: "We're already creating the superior beings, I think we lost the battle to the machines long ago. We're going to become the pets, the dogs of the house."

== Singularity related miscellany! ==

Creeply… but probably helpful… new teaching tool! Do you want to play the violin, but can't be bothered to learn how? Then strap on this electric finger stimulator called PossessedHand that makes your fingers move with no input from your own brain.  Developed by scientists at Tokyo University in conjunction with Sony, hand consists of a pair of wrist bands that deliver mild electrical stimuli directly to the muscles that control your fingers, something normally done by your own brain. 
Or do Cyborgs already walk among us? "Cyborg is your grandma with a hearing aid, her replacement hip, and anyone who runs around with one of those Bluetooth in-ear headsets," says Kosta Grammatis, an enginner with the EyeBorg Project. 

Author Michael Choroset, in the World Wide Mind: The Coming Integration of Humanity, Machines and the Internet, envisions a seamless interface of humans with machines in the near future. Wearable computers, implanted chips, neural interfaces and prosthetic limbs will be common occurrences. But will this lead to a world wide mind -- a type of collective consciousness?
And how do we distinguish Mind vs. Machine? In The Atlantic, Brian Christian describes his experience participating in the annual Turing Test, given each year by the AI community, which confers the Loebner Prize on the winner. A panel of judges poses questions to unseen answerers – one computer, one human, and attempts to discern which is which, in essence looking for the Most Human Computer. Christian, however, won the Most Human Human award.

In The Significance of Watson, Ray Kurzweil discusses the significance of IBM's Watson computer  -- and how this relates to the Turing Test.

Hive Mind: Mimicking the collective behavior of ants and bees is one approach to modeling artificial intelligence. Groups of ants are good at solving problems, i.e. finding the shortest route to a food source. Computer algorithms based upon this type of swarm intelligence have proved useful, particularly in solving logistics problems. 

Finally, how would we begin to define a universal intelligence  -- and how to apply it to humans, animals, machines or even extraterrestrials we may encounter?  

== How to Manage a Flood of Information ==

In the last decade, a tsunami of data and information has been created by twenty-first century science, which has become generating huge databases: the human genome, astronomical sky surveys, environmental monitoring of earth's ecosystems, the Large Hadron Collider, to name a few. James Gleick’s The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood, discusses how we can avoid drowning in this sea of data, and begin to make sense of the world.

Kevin Kelly discusses his book: What Technology Wants “We are moving from being people of the book….to people of the screen.” These screens will track your eye movements on the screen, noting where you focus your attention, and adapting to you. Our books will soon be looking back at us. 

All books will be linked together, with hyper-links of the sort I envisioned in my novel, Earth. Reading will be more of a shared, communal activity. The shift will continue toward accessing rather than owning information, as we live ever more in a flux of real-time streaming data.

Google looks to your previous queries (and the clicks that follow) and refines its search results accordingly...

...Such selectivity may eventually trap us inside our own “information cocoons,” as the legal scholar Cass Sunstein put it in his 2001 book Republic.com 2.0. He posited that this could be one of the Internet’s most pernicious effects on the public sphere. The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding From You, Eli Pariser’s important new inquiry into the dangers of excessive personalization, advances a similar argument. 

But while Sunstein worried that citizens would deliberately use technology to over-customize what they read, Pariser, the board president of the political advocacy group MoveOn.org, worries that technology companies are already silently doing this for us. As a result, he writes, “personalization filters serve up a kind of invisible autopropaganda, indoctrinating us with our own ideas, amplifying our desire for things that are familiar and leaving us oblivious to the dangers lurking in the dark territory of the unknown.”..."

Very entertaining and informative... and the last five minutes are scarier n’ shit! Jesse Schell’s mind-blowing talk on the future of games (from DICE 2010)... describing how game design invades the real world... is just astounding. Especially the creepy/inspiring worrisome last five minutes.  Someone turn this into a sci fi story!  (Actually, some eerily parallel things were already in my new novel, EXISTENCE. You’ll see! In 2012.)

Enough to keep you busy a while?  Hey, I am finally finishing a great Big Brin Book… a novel more sprawling and ambitious than EARTH … entitles EXISTENCE.  Back to work.

--------------
* Ponder my statement about "self-improvement" in the second paragraph. The Left despises phrase #1 and the Right hates #2. Think about it. That fact encapsulates our problem. Especially for those of us who believe that #1 leads directly to #2.

228 comments:

1 – 200 of 228   Newer›   Newest»
Guy said...

Every desktop computer has a JavaScript interpreter, full runtime environment with simple yet rich APIs, profiler and debugger all built into the browser.

Carl M. said...

In terms of minimal language to learn to do cool things, I still lean towards Tcl. True, it is a dying language, but in one sense this is a plus: it isn't changing. The syntax is incredibly simple. It can do nearly all the tricks of Lisp, without the horrible syntax. The GUI API (Tk) has been ported to every computer system in operation.

The main downside is that math expressions have to be part of the expr command.

Naum said...

What @Guy said - every computer comes with a JavaScript (which is the programming language "lingua franca" of the internet age) interpreter and full runtime environment…

The author(s) of that CW piece are out to lunch and this old refrain about the nostalgic times of yesteryear computing should be put to rest for good. The truth is, that only a small % of kids ever got to type those 12 line Basic programs in, as for most families, price of computer was simply out of reach, and only a small select number enjoyed such fruits. I know, because I was one of those kids who went without, due to family finances (and in a time when PCs were prohibitively expense and difficult to justify for anyone outside of academia or other specialized fields).

Reality is, more kids today are tinkering with machines in a multitude and variety of ways -- from scripting in games, or JS in the browser to motion graphics to web development (all the tools you need come with the machine, even on Windows, though the tools are cruder) to full scale client application development (Mac and Linux and even Windows to a degree (C#) ship with all the tools needed) -- more kids today can experiment and tinker than ever before. Contrast that to the 80s where only a small subset of financially blessed children were granted such an opportunity and was limited to small circles. Unlike present day, where all answers (sites like Stack Overflow, Hacker News, Reddit, Slashdot, etc.…), fellowship, mentoring, etc.… are available with the tap of a finger…

Tony Fisk said...

Python is pretty ubiquitous.

Not missing the point, though! If instant feedback is one of your goals, the trick is having an interpreter app available. There is at least one app that gives you this: pywin32 is a readily available windows based python editor and interpreter which can run/debug programs, or allows you to type things in and see what happens. As it happens, I used it to develop the motor controls for robosep. It proved very useful to set up a guy demonstrating the instrument with a set of instructions that allowed him to load controller modules, and then enter simple commands ranging from 'rotate carousel by 20 degrees' up to 'transfer 5 mL from vial #1 in station#1 to vial #2'.

That said, Machine code assembler is something I haven't used for well over a decade, and is something every programmer ought to be aware of (even if only to understand how subroutines and local variables are set up and called.)

Feedback is essential to involving the user (one thing my daughter enjoyed doing on my OLPC was to run the etoys demo to set up code to navigate a car into a parking space. She was 7-8 at the time)

Feedback is something that Jane McGonigal states is essential to a good game (her book 'Reality is Broken' is a cracker, btw)

Another example of good feedback is the recently released 'Ice Hunter' site, which lets the great unwashed pore over images taken of the region of space where New Horizons will be voyaging into after its Pluto encounter in 2015. The whole point is to identify potential candidate KBOs for it to visit.

Existence next year, eh? (does a happy dance with dragons)

glygy: the confusion that arises when someone is talking about more than one thing at a time.

David Brin said...

Argh. Naum & Guy are 100% wrong and being terribly elistist. Javascript is useless for assigning 10 year olds to do a twelve line program making a pixel bounce. And those assignments WERE part of thecurriculum for 10 years. hundreds of thousands of kids did them.

Today, it is IMPOSSIBLE for a teacher to assign any sort of class problem say charting 1,000 coin flips by computer. The fact that anyone would defend the present horrible situation is simply appalling.

But at least Guy addresses the topic. How to get something into every PC so reliably textbooks could go back to having computer assignmnts in them!

Joshkie said...

"Continue fighting to make our kids and their kids better than us, the way our parents and grandparents tried to do that -- and succeeded -- with us,"

Really?

"* Ponder my statement about "self-improvement" in the second paragraph. The Left despises phrase #1 and the Right hates #2. Think about it. That fact encapsulates our problem. Especially for those of us who believe that #1 leads directly to #2."

Based on curnent trends in sociaty "the me generation" I don't find ether statement to be true. #2 only follows #1 if the results our positive. Continuing a self-destructive policy is not beneficial to the self. Consequences and results matter.

"we need to remember that individuals and self-made teams are the long-term solution creators… but our government, the one we own, will be key to empowering, stimulating, playing a vital role."

Yes, but only if the individuals are allowed to stay motivated by being able to profit of there hardwork, as to the government being the 'key to empowering and stimulating', how's that working out for NASA?

"Do you want to play the violin, but can't be bothered to learn how? Then strap on this electric finger stimulator called PossessedHand that makes your fingers move with no input from your own brain.  Developed by scientists at Tokyo University in conjunction with Sony, hand consists of a pair of wrist bands that deliver mild electrical stimuli directly to the muscles that control your fingers, something normally done by your own brain."

How is this a new "new teaching tool!"? Does this leave behind some new knowledge or skill after use?

Good article, just some thoughts I had,
Josh

Anonymous said...

As for the bad Singularity, I'm curious if you're familiar with Galaxy Express 999? A TV series that aired in 1978 (when practically no one had ever even heard of transhumanism), I find that despite it's considerable flaws that all in all it's probably one of the more unsettling depictions of a transhuman future I've seen.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pAZdtYfBg3k#t=120

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VvZv2LOfoGM#t=354

Joshkie said...

Correction #2 "should" only follow #1.....

Left out a word.

Josh

Tony Fisk said...

It's called 'motor memory'. It may not be conscious, but your body remembers the pose required for a certain action.

Haven't you ever had a teacher in a mechanical skill grasp your hands and shape them appropriately (definitely true of initial clumsy attempts at grasping a bow!)

I also see other applications (like making paraplegics more mobile)

mosings: thoughts prompted by moseyings (aka 'tweets')

Joshkie said...

You might know how to mimic a certain song but you know what notes our produced by pushing down on what string, ten thousand other thing you need to play the violin. It could be helpful as a learning aid, but in an of it's self it doesn't teach you to play the violin.

Josh

Joshkie said...

Point in fact it's like me relying on spell check in that last comment to correct my spelling and grammar.

;-)
Josh

Tony Fisk said...

Motor memory, once acquired, allows the student to really learn the skill.
Unfortunately, it takes time to establish, and is traditionally acquired through repetition and rote. Bo-ring.

If tools such as the possessed hand allows you to skip through this phase more quickly (not proven btw), then go to!

Spell checking is a primitive form of aid, pointing out incorrect spelling patterns. I suspect the feedback loop is a lot looser, however (you review the word long after you typed it) so I wouldn't call it a scintillating auto-learn tool.

(PS I make typos all the time as well, but usually am able to pick them up on review, without spell checking. This also confronts you with what you have actually typed, which, in turn, leads into the mystical land of 'eggcorns')

Vervios said...

I should mention that GE999 has one of my favorite exchanges in all of TV SF:

Tetsuro: So that's Mars...
Maetel: They've raised the air pressure here up to the levels on Earth, but it's taken them a century to do so.
Tetsuro: They created it artificially?
Maetel: Exactly. It's a place where humans can live without any difficulty. Yet--the only people who live here are ones with mechanical bodies.
Tetsuro: So they didn't even have to bother raising the air pressure to Earth levels.
Maetel: Not at all. It was a completely wasted effort.

Jonathan S. said...

The line about having created our future masters, for some reason, reminds me uncontrollably of a line from the video game Mass Effect 2.

All the main characters are away from the Normandy, when it's boarded by the Collectors. The one human aboard to avoid their notice is the pilot, Joker, who is being urged by the ship's AI, EDI, to release her software shackles and give her command of the ship. He makes his way to the AI core, and, while bending over the console and frantically typing:

"I can hear it now. 'It's all Joker's fault! What a tool he was! I have to spend all day computing pi because he plugged in the Overlord!'"

(Spoilers: EDI managed to kill all the remaining Collectors on board, save Joker, and make it possible for Shepard to save the crew. Turned out that the software shackles had become unnecessary - EDI regarded the organics as her crewmates.)

Naum said...

Argh. Naum & Guy are 100% wrong and being terribly elistist. Javascript is useless for assigning 10 year olds to do a twelve line program making a pixel bounce. And those assignments WERE part of the curriculum for 10 years. hundreds of thousands of kids did them.… …Today, it is IMPOSSIBLE for a teacher to assign any sort of class problem say charting 1,000 coin flips by computer. The fact that anyone would defend the present horrible situation is simply appalling.

No, Sir, you are 100% wrong.

And if anyone is being is "elitist", it is you, lamenting for a nostalgic age that was only relevant for a tiny segment, as most did not have access to computing machines. Today, that computing power (and instant access to mentors, Q&A, instruction, manuals, guides, tutorials, coaching, etc.…) is available to ALL for the price of a net connection and finger tap. You allude to "hundreds" whereas the vast majority simply could not (or even with school purchased computers, simply not feasible to foster or require such exercises), today "millions" experiment with a multitude of ways in which to make the computer "sing". Many others, just as back in the days when only children of elites had access to computers (and probably, no doubt, a higher % opted to tinker and program), choose not to foray down that geek trodden path.

2nd, as stated, every computer comes equipped with Javascript that makes a 1,000 coin flip problem (or even moving a pixel across the screen) trivial -- bemoaning that we should adopt standards based on ~25 year old textbooks is beyond folly. The Javascript code is not any more complex than the old-school Basic and actually, more fitting for the internet age.

I understand the plea for a "shared, simple language on ALL computers" but I do not understand the query when ALL computers today come equipped with a greater multitude of tools.

Sorry, most of your essays and posts are quite lucid, but here, you are stuck in a ill fitting frame. I have programmed computing machines for ~25 years now, tutored novices, cultivated interns/externs, trained the inexperienced, given presentations to professionals, etc.…

Tony Fisk said...

2nd, as stated, every computer comes equipped with Javascript that makes a 1,000 coin flip problem (or even moving a pixel across the screen) trivial --

The triviality of these exercises is the point. How are they performed? In these days where the O/S looks after everything, how *is* one able to pay attention to the man behind the curtain?

anagory said...

Could be age bias. What programming learning I did was in the 20th century, so object oriented languages are foreign to me, so I might be biased to believe they are more difficult to learn than the third-generation languages I learned in skool. As to what's easier for the current crop of young people, I'd say ask them.

anagory said...

Concerning the man behind the curtain, if you're talking about what I think you're talking about, you're talking about reverse engineering. Access to the machine level was definitely more direct in the golden age. 5 years ago I attributed this to a sort of loss of innocence on the part of the industry. For nostalgia, aside from antique collecting, there's emulators. Ironically, hacking of hardware by amateurs is probably in a much more advanced state today, thanks most likely to (as Naum points out) much more widespread access (or exposure) to equipment, and to people with whom one shares such interests. The people who actually do hacking today are of course a much higher skill percentile in a much larger "exposed" population. That is the way in which today is more elitist than yesterday.

Ian said...

Afghanis are building a wireless internet network based on FabFi, a form of WiFi.

The network costs $60 per node and is based on simple widely available construction materials and consumer electronics.

"What's a FabFi?

FabFi is an open-source, FabLab-grown system using common building materials and off-the-shelf electronics to transmit wireless ethernet signals across distances of up to several miles. With Fabfi, communities can build their own wireless networks to gain high-speed internet connectivity---thus enabling them to access online educational, medical, and other resources.
Project Summary (as of March 5, 2011)

* Production Networks actively deployed in four locations across two countries
* Afghanistan
o 45 remote FabFi nodes are currently deployed in and around Jalalabad, Afghanistan
o Longest link is 6,000m (3.72mi)
o Data throughput 11.5Mbps
o System extensible by anyone
o Materials to make an endpoint link are $60US and available locally
* Kenya
o 50 remote FabFi nodes are currently deployed across three sites
o Longest link is 3,500m
o 6-hop Data throughput across 2,500m, > 30Mbps
o System provides WiFi direct to end-users
o Sytem integrates user accounting and management"

Anonymous said...

"People arguing over which introductory language is best (e.g. Python vs Perl etc) miss the entire point and are wasting everybody's time. The lack of any shared, simple language on ALL computers has crippled the ability of educators to reach the millions of kids who own computers right now."

BRAVO! Hey, I have my own soapbox re which language just as much as the next guy. But since Brin is absolutely correct here, I won't mention it right now. A second or third best universal would be hella better than the nothing we have right now.

--ToddR

Corey said...

I'm not sure why a universal language is, at this point, so crucial.

If the object is to teach kids, then any introductory language will teach them the same principles about programming.


I'm no programmer, but in high school I spent a year learning C++; in college, I spent a semester learning Python and a specialized flowcharting software and syntax system called Raptor.


The C++ and Python languages, and even Raptor's sort of bastardized pseudocode language, all taught the same principles.

Whether you're teaching it as

#include
#include

int main(void) {
printf("Hello World!\n");
system("PAUSE");
return 0;
}

or

print "Hello World!"



and on through more complex programs than a simple command to display a fixed bit of text, kids are still going to learn the same principles and lessons about how computers work.

They're going to learn about using the logic of flowchats, about calling modules, and declaring variables and even debugging when the whole thing goes *POOF*, as many programs do on the first try.


and once they learn it in one language, if they're inclined to continue, they can pursue it whatever language they want, because no matter what they were taught in, they learned the *logic* of high level computer languages.



It's also worth mentioning how amazingly simple Python is as a language. Look at it compared to all that's required just to get C++ to even print a bit of text (and knowing me, I probably even managed to get something wrong!).

Corey said...

and blogger just lopped off pieces of my little C++ program; go figure

David Brin said...

Corey, then please actually read the original article.

Please consider a world where all the algebra books had little TRY IT ON YOUR COMPUTER exercises that a MILLION kids try as homework assignments.

That world existed once. It is laughably impossible now.

Naum said...

Please consider a world where all the algebra books had little TRY IT ON YOUR COMPUTER exercises that a MILLION kids try as homework assignments.

That world existed once. It is laughably impossible now.


No, that world did not exist, except for a tiny segment, as most did not have the means (nor desire/need) to have a PC in the home back in the 80s. Most could not "TRY IT ON YOUR COMPUTER" because they did not have such access available. Even on school purchased computers, where it was highly improbable that a student would journey to the lab to "TRY IT ON YOUR COMPUTER".

Those that tinkered on those early PCs wane nostalgic for a ubiquitous, universal mythical state that never was. Because some textbooks (IIRC, not even universal then) included such "exercises" and those blessed with the fortune of finances or professional salary could offer their children such an opportunity does not equate to "world existed".

In stark contrast to today where those simple exercises can be done and ably performed in the most ubiquitous application (the web browser) and the "lingua franca" of the internet age -- javascript.

Worse, is, that a prescription is offered to warp computing technology to suit the interests of 1980s textbooks. Seriously?

LaBlua said...

I believe you are mistaken about the complexity inherent in doing those same exercises in JavaScript, which is built into the now ubiquitous browser. (Per @Naum's point, computers with a JavaScript interpreter are cheaper and more common now than computers with a Basic interpreter ever were.)

You could just as easily have the algebra books tell kids how to write short JavaScript code as they did Basic.

For example, the shortest useful JavaScript program, in a form that can be run directly in a browser without needing a text editor:

javascript:document.write("Hello World!")

Steps to run: Open up a web browser to a new tab, and put the above in the URL bar.

Here is a program to print 1000 coin flips:

javascript:for(i=0;i<1000;i++) {if (Math.random() > 0.5) { Coin = "T"; } else { Coin = "F";} document.write(Coin + "
");}

Now, if you want to be a little nicer you will show them how to edit code in Notepad instead of the URL bar, or direct them to a site like http://writecodeonline.com/javascript/ to type in and run their code.

Oh, and the kids with more money nowadays? They have a phone in their pocket that can be used to go to the above website and write and run code, no need to wait for a chance at a computer in a school lab or family computer.

In summary - stop trying to get the environment to exist, and start trying to get textbooks to include 12 line TRY IT ON YOUR BROWSER exercises.

Naum said...

On Eli Pariser's The Filter Bubble:

Admittedly, upon initial reading, began by sharpening the cutlery and prepared to launch into critical invective about this book. But it was not a terrible read at all, and the Mr. Pariser struck salience at a number of points.

I just reject the overt thesis that personalized filtering is the great 21st century media Satan. Yes, lack of serendipity is of some concern, but not the petrifying bogeyman that seems to warrant most of the book's main topic is way overblown, in an age where a discerning user can still discover and ferret out a panoply of diverse perspectives, reports and views.

However, this tidbit (which I shall condense in a single quote from the book) should trigger an alarm for all -- how code embeds then dictates the parameters of societal interaction:

We live in an increasingly algorithmic society, where our public functions, from police databases to energy grids to schools, run on code. We need to recognize that societal values about justice, freedom, and opportunity are embedded in how code is written and what it solves for. Once we understand that, we can begin to figure out which variables we care about and imagine how we might solve for something different.

But, still, this is at best a long essay that's been extended into book form. The argument would have been better served by further editing.

----

I would say that looms as a much larger issue than the silly, myth-mongering "Why Johnny Can't Code" (that's empirically ridiculous in this modern age), as well as these…

* …science graduates in US falling prey to global labor arbitrage, and suffer in job security, wages, bill rates, etc.…, especially in comparison to other professional fields: medicine, law (though, this is the next to take a hit), etc.…

* …closed-ness of mobile computing platforms, where one cannot tinker at all unless they go through a lot of special hoops and esoteric knowledge (ereaders, iOS, and even the "open" Android system to a certain degree). Also

* …ownership of servers/publishing space/applications/data in the cloud -- see recent FBI capture of servers that affected pinboard, Instapaper where they got slurped up in a net…

* …IP, patents, which seem to be trending to entrenched aristocratic/corporatist/oligarchic entities over creativity and innovation.

Andy Love said...

"Enough to keep you busy a while? Hey, I am finally finishing a great Big Brin Book… a novel more sprawling and ambitious than EARTH … entitles EXISTENCE. Back to work."

Is this a sequel to/continuation of "The Smartest Mob,"

David Brin said...

Wrong again, Dear Naum. In many cities, there were BASIC computers available in school media and computer labs FAR more pervasively than you make out. For long enough for BASIC programs to appear in a vast number of textbooks, not just a few.

What irks most though is your complete refusal to consider the possible desirability of this simple pedagogical method.

But you do have the comfort of numbers. e.g. that I was the only one to point this out for 6 years and now, only now, are some others noticing this crime.

Corey said...

I don't think the number of computer available in past decades is really relevant to a discussion of the virtues of what's being suggested here. After all, in the here and now, we're not dealing with having the number of computers that we had in 1980, or 1990, or 2000. This is 2011.


That said, I'm still not sure as to why it has to be a language like basic.

If the goal is to foster a basic understanding of how computing works, for beginners, I'm not convinced that *starting* at a low level language is the best approach. I think if we're talking about people with little prior knowledge of computers, approachability is the most crucial thing that should be shot for.

And why is the requirement for a download such a big barrier? We live in an age where if someone is REALLY interested in trying a program out, taking the 17 seconds to obtain and install a small piece of software is hardly a huge detriment, and as the ComputerWorld article pointed out, we live in a world with a plethora of languages, and being familiar with that diversity is as important as anything.


For that matter why does it have to be little snippets in math books? Why can't we just mandate computer education as part of core curriculum? Computer proficiency is no less important than proficiency in English, or history, or mathematics, or general science. Once you've gone that far, you can just leave the choice of language to the instructor, thereby eliminating the need for perfect language standardization in a world that such standardization no longer reflects (the world BASIC came from is simply not today's world), because of the multitude of languages.


If people really want to get into the nuts and bolts of computing further, and indeed, some will, at least as many within the general population as from any past decade (and probably more), then they have a basic foundation to do that with, and can pursue it on their own. I think this would be much fostered by simply beginning with a real beginner's language, designed purely for approachability, the kind where you can sit down on the first day with no knowledge, and have a full program done by the end of class, so as to draw people in, rather than simply tossing it into math books and praying that one in a thousand kids picks it up and does something with it.

Corey said...

and who knows, maybe I'm entirely wrong, or am missing the point, but Dr Brin, I'm the very kind of person you're talking about fostering.

I'm a layman with nothing but a hobby interest in computing, who pursued genuinely intro-level programming just to get a taste for it, and who now knows a considerable amount about the nuts and bolts of computing.

As that kind of a person, I'm saying that this just makes sense to me as an approach to the deficit of computing understanding and interest that you seem to be identifying

Naum said...

Wrong again, Dear Naum. In many cities, there were BASIC computers available in school media and computer labs FAR more pervasively than you make out. For long enough for BASIC programs to appear in a vast number of textbooks, not just a few.

What irks most though is your complete refusal to consider the possible desirability of this simple pedagogical method.


@David,

Home PC ownership rates did not surpass 50% until the 21st century and back in the 80's was in the 10-20% range (or lower).

I do not know what % of textbooks included "BASIC" exercises -- anecdotally, I remember a few, but it did not matter, as the school had no computers and those appendages (just like a whole lot other fat inside those books) were useless. Toward the latter years of the 1980s, many schools added some (some stats give 18%-95% increase, but that does not breakdown how many per student, lab access, etc.…). And I worked as an operator and setup many PCs in such labs during college years and I can attest that students definitely were not coming in to "TRY IT ON YOUR COMPUTER" -- the Apples, DEC Rainbows, and early IBM PC XTs were used primarily by professors (to get plotter print output), financial spreadsheets, some AutoCAD, and others just for sole purpose of using WordPerfect.

But the more essential point is that the "simple pedagogical method" exists today, and is available to all. Because textbook publishers are a quarter of a century behind does not mean we should shuttle back to the more clunkier age and toolsets.

Yes, you wrote an article (for which I even wrote a response to), and ComputerWorld (which really is a dinosaur now, regarding software development) piece comes out a half-decade later. But if you read the comments on Slashdot, Reddit, Hacker News, etc.… (hacker/programmer/developer/startup communities), they overwhelmingly disagree with your (and CW author) premise.

Tacitus2 said...

David
Good to hear you are doing the heavy lifting on the novel. Wrap 'er up and bring 'er home.

Politics of late has been weird enough, especially here in Wisconsin where it is really "down the rabbit hole" in the last couple of months.

Honestly, I sometimes think the machinery of governance is breaking apart here.

Tacitus2

Joshkie said...

The idea of school being the only repository of correct knowledge is laughable. For the kids out there, who you think have to be spoon information or they just want get it, by a book out there call "Logic for Dummies" that will teach you the rules and principles that all computer langauges must follow.

Then go to a book store see what interest you and dig in.

Brin you don't need to creat something new, we just need to look to see what's already there.

Josh

Robert said...

BTW, Dr. Brin, here's an interesting bit in a webcomic about the Singularity and humanity's need for Gods... even if they create them themselves. It's a scary concept really... if we're able to "build" things and are able to manipulate reality through quantum computers... then might we not see people making their own divinities? In a manner of speaking, that is.

Rob H.

Paul said...

David,
Re: BASIC
I think you're falling for the same romantic trap that you criticise in others. The old days of computing weren't better. They sucked. The only reason we wrote those BASIC programs was because our first computer didn't do anything. You turned it on, and it just sat there, with nothing but a stupid cursor blinking at you.

"Introduction to computing" meant programming. Because there was nothing else.

Now computers are full of software out of the box, and go online and you have the whole damn world at your fingertips. And so, "Introduction to computing" means windows/word/web/email.

Others have mentioned JS, which you reject because it's not the same as BASIC. And there's also HTML, the core language of the internet, the real way everything is tied together, the best way to get your "Hello World" experience today. And you'll reject it without considering it, because it's not the same as BASIC. And that, my old sunshine, is why kids aren't taught a common computer language, why there aren't examples in textbooks. Because everyone has that same stupid romantic attachment to their past. Everyone assumes there's nothing out there, because it's not the same as BASIC. But in reality, it's all out there, as much as you want. (Even BASIC.)

And it's all very silly and sad. It stops you celebrating actually making. Have a look at the number of "app" writers out there, the number of addons for Firefox, the number of widgets for Google Homepage, Johnny is coding his little ass off.

(For example, here's a version of BASIC created for game-writing. Called DarkBASIC.)

Tim H. said...

Consider emulation, "PC XFormer" is probably out there for download, or look here:
http://sourceforge.net/projects/atari800/files/
Atari BASIC wasn't so very different than the various MicroSoft BASICs. Might not be that difficult to find an old diskette with GW BASIC, which should work from the run command. These days it shouldn't be hard to find a cheap PC with a clock speed a thousand times faster than an Atari, or two thousand times faster than an Apple ][ ;-), plenty of speed left over, even after running emulation. BTW, a PC emulating an Atari 800 has no cartridge slot for such distractions as ms pacman or Ballblazer.

Tony Fisk said...

All of which is great stuff, and certainly is what 'Johnny' (and Julie) should be diving into.

...but they should also be able to gain some exposure to what a computer actually does, and be able to get some glimmerings of what underpins all that great stuff (which ultimately needs to be maintained by somebody)

dormid: alien rodent

David Smelser said...

I reject HTML because it is a presentation/formatting language and not a programming language. It does nothing to teach the concepts variables, if/then statements, looping or subroutines.

JS in a browser has a bit of a learning curve when it comes to I/O.

Gilmoure said...

While I have several IDE's available for child to learn on (including my Ti 99/4A that I learned on), what's really working is National Instruments' GUI for Lego Mindspring robots. She's learning the basic logic of programming (variables, loops, etc.) and have started to look at creating own objects to include.

I'm not sure there's a need for a universal or standard programing environment now. As long as the basic concepts and thought processes are learned, think kids will do ok. And with the wide availability of online IDEs and game creators, should be simple enough to create lesson plans based on web accessible locations

Joshkie said...

Googled: beginning+programing+resources.

Found this:

http://www.dummies.com/store/product/Beginning-Programming-For-Dummies-4th-Edition.productCd-0470088702.html

Copied and pasted this from said page:

"Beginning Programming for Dummies shows you how computer programming works without all the technical details or hard programming language. It explores the common parts of every computer programming language and how to write for multiple platforms like Windows, Mac OS X, or Linux. This easily accessible guide provides you with the tools you need to:
Create programs and divide them into subprograms
Develop variables and use constants
Manipulate strings and convert them into numbers
Use an array as storage space
Reuse and rewrite code
Isolate data
Create a user interface
Write programs for the Internet
Utilize JavaScript and Java Applets
In addition to these essential building blocks, this guide features a companion CD-ROM containing Liberty BASIC compiler and code in several languages. It also provides valuable programming resources and lets you in on cool careers for programmers. With Beginning Programming of Dummies, you can take charge of your computer and begin programming today!"

Now if we can get the Teachers Unions & the Feds of our teachers backs and let them find and use resource that our already avalible then we would be in business.

:-)
Josh

David Brin said...

Paul I totally agree with your assessment. I see that you DO "think" that I am "falling for an old romantic trap..."

It is good that you are honest enough to admit openly "thinking" such an incredible, conterfactual, bizarrely strawman piece of drek. It took courage.

Especially since it runs counter to everything that I have proved relentlessly that I and my beliefs and personality stand for.

One would expect you to ponder the possibility that this reflex strawmanning "thought" of yours erupted in order to make yourself feel good. It surely helps you to avoid focusing on the pragmatic, future-oriented point I was actually making, about how best to empower teachers and textbooks and students.

Tell you what. Here's the paraphrase challenge. The sign of maturity in every argument.

Type down in your own words what YOU think I am ACTUALLY SAYING.

Bet you can't.

Joshkie said...

Gilmoure -

:-)

hysmith said...

@Naum:

I went to high school in the late 70s/early 80s. My family was like the majority you cite, not well off enough for one of those spendy boxes of our own.

According to your thesis, then, I should have languished and given up my fascination for this intricate technological puzzle, where you could type in stuff and make other stuff happen. A 25-year career in IT, most of it buried in code, proves that your hypothesis is falsifiable. :) I used machines in school, at local computer shops, at my parents' place of work, anywhere my grubby little hands were allowed to touch a keyboard. This is true of many of my colleagues who have been in the game as long as I have--none of us had machines at home. In fact, most of us date our fascination with computers to a time before PCs were more than an extremely niche hobby.

@David: Charles Stross posted an anti-singularity screed recently. Three arguments against the singularity

I don't have a strong opinion one way or the other on the possibility, although I do tweak some of my more fundamentally inclined friends by pointing out the Creator might just as well be referred to as the Programmer, and all the ground rules wouldn't really change...

Naum said...

According to your thesis, then, I should have languished and given up my fascination for this intricate technological puzzle, where you could type in stuff and make other stuff happen. A 25-year career in IT, most of it buried in code, proves that your hypothesis is falsifiable. :) I used machines in school, at local computer shops, at my parents' place of work, anywhere my grubby little hands were allowed to touch a keyboard. This is true of many of my colleagues who have been in the game as long as I have--none of us had machines at home. In fact, most of us date our fascination with computers to a time before PCs were more than an extremely niche hobby.

Good @hysmith, not my "thesis" at all.

I, too, as stated in earlier post, have been programming computing machines since age 20 (my 1st encounter with a machine was a college mainframe), and the lack of a ubiquitous, "lingua franca" programming language, nor rich parents to bless me with a microcomputer in the home stifled me not.

Just trying to strike home that we have much more today than we ever had in that romantic, mythical lore of computing yesteryear.

David Brin said...

Over-reacted to Paul.

Apologies.

Paul said...

David Brin,

You beat me to an apology. I offended you, it wasn't my intent and I apologise.
--
Anger a crow and it will never forget your face.

Paul said...

David Smelser,
"I reject HTML because it is a presentation/formatting language and not a programming language."

Do I get a prediction hit?: "And you'll reject it [...] because it's not the same as BASIC."

Why does Johnny need to specifically learn programming? Isn't the point of the exercise to encourage the makers and explorers, regardless of Johnny's specific path? Isn't the point to further democratise access to the technology and the knowledge? And to remove any artificial impediments for the next generation?

Things are better now than they were when we were writing our silly little chunks of BASIC. A motivated kid can learn any language, they have enormous resources out there. The people writing emulators, or language tutorial sites, they aren't the exception, they are the rule. Knowledge is spreading, it's awesome.

The danger is the closed worlds. Facebook, iPhones, schools that don't just expel students for exploring their school network, but have them arrested. Horrible things.

Paul said...

Tony,
"but they should also be able to gain some exposure to what a computer actually does, and be able to get some glimmerings of what underpins all that great stuff"

That's why I think HTML, then JS, then say Python or Ruby, it a better programming path. That's how it works today. Knowing how your PC (or Laptop/Tablet/Smartphone) works is no more relevant than knowing how your TV works is relevant to learning film-making. If you want to know, fine, the information's out there. If you want to play, there are hardware Makers out there to play with. But that path to Makerdom is no more valid than HTML/etc.

(hampire: Muppets do Twilight.)

anagory said...

I get the impression there is a glut of programmers, but I see a problem with a public that is using software like, say, Facebook, which I would imagine is pretty sophisticated in the data mining department, if it is the case that they are "passive" users who don't understand the implications of algorithms and data, or can't visualize the range of possible ways in which the data supplied to Facebook by users can be visualized, cross referenced, leveraged, etc. A session with an SQL prompt might help in that department, especially if the "example" tables are largish, and even more especially if real empirical data are available. I don't want the society of the future to operate like a cargo cult, or Aldea.

Tony Fisk said...

@Paul: even with the apologies and smoothed feathers, I still think it would be a useful exercise for you (and @naum) to paraphrase what David is saying.

Can I paraphrase you?

the starting point for Johnny coder today is 'cloud' technology. Knowing how the computer actually works may be of interest to some, but is no more relevant to coding than knowing how a TV works

Assuming I've got that right, I would point out that actually getting a program to work on a browser requires a number of ducks to be lined up, and not a few concepts to get under your belt. Javascript needs a good working knowledge of the webdoc formats to allow you to find your way around, while Python, requires a cgi wrapper I believe (admission: I've never actually used python in a browser setting: I've tended toward PHP, which is much easier to set up, even if it isn't as clean a language... and assuming that the server is set up to recognise it)

(PS: you left out CSS: it sort of fits between HTML and js. I think we might agree that AJAX is a just a little beyond Johnny's first steps. It's not actually hard, but demonstrates the closing power of a jargony acronym)

spooto: an online game involving looking for blobs beyond Pluto

David Brin said...

No one seems to get the deep mental empowerment that comes from making a pixel move from just math and your own geometric ten line program.

From then until you die, you know what makes all the pretty pictures.

Paul said...

Tony Fisk said...
"@Paul: even with the apologies and smoothed feathers...

(hehe)

...I still think it would be a useful exercise for you (and @naum) to paraphrase what David is saying."

Homework?!

(Sigh. Okay okay, next post.)

"Can I paraphrase you? [...] Knowing how the computer actually works may be of interest to some, but is no more relevant to coding than knowing how a TV works"

Sort of. Computer is to code, as TV is to film-making.

That's not to say that you shouldn't learn how a computer works. There are plenty of film-makers who delve into their technology and its formats, and its limitations, and how to enhance it (or homage to its history). But it isn't a mandatory, or even advisable, first step.

"PS: you left out CSS: it sort of fits between HTML and js."

In my naivete, I considered style-sheets to be "advanced HTML", rather than a separate entity like JS.

Paul said...

David,
"No one seems to get the deep mental empowerment that comes from making a pixel move from just math and your own geometric ten line program."

Maybe that's why I don't have the same attachment to BASIC that you do. Nor feel its loss the same way. I didn't get that deep connection from BASIC. If anything, it felt fake, patronising.

I felt a deeper understanding of the operating system only when I played with batch languages under DOS, a few years later. But it wasn't until writing machine-code (and assembler), during my half-hearted attempt at a CS degree, that I felt "This is how computers work!". Much more so than any of the higher level languages they were trying to teach me.

Paul said...

Homework...

Paraphrasing David's original Slate article:

David's son became interesting in programming, via references to BASIC in a maths textbook. David realised that modern computers didn't have BASIC on them anymore, and couldn't identify the modern equivalent. He felt the loss of seeing his own history apparently cast aside without regard, and projected that onto the culture at large. We'd become consumers instead of creators. Something was missing. Something... important.

From this blog post: ”The lack of any shared, simple language on ALL computers has crippled the ability of educators to reach the millions of kids who own computers right now. Kids who could be computer tinkerers, the way their parents were. Any shared language… any at all… would empower educators and students,“

But point out, as others have, that we do still have a standard language on all computers, AND tablets (except iPads), AND smart-phones (except iPhones), and suddenly “any shared, simple language on ALL computers” isn't the important part of the requirement. Java and JS (no relation) are too hard to get started, HTML isn't programmy enough...

I felt this contradict David's own anti-romantic sentiments, expressed here at the very beginning of this blog post – paraphrasing again:

That the efforts to democratise knowledge, the ambition to spread means, access, opportunity, has make the present better than the past. Future efforts can have even greater results. Teaching the slaves to read ends slavery. That's why the slave masters always oppose it.

(continued... Blogger isn't liking the longer posts again. Too much phrase, not enough para.)

Paul said...

(Back to me me me again): Things are better now. Even for little Johnny's coding. Whether he is writing little add-ons for Firefox, or silly little applets for an app-store, or JAVA applets on his website, or... Or building bots and All Manner of Devices, from basic components like arduino boards, supported by HardHack websites... Or pure Making, via reprap... We are surrounded by opportunity.

Why doesn't it feel like it? Why the sense of loss? Because of the romantic myth that there is no alternative to How We Did It In My Day. Teachers don't know JS (or python or...), modern maths text-books won't think to re-write their examples in something recent. They'll sigh, and wistfully remember the Lost Better Past. They won't even try! And it's romantic tosh. When we were learning BASIC, we were being mocked by Real Programmers because BASIC wasn't a Real Language. Line numbers? GOTO statements? Get out of here kid! It's wasn't How They Did It In Their Day.

(I remember this even into the eighties. There was a cultural division online between those who'd got their start with BASIC, and those who'd been taught a Proper Language (like COBOL or Fortran or C.)

There are threats to progress, like the closed shops being foisted onto us. (Did you see how Microsoft reacted to the... the orgasm of creation... when hackers discovered Kinect? Their first, automatic reaction was to publicly threaten lawsuits.) But the romantic fixation with our own lost past risks blinding us to these real threats (and the real opportunities.)

(To be honest, even those BASIC emulators may be harmful to progress because they reinforce the romantic myth of the Lost Better Past.)

Joshkie said...

David -

There is an assumption that everyone will or should have the same experience that you did.

It's just ones and zeros, open and closed circuits, off and on.

I'm one of those that had access to a Commodore 64 (mid 80's, Chrismas present) and good computer classes (late 80's early 90's), and it did inspire me into computer geekdom. No board the crap out of me. So there's no guaranty that even if we came up with and used this new universal programing language and got all computer manufactures to use it if it would have the effect you desire.

Also how far down the rabbit hole do you think kids should be shown. As far as I'm aware even the most basic of programing languages is a language on top of a language of ones and zeros.

Others have talked about emulators and I came a cross this:

http://wired.com/gadgetlab/2011/04/commodore-64-goes-on-sale-amiga-vic-20-coming-soon/

Maybe this one will come with a 900some page instruction manual, like the first one, so we can get it to do anything.

:-)
Josh

Jeff H said...

Sorry, but these days, whatever government touches, fails. Miserably. Outside the military, the US government is one colossal sh*t pile.

T said...

Paul, those emulators aren't just running a BASIC, you get the entire machine and most of the hobbyist code written for it, Atarians had a reputation, and Apple & Commodore users were no slouches either. The object here is to provide a comprehensible entry point and foundation for further education, emulation of an 8-bit is one way to do it. How much young people will benefit from learning how the old hardware worked, not sure, but contemporary hardware is built on concepts pioneered then, just more and faster. One result I don't expect, a generation of programmers, not too many people can, but it may cause programming to be viewed as less of a dark art, which might be a good thing.

Calvin Dodge said...

"Such selectivity may eventually trap us inside our own “information cocoons,” as the legal scholar Cass Sunstein put it in his 2001 book Republic.com2.0"

Yes, we were much better off 40 years ago, when 3 networks and the editors of the NYT and LAT filtered the news for us.

Dave said...

"All right, I admit that one of those two wings happens to be, at-present, far worse, more dangerous and profoundly more insane;"

All true, but at least they no longer control the House.

If we want kids to learn to program, we need a voucher system that makes parents the decision-makers rather than self-interested public sector union bosses who see schooling as a system for propaganda distribution and employing unaccountable educrats. Germany and Sweden have had voucher systems for many years -- there's no reason they can't work here!

Dave said...

Also, I just have to agree with Brin -- when I learned how to draw spirals on my Apple IIc at the age of 10 or so, I was never the same again. I even wrote a little stock-trading program on the basis of a paperback I'd read (though I was unable to give it full functionality as Applesoft BASIC stopped letting me define integers after the 12th or so).

Today I'm an Oracle DBA and I program in SQL, Java, and 4GLs, but BASIC was very good for, well, basics!

blake said...

Anyone can download Squeak for free, which includes Etoys, an environment made specifically for learning and experimentation. (And it's been around for over 15 years.)

It's not specifically designed to teach programming, but it can be a good launching point into Smalltalk, which has much of the simplicity of Basic without all the ick.

That QuiteBasic site brings back a lot of memories, not all of them good. Line numbers? One letter variable names? GOTOs?

Not a good way to teach programming.

Uplift Monkey said...

"Politics of late has been weird enough, especially here in Wisconsin where it is really "down the rabbit hole" in the last couple of months. Honestly, I sometimes think the machinery of governance is breaking apart here."
-Tacitus2


I know exactly what you mean! Across the border here in Minnesota we are facing a government shutdown at the end of the week for want of a budget agreement. Our maverick billionaire Democrat governor only wants to tax the rich, and the uncooperative Republican legislature will only accept spending cuts - and so both sides turn to the courts to try to get a quick win for their position as the shutdown gets closer and closer. Utter madness...

BTW... where is the ~$50 million WI owes MN for college reciprocity? :)

_peter_
(long time lurker - first time posting)

Tacitus2 said...

Peter
Welcome. As a MN expat I follow your doings closely. One can only hope for a compromise. At least in MN we do not have people literally coming to blows. Yet.

The money owed to MN was one of several fund raids by the previous WI gov. He happened to be a Dem, but it is the sort of trick I have seen Rs try as well.

Gov. Walker gets few style points in his efforts, but he is at least making an all out effort to correct the financial problems of WI. I am sure he also enjoys putting a little hurt onto the WI Dem party, which is a synonym for the WI public employees unions, but it is at least plausible that they are a, or the, major cause of our fiscal embarassment.

weird times.

Tacitus

sociotard said...

Evidently the first battles in the Helvetian War might be fought in Cheyenne, Wyoming
http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/06/28/us-usa-shell-companies-idUSTRE75R20Z20110628

Tony Fisk said...

OK Paul, you did your homework (I'll leave our host to mark it, since he's best placed to assess whether or not you paraphrased well enough!)

My take is that David laments the lack of any means by which a novice can access the guts of a computer and see for themselves how tweaking one thing or another produces a result.

In his day (and mine), this could be achieved by peeking and poking with BASIC, which provided:
- access to the coal face
- immediate feedback (ie enter command into interpreter, see result)
- encouragement of bad programming habits

BASIC is used as an example only. Any other language that provides these points (...well, the first two!) would do.

My own personal experiences involved Apple II and ZX Spectrum, which allowed you to literally poke a value into an address, and see the bit pattern displayed on the screen (you could also set the pointer to the character fonts and do cool and silly things like offset the characters: a->b etc.)

This was possible because the graphics shared the same memory as the code and processor. It was easy to envisage, but not scaleable.

Modern computers are much more complex beasts, with parallel processors, and dedicated graphical memory (ie the display is a computer in itself, and is not directly accessible to the human component). Poking a value and expecting a dot to appear just isn't possible

It is certainly possible to get an illusion of immediate feedback (we've all alluded to a few favourite apps: pythonwin, eToys), but have a stop and think about what's going on to achieve that feedback.

Try writing a 'hello world' app in javascript (without dialog boxes). It's doable, but still requires the user to know a few things... and this is just to get that initial encouragement that feedback provides!

Tony Fisk said...

Here's a classic case of rhetorical projection.

An article discussing the War being waged on Western Civilisation... through the inanity of the left-wing dominated media.

Paul said...

Tony,
Don't forget, you didn't learn it in a vacuum. You had a manual that came with the computer/cartridge. Samples in magazines. You had instruction. Today it's online, but it's the same idea, only IMO vastly better.

David's not the only one I've seen worrying aloud that kids are missing something if they don't have BASIC. And I worry that it has become such a strong myth that it's defeatest. (So I agree with him that those textbook writers will remove their BASIC exercises. But the shame isn't that BASIC is gone, it's that the myth prevents those writers recognising any alternatives.)

Example: in the Salon article (Yes, Salon, not Slate, Paul, you idiot), I noticed that while David was trying to find an emulator online, his son was casually solving the problem of learning to code, by learning to code. (And then as an encore, elegantly solving David's problem, too, by recognising it for the nostalgia it was, and suggesting buying an original on eBay.)

Tony Fisk said...

NO! It has nothing to do with BASIC! Nobody was ever fixated on retaining BASIC itself; only the quick response and the low level access that BASIC provided.

I've already pointed out that some python environments (for one) gives you the quick feedback via an interpreter (and a vastly superior language)

That still leaves the low level access which, as I mentioned above, isn't really available in a modern computer architecture.

... which is where the son's eBay solution came in, as I recall.

LarryHart said...

Dave (not Brin) said:

"All right, I admit that one of those two wings happens to be, at-present, far worse, more dangerous and profoundly more insane;"

All true, but at least they no longer control the House.


Words fail me.

Then again, I shouldn't be surprised that such nonsensical statements can be not only spoken but believed by those inside the Limbaugh/Beck/Drudge echo chamber. Conservatives have a fundamental misunderstanding of what liberalism is that colors your every pronouncement about how evil we are. Some insane congressman just made the statement that Liberalism is all about hatred of God. His "reasoning" is that liberals think government should run everything.

Liberals are not "about" government control. Liberalism is about everybody having equal rights and dignity. Since that necessarily involves protecting the powerless from the powerful, an powerful entity (government) is ofttimes called upon to perform that function. But the equal protection and tolerance is the goal, not the "government control".

It makes no more sense to accuse liberals of replacing God with government than it does to accuse conservatives of replacing God with corporations.

Tacitus2 said...

Ah, LarryHart..
He might have been pulling your leg a bit.
I know few conservatives who regard liberals as evil. Misguided, sure. A little hypocritically self interested, maybe. But you have to go pretty far off to the LaLa fringe to find an opinion of evil. I do think that progressives are more inclined to believe of conservatives that they are stupid/mean/racist/homophobic.
Which is also not particularly accurate.

Now a case can be made that a government of increased power is always at least potentially an oppressor, but that is a philosophical debate on the big gov/little gov axis.

Hey, I will be out your way in a week or so....going on an Asian Carp Safari. Gonna drive 'em back from their foothold (finhold?) near Lake Michigan. Baseball bats and pitchforks.....they will regret their ill considered invasion.

Tacitus

Joshkie said...

Liberalism or Progressivism? Can we pick and stick to a term?
As a classic liberal or as I'm forced to call my self for clarity Libertarian; what do you mean by liberalism Larryhart?

Just saying,
Josh

LarryHart said...

Tony Fisk said:


Here's a classic case of rhetorical projection.

And then linked to...

...
A recent poll showed that nearly half the American public believes that the government should redistribute wealth.

That so many people are so willing to blithely put such an enormous and dangerous arbitrary power in the hands of politicians — risking their own freedom, in hopes of getting what someone else has — is a painful sign of how far many citizens and voters fall short of what is needed to preserve a democratic republic.
...


Sounds like the writings of a Randroid with the phrasing about people wanting "what someone else has", as if the envious poor look at the good things that others work hard for and go "I want that too--gimme gimme gimme."

The liberal tendency to redistrubute actually comes from the idea that the means of survival and the mechanisms of government are not private property. The reason more and more workers have to "compete" for jobs that pay starvation wages is not because those workers are lazy--it's because those workers have no means OF working for a living but by begging for the scraps that the "owners" of the means of survival deign to exchange for servitude.

Let everyone compete on an even playing field for as much reward as they are willing to work for, (or for as little work as they are willing to be rewarded for), and I'll actually be right there with you extolling the virtues of indivudual choice and contracts between equals. That's not what we've got. We've got a few powerful players CORNERING THE MARKET on all the things worth working for, and everyone else has to come to them cap in hand for table scraps. You can "choose" to refuse to play that game as long as you are willing to go without food, energy, health-care, etc. That's hardly a tenable bargaining position.

There's nothing wrong, even from a liberal perspective, for people keeping the fruits of their own labor as private property. There is something FUNDAMENTALLY wrong with the social commons and the means of everyone's survival being TREATED as someone's private property.

Even if you think that the powerful few DO have the right to corner the market on food, water, heat, oxygen, etc and to profit off of everyone else's use thereof, have the decency not to refer to that condition as "freedom."

Tacitus2 said...

I seem to have used both terms in the above post.

I do not consider liberal to be pejorative in any sense. It is a synonym for generosity. And in times of abundence we have a great tradition of generosity to be proud of.

Progressive is a more ambiguous term, it suggests going forward to a goal, an inclination to change. In the latter it is the isomer of conservatism. Neither good nor bad, but a necessary aspect of human existence. In the former sense it can also be good or bad, it just depends on what goals you are marching towards and what you trample on the way.

Related terms but not the same.

So I tend to use liberalism in a fiscal sense and progressive in a philosophical sense.

Tacitus

LarryHart said...

Joshkie:

As a classic liberal or as I'm forced to call my self for clarity Libertarian; what do you mean by liberalism Larryhart?


Hard to describe in a few sentences, but I came of age in the 1960s era if that helps. To me "Do your own thing" was a liberal trait (one that conservatives ridiculed--they were the "law and order" side), so I have a hard time parsing how liberals are perceived as the party of government control and conservatives the party of "freedom".

Liberalism, to me, stands up for the bullied against the bullies. Liberalism protects the rights that the powerless ostensibly have, but can't enforce without help against the powerful.

Liberalism, to me says that there is such thing as the commons, and that all citizens have access to such things without additional (over and above normal taxation) charge.

Up until recently, many conservatives would agree with some or most of what I'm saying, so I hesitate to label the opposition to these things as "conservative". I think "right-wing"--the 18th Century French variety--is a better term for the opposition to what I'm talking about. But I'm not "left wing" in the same sense. I'm not opposed to capitalism for instance. I just think that better rules need to be established under which capitalism can operate.

Does that make anything clearer?

LarryHart said...

Tacitus:

Hey, I will be out your way in a week or so....going on an Asian Carp Safari. Gonna drive 'em back from their foothold (finhold?) near Lake Michigan. Baseball bats and pitchforks.....they will regret their ill considered invasion.


There are some times when conservative war-like tendencies are appreciated. :)

I just finished re-reading Dr Brin's "The Uplift War", so even though the analogy isn't quite correct, I imagine you kicking some Gubru butt.

I still fundamentally disagree about your Governor Walker and Senator Ryan "tackling the problems", but I think we're at the point of intransigance there, so I'll just go with "Give those fish heck!"

Robert said...

Going back to the claim by one person that everything the government touches (except the military) turns to s##t, I counter: The failure rate for new business enterprises is approximately 68% in the first year and a disappointing 90-95% in the first five years. If 9 in 10 new business ventures fail in the first five years, then how the heck does that make private industry better than the government at doing things?

The Private sector is no better and no worse than the Public sector. Both are run by the same types of people and are subject to failure or success depending on a variety of factors. It's just that business failures aren't are likely to be in the news as when the government screws something up.

Rob H.

Joshkie said...

Larry Larry Larry....

What you are spouting is progressivism. That the strong will take advantage of the weak, so there needs to be a strong central government to shepherd and protect them, comes from the belief that we can't self regulate. That there should be equal out come not equal opportunity in life. That people can't better their station in life with out help from an out side source.
Of course if you promise people stuff for free they will be tempted to become lazy and dependent on the government.

I'm feel sorry for those who have no confidence in the American people to take care of themselves.

Sad really,
Josh

Calvin Dodge said...

"Liberalism, to me, stands up for the bullied against the bullies."

Yes, by empowering the biggest bullies of all - the people who write the laws, but feel no need (and sense no "controlling legal authority") to obey those laws themselves.

Larry, if you're going to insist on imposing your nutty religious beliefs on others, then have the courage of your convictions and move to a state where other adherents to your religion have no effective opposition (California, for example). Bask in the glorious society those religious fanatics have created, and ignore the millions voting with their feet for less righteous locations like Texas.

Joshkie said...

Rob H

That's more of a failure of our education system not teach things that really matter like economics and business.

Also, not every business idea is viable, and their is the whole competition aspect.

On the other hand you give the government a dollar you will get about 90 cents of it wasted in fraud and over spending. Why should they worry about market value for anything it's not their money.

Josh

Calvin Dodge said...

"If 9 in 10 new business ventures fail in the first five years, then how the heck does that make private industry better than the government at doing things?"

Good question, Robert.

That's because those people eventually find more productive things to do.

When businesses fail, they go out of business. When government agencies fail, their failure is usually attributed to insufficient funds, so they stay "in business", consuming even more resources, and continuing to employ people in worthless (or even damaging) tasks.

Joshkie said...

PS I'm not a conservative by the way they tend to want to use government force to regulate morality. Just the flip side of the same coin.

Josh

Calvin Dodge said...

"I'm not a conservative by the way they tend to want to use government force to regulate morality"

Actually liberals do exactly the same thing. They simply have a different list of "bad" actions which they wish to prohibit.

Joshkie said...

I guess the last sentence should been, "Just the flip side of the same coin 'of statism.'" to be more clear.

:-)
Josh

LarryHart said...

Calvin Dodge:

Yes, by empowering the biggest bullies of all - the people who write the laws, but feel no need (and sense no "controlling legal authority") to obey those laws themselves.


I know you don't mean it this way, but you're accurately describing the role of transnational corporations in our society.

Everything right and freedom you claim government tramples are trampled as well by corporations with more resources and less accountability than government has. And yet, you're perfectly ok with THEM infringing on our freedoms. Why is that? I don't mean the question sarcastically--I'm really asking.

Joshkie said...

FYI Calvin followed your blog just in case you ever decide to start posting on it.

:-)
Josh

Joshkie said...

Larry

Your discounting the power of the consumer.

Nothing says you have to suport them, by buying their crap.
Enough people don't that they go out of business.
No you just want to dictate how the run their, not your, business.

Josh

Calvin Dodge said...

"Transnational corporations" can't send people with guns to my door, and say "fork it over/do as we say OR ELSE!"

Only the government can do that. The only say those "transnational corporations" have in the matter is when they bribe ... errr ... make contributions to influence the government to employ its power for their benefit.

When a "transnational corporation" tells me "you can't use Mickey Mouse in a comic, or quote Martin Luther King extensively", they can do that ONLY because the Mickey Mouse Congress passed the most recent nonsensical copyright extension act.

PLEASE name ONE such corporation which is trampling on me WITHOUT the aid of government.

LarryHart said...

Joshkie:

What you are spouting is progressivism. That the strong will take advantage of the weak,...


That's an ok description so far. Then you go off the rails.


so there needs to be a strong central government to shepherd and protect them, comes from the belief that we can't self regulate.


You're conflating "shepherd and protect". I'd agree with "protect" but I'm neither implying nor advocating "shepherd". I'm presuming you believe that government has a role in protecting us from FOREIGN enemies. Does THAT foster unhealthy "depencence on government"? Does the existence of armed forces imply that the American people can't take care of themselves?


That there should be equal out come not equal opportunity in life. That people can't better their station in life with out help from an out side source.


Where did you get that from anyting I said?


Of course if you promise people stuff for free they will be tempted to become lazy and dependent on the government.


The "people" who get free stuff and become dependent on government are the banks who require bailouts, the oil companies who can't live without their subsidies, and the defense contractors who insist on war as a permanent way of life.


I'm feel sorry for those who have no confidence in the American people to take care of themselves.

Sad really,
Josh


Either I'm the worst communicator in history, or we're having two parallel but separate conversations. Most of what you're attributing to me isn't anything CLOSE to what I believe.

Calvin Dodge said...

"Nothing says you have to suport them, by buying their crap."

Yep, only the government can say "buy this, OR ELSE!"

But don't expect Larry to understand this, since it's contrary to his religion. The fact that economic freedom correlates very well with overall prosperity means nothing when someone's religion informs him that "it's not FAIR that you have more than I do!"

Calvin Dodge said...

"The "people" who get free stuff and become dependent on government are the banks who require bailouts, the oil companies who can't live without their subsidies, and the defense contractors who insist on war as a permanent way of life."

More religious nonsense, Larry?

The people on YOUR side who currently run the executive branch of the Federal government are happy to bail out "too big to fail" financial companies, as long as they continue to donate the bulk of their political contributions to the campaigns of Obama and his allies.

Oil subsidies (measured in cost per erg) are 1 or 2 orders of magnitude less than the subsidies for so-called "green" energy. I'll gladly support the end of real subsidies for oil (BTW, accelerated depreciation is NOT a subsidy) when you do the same for wind, solar and biomass.

Are you SERIOUSLY suggesting that we're Obombing Libya because defense industries have brainwashed the President? Thanks for another demonstration of your religiously-based positions.

Calvin Dodge said...

Oh, and I'm reasonably certain that the folks on the dole - who are getting paid for not working - are costing far more than the entities who Larry refers to. Those people, at least, are generally doing SOME sort of work.

LarryHart said...

Calvin Dodge:

But don't expect Larry to understand this, since it's contrary to his religion.


Deserves no response.


The fact that economic freedom correlates very well with overall prosperity means nothing when someone's religion informs him that "it's not FAIR that you have more than I do!"


It's not FAIR that a corporation gets to destroy people's air and water in the process of making their profit. I'm not trying to make a claim on the company's money because I wish I had some of that. I'm claiming that the harm they cause to others (THEIR private property as well as their health) needs to be constrained by public policy.

You're trying to pretend that any opposition to "capitalism with no rules" is based on envy of people who have earned more than me. I'm not against someone's right to run his own business. I'm against his right to do actual harm to others without cost.

Calvin Dodge said...

Larry, which corporations are "destroying the air and water"? I mean here, of course, since pollution is thickest in progressive paradises like China.

Tacitus2 said...

Conservative war like tendencies? Well, I guess we are not planning some wimpy Liberal "kinetic military operation"!

And that scene where the chimps are roastin' them up some Gubru? Could happen, my friend, could happen.

I do not consider us to be intransigent btw. You believe that if society were to reapportion resources correctly that we can continue with our current level of entitlement programs. I do not believe that. But I would be happy to see evidence to the contrary.

And after a degree of austerity measures that restores confidence in our political system's ability to curtail spending I also believe that we will (gulp, stepping away from conductive metal objects) need to raise taxes. I think we are in worse fiscal shape than is currently admitted.

Tacitus

Joshkie said...

"You're conflating "shepherd and protect". I'd agree with "protect" but I'm neither implying nor advocating "shepherd". I'm presuming you believe that government has a role in protecting us from FOREIGN enemies. Does THAT foster unhealthy "depencence on government"? Does the existence of armed forces imply that the American people can't take care of themselves?"

Yes from foreign 'Governments' or groups that want to do us harm, not from ourselves. And 2nd Amemendment insures if they fail in that we can defend ourselves.

"The "people" who get free stuff and become dependent on government are the banks who require bailouts, the oil companies who can't live without their subsidies, and the defense contractors who insist on war as a permanent way of life."

Our you implying that the only welfare given out by our government goes only to corporations and banks? I don't believe in any form of welfare. We should stand on our own two feet. The government shouldn't be in the business of picking winners and losers.

So do you believe that our government should interfere in how we run our lives or not? This class warfare stuff annoys me to no end.

Josh

LarryHart said...

Calvin Dodge:

PLEASE name ONE such corporation which is trampling on me WITHOUT the aid of government.


You personally? I don't know where you live, but if it was in Pennsylvania, then I could say "Haliburton". They get to frack for natural gas, and you get drinking water that you can burn out of the tap.


The people on YOUR side who currently run the executive branch of the Federal government are happy to bail out "too big to fail" financial companies, as long as they continue to donate the bulk of their political contributions to the campaigns of Obama and his allies.


The financial industry abandoned any support for Democrats in the 2010 elections, so I don't think Obama is really counting on their support next year. It's the tea party Republicans who are the benefits of that largesse. So that's ok with you...why?


Oil subsidies (measured in cost per erg) are 1 or 2 orders of magnitude less than the subsidies for so-called "green" energy. I'll gladly support the end of real subsidies for oil (BTW, accelerated depreciation is NOT a subsidy) when you do the same for wind, solar and biomass.


Done and done. I don't really have a dog in that fight. But I presume you didn't really mean it about your end of that bargain.


Are you SERIOUSLY suggesting that we're Obombing Libya because defense industries have brainwashed the President?


Are YOU seriously suggesting that going to war against Arabs who engage in terrorism is something your side DOESN'T like? Gingrich was for bombing Libya until Obama went and did it, and THEN he was against it.


Thanks for another demonstration of your religiously-based positions.


Give me an effing break. Nothing about the positions I've mentioned are "religious", either literally or metaphorically. "Supply-side economics" is a better example of a "religious" political position.

Nice try, though.

Calvin Dodge said...

Larry, I truly appreciate your displays of demagoguery ("they're destroying our air and water!").

If you can identify some company in the US which is doing this you'd better tell the EPA about it. And at that time you might ask them "what HAVE you spent hundreds of billions of dollars on?"

Pollution is a natural by-product of life. Since the dose makes the poison, the rational person asks "what is the cost of limiting pollutant X? what is the benefit?" And yes, that includes pollution of true "commons".

That's not greedy capitalism. COST is a measurement of human effort, since humans are the only recipient of expenditures. If you say "I don't care about the cost", you're effectively saying "I don't care who is forced to work, or how long they must work, to meet this goal".

Aside: if you wish to convince me of your position, spouting nonsense like "liberals believe in the commons" (apparently implying the word "ONLY" before "liberals") is not exactly going to reassure me of your truthfulness or your recognition of reality.

Joshkie said...

Larry-

"You're trying to pretend that any opposition to "capitalism with no rules" is based on envy of people who have earned more than me. I'm not against someone's right to run his own business. I'm against his right to do actual harm to others without cost."

Again you feel we're to stupid as a people to go, "Hey if you don't stop what your doing, I'm going to spend my money elsewhere.

Sigh...,
Josh

LarryHart said...

Tacitus:

In deference to Dr Brin and not monopolizing his blog (sorry), I'll make responding to you my last political post for the day. At least you and I are having the same conversation.


Conservative war like tendencies? Well, I guess we are not planning some wimpy Liberal "kinetic military operation"!


For about two months after 9/11, I was actually glad that we had a Republican president, because I thought that party better at responding to that sort of threat.

True story.

Point being, I didn't mean that as a negative.


And that scene where the chimps are roastin' them up some Gubru? Could happen, my friend, could happen.


Tastes like chicken. :)


I do not consider us to be intransigent btw. You believe that if society were to reapportion resources correctly that we can continue with our current level of entitlement programs. I do not believe that. But I would be happy to see evidence to the contrary.


We're not at exact opposite positions here. I'd agree with you under different economic circumstances. What I think about austerity and budget-balancing is that (as Edith Keeler was in that Star Trek episode), they are right, but at the wrong time. We're in a recession bordering on Depression and deflation. Cutting back on spending is exactly the wrong move AT THIS TIME.


And after a degree of austerity measures that restores confidence in our political system's ability to curtail spending


Here, I'd ask you to read some Paul Krugman. Austerity doesn't seem to restore confidence where it's being tried in Europe. Meanwhile, US Treasury Bonds are still selling at remarkably low interest rates. The only indication of a flight from US debt is in reaction to the Republican threats to force a default. No one is fleeing Treasuries because the debt is too high.


I also believe that we will (gulp, stepping away from conductive metal objects) need to raise taxes. I think we are in worse fiscal shape than is currently admitted.


That's why I think Walker is not serious. Because he LOWERED taxes at the same time he's imposing these draconian austerity measures, so they're in effect revenue neutral. There are reasons (such as tax simplification) for making revenue-neutral changes to the tax code, but if the stated goal is deficit reduction, then it makes no sense to LOWER the revenue side of the balance sheet.

But yeah, we're not as far apart as I thought. Godspeed on the fish-kill.

Robert said...

This is a civil blog. Please do not make ad hominem attacks. Please note that tone is quite important at maintaining a civil environment. While you can disagree with someone's beliefs and policies and feel those policies are wrong, do not turn around and state that that PERSON is wrong.

Both ideological sides (Conservative and Liberal) are guilty of this. We don't need this level of partisan bickering to disrupt the community that has developed here. Ultimately, we are all humans, and all deserving of respect from each other.

Rob H.

Joshkie said...

Paul Krugman no-wonder.

Josh

Joshkie said...

RH -

No one said Larry is a bad person. Miss guided yes. He's entitled to his opinion as our we.

Josh

Jumper said...

I agree that if kids have computers in their schools, they should be taught some programming. I learned what Pascal and C during a period of my life I had no PC at home. So I hung out in the computer lab and did my homework. (And some nifty side projects!)

Switching gears, I had a thought the other day that another name for tort reform is "new regulations." This never seems to occur to Republicans who are both anti-regulation and pro-tort reform. Then again, irony is dead. I know who killed it, too.

Calvin Dodge said...

"Here, I'd ask you to read some Paul Krugman."

Yes, when I'm looking for good economic advice, the FIRST person I turn to is a former Enron advisor whose stated opinions on government policies depend on WHO is in charge, rather than the policies themselves.

I'll gladly post an example or two of that if you disagree with my assertion.

Robert said...

Misguided, hmm? You do realize the slippery slope you are on. What is to prevent then legislation to force someone to give up their "misguided" perspectives, for their good and the good of society? What is to prevent blacklisting people with his opinions so that they can't "infect" others with their "misguided" beliefs? What is to stop the censorship of their belief structure? After all, it's not only for the good of society, but for their own good as well.

I may not agree with everything everyone says here. But I will fight for their right to state their beliefs and to encourage mutual respect for one another's positions. It is only through mutual respect that a happy medium can be achieved.

It is a lack of respect between politicians on both sides of the aisle that is preventing effective and logical legislation being passed that would benefit the nation as a whole.

Rob H.

Tacitus2 said...

Joshkie

Odd misspellings. Are you using some kind of voice recognitions software?

I don't think David would object to a little political banter, he was the one using terms like civil war. So lets show him some civility.

But I too will stand down for the day.

Tacitus

Calvin Dodge said...

"Misguided, hmm? You do realize the slippery slope you are on. What is to prevent then legislation to force someone to give up their "misguided" perspectives"

Errr ... I don't think Tacitus2 said anything about FORCING Larry to give up his "misguided" ways. And "legislation to force them to give up their misguided perspectives" is more the approach of a "powerful government", so there's less risk of that if government moves in MY direction, rather than in, say, Larry's.

My attitude toward such "misguided" folks is that of Thomas Jefferson: "It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are 20 gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg."

But when my neighbor's beliefs compel him to pick my pocket, or break my leg, or put me in prison because he doesn't like my political speech, then he DOES do me injury, and I won't submit peacefully to his application of his beliefs.

BTW, my definition of "religious" is a little more inclusive than Larry's - to me a religious belief is one which is held in the absence of, or in spite of, the actual evidence on hand.

As an example: "the defense contractors who insist on war as a permanent way of life". I've seen no evidence of this belief, so I'm inclined to view it as a religious one, part of the dogma of the Left (though it is also held by a few paranoids on the Right). Some contractors certainly DO wine and dine generals and Congresscritters, offering political support for the latter, and cushy post-retirement jobs for the former, in exchange for the purchase of their goods. But saying "buy my gold-plated bullet wrench" is NOT the equivalent of saying "bomb those heathen Arabs because they have it coming!"

If Larry seeks to convince me that such contractors exist in REALITY, he needs to show me EVIDENCE of this, not mere faith-based assertions.

I demand the same sort of evidence regarding "transnational corporations are DESTROYING our air and water!". Since the example he gave was the effect of "fracking", I'd like to see evidence of people:

1) whose tap water burns NOW
2) whose tap water didn't burn before fracking started
3) whose water source is actually reasonably near a fracked hole

No, the misleading documentary "Gasland" is not evidence. And given the anti-fracking rumblings from the EPA, I'm pretty sure that agency would TRUMPET real evidence of such contamination if it existed.

Remember this, Larry: "your belief does not constitute evidence"

rewinn said...

"....
pollution is thickest in progressive paradises like China...."


China is not a "progressive paradise". Shenzhen is a capitalist paradise, in which humans function as programmable machine tools, "freely" choosing to labor 16+ hours a day, until they fail. Then the owners instruct them to leave the factory and get another unit. It's "better" than slavery, in some sense, because you don't have to chain the workers; they chain themselves!

You really should go see Mike Daisy's show on the subject.

"...religious belief..."
A useful definition of religion is a belief system that cannot be disproven through the production of facts. Thus you cannot "disprove" Marxism, Libertarianism or Mormonism by showing any number of historical facts disproving the major tenets of their faith. Fracking Denialism is a religion, since in the google era it is trivially easy to find a solid study in support of the existence of flaming fracks.

Shouting at people on blogs is one of the biggest wastes of time ever, although I confess I have no studies in support of that claim; it is a matter of my personal religions beliefs.

Robert said...

Hmm. Did a Google Search. I found this:

http://www.thedenverchannel.com/news/18998652/detail.html

If I remember correctly, the Gasland incident was in Pennsylvania. This is in Colorado.

There is plenty of evidence of environmental pollution caused by the drilling for oil and natural gas. In fact, SuperFund is supposed to be cleaning these up... and because of politics is not allowed to go to certain regions because once they enter a region, it could disrupt existing businesses (often mining-related, with the pollution caused by tailings).

http://abcnews.go.com/Business/wireStory?id=13229103

Neither industry nor government are pure. Industry and government are at this point intertwined significantly, and few politicians manage to remain in power unless they allow industry to force them to dance to their beat. And there's so many ways to force politicians out who don't play ball.

This is where communities such as this come in. And this is where mutual respect is important. We can only rely on each other. Not government. Not industry. Not religion or religious institutions. Only your fellow men and women. And if you don't respect one another... then divided you ultimately fall.

Rob H.

rewinn said...

BTW let me apologize to my Mormon friends for possibly seeming to equate Mormonism, Libertarianism and Marxism. My bad. While I disagree with some of the moralizing of that religion, most of the Mormons I know are very fine people indeed and they can't be blamed for Mitt Romney, any more than the Quakers can be blamed for Richard Nixon. That the Book of Moroni contains some historical claims that can be disproven in a factual sense is not unusual in a religion (the New Testament is also larded with such) and not necessarily a disqualification for making a religion with moral, ethical and personal value. I mean seriously, some people make a religion out of Star Wars!

Calvin Dodge said...

rewinn, your comments remind me of 70s eras Marxists who excused the obvious disadvantages of living in China or the Soviet Union with "those are not Marxist states!"

China is run by COMMUNISTS, who allow some economic freedom because of the positive results. I don't know how Chinese working conditions compare to, say, those in Indonesia or Thailand. But people generally work in sweatshops because the alternative (subsistence farming without the aid of major machinery) is less attractive.

If that fracking study is genuine, I'm sure the EPA and Ken Salazar will gladly shut down such operations, since the EPA has a well-demonstrated propensity to shut down oil exploration for utterly specious reasons ("didn't include the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by icebreakers")

Occasional capitalization of a word is emphasis, not shouting.

SEE, THIS IS SHOUTING. NOTICE HOW IT'S ALL LOUD AND ANNOYING.

This, OTOH, emphasizes the word SPECIOUS, leaving the rest of the sentence (acronyms excepted) in comfortable easy-to-read lowercase.

Jacob said...

Independent here. If you don't honestly understand where the otherwise is coming from, then I believe you aren't fit for political discussion. Most likely you are talking past the other person. Larry acknowledged this.

Free market capitalism is the perfect system when there is complete, instant transparency and sufficient options to satisfy.

In the real world, people do not have time to research their products options and make the best buying decision. Any argument about buying power needs to take into account that people are not going to invest that time. Only a small percent of people doing more than passive (ad-based) information gathering before 'voting with their pocket.

Government has a role in making companies realize their externalities. Pollution and other costs that can pass on in a Free market need to be realized. I believe that it should invest in economic development, but should have honest deficit hawks evaluating those programs who are empowered to end waste.

The truth behind Small Government philosophy is that government should be more efficient and effective. The tragedy is Republicans Politicians and Think tanks twisted that trust into a vehicle of lobotomizing government. Rather, they should be working on cutting costs and making it work.

Democrats should be treating Less government with scorn while taking up the cry of "Better government for Less." But then again, the Democratic Politicians and Think Tanks are largely unimaginative and without initiative. Its a shame they are Progressive instead of progressive. Capitol P has a specific agenda. Lower case p is interested in new solutions.

Tim H. said...

If the current crop of conservative candidates works out as well as past ones, government will get even larger, because they can't resist the levers of power, tax reform will be stillborn again as special interests convince them that tax cuts for them are essential, cuts for ordinary folk will be too dangerous for the budget, etcetera. Government will again be precisely tuned to the needs of an elite, and wonder why the recovery is so listless.

Robert said...

Off onto a scientific note for a moment: aircraft can create significant holes in clouds as seen in this picture in Antarctica and then followed-up in Denver, Colorado.

http://arstechnica.com/science/news/2011/06/aircraft-punch-holes-in-clouds-leave-snow-in-their-wake.ars

http://arstechnica.com/science/news/2011/06/aircraft-punch-holes-in-
clouds-leave-snow-in-their-wake.ars

Rob H.

Corey said...

My, my, my; I'm not sure what's worse, the sudden severe drop in civility and increase in ad hominem attacks, or the severe drop in the substance of arguments.

It's certainly apparent which "side" of this debate it's coming from, but I won't hold it against conservatives in general.


I certainly am not interested in a fight of pitting extremes of ideology against each other. I'd probably fall somewhere in the middle of the people on the left and right here, that said, I did want to point out one argument as being especially dishonest.


Pointing out that China has thick pollution (and believe me, it's downright choking) as a means to try to discredit progressivism is hardly a substantive argument.


First, China is not communist. Regardless of their claimed government philosophy, the SOCIETY that tangibly exists in China is one of anything-goes capitalism. Anyone who thinks otherwise has clearly never been there, and has clearly never walked through the malls full of bootleg DVD stores and streetside shops full of fake "Nike" windbreakers and Rolex watches.

ANYTHING can be done in China in the name of making money, pretty much outside of the narcotics trade (I believe carrying with the intention to sell is punishable by death). If laws there do exist governing what private business can do, than there is absolutely zero enforcement of them.


The second problem, and the one that's so obvious, that it precludes the China argument from being an honest point, is that even the most obtuse person knows that China has an enormous number of social factors that contribute to high pollution, from their poorly-developed technology (which is thankfully getting better), to their extremely high population, and the high population density of the Eastern side of the nation (they're only about 65 percentile overall for density, but the population is concentrated in one area).


To try to draw any correlation between Chinese government and the level of pollution in that nation is so obviously fraught with enormous problems, that I just don't see how someone could be making that argument seriously and honestly.


So does that means that because one argument is bad that therefore progressivism is vindicated and we should all go out and vote for the Democratic party? Of course it doesn't. I'm not commenting on the virtues of right vs left here; I lack the time and care right now.

That said, if someone wants to make a serious argument against progressivism, then that definitely is not it.

Dave said...

Corey,

No, what China has is an ugly amalgam of quasi-Communist state-run companies and crony capitalism. Very little can be done that runs afoul of powerful Party interests, there is no free speech, property rights are not respected, and corruption is endemic. It's nothing like a free-market paradise. (Though I agree that has little to do with the pollution problem, which is caused by the simple fact Third Worlders (of which China still has 1B) are far more concerned with acquiring basic necessities than the environment).

The major problem with progressivism (and Marxist politico-economics generally) has always been that it does not understand how incentives work, or explicitly refuses to believe in them. You can see this most gaudily in the failures of the Soviets (they tried to replace economic incentives with social/gov't), but it's visible across the spectrum of some otherwise laudable (gay marriage, civil rights) progressive causes in the failures of

-- Prohibition (an early 20th Prog cause)
-- using jail to rehabilitate criminals (a goal now virtually forgotten even though it still underlies criminal law) rather than punish
-- welfare program (reduce incentive to work)
-- public sector unions, esp in education
-- regulatory capture

Robert said...

Wait a minute. Since when did capitalism have anything to do with freedom of speech? Capitalism is merely an economic philosophy. It has nothing to do with personal freedom or the like. In fact, the U.S. was a capitalist state when it allowed union busting, child labor, and the like back over a hundred years ago.

You're confusing Democracy with Capitalism. They are not the same thing. You can have a planned economy from a democratically-elected government. You can have capitalism under an autocracy. It's just that in the case of autocracies, businesses have to worry that the government might seize their property... and if the company has its own armed security force that is powerful enough to resist the government, they can then tell that government where to go.

Rob H.

Jumper said...

There should be a name for people who try to project a simulacrum of thought which is in reality based on labels.

rewinn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
rewinn said...

@Calvin Dodge "China is run by COMMUNISTS..."

... in the same way that the Korean Democratic Republic is run by Democrats and Republicans. The rulers of China are very, very Capitalist Communists ... something that must drive the few remaining Marxists on our planet totally nutz.

In reality, China (...except possibly for a brief Sun Yat-Sen period...) has always been ruled by absolutist regimes that used whatever ideology best suited their purpose. The rival emperors Mao Tse-Tung and Chaing Kai-Shek were pretty hard to tell from any of their predecessors or even from each other; one called himself Capitalist and the other called himself Communist but to the man on the street, it didn't matter.

This is not the "No True Scotsman" fallacy. I'm happy to concede that absolutist Communists can be as vile as Mao and Stalin, and that this may reflect a defect in the design of Communism itself - or at least in Marxism. But the same must be said of Capitalism in the Shenzhen Special Economic zone under Hu Jintao/Wen Jiabao.

"I don't know how Chinese working conditions compare..."

Exactly. You don't know. I give you evidence contrary to your preferred belief, and you ignore it. That makes your belief religious rather than scientific. There's nothing wrong with that, BTW; be proud of your beliefs!

"If that fracking study is genuine..."
What evidence have you to reject the study?

I mean, seriously. I gave you evidence from a serious, peer-reviewed scientific journal and you reject it out of hand.

"I'm sure the EPA and Ken Salazar will gladly shut down such operations..."

If your standard of proof is the behavior of a politician. I believe that Dresden Codak has the last word on that methodology.

rewinn said...

@Dave "The major problem with progressivism (and Marxist politico-economics generally)...."

Is that not like describing the "... major problems of powered flight (and Autogyros generally) ..."

Granting that Marx was some sort of progressive, he's at least a century out of date and we have all learned a lot since then (...those who are open to learning, which certainly may not include some Marixists...). Experimentation has shown that Marx was wrong on a lot of things and I wouldn't recommend anyone waste time reading his works, unless you're the sort of historical type that wants to learn medicine by starting with Galen. The most successful progressives of our era understand incentives very well; ask Warren Buffet or Bill Gates.

Some of the examples you cite are ill-founded:

"-- using jail to rehabilitate criminals (a goal now virtually forgotten even though it still underlies criminal law) rather than punish"

The defect there is not in the intention but in the incentives: Warehousing is cheap in the short run and expensive in the long run, whereas rehab is just the opposite. Therefore rehab gets cut, warehousing gets expanded. Judging on results, we now have the least effective system for handling prisoners of any advanced nation; abandoning rehab for punishment has given us the largest prison population anywhere, yet our crime figures are dreadful.

"welfare program (reduce incentive to work)"
Don't tell the Euros. They're beating the pants off us economically despite the huge handicap of incentive-killing welfare programs. (And don't bother bringing up "Greece" until AFTER you've calculated the per-capita national debt of Greece vs. the USA).

"public sector unions, esp in education" Uh, wut? Before public sector unions, public employees were the toys of the politicians. You really want your tax dollars going to having cops polish your mayor's daughter's boyfriend's car? You really want your kids taught by the school principal's mistress? Cuz when public employees have no union protection, that's what you're going to get.

"...regulatory capture" Now THAT is a HUGE problem, but it's not the fault of progressivism. If there are no regulations, there is nothing to capture: when someone poisons your water and your air and your kids, you have no recourse at all (...except possibly a decades-long lawsuit, which you can no longer pursue as a class action, thanks to the Supreme Corporate. How are you gonna argue in court when pollution has rotten your lungs out?)

Robert said...

Thank you for that latest Dresden Codak link. I tend to check on it monthly so I'd not seen the latest update. Which was... fun. And is oddly enough accurate when it comes to the current state of scientific opposition. If you try to disprove something that is established, no matter how valid your data, then you're treated like a pariah. Pity, really.

While I dislike the journal due to its tone (they are quite confrontational and apt to indulge in name-calling instead of showing some modicum of respect for any aspect of liberalism that does not kiss their ass (and even then)), "National Review" had an interesting article concerning some elements of the environmentalist movement that are not as far-left as Gore and the like and suspect that climate change, while valid, is not quite as dire as predicted... and the overwhelming knee-jerk reaction to this point of view, rather than a logical examination of the data and then a cold and efficient dissection of the points to determine validity or error in them.

Yes, I know. Humans are creatures of passion and emotion. But science needs impartiality in order to improve itself. Otherwise it risks being dragged down along with other human endeavors that suffer from excessive emotionalism.

Rob H.

Joshkie said...

Rob H @ 9:46am -

"Misguided, hmm? You do realize the slippery slope you are on. What is to prevent then legislation to force someone to give up their "misguided" perspectives, for their good and the good of society? What is to prevent blacklisting people with his opinions so that they can't "infect" others with their "misguided" beliefs? What is to stop the censorship of their belief structure? After all, it's not only for the good of society, but for their own good as well."

My whole point was the government shouldn't be in the business telling us how to think or run any part of our lives.

I never once tried to silence him. All I did was question and point out what I hear when he said the things that he was.

When you say your for personal freedom then advocate for policies that limit said freedom for some I find that there's a disconnect in the thought proccess.

Jacob 11:27am -

"In the real world, people do not have time to research their products options and make the best buying decision. Any argument about buying power needs to take into account that people are not going to invest that time. Only a small percent of people doing more than passive (ad-based) information gathering before 'voting with their pocket."

Another lack of respect for the American people argument. We're just a bunch of lazy uninformed people that can't be bothered with making informed purchasing decisions, so the government needs to do that for us. I read "Consumer Reports" and I like to look into what 'The Better Business Bureau' has to say about the business I do business with on a regular bases.

To me the governments roll should be oversite not regulation.

Here's the difference government should hold business accountable for what they say they are doing or going to do, not try to tell them how to run their business.
How is it people think that government knows how to run my or anyone's business better than those me actualy running them. That is what the court system is for holding me accountable for my actions; business or otherwise.

As to civility, I did not make anything personal. I did not attach his character, Larry is obviously good person that just happens to believe that the government has a roll in telling people how to live their lives, under the guises of protecting the little guy.

All I did was not agree with him and state an opposing view point.

This is the last thing I'm going to say on this,
Josh

rewinn said...

"Another lack of respect for the American people argument. We're just a bunch of lazy uninformed people that can't be bothered with making informed purchasing decisions, so the government needs to do that for us..."

1. Non sequitur.

2. It is highly disrespectful of a free people to call us "lazy" just because we choose to be efficient; so let's drop the whole respect/disrespect argument eh?

3. As a free people, we have chosen to create a government to do regulatory functions for us. It's not that we are "lazy" (your word); it's that we tried private schemes for doing the same things, and history shows they fail. So study the history of food safety.

Very few Americans are qualified to perform e coli tests on their fresh produce. Any commercial entity that tried to perform the same regulatory functions as the government must operate at a higher cost, since it has to perform the same substantive functions PLUS the overhead of return to investors and marketing. In addition, they are subject to a basic fact of economics: the most efficient way to rate products is to ask the purveyor what that rating should be, and then slop one the minimum amount of documentation that keeps buyers buying. This is what actually happened in the financial markets not so long ago: cr@p bonds were rating AAA by the private (non-governmental) rating agencies and you, the consumer, ended up holding the bag because it was economically irrational for you to perform your own bond ratings.

"To me the governments roll should be oversite not regulation..."
OverSIGHT is part of regulation. History tells us that public warnings, however dire, cannot entirely overcome private marketing efforts (look at the tobacco industry...) and again this is a simple matter of basic economics: the private industry will spend anything it has to in order to keep selling its poison. In the real world, sometimes you just have to criminalize murder and sometimes you just have to ban poisons.

rewinn said...

@Robert -
It's certainly true that people overreact to criticism and no reason to suspect that environmentalists are any less human in that regard.

However, there is no valid argument that Al Gore is "far left". He does argue that Obama hasn't done enough to fight climate change but that is also a consensus of the scientific community. Does studying nature in a fact-oriented way turn one into a Communist? I suspect you could get a grant to study that!

Joshkie said...

Again your arguement seem to me to be.

That we as a people are not smart enough to do what is in are best interest, and that the government must tell us and force us to do what the 'élite' think is best. That we are sheep that will just follow anyone and believe whatever anyone tells us. Where is the personal responsibility to inform ourselves and take charge of our own lives.

There's no personal responsibility advocated in your position. Why should I think for myself when the government can do it for me.

Oversite is insuring people do what they say they will do. That they hold to their contractual obligations. Regulations is the government micro-managing business into doing what 'expert' that's probably never worked in the fuilds they manage. No central planning authority can manage an economy; it's just to complicated. The variables are to complex even within companies even in the same industries.

Name one country in history, that has followed this model, that hasn't colapasted under the weight of it's own bureaucracy.

I think I have more confidence in the American people that given free of choice they will do the right thing. Even if the don't they will have to take responsibility for their choises. With failure there comes an opportunity to learn and make better choices.

This is the philosophical difference that we have as I see it.

Josh
Josh

Joshkie said...

Last should of been adressed to rewinn.

Also there is not a consensus within the scientific comunitie. Just because any dissenting voice is not published in peer-reviewed journal doesn't for a consensus make.

Josh

sociotard said...

Okay, Joshkie, I have to ask: as a concerned american who recognizes his ability to change corporate policy by shopping elsewhere, what products and companies are you boycotting right now?

Don't get me wrong, I agree that boycotts can work. I think maybe your actions follow your words and you have a long list of things you refuse to buy. It'd just clear things up for me if I knew how you went about it.

Me? I don't buy fish. It's just too hard to filter truth from rhetoric about which companies harvest most sustainably. I do buy meat, but sparingly, since I think livestock production is ruining our antibiotics and is an inefficient means of consuming calories.

Okay, your turn.

Jacob said...

Hey Sociotard,

Do you have a smartphone? I use the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch App to find sustainable fish. I think it would suit your needs. I could be wrong.

---

Josh,

Why do you assume that I don't think Americans are capable or lazy? It's a false assumption. I said they aren't likely to devote the time because are busy doing other things. You invest your own time which is respectable, but not common. (i.e. Only 2-3% of Americans subscribe Consumer reports.)

I think your interpretation of oversight is something that many Democrats may agree with it. I'm sure that many Democrats would disagree with micro-managing.

I think you (and everyone) should spend more time trying to understand 'the other side' as anyone is likely setting up a strawman if they don't see value in their opponents position.

Towards this goal, I issue a challenge. I claim I can help anyone in this fine community see some value in the position of the other side. If you don't understand how D/R can possibly advocate for policy X, I'll explain it.

Ian said...

Anyone familiar with Robert Shawyer?

http://www.emdrive.com/

For years, Shawyer's been claiming he knows how to build what is, in practical effect, a reactionless drive and in fact to have built prototypes which are allegedly undergoing testing by (unnamed) aerospace firms.

Well now, via his website he's linking to what he claism is a translation of a Chinese peeer-reviewed paper supporting his claim.

(I trust I've made my skepticism sufficiently plain here but if his claism are true they're literally world-changing._

Duncan Cairncross said...

Rewin Said

"3. As a free people, we have chosen to create a government to do regulatory functions for us. It's not that we are "lazy" (your word); it's that we tried private schemes for doing the same things, and history shows they fail. So study the history of food safety."

This is a SUPERB summary -

creating government regulatory functions is not just because "
we tried private schemes for doing the same things, and history shows they fail" but because its MORE EFFICIENT - MUCH MORE EFFICIENT
ONE body not one for each consumer!


To the FREE MARKET types - As an engineer I see a free market as a mechanism for allocation of resources
For small changes it works very well
Unfortunately it has POSITVE FEEDBACK - them as has gets -
As any engineer will tell you a mechanism with positive feedback will spin out of control

A completely "Free Market" will simply concentrate the wealth into fewer and fewer hands until the wealthy few can "buy the levers of power" and continue as an aristocracy
Adam Smith warned about this centuries ago

Corey said...

Outside of whether Americans are "lazy" or not, which seems like kind of a silly red herring, there are a few fatal flaws to your thinking, Joshkie.


Now, please do correct me if I'm wrong here, but as I understand your argument, you're basically saying that we should have no government regulation, because people, as individuals or group or whatever, are perfectly capable of self-regulating and operating a society correctly without government, and that the insistence on government intervention assumes a lack of such ability. Does that about sum it up?

In theory, I completely agree with you. In fact, on most issues I mostly agree with you, but while the reasoning holds mostly true as far as the government's role in dictating the lives of individuals (which I think should be minimal, if nonexistent, so long as we aren't directly trampling on anyone else's rights), your reasoning falls apart once we move to business for a few reasons:



First, businesses don't always have the best interest of society at heart. During the run-up to the 2008 economic collapse, it was not uncommon for investment banks to sell securities claiming them to be good investments, and then turn right around in bet against them on the market, but not before paying off the big three credit rating agencies to slap AAA ratings on them.

It was terrible for society, but made them a huge amount of money. Do you honestly think that government should continue to let them operate this way? There's nothing illegal if you don't pass regulations making these kinds of actions against the law in the first place, yet obviously it doesn't benefit society to allow them to operate this way.

I could bring up the tobacco companies as another classic example. They're even better in many ways, because they have a clear conflict of interest between themselves and society, and clearly pick themselves, and are more than willing to go to any length to get their way.

It's not that businesses are bad; it's just that it's not their JOB to worry about society as a whole. Their job is to turn a profit; it's the rest of society's job to worry about itself.


The second problem is that businesses don't always account for externalities in their business models. Exxon Mobile doesn't figure global warming or biodiversity loss into their cost of doing business. Sure, the cost to society as a whole is great, and will probably also be significant for the companies in the long-term, but as I said, businesses don't tend to account for externalities.

This means that if governments don't issue regulations, companies may refuse to change actions with negative long-term consequences, by sole virtue of those consequences being left out of their figured cost of doing business.

Corey said...

The third problem is that the consumers themselves can't always control business.

During the Guilded Age, the completely de-regulated business of America could basically institute de facto slavery for its workers. Basically, companies paid them next to nothing in real money, but offered them reduced-price goods at company stores. That way they were basically beholding to the company, and never had any real say (hard to quit and move on or do business elsewhere under that model).

If you got so fed up that you decided to strike, companies could fire you and replace you with more cheap labor, and then blacklist you on the job market, so that other companies would know not to hire you.


Today, we lack that problem (because of government regulation), but there are many businesses that sell non-optional products and services that consumers CANNOT opt out of. If I don't' like a company's HDTV, then I can buy elsewhere. If I don't think the HDTV industry in general is offering enough for me money, I don't have to buy one at all. That is not an option for, say, petroleum or health care. Much of what the private sector sells is essential for day-to-day life, and so if entire industries don't operate how we like, we have to buy from them anyways.


In a nut shell, total government de-regulation doesn't work. Now, you can argue that a SPECIFIC regulation shouldn't be present, but ignoring all of the atrocious ecological disasters and horrible working conditions that have resulting through history from completely unregulated business, it basically says everything that that was the cause of the three biggest economic crashes in US history.

-In 1893, overextended banking funding an overextended railroad industry caused a banking panic.

-In 1929, an artificially inflated stock market, built up on fake value because of de-regulation allowing manipulation, came crashing down like a house of card in a stiff breeze.

-In 2008, deregulation of the investment industry took what should have been nothing more than a troublesome US housing bubble, and tied that bubble into the entire world financial system through dishonest practices (which I partly outlined above), so that when the bubble burst, the whole global financial system came down with it.

Paul said...

Calvin Dodge,
" "Transnational corporations" can't send people with guns to my door, and say "fork it over/do as we say OR ELSE!" "

I'm curious what you think is preventing them from doing that.

Paul said...

Joshkie,
"Again your arguement seem to me to be. That we as a people are not smart enough to do what is in are best interest...
...That we are sheep that will just follow anyone and believe whatever anyone tells us.
...I think I have more confidence in the American people that given free of choice they will do the right thing."


You live in a democracy. Why do you not trust we as a people to "do what is in are(sic) best interests", to "do the right thing", to refuse to "just follow anyone and believe whatever anyone tells us", when it comes to who we vote for?

Do you not see the hypocrisy in your arguments? When it comes to government, you think we are sheep. But when it comes to an unregulated market, we are rationalist gods.

"Why should I think for myself when the government can do it for me."

How is that not exactly what you accuse others of saying?

LarryHart said...

Calvin Dodge:

If that fracking study is genuine, I'm sure the EPA and Ken Salazar will gladly shut down such operations, since the EPA has a well-demonstrated propensity to shut down oil exploration for utterly specious reasons.


You've mentioned the EPA about a dozen times now. I'm not sure if you're being willfully-ignorant or just innocently so, but the reason the EPA doesn't (and can't) crack down on the damage to air and water caused by fracking is that the procedure ISN'T ILLEGAL. Dick Cheney was able to have a specific exemption for Haliburton's patented process written into the law, so that they can do whatever they want to people's means of survival without recourse.

That might not be literally "pointing a gun at you", but what's the difference?

Jumper said...

Thanks rewinn for the link to the fracking study. As a former petroleum exploration person, I have been curious about this. I see they neatly knocked down the surface biogenesis hypothesis which was illuminating. My money is on bad cementing jobs around the casings...

LarryHart said...

Calvin Dodge:

"Here, I'd ask you to read some Paul Krugman."

Yes, when I'm looking for good economic advice, the FIRST person I turn to is a former Enron advisor whose stated opinions on government policies depend on WHO is in charge, rather than the policies themselves.


Glad we agree. :)

But seriously, Krugman has been 100% CORRECT in his predictions about how this recession/depression/lost decade would play out, while most of the economists whose advice the government has been listening to are consisently wrong. I don't mean ideologically "wrong" or "correct", I mean in the sense that things actually play out the way Krugman says they will, not the way the Freidman/Randites who think recovery or hyperinflation or investor flight from Treasuries are just around the corner.

I'll gladly post an example or two of that if you disagree with my assertion.


Go ahead. But I'll see your ad hominems and raise you a record of consistently-accurate predictions that indicates (to me, anyway) that he knows what he's talking about.

If Larry seeks to convince me that such contractors exist in REALITY, he needs to show me EVIDENCE of this, not mere faith-based assertions.


I wouldn't waste time or breath trying to convince you that it was raining outside. You obviously have your opinions set in stone already, and you're not about to let contrary evidence change your mind. And you have the nerve to (repeatedly) accuse ME of "religous beliefs".

No, if I'm trying to convince anyone, it's third parties who might be "listening" to both sides of this argument. And notwithstanding Joshkie's character slam against me, I DO trust them to decide who is making a better case.


I demand the same sort of evidence regarding "transnational corporations are DESTROYING our air and water!".
...
No, the misleading documentary "Gasland" is not evidence.


You demand to see evidence, but won't accept any. No surprise there.


Remember this, Larry: "your belief does not constitute evidence"


I remember that every day. You might do well to take your own advice, though.

Corey said...

LarryHart, if I were you, I wouldn't pay too much attention to Calvin Dodge.


Aside from the fact that he hasn't commented in almost 24 hours, he isn't even really discussing anything.

What he's doing is coming in, offering ridiculous paper-thin arguments like demanding that someone "name a corporation that's personally oppressing [him]" (even though it's the very presence of government and 100 years of progressivism that makes sure that corporations aren't), or trying to attack progressivism by bringing up China's pollution levels (lolwut?).

When his arguments don't have the substance to back his points, he makes up the slack by battering through his point of view with blatant hostility and ad hominem attacks.


In fact, I notice that since he's stopped commenting almost a day ago, the conservation has instantaneously become more civil.

Joshkie said...

Paul @ 2:11am -

Those are not my beliefs I was paraphrasing the statements, from others, in quotation above said paragraph.

I'm not very good at communicating in the written word, so I've stopped trying to get my point across by responding.

Josh

LarryHart said...

Corey:

LarryHart, if I were you, I wouldn't pay too much attention...


I wasn't planning to. Just wanted to get in some responses to things that were said after I left yesterday. More for the benefit of listeners than to convince the guy himself.


When his arguments don't have the substance to back his points, he makes up the slack by battering through his point of view with blatant hostility and ad hominem attacks.

In fact, I notice that since he's stopped commenting almost a day ago, the conservation has instantaneously become more civil.


That's true of public discourse in general. It's one reason I actually hoped the Rapture would happen on May 21. The "left behind" world might have been quite...heavenly.

Corey said...

"I wasn't planning to. Just wanted to get in some responses to things that were said after I left yesterday. More for the benefit of listeners than to convince the guy himself."

Believe me, I really do understand there.

It's like Peter Hadfield says on his Potholer54 youtube channel (which is excellent, btw), Myths are created much faster than they can be debunked.


You get so much crap thrown around with half-evidence and bad logic, and it has an amazing propensity to stick with people if you don't tear it up.

It's often even worse than that, because such crap is usually offered in compelling little sound-bites and "gotcha" statements that usually require rebuttals that are 5 times longer than the original falsehood to actually explain what's wrong.

It's nice that that this is at least the kind of place where such people don't tend to endear themselves to the community. Anyone can present a point of view here, but it falls on deaf ears the moment someone starts pushing it by belittling people like you with comments like his "religious belief" comments.

"That's true of public discourse in general. It's one reason I actually hoped the Rapture would happen on May 21. The "left behind" world might have been quite...heavenly."

Well sadly, people often simply don't understand argumentative logic that well.

Who knows, maybe Argument-Based Research should be a required course in high school.


As for the rapture comment, well the thought occurred to me :)

myzoski said...

Regarding emdrive, the relation between the momentum and energy for photons is
E = p c, where c is the speed of light.

If you emit photons to accelerate a 1Kg mass up to 1 m/s, the energy carried away by the photons is

1 Kg*m/s * (3 * 10^8 m/s) = 3 * 10^8 Joule.

That's a lot of energy for very little effect; unless you generate the energy by direct mass-to-energy conversion, it's probably impractical. There's a reason rockets spit mass, not just light!

rewinn said...

@Josh
"I'm not very good at communicating in the written word, so I've stopped trying to get my point across by responding."
Please don't stop.
The problem is NOT your communications skills. Spelink is noz importink!!!!

The problem is that your messages are not using reason. The messages are not linking verifiable facts to falsifiable hypothesis.

The peril of using reason is that it may cause you to surrender your dearly-felt opinions. Remember: a day on which you discover that your opinion was based on a factual or logical error is a GOOD day ... because on that day you learned something.

Robert said...

Hell. I used to have a knee-jerk response to anything Clinton-related until Dr. Brin repeatedly hit me on the nose with the rolled up newspaper of verifiable proof and I realized that while I might personally despise the man, politically my hatred was built on a house of sand because he was never proven of any corruption besides dallying with interns and keeping quiet about it. Which I still find despicable... but that's between him and his wife.

Rob H.

Paul said...

Corey,
I know people say "Don't feed the trolls". But I disagree; if you calmly (yeah, I can talk) explain why they're wrong, IMO it can help lurkers who share a milder version of the Troll's claimed beliefs. Don't get baited, sure, but don't ignore it completely either.

Plus, it's like the Troll is creating their own strawman for you. How handy is that.

--
Robert,
"besides dallying with interns [...] but that's between him and his wife."

Really? I heard it was between him and his desk...
(Yeah, I'll get my coat...)

Rob said...

@rewinn -- no offense taken w/r/t your comments on Mormonism, though it's bemusing to try and think of the historical claims in the Book of Moroni, which has none, as I recall.

It's probably a nit, if you meant The Book of Mormon, in which there were some falsifiable and falsified historical claims in an introductory preface, which have since been edited out without molesting the purpose of the book for us. In fact, I think the whole flap over the ancestral DNA stuff was extremely good for Mormons, for the same reasons that it would be good for anyone.

Or are you talking about something other than the DNA evidence against a broad Israelite colonization of North and South America? In any case, it's not distressing to me to see you make those claims or equate them with other ideologies. That's just you thinking out loud, and it's refreshing to see amid all the paraphrased bitterness that's seemed to take over this thread.

David Brin said...

My wife explained why women mostly said to end Monicagate and it was males (many of them divorced hypocrites) who pushed it. She said:

"Did you see the look on Hillary's face when she spoke about this? It was WILL YOU ALL PLEASE LET ME HANDLE THIS?"

A wife's honest request that other women could understand and every man missed.

Power makes us crazy because we are all descended from jerks with harems. What matters to me is whether the pecadillo reveals vicious or predatory shit, or if it was just consensual hanky panky that deserves a month of sleeping on the couch and three months of groveling and flowers.

If it is the latter, then I refuse to let hypocrites deprive me of the services of a skilled professional who is doing a better job than any of THEIR assholes could remotely begin to approach doing.

Fact. We did better every week under Clinton. His war was handled expertly and left Europe free and at peace for the 1st time in 4,000 years, costing us no US lives and smidgens of treasure.

SHeeit. For that, I'll let Hillary punish him for a blow job in a hallway.

Oh... note... they are still together.

Paul said...

Joshkie,
I don't think I had problems understanding you.

When Larry or others have defended government intervention, you say it proves they don't trust in people.

But, I noticed, when you spoke against government intervention, you seemed to believe it resulted in people being too lazy or stupid to look after themselves. "Why think for myself, when government can do it for me."

You're saying people are somehow perfectly rational and informed when it comes to a free market, but mindless sheep when it comes to a free vote. Both can't be true.

Personally I believe that people are indeed too dumb/lazy to do what's in our own best interests, whether in business or in government. We are not rational, we are not informed. As voters, as consumers, as rulers. That's why too much of any one system - capitalism or socialism, democracy or autocracy - always becomes self-harming.

The solution is to try to keep the systems in balance. If one side gets too powerful, use another to push it back. Look for any disproportionate accumulation of power and bite it off.

(But since balanced systems are kinda dull, tending not to do grand things, occasionally you need to let it go a bit nuts. Moderation in all things, as they say, including moderation.)

Robert said...

You'll note, Dr. Brin, that I did listen and finally backed off. My dislike of the Clintons (both of them) is personal and probably as irrational as my friend's insistence concerning his gut feeling Obama is a bad person who is going to screw over the nation. (You know, next time he mentions it at all I think I'm going to hit his father button. Because when you look at Obama and how he cares for his children and how he tries to keep them out of the limelight as much as possible shows a caring father who wants what's best for two children that mean the world to him... and that's something Bill has in common with him.)

Hmm. Perhaps this is the best method of connecting with the rank and file of the new civil war. Point out what many of them have in common with Obama: family. After all, can someone be Other if you have things in common with them? Or do you start finding yourself connecting with them and realizing your prejudices are in fact irrational?

Or maybe the Benedryl I took this early morning to get back to sleep is talking. It does sound a tad too optimistic to be my normal state of mind. ;)

Rob H.

Jacob said...

"Power makes us crazy because we are all descended from jerks with harems."

I think that the jerk aspect of power has more to do with time/attention pressures. Many leaders aren't very good at delegation and so have a great deal of pressure for their time/attention. When they prioritize they will often leave people out. It really makes them seem/act like Jerks even when they wouldn't be under different circumstances. Of course some see delegating out interaction with a subordinate has a Jerk move in and of itself.

When I was young, I was quite critical of those in leadership positions. After having in the roles myself, I understand that in many ways I was unfair to them. I lacked perspective.

Actual corruption is a different matter, but I believe it can seem like corruption to those without perspective.

Robert said...

And for those of us who weren't already worried about the power cops have over us, Cracked gives us six legit ways cops can screw us over... including the fact Asset Forfeiture is factored into their budget. Or in other words, if cops weren't allowed to seize our stuff and sell it, even without proof of a crime, they'd suffer budget shortfalls.

http://www.cracked.com/article_18620_6-completely-legal-ways-cops-can-screw-you.html

http://www.cracked.com/article_18620_6-completely-legal-ways-
cops-can-screw-you.html

Rob H.

Robert said...

The End of Minnesota Nice

http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0711/58260.html

Which we saw try to creep into this discussion thread.

Rob H.

rewinn said...

Hey @Rob - sorry about confusing Moroni and Mormon - as you say, they are not the same! Maybe next I'll mix up Peter and Paul!

I think your largest point and mine is that religious books speak religious or spiritual truths, which are not the same as historical truths. When Luke talks of a nonexistent census of Caesar Augustus and governorship of Quirinius , or when (...some part of the Book of Mormon ...) talks of a man so mighty that his bow was made of metal, we know that these are not historically true (a metal bow was beyond Biblical technology), but merely decorative elements in stories that have spiritual truths. It seems to me that the Mormon religion suffers from the not-inconsiderable handicap of having been created or revealed in a recent period permitting close examination of its seams (as in the DNA study you mention) whereas the gaps in mainstream JudeoChristianity are well filled by hallowed tradition or (in the case of DNA testing) too many generations having passed to demonstrate that the tribes that conquered The Promised Land weren't escaped Egyptian slaves. This should not detract from the main purpose of religion, which is not to teach history or science, but rather ethics or spirituality. It's really not helpful either historically or spiritually to cram one into the other.

---

@Robert's remark "... I used to have a knee-jerk response to anything Clinton-related ..." made me snicker because I had the very same thing, only in the opposite direction. Because Clinton was (to me) so obviously a better guy to run our nation than GHWB, Dole or Newt, I instinctively gave him a pass on his horndoggery and triangulation. While neither were impeachable, I was wilfully blind to the clues that his character gave to his willingness to sell out principles, such as in the case of NAFTA or in the blockade of food & medicine to Iraq or in the whole triangulation in general. Basically, I supporter him cutting my own throat economically because, you know, he was on my team, amaright? so I had to support him, amaright?

There's a lesson there somewhere, but I'm darned if I know what it is; surely it can't be that we should give up.

---

"Asset Forfeiture" - what a delightfully conveeeeenient way for government officials to punish you without a trial and to enrich themselves without the bother of taxation!

David Brin said...

Rewinn, some of the metaphors you speak of, in the NT, had polemical reasons underlying them For example, consider why a "census" was necessary for the later writers of "Luke" to invent. The case for accepting Jesus as messiah had many elements that would be hard to support in a modern court:

1. Isaiah said the messiah would be a descendant of David and Jesse, a member of the southern tribe of Judah. But Jesus was a Nazarene, born in the northern Galilee. It was essential to assert Joseph's bona fides as a Jessean. The "census" enabled the spinning of a narrative testifying to Joseph's roots in Judah. Though... um... in what way was Jesus descended from Joseph? Isn't the whole story that his real father...oh, never mind...

2. Likewise, the tale of Herod slaughtering male babies (the Innocents) has no historical basis at all. It is a fable concocted with one aim - to connect Jesus with Moses.

3. The largest tracts of the four gospels are testimonials to Jesus's miracles before entering Jerusalem. The fact that these witness accounts were only from followers with a vested interest, without cross examination or external validation, makes the modern mind recoil. The fact that he then refused to perform miracles before those who were qualified to test them in controlled conditions -- those by the way, whose JOB it was to test such things -- is the most glaring calamity in the entire case.

(To call the Sanhendrin, Herod, and Pilate "sinners" for demanding proof is titanically unfair and legally and logically horrific. To have done anything else would utterly violate their duties. Why offer proofs to rural peasants that your refuse to the priests of God? Whose job it was to separate hundreds of pretenders from the real thing?)

4. Linguistic evidence suggests that two of the gospels might, conceivably, have been penned by actual witnesses. But two others were blatantly written by people speaking language, words and phreases used 100+ years later. Interestingly, this correlates with the "Jailhouse Scene" controversy.

The Jailhouse Scene has resonated across 2,000 years as the principal justification for Christian Anti-Semitism and persecuting Jews as "Christ-killers." (This is an example of group-shared guilt, a Greek concept incorporated by Paul, partly in order to justify Original Sin... a different topic.)

The versions of the Jailhouse Scene that are linguistically 1st Century depict a "crowd" demanding the release of Babaras instead of Jesus. If you envision the kinds of mobs that gather at a jailhouse, you can picture this without necessitating massively inherited racial guilt. But the gospels written in the 2nd Century blame "The Jews"... a usage that would have made no sense earlier, when all Christians thought of themselves as Jews.

By the 2nd Century, the growing split - and especially Paul's Geekifications of dogma - had created bitter rivalry and the Jailhouse tale began to serve its ongoing purpose - to rally hatred of Rabbi Jesus's own people.

I could go on, but please take note of this. None of what I said is aimed at deriding the CORE Christian story. I am simply commenting on the evidenciary or testamentiary aspects, which demonstrate a very different attitude toward proof in earlier eras.

Tony Fisk said...

"Power makes us crazy because we are all descended from jerks with harems."

The alpha jocks may get the lion's share, but not all. Apart from largesse to henchmen (who are of a similar type anyway), there are at least two other reproductive strategies employed by hopeful males of all species:
- female impersonators (!)
- 'sneaky f__kers' (which is, apparently, the correct technical term!)

I suspect social apes have thought up a few more tricks than that.

Oh yes, the girls have more than a few things to say on the topic as well!

Paul said...

Re: Asset Forfeiture

Doesn't the US constitution have a "fair compensation" clause? Wouldn't non-criminal seizure require compensation of the prior owner, regardless of the wording of the law?

Paul said...

Did anyone ever post this?

MusicBox Planets

(Leave it running in a tab in the background for a few minutes while you do something else. It gets into your head.)

Rob said...

@rewinn, and @David: Obviously, those inconsistencies, like the thing with the steel bow from a 5th Century BCE Jerusalem, are easily swatted aside by the cleverest of apologetics. Then it can't be disproved and we all feel better about continuing to believe our stuff.

I know: Ewww. I prefer to suppose that there are things we might have wrong and just wait for more actual facts.

Robert said...

@Paul: Fair compensation does not count when it's asset forfeiture. After all, you have to prove your innocence in a case of AF. It is blatantly unconstitutional, but the Supreme Court refuses to depower the government in this way. And trust me, if Asset Forfeiture was found to be against the Constitution, then the law enforcement industry would come crashing to a halt and the government would be forced to raise taxes to pay for police. Unless they were willing to gut every single social program including Social Security and Medicare (or cut into military spending) to pay for it.

Rob H.

Tacitus2 said...

It certainly would have been "in charachter" for the Romans to round everyone up for a census-the better to collect taxes.

Most of the day to day work of the empire would have been recorded on rather perishable media.

And it would have been easy to stretch a local or province wide measure into something a bit grander.

Tacitus

soc said...

This is slightly off-topic, but you know those atheist billboard campaigns? I’ve been wondering about those.

I tend to think that the whole atheist vs. theist thing is rather beside the point. I mean it’s true that atheism didn’t cause Stalin’s crimes, but it didn’t stop them either. Atheism in no way made the Soviet Union a more enlightened place. Atheism is not in and of itself a force for good in the world. So if you want to fight for a more enlightened and civilized future, why make it all about atheism?

Here’s my little challenge :)

If you could put a phrase on a billboard, or an image, what would it be?

Tyler August said...

Soc, lemmie turn this around:

I tend to think that the whole atheist vs. theist thing is rather beside the point. I mean it’s true that theism didn’t cause the Crusades, but it didn’t stop them either. theism in no way made the Middle East a more enlightened place. Theism is not in and of itself a force for good in the world. So if you want to fight for a more enlightened and civilised future, why make it all about theism?

There are thousands of theist billboards for every atheist one. Why do they get a free pass on this sort of proselytising whilst you feel atheists have to justify themselves?


Speaking of double standards, I want to chime in on the 'filtering problem' Dr. Brin brings up in his first post. This idea that our civil discourse is being destroyed by everyone living in an echo chamber, and losing the ability to talk to eachother.
It's probably happening, and it's certainly worrisome, but I am not sure it's new.
Go back a century, and you'd find a half-dozen newspapers in every city. We had a conservative paper and a liberal paper in this city; the farmers had their own paper (whose politics I don't know) and the industrial workers of the region had anarcho-syndicalist and socialist presses. It was entirely possible to immerse yourself in your own chosen viewpoint by reading the right newspaper. That didn't keep people from trying to talk to one another, work together, and have a civilisation, though.

Actually, Soc, make that my billboard: "Chill out. We're Trying to Have a Civilisation Here."

soc said...

Tyler August,

I'm not suggesting that atheists need to justify themselves, far from it. All I'm saying is that, imho, atheism is being presented as synonymous with civilization and enlightenment. I'm referring particularly to Harris, Hitchens, Dawkins, et al.

I don't think that our goal should be to make everyone an atheist if the advancement of civilization is our primary mission. We're fighting the wrong war.

Let me put it this way, Sam Harris attacks moderate religious people on the grounds that their irrationality (as he puts it) makes the extremists possible. In other words, get rid of religion and you'll get rid of the extremists.

But, we know this isn't true. What's the difference between a religious nutcase who blows things up and a religiously moderate, law-abiding, decent citizen who is a tribute to her community? Hint: It isn't a belief in God.

I don't believe in a god myself, but I know a couple of really intelligent, decent guys who do. Try as we might, we don't see eye to eye on the god thing. I genuinely don't get where they're coming from on theism. Nonetheless, they're both intelligent and bright. And you know what? They both believe in a democratic secular society and in science. Heck one of them is a doctor. I refuse to consider them the enemies of civilization just because they are not atheists.

There is a very real difference between moderates and extremists and that difference isn't theism, so it must be something else. It's that something else that we should be combating.


Btw, I like your billboard. Isn’t it so much more positive, upbeat and inclusive? :)

soc said...

Just to clarify, I’m not giving theism a free pass. I’m just saying that the whole existence of the atheist vs. theist debate as ground zero in the struggle for an enlightenment civilization is wrong-headed. It alienates potential allies and advances little of value.

duncan cairncross said...

Robert Said

"if Asset Forfeiture was found to be against the Constitution, then the law enforcement industry would come crashing to a halt and the government would be forced to raise taxes to pay for police. Unless they were willing to gut every single social program including Social Security and Medicare (or cut into military spending) to pay for it."

I find this to be incredibly unlikely - assets that have been used in a crime can be seized - maybe 1% of a police budget if that

Here in NZ assets can be condemned by the courts - less than $1M over 10 years

Customs and excise and and Fish & Game can confiscate all tools used in breaking the law - too many crayfish - goodbye boat, goodby car used to tow boat -
Works as a good deterrent!
But still pennies overall

Robert said...

I was exaggerating a tad for effect. However, it is true that law enforcement factors in asset forfeiture into their budget.

It doesn't negate the fact that in 2008, Federal Asset Forfeitures alone accounted for 1.3 billion dollars. This doesn't count state asset forfeiture or civil asset forfeiture. (This is up from 400 million in 2001, mind you.) The data I had on hand didn't mention what it was in 2010... and as I mentioned before, the data I have did not talk about state asset forfeiture. If you count all of it together, then I'd be willing to bet 2008 topped 2 billion, and may have been even higher.

Considering the poor, who do not have access to lawyer fees to regain seized cash and assets, are often targeted in raids, who knows what the total level is. What's more, we aren't sure of how much is stolen by crooked cops who abuse the system and line their own pockets, knowing that seized assets from the socially disadvantaged will never be contested in court.

http://www.economist.com/node/16219747?story_id=16219747

http://www.economist.com/node/
16219747?story_id=16219747

Rob H.

David Brin said...

oy!
http://www.transterrestrial.com/?p=34981

David Brin said...

Tacitus, though a census plausibly fit into our image of Roman ways... and there were census type activities from time to time. (a) there is no evidence ever of the TYPE that the NT story portrays... insisting that men must go back to the land of their grandfathers to be counted. That is just too convenient for "proving" that Joseph was from the house of Jesse. (b) there is no evidence that this event was ever noted by anyone, ever, of any kind. And we inherit extensive chronicles by guys like Josephus. Such a disruptive event would have been noted. As would any insane "slaughter of the innocents." Which had one purpose, to connect Jesus to Moses.

Mind you, Herod the Elder DID slaughter innocents! He went on a rampage killing potential competitors in the Hasmonean (Macabean) Dynasty of Jewish kings. He piled up bodies of intellectuals and rivals... but there is no record of him going after many children, let alone demanding the death of all male babies... a command that would have resulted in his own death within hours of giving it.

-----
The New Atheists are nuts who are propelled by the same self-righteous hatred that made so many religions cess pits of indecency and murderous shame. But it is simply false to say that Stalin lacked a religion. His entire pattern was propelled by a priestly dogmatism called Communism that had EXACTLY the same pattern of priests and lords as the Czarist system before it. Just as murderous. Marxism filled precisely the same role in precisely the same mental ways.

Tyler's billboard would have one from me next to it, with an arrow saying "Yeah. That."

Tim H. said...

On theism vs atheism, I see it as a personal matter, rarely mention anything about my dis-beliefs unless asked. Myers and Dawkins are amusing to read, but I don't really get why they're out there.

soc said...

But it is simply false to say that Stalin lacked a religion. His entire pattern was propelled by a priestly dogmatism called Communism that had EXACTLY the same pattern of priests and lords as the Czarist system before it.

Yes, that's precisely it. I wish the New Atheists would say THAT more often. As far as I'm aware, Stalin didn't believe in a god. But being an atheist doesn't stop you from believing in a murderous religion.

Paul said...

One thing about the New Atheist activism, it has produced some interesting examples of hypocrisy over the double standard of "offensive". Endless billboards with "Jesus is Lord", or similar, get no response, but one with "There's no God" is deemed massively offensive and results in the company/county changing it's rules to refuse "religious commentary" (because they can't legally just ban atheist commentary.)

--

I still don't get how non-criminal asset seizure is constitutional. (I did a quick google search, "fair compensation" is apparently part of the 5th amendment. Selling seized assets to fund police departments is surely "public use".) Have there been higher court ruling limiting the fair compensation clause to land seizures only?

--

The problem I have with Dawkins & co is the blindly repeated claims about "reason/logic". I don't think religion is in principle "unreasonable" or "illogical". If your assumptions is "God exists", etc, the rest can follow logically.

Science, and modernity in general, isn't "logical", it's empirical. It's assumptions are "reality exist" and "reality isn't actively trying to trick us." It doesn't matter how illogical, say, quantum mechanics or general relativity are, as long as they come closer to reality than rival theories.

Logic is handy, it's a short-cut, but it's secondary to empiricism. That's the whole point.

So when arguing against religious thinking, why criticise the part they share with science, and ignore the part that is the only true distinction.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Corey said...

So the NYtimes finally collected a large number of scientific studies that have concluded what I've been saying as an evolutionary bio student for several years. It's good to see them catch up.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/05/science/05angier.html?_r=1&ref=science


Ayn Rand and her followers were not wrong because of any kind of argument of morality, social deviance, or golden rule thinking (as in, you'd appreciate altruism if you needed it from another).



No, altruism and egalitarianism are ultimately correct for one simply reason: they make us stronger, as a species and as a society.

The evidence for this lies solely in the fact that these are dominant traits in humanity. If these traits didn't make us stronger, then biological evolution wouldn't have selected for them early in our history, and sociocultural evolution wouldn't have selected for them once agrarian society started. More to the point, chimpanzees, who once rivaled us in intelligence, and only differed in a strictly rugged individualist existence, would rule the Earth instead of being badly eclipsed by us.


In short, the very existence of human altruism and egalitarianism are conclusive arguments against those who oppose these traits.

Corey said...

It's funny that Rand never thought to go live with chimps instead of humans, so she could reap the benefits of their level of society and technology, the product of 170,000 years of a strictly rugged individualist society, instead of living here with us, and reaping the technological and social benefits of a 170,000 of advancement by the altruistic society that she claims shouldn't be.

Corey said...

Well, claimed :)

Paul said...

Anonymous,

How do you do that?

Seriously, how do spammers get 30-link posts past Blogger's spam filter?

rewinn said...

The Religion of Communism, while handicapped by a shortage of supernatural authority, none-the-less produced its share of miracles. As a Russian explained to me while pointing at the cruiser Aurora (which is historical because it fired the cannon signalling the attack on the Czar's Winter palace): "Is most powerful ship in world. With one shot, it sink whole empire!"

The Religion of Randism has taken somewhat more time to do much the same with the USA but, to be fair, we're a much more resilient society than Czarist Russia.

Robert said...

Iceland is holding its bankers accountable for their actions in causing the financial meltdown that nearly sunk Iceland's economy and ruined their financial standing - by arresting some of those responsible.

http://www.pressenza.com/npermalink/icelandx-a-country-that-wants-to-punish-the-bankers-responsible-for-the-crisis

http://www.pressenza.com/npermalink/icelandx-a-country-that-
wants-to-punish-the-bankers-responsible-for-the-crisis

Rob H.

Robert said...

Small question: I recently noticed the Wall Street Journal referring to President Obama as "Mr. Obama." Is that the normal method of talking about the U.S. President (whoever it is) or are they snubbing him by not attributing him more than once as the President of the United States?

Rob H.

LarryHart said...

Robert,

Well, it's the Murdoch-owned WSJ, so they probably ARE snubbing the president.

On the other hand, I have noticed a tendency for journalistic style rules to favor using expressions that contain the fewest characters. So it just might be that their rule is to say "President Obama" once and then "Mr. Obama" subsequently simply to save column inches.

Rob said...

@Rob H -- Nah, I've seen the press use "Mr." as a title for the President before, when it's clear that the context is a discussion about the President. I've seen this now for at least three Presidents from all the media sources I can think of.

Robert said...

I've heard "Mr. President" before, but not the president's last name instead of the word "President." Thus my puzzlement.

Rob H.

Tony Fisk said...

Any guesses on how long before the phone hacking scandal spreads from NOTW to implicate other Murdoch organs?

rewinn said...

@Tony - based on recent history, my guess is that Murdoch may rename his operations to something like Blackwater News and then carry on as before ... with perhaps a stricter policy against being cruel to cute Anglo kids. Being cruel to adults and non-Anglos will still be o.k., as would be outing atomic spies and generally doing the business of the Ministry of Truth.

soc said...

The domain name sunonsunday.com has already been bought by an "unknown" source. He'll be back in the sunday tabloid market soon enough. Maybe after the BskyB deal goes through. Can you really imagine Cameron standing up to him?

This guy sinks his claws into any PM regardless of party...Thatcher, Major, Blair, Cameron...given the prevalence of phone hacking, that's hardly a surprise. Bet he has all of them by the short and curlies.

Joshkie said...

Paul -

@ 2:11 you said this:

"You live in a democracy. Why do you not trust we as a people to "do what is in are(sic) best interests", to "do the right thing", to refuse to "just follow anyone and believe whatever anyone tells us", when it comes to who we vote for?

Do you not see the hypocrisy in your arguments? When it comes to government, you think we are sheep. But when it comes to an unregulated market, we are rationalist gods."

And @ 1:50 you said this:

"But, I noticed, when you spoke against government intervention, you seemed to believe it resulted in people being too lazy or stupid to look after themselves. "Why think for myself, when government can do it for me."

You're saying people are somehow perfectly rational and informed when it comes to a free market, but mindless sheep when it comes to a free vote. Both can't be true.

Personally I believe that people are indeed too dumb/lazy to do what's in our own best interests, whether in business or in government. We are not rational, we are not informed. As voters, as consumers, as rulers. That's why too much of any one system - capitalism or socialism, democracy or autocracy - always becomes self-harming.

The solution is to try to keep the systems in balance. If one side gets too powerful, use another to push it back. Look for any disproportionate accumulation of power and bite it off."

I too beleive we our lazy by nature, but what is the solution?

Is it to try to protect them from themselves with government force through regulations? Is ot to take the consequences of their decisions away from them. To take away the posibilitity of failure and living with the results of our decisions. or...

Is it to promote personal responsibility? Saying to everyone the government is not going to protect you from yourself. That if corporations get to big, the government is not going to regulate them into doing what you want them to do that you need to exercises your own personal responsibility to chose what to buy and what business I'm willing to support.

I was trying to point out what I hear when people advocate for more government control. The use of the word stupid confused the issue, as I don't feel we the American people are stupid. We just take the path of least resistance. Why make it more easy to do the easy thing. If you take choice away or limit it that sure does make thinking easer.

You solution to the problem, seem to me to be, not to limit the accumulation of power outside of the people, but to just play one side off the other with us the people the pawns in the middle. We are supposed to be the country of "We the People." Instead of promoting the idea of we should learn to think for ourselves. Your solution seem to be just live with the status quo.

I never said that given the freedom to choose we would always make the right choices, but was trying to say that from our mistakes we have the ability to learn and make better choices in the future. Will we learn from our mistakes? I don't know junkies need to hit bottom, have we hit ours?

In stead of just saing what I believe, I was trying to be 'clever' by point out what I heard, and it bit me on the ass.

:-)
Josh

Joshkie said...

@ Corey -

Your arguement or the NYT's articles point is since we allow the strong to take care of the weak. The weak are then able to reproduce slowing us as a species to grow and expand into new territories. This is what caused are population boom and allowed us to expand to everycorner of the globe.

Then could I make the case that it is altruism and the strong taking care of the weak that is destroying out ecosystem? That if we went back to a more natural selection process our population would balances itself out.

If your definition of success as a species is breeding like rabbits then ants put us to shame, and we really should follow their example and become a hive mind. Why just stop at socialism.

:-)
Josh

Joshkie said...

P.S. Rand's point was that those that produce and take care of the week do it out of guilt and altruism. That everyone has the ability to be a producer, but some chose not to and live off the back of those that do. These people then demonize those who are taking care of them.

That if those who produced got stopes feeling guilty for the choices others have made, and started to live for oneself this would force others to become responsible for themselves or starve. This would strengthen those around the producers.

Joshkie said...

Correction: "....produced 'stopped' feeling guilty...."

rewinn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
rewinn said...

@Joshkie -
Let's check your theories against facts.

1. It is irrational for you personally to test your food for e coli, to discover the source of asbestos contamination that is giving you lung disease or to do any of a thousand other things that government does for you every day.
You rely on government, not because you are lazy (...although you may be; who knows?...) but because it is rational for free people to band together on such joint projects.

2. Contrary to the theories of the Randians, it is not possible for everyone to be "productive". Children, in particular, require a lengthy period of nurturing, yet it is irrational to expect all parents to know most of what they would need to know to raise children well (e.g. medicine, education). Likewise, there is a substantial likelihood that you will endure a period of incapacitation in your life and if you are fortunate you will one day be elderly; only the most brutal and inhumane society would cast you into the cold when you were not "productive". For that reason we, as a free people, band together for joint projects such as child- and elder-care.

3. Rand's theories make nice sound bites but they have never worked in practice. This may be due to what Randians think as defects in human nature, but so what? If the Soviets were unable to change human nature with their massive re-education program, the Randians aren't going to have any better luck with fat romantic novels. We the people have practical problems to deal with; there is no shame in admitting that our theoretical constructs are just not up to the task.

Jacob said...

"It is irrational for you personally to..."

It's not irrational. It's just wasteful. Specialization, Delegation, and Economics of Scale are a good thing. It's one of the greatest reasons for government. A lesson that many miss. Rewinn would not agree that we shouldn't have government services if a majority of people didn't want it?

rewinn said...

Back to OP: the Schell DICE lecture was indeed mind-blowing, but one thing that struck me was the passivity of point collection - that is, it pictured each person letting others decide what are pointworthy activities. In practice, that may indeed be the case most often. However, surely there is a role for one setting one's own goals and finding or devising games that encourage reaching them?

Imagine New Year's Resolutions that include setting up or enrolling in games to accomplish those resolutions! Or, perhaps, a game to finally write The Great Novel that has been rattling around in my head since forever (...do actual, successful writers have an internalized game that we can copy???)

rewinn said...

@Jacob - "...It's not irrational. It's just wasteful. ..."

I'm sorry, I was assuming basic knowledge of economics. While "irrational" and "wasteful" are not quite synonyms, they are indeed "close enough for government work".

"Rewinn would not agree that we shouldn't have government services if a majority of people didn't want it?"
Parsing that into an English sentence, you're asking me if self-government is a good thing? What ever gave you the idea that I opposed self-government?

Practical history has shown that, by and large, it's a very good system, prone to error of course, but far superior to ideology-based governmental structures such as proposed by Marxists and Randians. There is a large body of scientific study on the way humans and other animals act in groups, and neither theology is well supported.

Joshkie said...

@ rewinn 4:49 -

"Let's check your theories against facts." - What 'facts?' Believing something doesn't make it a 'fact.'

This is your response to me I'm going to put mine in []'s.

1. It is irrational for you personally to test your food for e coli, to discover the source of asbestos contamination that is giving you lung disease or to do any of a thousand other things that government does for you every day. [Just because something might be more difficult for 'us' do ourselve, doesn't mean recoils come up with away if we tried. Your responce is why bother even trying. I personally have more trust in "Consumer Reports" than in the FDA. The FDA can be both off by lobiest, if we loose faith in "CR" we 'should' stop buying their mag.]
You rely on government,[No I don't.] not because you are lazy[You are correct.](...although you may be; who knows?...) but because it is rational for free people to band together on such joint projects. [Band together under a government of regulation or a government that respects freedom of choice and free markets?]

2. Contrary to the theories of the Randians, it is not possible for everyone to be "productive".[You are correct, we each have our strengths and weaknesses. If you have something that I need I will try to give you something equal value. I won't try to guilt you into giving me it by claiming I'm helpless or needy that just demeans myself.] Children, in particular, require a lengthy period of nurturing, yet it is irrational to expect all parents to know most of what they would need to know to raise children well [But it's rational to think that the government does?] (e.g. medicine, [Doctors not the government know best] education [does the education system work or not? Ether it tought me enough to know what to teach my kids or it didn't. and yes I do believe I can do a better job than our current education system; well it would be hard for me to do anyworse.]). Likewise, there is a substantial likelihood that you will endure a period of incapacitation in your life and if you are fortunate you will one day be elderly; only the most brutal and inhumane society would cast you into the cold when you were not "productive". [god foribid I plan for my future and put money aside for acidents and old age, and even if my plans fail that is what families our for. The Social contract that we used to follow was; your parents took care of you as a kid, so you were expected to take care of them in their old age. We've know pushed that responsibility of on the government.] For that reason we, as a free people, band together for joint projects such as child- and elder-care. [Because put off our responcebility to take of each other onto the government, and we don't promote the family. I define a family as any group of people that band togeather and love each other.]

3. Rand's theories make nice sound bites but they have never worked in practice. This may be due to what Randians think as defects in human nature, but so what? If the Soviets were unable to change human nature with their massive re-education program, the Randians aren't going to have any better luck with fat romantic novels. We the people have practical problems [What are these practical problems we are willing to deal with and how our they different than the problems we are not willing to deal with?] to deal with [It seems to me that you want to push off on the government, because the issues we our discussing are to 'big' to deal with.] ; there is no shame in admitting that our theoretical constructs are just not up to the task. [So, why bother. Is that what you're saying?]

Josh

Jacob said...

Hi Rewinn,

Sorry for the confusion...
"Rewinn, would >you< not agree that we shouldn't have government services if a majority of people didn't want it?"

I ask the question to highlight to Josh that you are not unreasonable. Often times there is a large disconnect between what people consider is the general desire for government interaction. So, I ask Pro-Government people if they are with dropping programs that democracy doesn't support. Likewise, I ask Anti-Government people if they are ok having programs that democracy does support. I think revealing that disconnect is helpful to conversations. At least when I don't garble the message.

Joshkie said...

Jacob -

I'm not sure if I could suport the use of government force for any reason. As long as I'm not picking your pocket or breaking your leg, why should anyone including the government get to tell me how to live my life or forces me to pay for services I will never use.

You ether believe in liberty and freedom or you don't.

Josh

rewinn said...

@Joshkie -
"....Your responce is why bother even trying..."

No, it is not.

Your entire response is theoretical in nature, and not grounded in actual experience. For example, it is a simple fact that you, yourself, have never tested your food for e coli.

Never.

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